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Q&A: Zaki Baruti
An interview with African American role model and humanitarian Zaki Baruti.
February 23, 2018
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Are you married? Do you have children or grandchildren?
A: I’m 79 years old and I’ve been married over 42 years. I have four children and six grandchildren.
Q: I found out that you were a teacher, how long did you teach?
A: I’m a former educator in the school district of 189, East St. Louis Illinois and I was a teacher for over 33 years.
Q: What school?
A: I taught at a variety of schools. East St. Louis High School, Rock Junior High school, one year at Clark Alternative High School, and I did homebound teaching.
Q: One of your phrases that I’ve heard you say before is “Not giving up the ghost.” What does that mean?
A: What I meant by that was, not quitting. Being persistent because the struggle for justice and equality for our people (African Americans) is a lifelong effort.
Q: Was being a teacher your first career choice or did you want to pursue something else?
A: Yes, teaching has always been something that I wanted to do and I truly enjoyed educating young people. The young people in turn kept me young in my own mind. I taught history and had a love for history and I still have a love for it.
Q: Did you ever voice your personal opinions about African culture while teaching your history classes?
A: Absolutely. My views of the world was part of my teaching, although there’s basic curriculum that we have to follow we also had leeway to add current events. My passion for African history and the history of Black people, was part of my teaching in the history classes.I was the kind of teacher that’d bring different speakers in the classroom so my students could hear different perspectives on different subjects and life.
Q: Do you think any of your students reflected off of the different people that you brought in?
A: I would have my students grade me and I would have them exclude their names just in case someone said I was a poor teacher. I didn’t want them to feel like they’d be penalized. Most times I got real positive grades, I tried to make classes very exciting.
Q: Okay, so tell me about your Universal African People’s Organization.
A: The Universal African People’s Organization was an organization, that was created by myself and several cofounders on April 4th, 1989 and came into existence for my candidacy for governor of the state of Missouri. I was a candidate for governor in 1984 and as well as 1988. After the 1988 campaign in which we shocked a lot of political pundits as a political campaign by receiving 19% of the vote total in a state that only had a 10% Black voting population. This was without a lot of money but with a lot of political support for something that established politIcal leadership as an extension of that, those who were with me during the camping felt that they wanted to continue on with me and the political message, further transpiring into social justice. We decided to form the organization and as I mentioned, we chose April 4th, 1989 in the spirit of Martin Luther King who was assassinated on that day in 1968 to go forth in seeking social justice and equality. But much of our philosophical background for the organization came from the most powerful Pan-Africanist visionary named the honorable, Marcus Messiah Garvey.
Q: Could you speak more on Marcus Garvey?
A: Marcus Garvey was a profound and prolific organizer, and what impressed me so much about him (and which is a shame) today in many of the history classes across America and Black communities is how he has been “white-balled” removed from history. But had the ability to have 2 to 4 million followers and his way of economic proficiency and self sufficiency in the Black community, political empowerment of the Black Community, and giving the Black Community a international perspective where all very powerful messages as far as I was concerned and other members of the organization. So to that end as an organization I’ve had a Pan-Africanist view point or “world view point.” And to another end to that as a representative to that organization, I have traveled to many different countries as well as we have had some international humanitarian efforts and supporting people in Africa and the Caribbean. In the year we were founded in 1989, we shipped 90 boxes of clothing to Namibia to celebrate its independence. We also in 2003 shipped about 450 boxes of clothing and medical supply to Zimbabwe which I went to dedicate the following year in 2004 we shipped near 450 boxes of clothing, water supply, medical supply, and educational supply to Haiti in the aftermath of hurricane Ivan. Then in 2006 we sent a massive supply of books to Ethiopia and also in 2015 we shipped about 10,000 books to Ghana to help in the building of a library. It was all worth it.
Q: I was informed that you just came back from Iraq, what was the basis of that trip?
A: First of all I’ve been blessed to travel extensively, I’ve been to about 30 countries. I’ve been blessed to see different parts of Africa. Senegal, Gambia, Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. As well as in the middle East area, Israel, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and different parts of Europe and the Caribbean. But I was recently in Iraq at the invitation of the organization called the New Horizon, that annually puts together a peace conference and the event was held in a city called Karbala. It was about a week long conference with people from about 15 different representative states and other parts of the globe. Not only was I infatuated with the discussion of peace, but I was so incredibly touched by how interested the people of Iraq were interested in the struggle for Black equality and justice in regards to police violence.
Q: So how do you think your organization spreads Black awareness in the African American community?
A: We use several methods, one method is our newspaper. We have a quarterly newspaper that’s called the African NewsWorld and we use that as a means to educate our people, with a variety of issues that we see locally and nationally and internationally. We also in the past had a radio talk program which we had for 6 or 7 years which was called “Let’s get busy” and then currently, we have a half hour tv program called “Conversations with Zaki Baruti” along with that we host annual programs within the community, where we celebrate the life of Dr. King in January, we also have an activity on April 4th which commemorates the founding of our organization and we bring in different speakers. We also celebrate and honor Malcom X on his birthday and we celebrate the life and legacy of the honorable Marcus Garvey on his birthday. Whatever percentage we are as a national state and a local levels of government, then we should have that much percentage of political power on both the national states and local levels. Currently, Black people are far from that. Nationally its projected that we have a half a million publicly elected officials in this country and Black people have 13% according to the United State census, and Black people only make up 2 to 3% of elected officials which translates to about 15 thousand or less if we were truly empowered then we should have at least 66 thousand as opposed to what we have now. I believe that would help our people economically and as well as the social governmental policies that comes from people being elected. So to that end, our organization in the last few years have been hosting whats called the National Black Political Leadership conference to encourage people to run state wide. I’m proud to say, through our efforts as an organization we had Black people running for the open elections of governors, lieutenant governors, state senate etc.
Q: As a young boy growing into a young man, what injustices did you witness and or face?
A: My first awareness of social injustice came when I was in junior high school and I really didn’t understand the implications of the killing of Emmet Till. I didn’t understand that a young teenager was visiting Chicago from Money, Mississippi and allegedly whistled at a white woman and her husband a few of his friends kidnapped him from his home and killed him, and his body was allowed to be viewed in its most grotesque state. They would have in my neighborhood posts all around of that scene. That really woke me up.
Zaki Baruti is a very well known and beloved figure in his community. He’s done such a service to society with imparting the world with his knowledge and reflecting on his experiences. He told me during our interview that protesting isn’t easy, and that’s very understandable. He said he’s received death threats on and off television, violent notes have appeared at his home, and he’s been ridiculed with racial slurs numerous times. Leaders like him will see what difference they’ve made in their society, no matter how big or small their contributions might be. I myself feel like peace and understanding for others needs to be taught and excepted in households. Nobody in this world will be the exact same or even remotely close to the same, it has always been that way and it will always be that way. Zaki Baruti taught me that with such a diverse world comes patience and respect for others. I really appreciate the time we spent during our interview, I have a little more faith in the people of this world.