The Black Conscious Community Must Resolve Our Contradictions!

steve biko quote

The issue of Umar Johnson and his mission to build a new academy for Black boys, provoked a number of issues and perspectives, either from his tenacious supporters or steadfast critics. I’ve engaged some of these issues by writing an article supporting his mission to build the academy, an open letter asking him to respond to community questions concerning his leadership ethics and fundraising transparency, and a third article arguing that we have a right and responsibility to question and critique Umar, or anyone else for that matter.

These three articles have helped to stimulate plenty of engaged and intelligent dialogue around the topics of Black leadership, and the role of legitimate critique in the Black community, all across the country and in other parts of the world.

My articles, and hundreds of posts on social media pertaining to Umar Johnson, have also stimulated some of the most backward, reactionary and oppressor-friendly conversations and comments I’ve heard/read in quite some time.

This article will identify and address some of those perspectives, with an attempt to demonstrate how each is problematic and counter-revolutionary.  Why take the time and energy to explore these things? Because at the end of the day, I want myself, my children/loved ones, and our people to truly be free and empowered. All of my organizing, intellectual and activist pursuits begin and end with this objective in mind. Put another way, I’m constantly trying to promote and realize brother Malcolm’s brilliant call for us to Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!

I also place such importance on this issue because the debate over Umar Johnson reveals disturbing traits within the Black conscious community, that very segment of our people  presumed to represent a radical leadership segment in our community. To summarize, the debate over Umar Johnson is actually much larger than the controversial psychologist/public speaker himself; I argue that the the often hostile exchange of words and ideas in this case, reveal and force us to examine some contradictory and reactionary elements of thinking among those who proclaim themselves or are perceived to be informed, sociopolitically aware, and progressive.

Do us a favor

Many of these folks claim brother Malcolm or Marcus Garvey as their political mentors, yet fail to see how their policies directly contradict these leaders or fail to learn from their mistakes. If these people (conscious Black folk) exhibit deep conflicts around pivotal issues in our community, it’s safe to say the masses of our people and our struggle for liberation are in grave trouble.If such individuals honestly believe many of the things I’ve read in the last two weeks, then many of those folk calling themselves “conscious” are in fact positioning themselves to be conscious sellouts, or elements whose policies and practices ironically help to keep us oppressed, divided and powerless. Our collective oppressors facilitate this arrangement in every way they can. For as South African revolutionary Steve Biko noted, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor, is the mind of the oppressed.”

Let us then examine and deconstruct some of these reactionary and counter-revolutionary policies and practices revealed by the Umar Johnson controversies:

1. “It is unpatriotic or disloyal to criticize those attempting to advance Black issues and interests.”  I addressed this at length in my previous article. I noted that:

It appears that Umar Johnson and many of his supporters/followers do not appreciate critique, even in its legitimate forms. He/they characterize ALL critics or detractors (whether their critiques/questions are valid or not) as “agents,” “maggots,” and “haters.” Yet any of us who are community activists, intellectuals, organizers, students, workers, athletes or business owners know that as brother Malcolm stated, “If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success.”

I went on to argue that valid criticism helps to guard us against fraudulent leaders/initiatives, and helps to improve the efforts/strategy/thinking of authentic leaders and initiatives. The only people who reject or resent legitimate critique are cult leaders, their followers, and narcissists. Some people use the “if you criticize me, you’re a sell-out” tactic to hide their shady dealings and have unscrutinized access to our minds, labor and wallets.Others in the conscious community make the false assumption that critique translates to a complete rejection of the leader or program. This reactionary position stems from overly rigid and dogmatic thinking. This approach keeps us stagnant and sets our entire movement backwards. True revolutionaries or conscious people welcome well-supported and accurate critique, and become better for having done so. Malcolm X himself taught us the value of being open to critique ourselves, and of critiquing others. Stop quoting and referencing our brilliant brother if you refuse to quote and reference him accurately. It is in fact, disloyal and reactionary to allow someone you respect to act or speak in ways that divide, confuse, and abuse our people, or potentially retard our forward motion. Think about that.

2. “We can challenge oppression and intolerance in some areas, but allow it in others.”  Many of us in the Nationalist community challenge racial bigotry and political ultra-conservatism. When confronting white supremacy, we fiercely defend our right of self-determination, arguing that we are entitled to think for ourselves, identify ourselves and advance our interests as we see fit. We refuse to allow the so-called “dominant” group or mainstream society make such decisions for us. Yet some of these folk completely disregard and even ridicule similar rights for Black women, and members of the LGBT community. And to make matters worse, they don’t even see the glaring contradiction.

In the Black community, Black heterosexual men are the dominant and mainstream group. Like whites in a white supremacist framework, Black heterosexual men set and enforce the rules and standards of belief and practice in our families, places of worship, and community organizations. Like oppressive whites, some Black men presume to tell other Black folk what is acceptable and appropriate, using pseudo religious, scientific and other justifications. Racist whites used similar reasons to justify our enslavement, degradation and oppression. We act as if patriarchy and homophobia don’t exist; like women and members of the LGBT community are not routinely attacked, murdered, and discriminated against. We turn a blind eye to domestic abuse, because women are “the weaker gender,” and need to “stay in their place” and be submissive to the Black male agenda. We “love Black people” but remain indifferent to legions of our people that because of our ignorance, are forced to live in shame, leading them to marry or date women or men they don’t love or in the worse case, kill themselves. This is an oppressive posture and one that threatens to keep our community infinitely divided and hostile. The only intellectually valid concern (in my opinion) about the growth of a Black gay community is that it raises the possibility of reduced reproduction and therefore the possible depopulation of our people. But there will always be a significant heterosexual population based on probability and free choice (even with the existence as some believe, of a conspiracy to turn the entire Black community gay).

To my fellow Black Nationalists and members of the conscious community: Liberation from oppression and intolerance must be TOTAL. Let people be (and also remember that some of the people who articulate the most vitriolic anti-gay sentiment and policies often tend to have gay inclinations and curiosities themselves!) The last time I checked, white men and women (some members of the LGBT community) work together to subjugate us. They may disagree on methods or ideology, but they do agree on lording over us. As much hell as we collectively catch from ALL TYPES of white folk and their collaborators, we need ALL competent and trustworthy hands on deck anyway! As I wrote before:

Everyone has the right and responsibility to fight oppression however that may manifest (even if that makes other people “uncomfortable). If Black people are not thieves, rapists, sell outs, serial killers, or con artists (regardless of their gender or sexual lifestyle/identity)…..I can find room to work with them.

I will also share some pointed words my (now deceased) uncle shared with me some 20 years ago when he challenged my rigid views on homosexuality at the time:

 “You say you love Black people and Black history, right? Well Langston Hughes was gay. Bayard Rustin was gay. James Baldwin was gay. Hoyt Fuller was gay. Alice Walker is gay…. and so were/are many others openly or otherwise. Many political activists are gay as well, and by the way nephew, I’m gay….are you going to wipe all of us out of history? Will you disown all of us as members of the Black community? Are we all sick or living in sin? How is your position any different from the racist whites you oppose?”

At some point, the Black conscious community will have to determine that our fight is for total – not selective – liberation. This doesn’t mean we all need to become feminists or march in a gay parade (I won’t). It doesn’t even mean we need to agree with all elements of feminist ideology or co-sign a LGBT lifestyle. But it does mean that we extend the same freedom of choice and right to self identification and determination that we hold so dear. By the way, isn’t this what we mean by the expression BLACK SOLIDARITY….working together and defending each other around common areas of interest, despite our other differences?

3. “An agent or sell-out is someone who disagrees with a member of the conscious community.” This belief is strongly related to the first one I addressed. A person that disagree with someone, is simply that….a person who disagrees with someone. Why and on what grounds that person disagrees, is another story altogether.

The word “agent” needs real clarification, as it is a term that is frequently (and sometimes inaccurately) used to characterize people.  In the context of politics or political struggle, an “agent,” is someone who works for or with a government “agency” (usually law enforcement or intelligence) to specifically advance its interests.

Agents take different forms in the United States. An agent provocateur is a person sent by a police department, the FBI or CIA to induce people in the infiltrated organization to break the law or do something unethical. This gives the police or whomever, the ability to arrest people in the organization. This is done to disrupt leadership in the organization and thereby make it less effective, confused, and non-productive. This tactic also sabotages the organization’s finances, as it must raise money for frequent and costly attorney fees. A provocateur that infiltrates an organization will do things like persuade a member to steal, commit an act of violence against another person or property, or engage in a fraudulent act. Another thing they might do is tell members that a certain leader or member is a “snitch” or informant. This tactic was effectively used against the Black Panther Party. This creates distrust in the organization, and often leads members to assault, murder or expel this member from the organization.

An informant is another type of agent. As the name suggests, an informant infiltrates an organization, establishes a trustworthy reputation, and then provides information about the group, it’s leadership, finances and plans to the police or intelligence agencies. This information can include financial records or “books,” minutes of meetings, leadership charts and duties, upcoming protests, names and addresses of members, or in the case of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, an exact diagram of a leader’s apartment, supplied by bodyguard-turned-informant William O’Neal (who received $10,000 for his services). View the handwritten diagram below:

Fred_Hampton_floor-plansTrue agents destabilize our organizations, frustrate our liberation movements, and receive money for their deeds. Their sneaky and shameful actions often lead to false arrests, expulsion and humiliation of authentic and committed Black people, and even murder. It is therefore highly irresponsible for any member of the conscious community to label someone an “agent” without sufficient proof to support the accusation. When people do this without discretion or proof just to punish people that disagree with them, such people should be called out for their unacceptable behavior. And, we should give thought to whether people who resort to such inappropriate methods deserve to speak on our behalf or be considered “Conscious.”

4. “We can invoke the names and legacies of great Black leaders, without following their example or learning from their mistakes.” Anyone who has seriously studied the Honorable Marcus Garvey should not just invoke his name, accomplishments, or elements of his ideology. We should also be familiar with the factors that led to his  personal and organizational demise. It’s very easy and convenient to blame it all on the white man. I blame most of our issues on the white man, with some degree of enabling from ourselves! We already know the external factors, starting with J. Edgar Hoover’s infiltration and sustained attack on Garvey and the UNIA. I own the collected writings of Marcus Garvey (a huge four-volume set) which in addition to Garvey’s fliers, reports, and articles, includes informants’ notes, and Hoover’s own twisted plans to destroy him.

What we seldom explore are Garvey’s own actions that helped facilitate the UNIA’s and his own demise. We often do this because in our adoration for authentic leaders we sometimes romanticize them as infallible, forgetting that they like us are imperfect. Yet, this type of critique and study is essential if we are to continue and improve upon their legacies. The most reliable and well-researched books and documentaries on Marcus Garvey note the following points which are relevant to the Umar Johnson issues: Garvey didn’t take kindly to legitimate critique or suggestions from those in or outside of his organization;  He resented and distrusted bi-racial Blacks (then called “Mulattoes) whom he believed suffered from a superiority complex, and were loyal to white interests. This led him to verbally attack and ridicule his bi-racial contemporaries including some of his own Caribbean brethren; He had a tendency to think he could perform any task himself (including some for which he was unqualified, which led him for example to act as his own lawyer in the infamous mail fraud trial which along with government and negro sabotage, ultimately led to his imprisonment and deportation); He was notoriously poor at managing money and keeping financial records, often mixing personal with organizational finances; He alienated and attacked Black intellectuals (DuBois) and Black Marxist leaders (Cyril Briggs) with whom he could have built powerful alliances; While he renounced American and European imperialism toward Africa, he nevertheless crowned himself “President” of the entire continent and saw the UNIA’s partial mission as “civilizing the backward tribes of Africa” and promoting “a conscientious spiritual worship among the native tribes of Africa.” In other words, Marcus Garvey – like all great leaders – had blind spots, weaknesses, and some contradictions. Shouldn’t we learn from our great brother whom we love, rather than make his same mistakes?

My beloved brother Malcolm X too, had blind spots and made errors in judgement. The major difference is that he acknowledged some of them and spent time attempting to address and correct them. Malcolm’s patriarchy is addressed in his autobiography:

As a young minister I wouldn’t have considered it possible for me to love any woman. I had too much experience that women were only tricky, deceitful, untrustworthy flesh.

Yet Malcolm would evolve to see Black women as competent companions in the Black Liberation Movement. Returning from his second trip to Africa in 1964, he noted:

In every backward country you’ll find the women are backward, and in every country where education is not stressed it’s because the women don’t have education. So one of the things I became thoroughly convinced of in my recent travels is the importance of giving freedom to the women, giving her education, and giving her the incentive to get out there and put the same spirit and understanding in her children. And I am frankly proud of the contributions that our women have made in the struggle for freedom and I’m one person who’s for giving them all the leeway possible because they’ve made a greater contribution than many of us men.

William Sales in his book  “From Civil Rights to Black Liberation: Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity,” notes how Malcolm challenged and began to evolve on the issue of women in leadership. In fact, brother Malcolm observed the stubborn patriarchy among some member of the OAAU, and made a conscious decision to involve  a sister named Lynn Shefflet and another named Sarah Mitchell, in its leadership.

Prior to 1964, brother Malcolm abrasively attacked and name-called other leaders whose ideology he disagreed with. It was not uncommon for him to call leaders like Roy Wilkins or Dr. King “handkerchief heads,” Uncle Toms,” or “Sell-outs.” Prior to his  departure from the Nation of Islam, he  began to articulate the need for a Black United Front in his “Message to the Grassroots” speech. Upon leaving the Nation of Islam, he again articulated our need to work together, and actually apologized for making personal attacks against other Black leaders:

I’m not out to fight other Negro leaders or organizations. We must find a common approach, a common solution, to a common problem. As of this minute, I’ve forgotten everything bad that the other leaders have said about me, and I pray they can also forget the many bad things I’ve said about them.

Lastly, Brother Malcolm encouraged critique, questioning, and continuing to learn and grow:

“If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success. ”

Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds. I have always kept an open mind, a flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of the intelligent search for truth.

All of us should be critics of each other. Whenever you can’t stand criticism you can’t grow. 

In conclusion, the recent controversy surrounding Umar Johnson are much bigger than him. The Black conscious community has some serious soul-searching and studying to do and equally serious choices to make. Will we expand our views to make them consistent with ethical leadership and the revolutionary principle of total liberation, or will we remain imprisoned by rigid and reactionary views? Will we continue and improve upon the legacies of our beloved leaders whose names we readily invoke, or will we fall victim to their same issues? Will we become part of the solution, or remain a stubborn and backward part of the problem? The choice to resolve our contradictions, is ours.

P.S. One more thing. We need to critique the RBG concept. Being “Gangsta” is NOT revolutionary.

_____________________

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.

We Have a Right and Responsibility to Critique Dr. Umar Johnson

malcolm critics

Not long ago, I wrote an article in support of Umar Johnson’s mission to create an academy for boys, followed by a June 19th open letter asking him to respond to legitimate community questions.

I knew that Dr. Umar’s response would be revealing. If he chose not to respond, it would display his disregard for the Black community he presumes to lead; If he responded by respectfully answering the questions posed, he would reveal himself as a sincere man of the people with a humble spirit and nothing to hide.  Umar, I thought, could also take a third approach and respond with bitterness, accusation, and bravado, without adequately addressing the questions raised to him. Umar chose the third approach. Johnson posted the following indirectly direct response on his Facebook page:

“I’ve been made aware of all the hate that has been directed towards me via social media during the past 48 hours, but please keep in mind that it is nothing compared to all the love that I receive. The hate filled articles, youtube cameos, so-called open letters, interviews, & upcoming events that seek to approximate, directly or indirectly, either the drama, my political platform, or both, have done nothing to derail me from my goals. When shit gets spilled the maggots cannot help but to play in it, so let’s let them have their 5 minutes of fame. My attorney has been apprised of the situation and paperwork for the major players in the “Umar Must Go” campaign will be served accordingly. On the other hand, I’ve been receiving nothing but positive letters of support from around the world. FDMG fundraiser donations have seen an increase, and requests to travel the world to address the plight of our people has skyrocketed as of late. In a very ironic manner, these recent attacks have served to strengthen the support for Dr.Umar & FDMG, not weaken it. As for these opportunistic haters in the conscious community, less fortunate “scholars” and con-artists, I see everything, and when the smoke clears your asses will be as irrelevant as before. Throwing rocks at the throne is a waste of time; if you want the crown you gotta come and take it…..”

His response was accusatory, bitter, arrogant, and most importantly, did not address any of the legitimate questions posed (in my open letter). In response, I wrote the following on Facebook:

My two blog articles regarding brother Umar Johnson and his mission to educate our youth have attracted thousands of views and mixed responses from others including one from Umar himself (though not directed specifically to me). This is my response to those who’ve turned an opportunity for mature dialogue into an opportunity to be ugly, competitive and accusatory:

“I wrote this open letter and a previous article regarding brother Umar’s mission to educate our youth. I believe both writings are self-explanatory, but some have attempted to misrepresent my words. I am not accountable for others’ comments. My own words speak for me. I don’t know how anyone could read those articles and suggest that I’m a sellout, or that I’m “hating” on Umar. If the Conscious Community cannot tolerate legitimate critique and cannot recognize when they/we are wrong or inappropriate, then we must reconsider if we have a viable Conscious Community at all. Only cult leaders, their followers, or narcissists behave or think in this manner.”

Curiously, Umar Johnson answered none of the questions raised, but instead referred to those questioning him as “maggots,” and “opportunistic haters;”  He refused to explain or apologize for his demeaning and insulting behavior; He even promised  legal action against some of his critics; Lastly, he insinuated that he was the “king” (of what  exactly will have to be determined) and tauntingly suggested that “throwing rocks” (criticizing his words and leadership) was not sufficient; If we want the “throne” (that he possesses or occupies) we must “come and take it.”

It appears that Umar Johnson and many of his supporters/followers do not appreciate critique, even in its legitimate forms. He characterizes ALL critics or detractors (whether their critiques/questions are valid or not) as “agents,” “maggots,” and “haters.” Yet any of us who are community activists, intellectuals, organizers, students, workers, athletes or business owners know that as brother Malcolm stated, “If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success.” I write this article to argue for our right to be critical or question anything and anyone. Contrary to what others may say or believe, being critical is our right and responsibility. This especially applies  to prominent individuals .who come to us asking for large sums of money, and who promote themselves as leaders.

All we need do is read Chester Himes’ 1965 novel, “Cotton Comes to Harlem” (later

Reverend Deke O'Malley in

Reverend Deke O’Malley in “Cotton Comes To Harlem.” O’Malley hustled the Black community with false promises of relocating back to Africa.

done as a movie) to understand our need to be critically supportive of Black leaders/spokespersons or their empowerment initiatives.

In this book/movie, a con man disguised as “Reverend Deke O’Malley,” masterfully uses Black Nationalist rhetoric and bogus references to Marcus Garvey to scam Black Harlemites into paying him $100 each for shares to purchase a ship called “Black Beauty.” This ship, according to the con artist preacher, will take them back to Africa. Eventually O’Malley seduces $87,000 from the Harlem community and they eventually realize his fraudulent intentions.

In a capitalist framework, nearly everything and everyone gets reduced to an object of value, or labor to develop wealth, while material wealth and those with it become false gods. Add to this false consciousness, an oppressed people desperate for relief from poverty, despair, and exploitation, and compromised leadership in addition to a socially inflicted sense of nobodiness. When we witness a Black man or woman who seems to embody elements of courage, intelligence and vision, one who unapologetically articulates our pain and desires, and who inspires us to think big and be self-sufficient, we  want to support them. This is fine, but our support must be critical. I argue that valid criticism or critique are both preventative and corrective.

This oppressive and devaluing sociopolitical environment makes Black people prime targets for being misled, hoodwinked, and bamboozled. This helps to explain why our people have long been victimized by scams, half-baked ideas, poorly organized initiatives, false prophets and “righteous hustlers” in white and Black skins, peddling all manners of magic elixirs to line their pockets under the guise of “solving our problems” or liberating us. Given these realities, we employ legitimate and principled criticism in a preventative manner: It helps us to identify and guard againstmalcolm critique1 fraud, opportunism and disingenuous personalities. For example, good critique, which often involves research and investigation, can prevent people from investing hard-earned money in scams or scam artists.

Criticism is not simply reserved for shady characters or ventures. There are times when sincere people with authentic motivations make errors in judgement or handle a situation inappropriately. Corrective critique helps us to improve or enhance our plans or ideas and make us more effective. Empowered people strive for excellence. Legitimate corrective critique empowers us to develop more accurate analysis, more effective strategies, and more relevant or useful objectives. We can learn and grow even from the opinions of foes or outsiders. But we have a special mandate to welcome and respond to valid critique from those we serve, who we ask to support us, and who make it possible for us to earn a living.

Perhaps being uncomfortable with criticism is somehow coded into our DNA. We like to feel confident and secure. Outside criticism might make call our skills or ideas into question. We might worry that people will question our competence or knowledge. It’s fair to say that we all can remember times when we didn’t handle criticism well. However, it’s also fair to say that we harm ourselves when we shun legitimate critique. We can also concede that a well-meaning individual with nothing to hide, does not attempt to silence valid critics with legal or physical threats, or immature name-calling.

As I mentioned in my Facebook post, “If the Conscious Community cannot tolerate legitimate critique and cannot recognize when they/we are wrong or inappropriate, then we must reconsider if we have a viable Conscious Community at all. Only cult leaders, their followers, or narcissists behave or think in this manner.”

cult

At this point, I think it’s premature to characterize Dr.Umar as a cult leader or a narcissist. However, some of his actions and words are leading many to view him as such and to question his intentions. As more people come to this conclusion, his fundraising drives, career goals and personal credibility as a Pan-African Nationalist man and leader will likely suffer greatly. Fortunately, Dr. Johnson can avoid that fate. He might find it fitting to apologize for his arrogant, insensitive and evasive Facebook response. He can also demonstrate great maturity, integrity and respect by respectfully answering the questions posed to him from members of the Black community he works to educate and empower:

Question 1: Do you have a transparent system of financial records or accounting that allows supporters to know exactly how much money you’ve accumulated without having to depend simply on what you say? 1a.How much as of this date have you raised via check, cash and Gofundme, and how much additional money do you need? 1b. Why did you cut the sister off from her legitimate line of questioning and refer to her in such a derogatory manner? 1c. If for any reason, you are unable to secure the properties you mentioned, how will you use all the monies you’ve accumulated in your fundraising campaigns?

Question 2: Can you respond to the above criticisms/observations of your words/behavior in this clip? 2a. Is there anything for which you’d like to apologize?

Question 3: Do you have a video clip or document that explains a comprehensive and strategic plan regarding the academy? 3a. If so, can you provide that link or document? 3b. Creating a school requires a collaborative team effort. No one individual can effectively raise money, plan curriculum, coordinate hiring, educational materials/supplies and other concerns alone. Do you have such a team or board in place? If so, who is on this board and what are their qualifications?

____________________________

 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.

Open Letter to Brother Umar Johnson Concerning Your Plans for a New Boys Academy

June, 19, 2015

Dr. Umar Johnson:

Days ago, I wrote an article in which I supported your mission  to create the Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey RBG International Leadership Academy for Black boys. I hope you will read my article of support at the link above when time permits. I also hope you will read an article critical of you which I referred to in my own article.

As you will note when you read my article, it was balanced and fair. I referred to you as “a brother using his voice and knowledge to push a strong Black agenda for our people.” I included a link to your Gofundme page and encouraged people to support you. I included video clips of you speaking for yourself. I addressed concerns from some in the Black community alleging that you are sexist and “homophobic.” I attempted to argue that Black folk representing these concerns  have a right to raise questions with you and even challenge your positions, but that we should still support the proper education of our children and your mission to build a new academy. I specifically supported your institution-building and educational endeavor rather than you specifically, because I didn’t think our people should see this as personal issue specific to you, your personality, academic credentials, fundraising methods, speaking style, etc.

Over 2,000 people (at last count) read that article, and I’ve naturally received a number of supportive and critical responses. Of those who were critical of you, some sent selected video clips of you and raised questions concerning your level of humility, gratitude, transparency, accountability and strategic plans for the school. I should add that many of these people are themselves credible Black activists, educators and organizers with a long and deep record of service to our people. They are not “Uncle Toms,” “sell-outs” or to the best of my knowledge, informants or agents. I myself am a fellow Pan-African Nationalist. As such, we believe that no one is above legitimate criticism, and members of our community have a right and responsibility to raise questions whenever someone takes the mantle of leadership, endeavors to speak for us, or asks us for financial contributions. I write to you humbly asking you to respond to the following questions/statements raised from our brothers and sisters concerning your plans to build a new boys academy.

One brother who responded to my article of support for your academy, sent me a link of you on a talk show:

In this audio clip, a sister asks you questions about transparency and financial accountability (“How do we know how much money you raised?”) and we hear you ask the show host to take a break, adding that the sister is “a reactionary.” The sister didn’t seem to be accusatory or disrespectful, she just asked a valid question.

Question 1: Do you have a transparent system of financial records or accounting that allows supporters to know exactly how much money you’ve accumulated without having to depend simply on what you say? 1a.How much as of this date have you raised via check, cash and Gofundme, and how much additional money do you need? 1b. Why did you cut the sister off from her legitimate line of questioning and refer to her in such a derogatory manner?1c. If for any reason, you are unable to secure the properties you mentioned, how will you use all the monies you’ve accumulated in your fundraising campaigns?

Another brother who happens to be a committed and credible activist in Detroit shared the following video clip with me upon hearing my support for you:

In this clip, you come off as arrogant, mean-spirited and ungrateful for the small contributions some in our community made to your fundraising effort. I watched it at least 5 times and was quite honestly, shocked by your words and spirit. Such words and spirit seem contradictory to your status as a spokesperson or leader for Black people. Like the previous clip, this one makes it difficult to get people to support you or your efforts. Some have said you sound entitled, callous, money-grubbing and self-serving. People (including myself) were especially disturbed by your statements “Trifling-ass Black people,” your insistence that people send you monthly payments, and your suggestion that you won’t advise or help (and would even hang up on) Black parents who didn’t contribute to money to your school effort.

Question 2: Can you respond to the above criticisms/observations of your words/behavior in this clip? 2a. Is there anything for which you’d like to apologize?

Another major critique is that you have yet to announce or produce a comprehensive plan of this proposed school (operating costs, curriculum, proposed annual budget, hiring, etc.). If you haven’t yet, doing so might help your fundraising efforts.

Question 3: Do you have a video clip or document that explains a comprehensive and strategic plan regarding the academy? 3a. If so, can you provide that link or document? 3b. Creating a school requires a collaborative team effort. No one individual can effectively raise money, plan curriculum, coordinate hiring, educational materials/supplies and other concerns alone. Do you have such a team or board in place? If so, who is on this board and what are their qualifications?

As I wrote in my previous article of support for your school:

“If people believe he has some growing to do on the issue of gender and LGBT issues, challenge, debate, and educate him. He and we must understand that homosexuality is not new and is likely not going to end. I’d bet money that some of the teachers, students, and parents involved in the academy will be gay. How will they deal with this reality?

But I encourage us not to sabotage his efforts to build a much-needed learning institution for our children. The education they receive in public schools is destroying their esteem, academic potential, and love of their Black selves and community.

Existing schools led and staffed by our collective enemies have an agenda. They are raising generations of folks who will be non-critical thinkers, and semi-skilled docile menial laborers (or over-achieving and brainwashed middle-class negroes) in a white capitalist system. And all of us who graduated from elementary, middle, or high school and college need to remember that many of those institutions were created and staffed by white folk, some of whom were racist, sexist, and had issues with the LGBT lifestyle.”

Unlike others, I do not believe you are a “fraud,” based on all your previous work, the courageous stands you’re willing to take on our behalf, and the way you respond to brother Malcolm’s call for us to Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!” I do however, believe you – like myself and everyone else – have room to grow and improve. I also believe our people (even those with whom we disagree) have the right and responsibility to question and critique you. Likewise, you as a prominent leader and educator have a right and responsibility to explain, defend, clarify, and if necessary, apologize and tweak your public positions or ideas. This is especially true given that Black people have historically been vulnerable to fellow Black people with ulterior motives, hidden agendas, and disingenuous schemes.

In this sincere Pan-African Nationalist spirit I write to you, and ask that you respectfully respond to the questions posed by those in our community who do see value in independent African-centered education and leadership.

Black power and Black solidarity always,

Agyei Tyehimba

______________________________

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.

I Support Dr. Umar Johnson’s Mission to Educate Black Boys

umar johnson

As some of you may know, acclaimed Pan-African Nationalist brother Dr. Umar Johnson is a brother using his voice and knowledge to push a strong Black agenda for our people. I listen to many of his unapologetic speeches, which I generally support because they echo brother Malcolm’s call for Black people to “Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!”

Dr. Johnson made a power move recently when he announced his intention to create the Frederick Douglass & Marcus Garvey RBG International Leadership Academy for Black Boys. To facilitate that enormous task, Johnson started a Gofundme campaign to raise $5 million. You can learn more about Dr. Umar’s vision by viewing the video clip below:

Like any Black person who is well-informed, unapologetically Black, and focused on solving problems rather than just talking about them, brother Umar generates a flood of criticism ( I have personally endured this for decades and can strongly relate). Some of this criticism is fair and comes from members of the Black feminist and gay communities) who are offended by some of the brother’s public statements which they describe as blatantly sexist and homophobic. To a lesser degree, he also has some critics from the Nationalist community who question his scholarly credentials and character (I’ll leave that issue for someone else to debate). I do encourage you to view the following exchange he had with a feminist/gay rights advocate during one of his speeches:

I believe EVERYONE should face legitimate criticism, especially those of us who are leaders, activists and problem-solvers. Because of Johnson’s perceived position on homosexuality, Charing Ball – writing for Mademnoire.com – argued that we shouldn’t support his mission to create the new academy for Black boys.

I believe that liberation must be total; it is highly contradictory to wage war against white supremacy while failing to wage war also against patriarchy, class, and sexuality-based oppression.

As a man raised in a male supremacist country and world, there is no doubt that I was conditioned to have patriarchal thoughts and behaviors myself. The same applies to me growing up heterosexual in a world where gay/effeminate boys and men, along with lesbian/masculine girls and women, endure ridicule, assault and social discrimination to the point where many commit suicide or live embittered, embattled, and disgraced.

To the degree that I’ve become more sensitive to this issue, I’ve done so from taking classes, reading, and having my thoughts challenged by members of the LGBT community. My beloved uncle who was gay and died of AIDS-related complications, once challenged me on this point:

“You say you love Black people and Black history, right? Langston Hughes was gay. Bayard Rustin was gay. James Baldwin was gay. Hoyt Fuller was gay. Alice Walker is gay….  and so were/are many others openly or otherwise. Many political activists are gay as well, and by the way nephew I’m gay….are you going to wipe all of us out of history? Will you disown all of us as members of the Black community? Are we all sick or living in sin?”

Before you mistake me as some highly evolved brother on LGBT issues, I must say that I still struggle with this issue. I still cringe or shake my head when I see a transgendered person. I still get that WTF look on my face when I encounter a “flamboyant” gay man, or a lesbian couple kissing. (And like many of you reading this) I still occasionally wonder if there is a multimedia conspiracy to endorse and promote LGBT lifestyles. But while I won’t march in a gay parade, or consider myself an activist or spokesperson on those issues, I do understand that people have the right to choose and exercise their own sexual lifestyle. Such people should not face discrimination, brutality or ridicule for doing so. Furthermore, everyone has the right and responsibility to fight oppression however that may manifest (even if that makes other people “uncomfortable). If people are not thieves, rapists, sell outs, serial killers, or con artists (regardless of their lifestyle)…..I can find room to work with them.

How does any of this relate to Dr. Johnson and his school? I write all of this to suggest that LGBT activists have the right to challenge Dr. Johnson or anyone else if they deem doing so is warranted and legitimate. Many of us Nationalists have much to learn in this territory. Perhaps Umar Johnson does as well. In any event, people have the right to challenge him and he has the right to explain or defend his position. In the process, he and people on both sides of the issue may grow and expand their consciousness. If we as Nationalists and Pan Africanists call for “Black unity,” we can’t advocate for, educate, and defend only heterosexual Blacks or those that subscribe to traditional notions of gender.

At the same time, our boys (and girls) do need proper academic, cultural and professional preparation and they will only receive that in independent Black-centered institutions. If that is what Dr. Umar is trying to achieve, I’m with him and he has my support.

If people believe he has some growing to do on the issue of gender and LGBT issues, challenge, debate, and educate him. He and we must understand that homosexuality is not new and is likely not going to end. I’d bet money that some of the teachers, students, and parents involved in the academy will be gay. How will they deal with this reality?

But I encourage us not to sabotage his efforts to build a much-needed learning institution for our children. The education they receive in public schools is destroying their esteem, academic potential, and love of their Black selves and community.

Existing schools led and staffed by our collective enemies have an agenda. They are raising generations of folks who will be non-critical thinkers, and semi-skilled docile menial laborers (or over-achieving and brainwashed middle-class negroes) in a white capitalist system. And all of us who graduated from elementary, middle, or high school and college need to remember that many of those institutions were created and staffed by white folk, some of whom were racist, sexist, and had issues with the LGBT lifestyle.

In the meantime, additional things we should focus on, pertaining to the school include:

  • Making sure the money donated for this cause is properly accounted for and handled appropriately
  • Making sure the curriculum is sound
  • Making sure the school admits students with a range of abilities, backgrounds, and income levels
  • Making sure the teachers are excellent and qualified academically and culturally

The times in which we live, mandate that we find ways to resolve our issues while providing the things we need to survive and prosper as a people. True Black solidarity involves getting unplugged. It’s about consciousness and character. Think about it. Again, I encourage you to support Dr. Umar’s efforts to build an academy for our children.

_________________________

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.

25 Things I Do NOT Believe

-You expect me to believe THAT--

” (They’re) good at the game of tricknology, but I got knowledge of myself, they ain’t fooling me.” – Brand Nubian, “Wake up”

_________________________________

1. The Republican or Democratic parties give a Damn about Black and poor people.

2. Slavery occurred centuries ago, and White supremacy/racism ended during the Civil Rights Movement. Get over it!

3. Black people’s salvation, survival, liberation and safety depend on the good hearts, intentions, and benevolence of good whites or “people of color.”

4. We can wage an effective liberation movement without serious and sustained study, organizing, consciousness-raising and activism .

5. If we “just got right with God,” we wouldn’t be poor, divided, or oppressed anymore.

6. We can only attain spiritual or political empowerment through one prophet, leader, organization, method, religion, or book.

7. Black people should only study books, films, etc. written by Black people.

8. Patriarchy doesn’t exist within our community, and sisters have no legitimate right to identify and challenge it.

9. Conspiracies don’t exist at all, or every conspiracy you’ve heard about does exist.

10. People don’t have the right and responsibility to defend themselves against repeated and unwarranted violence.

11. Black people are the only group that struggles with issues of low esteem, disunity, violence, envy, unrealized potential, and ignorance.

12. Acquiring financial wealth, and developing an entrepreneurial spirit (without dismantling capitalism and class) will liberate Black people.

13. Black women are evil, selfish, argumentative, gold-digging sluts, AND these attributes don’t exist in other groups of people.

14. Black men are lazy, hypersexualized, violence-prone, heartless thugs and these attributes don’t exist in other groups of people.

15. Offering good advice or legitimate critique means you’re “hating” on someone.

16. All advice and critique are legitimate or sound.

17. Things/people are always what/how they seem or appear.

18. Artists have no responsibility to produce quality music, poetry, movies or images that  are inspiring, empowering, critical of injustice, involve skill or are understandable by the average person.

19. Everyone has a right to do or say whatever they choose, without regard for the damage or negative consequences that may follow.

20. Truth, beauty, hope, authenticity, and love no longer exist in the world.

21. Any one group is innately or biologically more honest, intelligent, virtuous,  (or their opposites) than any other group.

22. The United States of America is the “Greatest nation on Earth.”

23. Collective oppression is caused by God, not greedy or power-hungry men and women.

24. Poverty is a problem that results from individual character deficiencies, not corporate greed and exploitation.

25. People can achieve freedom and empowerment just by praying, meditating, thinking positively, or having good plans and intentions.

_______________________

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.

Are Reactionary “Conscious” Folk The New Black Sellouts?

When we typically think of the term “sellout”, our brains rapidly flip through pictures or memories of media-celebrated Black folk that support ultra conservative, right-wing policies. These typically include: eliminating effective Affirmative Action initiatives, scapegoating poor Black people, attempting to reduce or eliminate public assistance, supporting increased U.S. military presence and actions abroad, defending or trivializing the epidemic of police brutality against Black bodies, insisting either that racism no longer exists or that fellow Black folk largely exaggerate its existence.

We view such individuals negatively and for good reason: the positions they take and the policies they support promote Black criminalization, defend and justify racist thought and practice, attack measures designed to stimulate relief or social equality, and dismiss/disregard legitimate Black suffering and grievances. In their opinion, we overly sensitive Black folk are too eager to accept handouts,   and too lazy or pathological to exhbit the character and motivation needed to resolve problems we cause in the first place. They add a dose of patriotism to support their false claims, proudly describing the United States as a nation where “everyone can rise if they just work hard enough and exhibit personal responsibility.”

But these misguided individuals are not our only collective problem. I’ve noticed a very disturbing trend manifest itself on city streets and reach viral proportions on social media. This is not a particularly new trend, but it has, in my opinion, become more pronounced and influential in the last few years. I’m referring to (drum roll please) …. the shocking trend of Black politically conscious folks (often self-proclaimed followers of Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X) taking reactionary and counter-revolutionary positions that actually benefit the architects, beneficiaries, and practitioners of white supremacy!

Because their ideas and teachings make Black people more vulnerable to victimization and because they threaten to set the Black Liberation Movement backwards, one wonders if such people represent a new breed of (unintended) Black sellouts. This article will identify some of these curious positions or practices, and explain how each works to the advantage of white supremacists rather than the Black masses whom they’re supposed to benefit.

I humbly suggest that we attempt to educate such folk to their complicity in our oppression, and if need be, expose them in an effort to neutralize their deliberate or unconscious sabotage of an entire people and liberation movement.

  • Patriarchy: Sexism or the oppression of our sisters is unacceptable and backwards. How do we justify fighting oppression outside of our community, yet reinforce it within our homes, organizations, and communities? Our liberation movement cannot substitute one form of exploitation for another, nor limit or attempt to proscribe the strength, leadership, and development of our sisters. Suggesting that Black women only play traditional (male-defined roles), that their grievances are invalid, or that they are to blame for eroding Black family values and wayward youth is blatantly sexist. What nation do we build, what enemy do we vanquish, what empowered communities do we create when we oppress or muzzle one-half of our population? Taking positions that reinforce divisiveness, in-fighting and domination only serve the interests of those who divide and conquer us already. This has no place in the thoughts or actions of a conscious Black person. Black girls and women have traditionally been the unsung sheroes in our history, providing on-the-ground labor, education, activism, and leadership, yet standing in the shadows of Black men, due to religious or biological fallacies we inherited from our oppressors. Then we have “conscious” Black men who routinely beat sisters behind closed doors and have the audacity to justify such actions by quoting “king of the castle,” or “Head of the household” logic. Our entire community must be healed, empowered, and primed for success, not just men. Valid critiques of feminist ideology are necessary and important. Complete disregard of sisters’ voice, experiences and value however, is unacceptable.
  • Assuming unqualified authority: While it is true that everyone has opinions and the right to express them,  it’s equally true that not all opinions are valid. Valid opinions, positions, or theories are those supported with fact, experience, and sound analysis. The rise of the internet and social media now provides anyone with a free platform to share his/her ideas or theories with people all over the world. As one does this, they gain “friends” or followers. This may give someone the false impression that their popularity equates to authority or legitimacy. However, if the person in question hasn’t paid their dues (i.e. established credibility in the community, created a quality body of work, participated in activism, writing, institution-building, leading, community organizations/political struggle, educating and solving problems, study and research, etc.), they are not qualified to speak with authority or give grand proclamations on these issues. Any person who sincerely wants to represent, lead, advance or help to organize Black people should love and respect us enough to render quality service and take the time to adequately prepare themselves to do so. And we should be deeply suspicious of those who don’t. As I posted on Facebook, “I believe it’s important and necessary to welcome advice or opinion. But ultimately I tend to trust and respect the advice/opinions of people who’ve demonstrated success or accomplishment regarding the topic in question. Informed opinions hold more weight, are usually more relevant and more helpful to me. I would appreciate both perspectives on escaping slavery, but would take Harriet Tubman’s advice more seriously than that of someone who did not participate in liberating African people. Harriet make 19 successful liberation trips and helped over 300 slaves escape to their freedom within a ten-year period! You get the point, I’m sure. Be very careful of people that want acclaim or recognition or who have much to say, but have not qualified themselves through study, experience and accomplishment. This is a sure recipe for DISASTER. Always we must ask, what have you done? What are you doing? What are you working on now? There are many “false prophets” so to speak.” Moreover, people that truly feel strongly about social and political issues should demonstrate this by being involved in these issues beyond simple Facebook and Twitter posts. If you decry miseducation of our youth, don’t let your activism end with a social media post. Become a teacher, create a school or afterschool program, or create an organization to challenge the public school system. If you feel strongly about Black Liberation, become meaningfully involved and engaged.” In another social media post I noted, “The next time someone pontificates about injustice, miseducation, poverty, violence or any other social vice, ask them the million dollar question: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT? We have more than enough commentators and cheerleaders. What we need are more players and coaches!” My position on this subject should not be misinterpreted as elitism. One need not be a college graduate, expert on a subject, or have a certain income level to be meaningfully involved and engaged. Our history is replete with examples of informally educated, non-celebrity, and/or poor people whose conviction and courage led them to educate, organize, build institutions, and participate in liberation movements.
  • Lack of critical thinking/analysis: There is a disturbing trend of anti-intellectualism within some elements of the Black “conscious community.” We simply cannot effectively dismantle white supremacy if we don’t study the forces/individuals behind it and their methods. We cannot responsibly ask people to join our cause or organization without explaining to them how and why they are oppressed, who is responsible for their subjugation, and what we can do about it. Pronouncements and declarations are not enough; We must develop an accurate analysis of white supremacy and how it operates, then be able to communicate that effectively to members of our community, then organize our people and provide them with inspiration and tools to overthrow the devils internally and externally. All of our most effective and revered leaders and activists understood this including (but not limited to) Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Dr. King, Ella Baker, Kwame Ture, Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, and so on. All understood that our people must know how societal systems work to keep us powerless and divided. This – along with developing an empowering knowledge of self – is the foundation to developing political consciousness. There is no way around it…we must study and know our enemy, how he thinks, operates, and where he is weak. Read “The Art of War,” observe how athletes view film of their opponents. Why then, would some in the conscious community ignore such a pivotal element of liberation? Sound analysis requires serious and sustained study. Some simply don’t want to do this tedious and unglamorous work. It is much easier to simply make authoritative proclamations or give the community orders without sufficient context or substance. The other reason for this I suspect, is that some of these overnight commentators are in fact, agents, informers and provocateurs working to mislead, disrupt, and sabotage radical Black movement. Being well-informed and analytical doesn’t mean that we become paralyzed in abstract discussions of “the white man,” because we still need to eliminate certain behaviors in our own community, build our own institutions, and develop harmony and solidarity. No matter how much we may choose to ignore agents and systems of white supremacy, they definitely don’t ignore us! To the contrary, they study our loyalties, music, family structure, spending habits, and political and cultural influences thoroughly. And this partly explains why they are so effective in subjugating our communities and organizations! Does anyone remember Cointelpro? Watch this video clip of a former Black FBI informant discuss how well our enemies studied us during the 60s and 70s.

Black Liberation is not a leisurely game of pool, or some ego-driven contest for bragging rights. We’re talking about a movement to free ourselves where safety, liberty, progress, and the future of our children are involved. Play Chess, not checkers. Listen and observe closely. Make moves that are strategic. Discard opinions/positions if you realize they are reactionary or don’t hold weight. Ask “Who does my political positions benefit or challenge?” If we fail to do this, some of us who presumably work to advance Black people, might actually be doing more to advance our enemies’ interests than our own. And this – whether done intentionally or not -might just comprise a new (and deeply ironic) form of selling-out.

_______________

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.

Signs You’re With a “Narcissistic Woman”

Many of us men have been through it… dating what we casually refer to as a “crazy” woman. If you live and date long enough, chances are you will meet a woman who is  emotionally or psychologically/emotionally abusive and non-reciprocating. I endured one such relationship in the past, and I know quite a few of you reading this have as well. To be clear, this is not an attack on women in general. This is a specific attempt to describe narcissistic women.

To be fair, most people who fall into this category statistically are men. Women readingnarcissist checklist this article can also apply the same criteria when evaluating the man they are dating. Certainly, most men and women do not fall into this category (only 1% of the U.S. population is clinically narcissistic), and people who attempt to suggest otherwise are typically jaded, disillusioned, and suffering from serious issues themselves. Again, we all act selfish, over-dramatic and immature at times in our relationships. Don’t rush to final conclusions if your mate acts in these ways occasionally. Narcissistic people act this way much of the time in their relationships. Narcissistic Personality Disorder can only be diagnosed by a trained professional.

If a woman exhibits any combination of the following qualities OFTEN, chances are she is narcissistic. If this assessment is correct, this woman is not your normal multi-layered and complex woman with her fair share of flaws…this woman in fact, suffers from a personality disorder. If so, this person has actual issues which must be diagnosed and treated. There are different causes and risk factors associated with NPD,  and you can become familiar with them.

You might be tempted to stay, because such women and their male counterparts are often exciting and fun. Their overly dramatic up and down behavior may be thrilling at times and create powerful memories. They initially come off as very confident, sexy and secure. These qualities and experiences can become addictive. They are unfortunately, only part of an elaborate act to cover up their deep insecurities and issues, which you won’t discover until you are deep into a long-term relationship. Just remember that none of these temporary qualities or experiences is worth the continued drama, power struggles, fights, and headaches you’ll have to endure. When you see a combination of these signs regularly, don’t make excuses for her. Don’t “try to understand or save her” (unless you are clinically qualified to do so). Take the exit ramp immediately and free yourself to enjoy a loving and healthy relationship.

1. She intentionally tries to make you jealous. A crazy woman will deliberately do inappropriate things with other men in front of you. This is because she is deeply insecure or feels deeply inadequate, and must do such things to compel you to compete for her love or give her more attention. Mature women will just say what they need from you. A narcissistic woman deliberately seek admiration from other men, run her hands through another guy’s hair, touch on his arms and comment on how strong he is, or any number of suggestive things when she knows you’re watching.

2. She has unreasonable standards or expectations. Every self-respecting person has preferences and healthy standards, but hers are almost impossible to meet. This is because she is narcissistic and feels entitled  to treatment she doesn’t deserve. She This woman’s motto is: “It’s all about me.” Don’t expect her to empathize with you. This is not in her makeup.  Underneath all her drama, she suffers from low self-esteem and lacks self-worth. She will charm you and flatter you to get the attention, flattery, pleasure or gifts she wants and punish you when she doesn’t. And a narcissistic woman will eventually discard you and act like she never knew you (unless you sever the relationship first). She wants you to neglect other important parts of your life (job, business, family, friends) for her. No matter what the situation or person involved, SHE must come first. She will accuse you of putting other things before her and then question if you love her at all. No matter what you do, she will find fault with it, and you will never please her because she is insatiable. Meanwhile, she never puts you before her other friends and interests! This is a not so subtle form of controlling you. It also indicates that she is very selfish and unwilling to reciprocate.

narcissist quote1

3. She is materialistic and money-grubbing: She is quick to tell you what her girlfriend’s man bought for her or where he took her for vacation. She wants you to feel insecure, and like you must compete to buy/earn her love and appreciation. When you buy her something, she wants to know why you didn’t get the bigger or more expensive version. She may even get the jewelry appraised behind your back to find out how much money your spent on the gift. She may also try to keep tabs on how much you make and do all she can to see that most of it goes to her directly or indirectly. They believe the money they make belongs to them and the money you make as well! Most women want a nice gift from time to time. But mature women value YOU more than any gift and won’t try to control you or your money.

4. She’s addicted to drama. No matter who you’re with romantically, no matter how nice she is, you will sometimes argue with her. This is normal. But a narcissistic  woman will deliberately start arguments, call you ugly names, degrade your children, throw something at you, talk about your mama, try to hit you, or do anything to disrupt the peace. You will have no clue why she is upset, or how such a small thing started such a big fight. This is another form of control. Then after starting a huge fight, she’ll become sweet and sexy. It’s as if she needs drama to keep you engaged and to prove you care about her. Relationships with truly narcissistic people often involved regular physical and verbal fights, many of which go far beyond your normal scope of arguments in a relationship. As you can imagine, this quickly becomes draining (and dangerous).

5. She isolates you. Because she believes she is the center of the universe and even the universe itself, she will try to make you feel guilty when you spend time with yournarcissim quote2 friends, family or hobbies. She will do and say things around your friends and family that make them not want to be around. She may hide your mail and not tell you when someone called. She might even try to tell your friends and relatives that you are mad with them and don’t want to see them anymore! You may also make the decision to isolate yourself by refusing to bring people you care about around because her behavior is so unpredictable and embarrassing. Whether she isolates you or you isolate yourself because of her, this works to her advantage. She wants you all to herself not to make you happy, but so you to give her your undivided (and non-reciprocated) attention, and cater to her innumerable needs and desires.

6. She lies and denies everything she said or did. This woman will never admit to doing or saying anything wrong. In her mind, she is perfect and YOU are the problem! This tactic is convenient because it always comes up when you are raising a legitimate grievance. By keeping you on the defensive or by denying everything, she never has to be accountable for her own actions.

narcissim quote3

7. Even her girlfriends subtly suggest that she’s “crazy.” A woman’s female friends will usually be protective of her and her reputation. They don’t want to do or say anything to make her look bad or to cause you to raise an eyebrow. But this happens with a normal woman. A crazy woman’s girlfriends (if they respect you and think you’re decent) sometimes will give you clues that she ain’t working with a full deck. Sometimes they’ll tell you directly that they don’t even understand why she behaves that way. They may even tell you, “You’re a good man and I respect you, so you might wanna just so your separate way and spare yourself the pain,” or “She’s always been like that, none of us understand it.” They’ve seen her with other men and seen the same toxic and unreasonable behavior from her before. They begin to figure out that ALL of those guys weren’t bad, and that the majority of the problem is HER. Often, this woman will be very loving with you around her friends/relatives, and may even brag about you and your accomplishments. She thrives on being seen as a successful and empowered person. But she won’t share any of her toxic behavior or her relationship problems with her friends because she fears being exposed. Therefore this woman will stress that she is “private” about her business (even with her closest friends). She only exhibits this toxic behavior with men in romantic relationships, so sometimes her friends won’t know how she acts.

8. She criticizes everything about you and never seems to honor your perspective on things. In her opinion, no item of clothing, cologne, haircut or anything belonging to you is ever good. Whatever opinion you voice, she gives the opposite side. Whatever you love, she hates. You always find yourself needing to defend your opinion or judgement. This is not healthy or normal. Your lady will naturally see some things different from you. But when they seem to have a problem with almost everything, you have a serious problem on your hands.

9. She uses sex as leverage. Women have the right to be tired, have headaches or generally not be in the mood for intimacy. Crazy women however, will use sex to punish you for not complying with their unreasonable expectations. You planned a date and had to reschedule due to a problem at the job? She’ll take that personally and punish you by giving you the cold shoulder. She may deliberately give you the cold shoulder until you apologize repeatedly, or beg like a broken and desperate loser ( if you allow such). On the other hand, they also use sex or pleasure as a superficial way to make you feel desired and loved for the purpose of getting you to give them something or do want they want.

To conclude with a summary from another writer, “In her manipulation she may even fool you that she cares about you, but in reality you don’t count one bit, because she is at the center of her own make belief world where she is Queen. Her world starts and stops with herself, but she goes out of her way to disguise that fact from everyone she comes into relationship with (her husband, boyfriend, children, parents, siblings, friends and work colleagues)….The individual may think that you are in a relationship, but soon you’ll become aware that you are in a one sided relationship devoted only to the narcissists’ needs. When you  look for a reciprocal relationship, the narcissist female becomes disinterested and bored very quickly, and the relationship comes to an abrupt and inexplicable end. The narcissistic female becomes cold, uninterested and remote, and the relationship is all but over to your bewilderment.” 

Of course, you have the option to end such a relationship yourself before it comes to this. If she abruptly ends the relationship, you will likely fight to keep her in your life at first. Ironically, people often stay with narcissistic mates for years, thinking they can “save” them, thinking something is wrong with themselves, or mesmerized by the short-lived memories of great sex and romance they once enjoyed. Try to remember all the chronic fights and other toxic behavior that made you feel miserable and frustrated most of the time.  Unless you are a remarkably strong and secure individual, prolonged experiences in such relationships can negatively affect your own confidence and sanity. You also have the option to learn more about this disorder and work with your partner to get help.

________________________________

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.

Leaders vs Commentators: What Do We Need Most?

 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 4:1-6

“Self proclamation of authoritative titles is a common phenomenon among religious and/or occult sect leaders. A cursory survey of this primarily 20th century phenomenon will instantly reveal a multitude of self-declared Masters, High Priests, gurus, Ipsissimi, Bhaghwani, etc.. I am pleased that I cannot count myself among such types. Legitimate religious teachers and scholars know that a genuine spiritual leader is one whose calling to lead is first noticed by those outside of him or herself based on certain qualities, abilities, and actions and then must subsequently be accepted by the individual in question as his or her destiny. This contrasts with those whose will to lead is born simply out of the mundane wish to be a leader. In such cases the goal being to reap the rewards a title brings without the hard work and the innate, manifest qualities which validate the position; in short what might be considered a ‘false prophet’.”
-Zeena Schreck

“In these perilous times, we have more preachers of the Word than doers of the Word. In other words, Not all preachers are doers.May God may you and I doers of the Word”
― Abegunde Sunday O.

“Leadership is action, not position.”
Donald H. McGannon

______________________________________________________________

Whether we’re talking about community leaders, religious leaders, or political leaders, weleaders and commentators (1) can agree that not all are genuine or competent. More specifically, some are not leaders at all, but rather commentators.

Why is it important to distinguish between the two? How do we distinguish between the two?

To answer the first question, we must know the difference between leaders and commentators because both serve different functions. The emergence of the internet, YouTube, Google, and other social media, provide all of us with free platforms to create blogs, video blogs, and internet radio shows. This free access to state one’s opinions predictably created a literal sea of overnight gurus, experts and spokespeople, all vying for attention in an already saturated market. Given such a flood of information and perspectives from so many people, it is increasingly difficult for the general public to distinguish between those who are authentic and competent and their counterparts.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than with respect to Black sociopolitical content on the internet. Black people have arguably endured the longest and most sustained system of deception, brutality and discrimination of any group on this planet. Politically speaking then, when other groups have a common cold, we have pneumonia. And while we have resisted our oppression in every historical period, resulting in some forms of minimal progress, the fact remains that we still lag behind other groups in almost every measurable area of progressive human activity. This being the case, Black people have no room for self-serving, meglomaniac  people presenting themselves as competent and authentic leaders or theorists.

Ironically, the most vulnerable people often are the easiest to con, swindle, and deceive, because they are so desperate for answers, solutions and ultimately liberation. This leaves considerable room for attention-seekers and sensationalist types to emerge. The public must have the capacity to make informed decisions, and they must have the information to do so.

One way to tackle this problem in the cyber-universe is by making a clear distinction between leaders and commentators.

In brief, a leader (particularly an effective one):

  • Researches and analyzes situations
  • Teaches and provides people with tools and information to empower themselves and solve problems
  • Creates plans, programs, institutions, organizations and accurate theories that are solution-driven
  • Provides relevant critique of existing or proposed plans, systems or institutions

A commentator:

  • Reports and/or describes events and situations

Think of what we most need in this society. Think of which type of person will help advance us My decision is already made. Commentators are helpful to a degree, in alerting us to issues. But we need plans, solutions, and organizations. Only leaders provide that. As I’ve said many times before, when you hear people pontificating, ask yourself, what have they done? What are they doing? What are they planning to do? Do they simply give proclamations and report evens, or do they expose our enemies, explain how we are subjugated, and pose solutions backed by activism and institution-building? How does their information equip us to understand and solve our problems? Take a good look at the graphic in the post….then make sure you get the picture….As I wrote in a previous article:

Anyone who collaborates with, defends, promotes, or knowingly benefits from a form of human subjugation is in effect, part of that oppression and should be viewed as such.

This is why it’s so important to raise consciousness and teach our people about what forces oppress them in addition to HOW they do so. How else can we defeat them and stop their objectives from being met?

Teaching knowledge of self and self-reliance are necessary but NOT sufficient. We must also know who our enemies are, how they operate, what their resources and weaknesses are, and what their general game plan is. We must study and know the enemy well (if we hope to defeat them and their objectives).
But we can’t stop there! We must teach our people the skills and habits needed for individual and collective empowerment, then create independent institutions that continue to transmit this information and develop empowered people long after we die.Credible activists and liberation theorists refer to this holistic endeavor as “Winning the hearts and minds of the people,” and “raising capacity.”

We’ve been playing amateur checkers for too long. It’s time to play GRANDMASTER CHESS (like the opponents of Black life, liberty and happiness do ALL the time).

But don’t believe me, closely read or ‘re- read Garvey, Elijah, Malcolm, Nkrumah, Huey, Dr. Ben, Amos Wilson, Assata, John Clarke, Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Chancellor Williams, Kwame Ture, George Jackson…All hands on deck! No shortcuts, no excuses!

_______________________________

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.

Empowered Parenting Series Part III: General Tips and Suggestions

black family

The first article of this series discussed the importance of families and presented a definition and description of a dysfunctional family. The second article described an empowered/empowering family and discussed how societal forces work to negatively impact families, often making them dysfunctional. This, the last article of the series, will provide some tips and suggestions what parents can do to make their families empowered rather than dysfunctional. Please remember that creating lasting change does not happen quickly, rather it is a process.

Responsibilities, Not Possessions

First we must re-examine and expand our view of parenting. Our children are not our possessions, but our responsibilities. Mom carried the child for several months during which she fed and provided a safe place for the child to grow and develop. Because of this, we may feel the child is our personal possession.

The truth of the matter is that the children we raise (or fail to ) will one day be someone’s parent, student, teacher, employer, boss, employee, or neighbor. Our child will be the world’s problem or the world’s resource. Our job then is not simply to raise them for our own benefit, but to be benefits for the world and community they will inhabit and impact in the future. That child you parent must learn to work and communicate with people outside of your household. They must develop the skills, habits, and attitudes to make them empowered people capable of making good decisions, sustaining and protecting themselves, and being responsible adults that can work cooperatively with others. You can find much of this information in my book, Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.

It’s also a good idea to identify common parenting practices that are toxic, and avoid them. For instance, there are 10 things I suggest we should never teach our children:

1. “Race doesn’t matter.” The concept of “race” – that we can accurately determine one’s intelligence, ability, habits, attitudes or destiny based on their biological racial designation – is a lie and illusion. One’s biology does not determine any of these things which are mostly influenced by culture, observation and education. However “racism” is real. So it is more appropriate to teach our children not to judge people on anything but their deeds and actions and to do so on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, we must teach them that racism/sexism/class exploitation, and the brutality, prejudice, discrimination and injustice that accompanies them, does exist, and we should prepare them to identify and challenge these societal vices.

2. “Money is the root of all evil.” In fact, money is a measurement of purchasing power, a tool, and something we need in this system to provide for our basic necessities and luxuries. It is also a symbol of our material wealth. But it is not the root of all evil. The person that created this myth most likely didn’t want poor people to eliminate their poverty and acquire power. Ignorance, vanity, greed, competitiveness, selfishness, arrogance, a false sense of entitlement, avarice, insecurity, and jealously are far more accurate candidates for being the “roots of all evil.” Given this, perhaps we should teach our children that a. money is necessary in our modern economy b. having more of it will provide them with more options in terms of residence, education, food, clothing, entrepreneurship, political power, etc. So they should make plans to acquire it legitimately, budget and invest it wisely, and use it to provide relief to others. But they certainly should not fear, trivialize, or disdain it.

3. “Get a good education so you can get a good job.” It is true that a person with a college degree is more likely to earn a million dollars than a person without one. It is also true that a college education is highly regarded as one way to create more options for oneself. However, the purpose of formal or informal education is not to get a good job, but to primarily develop important contacts/networks, develop successful habits/attitudes, and to learn specific skills/knowledge that will enable a person to effectively pursue his/her goals. As a secondary consideration, we seek education to acquire the credentials for upward mobility. What one does with these credentials, habits, skills, knowledge and networks is their choice, but we must urge our children to use these resources to understand, create, own, run, influence, and control things in their environment. This is the basis of power.

4. “You must vote; it is your civic responsibility and our people died for this right.” Voting might be the powerful demonstration of citizenship we believe it to be if: candidates, the political structure the press and the electoral process were not controlled by corporations, the electoral college did not exist, and money in general did not affect the process. However, all of the above conditions exist, a fact that compromises our political options, our exposure to political ideas, and our vote. Our civic responsibility is to take actions that support humane policies, laws, options and consequences for citizens and to challenge those that don’t. How people choose to do that is another question. We would do more to help our children by teaching them how voting is compromised by money/corporations, how to intelligently research and identify candidates that align with their issues and interests, how to advocate for social causes, and how to amass economic, technological, and institutional power so that they don’t solely depend on politicians.

5. “Choose a partner that will love you the way you deserve to be loved.” This advice contains a kernel of truth, but so much more important information is omitted. In addition, a partner should be someone you are attracted to, can confide in, talk to, find refuge in, receive sound advice from, and whose skills, maturity, knowledge, habits and attitudes contribute significantly to your own peace and larger goals. They should respect you and your feelings, but also be able to challenge and correct you when necessary. When such things are in place, two people are “equally yoked.” Too many marriages, relationships and families have died brutal deaths because people failed to take these things into consideration, and focused too much on subjective feelings, and pleasure alone.

6. “Do as I say, not as I do.” Our actions and behaviors are far better teachers than our words. If we want our children to respect us, we must do our best to make our actions consistent with our words. Mixed messages only serve to undermine a solid relationship with our children, and they cause our children to distrust our advice and teaching. Besides, if there is a major difference between what we tell them and what we do, we are in essence, hypocrites anyway, unworthy of respect or emulation.

7. “I brought you in this world, and I’ll take you out.” Sounds strong and authoritative, but this saying is actually self-defeating and counterproductive. As parents, our role is to provide reasonable boundaries, provide direction, basic necessities, and sound habits and attitudes. It is far more appropriate to take the position that “I brought you in this world, and I will do everything I can to help you navigate it successfully.” A good parent should also provide discipline when appropriate, but never be a bully.

8. “No matter how disrespectful, irresponsible, and disobedient you are, I will still provide you with gifts to demonstrate my love for you.” Ok, we don’t actually say this to our children, but some of us say it through our actions. As parents we are spiritually and legally required to provide food, clothing, shelter, love and education/discipline. Nowhere is it written that we must provide the very finest or most expensive clothing, gadgets, footwear or gifts. Quality is not always synonymous with brand name or price. When we do this, we make our children materialistic, shallow, and we encourage them to feel entitled to things they don’t deserve or haven’t earned. overcompensation for parental guilt by purchasing expensive things for our children causes more problems than it solves. Gifts for our children should first and foremost be practical, useful and in accordance with their demonstrated level of responsibility. If they lost 3 previous cell phones, or spend too much time on the phone, why buy them another expensive gadget? If they don’t do their chores, misbehave or under-perform in school, or demonstrate dishonesty and irresponsibility what message do we send by purchasing the toy, game or gadget they beg us for? And even if they do well in all of these areas, why would we purchase them expensive things they don’t appreciate, won’t take care of, or that cause us serious debt? Birthdays and holidays like Christmas should be used to reinforce these points. We must not replace poor parenting with precious gifts or we will create yet another selfish, materialistic, vain and irresponsible crop of teens and young adults.

9. “I see you more as my peer than as my child.” This is another thing we teach our children through actions rather than words. When we share inappropriate conversations and practices with our children and neglect to discipline and set boundaries for them in hopes that they’ll be our “friend,” we compromise the relationship completely. Now they don’t take our parental side very seriously, nor do they learn appropriate versus inappropriate behavior and speech. Certain television shows, movies, books, topics, and behaviors are simply not appropriate for children. Nor should our children be empowered to make certain decisions for themselves that they are not qualified or prepared to make. There should never be a doubt about who the leader(s) of the household are. Now, my mother and I have a wonderful relationship. We can talk about almost anything and we sincerely enjoy one another’s company. But I am now a middle-aged man with two daughters. I’ve worked for over 20 years and have experienced life. When I was a child however, my mother was not afraid to sometimes tell me “no,” or to restrict my exposure to certain things, or to discipline me.

10. “It’s ok for you to have nothing to do.” Again, this is another thing we might not tell our children but that we might show them. You can actually evaluate a person by observing how they use their time. Being a successful student, lover, professional, or parent requires that we manage our time and use it effectively. It is our responsibility to help our children succeed in all their endeavors by making them respect and properly utilize their time. We can do this by teaching them to schedule their lives. There should be adequate time for study/homework, chores, recreation, eating, conversation and rest. Of course this schedule should be flexible, but our children should never be allowed to think that vast amounts of idle or unaccounted for time are ok. In all the time our children waste they could have learned another language, improved their vocabulary, visited a new place, learned to read and write music/poetry, improved their reading and writing, learned a new skill, and even had more fun! This also allows more time for us parents to do things we need and want to do. And yes, this applies to weekends as well as weekdays, although we can established a much more relaxed weekend schedule. Our children should help set their schedule and it should be written out and place on the refrigerator and in their bedroom. Apply this properly and watch how creative, informed, talented and well-rounded your child becomes!

Discipline, Exploration, and Structure

In order for our children to become empowered and empowering beings, we must create the conditions, teach the lessons, and provide structure in the home that facilitates such. If we leave this to the outside world…..well, you already know the likely consequences.

We also have to take the time to really observe and study our children. Our goal in doing this, is to determine their general personality traits and skills, then work to sharpen them. We can generally do all of this by using the following tips:

  • Teach your child the discipline and habit of consistently studying, practicing, and working hard. Successful people are not born, they are made. There is simply no substitute for constant practice and study. All of the people we idolize and whose achievements we applaud worked hard over many years to arrive at their current level of mastery and success. As the inventor Thomas Edison often said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
  • Encourage your child to participate in a number of different activities. Expose them to various events and experiences. Provide or direct them to activities and events in which they express interest. As you observe their interests, feed those interests with books, films, trips, etc.
  • Try to choose events and activities with your child that allows you to explore and connect several intelligences: drawing, debate, writing, creating a poem, song, or rap, cooking, creating a map, assembling a toy or game, etc.
  • Review homework with your child and develop ways to teach those lessons using different methods your child enjoys
  • Encourage your child to analyze events and experiences around them. Teach them the importance of effectively communicating their ideas and feelings. And do not make a child feel less valuable just because he/she is introverted. No child is identical and we want to encourage their individuality.
  • Encourage your child to try new things and to identify lessons/ideas learned from those activities.
  • Create structure in the home. A child should have a good idea of what thing they do upon waking up, returning from school and preparing for bed. Mixed messages and chaos confuse children and lead to behavior problems.
  • Remember that discipline and punishment are not the same. Discipline is a philosophy and set of practices, expectations and character-development tools for a child. Your discipline plan should be clearly communicated, along with your expectations, reasons behind your rules, and consistent consequences. Beating them half to death or yelling at them for everything will only make them abusive, a prime candidate for being abused, or VERY sneaky and resentful. Those methods can also make your child withdrawn, intimidated and unable to socialize with others. This does not mean you allow your child to be disrespect or disobedient. Again, your rules should be clear, fair and always enforced! But wisdom and discretion (not your belt or fist) should always prevail. Your discipline code should be fair, should involve some degree of input from your child, and should focus on teaching and guidance, not punishment.

______________________________

 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.

Empowered Parenting Series Part II: Societal Forces Affecting Black People

In the previous article, of this parenting series, we explored why good parenting is so important in our community, my own experience working to help empower parents and families, and we defined and described a “dysfunctional family.” Nowof we will devote time to understanding how a healthy family operates, and societal factors that can impact healthy family behavior.

An empowered family operates (as you may imagine) much differently from a dysfunctional one. They experience arguments, tension, and other problems, as no one is without flaw. In general however, an empowered and empowering family:

  • Puts family FIRST
  • Can handle conflicts without yelling, cursing, fighting, or name-calling
  • Demonstrates a sense of family pride
  • Demonstrates respect for each member’s personal space and boundaries
  • Sees itself as a team in which each member is important and has responsibilities commensurate to his/her age, health, and skill set.
  • Willingly reassures, supports and protects its members
  • Speaks to and works with its members at least as well as it does with outsiders, and often better.
  • Creates an environment that facilitates work, rest, play and success
  • Spends quality time together
  • Does not allow any member to fail, shirk responsibilities, or negatively impact the family without intervention and consequence.
  • Creates and maintains routines/expectations that facilitate growth and empowerment

As stated earlier, even members of empowered families argue, sometimes shirk responsibility, or fail to communicate effectively. The major difference between healthy and dysfunctional families, is that the former generally and consistently demonstrates the healthy qualities listed above, while the latter generally and consistently demonstrates the toxic qualities cited in the previous article.

No reasonable person wants to argue, fight, fail and be upset all of the time. What then accounts for family dysfunction? To understand this, we must recognize that families do not exist in a vacuum; Families live in a society with its own rules, expectations, definitions of success, messages, incentives and punishments. In sociological terms, we call these things societal norms.

All families, regardless of race, gender, or income, feel the impact of societal influences. However, families whose members represent groups that are oppressed and unfairly treated in society (i.e. “People of color,” women, and the poor) face greater negative influences and impact from the larger society.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Black families. The legacy of white supremacy creates great negative impact on Black people ( despite right-wing conservative claims to the contrary). Black people endured enslavement, centuries of racist propaganda, discrimination/deprivation in the arenas ofIf you do not understand white supremacy education, employment, business and housing, and an unbridled war against our bodies, minds, culture, and institutions.

In this context, our people generally face challenges in our attempts to live freely, safely, or in a self-defined and self-directed manner. Psychologist and Social Worker Professor Joy DeGruy has coined the term, “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome to describe how the traumas of enslavement, brutality and discrimination have created negative behaviors and views among Black people which exist even today.

White supremacy theorist Neeley Fuller, who wrote an entire workbook about white supremacy, suggests that White supremacy/racism seeks to negatively impact and destroy Black people in every major area of human activity including:

1. Economics
2. Education
3. Entertainment
4. Labor
5. Law
6. Politics
7. Religion
8. Sex
9. War/Counter-War

White supremacy is so fundamental to Black life, that Fuller created the oft-used quote, “If you do not understand  white supremacy (racism) – what it is and how it works – everything else you understand will only confuse you.”

If we also include negative gender and materialist messages from society, we understand how Black family members can think and embody the following negative and self-defeating beliefs:

  • Black skin, hair, lips, noses, etc. are ugly
  • Blacks are supposed to be violent and disrespectful, especially toward each other
  • Black people should not trust or cooperate with people of their own community/race, who are positive, successful and trying to help me become the same.
  • Money, financial success, and the material things I can obtain with them are more important than anything else.
  • Black girls and women are the sexual playthings of men.
  • Black girls and women – as producers of pleasure for men – should spend the majority  of their money and time having fun and being sexy and physically attractive to/for men. Rather than developing their skills, intellect and character to be independent, women should use sex appeal, and the conspicuous display of their breasts, tummies, behinds, hips, lips and hair, to  attract men who will “take care of them” and/or give them pleasure and appease their vanity.
  • Black boys and men are receivers of pleasure whose power is determined by their physical strength/physiques,  sexual prowess, and ability to produce pain, tolerate pain, or receive pleasure.
  • Black people should strive to gain status and a sense of importance by giving/receiving pleasure, exerting sexuality/violence, entertaining others, and/or accumulating symbols of power (cars, shoes, jewelry) rather than power itself.
  • Being intelligent, positive-thinking, purposeful and motivated in positive directions is “corny,” “weak,” or trying to be “white.”
  • Black people, who try to empower other Black people should be feared, ridiculed, ignored, or not trusted. When such people attempt to correct, improve or empower us, they are really attempting to humiliate or look down on us because they are a “know-it-all” or think they are better than us.
  • Since it is corny, weak or senseless to be purposeful and self-motivated, we should waste our time and money living for today, rather than investing in and preparing for our future. Therefore, using time/money wisely, taking/money time to acquire an education and learning how to empower ourselves in effective ways is foolish, hopeless, and a waste of time.
  • Rather than wasting so much time/money/energy in positive empowering pursuits in our lives, we can get the sensation or feeling of being successful, important and powerful by living vicariously through the achievements or status of others (actors, entertainers, athletes either by meeting them or watching them on music videos, television broadcasts or in movies. We can also get these feelings by purchasing or wearing things these people buy and wear.

If you carefully review all of the above messages, and think about the high levels of frustration, disillusionment, anxiety, wasted resources, anger and distrust they create, you can images how these messages (if believed and embodied) might lead to dysfunctional behaviors and practices right in our homes. We should think about how this social conditioning and our internalization of it, leads directly to self-hatred, low esteem, irrational thinking/behavior, violence, abuse, feelings of false entitlement, misdirected energy, broken promises, failed potential, and generational cycles of failure.

Those in our community who find that these feelings and behaviors describe them have two choices. We can either make excuses, defend our behavior, stay in denial, and remain adversarial with our family members and those trying to help us, or we can begin to replace these negative messages and behaviors with empowering ones.

The next and last article in this Empowered Parenting series will provide tips and strategies to help rescue and renew our families through attaining empowering parental practices.

_____________________________

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.