Resilience, both in the personal and political sphere, has defined my adulthood and adolescence dating back to when I was a 4th grader in southwest Atlanta, GA. The divorce of my parents in early 1987 exited my mother, late brother and I from the Black Middle Class, spiraling us to a transient existence where we moved on average annually for the next eight years. By the fall of 1993, my mother and I were living in very reduced circumstances with her sister in Chattanooga, TN. The clock was ticking and I knew that school was my sole opportunity of lifting my little boat to Higher Ground somewhere.
Deeply internalizing the words of Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson that my attitude determines my aptitude, I worked myself to the bone those last two years of high school, capturing the attention of my guidance counselor, who became the most pivotal adult in my young life. I informed Mrs. Provine of my aspiration to attend Howard University (HU) despite not having any college savings nor serious family preparation. Despite the odds, I was successful in obtaining roughly $14,000.00 in outside scholarships over four years with just enough funds, combined with federal financial aid, to finance one year at HU. I gambled that if I could get to “The Yard” I would find a way to graduate.
As an Enlisted Sailor in the United States Navy, it would take that same resilience and fortitude to survive within the most oppressive environment I have ever endured in this life. In response to a hangman’s noose being dangled in front of my face off the coast of Iraq while deployed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, in solidarity with a small multi-racial core of Sailors, I initiated an Equal Opportunity (EO) complaint bringing about a modicum of justice. The Anti-Racist struggle on the Roosevelt, based on the history of the Vietnam era GI Movement documented by David Cortight’s Soldier’s In Revolt, served as the initial spark and catalyst for the 2006-07 Active Duty Appeal for Redress. Utilizing Department of Defense (DOD) regulations along with the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, myself, along with Marine Staff Sergeant Liam Madden launched a global campaign organizing over 2000 Active, Reserve and Guard servicemembers to send protected communications to members of Congress calling for an end to the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our movement was highlighted throughout the major press including the Emmy Award winning 60 Minutes in a show titled “Dissension in the Ranks: Appeal for Redress,” which ran in February 2007 and can be viewed at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdLATA4LFOc. Our movement was also covered by Nation Magazine in a front cover story titled “About Face-The Growing Anti-War Movement In The Military” That article is available here: https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/about-face/ In 2007 I was honored and humbled to receive the Social Courage Award from the Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA) along with our Movement being bestowed the coveted Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies. Persons interested can find my acceptance speech for the latter award here: LM 2007 Domestic Awardee: Appeal for Redress Acceptance Speech
For all of my adult life, I’ve been an intentional risk taker, challenging oppression within both the society and institutions where I have labored and matriculated. Whether confronting overtly racist petty officers within the United States Navy or covert racist supervisors, volunteers and interns within the non-profit industrial complex, my lived experience in the words of the late Anti-Fascist Paul Robeson confirms that “The Battlefield is everywhere” (Hutto, 2022).
My introduction and formal training in political risk-taking is due to two veterans of the progressive Black student movement within the United States: Tuskegee and HU Student Activist Leader Nik Eames and the late Chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) Lawrence Guyot.
Big Brother Nik is the linchpin of my early training in student mobilization and organizing on progressive issues encompassing both campus and broader community interests. My Resident Assistant (RA) Freshman year, Nik served as the campus student coordinator for the 1995 Million Man March Day of Absence. Nik’s road to HU came through Tuskegee University where he was expelled for leading campus demonstrations for student rights while he had served as Vice-President of the Student Government in the early 1990s. By Spring 1996, Nik was selected as Chief of Staff for the incoming HU Student Government and brought me onboard as the Volunteer Coordinator for the upcoming 1996-97 school year.
As the Volunteer Coordinator, I became the de facto lead organizer for Operation Vote Bison. The brainchild of my Big Brother, Vote Bison was conceived as the campus-wide voter initiative seeking maximum voter registration, education and turn-out. Along with envisioning Vote Bison, Nik had done some preliminary research on student voting within DC elections. It was Nik’s vision for the HU student body to achieve its utmost impact by winning local representation based on a progressive student-youth agenda. Nik was laying the groundwork for me and him to make an unprecedented campaign for elected seats within the District of Columbia local government.
Following Nik’s lead as a 19-year old Sophomore shortly before the Fall semester commenced, I took out petitions via the DC Board of Elections and Ethics filing my candidacy for the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) Single Member District (SMD) 1B06. Comprising roughly 2000 residents, the SMD I was organizing to represent encompassed my dormitory along with the athletic dorm within the adjacent neighborhood known as Pleasant Plains. Upon achieving ballot status, I began to campaign for the ANC within the midst of coordinating Vote Bison as a Full-Time student majoring in Political Science.
It was while campaigning one Saturday morning early October 1996 that I bumped into a pillar of history laboring in the present. I still see him sitting in front of the Howard Plaza Dormitories with his unassuming demeanor handing out campaign literature. The leaflets read, “Vote for Lawrence Guyot for ANC 1B04.” These were not your ordinary flyers coming from a traditional politician. The flyers listed a number of books and documentaries for students to engage towards increasing their knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement. Guyot also gave me a thick packet relating to the DC Financial Control Board which he referred to as a “Plantation Board.” Imposed upon the District of Columbia in January 1995 by President Bill Clinton, the mission of the Control Board was to bring deep austerity measures upon DC adversely impacting its majority Black population for decades (Wemple, 1996).
Unbeknownst to me, the elder I was talking to was not only recorded in most of the books and documentaries listed but I later learned he was one of the original 16 Field Staff members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) coming out of Tougaloo College. Reading through the listed literature revealed to me the gray-bearded heavyset gentleman having been the Chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MDFP) which challenged the seating of the all-White Male Segregationist Democratic delegation from Mississippi in Atlantic City-1964. Digging into the literature further revealed this civil rights veteran being viciously beaten within an inch of his life by racist White sheriffs for attempting to bail out of jail three women civil rights workers in Winona, Mississippi, one of whom was the late Fannie Lou Hamer. I also learned the MFDP was the first Civil Rights organization to oppose the Vietnam War (SNCC, N.Dc).
Over time, a bond of love and deep admiration ensued between me and Guyot. For the first time in my young life, I had met and began to develop a relationship with an elder who at the age of 57 would prove to be just as committed, courageous, daring, and principled as he had been decades earlier in the frontline Civil Rights battles. Here was an elder who actually embraced what I was doing not simply from a patronizing or idealistic position, but from the standpoint of being right there in the thick of it with you. Here stood an elder I considered a mentor. On that day, I met an elder who related to me as a comrade which was an extension of the intergenerational principles he internalized as a young freedom fighter working alongside movement veterans such as Ella Baker and Bayard Rustin.
The foundation of our ANC campaigns came from the success of Vote Bison in registering over 3000 students to vote with 1800 in the District of Columbia. Despite the student base we had built, the support of Guyot and his wife Monica was critical to our success. On election day, I organized a march from my dormitory of over 100 first-time student voters to the polling precinct. There we were initially met with community opposition challenging our voting credentials until Guyot intervened, saying “Let the Students Vote!” Monica loaned me her car to help transport voters and in return we encouraged Howard students residing in Guyot district’s to vote for him. Upon the final vote tally, I won election to the commission by 11 votes defeating a seasoned community advocate.
Early February the following semester I hit the ground running, organizing a community meeting within my SMD. It was here for the first time I felt the serious disdain vocal community residents had for Howard University (HU). This was a majority Black working class community (gentrified today) still recovering from the rebellion in the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination nearly 30 years prior. One resident voiced she had no respect for HU and the university had not played a leadership role in the community. However, it was one James Walker, alluding to a rumor of HU gating itself off from the community, that gave a foreshadowing of the political battle that would eternally shape my view of politics and the role of lay people in impacting public policy when he said,
“By putting up a fence around the University, they are saying that they don’t want us to be a part of their community and we have been a part of this community for years. If we are shut out, then we don’t know what’s going on with Howard and we cannot support them or give them our input about certain situations. When Howard was visible in this community that was a great benefit” (Hilltop Staff, 1997).
What I heard from residents that day conflicted with the deep internalized worldview I held of the university. Howard is the only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) federally chartered with the specific mission of providing education and uplift to the freedmen and women post the abolition of chattel slavery. Despite its historical foundation, that first community meeting laid bare for me the deep class division between the Black bourgeoisie on the hill and the then majority Black working class residents that lived in the surrounding neighborhoods. That meeting also began to challenge my purpose for attending Howard and in whose interest would I be utilizing my education. At that very moment, I was overly optimistic in assuring residents that Howard did not have any foreseeable plans on the table to close itself to the community.
It was during this same Spring semester Guyot came to my defense again upon my successfully being chosen as President of the Howard University Student Association (HUSA) for the upcoming 1997-98 school year. Several residents seriously questioned my ability to serve the interest of both the student body and the neighboring community, best exhibited by Conrad Smith when he said, “He can’t be an ANC representative and a student president. Right now the residents can’t contact Hutto, they don’t know where he is and he doesn’t show up to our civic meetings. But he’s not doing anything because he’s spending all of his time on campus.” Guyot countered the statement of Smith, foretelling the immediate future when he said, “Hutto is a natural leader. He has qualities needed to be a leader of the students and the residents so I don’t see why he wouldn’t be able to do the things he has committed to do” (Hilltop Staff, 1997).
In early July 1997, confirming the fears of vocal residents, I, along with my fellow commissioners, received a mailing from the National Capital Planning Commission announcing Bill 12-307 “The Howard University Street Closing Privatization Act.” Transmitted to the DC Council by then Mayor Marion Barry on behalf of HU, the bill, if passed, would privatize the public streets within the central main campu,s granting the university sole ownership. The university administration’s rationale was to create a “city within a city” towards enhancing security for students, faculty and staff along with having better control of traffic and access.
There were two major challenges the potential street closings posed for progressive-minded students based on recent history. The first involved street vendors, overwhelmingly small Black businesses, that provided goods and services to the university community. Despite the cordial relations between students and vendors, university officials exhibited a tepid and at times hostile relationship with the vendors. In response to the university having vendors through the DC government removed from the campus late 1993, HUSA, under the leadership of President Terri Wade, staged a protest at the campus Martin Luther King celebration where the keynote address was given by President Clinton. In defense of Terri and protesting students who received criticism from a broad sector of the campus despite their success in negotiating the return of a smaller number of vendors, Guyot stated publicly, “Today, we heard from two presidents. We heard the President of the United States talk about national freedom and expression and we heard the President of the Student Government who we should be more proud of because academic freedom is about inquiry, the search for truth, honesty and integrity” (Hilltop Staff, 1997).
The second challenge dealt with the right of students to protest on 6th Street where the Mordecai Wyatt Johnson Administration building is located. The A-Building was the base of the 1968 Student Takeover which led to the university incorporating a more focused Black curricula along with student and faculty participation at all levels of the university, including the Board of Trustees (which was rescinded in the Summer of 2021-Students-Faculty and Alumni Trustees were removed by the Board Executive Committee) (Hutto, 2021).
In 1989, progressive students once again seized the A-Building in response to the Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) Harvey Lee Atwater, the architect of the Willie Horton Racist election strategy, being named to the Board of Trustees. An enduring memory of that takeover was DC Mayor Marion Barry arriving on campus and pulling back the SWAT Team, which had been called in by University officials via DC’s Police Chief, from forcefully entering the A-Building thereby potentially creating a travesty reminiscent of Jackson and Kent State in the early 1970s.
Nik and I confirmed a meeting with the Vice President of University Administration Dr. Harry G. Robinson III. to discuss the street closing bill. This meeting confirmed for us both the resoluteness of the university administration along with the pledged support of the DC City Council exhibited by Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith who was present. This was not a meeting for the purpose of discussion nor negotiation but to inform us on how the university envisioned moving forward once the streets were acquired. Dr. Robinson spoke of security checkpoints for visitors along with beautification initiatives towards enhancing the aesthetic of the campus. Needless to say, Nik and I were treated more like observers and not stakeholders in this process, despite the departing words of Councilmember Smith to us, “we want to make sure you boys are onboard.”
Afterwards Nik and I conferenced with Guyot, who had recently become Chairman of our ANC. Guyot was clear, he was opposed to the street closings in large part due to the university owning substantial holdings of vacant, boarded up and dilapidated properties within the LeDroit Park district where he resided. Many of these properties had become eye sores and a haven for vermin, drug addicts and crime, which ill-affected students living both on and off campus. I was not as initially unwavering as Guyot due to my own insecurities of my perceived place in the world. I expressed to Guyot both my support of the vendors and the right of students to protest within the internal campus in solidarity with his stated position. Nevertheless, I also conceded the fear I felt within as to what would happen to me as result of this advocacy, a trepidation based on not having anything to fall back upon if I failed as a university student.
Based on his history as a SNCC Veteran who risked his life countless times in the deep south, Guyot pressed me to have a broader perspective of the university’s relationship to the community and nation at large. Essentially, Guyot was challenging me to be a reformer and not simply one to soak up the rewards of public office for personal gain.
At our July ANC Meeting, based both on the resolved position of the university administration coupled with the tutelage of Guyot, I introduced a resolution to oppose Howard’s Street Closing application. The votes were unanimous in opposition followed by the overwhelming support from both the Pleasant Plains and LeDroit Park Civic Associations. This was a serious calculated risk being that as Student Government President, I had yet to fully engage the student body on the issue.
Several weeks after the ANC vote the most unprecedented and reactionary shift in local democracy took place in over a century. Led by NC Senator Lauch Faircloth then Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the District, nearly all of the day-to-day operations and power of the local Government, first granted to DC residents via the Home Rule Charter of 1973, was shifted from the City Council and Office of the Mayor to the DC Financial Control Board. The rationale of Congressional leaders including President Clinton centered on the city needing to balance budgets consistently over a four-year period to prevent insolvency. However, from the perspective of DC residents this was a draconian attack laced with Racial Overtones given that the local gov’t was led and operated by a Black Majority. Mayor Barry best personified the people’s collective scorn calling the congressional action “The Rape of Democracy.”
It was not lost on me the contrast in Mayor Barry’s disposition to that of DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and former Howard University Administrator/famed Sociologist Joyce Ladner. Ladner, a SNCC Veteran on the frontline of the Civil Rights struggle alongside Guyot out of Tougaloo College, was mute on the issue given her position as a Control Board member (SNCC, N.Db). Norton, who 30 plus years prior was part of the legal counsel for the Freedom Democrats in Atlantic City, hailed the shift in power as a Big Win for the city.
Guyot, in contrast to nearly all of his DC SNCC comrades–a number of whom were locally elected or in appointed positions within the Barry administration–was on the ground organizing city-wide against what he called “Tyranny upon the people.” Guyot launched “Democracy for America’s Capital” shortly after the creation of the Control Board to rally forces against the intrusion he saw forthcoming. To counter Guyot’s unyielding stance, forces loyal to Delegate Norton launched the “Stand Up for Democracy” Coalition. Shortly after the launch of Stand-Up, a massive demonstration on Capitol Hill was called for Wednesday Sept 3rd.
It was during the lead up to the Stand Up Rally that our Student Government held a retreat with Executive officers and staff right before the start of classes. The retreat was built as a time for us to jell together as a unit. The agenda encompassed internalizing office protocols along with our programmatic platform for the upcoming school year. I vividly recall having a very limited role with the agenda being chaired and run by our Chief of Staff. At the midway point, our Political Director Big Brother Nik became unsettled and outwardly agitated the meeting saying, “All this focus we have on the campus and our people in the city are being trampled upon by the Federal Government. We need to organize students in mass with our people in the District for the Stand Up Rally.”
There was strong hesitancy to what Nik was pushing for. Both the Vice-President and Chief of Staff voiced a reluctance on organizing students to vacate class at the start of the school year. Nevertheless, I voiced my support for Nik’s call, believing we had a moral responsibility to act. An Executive Leadership conference ensued where it was made clear that while HUSA would endorse a march from campus, Nik and I would have to lead the planning and organizing on our own. Following our retreat, the Hilltop Student Newspaper published an editorial titled “HU Students Have Lost Democracy Along With District” vindicating Nik’s stance by directly stating “Hutto, Eames and student voters must not stand by the rape of democracy in Washington, DC” (Hilltop Staff, 1997).
Working with our Volunteer Coordinators, we blanketed the campus with flyers along with phone banking our volunteer list calling for an Emergency Mobilization Meeting the Tuesday night before the proposed march from campus to Capitol Hill. We called on Guyot to help us fire up the base along with giving a strong grounding on the important role of students in breaking down barriers and struggling for justice. That planning meeting was packed with mostly freshmen from throughout the country, many of them learning for the first time about the plight of citizens within the nation’s capital. We put out the call for everyone to assemble on the steps of Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall at 7am.
That next morning, nearly 200 mostly freshman students were ready to march. The enthusiasm in their eyes epitomized the spirit of an elder Abolitionist Douglass urging young people to Agitate, Agitate, Agitate! As we proceeded down Georgia Avenue we caught a glimpse of Famed Boxing Promoter-Howard Alumnus Rock Newman. He left his Rolls Royce at the detail shop and came marching in the front with us. As we approached the Capital with Congresswoman Maxine Waters speaking, the chant was “HU FOR HOME RULE-HU FOR HOME RULE!” Within moments, I was hoisted to the microphone where in the spirit of the 1972 Black Political Convention, I asked the crowd WHAT TIME IS IT and in unison everyone shouted back IT’S NATION TIME! (Special Salute to Rock Newman who took care of all of us in a special way that day, ensuring our public transportation, buying everyone lunch at Sweet Georgia Brown’s and providing all of us cab rides back to the campus.)
The following day I received a meeting request from Council Member Frank Smith. We met at Wilson’s, a Soul Food Restaurant across the street from HU Hospital. In contrast to his earlier disposition in VP Robinson’s office, Smith expressed his opposition to HU’s Street Closing Bill in solidarity with both the ANC and local Civic Associations. Smith stated his intention of writing a letter to HU’s President requesting the withdrawal of the application based on two main points. First, the Councilmember desired much needed progress on the vacant and boarded up properties in the vicinity of the school which he believed was more of a security hazard to students. Second, was Smith’s belief the university had an obligation to procure more goods and services from the struggling Black Businesses in its vicinity which received hardly any of the millions of dollars the university spent annually. Those Black businesses are mostly gone today, including Wilson’s Soul Food-gentrified neighborhood.
It was also at this meeting I learned the foundation of Smith’s worldview. He was beyond elated at the site of Howard students marching for DC Democracy. With a seriousness in his eyes, he recounted what drove him as a young man from segregated Newnan GA towards becoming an organizer for SNCC. A veteran of the Atlanta Student Movement out of Morehouse College, Smith volunteered with SNCC in Holly Springs Mississippi the Summer of 1962 before his Senior year. Right before his planned return to Atlanta, Smith received a newspaper clipping of a local Black man found in a river dismembered with a handwritten note attached stating, “This is what happens when you Civil Rights workers come and then leave.” Smith’s Summer project became a full-time six-year commitment (SNCC, N.Da).
A week after the Stand-Up March HUSA hosted an on-campus discussion titled “The Closing of Public Streets and Alleys on Howard University’s Campus and its Effect.” Ta-Nehesi Coates was the assigned staff writer from the Hilltop Student Newspaper, and I served as moderator for the forum.
This panel, which was the opening salvo of engaging the campus community, confirmed the student body as being the battleground for how this issue would be decided. Guyot wasted no time in staking out his position saying, “Howard has made a proposal that is ludicrous on its face. Why should a wall be built between neighbors?” In response to a student’s inquiry on security, Guyot literally cut a line of demarcation saying, “I do not support apartheid in the name of safety.” I still remember the nearly 30 seconds of deafening silence due to Guyot utilizing the word “apartheid” to describe the administration’s position.
Dr. Hazel Edwards, representing VP Harry Robinson’s office, countered Guyot saying, “Howard is merely asking for the right to take the streets and make it a more user-friendly environment. We are not putting up walls or barriers.” Karen House, Special Assistant from the President’s Office stated that an armed robbery of a HU student had taken place every week since the start of classes. However, it was sophomore Business Major Robert Hall, crowned Mr. Howard University during Homecoming, who gave the sharpest rebuke to Guyot’s position saying, “We are very concerned with statements we are making to the community, but there’s another bit of communication that’s happening. When we have Drew Hall students being beaten with bats, when we have students held at gunpoint what is the community saying to us? We are living in one of the highest crime districts in the country.” By the end the crowd of mostly students was clearly divided on the issue.
Special Note: I learned months later that Karen House was a frontline member of the Non-Violent Action Group-NAG on HU’s campus in the early 1960’s which sent student shock troops on the 1961 Freedom Rides and within SNCC in places such as Maryland’s Eastern Shore alongside HU Alumnus Gloria Richardson
Despite the evident divide of the forum, The Hilltop put forth a position via its Editorial Page validating progressive students and community advocates along with shaping the issue to the broader student body which proved pivotal. Leading with the statement “Barricades are not the best way to Increase Security on Campus” the Hilltop stated that Howard could not escape the reality of its surroundings which it is an integral part of. The editorial ended by saying, “If Howard is to deal with the issue of safety, it must address the conditions that fuel violence in the area and not stigmatize its community that also suffers. We must first expand our notion of community and foster a relationship with residents that will lead to cooperation on issues of crime” (Hilltop Staff, 1997).
The following week was the first General Assembly meeting of the year, where I planned to bring the issue before the elected student leadership of the university from all the schools and colleges. My vision was for the student body to speak as a collective voice to the university and the community at-large including the DC City Council. In preparation I requested position letters from all stakeholders including the local ANC and the university administration. The day of the meeting, I had position letters both from ANC-1B Chairman Guyot and from Ward 1 City Councilmember Frank Smith, however the university administration neglected to send a letter foreshadowing their disposition before the student leadership.
Thirty-one student representatives from 13 schools and colleges gathered that Tuesday evening in Douglass Hall along with representation from the university administration, Graduate Student Trustee Matthew Watley, representation from the Campus Police, Guyot and a host of students. I vividly recall successfully lobbying Dr. Alvin Thornton, Chair of the Political Science Dept, to excuse two graduate student leaders from a class that conflicted with the meeting.
Once quorum was established, Trustee Watley effectively raised a parliamentary inquiry in regard to the agenda ensuring adequate time was allotted for the Administration and Trustees to address the assembly. Right before I was to give the state of the Student’s Address, Vice President Harry Robinson attempted to bogart the agenda and speak to the assembly. As the chair, I alerted Robinson he was out of order and that he would be able to address the assembly within his allotted time. At this point, Robinson is fuming and bolts out the meeting ensuring the administration’s subject matter expert on the issue was not present for the discussion and vote from the Student Leadership.
Fourteen students that spoke on the record including Trustee Watley, 10 spoke against the street closings with three speaking for it and one requesting data. Undergraduate students Shantrelle Lewis and Bienvenido Lebron both questioned high crime areas not being included within the university’s application. Graduate students Baruti Jahi and Jamal Jones Dulani both spoke to student leaders learning of the issue due solely to my being an ANC member. International Student Association (ISA) President Neville Welch of Guyana spoke in support of vendors and the right of protest on 6th Street. Graduate student Kim Richardson supported the closings while opposing the building of a fence and/or wall towards the community. Undergraduate student Kimberly Cooke desired data from other gated off HBCU’s in terms of their crime rates and community relations (Neither I nor the administration had such data).
During the time allotted for Trustees and Administration, Trustee Watley advocated strongly for the closings, believing it was best for the University to err on the side of safety and security. Due to VP Robinson’s abrupt departure, I asked VP for Student Affairs Dr. Steve Favors to speak on behalf of the administration to which he declined. At this point, Dean of Students Raymond Archer stated that while in attendance as a spectator, he would entertain student questions to the best of his knowledge on behalf of the administration. Archer’s most salient point was there not being any actual plans for a fence and the University President opposing it although the logistics were uncertain.
The final comments to the assembly were given by Vice-President Shawn Harvey and me, which was reflective of our panel discussion a week prior. Harvey spoke in support of the closings citing her lived experience of being robbed her first week on campus. In solidarity with Watley, Harvey believed if the closings could save one student from the anguish and nightmares she endured, then it was worth it. I spoke against the closures believing our university had a moral obligation, as an extension of its historic mission, to choose interdependency with our neighbors towards finding plausible solutions to our common challenges.
After over 90 minutes of debate and discussion, a motion was made and properly seconded to reject the administration’s street closing application. The vote was 20 students in favor of the motion, 6 opposed with 4 abstentions. Motion was then made and properly seconded empowering the Executive Branch of HUSA to represent the General Assembly at the upcoming City Council Hearing to which the vote was unanimous (District of Columbia Africana Archives Project, N.D.).
A letter was expeditiously transmitted from the Executive Branch of HUSA to the Chairwoman of the DC City Council Linda Cropp outlining the position of the student body. It was around this time I received a direct phone call in the student government office from DC Mayor Marion Barry. I’ll never forget it, upon picking up the receiver a voice with a quasi-southern drawl said, “This is Marion Barry, I’d like to speak with President Jonathan Hutto.” I was beyond elated yet kept my composure. “Jonathan, I’ve been following your advocacy. I’d like to meet with you and a delegation of your choosing here in my office.”
I asked Big Brother Nik Eames, Graduate Student Jamal Jones Dulani and Lawrence Guyot to accompany me to the Mayor’s Office. Upon entering, Mayor Barry was on the phone and asked us to have a seat at his worktable. He then put his hand over the receiver and whispered to me,
“I’m listening to Pat (HU’s President) right now, he knows you all are here.” Once he got off the phone, he looked directly at me and asked, “Now what do you want me to do?” I instinctively shot from the hip requesting he withdraw the bill based on the united opposition of the student government, the ANC and local civic associations. The Mayor responded, “Ok, I’ll withdraw the bill” without any other questions or pushback.
The aura of this meeting then shifted, with Barry speaking on his Student Movement history coming out of Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1950s. As President of the NAACP Student chapter at LeMoyne College, he was almost expelled for challenging the racist Chairman of their Board of Trustees, who defended segregation on city buses two years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott victory. Barry proudly spoke on accepting a graduate scholarship to study chemistry at Fisk University in Nashville where under the tutelage of James Lawson he was a frontline member of the Nashville Student Movement alongside other luminaries such as Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette and John Lewis. He spoke of the pivotal role they played in carrying on the Freedom Rides and the importance of Ella Baker in pulling together all the Student Sit-In movements throughout the country for a key conference at Shaw University that would change the trajectory of the Civil Rights Movement. Barry educated me on his being the inaugural Chairman of SNCC along with having first come to DC in 1965 to lead the organization’s efforts locally. Upon listening and soaking up this history, I realized that in spite of Barry being the Mayor, he had more solidarity with us than Howard University’s administration. Barry and Guyot turned that meeting into a training historical school on advocacy and student activism. Needless to say, I missed all my classes that day in the Political Science Department (SNCC, N.Dd).
Following our meeting with Mayor Barry, in a seeming act of retaliation validating both our advocacy and the earlier activism of HUSA President Terri Wade (Akua Zenzele), 6th Street Vendor Gibril Mansaray was arrested by Howard University police and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and subsequently barred from vending pending an upcoming trial. According to Brother Gibril in a letter dictated to me, he was approached by Vice President Harry Robinson and the head of Howard Police on the same day we were meeting with Mayor Barry. Gibril states VP Robinson alerted him to 6th Street being closed on Friday for Convocation but he could work the Saturday football game. The morning of the game as he turned onto 6th Street, Gibril states that a Howard University police officer immediately attempted to stop him. Due to his truck carrying hundreds of pounds, he could not come to an immediate stop. Once he brought his truck to a halt, nine HU Police Officers were running towards him in pursuit. Gibril describes an Officer pointing a gun at him and his 14-year old son, putting his hands on top of his truck while officers went through his pockets taking out this business money and personal belongings. Gibril, a devout Muslim describes a hostile xenophobic situation with officers telling him you’re not making any money today, that he doesn’t belong on campus and that he should go back to Africa with the monkeys (District of Columbia Africana Archives Project, N.D.).
On October 2nd 1997, Mayor Barry transmitted a communication to DC Council Chairman Linda Cropp stating, “The university’s request for approval of its street and alley closing application has severely divided the surrounding neighborhood and campus community, pitting students against students, neighbors against neighbors and the community against the University. Fortunately, we have received requests not only from the University, but also from the students, asking that Howard’s application be withdrawn from consideration by the Council. In order to provide an opportunity to foster greater dialogue and understanding between the respective parties, I hereby request the withdrawal of Bill 12-307” (District of Columbia Africana Archives Project, N.D.).
Undergraduate Student Ta-Nehisi Coates covered the bill withdrawal for both The Hilltop and the Washington City Paper. In response to Coates, I was quoted as saying, “The ANC voted unanimously against it, the civic association is against it. The General Assembly, which represents all the students at Howard, voted against it. Everybody was pretty much united against the bill. The only people that supported it were the applicants-Howard University’s administration” (Coates, 1997).
Guyot’s mentorship to put principle before personhood began to manifest itself. That following February, The Hilltop awarded our student government an “A” grade stating via its editorial page that “we had restored a voice to students at Howard and more importantly shown students that their voice is instrumental in reminding the administration why they’re here” (Hilltop Staff, 1997). Two weeks later we hosted Howard-NAG Alumnus and former SNCC Chairman Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) for his last “Fireside Chat” to the Student Body from Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel. The Propagator of “Black Power” who also raised the rallying cry of “HELL NO We Won’t Go” against the Draft in Vietnam affirmed the counsel his comrade gave me when he stated, “Once you fight for the people, the people will always fight to protect you but your fight must be honest, it must be dignified with integrity and without no compromise at all. That next month The Hilltop endorsed my campaign for Undergraduate Trustee stating, “Jonathan Hutto is able to work within the system of the administration building while still retaining his revolutionary spirit and eye for positive change. He combines the activism and commitment to students needed in a trustee, with a love for Howard, which is needed to represent the University” (Hilltop Staff, 1997). The voting undergraduate student body selected me by a 59% margin. That summer Howard announced the LeDroit Park Initiative, a partnership secured with Fannie Mae, to revitalize the 45 dilapidated properties the university owned within the neighborhood with a specific focus to first time homebuyers of middle and working class incomes (ICIC, N.D.). I still hear Guyot’s voice, “Jonathan if you’re principled first, everything else will fall in place.”
The Veterans of SNCC, sparked by that initial chance meeting with Lawrence Guyot, had a resounding impact on my young life all that way into middle adulthood. The late “Mayor For Life” Marion Barry not only affirmed my risk taking but he also inspired me to initiate a successful effort, from my capacity as HU’s Undergraduate Trustee (1998-99), to posthumously honor his comrade Kwame Ture with an Honorary Degree from his Alma Mater at the 1999 Commencement (Kwame Ture Society, 2021).
Nearly a decade later as an Enlisted United States Sailor, another SNCC Chairman, the late Congressman John Lewis, came to my aid during the anti-racist struggle in my shop against the hangman’s noose and other forms of related intolerance. Lewis was also one of the first Congressional members to support our active duty Appeal For Redress to end the wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan (Hutto, 2020).
It’s been a decade since Guyot transitioned from this life. One of my last vivid memories was bumping into him at the unveiling of the HBO “The Nine Lives of Marion Barry” documentary in Silver Spring Maryland Summer 2009. There he was with a bag full of literature working the room on the pressing issues of the day. As expected, I was given a thick packet of information along with a sample DVD copy of the documentary. It had been some years since we had struggled together. Our deep affection and appreciation for one another was beyond evident as he told me, “Jonathan I’m very proud of you.” I had no idea this would be one of the last few times I would see him.
Late 2012 I received a phone call that Guyot was seriously ill and to see him immediately. I knew Guyot to be a very proud man, so I called him for a simple chat. Guyot’s mind was beyond sharp although he was coughing quite a bit. This was not unusual, although this time it sounded quite different. The morning when I called before leaving for his home, Guyot’s daughter Julie told me her father had transitioned. For the first time in my adult life, I was deeply affected in a way I had never felt before. I cut a thick slice of red velvet cake and drove to Guyot’s house, giving the cake to Julie and expressing my deepest love. As I slowly drove back home, I began humming lyrics from Sweet Honey and The Rock “They are Falling all Around Me, the strongest leaves of my tree.” I kept saying to myself that day and beyond, “Guyot I’m going to try and sing your song right.” I summoned the strength to write a requiem to him which was published five days later in The Washington Post titled “Lawrence Guyot: Soldier of the People, Mentor for the Youth” (Hutto, 2012).
Today the street Guyot lived on in Ledroit Park for three decades is now his namesake, Lawrence Guyot Way. Guyot was a staunch integrationist and defender of working and low-income people. I suspect he would take exception to the massive gentrifying of his ole neighborhood given his consistent advocacy for maintaining rent control. Howard’s once run-down properties have long been refurbished but unlike the late 1990s students can hardly afford to rent and live anywhere adjacent to the campus. In the Spring of 2018, this housing crisis coupled with administrative improprieties sparked a nine-day student takeover of Howard’s A-Building (named the Kwame Ture Student Center during the occupation) led by the activist student group HU RESIST. Our advocacy in 1997 against the Street Closings moved me in a profound way as I was dropping off supplies to the occupying students.
I deeply internalized lifelong organizing principles having struggled alongside Guyot, principles he internalized after having fought and survived pitched non-violent battles against the apartheid segregated southern order.
- Be a Risk Taker and Give FORWARD (not back)
- Rely on the strength and Power of directly impacted People themselves, help to build and facilitate their Power.
- Don’t harbor Power, reject Hierarchy and Centralized Authority
- The real essence of Politics is the struggle for POWER. Within Struggle, one must choose sides
- Solidarity, Interracial and Intergenerational Struggle is Imperative
- There is an intrinsic link between Information and Power
- Strong People don’t need Strong Leaders (Ella Baker)
- Power begins at one’s level of conception. What you conceive, you can do.
- The Power of Agency-one can wield and build power from anywhere within the society once you’re politicized and operationalized.
- Work and organize yourself out of a job. Train directly impacted to do your job. Know when you’ve given the total and full measure.
- Understand you’re making a contribution to the People’s Struggle, that you’re not indispensable to the People’s Happiness.
- Always make room for others. Know when to get the heck out of people’s way.
I love you eternal Guyot. I miss you but you’ve never left me. I appreciate you deeply for all you gave. I will struggle to keep singing your song right. LONG LIVE the spirit of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Coates, T. (1997, October 24). Cul-de-sacking the community. Washington City Paper. https://washingtoncitypaper.com/article/280777/cul-de-sacking-the-community/?fbclid=IwAR3VHoPRX3Wcn5JPDL5XYQ2d69tpX9HpoCsuRaH9cJcu21O3osO9l3B6Rzs
District of Columbia Africana Archives Project. (N.D.). Lawrence Guyot, Jr. papers, 1887-2012. https://library.gwu.edu/dcaap-fa/dcaap0009.xml
Hilltop Staff. (1997, February 7). The Hilltop: 1990-2000. Digital Howard University. https://dh.howard.edu/hilltop_902000/179/
Hutto, J. (2022, May 10). The battlefield is everywhere. Institute for Anarchist Studies. https://anarchiststudies.org/the-battlefield-is-everywhere-by-jonathan-hutto/
Hutto, J. (2021, July 23). A Howard University Story. Medium. https://medium.com/@jonathanwesleyhutto/a-howard-university-story-259e0e0d1aa4
Hutto, J. (2020, July 22). They are passing on! We’ve got to keep up the pace! Jonathan W. Hutto remembers Rev. C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis. Democratic Socialists of America. https://www.dsausa.org/democratic-left/they-are-passing-on-weve-got-to-keep-up-the-pace-jonathan-w-hutto-remembers-rev-c-t-vivian-and-congressman-john-lewis/
Hutto, J. (2012, November 28). Remembering Lawrence Guyot. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/lawrence-guyot-soldier-of-the-people-mentor-for-the-youth/2012/11/28/aca397fc-396c-11e2-a263-f0ebffed2f15_blog.html
ICIC. (N.D.). Howard University’s strategic anchor engagement continues to benefit D.C.’s LeDroit Park neighborhood. https://icic.org/blog/howard-universitys-strategic-anchor-engagement-continues-benefit-d-c-s-ledroit-park-neighborhood/
Kwame Ture Society. (2021, July 19). The story behind Kwame Ture’s last fireside chat at Howard University. Medium. https://medium.com/@kwameturesociety99/the-story-behind-kwame-tures-last-fireside-chat-at-howard-university-2b0b5adff02b
SNCC. (N.Da). Frank Smith. https://snccdigital.org/people/frank-smith/
SNCC. (N.Db). Joyce Ladner. https://snccdigital.org/people/joyce-ladner/
SNCC. (N.Dc). Lawrence Guyot. https://snccdigital.org/people/lawrence-guyot/
SNCC. (N.Dd). Marion Barry. https://snccdigital.org/people/marion-barry/
Wemple, L. (1996, February 16). Lawrence Guyot. Washington City Paper. https://washingtoncitypaper.com/article/289210/lawrence-guyot/?fbclid=IwAR0k-2xROcXDcKnjGzlXIs-aoVFKXxucpVlK4iB3fx2Fnz5jA-Yw3jRGSmk