“I tell people in most of my presentations don’t believe a word I say. I’m not here to make you believe me, I’m here to make you think. If I can take you out that paradigm, where you can start to think… and look…from a different perspective.”
Kentake Page was honoured with an exclusive interview with scholar, historian and teacher Professor Kaba Kamene during a recent visit to Montreal, Quebec. Professor Kamene has been in high demand since his appearance in the hit documentary films Hidden Colours 1 , 2 and 3. He specializes in curriculum development and staff development for Afrikan centered schools of learning as well offering historical presentations on subjects such as the Shabaka Stone, the Cosmogony of the Dogon and the history of the Moors.
Professor Kaba Kamene was born Booker T. Coleman Jr. on November 16th, 1953 in New York Hospital in New York City into a culturally conscious family. His mother was from Boston, Massachusetts and his father from Tuskegee, Alabama. In fact, his grandmother and the renowned educator Booker T. Washington were friends. Out of that friendship, she named her son, and Prof. Kamene’s father, Booker T. and he was named Booker T. Jr. after his father.
Prof. Kamene’s parents were married in Booker T. Sr.’s church, A.M.E. Zion Church, by Pastor Benjamin Robeson, brother to the great Paul Robeson. Prof. Kamene said of his family:
“The history of this culture was always within me. That’s where I learned the African American culture.”
Prof. Kamene’s first glimpse into his Afrikan heritage came from his Puerto Rican neighbors.
“My neighbors -Puerto Ricans- practiced Santeria, and after church I used to go to their home. That’s where I saw La Siete Potencias – The Seven Powers, the Orishas. I ain’t never seen no Black saints up on the wall of the Catholic Church I went to. They had those Catholic statues and pictures of Obatala, Yemoja, Oshun… and so I learned the Yoruba tradition of the Orishas through my Puerto Rican neighbors. I learned about Afrika through my Puerto Rican neighbors, but African American history from my family. So at a very young age I was brought up through the drum, the foods of the Caribbean, Puerto Rican spices, not the English spices. That was my evolution and then I met Professor Clarke when I was 12 ½.”
He recalls his first meeting with the legendary, scholar and historian Dr. John Henrik Clarke:
“Some ‘old heads’ – brothers who were a little bit older than us – would take us up to Harlem to experience certain things… and introduce us to different people. One of their events that we went to was a Professor John Henrik Clarke lecture where the young people sat in the front. At the end of the presentation, they brought us up to meet Professor Clarke and they introduced me by stating, “This is Booker T.” Professor Clarke responded, “Oh, Booker T., you’re going to be a great teacher one day!” That’s how my relationship with him started.”
By the time Prof. Kamene had left the military, he began to work more closely with Professor Clarke doing research for him on subjects such as uncovering the role of the United States in the Berlin Conference which carved up the Afrikan continent for European domination. He discovered that the U.S. was indeed present; however they were without portfolio, meaning they remained silent (but did make sure Liberia was not taken due to the rubber trade). Under Dr. Clarke’s tutelage, Professor Kamene gleaned many valuable lessons as well as his life mission.
Dr. John Henrik Clarke
“I realized the value of what he did for me and I in so many ways wanted to return the favor to him for what he did for me. When I was a young man he told me if he could give me anything, the one thing he would give me, if you could take everything away from me, the one thing he would give me is a sense of self-concept… a concept of self. That is what I try and do for our people, particularly our young people, a sense of self-concept… I began to develop this relationship about how I could best support our people and one of things was, of course, his recommendation that I write the curriculum. He said we need a curriculum.
(He told me) ‘We’ll have principles, we’ll have people with money, we’ll have buildings… The one thing we don’t have is a curriculum. Focus on the development of a curriculum.’”
The adoption of this mission has led Prof. Kamene to read and study voraciously as well as travel. His first trip to Kemet was in 1983 and on his 2nd trip in 1987 he remembered noticing the deep connection between our people separated by the Maafa.
“In 1987 I went to Kemet with Dr. Ben (Dr. Josef Ben Jochannan). I was sitting on a fellucca, on a boat. There was another Brother on the boat… I heard this brother singing and I said I know that voice… He’s singing in Arabic, but the quality of voice and the way he’s singing… I know that voice. When I got up and looked at the brother, he looked just like Sammy Davis Jr. The way Sammy Davis Jr used to move his jaw when he sang; he moved it the same exact way. Sammy Davis Jr., his mother was Puerto Rican, his father was African American… there had to be a connection between Sammy Davis Jr. and that man. It’s in our DNA.”
Professor Kamene graduated from New York University in 1977, with a Bachelor of Arts in International Politics and with a minor in Caribbean Studies. He acquired his first Master degree in 1987 at Hunter College in New York City, majoring in history. He acquired his second Master’s degree in 1988, at City College in New York, with a major in Education Administration and Supervision. He worked in the New York City Board of Education for 31 years, retiring in 2009 and has devoted his life and energy toward the development of the Afrikan centered curriculum inspired in him by Dr. Clarke.
“That’s what I’ve done. That’s been my life. That and staff development so that with the curriculum that I shared with the group comes the staff development that then expounds on it. So it’s not just you reading my curriculum, it’s me walking you through the process of what the curriculum is actually saying and the importance of what you are saying to that particular group. That’s what I’m about. I’m about a practical curriculum that you can bring into these programs, to teach the children, teach them the culture. How you do it, how you flesh it out, how you write your curriculum, how you write your lesson plans and the staff development that takes them through the process.”
Professor Kamene prefers to focus on this aspect of the work rather than the actual building of a school as staff and curriculum development gives him the flexibility to travel and work within already established schools and assist staff already in place rather than “re-inventing the wheel” as he put it.
Prof. Kamene believes that as the white domination system is currently crumbling, now is the opportune time for people of Afrikan descent to turn inward and build our people up.
“What we have to do is we have to get ready. So when we put ourselves in a position where we will be able to run our own educational systems. What I’m recommending is that we can have unity without uniformity. You start local, which is Montreal, then Quebec, then Canada, then the hemisphere, then the world, then the cosmos. That’s how you build it. If I were speaking to a group of educators in Uganda (I would ask them) “Who are your heroes in Uganda?” Start with them. Then build out of Uganda to Afrika, to the hemisphere, to the world. Start local. If I should go to Holland, I need you to tell me who those people I should respect in Holland. Who did for you? Who did in Aruba, Bonair, Curacaos… that I can know the Dutch Afrikan heroes. So we all need to identify those heroes and sheroes who have made us who we are today within the geographical location of where we are.
We need as a community of Afrika to embrace Metu Neter or Hieroglyphs as a classical Afrikan language just as Greek and Latin are classical languages to the Western world. The practical language needs to be Ki-Swahili. It is the largest Afrikan language spoken in the world and is the 7th largest language spoken in the world. It has been adopted by the United Nations as an official language. All Afrikan languages are important, but let’s be practical.
So if I go and come to Montreal and I’m speaking to my Brothers and Sisters who speak French, we should be able to speak Ki-Swahili to each other. You keep your French, I keep my English, but we speak to each other in Ki-Swahili. If I should go to Nigeria, you speak Yoruba, I speak English but we should be able to speak Ki-Swahili to each other. We need a common language that unites us as a diaspora and Ki-Swahili is the practical language and then we get into the other languages. Let’s be practical. It’s a start to this process. It is not the definitive. I don’t offer definitives, I offer frameworks that we can at least start the process back home.”
Professor Kamene is under no illusion that this is a process that will take time. He fully understands that our people from various walks of life may not feel they have the time and skills to study and learn of the Afrikans’ monumental history and achievements. To them and aspiring students and up and coming scholars he offered these wise words:
“Professor Clarke brought me through a process one time. He said, ‘let’s say that you learn how to read at the age of eight; let’s say that you lived to be eight-eight. Let’s say that you are developing concepts…’ You read three books a week and that’s above and beyond school. You would say that’s good isn’t it? You read three books a week? That’s real good. You join the ancestors at the age of eighty-eight so you’ve been reading books for eight years. You read one hundred and fifty six books a year. Multiply 80 times 156. Basically it comes out to twelve thousand four hundred and eighty, if my math is reliable. It could be, more or less, but of all the millions of books written in the world, you with all your great reading only read twelve thousand four hundred and eighty. It’s not how many books you read that’s important; it is the books that you read (that are important). My job has been, in my study guides and the work that I do, is to condense your efforts in trying to read all those books that you may find out that you never really needed to read. Also, to send you on a thematic approach toward understanding information, but also learning how to study it. I’m not into book clubs. I’m into study groups.”
Professor Kamene has produced a 71 page study guide that takes you through the vital elements of Afrikan centered history, highlighting specific chapters from a variety of books to help the student form a captivating, yet historically sound narrative of the Afrikan experience.
This study guide, as well as Prof. Kamene’s dynamic, knowledge packed presentations, may seem effortless as he fires off information, facts and history without any notes, skillfully weaving it all in a clear and concise context, however they are the result of years of research and a unique method of study that he has developed over the years.
“When I read a book, if I come upon something that I think is important, I’ll put a tally mark inside or keep reading. At the end of the chapter, I’ll go back and go back to the tally marks and what I’ll do is try and remember why I put that tally mark there. What was important about that? I may write, if it was a vocabulary word, I’ll circle (it). Then I will put a number on the side: number 1. Then I’ll go to the next one. I will outline what’s important, put number two and I’ll do that for the whole chapter. Then I go back and take out index cards. On the top, I’ll put the title of the book. I put the author, I put the chapter and at the top right hand corner I put the number index card that it is. What I then do is I go back and look at all the index cards and I may mix certain index cards;
I know sequentially how I wanted those to be put in place so what I am doing is I am synthesizing information. At the end of me doing that with four essays, I then write a response in outline form and then I put it on my computer. That’s how I study.
I have storage rooms with my index cards. But the index cards are not as important to me as what the final product is as it relates to the essay that I put on the computer. Because then I go back over and with “cut and paste” I can move that stuff around and still have the numbers, but know where they belong. Out of that come my notes. From that I internalize my notes. So, when that I am speaking it appears like I don’t have notes, but I’ve internalized the information because the first time I put the tally mark, that’s my first study. When I then go back, that’s my second study. When I put it all together, that’s my third study so what I’m doing is that I’m implanting the knowledge inside of me constantly. By the time I do my presentation, it appears that I don’t have notes, which I don’t have notes, but the notes are in my head.”
For Prof. Kamene, time and destiny are on the side of the Afrikan. He remains positive and optimistic about the future despite the chaos in European societies and the challenges Afrikans face across the diaspora.
“Together we are going to make this happen. It ain’t over till we win!”
To contact Professor Kaba Kamene for speaking engagements, visits to your community or other matters and to receive the 71 page study guide free of charge email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look for more of Kentake Page’s exclusive interview with Kaba Kamene soon as he elaborates on the impact of the Hidden Colours films, the science of the year 2014, the connections between the Kemites, Dogon and the Moors, the end of the whyte domination system and how Afrikans spiritually survived the Maafa!
Special thanks to One Full Circle and Bro. Pharaoh Freeman for arranging the interview.