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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Black People: STILL America’s Best Kept Secret?

mytruesense:

I dug in the crates for this. Completely relevant for Black History Month.

Originally posted on MY TRUE SENSE:

Whenever we endeavor to write history, and to use historical developments to generate and define the context of contemporary developments, we truly engage in a necessary yet complicated  task. The task is necessary because we understand that all present-day circumstances and events find their roots in those preceding them. It follows that identifying and analyzing these historical events allows us to better understand and engage things taking place today.

What makes this task complicated is that people record and analyze history. These people do not exist in a vacuum, but are connected to social classes, privilege (or the lack thereof) and with them, ideological biases and slanted perspectives.These biases and politically loaded perspectives often lead historians (professional and novice) to focus on some events and people at the exclusion of others. Indeed, much of what is called “U.S. history,” is in fact  an amalgamation of privileged, wealthy, white,male narratives.

This…

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Making Black History Month Relevant Part II

black history matters

As Black History Month approaches,we face the typical avalanche of Black firsts, Black trivia facts, and a roll-call of all-too-familiar heroes and sheroes. Based on where you are in knowledge of self, these things have their place. I already wrote one article on the topic of using Black History Month (and all other months) much more fully than we currently do. This article constitutes the second part to that article.

As suggested in my first article,  I hope BHM becomes a time when we do more analysis of our condition and focus on learning and applying those lessons on the ground rather than in strictly theoretical ways. Imagine with me how beneficial it would be if BHM involved:

1. re-examining our understanding of key people like Malcolm X, Dr. King and others whose work and significance are routinely oversimplified and misinterpreted.

2. Discussing the concept of self-determination for Black people and how to implement this concept responsibly. Far too many people (including those of color) STILL insist on telling us what  issues to address, how to address them, and how to be more inclusive, without doing that same work in their own communities.

3. Exploring historical attempts to protect Black life (beyond proclamations that our lives matter)  from state-sponsored AND self-inflicted brutality.

4. Developing our people’s capacity to identify and prioritize issues, articulate them effectively, and engage in effective activism, organizing and INSTITUTION–BUILDING (the work of SNCC and Ella Baker are good models). This would include offering valid critiques of traditional organization and activism models and possibly creating alternatives or modifications to already existing models.

5. Studying government efforts to disrupt, spy on and destroy our organizations/movements and developing ways to neutralize these efforts

6. Finding ways to involve class and gender along with racial analysis in ways that make our political ideology/organizing more accurate, effective, and inclusive.

7. Determining how, when, and with whom to form alliances and to do so in ways that don’t compromise or dismiss our own needs/interests as we strive to accommodate others.

8. Identifying and studying unsung and obscured Black people, plans, experiences and organizations that might offer direction and remedies to problems we face today

9. Exploring ways to develop non-exploiting financial literacy and wealth-generating institutions to empower our communities to be more self-sufficient

10. Creating curricula in conjunction with a network of schools and extracurricular programs that make our children culturally, academically, financially, politically and spiritually literate and competent

11. Deconstructing and expanding our view of “activism” in addition to our understanding of who our “enemies” are. While others dominate and exploit us in every way imaginable, some of us hold on to outdated and rigid ideas of what “real activism” is. Technology and emerging issues and new forms of domination require expanded and more diverse views of organizing and activism. We also cannot afford to see our enemies as simply “the white man,” as corporate power and repressive policies/actions transcend simplified notions of racial affiliation. Nor can we fool ourselves into thinking that activism only consists of the “boots-on-the-ground” variety.

In addition, our concept of booking speakers must radically change. Churches, community centers and colleges have meager funds in these days of austerity. In light of this, speakers must make their fees more reasonable. Groups should not exhaust all or the majority of their budget to hire one speaker.

Not just the fee, but the content of speeches must change as well. Students, activists and members of the larger community need specific information and skills more than ever. The old Black History Month speech template included references to our ancient greatness, calls for Black unity and activism, bold statements against the U.S. government, references to great ( and often male) Black leaders, and a focus on attacking white society while inspiring Black folks.

This template and formula are not sufficient today. Today’s speakers must help audiences understand how oppression works, provide specific tools/information in a relevant area of expertise, and provide materials we can reference once they depart for their next speech. Speakers should consult with the group hiring them to determine their specific needs, so they can provide relevant and useful information rather than generic, one-size-fits-all presentations. We must move forward, refine, and progress as a people, constantly working on improving and becoming more effective.

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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.

Maintaining our Voice in Narratives of Activism

sas protest

Activists are human beings. As such, some harbor some of the very oppressive attitudes they are sworn to oppose: racism, patriarchy, elitism, self absorption, racial, gender, sexuality or class privilege, etc. I’ve found that white activists for example, often frame their conferences and issues in such a way that privileges white narratives of feminism, white supremacy, homophobia, over Black perspectives of the same things. We cannot rely on others to tell our stories. express our pain, or articulate our issues better or more powerfully than WE.

Nor can we allow others to tell ANY story of activism or social justice and omit or trivialize the pivotal role and contributions of BLACK PEOPLE!  Study American history and observe how Black people have always been the radical conscience of the U.S. Observe also how our movements and activism have inspired other oppressed and dominated people to organize their own liberation movements. Then observe how we’ve had to fight with white activists over what stories to tell and WHI should tell them . Read Frederick Douglass’ issues with William Lloyd Garrison, Sojouner Truth’s issues with white suffragists, Dr. King’s issues with white clergy members, or Black feminists’ issues with their white counterparts.

This does not imply that Black people cannot or should not work with others to address issues of social injustice. It does mean that if we do choose to enter alliances/partnerships with others, we do not allow those partners to dominate the discussion, determine demands, strategy or tactics or policies for us or without our input,  or to privilege their issues and interests over our own.

Take this advice lightly at your own risk. These considerations manifest in every oppressor/oppressed dynamic: men attempt to dominate and frame discussions of gender and patriarchy; whites do the same with discussions of race; middle class interests impose its values and leadership on the working class, white feminism often excludes the leadership, issues and achievements of Black or Latina feminists.

I’ve accepted an invitation to participate in a two-day student activism teach-in at Syracuse University, where I completed my undergraduate education and was president of the highly activist Student African American Society. SAS, as it was known, launched an 8-month campaign to improve and rejuvenate our African American Studies Department on campus.

This campaign involved political education and propaganda, widespread community outreach and coalition-building (among professors, students, and the larger community), a petition drive, an array of press conferences/radio and television interviews, and two semesters of intense protests, rallies, meeting disruptions, and building takeovers. We out strategized the university and compelled Chancellor Melvin Eggers, Arts & Sciences Dean Samuel Gorovitz, and Vice Chancellor Gershon Vincow (with permission from the Board of Trustees of course) to agree to all 13 of our demands. The university’s attempt to punish me for leading this campaign resulted in a list of false charges against me including inciting a riot, destroying school property and assaulting campus security. If found guilty at a university hearing, I faced expulsion from school. Because SAS did such an excellent job of community outreach, political education, and coalition-building, NOT ONE student, professor or Syracuse community member serving on the hearing board showed up to the hearing! This tremendous display of solidarity forced the university to drop all charges against me and other SAS leaders. The entire school and larger community (residents, pastors, civil rights and interracial pacifist groups) got involved. All demands agreed to. No student punished. MLK Library moved, refurbished, and developed into an award-winning institution. The hiring of a full-time chairperson and more graduate teaching assistants. The creation of a Master’s degree program in African American Studies. The complete overhaul and increased funding for the Community Folk Art Gallery (R.I.P. to professor Herb Williams).

I’ve reviewed the list of activities, topics, and speakers at the teach-in I’m attending. There appears to be a strong emphasis on white woman feminists, gay/transgender activism, and “activist history” from particular perspectives.

I’m supposed to speak on a panel of current and former SU activists, after viewing a documentary about campus activism. I get the uneasy sense that the triumphant struggle of Black students at Syracuse University will overlooked and reduced in terms of its impact and significance. What WE accomplished on campus and in the community is poised to be suffocated between discussions of feminism, heteronormative oppression and other narratives of resistance by more privileged people/issues. But then again, this will not occur on my watch, not while I’m still breathing. It appears that not just Black lives but Black resistance, collective memory and agency matter as well…

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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.

4 Myths about Dr. Martin Luther King

mytruesense:

Old article but still relevant….

Originally posted on MY TRUE SENSE:

Dr. King1

Today we observe the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday and reflect upon Dr. King’s message, mission and moral mandate.  Much of what transpires today is predictable: Students have no classes, many workers have the day off, and opportunistic corporations will likely have sales in his “honor.” Churches and community centers will hold large and small commemorations and television networks will air their annual Dr. King movies, interviews, and news specials. Some of us will play audio or video clips of Dr. King’s passionately poetic speeches and marvel at his courage, commitment and vision.

President Obama swears in a private ceremony held at the White House on January 20th. The public ceremony takes place today President Obama swears in a private ceremony held at the White House on January 20th. The public ceremony takes place today

Of course, the magnitude of this day is not lost on President Barack Obama whose inauguration ceremony coincides with King’s holiday.  According to the Constitution, Presidential inaugurations occur on January 20th. So President Obama…

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Calling the Black Church: Take a Stand Against Police Brutality!

churches protest

My appreciation for the Black church is well-documented, as are my critiques. Among other things, sound scholarship requires a balanced and nuanced approach, the ability and willingness to appreciate one side of a debate even while taking a valid opposing position.

Discussing the Black church adequately requires this nuanced thinking, particularly when political activism and social justice frame the discussion. On one hand, we can argue that as an institution, the Black church (especially its Protestant branches) has advocated for its congregants and extended congregants in the larger Black community. It created some of our first places of literacy and learning in the United States. It provided safe places for us to meet, renew our spirits, reinterpret Biblical passages and white theology into a Social Gospel to make sure God’s “Will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven.”The Abolition Movement, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights Movement could not be sustained without the Black church. Whether through protest music, projects of benevolence, education, or organizing the community to politically agitate, the Black church played a pivotal and indispensable variety of roles in the struggle for Black liberation and empowerment.

And yet, our church is not above critique. After centuries of white cultural imperialism, and the deliberate erasure of our role in world civilization and U.S. history, too many of our churches insist that “God has no color,” but continue to depict Jesus Christ as a white man on their stained-glass windows, and refuse to teach congregants about their cultural, aesthetic, and historical beauty and greatness; The church – like every other institution – suffers from patriarchy and gender bias. While Black women continue to comprise the overwhelming majority of Black church congregants, financial supporters, and volunteer workers/leaders, relatively few lead a church in the role of minister; The church dragged its feet and took an infamously conservative position on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in years past, presumably because it was uncomfortable having conversations about then-taboo subjects of fornication and homosexuality.

The Black church (representing as it does a people who are still stereotyped, criminalized, killed by police, underrepresented in sites of power and over-represented with respect to incarceration, deprivation, drugs and fratricide) must have a theology that connects spiritual edification to earthly empowerment. This becomes crystal clear with the issue of anti-Black police brutality. Police officers attack or kill Black and Brown people with disturbing frequency and are predictably exonerated.

The Black church cannot isolate itself to the pulpit or the pew, locking itself in a spiritual castle surrounded by a moat of dead Black bodies mangled by police bullets, white hatred, or Black apathy. Black Ministers and congregations throughout the United States must uphold the value of Black life and find ways to engage local communities in discussion, prayer and activism around the issue of police brutality.

This society has attempted criminalize an entire race of people. Your spiritual beliefs, church affiliation, or denomination offer you no protection from police brutality. Stand up, Black church, like you did in the era of enslavement. Be the radical moral conscience of this country like you did during the Civil Rights Movement. T.D. Jakes and churches in Los Angeles, and in other cities throughout this nation. Some ministers and churches are doing fine work, but the pressure has decreased since last month largely because two NYPD officers were murdered.  We applaud and support those churches taking a stand on the issue of police brutality and incorporating this into their sermons and activism. But far too many are preaching the same ole’ “God will make a way out of no way” or “Put on the whole armor of God” sermons devoid of any political education, organizing or activism.

As I understand Christian theology, Jesus healed the sick, cured the blind, made the lame walk, fed the hungry, educated the ignorant, and resurrected the dead. Whether you interpret these miracles to be actual or symbolic, the point is that the Christ was not only concerned about earthly issues affecting common people, but meaningfully involved in addressing them.

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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.

Police Brutality is The Issue!

black_livesSome politically aware members of the Black community are disgruntled because they feel we’re giving the issue of police brutality way too much of our time and energy. Allow me to humbly share another perspective: We do have a multitude of serious issues to address (including but not limited to, education, gang violence, poverty, incarceration, environmental concerns, healthcare, domestic violence,  war, unemployment,  etc).

Fortunately, there are organizations addressing all of these issues and more. We can debate the relative importance and priority ranking of these issues. As time, money and energy are finite, we are wise to sort through these issues and determine which are more or less pivotal.

However, we should recognize when an issue deeply resonates with the masses in ways other concerns don’t. The issue of police brutality has energized and activated pastors, entertainers, students, athletes, the working and middle classes, all races, and our young and elderly. People who’ve never protested before are taking to the streets, finally proclaiming, “Enough is Enough.”

Observe the ongoing protests, rallies and “die-in” demonstrations taking place all over this country. The people have spoken. Clearly, this is an issue our people are united on, angry over and feel compelled to address.

I do not exaggerate when I write, “Police brutality is to this generation what abolition was to the19th century,  desegregation was to the 50s and 60s, and apartheid was to the 80s.”

The murders of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Akai Gurley, represent the Rosa Parks incidents of this generation. In my personal opinion, Black people had every right to hit the streets in righteous indignation around any number of issues, even if NO acts of police brutality occured! Nevertheless,  Police brutality is one issue that galvanizes everyone. As people overcome their fear of repressive authority and develop leadership skills/thinking, and political consciousness, they will likely turn their attention to other societal ills and become meaningfully involved in resolving them. This is typically how activism works.

For all of these reasons therefore,  I for one, made the decision to give this issue my FULL energy and attention for the time being. After all, if you don’t have life, little else  matters anyway. This issue reminds us and  others of two basic principles that have traditionally fueled all social change movements in our history : “BLACK LIVES MATTER,”  and since others oppose or compromise our right to exist as equally empowered  human beings , “WE FIGHT to BREATHE.”

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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.

Why Whites Justify and Defend Police Brutality

police support

[P.S. Please join our NATIONWIDE PROTEST AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY ON JANUARY 19, 2015. Visit the We Fight 2 Breathe website for more information.]

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When crisis occurs on a huge level, we can respond in several ways. We can crumble under the pressure and bury our heads in the sand, we can become bitter or self-pitying, or we can analyze the situation, learn from it and more forward.

No one would disagree that the ongoing issue of police officers killing Black people with impunity is a crisis on a HUGE level. Rather than becoming bitter, self-pitying or indifferent, I suggest we see this issue as a teachable moment (in addition to resisting it at every turn). Every time a police officer murders a Black person in the United States and faces no adequate punishment for his/her deed, we protest or cry out for justice. Whites consequently respond to our protest, usually in resentful and non sympathetic ways. We can learn much about the nature of this country via white backlash to Black resistance. This phenomenon reveals much about white supremacy, the perception of Black people, and whites’ own naiveté.

The tragic and unnecessary murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley – and in a separate but related issue – New York City police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, teach us about the issue of police brutality and its related consequences. But our lessons don’t stop there. These tragedies also lift the curtains of white American psyche and reveal disturbing attitudes, perceptions and instincts that forcefully explain the significance of race in our society and why racial injustice will likely be here for some time to come.

First, we must understand that police brutality is not a new or modern phenomenon for Black people. State-sanctioned and organized violence has always been the “enforcer” or “muscle” behind white supremacist policies. This began centuries ago when whites first invaded the African continent to snatch Black people for purposes of enslavement.  It manifested again when European powers colonized the continent, and used indigenous labor to mine the soil for diamonds, gold, rubber and other resources to jump-start European industrial growth. Whether under the guise of enslavement, colonialism, imperialism or modern inner-city occupation, military force was/is a constant. The only differences were the uniforms, weapons, language, dialect used or time period employed.

Why was military force so crucial? Because no one wants to be exploited, enslaved or mistreated. People will rebel, resist and refuse to cooperate with their subjugation. White supremacists therefore needed coercion to control our wealth and labor and intimidate us from mounting any resistance to their efforts. Police – despite what we learned in school – do not actually exist to “protect and serve” the poor or marginalized. They exist to protect and serve state power, policies and property. They exist to monitor, intimidate, and control the masses so that the corporations and government can run smoothly and safely with minimal glitches.

This is not to suggest that modern police do not provide important services to non-affluent or well-connected citizens. They do intervene in domestic disputes and help to prevent or solve a variety of crimes. Society does require some degree of safety and complete chaos is bad for business. Also, an aspiring police-state in a “leader of the free world” nation like the United States must carefully camouflage its sinister intentions, lest it lose face throughout the world and lead the masses to initiate full-scale revolution. When we challenge police brutality then, we confront more than police violence; we also challenge the very nature and structure of U.S. culture and that of its police force, must ultimately be radically transformed. It’s tactics and practices need reforming, but even farther, the nation and its police force will need to be rebuilt with vastly different objectives, values, and priorities.

In fairness, we must concede that several thousands of whites in this country acknowledge and oppose the disproportionate assault and murder of Black people by  police officers. In city after city, whenever protests occur, we notice mixed crowds, with whites chanting, marching, “dying-in” and being arrested, alongside Black folk. Regardless of our political ideology, we simply predict people’s politics based on their racial identity. We cannot easily place people in rigid categories or sides regarding the issue of police brutality. For example, We know of police watch groups and  activities supported largely by white activists, and regular citizens. Their struggle and sacrifice are duly noted and appreciated.

Nevertheless, why do so many whites justify and support the very police forces that mistreat and kill us? Why do so many blame us for being attacked and killed? And what does this tell us about this country and about the nature of white supremacy? This  is the question of the hour.

  • Many whites even when presented with the statistics and other evidence refuse to acknowledge anti-Black police brutality. This denial is sometimes psychological. Such whites don’t want to admit that this country still mistreats certain citizens because they desperately need to believe that this country, and by extension themselves, are as fair-minded, and good-hearted as they proclaim they are. How else can people rail against human rights abuses in other nations and psychologically distance themselves from their equally inhumane behavior? How else can they salute the flag, and praise American military campaigns against the “bad guys” overseas? In the divisive game of us vs. them, privileged whites need an outsider to oppose. Therefore, whites’ insensitivity to us meets a psychological need.
  • Some whites don’t empathize with the pain and suffering of Black people because deep down inside they believe the racial stereotypes classifying Black people as violent, criminal and prone to exaggeration about racial injustice. In other words, when a cop kills one of us, they believe that we  deserve it.
  • The white establishment has long worked to separate whites and Blacks and encouraged even poor whites to have antagonistic relations with and perceptions of Black people. There was a time long ago when poor whites and Blacks fought together to defeat the rich white planter class in the U.S. Privileged whites responded by legally punishing poor whites that sympathized with Black resistance rather than enjoying their racial privileges. This created a false sense of alliance with privileged white elites against Black people with whom they shared class oppression. Creating rigid racial and class divisions among poor whites and Blacks serves the elite’s interests, as they can prevent possibly revolutionary interracial class alliances between Blacks and whites, and maintain control over both groups. In this sense, whites have been duped.
  • Many whites have a deep-seated fear of Black violence and retribution. Given the opportunity, they believe, Black people will harm or kill them in retaliation for all the years of discrimination, brutality and exploitation. They see the police then, as their security blanket against Black insurrection and therefore are prone to support and defend them. This also explains the exaggerated media, financial support, and “hero” status awarded to slain officers Ramos and Liu. This becomes necessary both to support American values and reverence for the police.

In conclusion, the verdict is clear. Our perspectives, values and interests are not shared by everyone. There will be times when whites and our own people are unwilling or unable to “get it.” In the case of whites, this is because they derive privilege and status relief from our subjugation. Our people cower in fear of their enemies, in addition to naive and unreciprocated feelings of humanitarianism and “oneness.”  But our struggle is a righteous one, and we must wage it regardless of outside vindication or dissension from family members OR outsiders. Simply put, white folks don’t get to decide what Black people get upset about or how we choose to express our outrage. Black lives DO matter, and no one, cop or otherwise has a license to kill us with impunity. We are tired of people’s attempts to decide which of our issues is ‘worthy” of our attention or to champion and defend those responsible for our death.  We are tired of being pressured to grieve for others or empathize with their pain, when NO ONE GRIEVES FOR US! When the two NYC police officers were killed, they were labeled “heroes,” flags flew at half-mast, and every media personality described their murders as “executions” or “assassinations.” The city began raising money to pay of the mortgages of their wives and children. Who cries for us? Who acknowledges our humanity and right to live? It is insulting that when our people are killed we have to defend why they did not deserve to die! Police officers lives are no more precious than the lives of civilians. Nor will we allow whites to determine our political priorities or “heroes.”

The sad reality here is that for all the so-called “progress” everyone tell us we’ve made, white supremacy, along with its insulting assumptions, perceptions, and unwritten truths, is alive and well. It is infuriating to know that the average person will get more jail time for killing a DOG than they will for shooting and killing an unarmed Black man. Just ask Michael Vick.This fact, and the fact that white folks are comfortable with and derive privileges from the racist state of affairs, practically guaranteeing a long life for white supremacy. It’s not just a simple matter of life and death, but of privilege, identity, and values. And that is the grand lesson here. Black lives, in far too many instances only matter to Black people…..

P.S. Please join our NATIONWIDE PROTEST AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY ON JANUARY 19, 2015. Visit the We Fight 2 Breathe website for more information.

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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.