Reflections on My 47th Birthday….

Today makes 47 times around the sun for me. I’m so full of gratitude. Every year I receive a flood of phone calls, texts, and Facebook timeline messages from friends, relatives, former classmates, and comrades in the struggle for Black liberation.  Needless to say, such salutations are touching and deeply humbling. I interpret these to be basic expressions of respect and love, and make no mistake, there is no feeling like being appreciated….

Yet this feeling is mixed with a tinge of sadness. Many beautiful people including friends, mentors, and family members either are no longer here or didn’t make it to this age. Some of them, like my dad and grandparents would be so proud (I think) to see how I’ve developed over the years, and managed to overcome quite a few personal and professional storms in my life.

I also made touch decisions to sever relationships with a few friends and love interests throughout the years who I believed were toxic. While these were deliberate and self-managed decisions, it was still sad to let some people and energies go – initially. We develop connections to people and powerful memories even with those with whom we experience disharmony. I wish them all well and hope they’ve matured and gone on to be fulfilled. And let us not forget: even toxic people exhibit various degrees of beauty and goodness.

I also feel tremendous gratitude on this day. I grew up in Harlem, NYC during a time when news agencies reported that people in poor developing nations lived longer than Black men in the United States. I vividly remember many brothers in my hood saying, “I’m 25. I didn’t think I’d make it this age.” Then there was the stroke I suffered two years ago, a condition that came with no pain or forecast, that almost took my life. Partially paralyzed on my left side, and badly slurring my speech, I was blessed to make a full recovery.

As a result, I take no day for granted and no one. I go forward remembering that I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I work every day to be a giant for others one day…..

So what are my reflections on this my 47th birthday? What lessons do I take with me as I go forward?  What are my birthday wishes?

Lessons

  • Be patient with yourself and with those for whom you advocate. We all have room to grow, and we do so at different speeds and times. Our job is to model the qualities/practices we value and to do the work we are called to do at our highest level.
  • Forgive yourself and others. Just as people have violated us, we are equally guilty.
  • Have the strength to sever relationships with toxic people and free yourself to experience deeper and more fulfilling love relationships and friendships.
  • Suffering and challenge is a natural part of life. Don’t try to avoid it or spend much time complaining. Ride through it, develop character and strength from it, and learn the lessons it provides.
  • Be judicious about how and with whom you spend your time. Surround yourself with people who are motivated, genuine and who respect you.
  • Do the work you are called to do and let no one distract you from your mission. You will eventually reap the fruits of your labor and experience great fulfillment.

Wishlist (This is not a joke. I’m serious)

In parting, I leave you with my official anthem (courtesy of Mos Def)

_____________________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

The Basics of Effective Protest Strategy

 

sas protest2{The following is a chapter from my book, “The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook,” which I wrote to teach Black student activists how to organize on college campuses. The information addresses college protest movements but can be applied to community organizations as well.}


 

The Anatomy of a Movement

By “movement,” I’m referring to a sustained and organized struggle on behalf of a group that demands concessions from an agency/institution. This assumes an adversarial or contentious relationship between two parties like the BSU (Black Student Union) and the university for example. The BSU wants a certain thing or set of things which the university can provide but refuses to for any number of reasons. Therefore the BSU launches a movement or campaign to get the concessions it wants.

I began this book expressing disappointment with those BSUs around the country that have become social clubs rather than the agents of resistance and empowerment they were founded to be on college campuses. My hope is that this book will inspire a return to that original BSU spirit. This chapter will equip your organization to take its rightful place in the tradition of BSUs by acquainting you with the “anatomy” so to speak, of a protest movement.

We might say that a campaign is composed of 8 general parts: Irreconcilable Discontent, Research, Propaganda, A Call to action, Presentation of demands, Outreach & Alliance Building, Confrontation, and Negotiation.

Irreconcilable Discontent: This refers to a mentality or psychological state which leads people to create a movement to confront the university or any other power structure. People may experience discontent with a situation for several years but never do anything to resolve their conflicts because they have “made peace” with it in one way or another. They might rationalize that this “is just the way things are,” or that “we can’t win” or refuse to seriously address the issue out of fear or personal discomfort.

But irreconcilable discontent takes place when an incident occurs that is so egregious, so blatantly insulting or oppressive that people overcome their fears and skepticism and feel compelled to respond in organized fashion. For example, Black people have resented the ominous presence and brutal activities of police in our communities for decades. We detest police harassing Black motorists, stopping and frisking our youth, and shooting us down in the streets. We know this is unjust and criminal; we know that the officers responsible go free and resume their presence on the police force.

Yet despite our discontent we reconcile with such practices, telling ourselves to “let the system do its job,” or that “God will punish them.” As demonstrated in our response to Trayvon Martin’s murder on February 26, 2012, and his murderer’s subsequent exoneration, we participate in a few marches or petition drives, hold some press conferences and rallies, and eventually go back to business as usual.

Irreconcilable discontent means “the straw has broken the camel’s back,” we come to the realization that “Enough is enough,” and we are compelled to act in an assertive manner (even to the point of breaking oppressive rules/laws and refusing to cooperate with societal convention).

In Montgomery, Alabama, Black people in the 1950s were accustomed to sitting in the segregated section of the bus. We were accustomed to paying our fare, then exiting to board the bus via the back door. Often the bus drivers pulled off with us standing there. We didn’t like this mistreatment. We were discontent for sure, but we mumbled under our breath, accepting that this obvious form of injustice was “just the way things were” at that time. Of course some individuals refused to comply with these laws, but Blacks did not collectively wage a movement.

But when innocent and well-respected seamstress and longtime activist Rosa Parks was roughly taken off the bus and arrested for not complying with the law, Blacks in Montgomery became irreconcilably discontented. And this sense of outrage led to a 381 day bus boycott that nearly brought the bus company to bankruptcy and led to a court decision banning bus segregation.

Successful campaigns or movements almost always begin when our people feel a sense of outrage so intense that they are ready and willing to take action. Astute leaders recognize such moments and begin organizing this widespread anger and frustration into a sustained and organized movement for social or political change.

Research: At some point, organizers and activists begin researching to determine who is responsible for resolving the issue, methods they can take to bring attention to the issue, and what specific demands they will make to the parties that have the power to resolve the issue.

Call to Action: Having defined the issues, and “opposition force” responsible for resolving them, the organizers and activists issue a call to action to the masses, directly calling upon them to move beyond discontent and into organized action. During this early phase of your movement, you will hold meetings with your group to effectively explain how this issue affects your members, why they should be outraged, and give them a sense of their power to resolve the issue.

Presentation of Demands: After concluding your research to clarify the issues involved and party responsible, you formally present your grievances and demands to the responsible party. You can do this in several ways, including a petition, letter, or verbally at a meeting with the person you identify as the responsible party. This is obviously the main goal of your movement, namely to get your demands satisfied. In the best case, the opposition agrees to your demands in writing on its official letterhead. This is not very likely to happen immediately however, as powerful organizations tend to underestimate your seriousness or validity of your cause and do not respond well to changing their policies or practices.

Outreach & Alliance Building: Anticipating a long struggle, your organization contacts other groups and leaders for support and resources to aid in your movement. This lends greater numbers and therefore strength to your cause. You want to identify campus and community organizations to support you. If you’ve been building relations with these people in advance (as I suggested earlier) this step will prove easier and more successful.

Propaganda: In an effort to heighten and dramatize the tension surrounding the issue, organizers use propaganda. Through informational fliers, press conferences and rallies, they use colorful language and imagery to expose the contradictions involved, highlight the specific injustice(s), and call for the responsible parties to take corrective action. Your propaganda should powerfully describe and detail the injustice, identify your grievances and demands, and explain how and why your demands went unmet.

During this phase it’s important that the organization identify an individual as their opposition or responsible party. A corporation, university or other institution might be responsible, but you must put a face on that institution, as people cannot effectively confront an abstract “company.” Your research should have discovered one person (a CEO, university president, or elected official who is representative of the organization you’re going to confront). During this phase, you’ll want to write editorials in your college, organization and community newspapers and give press conferences detailing your issue. You want everyone to clearly understand what you’re fighting for and how it impacts you and others.

Confrontation: In this phase of the movement or campaign the disgruntled organization directly confronts the individual (representative of the institution) believed to be responsible for creating or at least resolving the issue. Naturally, this only occurs if your grievances and demands are initially unmet. To encourage sympathy from outside observers and to develop proper momentum, you should begin with simple, less intense and more “respectable” tactics (petitions, meetings, rallies, newspaper articles) and if necessary, become increasingly more intense, dramatic and aggressive.

If the opposition does not respond to these tactics and you’re compelled to engage in more assertive measures, other people not involved in your movement will more likely understand and support your cause as being fair and reasonable. They will also be more likely to view your opposition as being unreasonable and unfair. This perception and sympathy may come in handy later in your campaign when you need all the outside support you can get. When your tactics become more aggressive, the court of public opinion will be more sensitive to your cause. If you conduct your most assertive action too early in the campaign, and the opposition does not flinch, your campaign loses momentum and it may be close to impossible to regain it.

Confrontations typically consist of specific tactics. These may include petitions, letter-writing campaigns, rallies, building takeovers, marches, and mass phone calls of complaint/concern to the individual/institution, demonstrations and protests.

Petitions are concise letters that clearly specify the issues involved, your grievances and demands, and the person/institution you deem responsible for addressing your issue. These letters have space at the bottom for your supporters to sign in agreement with your petition demands.

The strength of a petition lies in the number of people that sign it. It shows that your organization has a large and diverse base of support, and puts pressure on the opposition to take your matter seriously and to resolve it. Because each person that signs your petition reads it first, a petition is also an excellent way to inform the public about your organization and the issue you’re fighting for. Petition drives often result in people joining or becoming supportive of your organization. A petition puts the opposition on notice that you are in disagreement with a policy, procedure or situation so that they cannot claim ignorance later. It also creates a documented record of your dispute. A well orchestrated petition drive will often lead to a meeting with the opposition and in the best case, concessions from the opposition. Online petitions which you can create for free on websites like Change.org, Petitiononline.com, or ipetitions.com are powerful petition tools, because people can “sign” them with a click of a button and you can arrange it so that every time a person signs, a copy of the petition is emailed to the person you designate.

Letter-writing campaigns constitute another good tactic because they get people involved in your movement and demonstrate your wide base of support. With this tactic, you provide people with a sample of the issues, injustice involved, and your grievance/demands and allow them to craft a brief letter supporting your cause. These days, you would most likely use email to accomplish this.

Rallies are (usually) outdoor meetings held in a high-traffic area on campus or in the community. You have various leaders and activists from your group and others speak on your movement and what you’re fighting for. Your primary goal is to educate the public and generate support. For added effectiveness, you can have tables at your rally site where people sign your petitions or receive more information about your organization. These types of events tend to attract media coverage which promotes your movement to people who know little to nothing about it. You’ll want to invite powerful and informed speakers who are respected by the community and list their names on your fliers promoting the event. Their followers and supporters will come to hear them speak which helps you gain even more supporters. Effective rallies are informative and dynamic. The audience should be encouraged to chant (i.e. “No justice, no peace!” “A people united will never be defeated”) sing protest songs hold signs and applaud loudly.

Building Takeovers are forms of protest that are very dramatic, controversial, attention-grabbing, and usually illegal. But because this involves disrupting a place of business and because it is intimidating to workers in the building, this tactic is risky. It can create enemies among innocent workers who may not understand or agree with your issue, brand your organization as violent or coercive, and lead to destruction of property or even minor injuries. Takeovers are generally banned by institutions so you face the very real likelihood of arrests. This tactic MUST be well-organized and you must clearly communicate dos and don’ts for your participants or this can backfire in very negative ways for your movement.

Marches involve a large number of people walking in unison to a designated place where an organization usually holds a rally. Marches are accompanied by colorful signs with headlines that dramatize your issue. You can organize singing and chanting as people march or do a silent march. These are excellent for generating media coverage and attracting the attention of passers-by who wonder what all the commotion is about. Because they involve large audiences, march conveners should make sure the event is well-organized. You must inform participants beforehand what route they will use, what the destination is and what the issue is. Also, you should have a spokesperson on hand to speak with reporters and answer questions.

Mass phone calls are self-explanatory. You provide hundreds of people with the work phone number of your opposition figure (calling their home or cell phone might be seen as a form of harassment) and a few basic scripts to read when the person (or their assistant) answers. Each person calls and explains his/her concern about your issue. Then they ask what this person plan to do about it. This is a legal and completely easy way to disrupt the individual’s work day while reinforcing your issue. When done correctly, this tactic ties up your opposition’s phone lines and makes it difficult for them to conduct business as usual. Even if no one answers, your callers can leave a message. This pressure tactic demonstrates your strength and wide base of support. It also subtly pressures them to resolve your issue. I like to call this tactic ‘Holding the phone lines hostage.”

Demonstrations represent another dramatic tactic which draw media coverage for your issue and involve great fun. You can think of a demonstration as social theater. People using this tactic dramatize the said issue in very creative and engaging ways designed to describe (in exaggerated fashion) exactly why and how the institution, policy or practice is oppressive, exploitive or simply unfair.
Students protesting a tuition hike might stage a demonstration in which a college class has a professor lecturing to only three students who happen to be wealthy and pampered. This is designed to illustrate the organization’s belief that the proposed tuition increase will significantly reduce the student population and make the college affordable only to affluent students.
A BSU protesting a policy that ends affirmative action on their campus might stage a funeral scene. Pallbearers solemnly carry a casket marked “Black Students at this university.” Once inside the mock funeral home, the preacher begins to deliver a moving eulogy for Black students on campus, noting that the removal of affirmative action “killed” the presence of Blacks on campus. Nearby, in a mock court scene, we see a prosecutor grilling the university president and accusing him of “murdering” affirmative action. A Black-student jury pronounces him guilty and the university president is led out of court in handcuffs. As you might imagine, these demonstrations dramatize the perceived injustices involved in ways that are more fun and sensational than would be the case in a rally or petition. They also guarantee media coverage and depict the opposition in a negative light. By definition, demonstrations involve the skillful use of propaganda.

Negotiation: Usually the last phase of a successful campaign involves a series of meetings between a BSU representative (usually the president and a Vice President) and a representative of the opposition. At this point, the institution has suffered great embarrassment in the media and tremendous pressure from the BSU and its supporters. In an effort to continue operating normally and end its public embarrassment and increasingly aggressive BSU protests and demonstrations, the opposing institution is now compelled to sit with your organization to bring the movement to an end by making concessions.

In most cases, the negotiating phase involves some degree of compromise and flexibility from the protesting organization. Sometimes budgetary considerations or other realities make some demands untenable or impractical. In these cases, the BSU will have to determine which demands are most important and non-negotiable. After these meetings, all agreements made verbally must be put in writing and signed by a person with the authority to grant the requests and the BSU official. It is important to establish reasonable dates by which these changes will be implemented, or the university has wiggle room to renege on their agreements.

In conclusion, please realize that no movement or campaign unfolds in one specific manner. This anatomy of a campaign I provided cannot possibly account for or anticipate every single nuance of a struggle. It does however acquaint you with the general things you should consider and for which you should prepare.

_____________________________

 Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Blacks, Conservatism, and Black Conservatives

There is great confusion over the issue of conservatism among Black folk. I endeavor to demystify the concept in a series of articles by describing conservative views, distinguishing between types of conservatism, highlighting some important conservative ideas, and citing how we actually benefit from selective conservative principles. I will also describe the limitations of conservative politics for Black people.

We must understand that a person can hold conservative views on some issues and more liberal views on others. For example, one can be conservative (against abortion) on reproductive issues, and more  liberal/progressive (pro union) regarding labor issues.

Politics – like human beings – have simple core urges or motivations that manifest in sophisticated and complex ways.

Demagogues on both sides of the ideological divide like to oversimply opposing political frameworks into neat, bite-size morsels of half-truth which are easily digested in quick media sound bites for a notorious ignorant American public.

The truth about Black people and conservatism however is not so easy to fit into either/or categories. Nor can we Nationalists or political leftists take accurate political inventory of all Black people who say they are “conservative,” because conservatism like all ideologies, has different branches.

First, what beliefs constitute conservative thought or politics? Broadly defined, conservatives believe in defending and promoting individual rights, effort, responsibility and development. They frown upon bloated government that meddles in the affairs of citizens, exerts too much power over individuals, and too responsible for solving problems of the country. They are likely to support small business, entrepreneurship, strong family values, and personal responsibility.

This skepticism of large, centralized government is not new. In the U.S. context, it dates back to the colonists-turned-founding fathers’ bitter recollections of King George III. If you remember from social studies class, Britain oppressed the 13 colonies through over taxing them, denying them adequate political representation, invasive searches of their homes, and unfair court practices among other things. They realized that an all-powerful central government could become repressive and corrupt. This led them not only to fight a revolutionary war for independence, but to create a Bill of Rights and combination of state and federal government to guard against the corruption and oppression they faced under Britain’s rule. Students of history might remember the intense debate held about this issue via the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers. To be continued…

Why I Now Renounce Black Nationalism and Race-Based Activism

Good morning, family! After much reflection and soul-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that my previous political ideas and activities were misled and inaccurate. For this reason, I”m moving to Britain, marrying a white woman I met at a Republican convention, and will begin to write books and deliver speeches explaining how racism no longer exists, how Black people are to blame for all of our problems, why ancient Greece is the cradle of world civilization, and why cultural assimilation is our best choice going forward. Because I believe in organization-building, I’ve started the Uncle Rawkus Club and Ronald Reagan Publishing Inc. to spread my new ideals. I hope you will support my new mission. Hakuna Matata!

Given my political past, I owe my faithful readers an explanation. I do so with the following points:

  • Based on my new research, the TransAtlantic Slave Trade was a hoax, and whites never participated in such a thing. African people traveled to parts of the Caribbean, North and South America on their own and volunteered their free labor for 400 years.
  • Greece, not Africa, is the actual cradle of world civilization. Ancient Greece created the foundations of math, law, science, philosophy, religion and art from which the entire world borrowed and benefited.
  • Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey were FBI agents sent to warp Black Americans with hatred and finger-pointing. Their objectives were to divide the Black community and set us up for a race war we’d lose.
  • “Race” is a social construct developed by Black people to degrade innocent white folk and engender sympathy and pity

APRIL FOOLS!   APRIL FOOLS!   APRIL FOOLS!  APRIL FOOLS!  APRIL FOOLS!

The only way I’d believe and write any of that crap is if someone abducted, labotomized, and drugged me!! But since I have your attention, on a serious note, I have created a campaign to donate 3000 copies of my book Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens, to schools and youth development programs throughout the United States. To accomplish this, I created a page on Gofundme.com. Please visit the link and read more about this campaign. Then if you are willing, please donate what you can and share the link with friends, family members and co-workers. Thank you.

_______________________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Please Help Me Help our Youth!

Last April I wrote a book entitled “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.” In a nutshell, this book provides information, skills, and habits to help our Youth become self-motivated, empowered beings in a society attempting to limit their potential.

While people are buying it across the country, many more should. It is a powerful tool and solution for the epidemic of wayward and misguided youth. I decided that I couldn’t afford to wait for a rich celebrity, government initiative, or fancy publicity outfit to promote and sell this book. I realized that schools, youth-centered nonprofits were strapped for funding. This presented me with a huge dilemma; I have an antidote and cure for a devastating disease that few people suffering from the disease know about! Also, there’s the issue of people crying broke, or lacking the compulsion to invest what they do have into solutions in the form of knowledge.

Given these circumstances, I’ve decided to work around the barriers. I calculated what it would cost to donate 3000 of my books to 30 NYC schools and after school programs. I added the cost of promotional materials and postage to mail another 500 copies to youth development leaders and programs throughout the United States. I came up with a cost of $33,375. To raise the money Ifor this ambitious but much-needed project, I turned to Gofundme.com. Individuals have used this site to raise money for health-related and other issues, totaling millions of dollars. I believe this issue (rescuing and reclaiming our Youth) is no less important or urgent.

Therefore,

I invite you all to support this campaign and after make a donation to my project. You can make large or small donations, and ALL are accepted. I realize this is a challenging task. But I was taught by and am descended from people that make the impossible possible! Please donate what you can and share my gofundme page link on your social media sites with friends, family and co-workers. I believe that with your support, this project will be successful! Thanks again for being part of the solution rather than a cynical part of the problem. Click on the link below and partner with me:

http://www.gofundme.com/pdifpo

_____________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

A Short and Sweet Reminder for Black People

I promised myself that I would remember to balance my blog with long and more concise articles. I realize that certain information should be expressed succinctly.

If I were to ask members of our community about the major issues confronting our people, I’m sure I’d hear a list as follows:

  • Academically and culturally bankrupt public education
  • Imperialism and Police brutality
  • Unemployment, low wages, and lack of economic power
  • Little connection to Africa or African-centered culture/history
  • Fratricide (Black-on-Black violence)
  • Narcotic drug trafficking and other forms of criminality
  • Privatized prisons and the mass incarceration of Black people
  • Bourgeois values and priorities
  • White supremacy
  • Broken, disconnected, or dysfunctional families and communities
  • Self-Hatred
  • Drug addiction
  • Black physical and mental health concerns
  • Domestic violence, and sexual abuse in our households
  • Patriarchy and homophobia
  • Little to know political power or representation

And the list goes on, I’m sure. The vast majority of these things are actually symptoms of  larger problems that we often fail to address.

Social scientists, nonprofits and governmental agencies – with varied motives – produce large volumes of studies and reports that detail and describe these issues.

Naturally, this plethora of problems compel answers and solutions. And this I’m afraid is where we fall short all-too-often. Our responses to these social, economic and political ills often do not effectively address and resolve these concerns.

So here is my short and sweet reminder to my Black community: Acquiring political consciousness, earning diplomas or degrees, exposing conspiracies, gaining an encyclopedia knowledge of ancient Africa, becoming a more spiritual or religious being, buying Black, joining this or that cult, church or organization, debating, protesting, giving speeches, writing blogs, praying, meditating, getting a job or starting businesses …..have their place, (some more than others) but are by themselves, inadequate.

The simple fact is, our liberation requires a coordination of various efforts, consciousness backing them, institutions to promote and facilitate them, and power to implement,support and defend them. This remains our challenge going forward…..To hear this point in more detail, please take time to view the following video of Dr. Amos Wilson:

__________________________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Damaging Ideas/Practices Promoted by Some Members the “Conscious Community”

confusion

This phrase “Conscious Community” is quite popular these days. I use it myself. Generally speaking, it refers to those brothers and sisters with some useful degree of sociopolitical awareness, African-centered knowledge of Black history or the Black experience, and an understanding of white supremacy. In an ideal world, this term also describes people who fuse their knowledge and understanding of such things with programs, institutions, activism, and things designed to help Black people Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up! However as we all probably agree, this is not an ideal world, but a REAL world, and definitions of “conscious community” are as confused and varied as member of this community itself. Nevertheless, I will go with this term for now, as it is an all-embracing term that provide general understanding.

I want us to spend some time being critical of this community which includes Black artists, writers, intellectuals, activists, organizers, students, workers, and national organization leaders and their members. The simple yet uncomfortable truth is that some members of this community – a community I claim for myself as well – are becoming a large part of our collective problem rather than a reassuring a liberating part of the solution for Black folkcritically supportive seeking empowerment and liberation. Why is a serious critique of the Black conscious community warranted? Note the following compelling reasons:

  • They/we sometimes attract huge followings and exert some degree of influence on their followers particularly understanding of key concepts like identity, oppression, solidarity, and resistance
  • In some cases, they/we are responsible for monies and other resources solicited and collected from our community, for the purpose of starting programs, institutions, and political movements
  • Because they/we tend to be more articulate, fearless, and knowledgeable than most,  the masses of our community tend to see us as trustworthy leaders and molders of community consensus and empowerment
  • They/we play a major role in our people’s capacity to Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up

Our people deserve the most sincere and very best people advocating on their behalf, raising consciousness, and cultivating Black resistance to oppression. While some clearly have an over-inflated sense of importance, members of this community are important for the reasons stated above, and then some. And because our integrity and the success of our efforts are so largely influenced by the conscious community, it is our duty to support those who speak, educate, organize and fight with us effectively.

However when such people are inaccurate, self-serving, or leading us in counterproductive directions or toward disastrous outcomes, we also have the duty to be critical. Neglecting to do so just because some individuals or organizations are popular,  or even well-intentioned, is not patriotic or righteous – It is cowardly, foolish and counter-revolutionary, period. As Dr. King reminded us,

Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right.

With this guiding principle in mind, I offer the following ideas and practices which some members of the conscious community champion (in sincere and opportunistic fashion), that I believe are fundamentally incorrect and destined to set our movement backwards.

  • The belief that knocking on doors, and/or holding rallies, marches and protests are the only legitimate forms of protest. We are now over a decade into the 21st Century. This is an exciting time when internet technology, smartphones and social media make the world smaller, more manageable, and this scenario radically improves our ability to conduct research and communicate. We simply cannot afford to stay in the Fred Flintstone era of activism. It’s time to leave “Bedrock” behind and explore the world of the “Jetsons” that is upon us. We must continue the best practices of traditional activism while effectively utilizing the new tools at our disposal so that we can reach more people, and better expose, challenge, and defeat our enemies while empowering and liberating ourselves.

Another fact that bears repeating: We must also realize that our enemies attack and oppress us in almost every major area of human activity and that they use multiple means to do so. We cannot successfully counter such a sophisticated multi-level attack by using one mode or weapon. If we members of the conscious community are serious about removing the shackles of ignorance and oppression, we need to recognize, support and participate in varied forms of consciousness-raising and resistance including but not limited to: blogging, social media, internet conferences, building alternative and African-centered institutions, in addition to using traditional forms of activism and education. White supremacy is a twenty-headed and twenty-hearted beast with body parts that regenerate themselves when damaged. We cannot defeat that beast with one sword or one tactic.

  • Degrading, insulting, and using unnecessarily crass and vulgar language, against fellow members of the conscious community with whom we disagree. I don’t know when it became acceptable to demoralize and belittle other activists, intellectuals, leaders and community organizers simply because we disagree with their tactics or strategy. Elements of fundamentalist Nationalism exist among some members of the conscious community. This narrow-minded, dogmatic, intolerant, and simplistic mode of leadership/activism is dangerous and threatens to create violent and unproductive tribalism in our community. Fascism is NEVER fashionable. I find that many “conscious” people who claim to follow and respect brother Malcolm,  tend to behave this way. Malcolm himself behaved this way, insulting Dr. King and other Black leaders with whom he had ideological and tactical disagreements. He later recognized his mistake, and attempted to correct himself by apologizing publicly to those he insulted, and by attempting to work with civil rights leaders he believed were sincere. We cannot on one hand proclaim to our community that we need “all hands on deck,” then on the other hand, insult and question the authenticity of those who have differing opinions or who participate in varied forms of activism. This of course, does not suggest we should allow opportunistic, self-serving Black collaborators of oppression to exist without challenge. To the contrary, we must challenge them vociferously.

There is room in the struggle for several organizations, perspectives and approaches. The only thing we absolutely cannot tolerate in any circumstance, are insincere and opportunistic types whose lust for fame, money or recognition compromise our forward movement, and government informants. We must learn to disagree with fellow conscious folk in a mature and responsible fashion, that allows us to still work together and share resources and networks down the road. We can all agree that life for those of us in the Black liberation struggle is often uncomfortable, lonely, and highly-pressurized. We need support! Therefore, we should work on heightening movement morale, giving credit where due, promoting/supporting other people’s activities,  and building sustained and productive relationships with fellow activists, rather than insulting them

  • Failing to emphasize and promote universally empowering qualities/virtues of personal development. The conscious community famously emphasizes our need to be culturally and historically connected, appreciative of Africa’s contributions to world civilization, and vigorous in exposing and challenging white supremacy. These are in my estimation, absolutely mandatory and pivotal to our collective development. However, we cannot forget the equally important role of personal development. We compromise all efforts at collective empowerment if we fail to promote and model the qualities and virtues of being organized in thought and practice, embodying a strong work-ethic, striving for academic and general excellence in all we do, developing good character and exercising  self-discipline. These tools helped our ancestors to advance/develop themselves despite seemingly overwhelming societal oppression and persecution, and we do ourselves well to remember and emulate this. DuBois, Malcolm, and Ella Baker weren’t just dedicated opponents to white supremacy, they were also devout practitioners of personal empowerment, starting with themselves. Do the research and observe their meticulous time management, tireless work-ethic, and self-discipline. Do not allow ignorant people to deem these qualities “white” or counter-revolutionary. Realizing the importance of this point, I wrote a book entitled, Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. This book teaches our youth how to manage time, make solid decisions, avoid societal traps develop self-love and confidence, and the importance of education and excellence. It is a must read for teens and their families.
  • Creating or promoting a climate of anti-intellectualism.Brother Malcolm wrote, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” If education (research, reading, studying, analyzing) give us the power and mobility to move forward and explore possibilities, then ignorance is our prison sentence of long-term solitary confinement allowing for isolation, deprivation, and the inability to exercise mobility and self-reliance. If you did not obtain a college education,  you can still read, study and be analytical. If you are college-educated,  realize your education did not start nor will it end with earning a degree. But however you acquire education, formally or informally, ACQUIRE IT! Ignorant, misinformed people who are heavy on opinion and light on study do us little good. We need people who can not only consume, understand and explain information, but who can also create, publish and put information into practical use. Not everyone will be an intellectual or scholar. Nor will everyone be a hardcore “boots-on-the-ground” activist. Our ancestors revered and respected knowledge and those who possessed it. Somehow, we’ve gone backwards on this issue. People can’t do the right things unless they know the right things.We will also have to agree that the purpose of research and study is not simply to accumulate a bunch of facts or trivia, but to gain information and the ability to use that information to understand the world, past and current events, and to positively impact present and future circumstances. I’m personally not impressed with people who can regurgitate tons of trivia. I’m more concerned with uncovering meaning and analysis, and discovering ways  to use that information to advance ourselves and/or solve problems.

We should support our radical intellectuals and activists. Instead of arguing over who is most important, we should encourage mutual respect and cooperation. Activists should read the work of radical intellectuals (alive and deceased) to better refine their analysis of the sociopolitical terrain. End this nonsensical hatred of scholars. If you’ve read or quoted Chancellor Williams, DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, Yosef Ben-Jochannan, John Henrik Clarke, Amos Wilson, Kwame Nkrumah, Huey P. Newton, Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael, Khalid Muhammad, Sister Souljah, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney, Angela Davis, or Cheikh Anta Diop, you actively respect and utilize the work of college-educated Black folk and are hard-pressed to question their revolutionary credibility; Likewise, If you admire Frederick Douglass, J.A. Rogers, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, Minister Farrakhan, Fannie Lou Hamer, Maya Angelou, or George Jackson, you appreciate self-taught organic Black intellectuals whose revolutionary credibility  is also above reproach.

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

The Importance of Brother Malcolm X 50 Years After His Assassination

malcolm angry

As any regular reader of my blog knows by now, I have tremendous respect for brother Malcolm X. In addition, according to my studies, I credit brother Malcolm with being a key ideological catalyst of the Black Arts & Consciousness  and Black Power Movements, the formation of Black Student Unions on college campuses, and their successful demand for Black Studies Departments throughout the nation. I’ve written a number of articles about my posthumous mentor, including one that discusses his general significance, one explaining meaningful ways to honor his legacy, an article that explores poetry written in tribute to him, and two fictional accounts of my interactions with brother Malcolm (Interview I and Interview II).

This is both Black History Month and more immediately, the 50th anniversary of Malcolm’s assassination. And while brother Malcolm remains a powerful icon for many of us (in one poll, 84% of Black youth between the ages of 15-24 viewed Malcolm as a “hero for Black people”), he is also still largely misunderstood and misinterpreted.

brothers talking about malcolm

Top Row from Left to right: Kitwana Tyhimba, Agyei Tyehimba, and Ishmael Bey Bottom left to right: Yusef Bunchy Shakur, Ngoma Hill, Jerome Walker

For these reasons, I asked 5 brothers – fellow activists and educators – from around the county and whom I deeply respect – to host a conversation about Malcolm X. They agreed, and we held a live and televised discussion about brother Malcolm over the internet on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. We did experience a few technical glitches, but the commentary was highly informative and powerful! I’m still receiving messages via Facebook, email and text from people expressing their appreciation for the show, and asking us to do more.

Many thanks to brothers Ishmael Bey (Syracuse/Florida), Ngoma Hill (Virgina/New York), Jerome Walker (Syracuse, NY), Kitwana Tyhimba (Oakland, California), and Yusef Bunchy Shakur (Detroit, Michigan) for their powerful insights and for all the work they do advocating for Black folk. I encourage you to view the recorded discussion below, and to support these good brothers in their various endeavors. In their own ways, they all are implementing the ideas of brother Malcolm and continuing his legacy.

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Black Lives Matter: Get Out of Your Cotton-Pickin’ Minds!

Engraving of Slaves Working In Field by Horace Bradley

Disclaimer: This article attempts to expand our understanding of the BlackLivesMatter slogan. It is not my intent to slur, critique or degrade the BlackLivesMatter Movement to challenge racist police brutality against Black people in ANY way. I respect and generally support any attempt to make Black people Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up.

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When I was a young boy, I sometimes heard Black folk use the expression, “You must be out of your cotton-pickin’ mind!” This expression was meant to suggest a person was crazy or disconnected from reality. The passionate way people said it, gave you the notion that you’d be well advised to STAY in your “cotton-pickin'” mind.

Look at the picture above, and repeat the phrase “cotton-picking mind” five times slowly. If it hasn’t dawned on you yet, I’m sure it will: A cotton-picking mind is an enslaved mind, or a mind bent toward subservience to others. Free-thinking and empowered Black people whose ancestors were forced to  actually pick cotton, tobacco, and rice  for the enrichment of others should never want to possess a cotton-picking mind. In fact, we should do everything possible to avoid obtaining such a mind.

It is an honor and a statement of empowerment to say you are OUT of your cotton-picking mind, unless of course, you value being used and abused by another human being or group that falsely believes itself to be your superior.

I’ve worked most of my life as a teacher, activist, public speaker and writer, to help Black folk get and stay out of their “cotton-pickin’ minds,” and I will continue to as long as I have breath in my lungs. By taking this stand, I proudly place myself in notable company. History confirms a long line of people who spoke out against injustice, protested mistreatment and brutality, and actively resisted attempts to subjugate us. Those great ancestors had differences of opinion and methods, but they all fought to advance and liberate us. Throughout our history in the United States, we also witnessed some people who attempted to collaborate with, defend and support our sworn enemies inspired either by cowardice, ignorance or greed. Such people were and are today, IN THEIR COTTON-PICKING MINDS!

In the 21st century, Black folk have the advantage of several liberation theories, models of leadership, and examples of liberation movements. We can easily become inspired or deeply confused and conflicted with such a flood of options, information, and sometimes highly intellectual ideas. But regardless of what leader we follow, or ideology we align with, one thing we cannot afford to forget is that slaves are considered the property of someone else. They are seen as OBJECTS to be controlled, exploited, and used to promote/fulfill another person or group’s interests. They are THINGS to be acted upon, but not to act in their own interests. They are NEVER taught to think, build, or speak for THEMSELVES. Nor do the generally agreed upon rules or rights of humanity extend to them.

This sobering realization explains why Black people had to fight against enslavement, Black Codes, Jim Crow, lynching, and still must fight against mass incarceration, police brutality, and poverty/class exploitation. Simply put, (as the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court decision highlighted) we have no rights “that white men are bound to respect.” Why? Because only people and citizens have rights. Dehumanized slaves are perceived as THINGS. In a society that reinforces this view in every way imaginable, it is easy for the enslaved to begin devaluing their own existence.

BLACKLIVESMATTER, therefore, is much more than a rallying cry against police brutality created in response to the Trayvon Martin tragedy. It is more powerful and enduring than a slogan across a t-shirt. It is a brilliant reminder of our own humanity and value. It is in fact, not simply a reactive statement of resistance to white racial oppression and degradation, but more importantly,  a proactive call for Black people to think and act in ways that empower, advance and protect US. In this sense, Black Lives Matter is both a statement TO THEM, and a statement FOR US. To them it defiantly says, “Who the FUCK do you think you’re dealing with? We’re not going for that bullshit anymore!” To us it says, “You are valuable and it’s not enough to proclaim it, you must do the things that people with self-worth and dignity do!” So for me, the statement Black Lives Matter means that we must:

  • educate ourselves and our children to be masterful and self-reliant leaders and problem-solvers
  • lead our own organizations, mount our own movements for justice, and never allow ANYONE (especially outsiders) to divert our attention or energy from the cause of Black liberation on all levels, or determine our tactics, issues, or leadership
  • be concerned with our  physical mental and emotional health
  • resist attempts within or outside of our community to limit our possibilities, curb our freedom, crush our spirits, or bring us physical/political/financial/psychological harm
  • express ourselves creatively, truthfully, and unashamedly
  • hold ourselves to a standard of excellence with respect to our organizations, studies, professions, relationships, and homes
  • become invested in our history and culture in addition to the ideas and struggles of our ancestors, and then implement and continue their tradition
  • set the collective concerns, success, and liberation of Black people as our first and primary priority

If we review our history in the U.S. we will discover that every one of our sociopolitical movements along with every push for independent Black institutions, had as their subconscious motto “Black Lives Matter.” I work for the day when these three words become more than a cry against police brutality, and more than a reactive statement to white folk, but a conscious, internalized and deliberate part of our culture. But first, we must get out of our “cotton-picking minds” IMMEDIATELY….

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Five Important (But Overlooked) Figures in the Black Liberation Struggle

mytruesense:

Another article from the crates for Black History Month

Originally posted on MY TRUE SENSE:

unsung heroes

We Live in an Encouraging Time!

Notwithstanding the continued legacy of white supremacy, anti-Black propaganda, and racial oppression, we  live in a time where we have more access to our true history more than ever before. Black intellectuals unearth more pieces of our historical jigsaw puzzle via books and articles while Internet search engines point us to pictures, documents, and multimedia clips  to supplement the information provided even in the most deficient social studies textbooks and mainstream media outlets.

Yet history is broad, and even with these encouraging developments, important people, information and experiences remain obscured in our historical narratives. For example, we can all name some significant figures in the Black Liberation Struggle, but our list often contains the same celebrated names recycled redundantly across generations. Therefore, we must reclaim our history and its meaning by expanding our pool of references and actively using them.

Objective of This Article

This article…

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