Watts Poetic

In 1967, the Watts Prophets arose from the ashes of the Riots to offer a voice for the voiceless. Over a half-century later, Amde Hamilton is still creating change.

By Sam Ribakoff

WattsThere used to be a lot more trees on this stretch of 103rd Street, but most of them were cut down so police helicopters could watch Watts’ residents from the sky. Amde Hamilton, 78 years old, still moves down these streets that he grew up on with a glide you can imagine him having in the late ‘60s, when he formed the Watts Prophets with Otis O’Solomon and Richard Dedeaux.

Formed out of the fury of the Watts Riots in 1965, the Watts Prophets were young black poet-performers railing against police brutality, institutionalized poverty, American hypocrisy, complacency and the possibility of revolution; they went so hard that they often shouted over each other during performances.

Accompanied with percussion, and later by pianist Dee-Dee McNeil, the Watts Prophets style of performing — between street talking and revolutionary sermon — laid the stylistic foundation for West Coast hip-hop. On 1997’s “I Remember Watts,” Dedeaux, who once challenged Muhammad Ali to a poetry fight (spoiler: Ali lost), recalled the town as a kid: “warm days of running around with no shoes and socks/but lots and lots of cops!”

The neighborhood has changed a little since Hamilton and Dedeaux were kids. It’s now a majority Latinx community, much like a good portion of South L.A. But many of the same problems still persist. Hamilton is still as invested in seeing the community flourish as ever. He is the kind of guy who says hello and honestly cares to hear how everyone he passes by is doing; high school kids walking home, old timers reminiscing on a porch, abuelitas waiting at bus stops.

Hamilton has started a new Watts Writers Workshop for kids in the community, so they can tell their own stories through the arts. He is still writing the direct, socially attuned poetry that he wrote with the Watts Prophets years ago.

We talked while Hamilton drove around Watts, and in his small apartment in Leimert Park, where his albums, African and Caribbean art and pictures of him when he was an ordained priest in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are scattered around the living room. The conversation considered his life, his poetry, and how South L.A. is and always has been changing. Read Rest of Article Here


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