It was April 1972 and I entered this world at University Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan at 3:04 am and was placed into the care of a beautiful 20-year-old college sophomore Linda Annette, aka Nnecka Nalo and her college senior, social studies major and future social worker husband Eugene, aka Atiba Knotta.
First of all, before we go any further understand that my parents were young.
This will explain a lot.
My mom was barely 20 when she had me. She had just had her 20th birthday barely a month before and my father had just turned 24 years old the previous December.
Despite their best attempts at being the model black militants, the parents that I would grow to know were far too conservative to drop their Christian names altogether and go by Atiba Knotta and Nnecka Nalo full-time.
My parents didn’t need to make it official though. Amongst the other "black militants in spirit" that they hung around with on campus, just having an authentic African name was enough.
I say authentic because it was different back then.
Today black folks just make up African sounding names by just changing vowels like they think nobody notices.
No, back then if you were going to name your kid something African then it better be in the book.
When it came to naming me my parents had worked out a deal that was fair, on paper.
They had agreed that when I came out of the oven, if I was a boy, my father would name me and if I was a girl then my mother would name me.
Well no sooner that it was announced that I was a seven pound three ounce baby boy my father told my mother the name he had settled on, Nkrumah Shabazz.
Like many young college educated black people in the 1970s, my parents were very much in support of the black power movement, in particular, the image that it portrayed.
Nkrumah Shabazz had image written all over it.
All that SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), and CORE (The Congress of Racial Equality) stuff didn’t resonate with them in 1972 as much as did the Black Panther Party or anyone else with an Afro-centric name who was writing books demanding reparations from the United States government or posing for portraits sitting in oversized wicker chairs with a beret on their head.
They loved Muhammad Ali for standing up to the Federal Government by refusing to of going off to fight in Vietnam.
Then, on the other hand, they vilified George Foreman for smiling and proudly waving the American Flag during the Olympics like some happy go lucky nigger, oblivious to the political and racial struggles of black Americans back home putting on a good face for the world to see.
During this time they wanted their black leaders, celebrities, anyone black that had a spotlight on him to be, proud, angry, defiant, articulate, and non-conformant.
Yeah, the pendulum had swung completely on the opposite side from where Booker T. Washington wanted it to go, where we would all learn to become better farmers, shoe makers and domestic servants and be happy with whatever quality of life that would afford us until whites found a need for us.
Now the pendulum was all the way on the other side where doing everything you could to show how non-conforming you were to anything considered “white” was the way to be.
Grow out your Afro. Don’t be ashamed of your kinky hair. Run out and buy an African name book and rename yourself something that means something cool like “man who can spear lion on first try.”
The whole black power movement was empowering in the sense that blacks were definitely starting to develop a much healthier perception of themselves than they had gained from growing up and watching Tarzan on television.
And really, that is where all progress starts, with how you perceive yourself doesn't it?
But in reality, saying you had moved beyond Tarzan, that wasn’t saying much.
I mean, how couldn’t our self-image improve from where we were starting out?
Despite what old school conservatives believed at the time, particularly those that believed Hoover over at the FBI, there wasn’t a dotted line from the black power movement to having shoot outs with the police in the wee hours of the morning or associating with known communists.
You’ve got to remember that it was the early 1970s. It was just shy of 20 years after Brown v. Board of Education made segregation unconstitutional in America, and she was just getting around to talking about actually bussing kids around to integrate the public schools.
America was not exactly breaking her neck to try to make good on all that equal protection under the law stuff.
Then, when you consider that half of the civil rights leaders from the 1950s and 1960s hadn't gotten out of the 1960s alive for one reason or another, and the other half of them wouldn’t get out of the 1970s, naturally you could see how that could breed an awful lot of resentment.
But when push came to shove, the bottom line was that my parents hadn't yet given up on the idea that they still could carve a little something out of life for themselves that they would be content with. They still hadn't been convinced yet that they couldn’t give me a better life than they had.
And so until they reached that point, they were a far cry from picking up and moving to Cuba, Liberia, or shooting it out with the FBI, although I am sure they would have been totally flattered had someone told them that they looked the part.
Nah, to show their dedication to the black power movement and thumb their noses at an oppressive white society they would just use me.
I was named Nkrumah Shabazz and if there was anything my parents did for political reasons this was it.
The Nkrumah part was taken from Kwame Nkrumah, an outspoken Marxist/Communist, Pan-African Founding Father of Ghana, who led Ghana, out from under British colonialism to independence.
For the longest time I was told by my parents that I was named after Kwame Nkrumah the first prime minister of Ghana, the first African nation to gain its independence from European colonialism.
And the story ended right there.
What they didn’t tell me was that he also almost led Ghana into economic ruin and ended up having his presidency stripped from him while he was in Hanoi, Democratic Republic of North Vietnam at the invitation of President Ho Chi Minh. A few years previous, Nkrumah had declared himself President for Life and since the people weren't going to be troubled with anymore elections, banned all opposition political parties. He literally developed a cult around himself to perpetuate and mythicize himself that was taught in the Ghanaian school system to children, which was called "the Nkrumahist Gospel".
The Shabazz came from Malcolm X who had changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz after he left the nation of Islam and became a Sunni Muslim.
And the Steward, well the Steward part came from whatever slave master owned my father’s people.
At least that is what I was told.
Then to my father’s surprise he was reading the morning paper on the day I was born and evidently the real Kwame Nkrumah had kicked the bucket only a few hours before I was born on the same morning.
That was kinda creepy.
In the beginning we lived in family housing on the college campus. My father hadn’t graduated yet with his bachelors’ degree in Social studies.
The first week I came home from the hospital my grandmother came up from Detroit to stay with us for the week to kinda show my mother the ropes.
Apparently the help was appreciated. I am under the impression that during this week I was taken care of reasonably well.
After that week was up however, once my grandmother had gathered her things and went back home to Detroit she wasn’t out of the door before it dawned on my mother that I wasn’t going anywhere.
I was her responsibility and hers alone. Here was this life and she was going to be ultimately responsible for whether or not I lived or died, whether I was healthy or sick, whether I was properly clothed and fed.
It was all on her.
Pre-season was over and now every game counted.
Mommy was gone. Now I am the mommy.
That is when she broke down and cried over for the next few…days.
Eventually she gathered her composure as well as the hang of things and for the most part things went on without a hitch.
My mother kept what was akin to a laboratory journal of everything I did or didn’t do over the next year or so like it was her responsibility to study the lab monkey and report to the doctors any unforeseen effects from the sugar pill they fed me.
May 5, 1972 - Nkrumah pushed himself to the side of the bed
May 28, 1972 - Nkrumah slept six hours straight after eating 7 oz. of Milk.
May 29, 1972 - Memorial Day, Nkrumah rolled over from his stomach to his back.
June 4th, 1972 - Nkrumah first started sleeping 5 and 6 hours a night.
June 9th, 1972 - Nkrumah went to bed at 11:00 and slept until 5:00. He then went back to sleep until 9:00 am.
July 13, 1972 - Nkrumah had his first laugh and slept ALL NIGHT!!!
August 16th, 1972 “Nkrumah turned from his stomach to his back after awaking twice. Nkrumah also looked at me and laughed aloud. He laughed when I kissed his thigh before this.”
August 22, 1972 – Nkrumah is able to grasp small objects.
September 1, 1972 – Nkrumah able to rise on his hands and knees with head raised.
April 27, 1973 – Nkrumah spent his first birthday in Detroit with my family. He spent the summer with them while I worked at Beyer Hospital for three months.
April 27, 1974 – Nkrumah stayed with Grandma Nonie. Gene and I went to Kalamazoo to see cousin Robert graduate. Nkrumah had a really good time.
May 3rd 1974 – Boogie – a little boy (white) who lived across from us at Westview. Nkrumah said his name whenever he saw him.
May 4th 1974 Nkrumah loves his bike. All he wants to do is go and ride his bike outside. His next favorite toys are his basketball and football, and baseball. Nkrumah always wants to “shoot a basket” and then tries to do so by shooting his basketball into the lamp in the living room.”
The one thing she failed to mention was that I was nearly a year old before she took me off milk and on to solid foods.
To quote my father when I asked him about that when I was in my late twenties he just looked at me and said, “yeah, your mother and I kinda drop the ball on that one.”
Part Two Coming Soon