Black August in the Park as A Black Muslim in the Park Too.
A few weekends ago was Black August in the Park here in North Carolina. If you have never been or heard of Black August in the Park; imagine a Black family reunion. Food, music, the electric slide, you know, the basics. This was my first year going and even though the rain came through and caught us all; it was worth it. When I lived in the Tristate area, finding super Black spaces was easier. I found them often and would go either with friends or family. Afro Punk, the West Indian Day Parade, Curl Fest, etc. Here in NC I have to be intentional about seeking and finding Black spaces. They happen, but you have to be in tune with the networks that share them. Social media is definitely helping, and is actually what turned me on to Black August in the Park.
So what is Black August? One of the best explanations of the month I have found is from https://www.thedockbookshop.com/event/black-august
“Black August originated in the California penal system to honor fallen Freedom Fighters, Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain and Khatari Gaulden. Jonathan Jackson was gunned down outside the Marin County California courthouse on August 7, 1970 as he attempted to liberate three imprisoned Black Liberation Fighters: James McClain, William Christmas and Ruchell Magee. Ruchell Magee is the sole survivor of that armed liberation attempt. He is the former co-defendant of Angela Davis and has been locked down for 38 years, most of it in solitary confinement. George Jackson was assassinated by prison guards during a Black prison rebellion at San Quentin on August 21, 1971. Three prison guards were also killed during that rebellion and prison officials charged six Black and Latino prisoners with the death of those guards. These six brothers became known as the San Quentin Six. Khatari Gaulden was a prominent leader of the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) after Comrade George was assassinated at San Quentin Prison in 1978 to eliminate his leadership and destroy the resistance movement.
Black August is a time to embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical training and resistance.”
Several notable events have occurred and are highlighted in August during Black August.
In 1843, Henry Highland Garnett called a general slave strike on August 22. The Underground Railroad was started on August 2, 1850. The March on Washington occurred in August of 1963, Gabriel Prosser’s 1800 slave rebellion occurred on August 30 and Nat Turner planned and executed a slave rebellion that commenced on August 21, 1831. The Watts rebellions were in August of 1965. On August 18, 1971 the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA) was raided by Mississippi police and FBI agents. The MOVE family was bombed by Philadelphia police on August 8, 1978. Further, August is a time of birth. Dr. Mutulu Shakur (political prisoner & prisoner of war), Pan-Africanist Black Nationalist Leader Marcus Garvey, Maroon Russell Shoatz (political prisoner) and Chicago BPP Chairman Fred Hampton were born in August. August is also a time of rebirth, W.E.B. Dubois died in Ghana on August 27, 1963.”
One of the most interesting points of Black August for me is the clear Muslim influence of fasting for the whole month; and the emphasis on studying and focus. “The tradition of fasting during Black August teaches self-discipline. On August 31, a People’s feast is held and the fast is broken.”
Every Muslim knows that Ramadan, the Holy month of fasting, is one that not only tests, but also strengthens one against the pulls of the flesh. Self-discipline is intrinsic in the fasting that occurs for us during Ramadan. Muslims often study, remove themselves from social media, become more aware during this time. All of the things that are called for in Black August.
As a Black Muslim, it’s important for me to point out the influence Islam has on Black August. So often Islam and Black Muslim identities are restricted to Malcolm X and the Nation. Outside of areas with large concentrations of Black Muslims like Philadelphia and New York or New Jersey, people find the concept of Black and Muslim to be foreign. Falling for media portrayals and descriptions of Islam and Muslims being “foreign”. I find in conversations of liberation and justice; it’s either a Christian centric lens or no religion at all. The impact and influence of Black Muslims on liberation ideologies and practices in this countries, often forgotten or ignored.
My first trip to the park I looked out hard for other Muslims. I wanted to make sure in the sea of vast Blackness; that we were also represented. I did see several sisters and their families in the park. It added to the feeling of home.
Normally when I am in a crowd or park setting I am diligent with how far my kids can wander. But at Black August in the Park I let them roam (not too far, I’m not crazy). But I felt community. Other mothers, aunties, uncles and cousins were looking after my kids. I didn’t have the same worry I normally have. It felt safe. Their little Black bodies were one of many. Their curly hair, reaching for the sky, wasn’t novel. They were just two of many, brown hued and melanated babies in the Park.
I hope to continue to participate in Black August in the park in the future and I want more Muslims in the crowd. I want my children to feel that I made sure they always were surrounded by community; in every shape and form that that takes. I want Muslims to stop standing on the edges and fully participate in different ways. We are apart of the overall community, so we should act like it. Next year I want bean pies and fried fish! And now let it be.