Special Tribute To Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antonio ben-Jochannan (1918-2015)

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Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antonio ben-Jochannan

[A Special Tribute]

The Black Man of the Nile and His Family

Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antonio ben-Jochannan (Dr. Ben) was the preeminent "Multi-Genius of Our Time." Therefore, he cannot be defined nor scrutinized by western academic standards given the fact that he forever altered how classical African civilizations, in particular the Nile Valley, can be viewed and examined in colleges and throughout the global African community.

Furthermore, Dr. Ben’s contributions to academia and the global African community stand alone as he represents not the floor of our potential, but the ceiling in which we can rise to. We, the global African community, adulate Dr. Ben for his groundbreaking scholarship and unprecedented service. Moreover, we praise enthusiastically his great work and sacrifice along with his love for African people and the Nile Valley.

As such, when it comes to the study and understanding of the Nile Valley, no one had a greater impact on the minds and hearts of African people at a global and grand scale than Dr. Ben. As an exceptional thinker and prolific writer, Dr. Ben’s scholarship regarding the Nile Valley along with his service within the global African community is not only exemplary, but unmatched – exceeding all others in terms of scholarly influence, community based impact, and global outreach.

In regards to the African origin of western civilization and religion, Dr. Ben’s contribution to the production of knowledge is monumental as evident in his most celebrated and best-selling magna opera: The African Origins of the Major Western Religions (1970), Africa: Mother of Western Civilization (1971), The Black Man of the Nile and His Family (1972), and We, The Black Jews: Witness to the White Jewish Race Myth (1983). Lesser-known, but no less important texts include collaborations with his frequent associate Professor George E. Simmonds, The Black Man’s North and East Africa (1971) and Understanding the African Philosophical Concept Behind the ‘Diagram of the Law of Opposites (1975) with Evelyn Walker, Dorothy Lee Cobb and Calvin Birdsong.  As a spirited public intellectual and iconoclast, Dr. Ben published nearly fifty books and manuscripts.

Undaunted, and with such scholarly publications, Dr. Ben singlehandedly transformed the epistemological and pedagogical landscape of Africana (Black) Studies programs by introducing us to the Nile Valley where he frequently stated that “we came from the beginning of the Nile where God Hapi dwells, at the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon.” Indeed, for Dr. Ben, the beginning started in the Nile Valley on December 31, 1918 at Gondar, Ethiopia where he was born to an Ethiopian father, Kriston ben-Jochannan and a Puerto Rican mother, Julia Matta.

Soon after his birth, Dr. Ben’s family moved to Puerto Rico and St. Croix. After graduating from high school, Dr. Ben further embraced his intellectual quest for knowledge by pursuing higher education and advanced learning. As a result, Dr. Ben upgraded the legal training programs and services in Puerto Rico. Moreover, his thirst for knowledge was fulfilled with his remarkable expeditions around the world.

Having already traveled extensively to the Nile Valley during the summers of his youth, Dr. Ben immigrated to the United States, where he worked as an architect/draftsman in New York.

However, following in his father’s footsteps and inspired by the struggles around safeguarding Ethiopia from the invasion of Italy, Dr. Ben initiated numerous study abroad programs to Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Sudan. This particular experience along with many others laid the foundation for Dr. Ben to become one of the world’s most distinguished public intellectuals / scholars who advanced the study of Nile Valley civilizations.

By continuing his father’s admonition to return to ancient Africa as the foundation for the study of his people, Dr. Ben sparked the study tour movement among Africans away from home that has now become commonplace for African-Americans and others. His study tours of the 1960s and 70s paved the way for Dr. Ben’s historic 1987 pilgrimage to the Nile Valley which was undertaken by Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC) cofounded by Dr. Ben. Dr. Ben’s friend, Emmy Awards broadcaster Gil Noble recorded that pilgrimage for his television show “Like It Is,” and the video for that show has been seen by hundreds of thousands for whom it has become a virtual study tour of the Nile Valley.

As an authentic public intellectual and committed community activist, Dr. Ben skillfully integrated scholarship with service by bringing colleges to the community and the community to colleges. By coalescing scholarship and service, Dr. Ben warmly embraced academia and activism as he cheerfully steered both colleges and community to the Nile Valley where the God Hapi dwells. Dr. Ben, therefore, modeled institutional academic study and research with community activism until his transition on Thursday, March 18, 2015.

As an engaged scholar and involved activist, Dr. Ben, like his mentors Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, lectured gratuitously to the masses of African  people on the street corners of the United States and globally. Dr. Ben also secured teaching positions at Malcolm-King Harlem College, Marymount College, Pace University, Borough of Manhattan Community College, State University of New York at New Paltz, Temple University, Howard University, Cornell University and Al-Azhar University in Cairo.

In addition to his academic responsibilities, Dr. Ben lectured to clusters of Africans in forums as wide-ranging as corporate America, such as Bell Laboratories to the Shrine of the Black Madonna while influencing Pan-African culture-keepers Fela Kuti and Randy Weston. Whether at colleges or in the community, Dr. Ben became known for his no-holds-barred intellectualism and activism while generously embracing Black people wherever he found them. Dr. Ben also disseminated his knowledge through forums as diverse as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Harlem Academy in New York City. Dr. Ben’s 1969 text, Africa, The Land, the People, the Culture marked his preeminent work on behalf of UNESCO.

As the first widely known African scholar to analyze the Abrahamic faith based traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and their origins, Dr. Ben judiciously debated scholars of all three religions and successfully traced the origins of western religions to the Nile Valley by way of primary sources. Dr. Ben’s scholarly publications, such as The African Origins of the Major Western Religions (1970), A Chronology of the Bible: A Challenge to the Standard Version (1973) and the trilogy: Our Black Seminarians and Black Clergy Without a Black Theology (1978), The Myth of Genesis and Exodus and the Exclusion of Their African Origins (1996), and The Need for a Black Bible (1996) serve to inform, inspire, and provoke generations of scholars.

The influence and presence of Dr. Ben are still felt with the likes of Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr. James Turner, Dr. Charles Finch, Dr. Wade Nobles, Dr. Maulana Karenga, Dr. Molefi Asante, award winning journalist Herb Boyd, Tony Browder, Ashra Kwesi, Runoko Rashidi, and Professor James Small.  Dr. Ben also had a special influence on our female scholars, public intellectuals, and activists such as Dr. Rosalind Jeffries, Dr. Patricia Newton, Dr. Vera Nobles, Dr. Iva Carruthers, Dr. Marimba Ani, Dr. Adelaide Sanford, Dr. Joy DeGruy, Dr. Jewel Pookrum, Rkhty Amen, LaTrella Thornton, and Dr. Frances Cress Welsing.  Furthermore, Dr. Ben has inspired a new generation of scholars, public intellectuals, and activists such as Bro. Reggie Mabry, Dr. Greg Carr, Dr. Mario Beatty, Nayaba Arinde, Manbo Asogwe Dòwòti Désir, and Professor Patrick Delices among countless others.  Additionally, a special acknowledgment is extended to Dr. Georgina Falu who was also inspired by Dr. Ben and took it upon herself to translate three of Dr. Ben’s major books into Spanish while lecturing throughout Latin America on the contents of Dr. Ben’s works.

Dr. Ben is therefore recognized as the last of the great Black history scholars, public intellectuals, and activists which include the late Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Edward Scobie, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, Dr. Charshee McIntyre, Dr. Jacob Carruthers, Dr. Richard King, Dr. Asa Hilliard, Dr. Amos Wilson, Steve Cokely, and Dr. Khalid Muhammad.

Dr. Ben’s service to the community is seen by his collaboration and partnership with Minister Louis Farrakhan, Reverend Al Sharpton, and Attorney Alton Maddox. Dr. Ben also worked closely with local community leaders and elders including Sybil Williams Clarke and Drs. Mary and Arthur Lewis in addition to the masses of African people at home and abroad.

Dr. Ben founded, cofounded, and inspired several organizations and institutions including the Africana Studies Department at the City College of New York, the African Nationalist in America [ANIA], the First World Alliance, ASCAC, the Blue Nile, the Board for the Education of People of African Ancestry, and countless others. In one of his most impactful efforts to build and sustain public spaces for African people to learn, debate and share widely the knowledge of our history and culture, Dr. Ben partnered with Bill Jones, Sister Khefa Nephtys and other Pan-African scholars and activists in New York City to initiate the First World Alliance in Harlem.  The First World Alliance became one of the country’s oldest and most influential lecture forums devoted to the study of classical Africans civilizations along with the global African presence. First World’s platform hosted hundreds of scholars from the global African community - always beginning its annual lecture series with Drs. Ben and Clarke, as well as their colleagues, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr. Edward Scobie, and Professor James Small.

Dr. Ben also held various pertinent executive positions at several premier organizations, schools, educational / non-profit boards, and cultural institutions. Dr. Ben's special passion was to create a Brotherhood, "The CRAFT" which would reflect the ancient sacred traditions and teachings of the Nile Valley.

In creating his own publishing company, Alkebu-lan Book Associates with his colleague George Simmonds, Dr. Ben joined Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Joel Augustus Rogers and later, Paul Coates and Haki Madhubuti in establishing independent publishing platforms for African thinkers and public intellectuals to advance their ideas and produce knowledge. His company’s distinct texts along with their colorful cardstock covers and unmistakable combination of typeset, maps, reproduced images, ephemera, and intermittent handwritten interjections created a new style of writing that was uniquely Dr. Ben’s.

As a pioneer in the field of Africana (Black) Studies and Egyptology, Dr. Ben, like his colleague and dear friend John Henrik Clarke, produced numerous curricula, lesson plans and countless professional development seminars for educators and activists to enhance the teaching of African history and culture at colleges and in the community. Dr. Ben’s publications on curriculum range from the Cultural Genocide in the Black and African Studies Curriculum (1975) to a study guide he coauthored with Dr. Clarke, which was published for the 1972 Congress of African People in African Congress: A Documentary of the First Modern Pan-African Congress. Moreover, in 1986, his lectures in London with Dr. Clarke, New Dimensions in African History: From the Nile Valley to the New World (1991) now serves as the most influential text and study guide for the teaching of global African history. 

Dr. Ben’s lectures are thought-provoking and powerful, especially when examining the relationship between Black women and men – often using what appeared to be an intentionally provocative statement to simply enter a discussion of the centrality of the Black women to African life, cosmology, culture, and societies.

Ultimately, Dr. Ben’s life cannot be fully summarized in this literary tribute to him. However, Dr. Ben’s greatness can be summarized as the “Gift” that keeps on “Giving” for future African generations. In a way, Dr. Ben wrote his own epitaph in his books, manuscripts, lectures, and thousands of hours spent teaching us. Therefore, from this time forth to eternity, Dr. Ben is still teaching us, not at the colleges or in the community, but over the ancestral arc, that we came from the beginning of the Nile at the foothills of the mountains of the moon where the God Hapi dwells with our beloved Dr. Ben.

This tribute statement to Dr. Ben’s life and legacy is a written and research collaboration among  Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Professor James Small, Dr. Georgina Falu, Dr. Greg Carr, Dr. Mario Beatty, ASCAC’s Board of Directors, Bro. Reggie Mabry, and Professor Patrick Delices.

Professor Patrick Delices is a political analyst/commentator for the Black Star News and the author of “The Digital Economy,” Journal of International Affairs. For nearly a decade, Prof. Delices has taught Africana Studies at Hunter College. He also served as a research fellow for the late Pulitzer Prize recipient, Dr. Manning Marable at Columbia University. Prof. Delices can be contacted at pd149@columbia.edu 

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