SPECIAL SERIES : [X]Press Magazine Issue Two: Culture
T'Shaka Tales
SF State Black Studies professor recalls the legacy of the '68 strike
 

Dr. Oba T’Shaka is just too cool. His swagger says a lot. Not to be misinterpreted with arrogance, his stroll embodies a confidence all his own. And the hand-stitched, colorfully embroidered African kofia on his head doesn’t hurt either.

Maybe you’ve seen him but just don’t know his name. With more than 30 years dedicated to black community organizing, T’Shaka’s presence at San Francisco State University has helped inspire young black minds to become more conscious over the years. He has also been extremely vocal throughout the world in helping blacks adapt to African and African-American mentalities, instead of absorbing dominant white views.

“He’s such a remarkable and knowledgeable man who seems to have a sincere love of his people,” says Rachel Bates, 27, a former student of T’Shaka’s who graduated from SF State in 2002 with a degree in Black Studies. “I truly view him as a living history book, and he speaks with such passion about black issues, you can’t help but to listen and take heed. Plus, he just makes you feel proud to be black.”

T’Shaka even had a hand in the milestone event that would eventually change the look, feel and curriculum of SF State forever.

The SF State strike in 1968 was the longest standing student strike in the United States and led to the first Black Studies Department at a four-year college, followed by an Ethnic Studies Department. The strike also paved the way for other four-year universities across the United States.

In 1963, just two years after he graduated from SF State, T’Shaka created the Afro-American Institute, later known as the Pan African Peoples Organization. Its goal was to offer the guidance and counsel needed for black students to bring awareness to a range of issues, including the need for black courses and a department that would delve into African and African-American culture. With no immediate action being taken on the subject, the strike was galvanized into motion.

There is no doubt things have changed in the last 37 years at SF State, and the Black Studies Department is a prime example.

When T’Shaka began teaching at SF State in 1972, the curriculum of the Black Studies Department focused on humanities and social sciences. But during T’Shaka’s years as department chair (1984 to 1996), the curriculum shifted to what it is today. T’Shaka aided in implementing a new African-centered discipline that would be more relevant for black students, including African-centered science and philosophy as a key parts of the curriculum.

Shifting the discipline of Black Studies was not just some frivolous move. With the unfortunate changes that broke and continue to break up the black community, a shift
in disciplines was essential, if not strategic. “The youth today are facing the most difficult set of circumstances than ever before,” T’Shaka says. “The more complex your struggles, the more complex your studies.”

The struggles for today’s black youth come from a variety of sources. The overwhelming number of black men in prison keeps many fathers out of their homes and mothers single. Blue-collar jobs that could support a family in the 1960s no longer exist, says T’Shaka. Drug use among youth is at an all-time high. All these things contribute to the breaking up of the black community, and it’s what inspires T’Shaka to keep going.

Developments within the discipline of African-centered studies also called for a rethinking of what to call the department. No longer do students graduate with a Black Studies degree. Their diplomas now read "Africana Studies." Implemented in spring 2005, T’Shaka says the name was changed as a means to “acknowledge our ethnicity.”

“Black people did not come from Blackland, they came from Africa,” T’Shaka says. “To be African is to be black, so we are not abandoning being black. Black Studies was our birth, and Africana Studies represents our maturity.” T’Shaka’s mid-tone voice is confident and demands attention as he speaks with authority to his students—so much so that his voice infuses the room when he teaches, often brewing hermetic emotions and raising heated debates.

Some of his former students have called him “a little cocky,” but "confident" describes him best, and he has every right to be. As an author, scholar, innovator, activist and organizer of more than 30 years, he has heard and seen a lot. At 66, he looks much younger with his firm skin and strong physique.

His appearance only adds to his charm as T’Shaka raves about himself and the quality of the other professors. “We’re originators, not just some oatmeal scholars that regurgitate what we read,” he says.

SF State has the best Black Studies Department in the United States, according to T’Shaka, because they are the real deal. He says not only is the team good at teaching, but they are also good organizers. Their involvement in the community enables them to be the best.

T’Shaka is proud of the professors, his students and the advancements that the Black Studies Department has made and continues to make.

Though this is no longer a period of mass movements and marches like the days of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and the SF State strike, T’Shaka says the black youth today are going through one of the toughest times.

So what’s changed from 1968 to now?

Beyond the obvious large, picked-out afros that have now evolved into low-cut tapers, dreads, locks, braids and other black styles, taking a look at the big picture, it seems the black focus has changed. It’s not so much about racial inequalities anymore, although they do still exist; now it’s about fixing the black mentality and “mending black communities."

According to T’Shaka, integration is not the answer for black people. Not that blacks and whites cannot mix on campus or in the workplace, but ingesting the mentality and values of “a white supremacist society” is what will keep black minds enslaved. “You don’t get your freedom if you’re just like the oppressor,” he says.

T’Shaka strives daily to do something for the betterment of black people, and in his words he does it because “I love my people and humanity.”

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