I am a fourth generation Bostonian, born and raised by a family dedicated to arts, culture, business ownership, and black self-reliance. This legacy serves as the foundation of my identity and the source of my deep love for my community. It is out of this experience that I coined the term “Blackstonian,” which I’ve used as the title of the community newspaper I founded in 2002. The newspaper’s purpose is to maintain this rich legacy with valuable information and cutting insights about the state of Black Boston today.
My great-grandmother Ida Goff came to Boston from Jamaica and met and married Winfield Price, a Black Cherokee man who became one of the first employees of the US Postal Service and whose mother (my great-great-grandmother) became a freed slave at the age of eight.
Together they had five children, among them my grandmother Winifred Brown, whom I help care for today. We reside together at 89 Ruthven Street, the house that she and my late grandfather Walter “Scratch” Brown purchased in 1938, the same house that Malcolm X visited when he was known as “Detroit Red.” Her sister (my Aunt) Lucy as a young lady actually taught my great-great grandmother — the freed slave — to read. Aunt Lucy later met my Uncle Augustus “Gus” Bowen and they became the Boston Fashion duo “Gus & Lucy” who taught at the Elma Lewis school, which I attended. They even provided the costumes for the Black Nativity which frequently starred my cousin Aaron Mendelson, himself a student of Black Theatre under the legendary Jim and Linda Spruill.
My mother is Adrienne Shepherd (formerly maiden name Brown, married name Adrienne Crawford). She is well-known in the community as a talented hairdresser, one of the old-school legends like Danny, Olive, and Charlene. Years ago, she was crowned Queen of the Cotillion in 1958. At that time, my mother was one of the few black students at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School, which included well-known community staple Sister Virginia Morrisson. My mother graduated from the Burke in 1960.
My mother, a small-business pioneer, taught me my work ethic. At age 18 she began to build her dream of owning her own business which started with a salon on Blue Hill Ave. After losing her first salon in a tragic fire, she single-handedly built the largest black-owned hair salon in Massachusetts, in Codman Square, Dorchester, and later expanded to a second salon in Milton. As a woman in business she worked tirelessly, saved, and invested every penny wisely. In the early 80’s, she secured a loan of almost $500,000 that represented the largest dollar amount given to an independent Black female business which allowed her to make renovations to the Codman Square storefront, which still grace the neighborhood today. Her determination rewarded her by allowing her to pay back the loan in less than 5 years. My mother wasn’t satisfied keeping those rewards all to herself. Instead, she became the first black businesswoman to establish employee profit-sharing. Today, my mother resides in Mattapan with her husband Turhan Shepherd, in the home she has owned since 1970.
My grandmother, the late Esther Crawford, was one of the most solid and diligent women I have ever known. She worked for Delta Airlines for over 30 years and I don’t believe she missed one day of work. She was also one of the longest-standing members of Charles St. AME Church. Even as a little girl, she walked in the march when the church moved from its historic location in Beacon Hill to its current Grove Hall location in 1939. My grandmother passed away in 2010.
My father Carl Crawford is a well known man in Roxbury, who grew up with the type of stand-up men from Roxbury that seem rare these days. My father was a fixture of the Historic H-Block, a student of the original Roxbury Memorial High School, and later served in the US Army. Upon his return from service, my dad was one of the first Black men to hold an executive position in Blue Cross Blue Shield. For this achievement he was featured in a Boston Banner article written by Kay Bourne in the 70’s.
I have studied the history of Black Boston as well as my own family history, and I take great pride in it. It is here to illustrate about me, first and foremost, that I am from here. I am deeply rooted in this community, and for me to betray or fail my neighbors in District 7 would mean that I am betraying and failing those in my own family, as well the legacy of all of the Black Boston greats who came before me.
My own life is an amalgam of the Black experience in America. I was born in 1971 and experienced the best and worst of what the 1970s, 80s and 90s had to offer a young black man. Up until I was about , my mother worked long hours to keep me in private schools, and one-by-one I got kicked out for disciplinary issues and problems with authority. In every subject, I was always one of the top students in class, but I would usually get myself into a conflict with teachers and other students. Naturally, this led to frequent suspensions and even a few expulsions. I bounced back-and-forth from my mother’s house by Walk Hill/Wellington to my Grandmother’s near Humboldt Ave. After spending my formative years in schools like the Park School, Boston Christian School, Lexington Christian Academy, Don Bosco and even some early METCO schools, I was labeled a problem child, and every private school in the area refused to take me. Thus, I landed in the Boston Public School system assigned to the Mario Umana Harbor School of Science and Technology. By this time I had to reconcile a dual experience. On the one hand, I had a somewhat bourgeois upbringing, complete with a house on the Vineyard, and in addition my Mother’s Born-Again status had me in Concord Baptist Church and later Twelfth Baptist Church where Bruce Wall was my youth minister and the young me is probably the cause of some of his grey hairs. On the other hand, despite all of these wonderful blessings in my life, there existed a heavy pull from the undercurrent which already had me experimenting with alcohol, drugs, drug-dealing, guns, and experiencing violence as both a victim and a perpetrator.
My years in high school at Umana coincided with the explosion of crack-cocaine in America. At the time, it was profound for me to see that many of my classmates were earning more money selling crack than their teachers did attempting to teach. We became preoccupied with guns, as the Uzi, the 9-millimeter, and the sawed-off shotgun were raved about in the rap verses we consumed in abundance. I lived through an era when our elders warned me and my peers that we would not live to see 18. In the media they called us an “endangered species” and I felt besieged on all sides — except for my ability to transcend the fray through the study of life-changing books. By the age of ten, I had already read some serious books; books like the Autobiography of Malcolm X, which particularly transformed me. I soon developed a fervor of self-study which brought classics like Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, Claude Brown’s “Manchild in the promised land”, and incredible authors like Richard Wright, James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du Bois. By the time I was 15 I had read over 50 books, all of this in 1986 — in the midst of crack, guns, and stomach-churning death. One of these years recorded 150 murders, most of them during a long, hot summer.
Despite my love of learning, I hated school. There were teachers and administrators and some students who used the term “nigger,” and displayed racist attitudes and a disdain for the students of color. Boston was still racially polarized from tensions left over from the busing experience of the 1970s. My rebellious spirit combined with a sharp tongue took me from being one of the smartest kids in school to getting kicked out in the first month of 11th grade. I received my GED the next month without even studying and scored some of the “highest scores ever” according to my GED Instructor at the East Boston Adult Education Center. I realized the last grade of high school I completed was the 10th grade and with only a GED I still wanted to continue my education. I immediately enrolled in Roxbury Community College (which I worked as a laborer during construction), where I attended one semester and subsequently, enrolled in Salem State College where I also attended one semester. Since then, all of my education has been self-education based on self-determination.
At 18-years-old, I founded a communications company that would serve as a public platform for my socially-conscious essays, poetry and hip-hop. I enjoyed a good reputation in the community, and was featured on TV shows like “Say Brother” and “Rap Around” (hosted by Tom Bergeron, now of Dancing with the Stars) as well as interviewed in the Boston Herald. In 1990, I was honored to be selected as one of two youth representatives at Nelson Mandela’s historic visit to Boston.
As with my life, my art and writings have focused around issues of race, violence and class but all with a bent against injustice and a hopeful goal of liberation and equality. I began freelance writing and quickly began to meet new people, becoming exposed to new things and felt as if I was outgrowing Boston and needed to travel to experience the world. This led me to Atlanta off & on for 7 years where I expanded my network and further established myself as an artist, writer, entrepreneur and organizer. It was in Atlanta where the lure of the streets became the most difficult to resist and I went to jail in 1995 for having marijuana, packaging and a machete.
During my two months in Dekalb County Jail and subsequent four months in Jimmy Helms Diversion Center, I used my time wisely, devouring books, writing feverishly, and reading the Bible cover to cover. While in jail I wrote my first book and upon my release, self-published “Prophecy: Reflections on Life & Love from a Black Perspective” in 1996. I began to turn things around in a more positive direction, boy meets girl and in Sept. of 1997 I returned to Boston with my newly-pregnant partner and in December of 1997 had my first and only child, a beautiful baby girl named Adonijah.
Starting a new life in Boston with a brand new baby girl, I worked several temporary jobs and did everything I could to keep things afloat and above board having learned from my past experiences. Just when I thought things were about to stabilize I experienced the pain of a surprise break up which began the separation from my daughter and the turmoil I have experienced which inspired me to challenge the flaws in the legal system that continue this separation presently.
Soon after the departure of the mother of my child with my daughter, I landed a job in City Council which was a dream come true that quickly turned into a nightmare. After one year I was faced with the moral dilemma of giving up the best job I had in my life based on principles after uncovering wrongdoing. I became deeply depressed and increasingly cynical. Knowing that I needed to re-energize myself, I threw all of my focus into my entrepreneurial efforts picking up graphic and web design while continuing my freelance writing, poetry and socially conscious hip-hop. After months of hard work, I chalked up over 200 performances in the area, lectured at local colleges like Wellesley and BU, and made several appearances on local television and radio. Ultimately, I got the opportunity of a lifetime to go on tour across the US and France where I enjoyed some of the best times of my life and met some fantastic and dynamic people like Les Nubians, Herbie Hancock and Angie Stone. I even ran into late Hip-Hop Legend and Boston’s own Keith Elam aka The Guru of Gangstarr in Paris, (The son of the late Judge Harry Elam Sr.) where we were able to reminisce about Roxbury and our family’s friendship.
In the hip-hop and poetry world I go by the name of “UNO The Prophet.” In this role, I perform work that many would describe as controversial and provocative. Most of the work grapples with serious and taboo topics, and is thus intended for adult audiences. My usual technique is a rapid-fire, politically charged, merciless attack on concepts of race and topics of historical injustice, some more taboo than others. To compare my style to comedy would be to compare Richard Pryor to Bill Cosby, or Red Foxx to Sinbad. In my poetry, I am a reflection of my influences and those I am blessed to call my elders and mentors. One of my greatest influences has been The Last Poets and Amiri Baraka, who boldly take on police, prisons, poverty, and corruption, using, exploring and pushing the boundaries with high-voltage words like “nigger,” “cracker,” and “whitey.” As UNO The Prophet, I also reflect my influences and those who I call my allies. Groups like the legendary Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, Public Enemy, and the internationally acclaimed Dead Prez.
Perhaps my most talked-about piece has been “Kill Whitey.” I’m sure this title gets your attention, and that’s exactly why I named it as I did. The poem uses the shock value of the words “kill” and “whitey,” a slogan left over from the 60′s and 70′s, to highlight the hypocrisy in mainstream hip-hop where artists offer an endless indulgence of a “Kill Nigger” chorus while few in our society seem to bat an eyelash. Thus, “Kill Whitey” is actually a cultural critique on the devaluation of black life espoused in “gangsta”-oriented hip-hop which goes further than merely killing niggers; the music is basically an instructional manual to genocide. Due to the explicit and inflammatory title, “Kill Whitey” is the most misunderstood of all of my work. Many critics miss the song’s serious rational, its grounding in history, and its ultimate thrust of decrying violence rather than promoting it.
I also made a song called “Zionist Money” which got me listed along with my organizational affiliation on the ADL’s website as an anti-semite and part of a hate group. I challenged the ADL on their false claims on a number of counts: 1) my personal spiritual practice is based on Jehovah God, Yahweh which is the Hebrew God; 2) my song is about Zionism, and the United Nations has declared that Zionism is apartheid and racism, thus I am merely agreeing with the UN; 3) in order to be classified as a member of a hate group there should be some evidence of hate speech or a hate crime; 4) the man who gave me the Autobiography of Malcolm X to read when I was ten is my cousin Aaron, who has a Jewish father; 5) I have warm, longstanding business and personal relationships with dozens of Jewish people. The ADL has overblown their charges, as these charges don’t apply to me. I can’t speak for those in other parts of the country, but in Boston, as throughout the Civil Rights movement, Jews and Blacks have had a cordial and even symbiotic relationship.
Che Guevara said “A true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” Love forms the basis of my activism and organizational work. I can unabashedly state that I love my people. I love my community. Although I have never been a member in any hate group, I can say affirmatively that I hate injustice, racism, and oppression.
My life has been a merging of arts and culture, activism and organizing. My life experience has spanned from the high life to street life. I have spent time in both the state house and the jail house. My organizing and politics have led me to work with many elders who are original members of groups like the Black Panthers. For over 15 years I proudly worked with political prisoner Mutulu Shakur, former Panther and father of Tupac Shakur. For years I have supported the efforts of Fred Hampton, Jr., son of legendary Chicago Panther Fred Hampton, who was assassinated by the Chicago Police. Recently, I had a proud moment when longtime legal pioneer Chokwe Lumumba (former Attorney for Assata Shakur and Tupac Shakur) won the seat of Mayor in Jackson, Mississippi after several successful terms as City Councillor. The question is: can an admitted revolutionary candidate win in Boston Mass-issippi?
I am well aware that my detractors will attempt to make my associations with groups like these appear scary or menacing. The truth is quite different. I am a part of a long continuum which has produced the work to ensure and maintain the freedoms and gains we currently enjoy. I am proud to be affiliated with groups that have fought and sacrificed against oppression and racism for the benefit of all people.
During my hip-hop and poetry career I became increasingly more active with various groups and organizations which led me to become a member of the New Black Panther Party from 2002-2010 and served first as Boston Chapter Chairman and later as National Hip-Hop Ambassador, New England Regional Representative and ultimately National Minister of Information. My affiliation with the NBPP is one of the reasons I inherited the same false label of anti-semitism that they and other groups have been smeared with.
I can tell you that if you do the history there is no statement that I have made that I would need to back up from. I can only speak for myself, not every member of the NBPP. I am not ashamed of 1 minute of my service in that group and in fact I am proud to have worked on campaigns for Justice for Sean Bell, Megan Williams, Jena 6, Million Youth March, Millions for Reparations March, and most importantly rescue efforts in Post-Katrina Louisiana and Haiti. I resigned from the NBPP in March of 2010, feeling that I had done all I could do in that context and I could be of more service to my community in other areas and by other means.
This is just a portion of my background I wanted to share with you to let you know who I am as a person, as a Black Man, as a Bostonian, as a Blackstonian, as a Roxbury kid with a healthy dose of Mattapan and Dorchester mixed in.
The choice for District 7 is clear.
By most indicators, our district has an urgent need of services that exceed other Boston districts. It seems at times that we alone suffer from the widest spectrum of ills — from violence, poverty, health disparities, hunger, and unemployment; to substance abuse, mental health issues, lack of education, breakdown of the family, domestic violence, and unfortunately, much more. The question for the voters of District 7 is to decide — given our dire circumstances — what type of person is able to represent you, advocate for you, and fight for you to achieve our collective goals? Who has the experience, determination, and passion to address violence, improve education, and increase employment for all of us?
District 7 needs someone who is not afraid to ask questions, point out problems, and provide innovative and practical solutions. I will work hard, provide an unparalleled amount of information to my constituents, gauge responses carefully, and take proactive steps to organize around a community-driven agenda. I will also serve as a watchdog on the city budget to identify and eliminate frivolous expenditures and act as an advocate to ensure the city aggressively funds our collective priorities.
It is a sign of good representation when the powers-that-be are at least slightly uncomfortable. If this is not the case, this is a good indication that you suffer from ineffective representation. If your representation does not inspire, motivate, mobilize, and agitate in the service of a better future, then we risk remaining stuck in neutral.
By supporting my candidacy for city council, you are saying: No more politics as usual. No more letting folks skate and get over. No more mediocrity. By trusting me with your vote, you are demanding for this community advocacy, action, and accountability. If those who do not want us to move forward try to tear me down, remember I am of the people and for the people. When those who have a stake in our oppression try to sabotage me recognize that they are afraid that our community can have fierce and fearless representation. I am you. I am your son, your brother, your nephew, your cousin, your uncle and I have all the experiences that make up this community from the highs to the lows and everything in between. I have lost friends and family just like you have; to violence, to drugs, to incarceration and to disease. I have had challenges and overcome to produce a track record that I believe is rare and unmatched. I am uniquely suited to serve and represent this District.
If you support me you are saying no more politics as usual, no more letting folks skate and get over, no more mediocrity. By lending me your support and trusting me you are saying that you want and demand for this community advocacy, action and accountability. If they try to tear me down, remember I am of the people and for the people. When they try to sabotage me recognize that they are afraid that our community can have fierce and fearless representation. I am you. I am your son, your brother, your nephew, your cousin, your uncle and I have all the experiences that make up this community from the highs to the lows and everything in between. I have lost friends and family just like you have; to violence, to drugs, to incarceration and to disease. I have had challenges and overcome to produce a track record that I believe is rare and unmatched. I am uniquely suited to serve and represent this District.
The residents of District 7, regardless of whether they vote or not, can count on me to do a few simple things.
– I will do what is right, not what is safe.
– I will do what I say I will do.
– All people will be respected, valued and protected.
I believe in “Keeping it Real” or, as the youth say, “Keeping it 100%.” I will work hard and I will tell the truth. The things I say and the issues I bring forth may be difficult to hear or hard to deal with but they are sincere and true and based in historical fact. This country has a painful past that has shaped who we are today. The past lives in all of us. It is up to us to be adult enough and bold enough to have the tough discussions and find solutions that are fair to all, not just a select privileged few.
Unlike candidates who have to either “clean up” their image or “enhance their involvement” I don’t have to do either. All my online social network photos are on the table. I am leaving all of my music, videos, writings, exactly where they are. In addition, I have shared my CORI with a few select Black clergy and others in good faith. Media or other inquiring minds will be granted access to my criminal record or anything else by appointment.
“Jamarhl defies the stereotypes that many have tried to place upon residents of Roxbury and the Black community as a whole. He is the definition of the Renaissance man, who can do almost anything he sets his sights on, and do it well. Yes, Jamarhl C. Crawford is truly a man possessed, but the force that has him enthralled is not a demon or a magical spell. It is the sky and its vastness and it is a force, no doubt, that he will someday overcome as well.”
-Peter VanDelft, Editor, Dorchester Community News 1999