By D.R.E James
Emcee and fellow 910 native J. Cole had a song on his 2014 album Born Sinner called “Let Nas Down,” lamenting about how he felt the pressures of his label for a radio single and deviated from his conscious, Ginsu-sharp, mile-deep brand of hip hop that purists like myself championed him for. This past Fourth of July, as I took swigs of cognac and called everybody in North Carolina to let them know that I’d finally been published in Pulitzer-winning newspaper, I secretly lamented, thinking I’d let Ta-Nehisi Coates down. I felt I’d leap from the soapbox of my socially conscious brand of food journalism to write about chili cheese dogs in Myrtle Beach. The way J. Cole and I thought we made Nas and Ta-Nehisi feel was the way I felt about Bobby Seale, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Black Panther Party when I stumbled upon his 1988 cookbook: Barbeque’n with Bobby. It felt like COINTELPRO’s vicious mission had come full circle and J. Edgar was snickering from the pits of hell, knowing that even though he didn’t get a chance to get him like he got Fred Hampton, the revolution was finally 86’d.
I was hungry for the other Bobby Seale – Count of the Counterculture, Lord of the left-wing – The Bobby Seale of legend. No offense to T’Challa, but a real Black Panther. The Bobby I saw was clutching a pair of tongs instead of a pump shotgun and an apron had replaced his black leather jacket. I wanted the Bobby that stormed into State Capitol buildings locked and loaded to combat injustice, Instead, I’m stuck with these internet activists, naïvely thinking social injustice can be hashed out with hashtags. Even with everybody measuring their melanin, and sporting the Eye of Horus like it’s the swoosh of Nike, we still needed a Bobby Seale – intellectual, yet fierce; sophisticated but still dangerous; supremely down for the cause, because Black men are still being murdered in the streets like it’s Oakland circa 1968. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that a man who’d been blessed enough to outlive Malcolm, Martin, and his sidekick Huey P. Newton was now babbling about the delights and wonders of hickory wood coal and liquid smoke.
Then I burrowed into my rabbit hole of research and reflection and found out that his barbeque at $2 a plate helped fund The Black Panther Party in its infancy. What he’s doing these days isn’t far-fetched for a man who help pioneer the Free Breakfast program, serving over 6,000 children a week. That began my transition of observing Mr. Seale through a softer lens. It’s the same way I had to look at my late grandfather Buck, who’d escaped used the Marine Corps to escape a less than idyllic upbringing in rural Arkansas. He’d served nearly two decades in the Corps, carried the stoic, no-bullshit demeanor around with him until his death, but that fiery fervor wasn’t what it was back when Kwame Toure was still Stokely Carmichael. Like Bobby Seale, he’d survived the first half of his life being slowly rotated over the flames of bigotry and oppression. He paid his dues in everything but bitcoins and had every right to spend the twilight of existence on the back burner, simmering, sipping moonshine and tending to his koi fish pond. I had to realize that it’s my generation’s turn to commit to social activism with the same vigor we do when partaking in all the tomfoolery.
When the smoke fades, Bobby was right: “Revolutionaries get hungry too.” At this point, petty as it may seem, the only quarrel I have with Bobby is his barbecue of choice. I know he’d learned the craft for his Uncle Tom Turner in his hometown of Liberty, Texas which is smack dab in the middle of brisket-land, but those meager slivers of beef are best served to Teacup Yorkies. To be fair, Kansas City and Memphis style barbecue doesn’t tickle my fancy either. In my opinion, those goopy sauces are only good for kids to dip chicken nuggets into. I’m from Southeastern North Carolina, where apple cider vinegar-based ‘cue reigns supreme and it’s the truth that we eat everything but the “oink”. Everything – the sinewy strands, the chunks, the gritty parts, the jiggly parts and the parts unknown. Despite our differences in barbecue philosophy, Bobby Seale has lit a fire within me to help cook up something soulful that I’ll feed my people with. So alas, Gil Scott Heron was correct: the revolution will not be televised, go better with Coke or make you look five pounds thinner, it will be marinated and cooked – slow and low.