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Friday, June 5, 2020
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From The Publisher

BELIZE MILLIONAIRES TO VISIT FOR NATIONAL DAY 1976– Reports received in Belize indicate that Belize millionaires Carleton Russell and Roytuc Craig (son of Oliver) will be visiting Belize for the National Day celebrations ’76. Both these wealthy gentlemen have made their fortunes in New York City, where they both reside.

Mr. Russell last visited Belize in 1972 and Mr. Craig was here with his retinue and pearl-grey Mark IV Lincoln Continental last year.

-front page story in AMANDALA No. 341 of Friday, August 20th, 1976

There is a conspiracy of silence about what happened with the Belizean phenomenon of “123rd” (One twenty-third) in Manhattan. That conspiracy of silence has lasted for four and a half decades, and, to be truthful, yours truly has participated in that silence. No one has ever said anything publicly, that is, on the media, about 123rd, and no one has ever written anything about it. Seriously, the people in Belize’s polite world never knew much. 123rd was an underworld thing.

123rd has done generations of Belizean youth a serious injustice, because they never knew about the down side of the phenomenon. All they ever heard about was the fabulous side of the experience – the money, the chicks, the rides, the threads, the fly style …

123rd was a Belizean organization selling drugs in New York City. There were some family and marriage ties internally. The stats is that the “feds” (federal law enforcement officials) had infiltrated 123rd for more than a year before the dramatic busts took place. 123rd became  history almost in the twinkling of an eye, but the dream of drug glory in The Big Apple and other American cities  has remained in the minds of generation after generation of Belizean black youth. You would have to say that this is how it is even until today. In that sense, the seeming miracle of 123rd may be held partly responsible for the murderous lifestyle of our black Belizean youth: they have not equipped themselves with any skills with which they can make a living. It’s all about drugs and gangs.

I left New York City after three years of college in New Hampshire to return home in 1968. This was before 123rd was organized. When I left New York, Brooklyn was still the social center of Belizean life in the five New York City boroughs. But whereas in the 1950s and 1960s the original migration of Belizeans to New York had been heavily middle class, by the early 1970s a lot of working class Belizeans had arrived in Manhattan, the home of 123rd.

Roy Craig was considered the kingpin of 123rd; that is for sure. He was at the height of his fortune and fame in 1974 when the UBAD movement was fading out of existence. I remember seeing him in a boat in the Haulover Creek during a river regatta, which was popular in those days in Belize City. Bullet was wearing shorts and blowing a whistle. He had the Belizean world at his fingertips. The mystique surrounding 123rd was absolutely magical, and then Bullet took over the Melting Pot. 123rd (New York City) moved to Belize!

I don’t know the details of how the feds blew up 123rd.  In fact, I really don’t know that much at all, but there are several people now living in Belize (and the United States) who were inside the organization in the glory days.

There was a spell in the middle 1970s when I was getting too close to the underworld here. I thought I was doing research for serious creative writing. But, I was getting to know too much. One time for instance while looking for a front page story, the late Anthony C, who owned the spectacular Kustom Brothers sound system, mentioned to me in an excited tone of voice that two Belizean millionaires– Roy Craig and Carleton Russell, were coming home from New York for the September celebrations. I ran the story, and Russell, with whom I had been pretty good friends from 1971 or so, became very, very angry at me. But apparently I didn’t learn my lesson.

Around 1977, the late Jack Palance visited Belize and stayed at the Fort George Hotel. In Belize, Palance had been a ticket scalper at Palace Theater, but now he had become a big deal, first in Chicago and then Los Angeles. There was an East Coast/West Coast rivalry between him and Bullet, the same rivalry that killed Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. I was good friends with Ashton Molino, a hustler with whom Palance had been friendly in his Belize City street days. Palance gave me his Buick Electra 225 to drive. The deal was, he wanted a story in Amandala to tell Belizeans that he had bought the Craig family home at Yarborough from Bullet’s father, Racku Craig. This would have been a slap in Bullet’s face.

That whole situation ended up blowing up in my face, and I will tell you more some day. My friendship with Molino probably saved me from a bigger problem.

The subject of this column came up because one of my friends who has moved back home from the States, and has interior decorating and carpentry skills, was mentioning how few of the Belizeans who have been forced to come home, have done so with marketable skills. Thing is, too many of our youth went north thinking they would become the next Bullet, a Superfly.

But, the deal on the ground is more complex than they understand. America has reached the stage where you can’t be handling a lot of cash without attracting attention from the law. In fact, America reached that stage decades ago. I remember Rufus X and I were in Brownsville, Texas in early 1979 trying to rent a car to drive to Houston, and all we had was cash. It was already the case then in America that you were only allowed to rent a vehicle with a credit card.

Almost anyone can go on a street corner, in Chicago, say, and “clock” it, that is, stay up late selling drugs and making a lot of money. The trick in America is how to “clean up” your money once you have it. The Mafia gangsters were sending their sons to study law and accounting long before Belizeans ever started making money on 123rd.  This is real.

The education system in Belize has failed all these black youth who are murdering each other. The churches which control the schools try to blame the parents. Yes, there are rare parents who beat the odds: they raise children in ghetto situations and get them educated. But, such parents are exceptions to the rule. It should be the case that the vast majority of our children learn a marketable subject or skill before they become sexually active. Cuba does it, educates the youth. But, you will argue that Cuba is communist.

Okay. What the hell is Belize? This city is too small, we’re all too closely related for this level of bloodshed which has been going on year after year since the early 1990’s. Honestly, where are we going with this, Belizeans?

This is a crisis. It is an emergency. In 1974, 123rd was not the answer. But it seemed like it at the time to many of our youth. The thing is, when 123rd blew up and collapsed, that story was never told. Our black youth are still dreaming the same dream which the feds turned into a nightmare a long, long time ago.

Some apologists for the present system of oppression say we can’t blame slavery and colonialism for the situation of our black youth today. Belize is a place which loves make believe. Belizeans don’t want to hear the truth, much less see it. All of us were “grossed out” a couple days ago when the television stations showed the unbelievably filthy situation at the “pisshouse” on Queen Street. There are really horrible things going on in Belize, and there are no indications things will get better any time soon. One of the reasons for my pessimism is Belize’s conspiracy/culture of silence where some very important matters are concerned. 123rd was one of these very important matters.

Power to the people.

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