The Life and Legacy of Nehanda Isoke Abiodun
We sit in her living room surrounded by Afrikan artifacts and beautiful paintings, pictures of Afrikan people. Home. The best way to describe her presence, her space. You knew you were safe to be who you are, to be whole. She pours me a glass of refresco. “So tell me about yourself. Don’t leave anything out!” I tell her everything. I go in detail about my family history, my activism, college and my reasoning for studying abroad in Cuba, and how I ended up in her living room barely able to walk and her being called to care for me. That night we stayed up 2 AM just talking shit. We talked about history, and she told me her stories, so many stories. She was the best story teller mainly because she was just so real with it. She was always real. I love that about her the most. Her authenticity was unmatched. Ever since that night, we became family. She called me her sobrina, and almost everyone I have met in Havana knows me as la sobrina. From then on, she unloaded wisdom and love onto me that I accepted whole heartedly and graciously.
Nehanda Isoke Abiodun was an acupuncturist, community organizer, and political exile of the United States once making an appearance as number 3 on the FBI’s Most Wanted. She was a mother of 2 beautiful children that she loved deeply, a grandmother, a godmother. During her time as an activist and organizer above ground and underground, she served as a strong loving mentor to generations of students, activists, Hip-Hop artists,… Her reach is exponential; it is as exponential as her love for freedom and her people.
Nehanda Isoke Abiodun had over 30 federal counts against her including the expropriation of a Brinks truck in Nyack, NY in 1981 and accused to be complicit in the liberation of Assata Shakur. This resulted in her going underground and ultimately fleeing to Cuba. She went underground for a period of time and resurfaced in Cuba in 1990. “I didn’t want to leave my comrades! I thought it would be selfish of me to leave while we were being so heavily attacked, but my comrades told me I am better off alive and away than locked up or possibly dead. I had to do what was right for me, and it wasn’t easy. You’re going to have to learn that one day.” And I have. Because she made the decision to leave, she ended up radicalizing and educating multiple generations of bright souls all looking to make a difference. Nehanda still continued to teach, move, and inspire at least two generations of young people with her wisdom, experience, and authenticity. She brought life back into a movement that our education taught us was dead. She held onto faith, and her faith in people, in the movement, and the power of the next generation secured a light for our future.
Many of you do not know of this brave soul. Many of you don’t know the reach that she had on so many people across the globe. Many of you, especially from my generation, will not understand what a loss this is. I am still processing what we have lost. I did not just lose mi tia, my friend, but as a movement and collective of people, we have lost a comrade, a solider, a general. Her children lost their mother, and her grandchildren lost their abuela they never got the chance to meet. But this loss does not just impact us in the States, but also the people of the country that opened up its doors and sheltered, protected her from imperialist empire wanting her dead or in prison. At least two generations of Afro-Cuban Hip-Hop artists and fans have lost their madrina. A woman who actively took it upon herself to politically educate Cuban Hip-Hop artists. The ironic part of it all was that she wasn’t a huge fan of hip-hop music, and she’ll tell you that she was old school (Motown and Blues). Yet, she overstood the necessity to connect the politics and principles of her generation and leaders before her like Malcom X with the youth and the Hip-Hop movement of the time. Nehanda recognized the importance of youth finding their unique way of communicating their experiences as raw as it may be; it was authentic. She made it clear that Hip-Hop is a form of global protest, and elders must respect it as well as meet these youth where they are at and pass on the wisdom and knowledge they have without judgment. Being the godmother of TuPac, she and Assata with the help of Malcom X Grassroots Movement used this in the Hip-Hop community to enlighten the next generation of voices to use their voices not only to communicate their experiences and pain but to speak to those like them and create a vision for their future and the future of Black people globally. They asked for Hip-Hop artists from the States to come to Cuba and partake in cultural exchanges and build a bridge. This became known as the Black August Project as of 1998. Over the years, US Hip-Hop artists came to Cuba learned from her and engaged in political and cultural exchanges with their peers in Cuba. Artist like Zayd Malik, Jay Z, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Rebel Diaz and many more have all been apart of this effort, and to this day the peope of Cuba remember their presence, their music, and their knowledge. It is for this reason many of folks in Havana know her as La Madrina de Hip-Hop. The Hip-Hop community in Cuba will forever be grateful for her love, compassion, understanding, and guidance.
Nehanda also took responsibility for the political education and guidance of US med students in Cuba teaching them their importance and role in the struggle when they go back to the States. Throughout the brief time I have known her, I was able to meet so many brilliant doctors that she impacted with her politics , principles, and pure love. Many of them, if not all, are continuing their careers in the States with a sense of consciousness unmatched to their peers. They continue her legacy within medicine, a field where such a consciousness is imperative to the wellbeing and livelihood of Afrikan, Black people everywhere. All of you carry her spirit with you, and she was so very proud of all of you. Please always remember your importance to us a people and our liberation. Your investment in our health and betterment is vital to our betterment, growth (physically and spiritually), and our future.
Living in Cuba away from family was never easy for her. Being away from comrades and friends, not being able to tangibly support the cause in the ways that she used to and be active hurt her in ways none of us will ever understand, and yet she kept going. The heaviest pain she carried was not being physically present for her children and family, and it is an unimaginable pain that she held everyday. The family dinners she missed, births, deaths, and life overall. She missed the streets of New York. She would tell me, “Sometimes it gets too much. Sometimes I just get depressed, and I just don’t want to do anything but lay in my bed. So I give myself 3 days to mope, watch my favorite movies, and be depressed, but after that third day I get my ass up and live my life because I remember how fortunate I am to be alive and free-for the most part. If my comrades can be locked up in prison and continue going and fighting, so can I.” And clearly she did.
Nehanda Isoke Abiodun, I salute you for your passion and love for Black people, for Afrikan people. I honor you for the love you have shown every soul you’ve touched and the light you have brought to their consciousness and life. I love you for showing me love in my dark moments, seeing my fire and passion, and doing nothing but fueling it. I love you for being a light for so many young people, so many generations, so many people. You taught me the importance of self-preservation, following my dreams, authenticity, and growth. You taught me the necessity of principles within the journey of Self and our collective journey of liberation. You also taught me to live my life and enjoy it. That was her biggest advice for me when we first met when asking her what is something the next generation of activists should know. “You’re young. Live your life. Make mistakes. You can dedicate your life to the movement, but enjoy your youth. We didn’t do that during our time. We just kept going and going, and that ultimately led us to be burnout. We didn’t get to be kids. Do that for me, please.” Thank you for always allowing me to be me, and embracing who I was-all of me. You had this ability of allowing me to be whole. Thank you for being the elder I needed, providing me with a wisdom I will share with my peers and comrades for the rest of my life. Most importantly, thank you for being who you are, the passionate Harlem woman authentic and true to her ways and principles. I open my heart, my mind, and spirit accepting you as an ancestor now. May you continue to fight with us, your people, unbounded and unchained. “We’re Igbos!” Yes we are ma. And with that always in mind, I carry your spirit with me for eternity. FREE THE LAND. Isee.