INTERVIEW BY: PABLO ALARCÓN,JR.
ecently, we had the opportunity to interview activist, writer, and podcaster Mike Africa, Jr of the Philadelphia-based MOVE Organization.
In 2020, we were honored to release a collaborative collection with the MOVE Organization commemorating 50 years of organized resistance.
Philadelphia Printworks: For those who are unfamiliar with the MOVE organization, what is MOVE and what are you working towards?
Mike Africa, Jr: The MOVE organization was founded in the early seventies by John Africa. John Africa started the organization with a simple mission, to protect life. When we say “life” we’re talking about people, animals, and the environment. Having that mission, a dangerous mission to have. The system doesn't want you to protect life.
MOVE protested against unjust boarding homes for the elderly, police brutality, the circus, the Philadelphia Zoo, testing on animals, and any type of enslavement of animals. MOVE protested against any type of injustice against animals, and the abuse of people. The organization's mission is simple, to protect life and to give other people information so that they feel inspired to protect life too.
MAJ: It's been really interesting to learn, you know, even though we kept in touch with each other, We’re learning from each other, we're getting to know each other in ways that we never knew before. The relationship ebbs and flows. It's really good that we're all home together, being around each other and getting to know each other. But you know, it's a learning curve.
They say you never know a person until you live with them. I found that to be true in this situation, my mom has dislikes about certain things and she doesn't like me being too “radical” so to speak, she doesn't want me to end up in a situation where I'm separated from my family, so she's very hands-on when it comes to advice. We have a really good relationship.
My pop, he is very like my mom. Trying to be protective, sometimes overly protective, but you know, that’s what caring parents do right!? I’m loving it! I’m soaking it all in! At times I let them know that I'm grown. Even though they are my dad and mom, I’m still 40 something years old.
So the relationship is really cool, it's a very human relationship, it's very similar to what I guess my dream of having parents at home would be like at this age. We have a very respectable relationship, we have a very intimate relationship, like we are always around each other, we’re always talking to each other, we get involved in different projects, we go places, we travel together. A very, very close relationship.
PPW: What does “humanizing revolutionaries” look like to you?
MAJ: Revolutionaries don't need humanizing. First of all, let me just say that. Revolutionaries do not need humanizing, people need to see what it really is, it's because people don't really see revolutionaries as human, I guess that's what makes me say “I'm trying to humanize revolutionaries”, but actually you know, people that are revolutionaries are people that actually have really big hearts and they care about things so that's what drives people to become revolutionaries. They're trying to protect, they're trying to make sure that people in their communities are safe. So they don't really need humanizing, people just need to open their eyes and really look at who these people are.
But since I say it, it does make sense to explain it. Humanizing revolutionaries, you look at the revolutionaries that we have among us, you think about the MOVE 9, you think about Russell Maroon Shoatz, you think about Assata Shakur, and you think about Delbert Africa. You think about all these different revolutionaries, then you look at the children that these people had, very much so contributing members of society. I think that if people knew that Kakuya Shakur is a clinical social worker who helps people every single day of her life, that's her profession. You look at Russell Maroon Shoatz who is a community activist, he helps people every single day and some of the things that most people wouldn't care about, or that the news media would never have on display are people feeding each other, housing each other, clothing each other, financially supporting and being there emotionally for each other. There is a strong community of revolutionaries and their children that are very much so active and never stops working to help people. And that is the part of the revolution that people don't see, what people see is violence, they see guns, or arrest, they see the jail time, they hear their shouts, and the protest, but actually the day-to-day operations are people being healthy and exercising, like I do. People that are supporting each other and visiting each other in prison and sending them money to make sure that the kids are cool. It's just a very touching and powerful way for people to live, but it's something that we don't really get credit for. So that's what humanizing revolutionaries is, making sure that people see who we really are and not what the media has portrayed us to be.
PPW: You were just 6 years old when the events of the 1985 MOVE Bombing occurred, could you describe what you were feeling then?
MAJ: So when the bombing happened on May 13th 1985, I was six years old I was nearly seven. What that was like was disbelief. This is exactly what happened, this is what I saw, I lived on 39th and Reno, the house was bomb on 6221 Osage Avenue. It's the evening time, I come outside down the steps of my house and because our house was on the corner, all of our friends lived on the other side of the block, away from Osage Avenue. So I come downstairs, I turn left to go down the street to see who was outside and what they were doing. And a friend of mine, he's coming up the street at the same time. He looks me dead in my face and said, “they dropped a bomb on MOVE”. My first reaction was, “No they didn't”. He pointed up and told me to look up at the sky. When I did, I saw that the whole sky was black. I didn't really know what that meant. I didn't know that 11 people had been killed, I didn't know that John Africa, my great-uncle, I didn't know that the kids, I didn't know that anybody died. I just saw smoke, so I went in the house, I checked on my family, and I saw that they were all watching the news and they were watching the news and they were watching May 13th, the bombing, and watching the whole thing unfold. So I didn't really have an understanding, it took me another maybe 10 or 15 years to learn who was in the house, And by that time, I didn't know things were different.
Photo by Scott J. Applewhite/AP Images.
Ramona Africa, when she came out of prison in 1992, she started traveling around the country and around the world doing speaking engagements at universities and community organizations and I did a lot of traveling with her. When she would be explaining to these students, to these audiences, what happened May 13th, and who was killed, while they were learning the story, I was learning the story too. No one actually sat me down and told me what happened, so you know, it was devastating though eventually once I learned, you know, for all the time in between the bombing and learning about it, it was always a curiosity of who was killed. I was reluctant, I was scared to ask people, “who was killed?” I was scared to ask people those questions because everyone was so hurt that I didn't want to ask them. I didn't want to reopen or make them think about something that they didn't want to think about at the time. So I just kind of waited, and then eventually I learned. It was devastating, it was confusing, and it still is.
PPW: What would you like people to remember the most about the 1985 MOVE Bombing and the events that took place on May 13th?
MAJ: I think the thing I want people to remember most about the bombings is that it happened. Military people were brought in by the government to bomb people. I would like people to know that 5 children died in that house, six children all together. Birdie didn't die in the house that day but he died later, it was still an early death in his forties. He didn't die because of the bomb necessarily, but I just can't help but believe that the bomb contributed to his mental health, and the subsequent events that led to his death.
I think people need to know that 5 children died in that house that was shot by police. It was not an accident, the police let the fire burn.
Wilson Goode was a black mayor, for all of the people out there who want to vote for your black politicians. For me, it's less about what they look like, and more about the politics and what they're talking about. There’s a whole lot of black people who get elected into places, and black people cheer them on just because they're black and if you are not doing what the right thing is, it doesn't really matter what color you are.
Six adults died and they were really young people, like we think about them now, but Frank Africa was only 26, Teresa was 25, and I'm saying these were young people. The kids were kids, but some of them were young people too. I have a son that is nearly 25.
I would like people to never forget.
MAJ: Liberation for me, I can't even imagine what liberation really looks like, I mean freedom, abolishing prisons. But. I think it really is important to replace the idea. We have to have something to like... You can't just let people out of prison, that doesn't work without setting people up. So that they can function. You have to have the types of activities that keep people moving and working.
Liberation is freedom for everybody. It’s not just freedom from prisons, it's also destroying the companies that make these chemicals that are lacing our foods. I mean, think about some of the foods that are in these corner stores, you got these foods in there that are filled with chemicals like, monosodium glutamate or whatever. The prisons are just one part of it, but like people are crazy out here and part of the reason they're crazy is because they're being fed poison and I think getting rid of police that lock people up, and shoot people down the street for no reason. Liberation is a lot of things, it’s a huge overhaul, it can't be something that's like an overnight fix because we're still figuring out a lot of things, but the start of liberation would be for people to be healthy and resist anything that makes people unhealthy. I'm talking about mental stuff, I’m talking about foods we consume, lack of exercise, and people’s diet. We need to think about that, and also liberation is the whole thing about the planet, RRR. We can have a whole sit-down, week long discussion about what liberation really looks like.
PPW: As someone so steeped in activism, do you have any words of encouragement for those who are just starting to get involved in social justice work?
Dive in! You’ll figure it out! I think the best thing you can do is start. The worst thing you could do is not start. My dad always says, “if you have kids think about them first because they are your responsibility." And you know, if you're not doing what you have to do to protect the children, your own children specifically, then what is the point? You have to think about your own kids in the work that you get involved in.
How I feel about that is, dive in, jump in, two feet, get involved, we need help out here. But do it in a way where you're comfortable, because you know, if you're comfortable going through this gauntlet of activities that could land you in jail, that could land you in the grave, that could separate you from your family. That stuff is real, but I think if I was to say where people should start I would say like, try to think about your skill-set and how you can contribute. I would say stay in your lane. I would say visit the people that have done this before you, and learn as much as you can before jumping out there, so you don’t make many mistakes, and so that you're not trying to reinvent the wheel. There are legendary revolutionary people out here, visit them, read a book, learn as much as you can. But that's how you jump in. Learn, read, you know, that's how you jump in. If you pick up Mumia Abu-Jamal’s book, Murder Incorporated - America’s Favorite Pastime. Learn, read, you know that’s how you jump in. Dive in, get 10 of his books. He's written 15. Get them all and read some of John Africa’s work. Read the Panthers. Learn from these movements that are here right now. You got elders that have been in the movement for fifty years and they’re only fifty. They can still teach you stuff. Pam Africa is 75 year old and she is still active in the movement. Learn from the people that came before you.
MAJ: I exercise every day, 5 days a week, and I rest on the weekends. I eat healthy, I'm not a vegetarian or vegan, I eat a lot of raw foods.
I take care of myself with a lot of mental notes, positive and motivational people I surround myself with. If you can't motivate me, if you're not helping me get to my next step, then I probably ain't going to have you around me. Doesn't mean that I don't care about you, it just means that I have to protect my mental health. I have to protect my physical health. If you're a person that's going to bring me down, and I don't care who you are, either you're a cousin, an aunt, an uncle, a niece, a nephew - if you are really on some negative energy type stuff, no, we ain't going to be cool. We could be cool from a distance, like I'll see you on the weekends or Thanksgiving if that's what you do. Maybe sometimes I might just make the rounds since everybody's already together. Say hi. I’m not a Thanksgiving type person other than the food. Point is, I keep positive energy around me. If i’m on social media the people and things I follow are exercise. Exercise to be healthy and better themselves. I got this perspective that if you see a person running in the street, give them respect. If you’re driving, show them respect, take the time that it takes to let them run in front of you. Like respect them, they’re working hard at making themselves better. They will appreciate you. That's how the world is better. You know, show love to people that are working hard.
Saturday morning I don't get out of bed till 8 a.m. Sometimes 10. Monday through Friday I’m up at 5 in the morning, get my exercise in, get my lady up, we exercise together, but I rest. Every Friday me and my daughter we do Daddy Daughter day, every Friday, I don't miss them.
That's taking care of yourself, you know, if you take care of your family and everybody is happy in your family, that's taking care of yourself. That's how you rest, that's how you play, that's how you work, you know taking care of your family. That's what it's all about.
PPW: What inspires you to make our community a better place?
MAJ: I came from a terrible place and I think the best way to honor and pay back is... I came from a terrible place and there was some people that we're… So, like listen, I got this thing, I live to make God proud of me like straight up. Like I ain't talkin about the heavens and the earth type of thing. I’m talking about how God put in all humans, God put in me, God put in you, God put it in every person, the ability to be good. And for me, I want God to be proud of me. I see God in myself and I also see God in the people I'm around. I see goodness and godliness and I want God to be proud of me. So that's why I give back to my community. I also believe in karma so if I'm putting out good vibes, good vibes come back to me. That's basically what it is, it's really not deeper than that.
I feel that the universe or however you say it. This is how i say it. I feel that God sees things and you put out good vibes you get good vibes back. But if I put out bad vibes you get bad vibes back.
I want my community to love me, because I love my community. I have come from a terrible place, family members that stepped over me, on the way to wherever they were going. Stepped on me because both my parents were in prison all my life growing up and I have relatives that didn't care anything about me. It seemed like they never came to visit me, never fed me, never sent me any money, to help me, anything, nothing, and I just never want to be that kind of person because I know how it is. So that's what inspires me to be better. I saw my parents go to prison, I saw that they were in prison and I wanted to do what it takes to help, so that other people don't have to experience that with their loved ones.
PPW: How can people show their support for you and the MOVE organization?
Reach out to mikeafricajr.com, find me on instagram and social media, donate money. People can get involved in some of the activities that we are working on right now. I'm in the process of building a MOVE Museum. We're in the archiving stages. I've collected 65 big containers from different MOVE members that collected their own stuff from over the years and we’re building a museum. I would love for people to donate to the museum. I would love for people to support with their time and help us organize our archival material. That's basically what I'm focused on right now. Another way that people can support the organization is to visit Philadelphia Printworks and buy the T-shirts. We have a collection of T-shirts that show May 13th and other historical moments in our history. Support Philadelphia Printworks and the MOVE T-shirt collection.