Dennis Boatwright, II
My Search for a Master Teacher
My fervent desire to meet a master scholar, someone imbued with the warmth and wisdom of a village elder, like that personified in the venerated Dr. John Henrik Clarke, led me to the person of Dr. Arthur Lewis.
My journey started in the early 1990s when I watched “A Great and Mighty Walk,” an inspiring documentary of the life of Dr. Clarke filmed in his last years. That interview impressed upon me the necessity of embracing my African culture and joining the fight for our liberation without shame or apology. Soon thereafter I devoured every book I could get my hands on written or about this unrivaled Master Teacher. Although all his books are among my favorites, AFRICANS AT THE CROSSROADS: NOTES FOR AN AFRICAN WORLD REVOLUTION hits a different cord. In that classic book Dr. Clarke poses a profound question that has been addressed in many philosophical circles, yet we as a people have been incapable of answering in real life.
Dr. Clarke’s profound question is: Can Africans Save Themselves?
Meeting Dr. Clarke in person was something that I immensely desired. Since I still had more than twenty long years before I could be paroled, I knew that the encounter was highly unlikely considering it would mean that Dr. Clarke, in his eighties at the time, needed to live to one hundred, suffering blindness and a rapidly deteriorating health. However, this great hope of mine ended when Dr. Clarke transitioned to the realm of elders in 1998.
Therefore, when I finally got out of prison, I enthusiastically attended every lecture or conference I could across the United States, hoping that I would meet someone of the caliber of Dr. Clarke. Now I realize that my expectation may have been a little unfair to other scholars, as we now know that people of Dr. Clarke’s intelligence and character are hard to come by.
Then a breakthrough happened.
Last July, an esteemed elder, whom I greatly admire, told me out of the blue: “Imhotep, you need to meet Dr. Lewis.” At the time I was scarcely aware of Dr. Arthur Lewis. The way Baba Piankhi stared into my eyes when he made that statement, I understood that I was duty-bound to meet this great man.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long to meet Doc. In fact, Dr. Lewis visited Detroit in September 2023, only a month after Piankhi mandated me. The occasion was at an Ethiopian restaurant, wherein other African-centered intellectuals were giving lectures on certain cosmologies held by Ancient Egyptians. When I saw Doc he was dressed normally in very simple clothing unlike most of the other scholars there who all were super-embellished in traditional African garb. As I observed Dr. Lewis afar, I saw a man whose mannerism and tone of voice reflected a person that did not cherish money or material possessions.
At the conclusion of this small gathering, I had the pleasure to drive Doc to various destinations throughout Detroit. This first encounter gave me an exclusive opportunity to ask innumerable questions. I listened to his profound answers for hours, not allowing any of his words to fall to the floor.
At my house: Piankhi, my wife Sade, Mary, Zuri, Dr. Lewis
After I dropped off Dr. Lewis at his hotel around 1:30 in the morning, I developed a fond impression of his genuine character.
His vast knowledge in the fields of medicine and international relations (IR) was obvious to everyone. However, I began to sense a magnetic quality that separated Dr. Lewis from hundreds of other African-centered intellectuals I met.
The following month Dr. Lewis graced Detroit with another lecture entitle “Healthyself.” I had the pleasure of picking up he and his lovely wife Mary, and a faithful companion of theirs, Ray Ray, from the airport. This gave me another chance to ask a volley of questions. I must interject here a critical point. Had it not been for my good friend “Isra Ferrormagnetic, I would never have met community elder Piankhi, who ultimately introduced me to Doc Lewis.
But continuing, Dr. Lewis and his wife complement each other in a splendid fashion. Mama Mary reflexively finishes the sentences of her husband with such anticipation that you would think they shared the same mind.
For several hours I proudly drove them around to historic places in Detroit, as well as to my home, and then to the office of The Center for Pan African Studies. By this time, I noticed that Dr. Lewis had the same exceptional qualities of Dr. John Henrik Clarke, the Master Teacher who passed away 25 years ago.
Me, Dr. Lewis Standing in front of the Mama Akua house
My conviction derives from the fact that Dr. Lewis has a very unassuming personality and is totally incorruptible. I bring this out because in our time social media has become somewhat of an addiction and even quite a few African-centered scholars themselves are unable to resist the urge to accumulate “likes.” Those of them that can develop a substantial number of viewers become accomplished YouTubers. Consequently, the fame of being a social media influencer affects their egos in the same way it does ordinary users whom they should be serving as role models. On the contrary, despite his reputation and vast diversity of knowledge, Dr. Lewis is as humble as a sheep herder. Yet his humility does not make him suffer fools easily.
Like Dr. Clarke (and I must include Doc Ben), his humility makes him incredibly approachable to all regardless of their status. I can continue ad nausea on why Dr. Arthus Lewis is a great guy and a decent human being, but I will end this praise song on the following notes.
I have personally asked dozens of colleagues and students of Dr. Clarke what stood out most about him. With near unanimity they say the widespread fondness people have of Dr. Clarke is a result of his genuine love of our people. And it is precisely that reason I admire Dr. Lewis. He has dedicated his life to the liberation of people of African descent for no other reason than that he loves us immensely.
Many in the conscious community do not know Dr. Lewis as they ought to. This is so because we are living in an age where many of our African-centered scholars craze being on Zoom, Facebook or YouTube quite often which leaves little time to write books or articles or to perform needed field work. However, they sacrifice the possibility of producing groundbreaking research in exchange for elevating their social media profile. Many of their claims to fame lies in having worked with Dr. John Henrik Clarke or visited Egypt or Ghana with him. Still, I want to clarify that I do not think Dr. Clarke or Doc Ben would be upset that Black intellectuals are benefitting from knowing him if they are not using their research maliciously. In fact, many students, and former colleagues of these two Master Teachers do a great job promoting and defending what they learned from Dr. Clarke and Doc Ben.
But not only did Dr. Lewis know Dr. Clarke, he was also the personal physician of Dr. Clarke and Dr. Yosef Ben Jochannan. I learned of his special relationship through Baba Piankhi. (Dr. Lewis never mentioned this close relationship until I brought it up in a conversation. ) In fact, Dr. Lewis does not have to bring up how many times he “went to Egypt or Ghana with Dr. Clarke and Doc Ben” to decorate his credentials. His character alone speaks for itself. The body of work of Dr. Lewis holds its own weight.
He is a reputable eye surgeon in New York City and he is proud of the pioneering field work he performed for Black inhabitants living in the little-known small Island country of Vanuatu.
In conclusion, It may have taken me nearly 35 years to find a master teacher, but it is much better than never because most people do not know what to look for.
Posted: Sat, Oct 28