Monday, July 13, 2015

Reflection: Interview with Jacqueline Pitts author of The Children of Wasafa: A Message to Gang Bangers

For more information about Jacqueline Pitts:
Visit her website at

and Follow her on Twitter: @pitts_wasafa

I met Jacqueline Pitts at a play performance that a mutual friend had directed and produced.  I sat in front of Ms. Pitts and eavesdropped on her conversation (LOL).  She was talking about a book that she had written.  My ears are always perked for anything related to writing or the arts.  Her name struck a bell. I remember seeing her name along with the title of her book on another mutual friend’s Facebook newsfeed.  I turned around after her conversation and asked her was she the author of The Children of Wasafa.  She said that she in fact was.  We shared our relationship with both mutual friends because all of us were connected through Rockaway, Queens.  I was a former resident—and she— a life-long resident of Rockaway.  The friend who play that we attended was a former Deacon at one of the Baptist churches in Rockaway, the friend on Facebook, is a long time friend  Ms. Pitts has known since they were both teenagers and is a Community Activist that I also worked with.

That night, we exchanged contact information and became instant friends who shared our research about the African-Americans in Rockaway. 

Below is my long awaited interview with Ms. Pitts:

What resonates the loudest is the emotional life of the person behind the gun and their apparent disconnect toward the next person.
                                                         From The Children of Wasafa: A Message to Gang Bangers

What sparked your interest in writing The Children of Wasafa?
I was concerned about gang violence in communities of African descent; that is perpetrated by young people who are of African descent, on others who are of African descent.  I am also disturbed about mass incarceration which is fed in some measure by gang violence and the trades attached to it.

In The Children of Wasafa, there are a lot of historical elements woven into the story. How long was your research process?

Most of the historical information used in the story was gathered from life-long study and research done for personal interest and to satisfy academic coursework.  The additional history included in, The Children of Wasafa, I would say was researched and collected over approximately 2 years.

I had mention in my review that you are a “folklorist” and your writing style is one of “storytelling”. Why did you pick this type of writing style as oppose to academia criticism?

In my opinion, one of the best ways to deliver information you want remembered is through storytelling.  Especially when dealing with difficult or serious topics.  Storytelling is like a salve for the brain.  It eases the information through and helps the brain to make synaptic connections…that is, helps to make it all stick.

One of the main themes of The Children of Wasafa is the fact that all three gang members were connected by Wasafa.  And in fact, you are saying that they are family.  What ways as a people we can instill that in our daily lives?

That is a great question!  All humans alive today are Homo sapiens.  We are all cousins because all Homo sapiens are the descendents of one woman and one man:  Mitochondrial Eve and Y chromosome Adam.  So, it is not if we are all related, but how far back we share a common ancestor (s). 

People who are descendents of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade share common ancestry from the not too distant past because of the capture and recapture of families from the continent and the sustained separation of families and the re-creation of new families after being separated.  The dynamic occurred repeatedly over centuries and made groups of relatives unaware of the other.

A way we can instill family in our daily lives is by using the word cousin in our greetings when appropriate.  Naturally, one would not call an elder cousin, but someone who is within your generation whether you know them or not could be addressed with:  Hello cousin, Good morning cousin, Hi cousin, etc.  May sound simple, but it packs a powerful punch and creates a positive feeling and it reinforces that the person is in fact your cousin!

Since you have worked at Rikers Island and have come across a lot of young men in your life. What are your feelings of the tragedy of Kalief Browder? And how can we help other young men in similar situations?

The young man’s suicide was a tragedy.  I have not verified the media’s account concerning his case, but if it is true his bail was $10,000 for allegedly stealing a backpack and he served 3 years for the allegation prior to the case being dismissed speaks to a host of problems; more than what can be addressed in this interview.  One point I can make is bail is suppose to fit the charge, person’s income, flight risk and ties to the community.  Too many times bail is not set fairly.  Had the bail been such that his family could have paid it…it may have made a difference. 
Note:  Ms. Pitts sent me her response prior to the announcement of NYC to eliminate bail for non-violent suspects.

In The Children of Wasafa, the story is based on gang members in Rockaway, NY, how do you feel about the recent crackdown and also the Rockaway Youth Court that has been established? Do you think having a peer related program will help?

Excluding persons with a biological or physiological challenge, this is my theory: There are criminals and there are those who commit crimes. Although the end result may appear the same, both groups may rob, murder, etc., but the reasons for the acts are different. The criminal has full capacity...this is just what they do. They are thoughtful and plan; and try to get away with what they have done.

The person who commits crimes does them to satisfy emotional needs. In the recent crackdown I would venture to say some gang members fall in the category of he who commits crimes. And subconsciously, some gang members may have wanted to be stopped. It's common knowledge the police patrol social media, why incriminate yourself on it?

Our young people must realize that they are cousins; and cousins hurting cousins, destroys families, communities and feeds the prison system.

I think there is no one strategy that will solve violent or deviant behavior because they happen as a result of multiple factors. But I think youth court is a strategy that may make a difference because young people are greatly influenced by their peers; and any program that assists with looking at negative behavior and processing the reasons behind it may help to change it.

In your eyes, what is the fate of people of color?

The majority of the world’s population is people of color.  If you mean African descent people of the slave trade, I will say I am hopeful.  Our ancestors did not endure for us to fail in the end.

My last question, what are you working on next?

The target audience I most want to reach do not routinely read for pleasure, they are the digital-visual generation.  I am thinking of ways to make a short movie out of The Children of Wasafa.  I have also begun researching the sequel to Wasafa.


In the world right now, we are experiencing relationships with an inkling of peace regressed back to turbulence; we have lost our identity of who we are and adapted to what others think we are (mainly, the media). As a people, we have forgotten our connection to one another. Whether it is in the United States, Dominican Republic, Haiti, or Europe, we have a connection to one another. Ms. Pitts is trying to re-establish our thought process of why and how we are connected.  In my review, I stated, The Children of Wasafa:  A Message to Gang Bangers is story that should not only benefit gang members but the whole African-American community. But, I was mistaken.  It can benefit everyone because we all have one time or another falling asleep and it is time to wake up—Cousins!
Purchase at

You can participate in a Live Facebook Chat with Ms. Pitts and other authors on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 from 8pm-9pm on the Harlem Book Fair's Facebook Page.

Also, Ms. Pitts will be at the Harlem Book Fair on Saturday, July 18, 2015 from 11am-6pm.  Stop by her table.

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Sandra Proto debut poem at the age of twelve was entitled, The Late Great April, giving homage to the first time it snowed in April. She wrote Late Great April as an English class assignment and her teacher was so impressed by the poem that he tried to get it published. After this experience, Sandra became a "Bedroom Poet" who composed Blackberry Beauty,Light, Compositions, and many others. Blackberry Beauty (her signature poem) was featured in SaSi's Production of Identity @ Space at 24 in 2000. Sandra has performed with the funky, folky, reggae rock band Hudson’s Hope. Her poetry is featured on VAMPIRE LESBIANS and ALL I CAN SEE IS HER EYES tracks of their demo CD. Sandra is also, a fiction writer, playwright, and an essayist.

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