In Honor of Two Great Peace Warriors

This is to honor two important and generous men: Elegba Earl and Joe Ranft. They were good friends of mine. They were also active in peace and the struggle for men to heal, become fuller in life, and to help transform this world into a more just and healthy one.

Elegba was one of the five brave Watts residents who walked into rival gang territory to stop the Bloods and Crips gang warfare some 13 years ago. Since then, he participated in a number of organizations like the Community Self-Determination Institute and other peace and justice organizations.

Joe was one of the four founders of Pixar Films, which produced such award-winning films like “Toy Story,” “Nemo,” and “The Incredibles.” He hooked up with a number of the Watts peace warriors and helped bring some of Pixar’s resources to their assistance.

Elegba and Joe met at the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation’s Annual Men’s Conferences in the Woodlands Camp, Mendocino, CA, where I have been a teacher and poet for a decade, along with activists like Michaal Meade, Mosaic’s founder; Jack Kornfield of Spirit Rock; and Orland Bishop of Shade Tree Mentoring in South Central LA.

Elegba and Joe were worlds apart – a black ghetto leader and an upper-middle class white animator. But in the men’s conferences, they shared stories, poems, ideas, emotions, and visions. They became fast friends and peace collaborators.

On Tuesday, August 16, the men were driving to the Mendocino conference with another Watts peace activist, Eric Fryerson. Some 11 miles from their destination, the car they were in became crowded by another vehicle. In trying to move over, they overcorrected a couple of times and then fell about 120 feet down an embankment into the Navarro River. Eric was able to get out. Elegba and Joe didn’t make it.

As you can imagine, we were all devastated when we heard the news. Eric was in the hospital and as soon as his lacerations and other injuries were attended to, he requested to reconnect with our group. We had a hard time continuing, but we knew we had to – Elegba and Joe died trying to get to our gathering. We mostly held a long week-long funeral, but also sustained some intense dialogues, workshops, and a number of morning practices and rituals. I was particularly moved by the men’s quality of listening – they were particularly present for the young people, some from the bloody streets of Boyle Heights/East LA and Watts, who needed to be heard and helped, along with others.

I attended Joe’s funeral in Mill Valley near San Francisco soon after leaving the conference. Tomorrow I’ll be at Elegba’s memorial in South LA.

The work we do to help transform lives must go on. For years, we have helped each other to become better, smarter, more connected and active men. It’s difficult work – we’ve also lost a few of our friends to violence, suicide, diseases, and prison. But the passing of Elegba and Joe hit us particularly hard. I send my deepest condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of Elegba and Joe.

Be well, my friends, on your journey to the great ancestors. Our prayers will accompany you. But more so, your example will guide us as we carry on the work you both led. All my relations.

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