Amari Baraka stood in the sun, among 40,000 chanting Cubans, as the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro made his plans VERY clear. “Whatever the people want!” Castro yelled.
Was that kind of radical transformation possible in the United States? Baraka wasn’t sure, but felt a powerful pull of possibility. Was there a role for him in changing things back home?
That experience, in 1959, would begin Baraka’s transformation from apolitical poet and playwright to one of Black America’s most important cultural voices. But it didn’t happen overnight.
He was a writer, not some revolutionary leader! Then one more event changed everything.
The assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 was the last straw. He could no longer sit idly by – his life would have to echo the transformation in his heart.
Baraka changed his name, divorced his non-Black wife, and moved to Harlem, where he founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS), which produced plays specifically for Black audiences. This was the start of the Black Arts Movement – which, it turned out, had a revolutionary impact on Black American culture.
A political movement can change laws, but a cultural movement can change people’s hearts. Baraka’s work was an innovative and essential part of the larger Black Power movement that transformed Black America. Anything is possible – we must remember how powerful Black creativity can be!