Mountaintop Assignment Atlanta

Introductory note: This is truly an unedited first draft. It is written for Kwame and anyone he chooses to share it with. And for Ruby Dee. And for all of my loved ones. It contains my deathbed wish. UPDATE 20 June: After days of frustration vis-a-vis Atlanta contacts… a few minutes ago (10:40am PST?) I sent a missive to Lillian at Criminal Records in that realm… trusting that we can dust up some trouble together… and have fun in the process. By the way, I’ve received zero response to date from that white prof spotlighted below. What is that about?

Mountaintop Assignment Atlanta
Dedicated to Ruby Dee and Ossie and Harry
by Your Ox

Near the end of the documentary on Harry Belafonte, there’s a gathering of famous black people, including Harry, Jim Brown, Quincy Jones, Ruby Dee. As I remember, they’re gathered together to address the crises — plural — facing black youngsters. And, suddenly, in one of the most touching moments in cinematic history Ruby Dee, having heard the bootless cries of one celebrity after another, screams out — in Harry’s direction, I believe — “I need an assignment!”

I should watch that part of the documentary again. Perhaps she says, “I want an assignment!” Maybe… “Give me an assignment!” Could be all three. Whatever, whatever she does cry out, it’s with an exclamation point. And her soul goes through you, if a soul remains within you.

I don’t describe Ruby’s outburst lightly, my words are thoughtfully composed: “…one of the most touching moments in cinematic history.” You can feel her anguish AND the abominations witnessed by one and all in the room, the horror read about and spoken about over the history of black folk forever… culminating in the clear need to rise above words, for the mandatory embrace of some kind of action that will make a difference.

Ruby had heard the platitudes and false promises of emotional outrage once too often, and she let her passion fly over the mountaintop.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”

I have an assignment for Ruby. And I have an assignment for each and every black person in this sick country who is concerned with black youth, with black people who (remotely) resemble the kind of kind, colorful black people I grew up with, kin… disappearing from the face of this earth.

But I’m going to need the help of some of the friends of Ruby and Ossie Davis who met recently ( to get “the message” across. The message that has to do with what we all can do post haste to stop the horrid momentum which is extinguishing the flame of black youth to the point where there will be no possibility of any fire of any kind next time ’round.

James Baldwin is turning over in his grave, and I can feel it. I CRY OUT to the good people of Atlanta. The ones I look forward to meeting when I make the trip I cannot possibly make to meet with them, courtesy of my new found friend Kwame. The kind, accomplished, well-meaning, sensitive black soul associated with the supporters of NAPO and so many others who are in a position to help me to reach Ruby.

For the folks who gathered together for Ruby recently are inaccessible to me if I’m acting on my own. I need to move in solidarity with others in order to clarify what “the assignment” has to be. And even if I could connect with the influential celebrities for my purposes… well, they seem to be too much enamored of the Obama Bandwagon* to get on board with the likes of me. I might be wrong, but I don’t think so.

*They don’t care or are not aware of what’s happening to the Magna Carta principles in our country, among other things. And/or they justify our abominable momentum

None of that matters, however, for the daunting challenge of bonding… to move in solidarity… to make a difference in the realm of black youth… which will, then, unquestionably, send positive ripples into many other realms… giving us all a shot at turning things around… invites us with a friendly smile.

I’m going to send this Kwame’s way, and hope that he’ll spread the word that I want to call a meeting. A nobody, me… calling a meeting at The Mountaintop… in or around Atlanta somewhere. Soon. Yesterday. Before Ruby dies.

I’m also going to send this to Mark Edmundson, a white professor from the University of Virginia, out of desperation… trusting that the impression I have of him, after reading his wonderful “Poetry Slam” piece (Harper’s July, 2013 issue) is spot on. Believing that he really is as socially-conscious as the article suggests… and wants to see a change in the status quo across the board. [Pause.] I reach out to anyone who gives off the slightest whiff of citizen concern, and have for the last eight years 24×8. No hyperbole there.

Because I’m going to die like Ruby Dee. Like Ossie did. Like you… down the road. And I remember what Edna St. Vincent Millay recited to me close to my eighth birthday:

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.

The author, open to traveling to Charlottesville (maybe), can be reached at

Afterwords, afterwards

“Ruby could see she was locked into being with brothers blocked by rote complaint and tired tirades, I think.”
— one of the author’s sons after viewing Ruby’s outburst and discussing her frustration

“Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul.”
— Mark Twain

“Clinging to petrified talk cannot break chains, nor can it free a single human soul.”
— the author, after reviewing all the blah blah above