Garvey and Me

Garvey: Look For Me in the whirlwind.

Odede looked at the whirlwind and the blessings rained on him.

I was born an inferior person who could not stand up for his own rights. The system around me made me a lesser human being. The system clearly indicates that when you are born poor you will be poor the rest of your life, and if you are born into a rich family you will just get richer the rest of your life. People from the slums just did not attend the better schools or have good jobs.

Naturally the system works and it was predicted that it would never change. All of my friends  could only dream of getting unskilled jobs in the factories, because even that was considered lucky. The factory jobs were not easy to get because you had to have a connection with someone who worked there. Any parent might dream of seeing their sons on a factory payroll. To work in a factory meant that you might earn $2 per day and be in the upper class in Kibera. While many families were struggling for their daily, bread a factory worker could afford it, but would have nothing that they could save. It made possible what is referred to as hand to mouth survival. The factory did not guarantee to pay hospital bills because the working environment was not friendly to human beings.

That was the life I grew up in for 24 years. I knew nothing good would ever come out of me and I always had two feet planted firmly on earth. But one day I heard a name in a song that inspired and changed my entire life. The name was Marcus Garvey, a black man who immigrated to America from Jamaica. I heard that Marcus Garvey never gave up, and he was always proud of himself. I was a curious person and I wanted to know more about that person. I never read about him and it was the first time I had heard the name. I was 18 years old when I heard of Garvey.

After doing research and asking more questions about Marcus Garvey, the more I fell in love with his philosophy and ideas. I read more books, speeches that he made, and everything inspired me. I saw myself as Marcus Garvey, a man who fought for the rights of black people and resisted the system that surrounded them. He fought for justice, that people should be treated equally despite their color. He preached unity and social and economic power for the less privileged. He was a fearless person who never got intimidated by anyone. He knew his natural freedom and preached against the powerful people who were working against the prosperity of the black community.

By the time I was 19 , I had already read ten books that talked about Garvey, and I had learned about America from 1914 to the 1920s by reading Garvey’s books. I knew other characters who positively or negatively got involved with Garvey people, like Dubois and others.

Knowing about Garvey affected the rest of my life.  I was a scared person and could not even walk in the streets of Nairobi without the fear that the police would arrest me for loitering in the city. I thought Nairobi was so beautiful, but I was too poor to be in the city. People from the slums suffered from all kinds of discrimination and many thought that a young person from the slums must be a thug. That scared me, and I knew the police hated any youth from the slums.

I remember one day, while walking in the streets of Nairobi, I saw two policemen in front of me and my blood boiled and I thought ; They will arrest me for being jobless, as they often did. They were looking at me and I turned around and started walking fast. They were also walking, the more I increased my walking speed the faster they went too. I said “Oh my God they will arrest me but over my dead body, better to let them shoot me for nothing than to go to prison for nothing.” I made a decision and started running in the middle of the street and made sure that I was escaping toward the streets where there was a traffic jam. To make matters worse, the policemen were running after me. I knew people with cars were more human than me, and that police would never shoot at their cars because they might be rich people. You can’t be poor and have a car in Kenya. The vehicles are owned by the rich class of citizens. I still think the police could have shot at me if I had run towards the common Kenyans who were walking on the streets. They care so much more about the rich than the poor, and would never harm the rich. That was my idea of running towards the cars in the traffic jam, just like I thought Garvey might have done too. 

In my country people are judged according to their outside appearance, and clothes play a major role in that. That showed a clear picture of my environment and how I had no peace in my life.

Garvey changed my life, I started becoming little Garvey in Kibera. I nicknamed myself little Garvey and convinced myself that Garvey’s spirit was in me. This ideology stayed with me for a long time. When Garvey was being deported from America because of his work, he said “Look at me in the whirl wind and I will be there, the seed of Garvey will grew up in the thousands of Garveyites that will come up in the future.” I believed I was one of the seeds Garvey talked about.  I wanted to do everything like Garvey did. I read a lot because Garvey too was a writer and a journalist. Garvey inspired me to love reading and writing. History books refer to Garvey as a natural lawyer who was good in oratory skills and he influenced millions of blacks. I too have influenced thousands of people in my community to believe in themselves.

I will admit that Garvey made me a radical person who could argue and not run away from tproblems. I became tough in the slums and always fought for what I knew was right. I vowed to face things head on, no matter what happens. Sometimes I could go and search for jobs and tell the employers that I’m from Kibera, something that was a crime to say while looking for a job. I was not scared, because I knew I was the little Garvey of our time. Many people were scared of my bravely and could not offer me  job, while some people loved my courage and offered me unskilled labor that I did for a while.

Garvey grew in me like a bushfire over my soul. I remember an incident when I felt like I was a brave lion in front of people. It was around midday at the Nairobi Hilton hotel; I had taken some of my white friends for a walk as they wanted to buy tourist souvenirs.  I was dressed in my usual cheap Kibera attire and I didn’t care how people perceived me. My friends went inside the hotel to do some shopping, while I stayed outside windowshopping. Shockingly, a guard came from one of the shops, and shouted at me, “Young boy, please leave from here, you are a thief who steals from the tourists; I will call the police if you don’t disappear in two seconds.” The words of a poor guard entered my heart like a spear and I went straight to him with full confidence. I asked, “How long will you be a slave for your master and even abuse your brother who is your neighbor in the slum?” I told him that I know he comes from the slum and his master was just using him. I added, “Set your mind free from the slavery of classism.”  My words left the poor guard speechless andconfused while people looked at him. I knew he looked stupid and I was a hero. Within a short time, an Indian woman came out of the shop and asked the guard what I was doing by the windows. The woman asked the guard to send me away. She said, “Make sure that boy goes away from the window, he might snatch something.” Again I felt Garvey’s confidence in me and I said to her “I am a Kenyan, and I deserve to walk anywhere that I want and, a foreign Indian woman cannot restrict my freedom.”  She threatened me that she would call the police. I told her to call the police; We shall meet in a Kenyan court of law,” and that she must be ready to tell the court why she is denying a Kenyan citizen the right of movement, as the law indicates that everyone has the right to move around to different places in the republic of Kenya, and any Kenyan is entitled by law to visit any business premises. The woman felt embarrassed and went back to her shop. At first I thought she might call the police, but she didn’t. That day I knew I was Garvey and no one else would ever intimidate me in my own country.

My room in the slum was full of Garvey portraits and words. He was my hero, and I got my strength from him. I was happy that Garvey was not a gangster because I could have become anything Garvey was.

When I think of Garvey, I see myself two years ago living in hardship in the slums, and I could have given up, but I stood strong as Garvey stood strong. Garvey’s influence brought positive results in the slums. I became the first informal mayor in the slum who was protected by the residents. I also founded SHOFCO, a youth-led grassroots organization through, the influence of Garvey.

 Garvey was my hero, but since I came to America I’ve been thinking less and less about him. I think slum life was hopeless and I needed something to hold onto. This is the reason many people in Africa tend to rely on religion as a way to fight the hard life. Garvey was my religion and he got me moving, until I came to the United States. There were some other difficulties of being a Garveyist, as most of the time I counterattacked everything and got into trouble with big arguments. Many people thought I was a rude boy. Despite all that there were many positives effects that must be counted along with the negatives. I can only say that knowing Garvey saved my life and shaped who I am today.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Jessica on December 28, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    I love you crazy boy.


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