Lessons learned from a warrior

Dr. GEORGE J. SEFA DEI (Nana Sefa Tweneboah)

OISE, University of Toronto

Our community has been in mourning over the past week and I can’t help but reflect on the moment. Compared to many community stalwarts, I would say I had very limited interaction with Brother Dudley Laws. But whatever privilege I have had in coming into contact – whether as a keynote speaker at an annual Dudley Laws Day celebration, sharing two panels with him or even meeting him at the Africentric School last year when I went with Baba Molefi Asante to speak – I have learned more about the man from the many testimonials and the outpouring of love and grief that has accompanied his departure from us.

As is often said, when he, who has made such a difference among us leaves us, it is because the Ancestors and the Almighty upstairs need him more and perhaps for an urgent cause.

As a continental African coming to Canada in 1979 I could not help but be fascinated with this man in his trademark look speaking out boldly on television, radio shows, on the street marches, and so on.

I thought at this time, as we continue to mourn this great man, we should reflect on the lessons of what his death has – and should – mean for our community as we move forward.

Dudley Laws has already been received by our Elders and Ancestors. He is in safe hands. He is watching over us to see what we do and to guide us in ways that we dare not disappoint. In his passing, let us aim to rectify our shortcomings and failings over the years and work harder to close the gaps in our community. There is an African saying that when the cock/hen crows very early in the morning it is communication for us who are asleep to wake up. In effect, the cock/hen is not doing this for itself. Why? Because it is already awake! Dudley Laws is no longer physically with us, but his life’s work must be considered a lesson, a communication for us to wake up from our sleep.

I will now briefly spell out some lessons of his passing for us as a community:

a) Honouring the Living

African peoples share that human capacity for hope and imagination. The life, achievements and death of Dudley Laws should teach us to respect and honour our heroines and heroes when they are alive. One can only be heartened by the fact that the dead, who has been an Elder and an Ancestor, can still see and know what is happening to the living. Dudley Laws will definitely know that he was loved by so many. For a man who gave up his life for us all, I am amazed and ashamed about how, as a community, we collectively failed to openly recognize his achievements and sacrifices while he was alive. He paved the way for many of us to even have this semblance of being critical of society.

It is not enough to insist quietly that ‘Dudley Laws spoke for me’ if no one is hearing that voice. We must all come out more often and acknowledge our leaders while they are living. It helps to give them spiritual strength and guidance. We cannot underestimate the power of such spiritual guidance. It is the bedrock and key to success for community activists. It is this guidance that sustains human energies and allows one to develop a strong passion for self, family and community.

b) Making History

We make our own histories by our everyday action(s). Dudley Laws has indeed left very positive marks/footprints on our communities and society-at-large. That history will be difficult for anyone to erase. For those who want to re-write our histories we will not allow them because, to permit that is to show ingratitude to the hard work and sacrifice of a great person.

c) Community

The community must come together. Dudley’s death brought many of us together and we can achieve this dream. The strong show of passion, emotion and love displayed in mourning across the diversity of our communities means we can come together and build a collective future. For those who insist in saying that there is no ‘African community’, one only needs to be reminded of the many people who showed up to mourn his passing whether in the wake at JCA or during his funeral celebration at the Revival Time Tabernacle. The community is there waiting to be affirmed by us. Nobody is going to do this for us. Let us move beyond our differences and recognize the unity and strength in our diversity. Differences around age, gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity and nationalities should be challenged through a pan-African ethic and ideology of community building. We can no longer afford the splintering of our communities. We must claim a ‘community of differences’ as a sign and mark of our collective strength, not a site or source of accenting divisions.

d) Remaining True to Ourselves as a People

No matter what struggles and challenges we go through, what stances we take in life, and what causes we fight, we must remain true to ourselves in terms of who we are. Dudley Laws was a multi-dimensional man who fought multi-political causes. But underneath all of that he was first and foremost an African and he never wavered on that. To claim an identity as an African is more than a badge of honour. It is badge of sacrifice, resistance and understanding that Africa is more than a physical space. The African in us exists within our souls and in our bones. Therefore we must theorize Africa beyond its physical boundaries. We are African peoples, given who we are and not just where we were born. It is only after understanding ourselves that we can begin to appreciate why we must be politically active.

Let me close by reiterating that mourning the loss of such a great leader has brought us together on many levels and we must find ways to move forward and continue his legacy. Not only do we share deep grief, but also the common history of systemic oppression and spiritual wounding. It is certainly Dudley Law’s hope that we all stay connected in the pursuit of social justice and equality for ourselves, our communities and the generations to come.

Let us pick up the torch and keep his dream alive as one people sharing one love and one destiny.

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