Chicago Book Expo 2000: Press Report #2 OUTCRY Magazine

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The Miraculous Journey of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

Expo15.jpg (33141 bytes) On Thursday June 1, 2000 history repeats itself once more when as a journalist I had the privilege to cover the keynote address of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Denzel Washington portrayed him in the movie, Hurricane!  The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter  was presented to us as written by James S. Hirsch.

I hurried to room S503 at the McCormick place in Chicago

to be sure I was able to secure a front row seat so I could take close-up pictures of a former boxer named   "Hurricane." A few presentations followed the keynote speech and I was looking around to see if I could identify the man played by Denzel Washington in that movie called "Hurricane." I was thinking he was sitting in the room at a table next to me, but I was not sure. Once we had a break to be followed by the keynote speech, I ran to the restroom. Inside, I saw a big muscular light skinned Black guy standing as if on guard. While I finished my business, and was ready to leave, I overheard the conversation between the muscular guy and a male voice inside one of the stalls. "When do you think they're going to start?" asked the male voice."They're probably going to be few minutes late anyway," responded the muscular guy guarding the door. At that time, I knew the guy inside one of those stalls had to be Hurricane! I was overwhelmed with emotions - - - could I be experiencing this or was it a dream? On my way out, I asked the muscular guy, "Is that Hurricane in there?" With a quick and smileless face, he said, "No." I knew it was him inside there and I was not angry because he denied for security reasons and  I understood. Later both of them came out of the restroom and I saw the same guy whom I thought was Hurricane sitting a few tables from me from the last segment. I left them alone and hurried to the room where the keynote speech was about to start. I was saying to myself that sooner or later those guys will come to the room and I can positively identify Rubin Carter.

I was seized with so much emotion because I had seen the movie, Hurricane and I should not be embarrassed to say I came out of the movie theater in tears. I could not believe what I saw in the movie as one of the most wicked acts of man. The movie broke my heart!  Just as I was trying to subdue my personal emotions and wear my journalist's hat,  the same couple I saw earlier came into the room and took their seats close to the podium next to the Caucasian guy dressed in suit later identified to be James S. Hirsch, the author of the book.

Exp17.jpg (18204 bytes) James Hirsch took over the podium to introduce Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. He mentioned to us that Mr. Carter  was supposed to address a group of lawyers one time, but his presentation was canceled because it was considered too controversial. He said, "Even the New Jersey legal establishment could not discuss the case."

When Hurricane took the microphone, he ignited many thunderous emotions in his speech that I was never prepare to handle. He landed many punches very contrary to expectation - - - he was not landing those punches at racism, but at the human conscience regardless of color or race. His presentation was not about racism, but about the need to unleash the human conscience inside everyone. What went wrong?

Rubin Carter started by joking that he hoped we were not disappointed that instead of Denzel Washington, a 5' 8'' guy came through the door. "Denzel Washington could make anybody look good," he joked. Then he started telling us that he was imprisoned for 22 years for a crime he did not and could not have committed. He said that the US. government finally understood that his conviction was not based on facts but on concealment of evidence due to racism. His situation is the symbol of a criminal system infected by racism. "I'm a survivor of the American criminal system just like the survivors of the Holocaust. The Jews were persecuted for their race, I was being persecuted for the color of my skin!" he shouted. Carter declared that the US. has more people in prison than any industrial nation. He quoted a Russian writer who said that, " A person can evaluate the civilization of a society by looking into its prison system."

Paradox of Darkness: Hurricane continued his story by telling us he was born into racism 64 years ago and racism had always been the forefront of his life. At the prime of his life, in the pinnacle of his boxing career, he was unjustly snatched away and pushed into prison to ---  the lowest point of his life. "I narrowly missed the electric chair!" he stressed.  He refused to accept the fact that he was guilty just because the jurors found him guilty due to manufactured evidence. As a result he became defiant of the prison rules because he could not become a good prisoner when he was not a guilty citizen. His defiance earned him many trips to solitary confinement - - - referred to as the "hole." It was inside the "hole" that he started to see things more clearly. He explained that while in the "hole" it was so dark, he could not even see his skin. The room was so small he could not stand up straight - - - no toilet facilities, nothing except some light food once a day.

In the darkness he had no other person or thing to turn to and as a result, he turned inside to himself. He realized inside the painful solitary confinement that racism did not put him in prison contrary to popular notion. "It wasn't racism that put me in jail, it was hatred with a disguise of racism which put me in jail. It was a system stating that you can't eat here, you can't sit here, you're not welcome here, or there. Any system of exclusiveness fosters hatred."  Carter pointed out that for years, Black children were subjected to so much abuse by what they hear. "If you're White, move forward - - -  if you're yellow, mellow - - - if you're light, pass through - - - and  if you're Black --- get back!"

Triumph of human spirit over hatred: During the long years in prison he said, "I turned the prison to a natural lab of human spirit." At this point, he disclosed that  we are all under the power of hypnosis without realizing it. He made a very interesting observation that as a society, we divide ourselves into many groups: blonde against brunette, tall against short, fat against thin., Christians against Muslims, male against female, Democrats against Republicans, Whites against Blacks, and we all take sides because that is what is  imposed on us by those who created the division. Consequently, we become the manipulation tool for others. As a people, we voluntarily accepted these dichotomous divisions turning imposed ideas to religion and from these divisions we manufacture hate against each other - - - one group against another. All this baggage we carry weigh all of us down so much we lose perspective of the humanity inside each and every one of us.

He determined he was not going to die in the prison for a crime he did not commit and was determined to work himself to freedom. He appealed to the audience that we can all overcome racism by looking pass the skin color. When we look deeper inside every one, we will see that there is a need for compassion, and gestures of kindness to other. He shouted with a smile saying, "I'm indeed a miracle! Hate put me in prison, and love burst me out!"  - - - the hall exploded into an applause.

Below is Rubin Carter signing a copy of his latest book, Hurricane

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Carter gave us a little history about his childhood and how he learned to overcome stuttering which got him into a lot of fights when he was young. Stuttering was genetic in his family and he learned to overcome the problem as a result of the relentlessness of human determination and spirit after the age of 18 years. Today, he was able to speak so well and nobody could ever imagined he overcame such a speech problem. "Dare to dream!" he said with excitement.

"We do not know what love is because we do not know who we are." He believed we have all been brain washed to the point of losing our humanity and instead learned to target hate against others. Hurricane warned the audience, "Do not expect anything in life to come easy." At this time he pulled out the boxing championship belts given to him. He was the first boxer in history to win an honorary championship belt received in Las Vegas December 16, 1993. "Dare to Dream!" repeated Carter cheerfully as he raised both boxing belts showing the audience the triumph of  the human spirit. The last thing Carter's father said about his son's case before he died was, "I don't know if I'll be around to see it, but I know he will be free."

The inhumanity of man: The story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter left me in a state of perplexity about human nature. It has a right to make someone depressed. As a writer, I did not have accurate words to describe my feelings of great disappointment over the mystery of human wickedness. Ironically, the slogan of the special edition of OUTCRY magazine featured at the Book Expo 2000 is, "When good people keep quiet, the voices of evil will grow louder." This was supposed to be a resonance of emotional hurt from my first book, Overcoming the Invisible Crime which discusses the plight of Black men in corporate America called institutionalized racism. It discusses the wickedness of man through the act of brutality I experienced from trusted people within management and the pain and torment they dished out. It was acceptable for them to expect a sick Black man who came to work despite illness and after working 10 and a half  hours without food or drink or a single break and at the point of collapsing to expect him to work another eight hours. He was supposed to have taken it upon himself to commit suicide and work another eight hours regardless of whatever he was told or expected of him. The hospital administrator they did not care whether he was sick. His life meant nothing to them! His failure to do this led to his job termination in a White establishment. It was a decision that was cheered by the state. At another hospital when a head of the lab got in a fight with a pathologist she decided to utilize an innocent Black person as the scape-goat for all the systemic problems created by the hospital administration. Again, a Black man found himself out of a job. Will we ever be able to look into the window of human conscience?

I hate to say this, I give Rubin Carter a lot of credit for what he was able to withstand for 22 years of unwarranted imprisonment. I never thought I could have survived such an ordeal. After experiencing blatant hate on the job and being punished for the offenses committed by people of other race, simply because Blacks are the convenient targets of discrimination and abuse regardless to education and economic status, I lost my faith in humanity a long time ago. I surrendered my life to Christ! These were what I was thinking about when I got off the plane and came home after leaving Chicago. I co-incidentally turned on the television and HBO was doing a special on auschwitz and the Holocaust. My body started to shiver with awe, it was like another moment of divine revelation.

The HBO program was discussing how some Holocaust victims survived Auschwitz in Germany when Hitler gave orders for the extermination of the Jews. I remembered that Hurricane mentioned Holocaust in his speech. Within me, I did not believe it was by accident I came across the program that night. I believe God was telling me something. The story took us with the Holocaust survivors taking their children back to concentration camps in Germany and how they tried to relive those moments when innocent people were murdered in gas chambers. Millions lost their lives. One of the women said, "The tragedy experienced here in Autvich is the inhumanity of man." So was the same inhumanity that led many Africans to their death in the transatlantic slave trade. It was the same inhumanity leading to ethnic fights in Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Africa and in other places of war in the world. We turned our differences to anger and utilized excuses to generate hate in order to kill millions of people.

A co-worker told me a few days before I left for the Chicago Book Expo press coverage that God made man as the crown of creation because we are so intelligent.  I humbly disagreed with her. How can we be intelligent when we spend more money and time than any living creature on ways to end other people's lives using weapons of mass destruction? We use the need for military superiority of power as an excuse for national security. We are the same creatures who intentionally created division using ideologies causing people to develop hate against another group just because of a difference of opinion. And we commit murder to embrace such ideologies! Sorry, I do not believe man is that intelligent. We want to believe we are intelligent, we act as if we are intelligent. In reality, humankind is devoid of common sense! If we are that intelligent, we would never have allowed hateful ambitions, dangerous desires and crucifixial motivation to destroy the humanity within. Like Hurricane said, "Many people are searching for love from the outside, but the true love begins from within."

"A great story. What can be seen on the outside is marvelous, but it is only a hint of the magnificence within." Denzel Washington

"After all that's been said and done --- the fact that the most productive years of my life, between the ages of twenty-nine and fifty, have been stolen; the fact that I was deprived of seeing my children grow up --- wouldn't you think I would have a right to be bitter? Wouldn't anyone under those circumstances have a right to be bitter. But it has never been my nature, or my lot, to do things the easy way. If I have learned nothing else in my life, I've learned that bitterness only consumes the vessel that contains it. And for me to permit bitterness to control or infect my life, in any way whatsoever would be to allow those who imprisoned me to take even more than the twenty-two years they've already taken. Now, that would make me an accomplice to their crime."

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

"From the ashes of despair and failure will rise a winner. Rubin Carter personifies the strength of a better human being than an average person. He clearly demonstrates that human will use any excuse whatsoever to justify hatred.  For the most part, it is a story of triumph of the relentlessness of the human spirit."

'Yinka Vidal, OUTCRY Magazine

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OUTCRY Magazine June Issue: Coverage of the Chicago Book Expo

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