A TRIBUTE TO TOMMY “HALIFU” JACQUETTE, FATHER OF THE WATTS FESTIVAL
I’m from Watts ! No, I wasn’t born there ,I was born in 1947 into the so called “Negro Community of Central Avenue”. It had it’s own proud history. I claim Watts as where I hail from because much of the formative years of my life were spent in and around Watts.
My mother, older and younger brother moved into the Nickerson Gardens Projects projects in 1954. We came from the Driver Brother’s Courts on 24th and Hooper. The projects were new and they were beautiful, equivalent to luxury condos based on where we had come from. The only problem in Watts was there were predominantly two classes of occupants, the poor and the predators . This was unlike Central Avenue where due to Segregation and Ownership restrictions Blacks of all sociological descriptions were lumped together.
Let’s get back to Mr. Tommy “Halifu” Jacquette, I met Tommy in the Watts area in 1960, I was a Gang Member and Youthful Offender who had moved three blocks out of the “Projects”. To go and come I had to travel through a neighborhood where Tommy Jacquette was definitely the Dominant Male Teenager. Most of the guys around Tommy had already had contact with Law-Enforcement, however everybody in the neighborhood looked to Tommy as the leader, not of a gang like my circle of friends in the Nickerson Gardens but more like a clique or “set of homies”. I never saw Tommy participate in any Gang Activities of any kind or advocate it. Tommy was mature but playful in a ghetto style.
Recently, I was invited to attend an event for the 2016 Watts Summer Festival. Many of the attendees didn’t know me as I haven’t been an ongoing team member or contributor to the annual event. The emcee of this pre-festival gathering asked for people who had been in the first festival of of 1966 and I raised my hand. The pictures above (top) show me as a Youthful Offender/GangMember serving time in Joseph Paige Probation Camp (1962) where the Professional Counselors saved my life and put me on track. The bottom picture shows me after “Joseph Paige” and after the Watts Rebellion riding in the 1st Watts Festival Parade. I had completed a a 10 month Surgical Technician program sponsored by President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and now here I was being Honored in a major community event made possible in part by my “Homie” Mr. Tommy “Halifu” Jacquette.
Yes, the Brothers from Watts were making a tremendous come back. Congresswoman Maxine Waters said , ” Tommy was an inspiration to me and so many other people. He was daring, fearless and bold, helping us to gain the courage to openly discuss and deal with race, discrimination and inequality in a way that few had been able to before.”
At the pre-event when I was given the opportunity to speak for two minutes, I made a Social Blunder. My acting the Teacher and Mentor the Academy award Nominated Actress Beah Richards, taught us to come from the “opposite”. She explained if you intend to lionize someone in your description of them make sure that you humanize them first. So when I thought back about an unforgettable incident about Tommy, this is what came out.
I chose a moment describing Tommy’s mischievous playfulness. The guy’s had got together and we were waiting for Tommy to start it. He hollered “train coming through the tunnel” and expelled gas. I did use sound effects. The emcee hustled me off the stage before I come speak to the “MAN’S GREATNESS”. In Truth, some people were surprised and others laughed nervously . I said , if I have disrespected him I’ll leave. I did leave, I made a Social Blunder and now I have to apologize to his family, friends and attendees by saying that I was after one minute stopped from speaking about what an accomplishment that Tommy Halifu Jacquette had made to the world by becoming the “Father of the Watts Festival” and it’s enduring legacy which has continued on for 50 years. It is said that Dr. Maulana Karenga also played a major role in the formation of this incredible tradition.
With Sincere Regret and Apologies to all,
Phil Wilkes Fixico