Black Empowerment Series: How to Critically Read a Nonfiction Book

critical reading

During my childhood there was a popular saying: “Reading is fundamental.” I completely agree since reading opens your mind to new ideas, experiences and therefore possibilities. Reading allows you to benefit from the life experiences of other people and therefore spare yourself wasted time. Reading also increases your understanding of the world, your vocabulary and your knowledge and intelligence. It is not an overstatement to note that reading therefore, is a cornerstone of personal growth. This article will explore a method of critically reading nonfiction books. This method works mainly for history, education and the humanities. Biographies and autobiographies require a slightly different approach because they are subjective (more opinion-based and reflective).

When critically reading nonfiction books, you have 4 main objectives (whether you’re reading for personal growth or in an academic environment):

  • Understanding the author’s objective in writing the book (The author’s premise).
  • Identifying the structure/format of the book.
  • Identifying and understanding major arguments the author raises.
  • Understanding how the author supports his/her arguments
  • Developing your own critique of the book (Did the author accomplish what he/she set out to do? Did the author present clear and well-supported arguments? Was the information in the book accurate and well-interpreted? How did this material compare with that by other authors on the same topic?)

To accomplish these 4 tasks, you must read with a purpose and with a structure. Simply reading a book word-for-word, cover-to-cover does not mean you actually comprehend the material or that you are reading critically. In addition to the four tasks mentioned, you should also make sure you understand the terms and references the author uses. You also should read the footnotes or references to gain more clarity about the writing, and supporting information. Critical reading is engaged and active reading. This type of reading requires you to act like a detective or investigator. Confronted with tons of information, you must skillfully sort, filter and determine which information is most important to understanding the book. You can do this in four major steps that will both save you great amounts of time while helping you grasp the most important information provided.

Step One

Closely read the introduction. A good author uses an introduction to explain the objective of the book, the time period discussed, the topic covered in each chapter, the structure and materials used to write the book, and its main premise. You can use the book itself, your computer, or paper to take notes about these issues. Once you understand the introduction, you will have a wide-frame view of the entire book. It is also helpful to read the conclusion as well.

what is your premise_parchment

Step Two

Now that you know the topic or information covered in each chapter, you can begin developing a bird’s-eye view or specific understanding  of the book. Most people do this by literally reading each chapter word-by-word. This might work for a small book, but what if you’re a graduate student who must read a 750-page book. another 500-page book, and write a paper all within the same week? The read every single word approach won’t work in this scenario. And as I mentioned earlier, that approach also won’t ensure that you comprehend what you’ve read.  So how can we read and understand a large book without reading every single word?

The introductory and concluding (first and last) paragraphs of every chapter summarizes the entire chapter. Reading and understanding these two paragraphs of each chapter will provide you with the author’s most important arguments. Therefore, you should do this for every chapter, making sure that you underline important information in the first and last paragraph, and take notes that identify and summarize the author’s main arguments.

At this point, you should understand the general objective of the book, along with the main points of each chapter. You are almost done! But there are two more things you must do.


Step 3

In order to determine if the author’s arguments or claims are valid, you must investigate to see how he/she supports their arguments. Credible and reliable ways of supporting an argument include: perspectives from experts or people (sometimes other authors) considered knowledgeable on the subject, statistics/facts from a credible agency/organization (surveys, census data, special reports, etc.).

After completing the first two steps, you now go back to each chapter searching for the proof the author provides to support his/her arguments. I suggest that you identify at least three forms of support provided by the author to support his/her main points for each chapter. Authors often use footnotes (references within the chapter) or reference notes (at the end of the chapter) to provide their evidence. Identifying these type of notes is one reliable and quick way to find the author’s proof. Underline, circle and/or take notes to identify this information in each chapter.


Step Four

If you follow the preceding three steps you should thoroughly understand the most important information in the book (its objective, main arguments, and how the author supports these arguments. Some people (including advanced graduate students) read line-for-line and word-for-word in a book and still don’t understand what they’ve read, or they’ve taken so many notes and underlined so many words that it’s difficult for them to decipher and interpret the information they read.  To make matters worse, such people spend so much time with this method that they are fatigued, discouraged and anxious. You now have a method to save precious time, get proper rest, and still thoroughly understand a nonfiction book. Congratulations!

But if you anticipate debating the book, providing a review for it, or preparing for discussion in graduate school class, your job is not yet done. To critically read a book, you must not only understand it, but be prepared to offer a sound critique of what you read.  If any of these situations apply to you, now is the time to really distinguish yourself from being a casual or passive reader. If you’ve followed the previous three steps, you have much of the information you need (though you might need to do additional research). To critique a book you must address the following questions:

  • Did the author accomplish what they claimed they would accomplish?
  • Were his/her arguments sound (did the author use credible references/information to support the arguments? Did he/she support their arguments at all? Were the references or information they provided outdated or disproved by experts and new information?)
  • Did the book provide any new information or a new perspective than those offered by other important books on the subject? Or does it simply duplicate old or already existing information?
  • Did the author reach a conclusion or make an argument that is faulty or flawed?
  • Are there any important implications of the book? If so, what are they?
  • Does the author use a variety of sources/references, or do they rely too heavily on one or a few resources?
  • How does this book compare with others like it?

Important Note: Reading involves comprehension. You cannot effectively read if youDICTIONARY-THESAURUS don’t understand certain words. Don’t be intellectually lazy and skip over words you don’t understand. Use a dictionary or thesaurus to understand words you’re unfamiliar with. Not only will you better understand what you read, your vocabulary (and thus ability to decipher what you read) will grow exponentially!

Reading is indeed fundamental…to learning, personal growth, and developing wisdom and skill. I’ve provided you with a more effective way to read nonfiction books. Try it, and tell me if this method was useful….


 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

Black Empowerment Series: How to Organize in the Community


On August 9, 2015, The Black Power Cypher (5 Black male educators, organizers and activists from around the United States) did their monthly internet show on the topic, “The Importance of Community Organizing.” We offered some of our own organizing experiences and tips, and we explored how to organize in the Black community. I suggest you view the video below when time permits.

There is perhaps, no topic more timely and relevant in 2015 than organizing the Black community. The great Pan African Marcus Garvey told us, “Disorganization is the chief enemy of Negro people.” The great Kwame Ture – mentored by Dr. King and Ella Baker – constantly urged us to “Organize, organize, organize.”

Why Should We Organize in our Community?

Certainly many of our most effective leaders spend much of their time organizing and encouraging us to do the same. This prompts certain intelligent questions: “What is the importance of community organizing? How do we benefit from organizing our community?”

Black people find ourselves beset with a literal flood of problems: failing schools/miseducation, inadequate healthcare, mass incarceration, massive unemployment/poverty and unbridled police brutality.  If we submit to cowardice and choose to accept these circumstances, there is nothing more to discuss.  However, if we choose to resolve our collective problems and confront those responsible for them, we must advocate for ourselves.

An individual can advocate for themselves, by themselves. A tenant of a residential building for example, can call the management office and complain of receiving inadequate heat during the winter. The management office may not take this one person seriously. Or, the office might solve that one person’s heat problem.

Imagine however, if this same tenant contacts other tenants in the building, organizes a tenant association, and 500 people begin complaining to management. They sign petitions, stage protests, solicit legal advice, initiate a rent strike, and attract local media. That management office would be more likely to make sure all tenants receive proper heat.

In other words, organizing multiplies the power of one person exponentially.

We can apply this principle to our own history as Black people in the United States. Did Harriet Tubman free 3000 slaves by herself? No. If there were no underground railroad system in place, her efforts wouldn’t be as successful. Did Marcus Garvey work alone? No. He had writers, organizers, attorneys, and officers of his organization working together to achieve common goals. Did Martin Luther King singlehandedly coordinate the Civil Rights Movement? No. He worked with fellow ministers, church congregants, college activists, and community organizers all over the country.

The point by now is clear. Organizing our community allows us to effectively and efficiently solve our collective problems. We can summarize the benefits of organizing as follows:

  • We enjoy the combined talents, knowledge, resources and experiences of several people.
  • Our numbers and combined strength persuades others to take our concerns more seriously than they would if we acted alone.
  • Organizing makes our efforts more powerful and tends to have greater impact (imagine one person boycotting a national department store versus an organization of 200,000 people).
  • Organizing prevents one person from becoming isolated, fatigued, or attacked. Tasks and responsibilities are shared with several people and committees.
  • Organizing inspires and empowers entire communities of people and equips entire communities to advocate for themselves. Several people gain new skills, develop courage, and create change; Therefore a movement doesn’t necessarily conclude when one person dies or years pass.
  • Organizations provide a system of accountability for people. An individual is only accountable to him or herself. But a person working within an organization is accountable to other members of that organization and the larger community of people they claim to represent or advocate for.

How Do You Organize?

We’ve briefly addressed the importance of community organizing and the benefits gained from participating in it. But we are now left with the question, “HOW do we organize in our community?” In the course of my own teaching, consulting and writing about organizing, people asked me this question literally hundreds of times. Several qualified authors and public speakers address this question. Search the internet and you will come across hundreds or thousands of books, workshops, and speeches on this topic.

This one article cannot and will not provide you with an exhaustive or complete understanding of how to organize. We also need to remember that each issue, campaign or movement is different and may demand different approaches. Nevertheless, we can highlight some central ideas which provide a basic outline for effective community organizing. You can apply this template to your tenant association, parent association, church, nonprofit organization and much more. Additionally, you can research further information to supplement what we provide here.

Identify what it is you care about. Do you want to eliminate gun violence in your neighborhood, address unfair treatment in a local store, provide better educational opportunities for your children, have better heating in your building, rename a city street, or provide food and clothing for homeless people? This is always the first step to organizing in the community, and the basis for all of your subsequent actions, policies, tactics, and strategy.

Determine who else cares about that issue. After identifying your key issue, you must now determine who else in your church, school, building, etc. shares your concern about that issue. If you fail to do this, you’ll be doing all the work by yourself, and we already addressed the importance of organizing with others. There are several ways you can accomplish this, depending on your energy level and mobility and resources. You can call or e-mail friends, co-workers, classmates, or neighbors. You can knock on doors in your neighborhood. You can create a brief survey and have people complete them. A traditional way to do this is to host a town hall meeting in your community at a place of worship or community center. Make fliers addressing  the issue (“Are you concerned about police brutality? Do you want to do something about it?”) and distribute those fliers or post them all over your neighborhood. The people who attend this event most likely care about the issue and are willing to address it. In the age of social media, you can post something about the issue on Facebook and see how people respond. Feel free to use whatever method or combination of methods that works best for you. Once you have a group of people who share your concern about an issue, you need to schedule a regular meeting time to discuss and plan.

Create a Mission Statement: It helps to have your group put your reason for organizing and your goal on paper. It is important to have something tangible everyone can refer to in times of disagreement or when clarity and direction are needed.

Have your group identify a goal they want to reach. Sounds easy enough, right? But proceed with caution. Your goal should have certain characteristics if you want to be successful and efficient (avoid wasting precious time and resources). A common method of doing this is to use the S.M.A.R.T. approach to goal-setting. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Specific: What do we want to accomplish? Who is responsible for resolving the issue? What are the requirements and limitations? Measurable: How much, how many, how will we know if we accomplished our goal? Attainable: How can we accomplish this goal? Is this a realistic goal based on the tools, skills, constraints and people we have? Relevant: Is this goal worthwhile and important? Will members of my community be willing to fight to achieve this goal? Time-Bound: By when do we want to accomplish this goal? What should we do immediately? What should we do long-term?

Create committees to accomplish important tasks: Your group want to accomplish its goal without wasting time, money or other resources. To do this, you must identify tasks, assign people to complete them, and establish a specific timeline for completion. For example, you may create media, research, finance, and community outreach committees. Each committee or person must have specific tasks to complete. These people or committees need to meet regularly and update your group on their progress, difficulties, and tasks that still need completion.

Identify and develop a strategy and list of tactics to achieve your goal. Your group, based on its goal, research, and resources, must now identify how you will accomplish your goal. This includes but is not limited to: protests, petition-drives, fundraisers, teach-ins, boycotts, demonstrations, press conferences, acts of civil disobedience, proposing and helping to write legislation, editorial articles in the local newspaper, etc.

As we approach the conclusion of this article, there are some important tips I’d like to share from my own organizing experience and study:

  • To be an effective organizer, you must develop authentic relationships with people. You must be concerned about people, interested in their opinions, and you must earn their trust. Otherwise, people will refuse to work with you no matter how prepared and committed you are.
  • You should be familiar with the community or people you’re trying to organize. Where do they hang out? What places of worship do they attend? What people or leaders do they respect? What issues are important to them?
  • You should not be condescending, arrogant, or the type of person who wants to do everything yourself. Effective organizers are confident yet humble; They know when to talk, and when to listen; They are also inclusive. They actively solicit the support and input of others and are willing to share responsibilities. Their goal is not to become famous, popular or wealthy, but to serve others and help them solve problems. Excellent organizers help other people to gain new skills, confidence, and develop into leaders themselves.
  • Take time to identify other groups, organizations and individuals who address your issue. If the goal is to reach your goal, it would help to form coalitions with other people as committed to doing this as you are. But be discerning. All leaders and groups are not what they seem to be. Some are conflicted, compromised and fraudulent. Choose your allies wisely.
  • Effective organizing is hard work, but you must maintain balance. Human beings are social creatures who need and want time to socialize, have fun and relax. Work hard and be serious about meeting your goals, but also make time for yourself and your group to celebrate victories and socialize.
  • Encourage critical thinking. Good organizers realize that all opinions or ideas (including their own) are not valid or constructive. Our goal in organizing is not to inflate our egos, impress people with our intelligence, or humiliate anyone; Our goal is to reach our goal. Therefore, make time to ask members of your group for respectfully-voiced suggestions and critiques. Encourage your group to debate policies and methods to determine the “best” or most effective ones available.
  • When organizing, it is always important to reach high and challenge yourself. At the same time, we want to make our goals and expectations manageable. If we spread our group too thin or take on too many responsibilities, we demoralize and disappoint our members, fail to meet our goals, and possibly turn people off to organizing in the future. Organizations feel proud when they have several programs or initiatives. However, it is better to do 2 things exceptionally well, than to do 20 things poorly.

As stated earlier in this article, the information provided here is not enough to make you an effective community organizer, but it is enough to get you started in the right direction. Much success to you in your community organizing efforts, and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you have about your own community organizing.

Recommended Reading

The Art of Leadership Vol II by Oba T’Shaka

Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby

The Making of Black Revolutionaries by James Forman

Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) by Kwame Ture

The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century by Randy Shaw

Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky

Organizing for Social Change Midwest Academy Manual for Activists by Kemberly Bobo and Steve Max


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

What Does Revolutionary Black Love Look Like?


I made a recent Facebook post affirming our constitutional and human rights as Black people to defend ourselves in the face of unrelenting brutality and murder by racist police, white vigilantes and predatory members of our own communities.. Many respondents agreed (it’s difficult not to) and some explained that our capacity to “police” our own communities increases when we cultivate revolutionary love for each other.

I agreed completely. I often quote the iconic Argentine revolutionary Che Guervara who once wrote: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”

Our powerfully insightful intellectual James Baldwin noted, “The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”

Moved by this response to my Facebook post, and by the above quotes, I began thinking deeply about the phrase. I asked myself, “What does revolutionary Black love look like, how do we cultivate it, and how will its existence impact how we relate to each other as Black people?”

What Does Revolutionary Black Love Look Like?

I begin with the following premise: “Revolutionary Black love is a redundant phrase. For In a society that has spent and continues to spent countless effort and energy teaching Black people to hate themselves, the very existence of Black love itself is by definition, revolutionary.” Yet this point still doesn’t help us understand or describe Revolutionary Black love. To accomplish this, I dive into my own life for answers, and the larger ocean of Black experience itself.

  • My mother demonstrated revolutionary Black love when she sacrificed stylish clothes, a graduate scholarship to New York University, a larger apartment, and having additional children, in order to finance a private education for me from elementary school to high school (and compelled my dad to agree with her decision). This twelve-year commitment demonstrated that she prioritized her child’s education over personal comfort and other interests.
  • My dad was a native New Yorker and Harlemite who regularly played for basketball powerhouse Benjamin Franklin High School alongside the legendary Earl “The Goat” Manigault (He also regularly played in the famed Rucker’s Basketball Tournament with the likes of Nate Archibald, Lew Alcindor a.k.a. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charlie Scott, “Pee Wee” Kirkland, and a number of other Harlem basketball icons). He told me that his high school coach – who was also the assistant principal – let he and other ball players skip class. The coach would unethically assign them undeserved good grades to keep them eligible to play basketball. Consequently, my dad’s academic skills suffered and he struggled with reading. Nonetheless, he later got help and became a prolific reader (his collection of books on African civilizations, Benin art, slavery, and Malcolm X became my first library on the Black experience). When I decided to apply to Syracuse University for undergraduate study, my dad learned about the H.E.O.P. program, contacted the assistant director, and arranged an interview with her. He told me to write an essay explaining why I wanted to attend (despite my protests that I had already done son as part of the application process). He rented a car and drove me 4 hours to Syracuse, New York where we met with Mrs. Betty Boozer. She, no doubt awed by my charismatic and determined dad, and by my essay and eagerness, pulled strings and got me into the program. Later I became a radical and controversial student leader at the university, helping to lead several months of protests, building takeovers, and meeting disruptions. A university official called my house on behalf of the university, explaining that my political activities were causing great embarrassment to the school and might end with me getting expelled. My dad later recalled the incident to me. “This administrator from Syracuse University called, saying you were a trouble-maker and you were embarrassing the school with all those demonstrations, taking over buildings, and rallies. He said to tell you to resign from president of your organization or they might kick you out. I told him, that your mother and I were proud of you, and that you have our full support. If the university doesn’t like your protests, they should make sure you have nothing to protest about. I told him the next time he calls me, it  better be to apologize, and I hung up.” My dad demonstrated revolutionary love by doing all he could to get me in college, and then supporting our Black student movement and my role in it, even with threats of me getting kicked out. Through action, he taught me to stand up for our people and stick your neck out, even at expense to yourself.

I can continue with countless examples from my personal life, but revolutionary Black love is well documented in our collective experience as Africans in America. Harriet Tubman who made dozens of trips to and from the South, rescued 3000 Black people from the horrors of chattel slavery. She did this at great risk to herself and a $50,000 bounty on her head; Ella Baker was a tireless and brilliant organizer dating back to work with the Young Negroes Cooperative League in the 1930s. She later worked with the NAACP, SCLC, SNCC and a host of other organizations for almost five decades, up to her death in 1986. Hear her for yourself in the clip below.

Baker organized a conference at Shaw University in 1960 to  coordinate the efforts of student activists around the country. SCLC hoped this would lead to a student wing of their organization. Baker instead encouraged the assembled student activists to form their own independent organization and use their own voice and ideas. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was born and went on to radicalize the Civil Rights Movement, and make it more inclusive of Black women. Rather than emphasizing charismatic male leadership, SNCC focusing on grassroots organizing and inclusive leadership. They went all over the south teaching leadership and organizing skills to poor Black folks, many of whom were previously inactive until SNCC’s contact. We might not know the names or benefit from the activism of Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Dianne Nash, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Marion Barry, Bob Moses, James Foreman, or H. Rap Brown were it not for SNCC and Baker’s political mentorship. Baker demonstrated Revolutionary Black love by spending her life in service to Black people and by mentoring youth and allowing them to make their own decisions and determine their own leadership. Bernice Johnson Reagon was so moved by Baker’s mentorship and tireless service, that she wrote a song in her tribute entitled “Ella’s Song,” which she performs with her group “Sweet Honey in the Rock.”

We can summarize that revolutionary Black love involves:

  • Fearlessness: Not allowing fears of persecution to stop us from taking principled stands.
  • Agency: A willingness to roll up one’s sleeves and get personally involved in listening to others and working with others to address day-to-day issues and larger community concerns.
  • Selflessness: Putting community needs over personal comfort.
  • Empowering and supporting those in our immediate and community family and making this a priority.
  • Being patient and nurturing with our young people, providing them with mentorship and skills-building, then trusting them to develop their own leadership and ideas.
  • Acting immediately to address current issues, but planning to bring future visions into fruition.

How do we cultivate it?

The answer to this question is simple, but practicing it takes patience and consistent work. To cultivate Revolutionary Black love, we must begin by valuing and loving ourselves. This includes loving our bodies/physical features, our history and heritage, and our freedom and empowerment. We must through knowledge and education, break through artificial layers of self-hate and devaluation created for us by those who mistreat and exploit us. We must also be honest with ourselves about our shortcomings, contradictions, and self-defeating behavior. Then we work hard to be and do better. In the process, we gain humility, as we recognize that we are fragile, prone to mistakes and errors in judgement like anyone else. This leads us to apologize when we violate another member of the community, without feeling inferior or weak for doing so.

The next stage involves extending that personal love, honesty and humility to our people. We begin to  want for our community what we want for ourselves and our families. We put ourselves in position to render excellent service to our larger communities, and we do so not with a sense of entitlement or arrogance, but with a sense of humility. As we begin to help others without strings attached, we develop trust. As we provide constructive criticism without condescension or judgement, we become community mentors whose advice people trust and actively seek. We empathize with the challenges, pain, and frustrations of our community members. We develop a capacity to solve personal and collective problems and work together despite differences of opinion. We listen when others speak and don’t take offense because we know they have only positive and loving intentions. We also learn to disagree without attacking or insulting one another in doing so. We develop the empowering capacity to forgive our brothers and sisters, and to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. In other words, we become “Our brother’s and sister’s keeper.”

How will Revolutionary Black love impact our community?

As we begin to value ourselves and our people, as we begin to show empathy, compassion, and concern, as we become fearless, community service-oriented, and selfless, we can expect to notice the following:

  • Black people willingly share their knowledge, money, and other resources to help each other in noble and authentic efforts.
  • We protect and stand up for each other even if we ourselves have not been mistreated.
  • We unashamedly identify and expose those in or outside of our community who work against our common interests, or who are fraudulent.
  • We support noble Black organizations, movements, and leaders who work to improve conditions for us, even if we don’t fully agree with their methods or ideas.
  • We take positions or create projects to empower our people, even when doing so causes controversy, or persecution to ourselves.
  • We empower and mentor our youth and give them opportunities to lead and solve problems.
  • We state our disagreements with policy, methods, and people clearly and respectfully because doing so makes our movements, organizations, and communities better.

I thank sister Loga  for sharing the phrase Revolutionary Black love, and I encourage us to really think about the information/ideas put forth in this article. In conclusion, remember that hate, envy, apathy, distrust,  and cynicism are choices. So too is Revolutionary Black Love.  It, and the various expressions of it, are indispensable and unavoidable if we truly desire to be fulfilled, successful, and FREE. The doors of Revolutionary Black love are open…..who will come?


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

Resolving the Problem of Black Miseducation

We are familiar with the oft-quoted Ghanaian proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Sometimes I wonder if we recognize the converse of this truth: “It takes a village to destroy a child” as well.

With this in mind, reasonable Black folk must concede that we cannot attach sole responsibility for the miseducation of our youth to negligent Black households. While easy and convenient, this approach fails to assign equal responsibility to our local places of worship, community organizations, and public schools.

Of these, the last community resource (public schools) remain convenient targets for those of us working to provide Black children with an empowering education. But if it takes a village, why do we single public schools out when it comes to education? For one, they are THE recognized institution responsible for education in our communities; Secondly, they have trained teachers, administrators and staff (whose salaries derive from our taxes); In addition, schools have budgets, supplies, property, specifically allocated and designated for educating our children. Certainly, this all makes sense, that is until we recognize that the public education system has a hidden agenda for educating Black children that draws its roots from the turn of the 20th century.

This hidden agenda implies that we must begin by clearly understanding the purpose and objectives of education from a societal view. Paolo Friere in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, addresses the purpose of education by noting: 

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

Putting Friere’s quote into a U.S. context, the U.S. educational system prepares our children to integrate and conform to its culture of values, expectations and views. From the societal standpoint, our children are to assume three primary roles: 1.To become a semi-skilled pool of labor for corporations who will follow instructions without resistance. 2.To become a relatively smaller pool of directors or managers (professional overseers) for the corporate plantation. 3. To become the defenders and enforcers (military and police) of the corporate culture.

The first group is designed to generate wealth via their underpaid labor for the corporate elite while the second group coordinates, manages and helps train the first group or uses its higher degree of skill to make more money for the corporate culture.  The third group monitors, detains, intimidates and murders critics, rebels and disillusioned citizens who might threaten the corporate culture’s existence and objectives. You will note that all groups must be patriotic, subscribe to bourgeois notions of achieving the “American Dream,” defend and sympathize with U.S. capitalist/imperialist culture, and of course have the basic skills and sensibilities to fulfill their respective functions.

Black Nationalists like myself and my comrades in the educational trenches, find the social conditioning and conformity agenda of education unjust and unacceptable. We side with the freedom-oriented and transformative objectives of education. We reject an educational system which produces generations of people who uphold, defend and cooperative with an unjust and exploitive status quo. We seek one that creates critical and creative thinkers and problem-solvers who work to create a just society. We want competent and compassionate human beings who identify with and advocate for the Black experiences and communities that birthed them. Knowing that the traditional school system – along with the university think-tanks, foundations, and corporate culture that created and maintained it – aims to create people who will maintain the current status quo, we challenge and reject it. We understand that such curricula, schools, and school cultures will keep the current system of white supremacy in place. Our unashamed goal is to dismantle it and prevent it from regenerating.

For many of us then, Afrocentric schools become the remedy of choice. By definition,too much schooling such schools boast all-Black faculty and staff, use fair and effective methods of discipline that edify rather than humiliate, and promote academic rigor and competence while teaching our children to love, understand, advance and protect their history, minds, and people. Dr. Mwalimu Shujaa, a widely-recognized expert on the subject, oulined 5 characteristics/objectives of an African-centered education in his book, “Too Much Schooling, Too LIttle Education:

1. It should reflect our own interests as a cultural nation and be grounded in our cultural history.

2. It should be a process of identity development within the context of Pan-African kinship and heritage.

3. It should provide for the inter-generational transmission of values, beliefs, traditions, customs, rituals and sensibilities along with the acknowledge of why these things must be sustained.

4. It should teach children how to determine what is in our interests, distinguish our interests from those of others, and recognize when our interests are consistent and inconsistent with those of others.

5. It should prepare children to accept the staff of cultural leadership from the generation that preceded theirs, build upon their inheritance, and make ready the generation that will follow them

Before we all lock arms close our eyes, and begin singing “Kumbaya” however, we must acknowledge some serious challenges to resolving the issue of Black miseducation. No serious movement to provide our children a real education will occur easily, without opposition, or “overnight.”

1. Because true African-centered curricula and schools go against the social conditioning agenda of U.S. education, they face intense scrutiny, monitoring, and lack of support from “mainstream” society who will label them as “reverse racist,” “separatist,” and even “terrorist.” Such schools therefore, will need to seek private funding and avoid any government support. They will most likely need to be private and independent, and charge tuition to cover expenses.

2. There are not enough Afrocentric schools to accommodate all or even 10% of the school-aged Black children and youth in the United States: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2014, approximately 7.7 million Black children attended public elementary and secondary schools. I From my internet search, I could only identify 37 African-centered schools in the entire country and I could not verify that all of them are still open, or are in fact, truly African-centered. It will likely take decades to close this gap. In the meantime, this means the overwhelming majority of our children will attend traditional public schools. Yet, all hope is not lost. We should begin a rigorous campaign to create viable independent and African-centered schools.

But at the same time, we need courageous and qualified Black teachers to continue working in existing public schools, providing our children with a conscious alternative to the brainwashing and social conditioning they receive. We also need to create more viable after school programs and liberation schools in our community centers and places of worship. Our churches, mosques and temples own property and have already-established congregations/members, many of whom have expertise in several important fields in additional to professional resources. Another excellent options is community homeschooling. Congregants should challenge these institutions to create such programs.

Brother Markus Kline has created 3 successful homeschools called Freedom Home Academy in Chicago which house several students, and provides a rigorous academic and African-centered education. Students learn 3 languages (Arabic, Swahili, and French) and ADVANCED academics. All students demonstrate accelerated learning. Why can’t we create schools like this in every U.S. city? See brother Kline discussing his concept below.

3. Even when we create a larger number of African-centered schools throughout the country, who will form the important cadre of teachers and administrators? How do we make sure these individuals remain true to the pedagogy of African-centered curriculum, discipline, and education? How do we prevent the ever-present tendencies of bourgeois values (materialism, individualism, profits over people, pro-imperialist thinking) or patriarchy and homophobia from creeping into and sabotaging our schools, staff, and students? The not-so-subtle answer is that we must create national or regional institutions that recruit and properly train Black people to teach and run African-centered schools, and institutions that accredit such schools.

Simply being a Black teacher does not designate a person as African-centered or even “conscious,” and simply having all Black faculty, staff and students does not characterize a school as being “African-centered.” Educators in these schools will need to understand the “Developmental psychology of Black students” (Amos Wilson), African-centered education, and be able to develop disciplinary, management, and instructional methods consistent with this. We must provide parents with the capacity to determine if any school is certifiably African-centered beyond just a name or claim.

In closing, Black Nationalists like myself always argue that “We can’t send our children to receive education from our enemies.” Yet, I  should remind you that Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Kwame Ture, Assata Shakur, George Jackson, or most of our most radical and committed Black Liberation leaders did not attend African-centered schools. They either attended segregated Black schools or integrated schools. In either case, neither brand of these schools were African-centered by our contemporary definition. The African-centered school movement was a product of SNCC’s “Freedom Schools” and the Black Power Movement. This means that while African-centered schools are the preferred ideal, our children need an empowering education NOW and we cannot afford to wait several decades to accommodate all of them in such schools. However, we can still help our children emerge competent, committed, and conscious even in the framework of the existing school system if we seriously reconfigure and maximize educational capacity within the larger community VILLAGE that raises them.


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

It’s Time to Eliminate All Confusion, Illusion, and Distractions, Black People!

fanon quote

As you know by now (if you follow my blog), I totally oppose white supremacy  and have done so using every skill set and bit of knowledge I have for the past 29-30 years. I’ve studied the Black experience in Africa, America, and throughout the diaspora via higher education and self-education. My self-education involved decades of focused reading, reviewing documentaries and movies, and receiving the tutelage and mentorship of wise and experienced Black elders who were/are experienced scholar-activists. Among other things, these individuals taught me to be humble, critical, balanced, competent, and committed to the people.

However I didn’t spend all of this time with my nose buried in books.  Over the years I’ve been blessed to meet and work with dedicated Black college students, grade-school parents, educators, and various community folk throughout the United States. Despite some inevitable mistakes and errors in judgement along the way, we/I created a middle school, successfully challenged racist policies and practices, and organized our community to  “Wake up, Clean up and Stand up!”

It is not my intent to engage in braggadocio, but to make it clear that:

  • I am no “johnny-come-lately” activist or intellectual.
  • I have no illusions that I or my opinions are divine or infallible, but they are backed by and fused with serious study and effective and successful community activism, which are verifiable.
  • Therefore while everyone has the right and responsibility to disagree with my conclusions, these conclusions are informed and should at least be seriously considered by reasonable people.

These are important considerations when you consider that everyone has opinions, but not all opinions are valid and informed. Now on to the blog topic…..

Anytime an entity makes a decision to subjugate another, that entity must use two primary means to accomplish the task: coercion and deception. Coercive methods involve military or paramilitary forces, restrictive laws and law enforcement, and anything using intimidation and punitive measures. Coercion operates by creating fear among people and encouraging their cooperation. Deception involves using distorted history, mythology, religious concepts, negative propaganda, etc. The goal of deception is to mislead people in various ways so that they accept their subordinate place in the social order, accommodate to their oppression,  and become parties of their own victimization. Those among the subordinated group who claim to fight for their liberation, must eliminate all confusion and illusion from their people.

In this spirit, I’d like to humbly remind us that:

1. We have the right to determine for ourselves what strategies or tactics to use, who are leaders are, and what our collective priorities and values are. We refer to this as self-determination.

2. Our fight for liberation must be TOTAL. To say we are for Black liberation and to exclude those in our community that are women or members of the LGBTQ community is contradictory, divisive and backwards. Black people must come together, organize around our common interests, and allow for valid critique and disagreement with each other while doing so. We refer to this as Black solidarity.

3. Others can assist our causes and in some cases, join our organizations (honestly, that is not my preference). That is OUR call to make. However, WE must lead our movements, and protect and advance OUR interests first and foremost. History provides ample proof that other people sympathize with us, join our movements, and begin to dictate policy and strategy. We cannot continue to allow this to occur. As Frederick Douglass said, “Let he who is wounded, cry out!”

We cannot choose allies emotionally. We must do so strategically. The criteria for identifying and determining outside allies should include: those willing to accept our leadership and who respect our right to self-determination; those who have important resources that can benefit us (money, specialized skill, property, information, etc.); those with a demonstrated and credible record of supporting our causes and who share our consciousness. And if we choose an outside person as an ally, we should immediately disconnect from them if they compromise  any of the above things. As you will note from World history, nations and people are allies one moment, and enemies another moment. Alliances are usually NOT permanent. We form them for accomplish specific objectives.

4. Related to the previous point, we must be clear on who are enemies are. We must stop thinking that just whites or ALL whites comprise our enemies. The designation of “enemy” is not static, but dynamic and based on context. Collectively speaking, our “enemies” constitute organizations, institutions, and individuals whose policies and actions compromise our safety, intelligence, health, freedom, happiness, and prosperity. In this context, our enemies may (based on the context) include certain universities, school systems, corporations, fellow Black people, certain Latinos, Asians, etc. and their respective organizations or institutions.

5. The strategies and tactics we employ must effectively address/resolve the issue/problem we confront. Again, we must think strategically. We do ourselves a disservice if we use a tactic just because it worked in the past, or simply because it is popular. We don’t use a tank to kill a roach; Boycotts, rallies, protests, demonstrations, candle-light vigils and marches have become our traditional means of addressing injustice. But we cannot always rely on these methods, because they are not always effective or relevant. Tactics do not come one-size-fits-all. When we identify the issue, our resources, how we’re affected, and the major players involved (the context) then and only then are we poised to determine effective tactics. Also, it pays to be knowledgeable about effective protest strategy.

6. We waste precious time debating issues that have already been resolved, or once resolved, push us no closer to meeting an important objective.  Unless we’re trying to challenge patriarchy, what is the sense of debating if the Black woman is God? Unless we’re challenging homophobia or sexuality oppression, what’s the sense of debating if homosexuality existed in ancient Africa? Debating as a form of intellectual exercise or refinement is an excellent tool in academic or scholarly institutions. In my opinion, all Black folk should learn the proper way to structure, support or attack an argument and to detect logical flaws.

In the sociopolitical arena however, we don’t debate just to display our intelligence or scholarship. We engage real problems affecting real people who demand real solutions. In this context, debates should become less about rhetoric and logic. Our goal  is not to vanquish an opponent, flaunt our knowledge or vocabulary, or impress spectators. We seek to solve problems, create sound public policy and clarify objectives, and refine and develop strategy and tactics.

As I see it, the most effective and relevant debates will occur within an organization. Once the debate concludes (depending on which side prevailed) the organization then creates policy, refines its objectives or priorities, or adopts strategy or tactics accordingly. In this manner, a debate leads to something relevant and functional. In my hometown (NYC) and many others across the country, people host widely promoted debates between individuals in the conscious community for a fee. Some useful information comes out in these events. But many times they disintegrate into hostile shouting matches where profanity and insults  dominate and spectators cheer wildly for the person in their particular camp. It also appears that the two people insulting and attacking one another are in fact “debating” issues far better addressed by powerful Afrocentric intellectuals like Ben Yosef-Jochannon, John H. Clarke, Ivan Van Sertima, Chancellor Williams, Tony Browder, Ashra Kwesi, Phil Valentine, and brother Kaba Kamene. Most of these individuals have books, YouTube clips, and dvds available which explain the subject matter in greater detail and with more competence than do today’s debaters. Many of these contemporary debates provide good sums of money for the promoters and participants, but little new or relevant information for the spectators, let alone any organized and consistent way to implement and utilize this information for community empowerment. I humbly suggest that what we need is far less of this, and far more serious study groups. Study groups are more inclusive and participatory, and generate more focused and useful information and discussion.

7. A major difference I noticed  in the past as opposed to now, is that in the past we had several organizations and brilliant individuals represented them. Marcus Garvey headed the Universal Negro Improvement Association; Elijah Muhammad led the Nation of Islam; Malcolm X was its spokesperson and national representative who later founded the Muslim Mosque Incorporated and Organization of Afro-American Unity; Ella Baker was a member of several organizations throughout her life including the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1960, she also organized student activists around the country to form the the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Dr. King led the Montgomery Improvement Association and later (along with Ella Baker and others) started and led SCLC; Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense; Maulana Karenga formed the “US” organization and promoted cultural Nationalism through his “Kawaida Theory”; Amiri Baraka headed the Congress of African People; Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) was a member/leader of SNCC and later founded the All African People’s Revolutionary Party; All of theme were charismatic people who spoke well but did so with a specific organizational program and platform. These individuals did not  speak or organize by or for themselves.

We still have several organizations in existence today (most notably, the Nation of Islam, the New Black Panther Party and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement). Unlike times of the past however, we now see a new phenomenon: individuals doing public speaking all over the country who are not connected to or representing a specific organization (including myself).  This is not necessarily a problem if those individuals are competent, conscious and committed. Organizations have the added advantages of budgets, mass membership, communications networks, offices, official platforms/programs, and a number of other resources, making them far more powerful and effective than any individual. Organizations also have the ability to outlive individuals. If we fight for liberation, and want to do so with maximum support and impact, we must either join already existing organizations, or create new ones. Pooling collective resources, ideas, and skills with like-minded people will inevitably prove more stable and effective than the efforts of scattered individuals. I myself realized this some time ago. For all the above reasons, I attempted to resuscitate brother Malcolm’s OAAU a few years ago (Until I discovered a distinguished elder had already done so) and I’m working now with other people to start a new organization focused on inclusive leadership, people’s survival programs, grassroots activism, political education, community economics, self-defense, leadership development and of course Black Power! I’ll discuss that in detail at another time once we finalize our planning and begin recruitment.”

 8. Last but not least, the project of liberating ourselves is difficult, but not impossible. However, we cannot be fooled into thinking that applying one magic solution, approach, esoteric knowledge, or political/religious affiliation will end our collective problems.  Regardless of our location and labels we are still restricted, attacked and exploited by those who oppose us. If liberation were simply a matter of adopting African or Islamic names, studying lessons, doing secret hand shakes/gestures, revoking our citizenship, owning a special document, reciting positive affirmations, speaking other languages, praying, having a Black president or speaking and wearing our clothes a certain way, we’d all be free by year’s end. As sentient people, we have a right to our preferences and political choices. But never think for a minute that your particular belief or practice has “saved” you from the horrors of white supremacy. People that do all the things I just described STILL have financial and family challenges, are harassed, mischaracterized, and victimized by white supremacy like anyone else.

The only true differences between the conscious and unconscious, is that conscious folk are aware of who we are and why we’re oppressed, we reject societal propaganda, we identify and deliberately challenge those people and things oppressing us, we create things to protect and advance our interests, and we educate ourselves and organize others to do something about it.

power reminder


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

How to Identify Compromised or Fraudulent Black Leaders

believe nothing

A world dominated by so much war, lies, and injustice becomes a breeding ground for leaders, pundits (social commentators) and activists/organizers. These individuals take many forms including formal leaders of organizations, politicians, bloggers, public speakers, journalists, tv personalities, nonprofit organizers, grassroots activists, etc.

It is inspiring to know that some people are courageous enough to challenge oppressive systems, inform us and even organize us to improve our quality of life. Unfortunately, all of these people are not genuine. Some people are motivated by the all-too-familiar goals of fame, wealth, and status. Many of these individuals are intelligent and skilled. They simply care more about themselves than they do the people they supposedly lead. They may have grand dreams of driving expensive cars, purchasing fine homes, exerting authority over people, or having their pick of sexual activity with throngs of admiring and gullible followers.

We all desire some degree of material comfort and we all want the respect and admiration of others. Dr. Martin Luther King discussed this in a sermon entitled “The Drum Major Instinct.” Drawing from Biblical references, Dr. King reminds us that the desire for recognition, importance, leadership and  “greatness” sometimes leads us to focus on satisfying  our appetites for such things, rather than doing what really makes us great: serving others.

anakin skywalker

In the “Star Wars” series, Anakin Skywalker began as a talented warrior against injustice and was believed by some to be a messiah; But he later became an evil and murderous force due to his arrogance.

We find this drum major instinct among some leaders in the Black community. For these individuals, the goal of empowering Black people is really a noble-sounding disguise for empowering themselves at Black people’s expense. Some start off with good intentions and ability, but like the character Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars, become compromised and corrupted by their arrogance, fear or an obsessive need for personal power and authority.

daily-news-sharptonThis phenomenon doesn’t just occur in science fiction movies. Back in 2014, the New York Daily News broke a story that implicated longtime activist Al Sharpton as a FBI informant who who attempted to gain information on the whereabouts of Assata Shakur, who was on the run after escaping from prison in 1979. According to the Smoking Gun website Sharpton also wore a wire to gain information on mob bosses for the government.

Once exposed to the benefits of fame, wealth, travel sexual favors, etc., some lose their way. What began as a sincere effort to help uplift the Black community morphs into a desire to satisfy their personal appetites. The desire to serve the community dwindles and the desire for applause, power, comfort and recognition become supreme. Instead of valuing constructive criticism, these folk resent what they falsely view as jealous challenges to their leadership or authority. Compromised Black people/leaders begin to demonstrate some  or all of the following behaviors:

  • They attempt to silence or attack critics
  • They develop feelings of entitlement and elitism
  • Seeking shortcuts or alternatives to years of solid study, work, and activism, compromised leaders resort to get-rich-quick schemes, poorly planned projects, and in the worst cases, fraudulent activities or dishonesty about their credentials or past achievements.
  • They create cult-like organizations to satisfy their appetites for sex, money, recognition and unchecked power and influence.
  • They are reluctant to collaborate with others or seek outside expertise and opinion; they NEED to lead or run everything, even things for which they are unqualified.
  • Because of their obsessive desire for money and power, they are easily seduced to become paid government agents/informants.
  • They take high-paying jobs, occupy important positions or associate with people/organizations which oppress their people and compromise their leadership.

Such behavior leads the larger Black community to great disillusionment, failure and deception. We have the right and responsibility to protect ourselves against such fraudulent and compromised individuals. Fortunately, there are things we can do to protect ourselves These things take the form of questions or things to look for:

  • Are they qualified? Simply put, you want to know if someone is qualified to do the work they proclaim to do, either through education, life experience or both. And if the person blatantly lies about their qualifications, be wary of them. People who truly care about community empowerment will do the work/study necessary to provide excellent service.
  • Do they display humility and gratitude? Authentic leaders don’t wear their resumes on their sleeves or repeatedly brag about their accomplishments Other people speak about them with admiration and respect or recall their accomplishments.  Authentic leaders should thank the community and individuals for their support. Here’s an interesting bit of advice. Pay attention to their use of pronouns. Do they always use the words “me” and I”?” Or, do you hear them often say “We,” “us,” and “our?” This often provides clues to whether a person is self-absorbed or whether they focus on the collective. As no one is perfect and we all make errors in judgement or fall short, you also want to know if this person is accountable. Do they apologize when they fall short, or do they blame others and attempt to shift responsibility away from themselves? Do they admit when they don’t know something, or do they avoid and attempt to refocus the question?
  • You want signs that the person has successfully collaborated with others in the past. No leader can be effective without working with others. This means there should be evidence of teamwork and collaboration in a person’s background. If a person does everything him or herself, this is a sign of trouble.
  • The person should have a documented background of successful leadership and activism: This separates genuine leaders from “talking heads” and mere social commentators. What organization did they lead or belong to? What role did they play in the organization? Did they bring honor and success to the organization, or shame and failure? This research should reveal a general record of jobs well done, effective organizing, and good reports from those the person worked with in the community. Compromised leaders will often display evidence of stealing, poor decision-making, dishonesty, self-absorption or other negative behaviors in their past experiences. Good or bad leaders are not born overnight.
  • Who are their mentors? Effective leaders are typically guided and advised by wise and credible mentors. The politics, reputation, and past activities of mentors also reveals things to us about those they advise. Compromised leaders will often have no mentors or have very questionable ones with shaky backgrounds/beliefs themselves. Also, mentors who are credible can and will vouch for those they mentored. If a person’s mentors are unwilling to vouch for them, or if they speak negatively about them, this naturally raises suspicions.
  • What do the people who live in the community where this person organized in the past have to say about them? If someone did organizing in a particular city, people in that community should have favorable memories of this person and their work.
  • Do they have a plan, program or platform designed to improve conditions in our community? Anyone can give an opinion or complain about injustice. Leaders distinguish themselves by providing relevant analysis, methods, strategies, and plans to address important issues and solve problems. In addition, you should see evidence of this person implementing these methods or solutions.
  • Do they just proclaim and pontificate, or do they educate and inform? Genuine leaders work hard to teach and inform the masses to do better and be better. They expose societal and in-house contradictions, teach people how oppressive systems work, and equip people with the knowledge or tools to challenge injustice and discard self-defeating thoughts and behavior. To do this of course, the leader must have this knowledge or skill set themselves.
  • Do they see themselves as THE leader of Black people, or one of many? The limits of the messiah complex are self-explanatory and well-known. but here’s another point to consider: Genuine leaders work to develop and produce other people to assume leadership, because they realize no one person (regardless of their talent or intelligence) can truly empower or liberate millions of Black people!

If you ask yourself these questions and do the proper research, you will most likely be able to distinguish genuine and effective leaders from those who are compromised, incompetent, or fraudulent. Doing this will protect you from wasting time, money and loyalty to those who don’t deserve them.  Taking this approach does not make you a enemy of the people, but a wise and informed person.

Finally, do not assume that wide popularity, a full schedule of speaking engagements, or recognition in social or traditional media makes a person authentic or effective as a leader or activist. Sometimes these are indicators of legitimate accomplishment. Sometimes, this just means someone has an effective publicist and marketing strategy. It could also mean that the people supporting this person are uninformed and gullible sheeple that drank the propaganda Kool-Aid! As powerful Hip Hop artist Immortal Technique says in his song, “Industrial Revolution“Cause if you go platinum, it’s got nothing to do with luck, it just means that a million people are stupid as fuck.”

While the following video targets fraudulent and compromised white “truth leaders” in the United States, you will find some of the information relevant to Black leadership as well:


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

Hypocritical and Opportunist Black Leadership Has to Go!!


My dear people, the time has come to “keep it real” with respect to the heavily conflicted and contradictory Black leaders and spokespeople in our community. Liberation requires that we both build and destroy, create and eliminate.

In terms of “building,” we must do the important work of building independent institutions, raising consciousness, and organizing our people to do the work necessary to solve our problems. With respect to “destroying,” we must dismantle oppressive systems that subjugate us, and simultaneously identify and eliminate our own self-defeating attitudes and behaviors.

Brother Malcolm brilliantly summarized these efforts: “Wake up, Clean, up and Stand up.” Many dedicated and authentic Black people around this country consistently do the work of helping Black folk wake up (by raising their consciousness) and stand up (by organizing, protesting and building the independent institutions we so desperately need).

Unfortunately too many of us want to turn Malcolm’s three-part process into only two parts: Waking up and standing up. When it comes to cleaning up, we leave much to be desired. We can courageously and fiercely challenge white supremacy and those who support it. But we fall short when it comes to challenging ourselves to be better and do better. Why is this so problematic? Because when we skip or dismiss this crucial step in the process of liberating ourselves, we actually sabotage and compromise our entire liberation process. Bitter, insecure, envious, arrogant, fraudulent and self-serving individuals spoil our best efforts by causing disharmony, division, confusion, and ugly in-fighting.

This problem becomes compounded when so-called leaders and spokespeople – presumably our most informed and experienced community folk – exhibit these qualities and provoke their negative outcomes. What precisely am I referring to?


Arrogance: A leader is first and foremost, a servant of his/her people. Their role as a leader is not self-appointed, but conferred upon them by the people based on meeting certain qualifications. When an individual forgets this and begins to see themselves as THE movement rather than a part of the movement, they automatically invalidate their leadership.

A leader or public speaker for Black people should never act as if they are entitled to our money or support. We earn such things  through hard work, effectiveness and productivity. If a person has not produced or effectively challenged anything or has not improved the quality of our lives in meaningful ways, they are no more deserving of our time, work, support or money than con artists or beggars. As you will note, anything we give such folk is at our discretion, but they are not entitled to it, and therefore cannot demand or expect it! Lastly, when a prominent spokesperson, public speaker or leader blatantly violates leadership protocol or the mandates of leadership, he/she should be mature and considerate enough to apologize for their behavior, indicate a desire to improve, and specify a plan for improvement. Failure to do this implies arrogance of the highest order, since we know that everyone makes mistakes or exercises poor judgement. This also implies that the person in question thinks him/herself superior to the rest of us.


Disrespect: Any leader in our community should be righteously indignant. This means he/she should be angry about the horrors we experience daily in courtrooms, boardrooms, classrooms, prisons, and in our neighborhoods. However, they organize, study, fight, and speak out from a place of loving Black people and wanting us to be safe, healthy, intelligent, competent, and empowered. I’m hearing and reading too many individuals speaking to Black people who support or disagree with them, employing vile and profane language, name-calling, and personal attacks. This is not the behavior of a leader, but a deranged gang/cult leader or dictator. Publicly referring to our people as “niggers,” “hos,” “bitches,” or the like is unacceptable. People who disrespect us in such manners are not deserving of our support in any way, nor should we defend their disrespect.


Lack of Transparency: The same goes for individuals who come to us for money and don’t have the decency or inclination to be transparent (to inform us of how our money will be used, report how much money is raised or attempt to silence or disregard our valid and intelligent questions. If someone conducts business effectively, there is no reason to hide anything. If a leader refuses to answer your questions, or be held accountable, we should refuse to support or defend them until they do….


Dishonesty: We should be able to trust those in leadership positions. This means we should trust their abilities, intentions, and stated objectives. This can only occur when such people are honest and straightforward with us. Small “innocent” lies slowly morph into larger and more dangerous forms of dishonesty. If someone repeatedly refuses to be honest with us, they are by definition, untrustworthy and they fall into the category of “fraud” or “con artist.”

i got this

Messiah Complex: There is no “king,” sole leader or spokesman in the Black Liberation Movement. There has never been (notwithstanding those arrogantly chosen for us by our enemies) and there will never be. We have a plethora of issues and interests that no one man or woman can effectively address or resolve. Some people may be more articulate, knowledgeable, accomplished or charismatic than others, but the idea of a messiah is absurd and only interesting as a character in a science fiction movie or mythology. Just as it took networks of people to put us in this condition, it will take teams and networks of our own to liberate us.

Any authentic person advocating for us knows this. Rather than craving spotlight and attention for themselves, they share responsibilities, network, and promote collaborative and inclusive leadership. They identify and prepare others to assume leadership roles. Study the Abolitionist, Civil Rights, Black Power, Black Arts, Feminist, Anti-War, and African Independence Movements and this point becomes abundantly clear. Individuals die but organizations and institutions can live much longer. We need millions of activists, organizers, intellectuals and “leaders” working together in an organized fashion to have any hope of liberating our minds and bodies.


Impulsive and Non-Strategic: Our most effective leaders throughout history were people with the ability to strategize and think critically. They were decisive when they needed to be, but they did not say or do things without adequate planning. Social movements require planning and blueprints just like businesses and cities do. Individuals that make hasty decisions or articulate the “what” without considering the “why” or “how” set themselves and us up for defeat, disappointment and failure. We should be suspicious of people who endeavor to accomplish monumental tasks with half-baked ideas and inadequate plans. We should not extend our trust to people who can’t explain what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, or who fail to provide adequate timelines and evidence of a competent team backing them.

malcolm critics

Rejection of Constructive Criticism/valid critique: I’ve written about this important red flag in a previous article. In another article I wrote:

We employ legitimate and principled criticism in a preventative manner: It helps us to identify and guard against 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, however. 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.

Authentic and progressive leaders not only welcome critique, they have a circle of wise and experienced mentors with whom they regularly consult for advice and constructive criticism. I personally don’t trust the competence of a leader that has no such cabinet of qualified advisers. It means he or she relies solely on their own judgement and experiences, which is a sure of immaturity and arrogance.

In conclusion, I strongly urge you to consider these danger signs when evaluating any speaker, leader or activist in our community. Doing so may save you untold amounts of time, money and ill-feelings. Doing so in a larger sense, will also help us go forward rather than backwards as a people. Given these stakes, I urge us to challenge and expose such behaviors/attitudes when we see them. Sometimes our challenge and critique can help a hypocritical and self-absorbed person change their ways and become more effective. If this doesn’t occur, then maybe our efforts will cause people to remove such folk from their positions, or refuse supporting them.


 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

Embrace Constructive Criticism or Suffer!!

constructive criticism1

“When people stop giving you constructive criticism, they have most likely given up on you.”


Those of us who are activists, organizers or leaders should know the importance of constructive criticism. I can expand this group to include students, parents, business owners, employees, members of organized sports teams, spouses, and boyfriends/girlfriends.

The contemporary world we occupy (though seriously flawed) contains a plethora of ways to improve and become more effective.  However, as much as we may read spiritualist and motivational books, meditate, live a natural lifestyle, or deem ourselves “positive,”  “empowered,” and “working to improve ourselves,” many of us DO NOT APPRECIATE the importance of constructive criticism. And to the extent that we don’t, we severely compromise all of our efforts toward self-improvement/empowerment.

What is Constructive Criticism?

According to Wikipedia, constructive criticism is,

The process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. The purpose of constructive criticism is to improve the outcome.

Let’s examine what this means. According to the definition, when a person offers us constructive criticism, they do so in a manner that is balanced. They state positive things along with the criticism; They offer valid and well-reasoned opinions, meaning that what they say makes good sense and is accurate; They offer their opinions in a friendly manner, meaning that they are not yelling, do not speak in a condescending manner, and do not name-call or insult us. Lastly, constructive criticism intends to improve an immediate or future outcome; In other words, the advice or opinion given is designed to make a person more effective or productive.

constructive criticism2

I begin with this because all criticism is not constructive. The criticism may simply be untrue. Or, if the opinion is insulting and delivered disrespectfully, most people will not be open to receiving it. This is normal and should be expected. Also, if the criticism involves yelling, profanity, and attacks on a person, it is not constructive. When people offer this type of criticism, we have the right to challenge them and refuse it.

However, there are times when a person offers valid opinions that are helpful; they thank or commend us before offering the criticism; they express appreciation for our idea or plan; They explain how something we did or failed to do caused them wasted time or money, or caused an activity to fail; They explain how our actions made them feel disrespected; They give us good suggestions to help us avoid making the same mistake in the future. And although the criticism offered is constructive and pleasantly presented, we become defensive and even argumentative. Instead of acknowledging the criticism as valid, we rush to explain our good intentions. Sometimes we even offer a variety of excuses instead of a simple apology, admission, and statement of intent to do better next time.

The dangers of not embracing constructive criticism

When we respond to constructive criticism in the ways mentioned above, you do great damage to ourselves and others in the following ways.

  • We identify ourselves as a very immature person
  • We cause people to distrust our character, judgement and leadership
  • We set ourselves up to keep repeating the same mistakes
  • We cause those offering criticism to resent and lose respect for us
  • People stop offering constructive criticism and allow us  to fail without intervening
  • We cause our relationships, jobs, businesses, and other important endeavors to fail
  • We fail to improve and become wiser/more effective

How to deal with constructive criticism

  • Listen closely to the criticism to make sure you understand exactly what’s said
  • Ask yourself if the criticism is valid (accurate or true)
  • Acknowledge that the criticism is valid, apologize if necessary, and explain what you’ll do to improve in the future
  • Express appreciation to the person for bringing the issue to your attention. Only people who care about you offer constructive criticism.
  • Avoid whining, crying, tantrums, or negative attitudes and refuse to make excuses or attempt to justify your actions. This only makes you look weak and immature.

I’ve been in several situations throughout my life where constructive criticism came into play. As a football player, poet, writer, activist, student, employee and business owner, I’ve benefited immensely from constructive criticism. Like anyone, I  am sometimes sensitive to criticism. Sensitivity isn’t always a virtue, especially when it causes us to have several blind spots. I’ve learned to see such experiences as opportunities to improve and become more effective.

Nowhere is this realization more important than in cases where the critic is someone we love and respect. How can you say you love or respect someone if you cannot welcome their valid, balanced, and well-meaning criticism? We also need to understand that refusing valid criticism is arrogant. There are people walking this Earth who consider themselves “humble,” but can’t handle valid criticism!

The brazen, hard-headed type is destined for a life of failure, misery and loneliness unless they learn this vital lesson: Accepting and welcoming good advice doesn’t make you weak or unintelligent; doing so makes you empowered and wise. In fact, I actively solicit constructive criticism from others.  And I put distance between myself and those who can’t handle it. A word to the wise is sufficient…  Embrace constructive criticism or suffer the consequences!! You’ve been warned…

 constructive criticism3__________________________________

 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

July 5th The Black Power Cypher Discusses “Tensions in the Conscious Community”

Black Political Cipher logoThe Black Power Cypher is composed of 6 Black men, all activists and educators from Detroit, Syracuse, Harlem, and Oakland who address issues of relevance to the Black community from a Black Nationalist perspective. We try to do our internet tv talk show once a month. So far we’ve addressed the issue of police brutality, and the significance of Malcolm X. You can view those shows below:

The Black Power Cypher returns tomorrow on July 5, 2015 to address the topic, “The  “Tensions in the Conscious Community: Leadership Issues.”  On this episode of the Black Power Cypher, Ishmael Bey, Yusef Bunchy Shakur, Agyei Tyehimba and Kitwana Tyhimba, will discuss controversial issues within the Black Conscious Community with a focus on leadership ethics and important areas of disagreement among Black folk. Topics will include the issues regarding Umar Johnson, Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam’s controversial partnership with Scientology, and Al Sharpton’s relevance as a spokesman and leader for the Black community. You don’t want to miss this important and historic show. Join us for 90 minutes of Black Power with our team of informed, uncompromising, opinionated, and passionate Black men, live and uncensored!

You can watch the show live on July 5 at 9pm Eastern Standard Time by visiting the Google Events Page or Youtube. If you miss the show at that time, you can still see the entire recorded version at the previous Youtube link. We encourage you to type and submit questions and comments to us live by clicking the appropriate link that will appear on the video screen either at the Google Events or Youtube page. If time permits, please view and share the links.

We hope you will join us as we address tensions in the Black Conscious Community around questions of leadership.


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

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