Remembering the lessons from my dear friend Carlos Aceituno

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carlosbytraciYesterday I got some heartbreaking news that my dear friend Carlos Aceituno passed away from heart failure.  It was completely unexpected and there were no real warning signs besides headache and fatigue.  He was in his mid-40s.

I met Carlos 20 years ago in San Francisco in my first capoeira class (that is the name of the Afro-Brazilian martial art that I trained for over 10 years).  He was bright, vibrant, creative and kind from the first day I met him.  Originally from Guatemala, Carlos adopted Afro-Brazilian culture and built a long career as a martial arts, music and dance teacher.  He taught free classes for kids as long as I knew him, often in neighborhoods where there was high crime and few positive male role models.

He was instrumental in creating and sustaining a creative community at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco and Malonga Casqualourd Center for the Arts in Oakland where he taught for over a decade.  Much more than a teacher, he was the kind of person who knew and loved everyone and was always laughing and joking with the other teachers and artists.

A tremendously talented musician and performer, he did shows all throughout the Bay Area, even opening for Carlos Santana (who coincidentally, is a big supporter of Mission Cultural Center).  Each year he would take a group to Brazil for master training and research.

We both were the early students of Master Preguica from Brazil.  Throughout the years, Carlos and I worked closely together to build a thriving school and, with the help of the other adult students, to expand the youth program from 5 to 250 students.  He was tireless, always teaching, encouraging and inspiring those around him.

He also taught Afro-Brazilian dance and each year would compete in the San Francisco Carnival Parade with his group Fogo Na Roupa.  They won first place the last two years with excellent music, choreography and costumes.

But the magic of Carlos was not just his musical and dance talent, it was his way of being.  He was a true universal spirit, welcoming people from any race, color and background into his class.  His samba group had doctors and lawyers shimmying next to community activists, blue collar workers and children.  He was comfortable with the young and old, wealthy and poor, and treated everyone he met with utmost respect.

I feel shocked by his quick and totally unexpected death.  It feels like he still had so much to do in the world, so many more people to influence with his passion for the arts, and so many more kids to help nurture and grow.  But for reasons I don’t understand yet accept, it was his time to go.

I am thankful to have known a brother like Carlos that lived and breathed the work he was meant to do every day of his life.  One of our first teenage students named Geovannie (who we met as a 14 year old kid from  the projects who did graffiti for fun and is now 27 and has his own consulting firm) just told me this morning:

“I wish I could show everyone Carlos’ car.  At all times, it had at least 3 drums in it, 3 clean capoeira pants and flyers for his classes and upcoming shows.  There was never a moment when he wasn’t working on something creative. Carlos lived his art all the way – he was the real thing.”

There are people whose lives are much bigger than most, not in their fame, but in their impact.  The Bay Area has lost a true friend and leader.  Many, many young people have lost a father and uncle figure that they desperately needed.

The best way that I can think of to honor Carlos’ life is to live how he did.  Do the work you are meant to do.  Consider all your community’s children your own.  Be creative.  And spend your life building bridges between all people, not dividing them.

My heartfelt condolences go out to his girlfriend Regina and his family.  Rest in peace brother, you will be missed.

Update Monday 10/2/06:

I just wanted to say thank you SO MUCH for all the kind emails and blog comments about Carlos.  I went to San Francisco this weekend for his service and it was amazing.  Many of us congregated in the room at Mission Cultural Center where he taught music, dance and capoeira for many years.  There were candles around the perimeter of the room, and pictures of him laughing, dancing and playing music.  Everyone then gathered around a group of musicians, many of whom had learned to play from Carlos.  They started with a slow and somber rhythm from one drum, then exploded into the rich and expressive Afro-Brazilian rhythms that Carlos loved so much.  Everyone in the room started dancing, many raising their hands in the air.  You could see tears streaming down many faces as they moved to the music, but for most they were tears of joy at having known and loved Carlos.  I have never experienced a more uplifting, fitting tribute to someone’s life, and I have to believe that Carlos was there with us, directing the musicians as he always did.

A very old friend who trained capoeira with Carlos and I turned to me and whispered:  “When I go, THIS is how I want to be remembered!”  I totally agree.

Just as Carlos inherited his love and spirit of music and dance from those teachers that came before him, his generation of students will carry it forward for many more to enjoy.

15 Responses to “Remembering the lessons from my dear friend Carlos Aceituno”

  1. Jorge says:

    Also wanted to add. He also worked at a group home in San Francisco which I lived at for 3-4 years. I was a student of Carlos for the duration. I was a student at the Filmore location in San Francisco before he started teaching at the mission center which I continued to study early 90s. As a teenager I also attended class with Master Pregisa at the Dolores church spot(name spelling?lol) Capoeira had a big impact in my life at the time. We did shows all over the bay. Golden Gate Park, Oakland, Home Turf and Carneval. He was a great person. Positive energetic .. We need more people in the world like him. Till this day I recommend Capoeira to everyone I know for there children when they bring up martial arts. It teaches so much more then Martial Arts. Cultural, Respect, Music, Instruments, Portuguese, History, Disiplin and much more.

  2. […] Carlos Aceituno loved Brazilian culture and music. He was a skilled music and martial arts teacher. He could dance. But his root was using music to uplift, to heal, to strengthen and to inspire. Kids who learned with him felt love and family through his teaching. Adults found their life force, and spirit. He is dearly missed, but the roots of his work continue to grow through the kids he taught. […]

  3. Capoeira Sites

    Reid, the site is Capoeira Barbados is a site created by M. More sites , sights and sounds

  4. charlotte says:

    i just now heard of this tragic loss
    how could some of us not known or shared the celebration
    i have known and been a student for many years off and on
    the spirit that never left was imprinted
    carlos was a spiritual connection that took your being to another level
    even though my connection was not ongoing, i feel the loss in my heart and feel the loss for the community
    we love and praise his soul
    our dedication to his life will give us the love to give to others
    in memory
    never to let the radiance of life fade that he created
    i will from this day forward, do all that i can to carry on his honor and warmth
    to make the world a better place
    my feelings are warm
    i miss him already
    charlotte (who was touched by him)

  5. Begoña Tellez says:

    Hoy 10 de octubre me entere del lamentable fallecimiento de mi profesor Carlos Aceituno.
    Vivo en la Ciudad de Mexico. En 1999 viaje a San Francisco, tuve la oportunidad de tomar los cursos de capoeira en el Mission Cultural Center. Mestre Carlos Aceituno es de mis mejores recuerdos, lo conoci poco tiempo, pero me di cuenta que era una persona noble, que le apasionaba dar sus clases. El decia que sus clases eran para que los jovenes encontraran ahi un camino para no recurrir a los vicios.
    He visto paginas de internet donde comentan sobre esta lamentable perdida y hubo una frase que me gusto mucho:” You know you are walking with an angel? This man is an angel”


    Begoña Tellez

  6. Po says:

    Hello Pam,

    Your words have warm my heart, not just I but also my friends. Thank You for your thoughts.

    Truly, Po and Friends.

  7. gabbie says:

    i am a student of mestre carlos. and when i found out this news i was heart broken. i couldnt beleive it. i trained at the mission cultural center as well as the molonga center. may he R.I.P.

  8. Andrew Flurry says:

    Hi Pam,

    Thank you for writing this memory of Carlos. It was so nice to see you at the memorial. I cannot think of a better send off for Carlos than the explosion of music and dancing in that little room in the moment it transformed into the bateria rhythm.

    Looking forward to reading the rest of your writings here.

  9. nvmojo says:

    I am sad for you. thanks for sharing. I lost my high school sweetheart in April …who became one of my best friends …it leaves a whole in ones life …

    Peace …

  10. Dear Pam

    I am sad for you today – the light of your world was dimmed. It is apparent from your writing that Carlos was a person whose life is to be celebrated, even while you, and those who loved him, mourn.

    May you hold onto those memories with deep fondness, and cherish the experiences you shared – and know that you were touched by someone special, and that he continues to move others through the power of your expressive words.



  11. Pam,

    My thoughts are with you and Carlos’s loved ones.

  12. Hi Pam,

    I am very sorry to hear of your sudden and deep loss. It is always so hard to lose someone we love.

    Thank you for sharing your feelings and Carlos’ brilliance with us through this post. I believe we all need reminders to step up the urgency with which we pursue our passions. No one really knows how much time they’ll have on this earth … so why not start today BEING who you really are and moving toward an inspiring future. With Carlos’ and your example…. readers like are have great inspiring examples to keep us up & moving forward.

  13. Carla Golden says:

    Pam, I am so sorry to hear about your friend, Carlos. It is hard to understand when someone that young and vibrant leaves us in such an unexpected way. We do not have a chance to prepare for the loss and it is a shock. I believe that sometimes a soul has accomplished what it came to do or it has decided to do work from the other side. Nevertheless, the pain for those left behind is there and the grieving must be done. I hope it helps to know that those of us who have come to know you through your blog are thinking of you now and sharing your feelings of loss and sadness.

  14. robert says:

    Please accept my sincere condolences. Very brave of you to share your moment of sadness.

    As Russ says, if one or three people now continue his mission then Carlos will remain forever present in the communities. From what you say, his life is to be viewed as a celebration of all that is good in people.

    It is just and wonderful that all this goodness was in one man – Carlos. The world is now a poorer place for his passing.

  15. Pam,
    Thanks for sharing Carlos with us. I know it must have been both cathartic and painful at the same time to write about how much of an influence he ad on you and the world.
    I think one passage you wrote was especially poignant and made me think:

    “I feel shocked by his quick and totally unexpected death. It feels like he still had so much to do in the world, so many more people to influence with his passion for the arts, and so many more kids to help nurture and grow. But for reasons I don’t understand yet accept, it was his time to go.”

    Maybe the reason was fulfilled by your post today. Now many more people in the world know about Carlos and the impact he was making.

    If your story moves two people to take up his mission to provide positive role models in areas where they are scare and to give back to their communities and the world the way Carlos was then his impact was just doubled. If more than three do this, then his impact becomes even greater.
    I know this idea does not dull the pain and heartbreak you fell butit may beone way to try and make sense of the things we most often cannot.

    Thanks again for sharing


    Thanks so much for your kind words Russ. You are right – all we can do now is learn from his legacy and do our own part, in our own communities, in our own way.