Runoko Rashidi Okello:
How are you? Things are okay on this end. I just spent five full days in
and around New York City. I gave lectures in Harlem, Newark, Brooklyn, and
White Plains. All of them went well. I also visited the Metropolitan Museum
of Art, the Natural History Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the
Schomburg Library. I took some excellent photos that I hope to share with
you over the months to come. And, on Sunday afternoon, I went to the borough
of the Bronx, New York and visited Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan.
The status of Dr. Ben has been a source of great controversy over the past
few months and, for many, a source of tremendous anguish. Previously, I had
talked to him over the telephone. I also had multiple conversations with a
number of concerned people about Dr. Ben. This was combined with long
discussions with distinguished Elder and long time Harlem resident Queen
Mother Kefa Nepthys and our brother, historian and Egyptologist, Ashra Kwesi.
I also got a long phone message from brother Jarvis Butler. All of these
folks have been very close to Dr. Ben for a lot of years. They are not new
to the scene and I respect their viewpoints. I hope to soon have detailed
talks with Dr. Leonard Jeffries and Professor Tony Browder. And, to cap it
off, last night I had a long conversation with Dr. Ben's oldest daughter and
primary caregiver--sister Ruth Ben-Jochannan. We have all promised to
carefully monitor the situation and to keep each other
well-informed. In other words, I wanted to do my homework and edit my
research before putting out information that no matter how well
intended might only serve to make matters worse.
As you know, Dr. Ben is in a nursing home in the Bronx, New York. He has
been there for about a month now. He is much smaller than I am used to
seeing him but I did not see any signs of physical abuse and neglect. While
I was with him he seemed lucid and alert. He receives many visitors.
Indeed, he receives so many visitors that I can see how it might be
disruptive to the care provided to the other patients.
In spite of some the reports that I have seen he has plenty of clothes or, at
least, all of the clothes that he could possibly need in a nursing home!
Upon his request I actually looked in the drawers and closets in his room to
examine his apparel and to see things for myself. He seemed quite clean and,
while I was there, he was served a hot lunch that even made me hungry. He
seemed to have a healthy appetite and had a small basket of fruit on a nearby
table. Someone called me the next morning and told me that he had brought
Dr. Ben even more food, including some of Dr. Ben's favorites. Let's just
hope that they did not bring him any pork!
Make no mistake about it, Dr. Ben does not want to be in a nursing home. Who
would? And I was told several times by his daughter that the family is doing
everything possible to get him better situated and as soon as possible. The
family hopes to have him out of the nursing home within a few weeks and right
after the height of New York's bitter winter. I also want to note, and this
is perhaps a bit personal, that the family is operating with very limited
resources. They are not rich people.
And so I am asking everyone to take all of this into consideration as we
report on the status of this great man. I repeat, Dr. Ben does not want to
be in the nursing home. He makes this quite clear. And we don't want him in
the nursing home. We should be clear on this also. But sometimes what we
want and what we need and what we can afford does not equate.
Dr. Ben's family is under great pressure. They are receiving threats to
their physical well-being and are even afraid now of walking on the street
for fear of coming under assault from irresponsible and misinformed people.
Is this what we want? I don't think so. For his family, Dr. Ben is not only
a treasured icon but a father and a grandfather. Rather than castigate the
family we must support them. I am asking that we not make a bad situation
As we have seen with our own parents, getting old can be tough. At this
point Dr. Ben cannot take care of himself and is in need of constant
attention. I am simply asking that we continue to show our love and
affection for Dr. Ben, but, that we also show our love and respect for the
family and put ourselves in their place--a place that is becoming
So that is my report for today. I will issue others, and I know that you
will also, in due time and as further information becomes available.
In love of all things African,
Runoko Rashidi Okello