Each February, we Black folks take four weeks to celebrate and delve into our rich history. This takes many forms including fancy dinners, fashion shows, special exhibits in libraries/museums, wearing t-shirts bearing the likeness of famous Black leaders and thinkers, lectures and much more.
An entire online industry has emerged via YouTube featuring debates, interviews and presentations from college trained and self taught scholars regarding African history.
Thanks to groups like the Amen Ra Squad and the House of Consciousness, more Black youth are exposed to the work of John Henrik Clark, George G.M. James, Ben Yosef-Jochanon, Ivan Van Sertima, Chancellor Williams, Cheik Ante Diop, and other pioneering historians of ancient African history.
This thirst for history is a welcome development with much needed benefits, especially for our teens and 20 somethings who represent the future of our people.
All over the country, Black youth are beginning to slowly wake up. The stigma of being African or Black is slowly dissipating. The myth of white superiority and its twin imposter, Black inferiority, is fading as well. But danger lurks behind this growing appreciation for our history.
Our youth, who gravitate to the “Knowledge of self” Movement (rightly so) do so because it provides them a sense of pride, belonging and status. As their more experienced and wiser elders, we must guide them to avoid the pitfalls that await them in the arena of research.
One danger is our youth getting the message that studying our history is solely for the purpose of developing racial or cultural pride.
They also face the risk of confusing historical knowledge with the regurgitation of names, dates, and other “facts.”
A third danger we must address is that our youth will mistakenly reduce our vast historical experiences to the narrow confines of Nile Valley civilizations or debates over the legitimacy of Hebrew Israelite, Moorish, and Islamic history/contributions to world civilizations.
The last and final danger is that young neophytes to Black historical inquiry will have their heads buried so deeply in books of the past, that they rarely look up to recognize and engage the present circumstances swirling around them.
In response to these dangers, I offer our youth the following observations:
- We study our history or that of others to have an accurate understanding of the world and our role in it. We seek meaning, clarity and truth in our studies. As mistreated and subjugated people, we do not have the luxury of acquiring “knowledge for knowledge sake,” using it to be or feel important, humiliating and “defeating” other brothers and sisters, flaunting our knowledge or to fraudulently separate members of our community from their hard-earned money. Some in our community have reduced history to a street hustle, bully pulput, or intellectual gladiator sport. This is shameful, and it must stop!
- History is not a trivia game. Simply spewing tons of terms, dates and events does not constitute solid historical research. That is an oversimplified and elementary view of history. The more relevant and useful historical approach develops accurate analysis, evaluates and creates theories/blueprints, and poses solutions.
- While Africa is the undisputed birthplace of humanity and cradle of civilization, our experiences do not end in Africa or simply with history. If everyone focuses on Kemet, religion, astronomy or mythology, who will conduct equally important studies in sociology, psychology, education, physics, biology, agriculture, medicine, military science, etc.? Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, brother Malcolm and others told us that we are a sleeping nation. Therefore we must study and master everything that a nation needs.
- We cannot view History as a corpse or body of dead information when in fact, it is the source of our RESURRECTION! This implies that we must begin to conduct research with the intention of solving our problems today.
Our young Intellectuals – formally trained or self-taught – must see themselves as connected to the Black Liberation Movement. Their scholarly talents and discipline must include serious efforts to rescue, defend and empower our people. When you view presentations/debates on YouTube, pore through thick books, and take methodical notes, do so with every intention of ending the suffering and mistreatment of your people and helping them protect and advance themselves.
I can think of one way to start becoming more action-oriented. Expand your reading to include writers of the 20th century who explain how we are oppressed and how to get free! Add the works of DuBois, Cyril Briggs, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, brother Malcolm, James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, Paolo Friere, Kwame Nkrumah, Kwame Ture, George Jackson, bell hooks, Ella Baker, Dr. King, Amos Wilson, and other brilliant Black intelectuals-activists to your personal library.
Don’t focus so much on debating and chllenging others, but on teaching important lessons from the past that inform us today; Help us identify and eliminate our self-defeating behavior; Study, modify and create blueprints, theories and institutions for our unification and liberation. Find ways to be useful and relevant; Create institutions that outlive you; In short, get your heads out of the African sands and help to organize and rebuild the cities we occupy today!
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 lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.