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If you’ve been a resident on the planet long enough, chances are you’ve heard or read the endearing slogan, “More Hugging/Less Mugging.” These four simple yet profound words have found their way to movie screens, lampposts, bookstores walls, private home mirrors, and classroom bulletin boards. Pondering this motivational slogan, few persons would surmise that it’s the brainchild of a former police officer. Hugging as an antidote to mugging?–hardly a topic in the police academy training manual. However, if readers knew the creator was an ex- police officer who was a natural poet and grassroots humanitarian, they might not be quite so surprised.

Richard Calloway Bartee, lovingly known in New York as the “D Train Poet”, spontaneously penned inspirational slogans as facilely as he walked and breathed. He earned the name “D Train Poet” from the years he spent regaling subway riders with his short, thought-provoking and sometimes quite humorous poems and words of wisdom. He’d then sell his work, printed on small sheets of paper, for its worth to the hearer, stating that he’d be receptive to any price from a penny to a million dollars. If they had neither sum or were reluctant to part with their penny or cool million, he’d generously give a few gifts of the work or one of his famous “love nuts”, a walnut painted gold and guaranteed to make the bearer an instrument of universal love.

I recall Rich telling the story of a young man who ran up to him in the street, inquiring enthusiastically, “Hey, aren’t you the love nut guy?”

Amused, he indicated that he was. The young man went on to tell him that he still had the love nut that he had given him and his then-girlfriend over fifteen years ago. They had been arguing in public, when Rich diplomatically intervened, presenting them with the love nut and a word about mutual respect and love.. He told them that they should keep the love nut as a reminder of the love that brought them together and could keep them in harmony. The guy indicated that they had subsequently married and were now parents and that they had never forgotten the encounter with him nor his love nut gift. I learned that before I met him, he used to present folks with a paper printed with the words, "Meet the next savior of mankind", and when they'd open it, there would be a mirror inside! Hmmm, again, ever so Barteeistic.

Rich Bartee’s history in New York did not begin with dispersing poetry or love symbols to the public. He’d been a police officer in Syracuse, New York. However, when he refused to join in beating an arrested youth and in fact endeavored to stop the assault, he subsequently became an outcast on the force, resulting in the ultimate loss of his job, his home, and forced separation from his family. He was even detained briefly himself but the experience he most talked about from that painful period was the lasting impact of reading an inspirational poem etched on the wall by a previous cell dweller.

The challenges he faced would easily have chrushed a lesser spirit, but Rich Bartee was as “rich” in resiliency as he was in poetry and motivational words.. As a lover and creative molder of the written word, he also greatly enjoyed assisting others in sharing their literary gifts. After moving to New York City, he met a young actor/poet named Imani meaning faith in Swahili. And together with her faith and supportiveness, he founded Poet-tential Unlimited Theatre, a performance space in Harlem which attracted throngs of poetry enthusiasts to hear some of the city’s most talented poets. He, in turn, helped other poets to independently publish and promote their works. He went on to become one of Harlem’s most well-loved cultural figures, particularly after penning the song, “The Harlem Heartbeat” and initiating poetry sessions at the Baby Grand, a popular bar where patrons might come in for a drink only to find their cultural thirst being quenched or at least curiously stirred from its somnolent depths!

His long marriage to educator/musician, Vivian Skinner Bartee, afforded him the balm in Gilead he needed from his constant efforts to provide humanitarian, cultural, and political aid to others, and he so loved those quiet moments in their brilliant-hued Brooklyn backyard garden where he’d serve tea and poetry to his personal beloved. However, Vivian became accustomed to his long hours away from home as he immersed himself in forays for both justice and culture; if there was a movement afoot to improve the lives of others, culturally, politically, or even health-wise, Rich was surely a footsoldier on the front lines.

A former advertising rep and then publisher of Health and Diet Times, Bartee was appalled at the environmental disaster resulting in unclean water in homes. He began purchasing and re-selling water filters, frequently at a loss, as he urged others to improve their physical and mental health. Noting the negative lyrics in rap music, in his last years, he turned his songwriting talents to penning positive rap lyrics, becoming to the youth’s delight, “Grand Poppa Hip Hoppah” When speaking of his public outreach to people of all races and life stages, he’d quip, “That’s why God has me in the streets and not in a suite.”

Poetic buddies for many years, Bartee and I would often share new creations by phone, as armed with a handful of quarters, he’d give me one of his quick popcorn calls between cultural runs. The telephone company would experience a small windfall because the popcorn call would lengthily expand as he shared those sayings I so loved, popping endless quarters in the demanding machine.

“I’m not afraid of dying,” he’d declare, “I’m afraid of not living right!” Then the culturalist who’d spent many a day conducting a poetic ministry in Greenwich Village with his revered friend, Bama the Village Poet, (the late Alabama-bred sculptor, George McCord) would add, “My boss doesn’t give raises. He gives blessings” followed by “We are the salt of the Earth, blessed and highly favored!”

“Great spirit, (my special nickname for him), you’re a creative genius!” I’d say.

“No, ebony angel,” he’d reply, “we’re not creative geniuses. We’re spiritual genies.” May Bartee enjoy and be blessed in his spiritual "geniehood" as he continues to love and serve from his special place of honor in that lovely plane beyond compare. And may his family, friends, and students be ever so blessed as well.

--Linda Cousins

"Come on, combine your Love Light with mine.
See how bright our light will shine!"*

--Richard L. Callaway-Bartee

copyright (c) Vivian Skinner Bartee 2003
All rights reserved

Bartee was continuously encouraging friends and colleagues to visit his church home, The Christian Life Center in Brooklyn, and hear the motivational wisdom words of his pastor, Rev. E. R. Bernard, whom he so greatly admired and lauded. If he couldn't get you out to the actual church service, he'd constantly urge you to at least listen to the radio broadcast. While preparing the work for this Tribute, I ran across a tape by Rev. Bernard which Bartee had given to me many years ago. As I played it, I knew Bartee would greatly appreciate having the following prayer by his beloved minister added to this tribute page:

"...Our desire is to fulfill our calling because we are convinced that there is something specific that you sent each of us to do. Whomever you called, you sent as a Light before the people that the people might have a model..." (emphasis added)

from a prayer by Rev. E. R. Bernard

Bartee whistlin' :

Bartee the Whistler. Enjoy the life melody.

To hear this, you will need a RealPlayer. If you do not have the RealPlayer, you can quickly download a free version from RealPlayer site The excerpt can also be heard on the AOL Media Player.

Esteemed poet/scholar, Louis Reyes Rivera, publisher, Shamal Books. Louis organized and coordinated several media and poetic memorial tributes to his long-time poetic colleague, Rich Bartee. Tributes were also organized by El-Anna Cornelius and former poet friends from Poet-Tential Unlimited.

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