A Tribute to Lasana Kenny Mack
By Bakari Kitwana
What can I say of this beautiful, amazing and talented brother to a brother, Lasana Kenny Mack?
I first met Lasana Kenny Mack in the mid 80s when I was an undergraduate and he was a graduate student at the University of Rochester. He had just finished his undergraduate degree at Howard University. In addition to his focus on his studies, he was a very talented pool player. (Brotherman carried his own pool stick.) He was also a pretty skilled pick-up basketball player. And he wouldn’t hesitate to show off his DC style, breaking ankles of NYC kids before that became en vogue. Likewise, he was a spoken word poet, long before it was fashionable. I remember the birth of his first child around that time. He was already a committed husband, father and family man even before he was 30. Since then, and over the years, there was never a doubt that he was an extremely proud father who loved, loved, loved his children.
Lasana had a natural, effortless gait that some would liken to a highly perfected pimp walk. But over time, we realized that that was just Lasana’s effortless rhythm, marching to the beat of his own drummer. It was a rhythm that carried over into his speech. He was soft spoken, but always firm in whatever he was communicating to you. He had a lot of patience in making sure you understood. When you didn’t get it, he would smile his gentle smile and cock his head very slowly to one side and look at you out of the corner of his eye. (Anyone who knew him knows what I’m talking about.)
The first activist-centered study group that I participated in was with Lansana, along with a handful of like-minded young brothers and sisters. During those days student activists were involved in the divestiture movement, demanding that the colleges and universities they attended not invest in corporations doing business in South Africa. One of Lasana’s personal heroes was the South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. At some point, we read Biko’s I Write What I Like. I can still remember the joy Lasana took in discussing and reflecting on the steadfastness with which this amazing young freedom fighter approached the Black freedom struggle.
Lasana was an MBA student in the 80s hey-day of Wall Street, get rich quick obsession. Many folks those days were tripping over each other and themselves to get an MBA to make boatloads of money. The idea of the American dream was in transition for the worse and American individualism was at an all-time high (Just imagine: back then, we thought it could get no higher !!!) But Lasana was never a materialist. From him, I learned very early what it was to have a commitment to study and that the acquisition of knowledge had a far higher calling than profit.
From the first moment I met him 30 years ago, it was clear that he had already carved out two lanes through which he would make his mark on this world: his superb talent as a business and finance thinker; his ability to blend his love for Black political consciousness and African world history with his passion for the rhythm of words via his spoken word poetry, which over time evolved into the music ensemble he founded called Black Notes. At the same time, he worked tirelessly in DC government finance for 25 years before creating his own organization, APPEAL (Association of People for Pan-Africanist Economic Advancement thru Leverage), a non-profit economic empowerment solution for Black people, something he had been talking about since the beginning of our friendship.
Lasana made his transition this week. I know that over the years there have been so many people that he touched with his beautiful spirit. Many I do not know. I suspect that at this moment their hearts are just as heavy as my own. They, like I, will never forget Lasana Kenny Mack. I encourage them all to take solace in the immortal words of Marcus Garvey: Lasana will be there with us “in the whirlwind or the storm.”