By Kelsey Durham
Many people who have spent time living in Bayside know about the many contributions longtime activist Mandingo Tshaka has made to the area, but those who do not can now read about them in his new book.
The retired community advocate recently published a memoir detailing his life from the beginning, taking readers on a journey through his never-ending quest to better the neighborhood he grew up in and still calls home today.
Written by a friend, Merle English, who works as a news reporter, the nearly 300-page book tells of the 83-year-old’s humble beginnings at his grandmother’s Bayside home, his rise to musical fame as a former singer for the doo-wop group The Ink Spots and his return to Queens, where he unexpectedly became a driving force for many community projects.
“There’s a lot that was done by me,” Tshaka said. “I’ve got so many citations, plaques, this, that — it’s really amazing.”
Tshaka said he and English began working on the memoir about two years ago, when a conversation between the two friends led to her suggestion that he should turn his stories into a book about his life. She came and took notes and spent the next year turning them into a memoir titled “Mandingo Osceola Tshaka: Fearless Fighter for Justice.”
“I saw it as an undertaking to put in place this record of what Mandingo has done,” English said. “It deserves a place in history because of his various accomplishments and I took this on as a means of bringing that about.”
The work includes photographs from throughout his life as well as copies of letters he wrote to elected officials, and even some he received in return.
“It’s my life,” Tshaka said. “What I’ve done, who I’ve become, my accomplishments.”
In the many years Tshaka has spent in Bayside, he served for 17 years on Community Board 11 and has helped change many aspects of the neighborhood for the better. He fought to rid the streets of drug dealers, establish a playground behind MS 158 on Oceania Street and lift the area surrounding his home on Bell Boulevard, south of Northern Boulevard, out of the poverty designation in which the government had placed it.
The book also describes the details of how Tshaka accomplished what is perhaps his biggest triumph — getting the federal government to admit that slave labor was used to build the White House, a fact he said had been hidden in American history until a few years ago.
“He’s Bayside’s one of a kind, as people call him, and that’s why I thought he deserved a little place on the shelf,” English said. “As an African-American, I think it’s important people recognize that he is one of the people who took a stand.”
Tshaka said the book also includes many personal stories from his childhood and his travels as a singer, and the honesty displayed in the writing does not bother him.
“I threw some punches, I’ve got no shame,” he said. “All young people stepped in caca at one point, and I did, too.”
Tshaka’s memoir was finished in 2013 and he recently began printing the book through an online self-publishing company called Xlibris. The book is available for purchase at Barnes & Noble and through amazon.com, he said.
“I’m honored,” Tshaka said after his book was printed. “So much has happened in my life and I’m glad that it’s out.”
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at email@example.com.