Jenoch I’ve Known: My Personal Circle of Ancestors & Elders

The Saturday group men and families of Atlanta Preparatory Academy

I’ve begun participating lately with a group of Black men that gather at my son’s school every Saturday morning for an extra-curricula program working with the male students at Atlanta Preparatory Academy. The members hark from various education or professional backgrounds and function under the eldership of civil rights legend Dr. C.T. Vivian, while being convened by the school’s Board of Trustees chairperson Hakim Hilliard (attorney and son of legendary scholar Asa Hilliard III). Though still focused on relationship building with the school’s students, the group has recently expanded its vision to include identifying itself and eventually functioning as what could be called a “jegna” oriented collective.

Dr. Wade Nobles

As defined by Wade W. Nobles, “Jegna is an Ethiopian (Amharic) word that means a very brave person who is a protector of a culture, the rights of his or her people and their land. More than a leader, a jegna is someone who is not afraid to speak truth to power, is uncompromised, full of integrity and at the very core of his or her being sees the welfare and protection of their people as paramount. They are literally prepared to die for the community they represent. Jegna (Jenoch, plural from) are those special people who have:

  1. been tested in struggle or battle
  2. demonstrated extraordinary and unusual fearlessness
  3. shown determination and courage in protecting his/her people, land and culture
  4. shown diligence and dedication to our people
  5. produced exceptionally high quality work
  6. dedicated themselves to the protection, defense, nurturance, and development of our young by advancing our people, place and culture”

Rev. Vivian confronting sheriff Jim Clarke in Selma, Alabama

Rev. Vivian arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for behaving as a jegna

During several profoundly meaningful and earnest discussion sessions within our Saturday morning group, we have been exploring the implications of an assumed jegna identity for ourselves. Many of us believe that Dr. Vivian himself represents a stellar example of a jegna amongst us, given his years of self-sacrifice and transformative leadership on behalf of Black people. Personally, being in regular proximity to and in developing relationship with a seasoned jegna of his stature is a continuation of a repeated most fortunate experience for me. At this first year past the fortnight of my life, I feel blessed to know an elder circle of exceptional character that are both still alive and also accessible to me in the realm of the ancestors.

Joe Beasley, a self described "sharecropper's son" speaking at the United Nations

In addition to Dr. Vivian, I’ve connected to Joe Beasley of Operation Rainbow/PUSH fame and community outreach representative for Atlanta’s venerable Antioch Baptist Church through a new activist group I’ve been working with since late last year. Brother Beasley is also in my opinion a jegna of uncommon valor and astuteness who has declined to slow down after years of exceptional service to our people and humanity in general, despite his years and earned official retirement. In the too few months that have known and interacted with him, I have observed the level of impact that is capable of this seasoned roundly respected warrior with uncompromising convictions. From the Occupy Atlanta movement to holding elected officials accountable, his positive influence on the course of local and global events is substantial.

Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr. (later known as Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman)

Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, Founder and 1st Holy Patriarch of the Shrines of the Black Madonna of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church

Equally meaningful for me are the revolutionary giants I’ve known that no longer walk among the living, but whose presence is still very much a reality for me from day to day. The perpetual community role of ancestors is of course a fixture of traditional African culture that persists for those of us who endeavor to preserve our best traditions. My own journey toward jegnaship was initiated when I was in my late teens by a brilliant professor of political science and Pan African organizer Dr. D. Mudavanha-Patterson. I benefitted immensely from several years of intense intellectual tutelage with Mudavanha that ultimately evolved to a surrogate father role. I subsequently become a student of Master Teacher and Founder of the Shrines of the Black Madonna, Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman (Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr.), as a member of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church. The one-on-one conversations I was able to have with this multi-genius and Black liberation theology pioneer are counted by me as among the treasures of my life. Though both of these jenoch have passed on, I continue to call on their character and wisdom while striving to be my best self.

Dr. Vivian at National Civil Rights Museum receiving a Freedom Award with boys from Atlanta Preparatory Academy

Under this category of my blog, I intend to share deeper reflections in the future on the jegna personalities in my circle that influence me in person or through spirit. My aspiration is to earn my place with this role for others through my own journey towards jegnaship. As noted on the website of the Association of Black Psychologists, “A Jegna is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential, and whose life continues to have within it promise for and connection to the future. A Jegna is a person who deserves respect and honor and whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from life long experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.”


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