"What does being a Black man in America in 2011 mean? It means understanding who you really are. Not the media’s image. Not the thug life image. Not what others call you. It means understanding that you are exactly where God wanted you to be placed. It means understanding that your ancestors smile on you daily if you are living the good and righteous life, being authentically you. It means knowing that its not what others call you, its what you answer to. It means being American African so you can connect with the Senegalese African, the Jamaican African, the Chicago African, the Mississippi African, the ATL African, the West Oakland African, the East Oakland African…"- Baba Gregory Hodge, lawyer & educator. Father & West Oakland African.

So im waiting in the checkout line and the guy ahead of me is searching his pocket for 10 cents, while he has a $100 bill in his hand (not pictured) he pulls out some change along w/ a brass knuckle. I make some random comment and he looks at me and says “you dont make it 70 years in oakland w/out keeping something in your pocket”. Thats the realest shit i ever heard in a 99 cent store. I asked him if he was a tuskegee airman because of the hat he wore. He told me he was 12 years too young to join at the time but he did serve in the korean war. Thanks old black guy for your wisdom. #oaklandknowledge #ogtoldme #game


"We’ve been killing each other for years, man. Nothing is going to make it stop…"- Willie

He said he’s from Atlanta, but has lived in Oakland a long time. He has resided on both sides of this town: the East and the West.

Over the past two years, he’s lost two nieces to gun violence.

He said he’s seen so much violence that … He just stopped talking. Shaking his head, he sat silently as Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble man” flowed out of his boom-box. The water in Willie’s eye flowed over the edge and ran down his cheek. A single tear.

"I can’t say anymore, I’m through talking," said Willie, a 59 year old gentleman who sells jewelry and trinkets by Lake Merritt.

He said he didn’t want to say anymore, because it won’t change anything.

When asked, if he could tell young people anything— based on his life experience, OG Told Me:

"Nothing is going to make (violence) stop. All you can do, is believe in God a little bit more."- Willie 

He asked for food with a silent hand gesture, mimicking someone eating soup. I biked past him, saying: “sorry bru”, as I moved. Then I stopped, and doubled back. I had a shit-load of apples in my backpack. I gave him one and introduced myself. His name is Ross. It’s hard to understand his speech, but his smile is clear communication.


I asked Dr. Woody Carter,

"If you had the ear of the youth, given your expertise, what would you tell them?"

OG Told Me: 

"The one thing I would tell young people: Learn how to meditate. Make it a discipline."

"we’re all instruments- out of tune; if you we’re to tune a violin- you’d have to use a tool to move those wooden pegs on the side of the object. Meditation is the process of bringing you in tune with yourself.  In order to be in tune- you have to be open; receptive to be tuned."

Dr. Woody Carter, has been the Executive Director of the Bay Area Black United Fund since 1997. In a brief interview at a coffee shop near Oakland’s Lake Merritt, Dr. Carter told me about the history of his organization, his educational background, and his experience with love.  

Baba Carter, 68 and still paying student loans, said he will finally pay off his remaining debt of 5, 000 dollar this upcoming Fall.

Dr. Carter holds four college degrees, including one from the Howard University. Fitting, for that’s where his mother and father met, it’s the same place he was born, and happens to be the college I attended.  

Dr. Carter told me about his most recent degree: doctorate in theological narratives; using stories to study the intergenerational connection within African Americans. He cited studying the Bible, Amiri Baraka’s work, and W.E.B. DuBois’ writings; among other stories. He drove the same point home that W.E.B. DuBois touched on in the book, “The Souls of Black Folks”, stating that we are both African and American, and those polar opposite entities have created an unresolved spiritual dilemma within us as a people.

Mr. Carter spoke about politics, religion, working in Oakland, growing up in New York, and freedom rides through the South. He told me about his degrees and his enlightenment through meditation; but nothing compared to his love story… 

At his 5th wife’s memorial service in November of 2011, he told the story of how he and her, a beautiful lady by the name of Jennifer, fell in love…

He told me that same story during our interview at the cafe…

After four prior marriages, he wasn’t interested in finding another wife, but the lady he had been spending time with had begun to feel a certain way…

"I want to get married" said Jennifer. 

Woody responded with a line that he’d been telling himself over and over in preparation to defend himself from falling in love again,

"I’ve been married 4 times…uh … doesn’t that tell you something?"

He said his line, and she didn’t even acknowledge it, she just kept on about wanting to get married. She waited for thirty minutes until she brought it up again…

"And about your prior marriages: those other women just knocked the kinks out… I’m going to get the best years out of you."

They were married 11 years. Dr. Carter told me,

"I knew she was the one because at that point, I didn’t have an answer, I just there sat quietly.hahaha…"

(Meditating. Open to being tuned… I thought to myself. ) 

Dr. Carter autographed a copy of his book, “Theology for a Violent Age”, we shook hands, and parted ways…


His name is Raymond Bellinger, and he is quick to notify you of 3 things. 1. He is a war Vet. 2. He is from New Orleans. And thirdly (once again), his name is Raymond Bellinger, spelled with an “E” (He showed me his ID) and that is a French name.

Mr. Bellinger, who I often see at the same bus stop, caught my attention as I was taking a photo of this “tumble-weave”. “Now she’s really in trouble”, he said in a raspy yet jokingly tone as my camera clicked.

After laughing at his joke, I introduced myself. I asked Mr. Bellinger the same question I’ve been asking elder Black men in community for almost a year now: “If you had the ear of the youth, what would you tell them?”

No longer joking, Mr. Bellinger eloquently replied: “I was raised by grandmother and my uncle. They were good people,everything they taught me allowed me to get this far…God bless their souls.”

I followed with the question: What was it that they taught you?

On cue, he recited the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,


hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come, 
your will be done, 
on earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us. 
Lead us not into temptation, 
but deliver us from evil. 
For the kingdom, 
the power and the glory are yours. 
Now and for ever.



“Sometimes we devalue ourselves; we don’t really look at ourselves in the whole picture. Sometimes it’s good to take a minute to look in the mirror and assess yourself— and really realize how powerful, how talented, and how important you are.”- Masai Minters

The images on the walls of Masai Minters’ office in Campbell Hall on UCLA’s campus symbolize power.

A stoic Miles Davis, A couple Black Panthers, and this one photo of a young man with an afro holding a gun.

All of that is interspersed with powder blue UCLA logos and photos of students in caps and gowns.

The educated African American men and women who appear in the photos are Minters’ sons and daughters. He has five of them. All of them are college educated.

The UCLA logos are a bi-product of his occupation: Associate Director of the Academic Advancement Program on UCLA’s campus.

He says that the program assists over 5,600 students with academics, job placement, scholarships, and peer mentoring. The program is the new version of a program Minters was once a part of— The High Potential Program.

When Minters was a teenager, he had the opportunity to travel all the way from his residence near Sentinel High School in Compton to participate in the High Potential program, which was housed on the UCLA campus. A lot of students came from the underserved communities of Los Angeles County and joined the High Potential Program as a way to transfer into UCLA.

Bunchy Carter and John Huggins, former leaders of the LA Chapter of the Black Panther Party, were involved with the program as well.

Their photos are now in the back of Minters’ office—on a wall not too far from the photo of the gun and the guy with the afro.

Bunchy Carter and John Huggins were shot and killed on the campus of UCLA in January of 1969.

Minters wasn’t on campus at the time of the incident, but he knows all about it.

Minters not only has their images on his wall, their photos are also in the main corridor of Campbell Hall; which is where the shooting occurred.

Minters says that it was this shooting that eventually caused him to graduate from California State University Northridge instead of UCLA.

While at Northridge, he focused on Psychology and Pan African Studies; he also joined the Black Panther Party For Self Defense and trained in marksmanship. Somehow, he also found time to do some photography: The photo of the gun and the guy in the afro is a self-portrait that he took. 

Years removed from that period in his life, Minters is the head of the counseling department of a program that assists disadvantage students, and he’s a proud father.       

Given his life experiences, when asked what he would tell young people if given the opportunity, OG Told Me:

“I would encourage young brothers, like yourself, to really take an honest assessment of yourself— because you are a talented brother,” Minters said as he sat at his desk.

"You know the data, you know the challenges, we are under attack, we’re under siege!" Minters looked me dead in my eyes, and continued:

"I would encourage brothers such as yourself to do a real close self assessment. You have more talent than you imagine. Take a minute and do your own personal resume: Many of us have trained ourselves in so many different areas because we didn’t have the support we needed; we kind of made due.”

He said if he made a resume of the “renaissance” things he could do, it’d be 4 or 5 pages long; And didn’t smirk nor leave room for a suspicion of exaggeration.

I imagine his resume would include his ability to aim both a camera and a gun.


I went to introduce myself to Bill Russell … OG told me:

Me: Hello Mr. Russell, my name is Pen.

Mr. Russell: Pen … did you catch him?

Me: Uhhhh … catch who?

Mr. Russell: (pointing at my long beard) The gentleman who stole your razor!


It was an honor to walk around McClymonds high school today with Bill Russell, an American icon. The 11 time NBA champion, Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, and West Oakland home boy reeks of good humor. 

Nearly a year ago I attended a dinner in which a number of well respected names in Bay Area sports gathered to pay homage to Mr. Russell.

During the event, Mr. Russell stated something that resonates with me to this day…

“We learn to make a shell for ourselves when we are young and then spend the rest of our lives hoping for someone to reach inside and touch us. Just touch us—anything more than that would be too much for us to bear.” - Bill Russell. 

I was interviewing a source over croissants & coffee, you know: doing journalism. That’s when this guy walked into the cafe, sat down and started eating… Eating the leftovers from the plates of a duo that had just dined, paid their bill and left. I was already paying for my source’s breakfast, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to buy this guy a croissant. His name is Charles.

OG Told Me: “Stay in school, try to get married either before or after they start school” (the video cut off, he concluded with saying), “and they should stay in school for as long as they can, and stay married for as long as they can.”- Charles.

"… After you get a certain age, you know what it’s called? it’s called WISDOM!"- Cody Red

Outside of the sports bar in downtown Oakland, Cody Red’s voice dominated the airwaves as I held an impromptu interview; he was so animated— I had to ask him.

"It’s called what?"


He was referring to the lesson he’d pass on to the younger generation if given the chance. He touched on topics of walking away during conflict, observing your surroundings, and trusting in God.

But, the first words he said when I asked what he would tell young people if given the opportunity…

OG Told Me: ”To lean the right way.”