IN MEMORIAM – Hannibal Afrik
It was a dream that would be realized in the early 1970s on the West Side of Chicago by Harold E. Charles, who’s more commonly known as Baba Hannibal Afrik.
The former Chicago teacher joined other black educators in founding an African-centered school in 1972 – the Shule Ya Watoto, Swahili meaning “school for children.” The school served West Side kids for more than 30 years, teaching black history along with math, science and other disciplines.
“If the parents aren’t African-centered, their children will not – on their own – become African-centered,” Afrik said in a January 2003 Austin Weekly News interview, marking the school’s 30th anniversary the previous year.
Afrik, 77, died June 27, 2011; the cause of his death was not immediately reported. Several memorials are scheduled this weekend across the country, including Mississippi and Chicago, including Friday, July 8 at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren. Afrik and his school have been an integral part of the college’s annual Kwanzaa celebration each December/early January since 1995.
Shule Ya Watoto’s “Rites of Passage Academy,” for kids 16 and under, opened at MXC’s West Side Learning Center, 4624 W. Madison, in 1997.
For every Kwanzaa celebration at MXC, his school led the opening day’s activities, including the “Procession of Elders” to the school’s auditorium. This Friday, the college’s Bruce Hayden Auditorium will host Afrik’s memorial service.
His School for Children was founded, in part, on Kwanzaa’s seven principles, including Faith (Imani), Purpose (Nia) and Unity (Umoja). The school’s educational practices, which included instructors speaking and teaching in Swahili, were also based on African traditions – Baba means “father.”
“Back in the ’60s and ’70s, we were more aware of our identity, and we were looking for black alternatives,” Afrik said in 2003. “We were looking to reform and revolutionize what we had. The spirit of the community forced us to create alternative schools and black programs and activities. Now you have to convince parents to seek out something that’s African-centered. Back then, they were knocking down the doors to find it. And if they didn’t find it, they were prepared to start their own.”
That’s exactly what Afrik did after teaching at Farragut High School, beginning in 1969.
While there, he started a black student workshop in 1971. But he thought bigger. In 1972, he and a group of Farragut teachers established Shule Ya Watoto, a completely independent institution, focusing on black kids and funded privately through grants and donations. The school opened in a small storefront at 3324 W. Roosevelt and by 1980 had moved into a newly-purchased building in Austin at 127 N. Leamington. They would sell the building years later.
Their Saturday and after-school classes bounced around various West Side locations until finding a permanent home at MXC’s West Side Learning Center.
According to his obituary, published last week in the Chicago Tribune, Afrik taught at Farragut and Northeastern Illinois University. Until he took ill, he hosted workshops and classes across the country. He was married for more than 37 years to Mama Marini, who died in 1992. Afrik was the father of four children and had four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
He received his B.S. degree in biology from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, in 1955, and his M.Ed. in teaching of science from Chicago Teachers College in 1962.