2013-12-27 / Columnists

An Intern’s Take

By Ilyassha Shivers

An Intern's Take has introduced me to some of the best the Rockaways have to offer. In 2013 I have had the pleasure of sharing with you some of the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, and some of the things that have been taking place in the community. As we prepare to ring out the old and bring in the new I leave you with an interview with author Jacqueline Pitts.

If you love to read or plan to share the gift of reading with that special young person in your life "The Children of Wasafa: A Message to Gang Bangers” is a book that you need to add to your winter reading list. I had a few questions I wanted to ask, but more importantly I wanted to know about the thought process that brought this book to life.

Where did you get the title and why is the subtitle a message to gang bangers?

The title speaks to what I wanted to accomplish…deliver a message, to present facts illustrating we are one. It also identifies the group I most want to receive the message.

Who was Wasafa and did he really exist?

Wasafa existed in that he represents our collective ancestors who were captured and transported to the New World as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Where did the idea to write the book come from?

Before I began writing “The Children of Wasafa: A Message to Gang Bangers” I was writing a memoir about the time I was employed by the NYC Department of Corrections. I’d start writing and stop and start and stop until I labored my way to 50 or 60 pages, all the while I was listening to news reports covering gang violence across the country and in my neighborhood. Then it came to me. Writing a memoir was for a later time. I should address gang violence in communities of African descent. I did not have any particular gangs in mind…just street gangs in general and the ones in the book are fictional.

The reasons for gang violence in African descent communities are multilayered. Some say it is poverty, low performing schools and a break-down in the family and I agree. The political pundits attribute their ability to obtain illegal firearms and I agree with that also. However, I believe there is an additional cause and it is a critical one. Disconnectedness, that is, feeling you have no connection to the people you are hurting. The question now is why? I believe it is because young people who engage in gang violence do not understand their history. They do not realize they are connected to the very people they think are their enemies or inconsequential to them. Enslaved Africans were poor. They did not have low performing schools, they had no schools! It was illegal for them to read and write and more often than not, families were sold apart from each other…family breakdown. But the historical record does not indicate any significant violence towards each other.

How long did it take you to write the book, will there be a sequel?

The historical facts in the book were from years of research and study done for my own interest or to satisfy coursework. The actual writing of “The Children of Wasafa: A Message to Gang- Bangers” took approximately two years. Yes, there will be a sequel.

How did your time as an Assistant Deputy Warden impact the writing of the book?

As a woman of African descent it was heart breaking to witness so many young black men incarcerated. It is my hope the book will stop at least one person from entering that world, an early grave or fall victim to random violence.

Where did the idea to make the cultural connection come from?

Cultural connections are evident when you know the maneuverings of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the type of slavery that existed in the Americas and the extent to which African people were dispersed outside of the African continent.

We stopped there. There was so much more that I wanted to ask her but our schedules did not permit. All I can say is get the book and read it.

For those of you who celebrate Kwanzaa this would be a perfect Kwanzaa gift. Kwanzaa is an African American celebration based in African concepts and philosophy. It is not a religious holiday; therefore it is not intended to replace traditional celebrations such as Christmas or Hanukkah. Kwanzaa which stands for first fruits is a celebration of the harvest; this is why some of the symbols include fruits and vegetables. And then there are the colors red, black and green which come from the flag which was created by the Honorable Marcus Garvey. The red stands for the blood that was shed, Black stands for the people of Africa. And the green represents the motherland Africa. I will stop there. Kwanzaa has a lot to offer. Take some time, Google it, you many learn some things.

So, as always, tell me what you think. Email your thoughts and comments to shiverswave@gmail.com

Thank you for your support and see you in 2014. Happy New Year and don’t forget to read The Wave!

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