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Father Amde Is the Writing Seer of Watts ~ Poetry Corner

5:44 PM PDT on July 15, 2019

[dropcap size=big]H[/dropcap]e is wise. He is righteous. He is a Watts Prophet. Anthony “Amde” Hamilton better known as Father Amde stands with the Watts community through poetry that captures the people and everyday moments in his life.

“I went walking with a Holy man into unholy lands ... From Trenchtown to Watts and many other spots/he fought for haves and have nots/he blessed and baptized thousands in the West/never able to go home or rest,” he writes in a poem titled Abuna Yesehaq.

Father Amde is widely recognized for being one of the original poets in the world famous Watts Writers Workshop during the 1960’s, where he and two other poets formed the legendary rap group, the Watts Prophets. Amid racism, poverty, and police brutality that ultimately sparked the Watts Riots, the Watts Writers Workshop tapped into the young, Black voices of Los Angeles that needed to be heard.

“White people were afraid of us, African Americans were ashamed of us, and the grassroots loved us,” Amde said, during a recent interview inside his incense-filled apartment in Leimert Park. “It made everybody mad. Between politics and money coming through the community, we weren’t seen worthy as street people talking about building things.”

'We finally had a way to fight back.'

In 1967 Amde returned to Watts after being released from prison, when he was approached outside of a county building by a man named Odie Hawkins to attend a writing workshop. “So I said, Who is this cat?” he recalled. Amde eventually agreed to attend and found himself in the Watts Writers Workshop, which consisted of sharing and critiquing poems. It is also where Amde, Odie, and Richard Dedeaux became friends and over time, the Watts Prophets.

The workshop made the dynamic trio realize the power of expression and how it can be used as a weapon. “We finally had a way to fight back … with words which are more powerful than anything,” Amde notes. “You can lock a person in a room, but you can’t lock what’s in their mind.”

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Since then, Amde’s life and career has exceeded all boundaries as a poet from being ordained a priest for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to traveling all around the world, including Jamaica, where he became a Rastafarian and performed a poem for Bob Marley’s funeral. Amde shares his interest in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church first came about when he was approached by the original founder of the Crips, Raymond Lee Washington. Raymond informed Amde the Crips started something that was heading in the wrong direction and needed advice.

After Amde was ordained, he began directly working with other original Crip leaders, Stanley Tookie Williams and Jimel Barnes. They became the first baptized members of the Ethiopian church on the West Coast of the United States, along with other gang members that helped bring the church into the Watts community. The Ethiopian church also provided residents with emergency funding, financial aid for college, student housing, and other necessities.

Father Amde at home in Watts (Photo courtesy of Steven Todd/@stevengoeson).

Fast forward, Amde explains how his community efforts with the Crips and Watts Prophets are very similar to those of the recently slain rapper, Nipsey Hussle. “Nipsey was in the same position we were in for many years. This boy was trying to bring unity, but his community couldn’t understand the depth because of his image as a gang member,” Amde said. “He was a poet and every time you’re sprinkling truth, you’ll make enemies and friends.”

Today, you can find Father Amde leading the Watts Writers Workshop every Saturday at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. For more information visit the Watts Prophets website.

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