While classes like African-American History and African-American Literature have remained at Berkeley High School (BHS) since the inception of the Black Studies Program in 1968, African-American Journalism hasn’t been as fortunate. One of the courses in the original Black Studies Curriculum, African-American Journalism not only educated students on the mass media and news analysis, but produced its own African-American student run newspaper: The Ujamaa, which means “collective responsibility,” in Swahili.
Despite having taken African-American History last year, I hadn’t noticed the collection of Ujamaa newspapers among posters of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali that decorated the classroom, until I went to interview Spencer Pritchard, my former teacher, last week. I had initially gone to inquire about BHS’ Black Student Union, but was immediately enticed by the papers upon entering H-214. Ujamaa was a voice for the African-American student body — dedicated to the Free Expression of Afrikan Thought, its slogan read. One article from March of 1981, entitled “Oakland Police Kidnap B.H.S Student,” covered the arrest of Shawn Williams, an African-American senior who had been viciously seized by police on his way to school for carrying breath mints. “The Meaning of Malcolm X,” another article, celebrated the life and activism of X and was written by Ama Lacy, a Jacket staff member. Ujamaa printed it because Jacket editors refused to. One headline, though, abruptly caught my eye. In one of our previous conversations, Mr. Pritchard spoke with reverence of Richard Navies, who had been the Chair of Black Studies at BHS since its founding. “Richard Navies: A Different Perspective,” taught me not only of Navies’ upbringing and inspiration to teach, but of his battle with leukemia that ultimately took his life.
Navies originally aspired to be a lawyer, not a teacher. It wasn’t until he witnessed Malcolm X speak during his sophomore year of college that he decided he wanted to give back to the Black community through education. At his first teaching job at a high school in Detroit, Michigan in 1966, Navies discarded a picture of George Washington on his classroom wall and replaced it with one of his hero, Malcolm X. Navies was admonished by the Principle, and spent just two more years at the school before transferring to BHS to help initiate the Black Studies Program. Here, Navies, with the help of BHS’ African American Student Association, advocated for the graduation requirement of Ethnic Studies — a point of contention even today. Navies also taught AFAM History, AFAM Literature, and “Black Gold, Black Soul, Black Dynamite,” a speech class. In a photograph from a 1987 edition of East Bay Express, grinning students — black and white alike — surround the Dashiki-wearing Navies. Soon after Navies passed, the budget for the Black Studies Department dissipated and classes like AFAM Journalism were cut, Ujamaa now defunct. Today, African-American Studies relies primarily on grants and Afro-Haitian Dance tickets for its funding, receiving no aid from the School Board. We, as students, must continue to use our voices to drive change and bear the legacy Richard Navies left behind.