SAN BERNARDINO, CA- UNC members were guests on the March 15 broadcast of the “Empire Talks Back” radio program. ETB is broadcast on KCAA 1050-AM Radio every Sunday morning at ten. From left to right you have Natasha Hemming of UNC,La, Nae Norwood of UNC, Anthony Garcia ETB’s “Mood Master”, Wallace J. Allen, ETB Host, Daryl Pegram of UNC and Chelsea Davis, candidate for Miss California. If you missed the show you can listen to it at podcasts.kcaastreaming.com/empire.
By Naomi K. Bonman
When we hear of our young Black men and teenagers deterring in the wrong direction, we give them the wrong response by turning our heads and ignoring them. They need solid advice and a positive, but raw message from someone, preferably another Black male, who has been where they have been and has or is experiencing the consequence. This will showcase as an eye opener and wake up call for many.
In lieu of making this happen is through a media platform entitled, Gangster Chronicles. Gangster Chronicles is geared towards giving current and ex-convicts the ability to share their stories, put an end to mythologies by unveiling hidden stories and reach the youth through literature. The roster consists of men who were leaders of well-known gangs, such as the Vicelords and Black Mafia, and even a man who inspired a character on the popular HBO series “The Wire.”
John Griffin, member of the group known as the Philadelphia Black Mafia continues to battle a wrongful prison murder conviction, for which he is serving life, and for which he has already served 40 years. Although charged with the Hanifi case, he was tried and acquitted of this crime. He holds college degrees in both Human Services and Marketing. John can discuss what lead him to the black nationalist ideology of the Nation of Islam, community activism, and crime.
What was your life like before you got locked up?
For me, life before incarceration felt promising because of the people in my life, I never felt limited. My mother was widowed at an early age, but alone, she raised me and my brother to be confident and respectful individuals. At age 12, I went to work after school so that I could buy my own clothes. By the time I was 22, I was married to my first wife, had 3 children, and was managing clothing stores in Center City Philadelphia. Over the next 5 years, my marriage ended in divorce, I remarried and fathered 4 more children.
What led you to a life of crime?
I grew up in North Philadelphia. In the environment in which I was raised, crime and hustle were synonymous. From my first employer to my last, hustling was a part of their business practice. I was taught to pressure-sale clothes that had been stolen and delivered to Center City Philadelphia stores, so crime had always been present in my life. However, once I and others became aware of the need to control the economy in our communities, we targeted the illegal activities there. I had always worked with the Jewish jewelers, who resold stolen items, and Italian gamblers, who set up card games and controlled most of the drugs in our community. So, once we put a dent in their operations, we set our sights on the stores and bars in our neighborhoods. We felt these business should be Black-owned, so we designed ways to make that happen.
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been in prison?
By shackling the human body and human spirit, prisons are designed to demoralize and destroy. To quote Oscar Wilde, “The vilest deeds like poison weeds, bloom well in prison air.” Though I never committed the murder for which I am in prison, I accepted that my life style made it easier for those who desired to charge me with this crime.
Upon my incarceration, one of the things I discovered was that we still have a responsibility to our families, especially our children, Those of us who may have been conscious and sincere enough to make positive contributions to our communities, removed and de-legitimize ourselves in the struggle. We must try harder to show them a positive side of ourselves. We must try to guide them in a different direction, one that leads away from prison.
What led you to the Black nationalist ideology of the Nation of Islam?
I was always concerned about the welfare of my people. Raised at a time when the evening news showed Blacks being beaten, brutalized and shot down in the streets; of course, I was one of those who became angry. I listened to various black leaders at that time, some not much older than myself. But, it was Malcom X’s interpretation of Elijah Muhammad’s teachings that I most admired. As I said earlier, my Mother raised her sons to be confident and respectful. I saw in the Nation of Islam, at that time, black, confident and respectful acting men, who were not afraid to stand up for what they believed. Basically, I was attracted to the nationalistic ideology of the Nation of Islam, more than the spiritual aspects of it. As a young man, tired of hearing whites refer to us as boys, the Nation of Islam was what I thought was needed in our lives.
By Angela Coggs
On March 14, 2015, Young Women’s Empowerment Foundation hosted their 3rd Annual Girl Talk conference at San Bernardino Valley College. The conference opened for registration at 8am and provided a continental breakfast to the participants. The event, “Girl Talk 3: Empowering 2 Excel”, invited young women ages 12-21 to participate in the all-day educational, fun and motivational experience. The energetic moderator for the event was Courtnie Dowdy, a recent graduate of Pepperdine University. The event was built around the idea of imagining what can happen in the life of a young woman when she is empowered to succeed.
The event was kicked off by City of San Bernardino 3rd Ward Council Member John Valdivia and San Bernardino Valley College President Dr. Gloria Fisher. The attendees were also welcomed by some of their peers, recent crowned queens from the local area and schools: Miss Black San Bernardino 2015 Desiree Mckenzie, Miss Cardinal San Bernardino High School Monserrat Gutierrez, Miss Inland Empire Outstanding Teen Brielle Angelique, and Miss Black San Bernardino participants Bashirah Arogunddade and Janeice Midgett representing at Girl Talk 3 . Grand Terrace High School sophomore, Raihahan Medlock, performed a personal and touching spoken word that really resonated with the audience members.
In the main room, the participants viewed a video about human trafficking entitled, “Making of a Girl.” After viewing this very powerful video the participants were able to ask questions. Many of them did not realize how prevalent human trafficking is in general and in the Inland Empire. “I didn’t know this was going on in my neighborhood,” said one shocked sophomore from San Gorgonio High School. “It makes me wonder about my surroundings.”
There were four workshop sessions available and participants attended all via a rotating system. The workshops included Healthy Queens (hygiene related), Sister to Sister (boundaries), Knowing Me Before I Know You (self-love) and STEMing Your Way to the Top (encouraging females toward science, technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
Two topics of discussions that took place in a larger venue were Prom Promises and Sickle Cell Trait. Prom Promises was presented by Joyce Payne and it touched on what to expect and person safety with choosing whether to go with a date or in a group. Not only were the attendees inspired by the information given but the mother of the Inland Empire Outstanding Teen was very impressed. “She was great. I loved how she presented this information to the young ladies. It was absolutely wonderful.” The topic of Sickle Cell Traits was presented during a working lunch. Farron Dozier and his daughter Deja Dozier, a junior at Bloomington High School, spoke to participants about their own experience with the disease known as the Silent Killer, which primarily affects the African American population. His organization is called WHATZ DA COUNT and his campaign is called “What’z in your genes?” The purpose is to provide sickle cell trait awareness and to re-educate the community about the sickle cell trait and thalassemia trait. Not only was he diagnosed when he was a Sergeant First Class in the United States Army in 2006, later his daughter was also diagnosis with trait as well. The audience was quiet as they spoke but they asked a lot of questions afterwards. The topic was an important part of the day.
“As an advocate when sharing your message you really never know who’s listening and sometimes you don’t know if you’ve even been heard but what I believe in is the ripple effect. That somehow somewhere someone’s listening and your message is out there, I feel them in my purpose and I’m doing my passion. I’m out to educate the community about Sickle Cell Trait,” said Dozier.
Dozier was especially touched by a comment by one of the participants of Girl Talk 3 with the username of angie_90h9 commented on his picture on Intagram, “Thank you to you and your daughter for speaking to us. I was unaware that sickle cell could be passed down like that until you spoke to us about it and I’m happy you did.” She concluded with by saying “I hope for the best for you and your daughter health wise and just in general. Take care.” Dozier’s response was a humbled; “Need I say more?” He reached at least one person that day and many more.
Another memorable guest who spoke with the parents who attended the event was Evangelist Beverly Broadus Green, mother of rapper Snoop Dogg. She shared her life story and how she had to learn to love herself before she could love someone else. She invited the mothers to take control of their own lives and to not go looking for a man but rather him come to you. She connected with the women in the room. She had attendees moved to tears with her story of triumph over major life struggles. Shanila Shabufta, vendor with the African American Mental Health Coalition, felt a connection with Green. “I can relate to what she said. She put herself out there. She talked about inner conflict, growing up in church and knowing what’s right and wrong but still having conflict to do the right thing. I think everyone has those moments,” she said. “I can definitely relate to her. I loved hearing her speak today.”
In addition to the workshops, the young women were treated to entertainment, opportunity drawings, poems by SBCUSD Vicki Lee and former SBCUSD student Chelsea Davis, and a step show by the San Gorgonio Steppers and members of University of California, Riverside chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.
Young Women’s Empowerment Foundation’s CEO/President and San Bernardino City Unified School District Candidate was pleased with the turn out and stated “the event was a huge success.” Over a hundred girls in attendance and were surveyed throughout the day. The girls all indicated that they were having a great time. Each girl also interacted in photo booth where they dressed up and had fun. All pictures are posted on Young Women’s Empowerment Foundation Facebook.
YWE serves to strengthen the character of young women of high school age in the San Bernardino City region of the Inland Empire in Southern California. The mission of our program is to empower these young women to achieve at their highest potential, particularly in education, and to instill in them a commitment to return to their community as leaders and mentors.