The first movie that I ever attended alone without any parental presence, was the film ‘Malcolm X’ directed by Spike Lee. The first book that the old timers gave me to read in prison was the autobiography of Malcolm X. My dad said that he prayed to Allah when my mother was pregnant that I would become the next Malcolm X. Malcolm X has always had a significant presence in my life.
Yesterday, while everyone was celebrating thanksgiving, I was listening to the artist Westside Gunn on the Tidal streaming app. On his song titled ‘Ishkabibble’s’, the featured artist on the track (Black Thought) referenced ‘West Indian Archie’, a gangster in Harlem who Detroit Reds worked for before his personal transformation into Malcolm X.
I had a painting that I did last year in 2020 that I wanted to repurpose. However, I did not receive the inspiration to move forward until I heard Black Thought mention Archie. The spirit moved on me to keep this old gangster alive for the next generation of people that may have forgotten the impact that he had on Malcolm’s life.
We live in a culture of self proclaimed ‘Self-Made’ people. Nonetheless, it takes a village to raise a child, and no man is an island unto himself. We are all the by-product of our ancestors and every person that we’ve encountered in life that has left an impression upon us.
The original painting was of a scale, holding in its balance ‘Wight Liberal Pity’ and ‘Wight Supremacy Terrorism’, both tools that have been used effectively to keep Black people either dependent upon the charity of others outside of themselves, or caught between the crosshairs of vigilante and state sponsored violence. In reality, it is the history of segregation, redlining, restrictive covenants, and other laws and policies that have marginalized Black people, that created a culture of street hustlers, pimps, number runners, and gangsters like West Indian Archie, Detroit Reds, and myself. Encouraged to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, with no boots to begin with, we were compelled to kill for crumbs and engage with the ‘Black Market’ in order to progress economically as other people had the privilege of inheriting trust funds and other inter-generational wealth assets.
For me, the portrait of West Indian Archie is about the impact that the unsung heroes have in developing legends. The genius of the Black American Gangster to hustle against all odds to still reach success that was never meant to include them. The power of Black entrepreneurship, and the importance of mentorship in Black Enterprise. And finally, the importance of Black artists, in particular the Black painters, to capture our heroes - not only the ones recycled every Black History month - to show the beauty that our poverty, our pain, our gangsters, ex-convicts, pimps, gangbangers, preachers, rappers, poets, cooks, criminals, and struggle produces.
Love Is The Vaccine,
Halim A. Flowers
Halim has requested for all proceeds from this initial auction to benefit the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (csfy.org) and The Frederick Douglass Project for Justice (douglassproject.org)