“Am I the man I used to be?…If so, how? If not, why? The true question is who do I move forward as? (24)”
This is a question that many of us face at multiple points throughout our lives, transition is critical for growth. As we transition we are required to make difficult decisions about how to define ourselves and how much we will allow our past to define our future. Mallah Divine Mallah is a writer, speaker and prison consultant whom I met as a part of our leadership in the Millions for Prisoners March. His 19.5 years spent in prison has given him expert knowledge from experience about the prison industrial complex. In his book, The Hidden Hand Duality of Self, Mallah crafts the first urban political street thriller, a story that will keep you engaged as he describes the battle a man fighting between two opposing versions of himself, the duality of self.
“I transformed from a criminal mentality to a revolutionary one, and I accept where this road leads: death or prison for life. (52)”
The first version of himself, Bo-money with a desire to run with this gang, an old Brooklyn gagster, captain in the Get Busy Crew (GBK), now led by his cousin, Max Million. In conflict with the other version of himself is a man, newly released from prison with the desire to better himself and his community through teaching and activism. This drives him to work at a training center in the hood mentoring young boys as apart of a Knowledge Awareness group to develop self awareness and install cultural pride in order to kill the street mentality that almost killed him, a street mentality that he can see is destroying the youth in his community. “The streets are seducing to those with no hope or direction (41)”
Bomani Freeman now with the hope of transforming his community is a a thug turned grassroots civil rights leader who finds himself at a point of conflict with his crew as his community begins organizing actions that are taking away from GBK’s drug trade. Bomani’s mentoring young boys in the community is messing with GBK’s money and that offense has a capital punishment in the streets. Bomani is constantly targeted by his cousin, entangled in continuous death traps and surprise attacks that threaten him and his loved ones. Regardless he continues working, fighting against the streets fearlessly.
Set in Bushwick, Brooklyn the novel touches on several themes that are reoccurring in impoverished Black communities; such as the lack of community programming and black owned businesses, “It bewilders me, how fearful people can open a business amongst people they fear, and take their money, but never establish good relations with them (6)”. Bad relations between business owners and the community led to the death of a young black girl in the city who was accused by business owners of stealing. Her death caused an uproar and was followed by protests led by Bomani.
Frequent street crime, police brutality and discriminative government policies are also topics covered in the novel, “A lot of Black people have an innate fear of the police. That must have been bred into our people during slavery, reinforced during Black Codes, nurtured during the brutality of the sixties, and maintained nowadays with the common occurrence of police brutality. (46)” The way that Mallah threads these topics together with Bomani’s experiences and wise words from Mzee make the book difficult to put down.
The story begins a couple days after the protagonist, Bomani Freeman, funeral, pushing readers through the novel as we attempt to understand the chain of events that lead to the main character’s death.
Throughout the novel Bomani calls own his mentor, Mzee, a man he meant while incarcerated. Bomani recalls their conversations while playing chess, cards and doing other activities in the prison. Wise words from Mzee ring in Bomani’s mind throughout the text, guiding his steps and re-enforcing his decisions. These last words from his friend before his release help Bomani choose the path of civil rights activism over the temptation of the GBK
“If you don’t have grand love for the people, you will be enticed with golden temptations to sell-out. This tactic is as old as greed and oceans of blood attests to this fact…The source of our love is rooted in our people, and we have an obligation to return that love through commitment and hard work (86)”
Our purpose is to work for the empowerment of our people, many of us think that we may be doing that when we defend our gangs in the street, Bomani teaches us that the gang wars are only a distraction. We saw how the brotherhood between gangsters fades with the lack of funds to support it, when Bomani refused to come back to the GBK Max Million was no different from any other enemy and perhaps even worse because he was family. Along with his attempts to get back at Bomani, incidents of violence are frequent occurrences throughout the book, reminding us the violence becomes an everyday occurrence in the streets: gang violence, violence from the state, business owners and fellow community members shape the different phases of the area’s growth as Bomani educates the youth he mentors, fellow colleagues, and others he comes into contact with. His perspectives aren’t limited by Western ideology and his openness allows him to educate others whose minds are trapped in the Western culture’s way of thinking.
Each serious incident of violence marks a turning point in the novel, from the death of a young black girl in a convince store, sending the community into an uproar that started protests led by Bomani, to from the death of Bomani’s own close love interest, which marks a turning point in his own ability to move forward in his activism. His use of descriptive words from African languages such as Yoruba and Kiswahili are a symbolic representation of the source of his inner strength, a love for his people and his culture, that continues to push him forward.
“How you see yourself is a reflection of what you know…The question is who taught you what you know? We’ve been lied to on and on by the enemy of progress and upliftment.”
Find Mallah on twitter @MallahFitness and purchase his book on Amazon here