While growing up within a loving African American family, a little boy develops a deep understanding of right and wrong and the responsibility that accompanies his choices. Some forty years later, Rohillio Jabel recognizes that it is only through God's grace and mercy that he has been successful in life. Buoyed by his ideals, innovative ideas, and commitment to helping those less fortunate than himself, Rohillio begins to rise in his south New Jersey community.
Rohillio, now known as "the Citizen," is disenchanted about the biases that plague the American justice system and tired of belonging to a powerless race. Determined to change the black experience for the better, Rohillio recruits eight people-including ministers, a college professor, a teacher, a banker, a beautician, and drug dealers-to help him in his mission to start a new political movement that he hopes will transform their town. But as the eclectic group attempts to fulfill Rohillio's mission, it soon becomes evident that their road to success will be lined with many more challenges than they ever imagined.
The Citizen Rising shares the tale of one man's journey to change the mind-set of a city with the help of a group of black citizens determined to help him realize his dream.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.46(d)|
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The Citizen RISING
By Roger Knight
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Roger Knight
All rights reserved.
He sat in his computer room for hours. He had never been in such emotional pain and anguish; the factory was destroyed, burned to the ground. But more importantly a dozen people were killed, engulfed by the fire, including one of his close friends, who was not killed by the fire but actually murdered. A beautiful woman, also a close friend, was disfigured. He could still hear the screams of all the burned victims, and he would never forget that putrid smell of burning flesh. He believed he was responsible for all of this because of his ideas and his ideals; he had underestimated his enemies. As these thoughts were going through his head, he felt devastated, angry, and defeated. He knocked over the computer monitor to the floor, turned his desk over, and proceeded to tear the entire room apart as he let out some of his anger and frustration that was beginning to overflow in his system. Then he sat down and thought about everything that had happened these past four-plus years.
Four years earlier.
The Meeting of the Minds
The trial was over; the policemen were acquitted. As he was leaving the courtroom in Albany, New York (the capital of New York State), Rohillio remembered the community board meetings he used to attend many years ago when he was married and living in the Bronx (one of the five boroughs that make up New York City), especially when the police and politicians attended and gave talks.
He was a little shy back then, so whenever someone would ask him his name, he would just say he was a concerned citizen. But his personality, comments, and ideas were so profound and innovative that people started calling him the Citizen, and that name stuck.
That's where he first met the district attorney from the Bronx, Ronald Jackson. The two of them had exchanged ideas. One of the Citizen's ideas was to open the schools for youth community centers in the evenings and on weekends, using the money taken from drug busts and other crimes. The amount of money taken during the busts would be listed in the legal notices in the city newspaper. Once nobody claimed the money, the money would be put back into the neighborhood where it was found. Businesses like McDonald's and Burger King, Pepsi, etc., would then match those funds to pay for councilors and general operating costs so it would not affect the city's budget.
His idea was only modestly successful. A few schools did get after-school programs, but a lot of money went into Ronald Jackson's youth program. Ronald Jackson stole Rohillio's idea, and he did a bad job in court.
Rohillio didn't like Ronald then, and he didn't like him now. However, Rohillio got more involved in political and social reform by writing letters to local politicians. He authored a few articles in the local newspaper and a magazine article from time to time. Rohillio would always sign his name "A Concerned Citizen." More and more often, his friends and associates began to refer to him as the Citizen or Citizen Jabel.
It was drizzling on the day he left the courtroom. He asked himself why he thought the trial would have ended any other way. If the people didn't have the power to hold the trial in the county where the crime was committed, why was he stupid enough to think there could possibly be a conviction? The police had never been convicted of killing a black man, so why did he think this would be any different? This was especially true in Albany, where they hadn't convicted a policeman in a hundred years. He felt like a fool as the answers to his questions came to him. He had allowed himself to believe in American justice and had forgotten about the "just us" that applied to black people and other people of color. He had allowed himself to forget that important fact. A young man had been shot forty-one times. Some of the bullets had entered through the bottom of his feet, which clearly proved he was shot on the ground. A year ago, the police had killed a Latino youth in front of his house because a football hit the police car. Another Latino youth was shot in the back. The mayor said the youth was a gang member. Citizen Jabel wondered if the young man had gang member written across his back. The police were out of control with a license to kill. The Citizen was angry and sad as he contemplated the plight of his people. He asked himself the same questions everybody asked him whenever he described the black experience in America: "What are you going to do about it?" and "What would it take to change the black experience in America?" He had known the answers to both questions for some time, but he also knew that to do this would change his life forever. He pondered this last question as he drove back to Queens (Note: New York City is made up of five boroughs—Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island). That was the real question. Was he willing to put his personal life aside and do the work that was needed to benefit his people?
He was a successful black man in every aspect of his life. He was financially secure, in excellent health, well educated, socially accepted where he went, and he enjoyed a good relationship with his two grown sons and ex-wife. But it didn't take long for him to make his decision. On his way home, he stopped by a local card shop and bought twelve of the most expensive invitations they had. He reasoned if he could get the support he needed, then he would commit to it. He had eight people in mind, and five of them would have to commit. It had only taken him a couple of hours to get to his house in College Point, Queens. It was springtime; College Point was a beautiful town with nice homes and parks. It was a town in every sense of the word. It reminded you of the old Western movies where the stores and businesses were on the same street. College Point Boulevard was the main commercial strip. Most of the homes were on the side streets on or near the water and the marinas. It was a peninsula and College Point Boulevard was full of private businesses owned or ran by people who lived in the town; even some of the bankers lived in the community. It used to be strictly an Irish/German town, but over the last few years it became an ethnic melting pot but still a town, not a neighborhood. Jabel had reasoned that on the commercial strip the dollar must be turning over six or seven times, not like a ghetto where the dollar was lucky to turn over once.
It was still early afternoon, so he decided to go to a nearby park to think about his undertaking and to reflect on the trial. Jabel's condominium was waterfront property. His backyard faced the water where he could see LaGuardia Airport on the far western side of the town. He could also see the ball drop from the Empire State Building on New Year's Eve from his backyard. College Point had beautiful small parks on both sides of College Point Boulevard running north and south—north to the Whitestone Bridge and south to Northern Boulevard, almost to Main Street. This particular park he decided to go to was a couple of short blocks east of College Point Boulevard, about a ten-minute walk from his condo. He often went there to think, write, and read. The park was tranquil and serene, one square block with benches, baby swings, handball courts, and a small basketball court and lots of trees and grass. He sat on his usual bench near the entrance on the west side of the park. Then it happened! Two police cars converged on him from different directions. He was told, "Don't move! Put your hands up and get against the fence!" as their guns were drawn. They asked him if he had a weapon and what he was doing in the park. He answered the questions to their satisfaction. They explained that three black men with a gun had just robbed a woman coming out of the bank a few blocks down and that he looked suspicious sitting in the park all by himself.
It wasn't the first time in his life he was humiliated like this, and he was sure most black men had a similar story of their own. He was furious and sad at the same time. As he walked slowly back to his condo, he realized that no matter how successful and wonderful his life was, he belonged to a race of powerless people. He would always be subjected to this kind of disrespect and humiliation until his people got some form of power. Having to check your bag before you could shop in a store, racial profiling, etc., would always be a part of his reality unless something was done. His mind was made up as he filled out the invitations he had bought. He was now prepared to make the strongest case possible to get the support he needed to take on this task of a lifetime.
He sat in the backyard of his condo with his personal phone book and began to read through it, creating a profile in his mind of the type of people he would need for this venture.
He wondered what William would say about all of this. William Bellinger was his best friend, his most significant mentor and benefactor, but more than that, he had been the most important person in the Citizen's life and the smartest person he had ever met. In the '70s when they were barely out of their teens, William bet a man a hundred dollas that President Nixon would resign within one year, and he had won the bet. William Bellinger was the person who had encouraged the Citizen to take martial arts.
William worked on Wall Street back then. He managed to move his family into the luxury apartments that were just a few blocks from the South Street Seaport and five short blocks from his job. The studios back then went for $250 a month. William had a two-bedroom apartment with a terrace for $125 a month, and he walked to work. The two of them had known each other since Jabel was sixteen. William had been dead for several years, the victim of a meaningless crime. Jabel was visited by William from time to time in his dreams. They had read many books together: Sex and Race, Superman to Man, The Finding of the Third Eye, and The Prophet, just to name a few. They had shared ideas, argued a lot, and even fought a couple of times. William used to say to Jabel, "Pride and principles are going to get you killed," but the most significant thing he did was to teach Jabel how to conquer his fear and believe in himself. Jabel missed him dearly. William would never be replaced.
Citizen Jabel would have to recruit people who were very strong physically, mentally, and spiritually. They would have to be financially well off, politically radical, and as angry over the plight of his people as he was. It surprised him that the first two people he thought about were drug dealers. Melvin Taylor and James Sturgis were young, streetwise hoods, both charming and very intelligent. They were bored with their lifestyle and yearned for social acceptability.
James Sturgis was the Citizen's nephew. The Citizen remembered their debates about drugs, how he tried to convince James not to sell and how James had made a point about the reality of drugs and drug money, especially drug money. But Melvin and James were tough and smart and wealthy. The Citizen would send each of them an invitation.
Citizen Jabel heard his living room phone ringing. He got up and answered it. It was Alicia Morgan.
Alicia was an intimate friend he had known for years. She was bright, attractive, and wealthy. She had a master's degree in banking and finance, although she was only a manager in the mortgage department. She had been passed over twice for vice president and was contemplating whether she should resign. Alicia was aggressive. Her style was intimidating, and she could back it up. She was calling to tell Jabel that she did not get the promotion. She liked the Citizen and his point of view. It was her hope that he could console her in some way.
"Hi, baby," she said. "I just thought I'd call you so you could tell me 'I told you so.'"
"Hey, princess," he answered. "I'm sorry to hear that, but I'm not surprised. They know you are not 'a company woman,' and they know they can't control you. That makes you intimidating to them. But you have great skills, and I believe I may have just the thing to put all your talents to great use. Can you meet me for dinner?"
"Sure. Is seven thirty okay?"
"Yes, but I'd like you to come over here tonight. I'll do the cooking."
"I'll be there," she said.
After he hung up the phone, he continued to write a profile of the type of people he would invite to this meeting.
Not only would he have to impress them, but they would also have to impress each other. He had his work cut out for him.
The Citizen had built his list up to six people when he stopped to get his mail. There were only three pieces of mail—two bills and a postcard from New Jersey (Asbury Park). The postcard was from Reverend Gregory Stokes. It read, "Hi, hope you are well. One of my boys was shot by a policeman. Would appreciate any insight you can give. Feel free to call any time." Reverend Stokes was not a close friend but a good acquaintance. After the tragic death of his wife, he had sent Jabel a beautiful thank-you card and letters sincerely thanking him for his support, specifically saying that if Jabel ever needed him for anything, all he had to do was ask. They had stayed in touch over the past year or so because of Jabel's admiration for his wife.
The Citizen would put Reverend Stokes on the list. He remembered Reverend Stokes was arrested six months earlier for assaulting a police officer and obstruction of justice. Reverend Stokes never told the Citizen the story; Jabel had heard it from a mutual acquaintance at a dinner party. The story went like this: Reverend Stokes was in his SUV when a police car pulled him over at an intersection. According to witnesses, the police officer was being belligerent and disrespectful. Words were exchanged, and then the officer said to Reverend Stokes, "You are under arrest."
Reverend Stokes replied, "You better call for backup because you are not arresting anybody."
There was a fight, and Reverend Stokes managed to disarm the police officer. Several other police officers came to the scene, along with several members of the community. A number of people were arrested, including Reverend Stokes. Ultimately, all the charges were dropped.
Reverend Stokes was certainly a good candidate and maybe the most important. He was fearless, obviously a good fighter. Jabel was thinking about Reverend Stokes. Reverend Jamison would like him; however, Professor Foster would be a question mark. He went on to add Regina Savoy and Stephanie Waters to the list. Regina Savoy was young, beautiful, sexy, and inspirational. She had turned her life around, and Jabel had become one of her mentors. She looked up to him. Regina was an excellent martial artist who was not only fearless but also actually liked to fight. Jabel had known her since she was a teenager. Regina would definitely be interested in his plan.
Stephanie Waters was one of the smartest women Jabel had ever met. She had her own business, was very perceptive, and she intimidated him with her intelligence and strength. He had learned a lot from her. She and Professor Foster would be the hardest to convince, as well as Gregory Stokes.
He thought again about Stephanie and remembered that she had broken up with her boyfriend recently. Reflecting on his own life, he realized that people were more receptive to change after adversity than at any other time, and for this group, the timing was right. He would send his invitations out today and sign his full name, Rohillio Jabel.
It was almost that time. So far the evening had gone well. Jabel prepared all the food himself. If there was a next time, he would have it catered, he thought to himself. He noticed that everyone had dressed more conservatively than what he was used to seeing, which indicated that they, for the most part, were at least taking him and the others seriously. Most of the small talk centered around the food and the Citizen's beautiful home. He lived in a three-unit condominium on a peninsula. He owned the first and second units and had installed a spiral staircase with a spectacular view. There were only seventy-two units in the gated complex, which was very quiet and secluded.
Professor Foster was admiring some of the paintings in the lower living room. James Sturgis was quick to point out how the lines in the painting did not break, that the artist could have drawn a complete painting with characters and musicians and instruments without breaking the line. The Citizen wondered out loud how life could be if it were that way—one continual line. He pointed out a poem by the same artist called "Blame Died."
Excerpted from The Citizen RISING by Roger Knight. Copyright © 2013 Roger Knight. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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