“Mileka” “we’re going to be all right.”
One more time, “Mileka” “we’re going to be all right.”
Mileka Aljuwani was born on May 8th, 1957 to Saharah and Wahab Aljuwani in Buffalo, New York. Mileka received her formal education at Bennett High School in Buffalo, New York and furthered her education at Howard University, obtaining a BA in Pharmacy and in Accounting.
Mileka was the National Executive Director of Project 2019. In her leisure time, she enjoyed writing and painting. She was active in the following organizations, among others: Project 2019, National Black United Front, N’COBRA, Black Chamber of Commerce, Black Business Alliance, New Black Panther Party, LOC, and Angela Davis Cop Watch. She worked with the Million Women March, the Million Youth March and the Million Family March. Mileka was a founder of Blacks for Responsible Government.
Mileka departed this life on August 20, 2006. She was preceded by her father, Wahab Aljuwani; her mother, Saharah Aljuwani; and her older brother, Wahab Aljuwani, Jr. She leaves to cherish her memory: her brothers, Shakoor and Hashiem Aljuwani and Rodney Heath; her sister, Tanya Heath; her sisters-in-law, Carol and Lenore Aljuwani; and a host of loving aunts, nieces, nephews and caring friends.
On August 20, 2006, our beloved sister, Mileka Aljuwani, the National Executive Director of Project 2019, lost her courageous battle with cancer. The entire Project 2019 family is heartbroken by the loss of our beautiful, intelligent, dedicated leader. Mileka wanted everyone to know she regarded Project 2019 as our legacy and that the best way to honor her was for each of us to work harder and to do more to ensure the success of Project 2019. In her leisure time, she enjoyed writing and painting. She was active in the following organizations, among others: Project 2019, National Black United Front, N’COBRA, Black Chamber of Commerce, Black Business Alliance, New Black Panther Party, LOC, and Angela Davis Cop Watch. She worked with the Million Women March, the Million Youth March and the Million Family March. Mileka was a founder of Blacks for Responsible Government.” Now, that was the “official list.” Her friends who are here from Milwaukee can attest to the fact that it did not matter who, what, when, or how – if she could help one black person – man, woman, or child – Mileka was there.
A tribute to Mileka that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel began as follows:
“Thirteen years ago, a human whirlwind blew into Milwaukee, determined to shake things up for the better. Her name was Mileka Aljuwani. Passionately, steadfastly, she began working on all kinds of justice issues, especially anything to do with education and economic development.
Mileka was extraordinarily passionate," said Ellen Bravo, now with the women's studies department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "She took seriously the issues of justice and equality. People were never just tokens or statistics to her. They were always real people."
"Wherever there was an issue, you'd look up and she was there," said Shakoor Aljuwani, her brother.
Mileka died of breast cancer Sunday. She was 49.” And, by the way, her brother, Shakoor, went to New Orleans right after hurricane Katrina hit – and he has been there ever since.
And finally, here is part of the tribute that I delivered at Mileka’s funeral. “The French author, Victor Hugo, is credited with having said that, ‘there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.’
Needless to say, when I envisioned Project 2019 in 1998, I was absolutely convinced that it was an idea whose time had come. Three years later – after I had written the book, established the Project 2019 Web site, spent most of my money, and all of my time – and had NOT convinced black America that we could close the education gap by the year 2019 – I could not help but wonder if Project 2019 was, indeed, a powerful idea whose time had come.
It was just about that time that I got an e-mail from some woman in Milwaukee – named Mileka Aljuwani – who had run across the Project 2019 Web site while surfing the net. I don’t remember her exact words, but they were typical of the thousands of positive e-mails and verbal comments that I have received regarding Project 2019. Mileka and I exchanged a couple more e-mails and – as I always do – I invited her to join the movement.
I was not shocked that I did not hear back from her. You might be surprised by the number of times that people have said – Project 2019 is a great idea – or, Project 2019 is just what black America needs – or, Project 2019 will truly make a difference in the future of black America – with these comments being follow by, I wish YOU the best of luck in making it happen.
Of course, this was not how the story of Mileka Akjuwani and Project 2019 ended. It took about a year – but I did hear back from her. This time, I do remember what she said. She said that in spite of anything and everything else that was happening in her very busy life, she could NOT get Project 2019 out of her head.
The rest of the story, as the say, is history. She founded the Milwaukee Chapter of Project 2019. She subsequently became a member of the National Board of Directors. And in March, 2005, she was chosen to serve as the National Executive Director of Project 2019. During the 4-plus years that Mileka and I “conspired” to save black America in our late night phone conversations, we developed a deep and abiding friendship. A few days ago, I received the highest complement from one of her friends. I will never forget it. She told me that Mileka considered me to be like another big brother to her.
And that complement has become so much more meaningful now that I have met and now that I am getting to know her brother, Shakoor. I can only promise that I will continue to strive to be deserving of being associated with such a great family. For as strange as it may seem, Mileka and I talked about death more than you might imagine. For one thing, we both had a great sense of history – especially in regards to the previous 18 generations of black Americans and their struggles over the past almost 4 centuries.
We both understood that the millions of black Americans who had come before us – those who had lived, fought, and died – they were responsible for getting us to where we are today.
AND we both understood the INCREDIBLE debt that we owed to them for their sacrifices.
AND we both understood that the only way to pay that debt was to create a better future for the millions of black Americans who would follow us after we were gone. And, of course, because of the challenge of Project 2019 – that is, to reach educational parity by the year 2019 – there was the reality that we might not be around to see the results of our labor.
The standing joke was that, in the year 2019, Mileka would roll me out onto the stage in a wheel chair, push me over to the side, and SHE would make the speech congratulating black America for having accomplished a task that people had the AUDACITY to say that black America could NOT accomplish.
So, you can’t begin to imagine how I feel standing here today. Because in my heart of hearts, I always knew that it would be Mileka, standing here where I’m standing, praising me as a great hero of Project 2019 – and not the other way around. Mileka did not make it to the year 2019. I may not make it to the year 2019. And, sadly, some of you here today may not make it to the year 2019. But, the year 2019, by the grace of God, will arrive and there will be millions of black Americans who WILL be here to share this watershed moment in black history.
It was Mileka’s dream, as it is mine, that the year 2019 will NOT be a year of black Americans cursing and bemoaning 400 years of Slavery and oppression – but rather, a year of joyously celebrating – the resilience, the resourcefulness, and the strength of character of black America.
I am humbled that Mileka Aljuwani – for all that she had seen, all that she knew, and all that she had done – chose to dedicate a part of her life to Project 2019.
I am so grateful that Mileka Aljuwani – for all that she had seen, all that she knew, and all that she had done – by virtue of her faith in Project 2019, validated that it truly is a powerful idea whose time has come. I am so honored that Mileka Aljuwani – for all that she had seen, all that she knew, and all that she had done – I am so very honored that she shared my dream.
Mileka, you will be remembered. Your legacies will include your beautiful mind – your beautiful heart – and your beautiful spirit. And if I have my way, you will be remembered for the next 400 years in black American history as the visionary who – with your life, showed us the way to the Promised Land – and with your death INSPIRED us to stop talking about it – and to actually REACH the Promised Land.
Thank you, Mileka, for giving us all that you had to give. We will always love you.”
So, now, let me tell you about the promise that I made to Mileka. I last talked to her on a Saturday night and again that Sunday morning. Later in the day, I received a call telling me that she had been taken to the hospital. By Monday morning, she had lapsed into a low-level coma and she passed the following Sunday, never having regained consciousness. The last time that I saw Mileka was that Friday, two days before her death.
I am sure that at least some of you have gone through the sad and painful experience of holding someone hand and comforting them as they approached their last days or their hours of life. So, what do you say in that situation? Well, in my case, I talked about Project 2019 – about things that we had done – things we had planned to do – things that we needed to do. After a couple of hours, I bent over, kissed Mileka on the cheek and I whispered the following promise. “Don’t worry, we’re going to be all right.” And then, I said it again. “I promise, we’re going to be all right.”
Now, I have to explain to you what I meant by this promise. Note that I did not say that, “I was going to be all right,” I said “we.” And when I said “we,” I was not talking about just Project 2019 – and I was not talking about just her friends and associates – and I was not just talking about her loving family.
When I said “we,” I was talking about every black American here this evening – every black American NOT here this evening – and every black American who will be here long after we are all gone.
“We are going to be all right.”
Now, some of you may be asking yourselves, why would Charles Sanford make such a big promise regarding the 40 million black Americans alive today – and the millions yet to be born. Well, keep in mind Charles “Hubris” Sanford is the same person who truly believes that black folks can reach educational parity with the rest of America by the year 2019.
But, actually, there are two good reasons why I made that promise to Mileka – that “we’re going to be all right.”
The first reason is that I knew that it was the ONE THING that I could say to her that would make her passing easier. The reason that I know this to be true is because – Mileka Aljuwani actually felt guilty about having breast cancer. Mileka felt guilty about dying. She believed that she was letting her people down – that there was so much more work to be done – and so much more that she could contribute to uplifting black America.
So, for as big of a promise as it was, I felt that I had to assure her. “We, black Americans, are going to be all right.” The second reason why I promised Mileka (that) “we’re going to be all right” is because of what I have said to you each time I have addressed you on this occasion. I believe in black America. And not just because I’m black.
I believe in black America because I “understand” in my head and in my heart – the pain, the suffering, the degradation – that the first 12 generations of black Americans had to endure during 246 years of Slavery.
I believe in black America because I, like many of you here this evening, “understand” and remember what it felt like to be a second-class citizen during the five generations and 103 years of the Jim Crow era. And, yet, here we are today. Having won the struggle to end Slavery and having won the struggle for civil rights, we are now in a position to fight and win the battle to reclaim the knowledge that was stolen from us the moment we were put in the bowels of those first slave ships. And we are now in a position to overcome the education and knowledge that was forbidden and denied to us from the year 1619 until the 1960’s.
I believe in black America because I understand what we have had to endure – how long we have had to endure it – and how hard white, racist America tried to make sure we could not do any better. Any, yet, here we are. Maybe my promise to Mileka wasn’t so outlandish after all. But I can’t keep that promise by myself. I need your help. And the first thing I want you to do is to look up at Mileka’s picture – and I want you to make that same promise to her that I made. I want you to say it out loud. Repeat after me – “Mileka” – “we’re going to be all right.” One more time – “Mileka” – “we’re going to be all right.”
(2007 "Project 2019 Annual Conference" Keynote Address by Charles Sanford)
I am extremely grateful for Brother Charles Sanford, no we've never met, but this keynote address that he shared about my dear sister and beloved Mileka provided me with such insight and a deeper appreciation for her worthy civic work. We are family -we grew up together, skipped to kindergarden together with our sneaker bags and rugs for naptime. So many childhood memories, great high school fun and college escapades and then on to adulthood, we'd journey on our separate paths. Michael's Godmama a real trail blazer! We'd talk on the phone, share funny "remember when stories" and occassionally see each other during the Christmas Holidays in our hometown of Buffalo, New York and then share real heart matters. There aren't many days that I don't think of Mileka, it's hard to believe that she's no longer here in body, but the complete truth is that she has provided us with a tremendous legacy of loving life, demonstrating what it means to extend and reach beyond selfish motives to do good and spark change. She taught us what being our brother's keeper really meant. So I was delighted when our high school classmate, David and I were chatting about our Bennett High School days, and I shared our sister's obituary, but then I googled her name and there Mileka was-this beautiful photo and this touching, refective keynote address. I thank God for this heartfelt tribute. We're all the more blessed because of Mileka's earnest desire to make a difference. I thank God for the gift of frienship, enlightenment and always the unexpected joy that He bring us all!