This city's history is vast and some of our younger readers may not have heard the name Elrader Browning or Ray-Ray as he was known on these Northwest Pasadena streets, but for so many people that name alone brings back memories, some good and some bad.
During the mid to late 80's crack cocaine usage and sales were at an all-time high and in the eyes of the law and many citizens, Ray Ray was not only the biggest but the most ruthless of all local drug dealers.
Browning was a living legend on the streets and he was only 32 when he was arrested in 1987 and sentenced to two life sentences plus 120 years in federal prison in 1988, and the streets of Pasadena haven't been the same since. Not because there is less violence because there's more. The drug sales didn't stop with his arrest either. The streets aren't the same because he was tactical and that evoked fear in law enforcement agencies. They were more afraid of the fact that he could structure and lead. The oppressors will always try to disarm Black men who can lead on any level, right or wrong, where power can come from it. Unafraid, the police have been terrorizing Northwest Pasadena ever since.
Fear brings respect and Elrader was feared. Feared because he would hold you accountable for your actions.
Accountability tends to make people more serious about whatever it is they are into. What he had only a few have. He was a leader and an organizer. I can only look back a wish that he had used his talents in a good way because he would be so powerful right now. He has never been a drinker or a smoker. He is a vegetarian and a reader, all of which are traits of strength and awareness. This government destroys great minds through two avenues, death, and incarceration. If you are in non-criminal activities and lead, they will murder you. i.e. Martin, Malcolm, and Fred. If you are in criminal activities and lead, they will lock you up forever on bloated and fabricated charges. However a Black man chooses to lead, his mind is what White men fear most.
Over the years I have received dozens of letters from Elrader and I must say that he is misunderstood. The reason I used the word accountability is because Ray Ray hates the fact that his name is attached to a local gang and the Black Guerrilla Family. He has told me that he would never join a gang and he feels like he could change the gang narrative in Pasadena if he were around. He has BGF ties through associates, but he was never an official member.
I have been trying to get him to write a book and his brother Jim has parts of it. He writes like a poet or a great philosopher. He ends each letter the same six words every time. "The game is covert, not overt". There lays his dilemma, he wants to publish his thoughts, but he doesn't want them to be accessible to all. Making him do other than what he believes he should do is difficult because he is such a disciplined man.
He has given me so much good advice and encouragement over the years and he is one of the reasons I started the Pasadena Black Pages. When I published my first book, Ray told me never stop trying to reach people through my writing.
Most see the destruction he was a part of, but my experience with him has been different. Because of him, I have received respect in places where many men crumble. Because of him, I am not afraid to step out on my own and do what makes me happy.
Is he a gangster? I'm not sure he would identify with that label, but he is a straightforward man and whatever he's into if he's into it with you, you better know that he means what he says and expects the same in return. That's the way I try to live. Be stand up and always protect home. Ray once told me, "It's okay to love and be passionate about things, but in business always make sure they know you are serious about all aspects."
Some may want him to rot in prison, but I honestly hope he gets another chance at life because we could do so much good together. But even if he doesn't regain his freedom, just know that he understands what he did in the past is directly affecting his present, but the future is wide open and hope is not lost.