By Hakim Abdul-Ali
I’m a self-professed lover of collecting books and other items. I always have been that way, and I’ll probably will remain that way until the day I take my last breath.
While on that rather personal theme of expression, I’m thinking about something that I’d like to share with you today about that topic and a little something extra during this fall’s Black “Our-Story” Month. In case you maybe wondering if I know that it’s October, so what?
Listen, acquiring knowledge of self through the art of collecting books, or by any other means, about us and by us is what self-education is all about. So, yes, you read it correctly in the previous sentence, it’s still Black History Month to me, and if you’re of color, it should be to you and your family too.
I think that we all should have a conscious library of some relevance in our homes and abodes, which can only be enhanced by the art of collecting.
Besides that, the simple process of participation in seeking out information is a heavy tool in the brotherly and sisterly networking and communication fields.
I know that some folk collect literature, Americana, things about travel and politics, natural history pieces, stamps, children’s and scientific books for example. It really doesn’t matter in my view what you collect because it all deals with and starts with the hobby of book collecting in so connected format.
Concerning my own interests, I’m driven to collect Afrikana things with expressed thoughts of learning about and maintaining our heritage through bona fide printed books and documents. This is a subject that’s close to my heart and soul because I’m also an avowed bibliophile of renown, and it’s been a veritable compassion of mine for almost fifty-plus years or more.
My particular collecting drugs of choice (pardon the pun) are any and all diverse things relating to Africa, Afro-America, jazz music, the Caribbean, Egyptology, religion and art. I have many other side topical interests and casual favorites, but the consummate aforementioned are the ones that turn me on as a committed collector and as a continuing student of knowledge.
At one time I had more than 10,000 pieces in my storied collection, even though in that total it included other valuable and rare items from vintage sports cards to autographs items to cherished Negro League gems, etc.
Sadly, my once pristine collection took a serious hit as a result of some personal losses to them due to the acts of nature and vandalism in a separate location where I had some of them located.
Many of my close and esteemed cohorts in the Black History collecting world knew that I suffered much by losing them because they were one of a kind items thus far never to be seen again. They grieved over my losses because they knew of the time, sacrifice, finances and dedication I spent over the decades acquiring these masterpieces.
“Such is life” is what I ended up spiritually realizing while rehabbing from the mental shock of losing so much valuable material stuff. Honestly, it took me quite a while to get back in the groove of preservation, but I’m a student of this craft form called book collecting “our-story” and, believe me, it’s exactly that.
That’s why every chance that I get I always try to encourage all ethnic folk to collect and maintain things about their culture because mush history is lost through negligence. The rewards of collecting are personal and endless to dedicated wisdom seekers of this game.
More than mere paper chasers, consequential book collectors are a knowledgeable and unique breed of folk if you ask me. They are far-reaching souls who anticipate the fascination of stumbling onto that next find or simply adding another better conditioned duplicate copy to what they’d already have.
As I said, the adventure is personal, and many collectors are cruelly labeled hoarders, or whatever, but significant collectors don’t really care what someone else may say about them because they realize that another’s trash may be their treasure.
I learned that lesson from my days of early collecting in New York and New Jersey when I turned a “nice” honest dollar, or two, by just selling what I found in some folk’s thrown out discarded trash.
Though I have only sold a few things throughout my collecting career, I’ve only collected for my own personal love of Afrikan culture in its many forms from throughout the Diaspora. This immense love has been a driving force behind me teaching and writing about Black History when I did and still do.
In subsequent years, I’ve had the tremendous good fortune of displaying many of my collection “jewels” of sorts in museum and gallery displays.
I’m in the process of writing a book about the awesome things in my collection because they must be shown, and it’s so necessary for any ethnicities of color to not throw away and discard things from and about their heritages.
It’s because of that woeful tragedy that I, when opportunities arise, still personally seek out, buy, collect and add a “gem,” or two, to my present renewed collection. The love of collecting for me and others is as persistently challenging as it is handsomely rewarding to us, no matter what we collect.
Again, I love to collect old African, Afro-American and eastern religious magazines and postcards, e.g., among many other forgotten tabloids that told and portrayed what things were like back then. I’m an “our-storian” and anything with a Black inference draws my collecting interests.
My mother and father were collectors in small dimensions of the activity, so I guess you could say that it comes natural for me to pick up their collecting batons. To do this starts with cultivating an interest in preservation of our culture and the love of book collecting details an important link to that process.
Collecting, researching and preserving the information about the past is a vital part of exposing the truthfulness and falsifications of the “his-storical” past and present.
If you’re reading this with a scintilla of unbiased understanding, I hope that you know that you’re the literal individual guardian and overall gatekeeper of your heritage, and by maintaining any and all things about your immediate and distant known and unknown folk, you have the prioritized upper hand in homeschooling yourself and your family.
I’m not concerned about advancing one ethnicity over the other. No way, because I think the more we know aboveboard about each other, the better off we would be in respectful and accepting norms of mutual respect.
And with being said, I hold steadfast to the belief that if one doesn’t know the legitimate truth about things, including his or past, then he or she will forever be hoodwinked by the miseducated indoctrinations of recurrent colonial fabrications and academic fiction. Just think about that as you examine what standards of today are considered beautiful and what political system of how to live is better than another.
As you think about that, I know that “Black is Beautiful” in so many wondrous ways until I refuse to count them all. I love my culture, past and present, but I know that some of us in the culture have not been and are not on point with being united as a proud and noble people.
Maybe, in some small measure, by collecting and preserving the trustworthy things from our past we can move forward. There’s an old Afrikan motto from the Twi language of Ghana that’s called “Sankofa” and it literally means to “go back and get it.”
In closing, I think that we must seek and take back that which is our true story. We have to “go back and get it.” Much has been stolen from many of us as an ebony people living in the confines of Western apartheid besides our names, religion and culture.
I’m politely referring to the loss of some of our minds, if you catch my drift with no disrespect intended. Knowledge can be useful if you have it. Remember that freedom doesn’t come without sweat, blood and tears.
Collect, preserve, maintain and teach about “our” legitimate stories. For today and always, that’s, “As I See It.”