Black History isn’t our Corpse, it’s our Resurrection!

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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

We Revolutionaries Must Get out of Revolution’s Way

I humbly apologize if the title of this essay seems arrogant. By no means do I believe myself to be all-knowing on any topic. I admittedly don’t have all the answers nor all the questions.

My background as an educator, activist and community organizer however, does provide me with an informed perspective regarding social change. Over the course of this essay I hope to share some information on this topic from the vantage point of a community organizer.

To begin, we identify three types of people and assume each is sincere and authentic:

  1. Those who recognize the ruling empire as fundamentally sound, though unjust in certain respects. They observe flaws in the oppressive empire and seek to repair and reform it. They may confront the empire’s unfair practices through civil disobedience,  economic boycotts, petitions for legal relief, moral appeals to the empire’s sense of “fair play,” or other forms of organized resistance. Such people ultimately wish the empire was more fair, inclusive and beneficial for themselves and others. We will call this group the “Reformers.”
  2. Those who see the ruling empire as fundamentally unjust and oppressive at it roots. They do not make morality-based appeals to the empire because they believe that the empire has no morality or ethics. In their opinion, the empire only values power and domination. Such people believe the empire cannot truly be reformed or improved; No rehabilitation or reform is sufficient. Therefore they seek to disrupt, and dismantle the empire, its laws, values, practices, and institutions, and to replace it with a more humane and effective system of government. As such, they use education, refusal to validate  or cooperate with the empire, denunciation of empire values, practices and domination, and violence to eventually overthrow the empire altogether. They want land, wealth and power to create a free and non-oppressive society. We will call them the “Revolutionaries.”
  3. Those who believe the society has done and can do no wrong. These folk therefore have no critique of the empire and can’t understand what all the fuss is about. Members of this group are content with the empire, usually because they benefit from it or believe they will, if they simply “Work hard enough.” As such, members this group often apologize for and defend the empire, even though the empire often exploits and oppresses them like nearly everyone else. We will call them “Clueless Sheep.”

At this stage of my life, I invest limited energy in the “Clueless Sheep” group. My interest primarily lies with the reformists and the group I most identify with, the revolutionaries.

I think that people who actually are or consider themselves revolutionaries sometimes fail to appreciate the reformists. To a revolutionary, such folk mean well, but are politically naive. Revolutionaries will note that reformers’ activities fail to identify and address fundamental societal issues and instead create surface programs that win limited concessions from the empire.

Revolutionaries reject what they refer to as simplistic and ineffective “band-aid approaches” to social change. They also decry reformist solutions that involve appeals to or collaboration with agencies or institutions of the empire. They ask questions like:

  • Why are you addressing societal symptoms rather than the underlying causes of those symptoms?
  • Why do you participate or cooperate with the empire’s corrupt elections and corporate-contolled political parties?
  • Generating economic power through acquiring property, building Black businesses,  establishing Black investment clubs or doing business with commercial banks legitimizes Wall Street and capitalism. How can you justify collaborating with the very bourgeois system/institutions responsible for our poverty and financial exploitation?

I confess that in the not-so-distant past I too, raised questions like these. I too saw Black reformists as being politically naive (and to some degree still do).

Yet “revolutionaries” often forget some important points: The vast majority of Black folk are reformist. Due to the legacy of cointelpro, most view Black revolutionary politics as “crazy,” impractical,  “extremist” and overly dogmatic. Many reformist Black folk view equate Black revolutionary thought and practice with getting imprisoned, being a hunted fugitive of the law, and ultimately assassination (and those thoughts aren’t all invalid).

These perceptions -accurate or not- mean that the Black revolutionary community already comprises a tiny minority of the community. Furthermore, the tendency toward referencing complex socialist philosophy/terminology, belittling reformists and their politics, and failing to engage and work with them, doesn’t improve relations or perceptions between the two.

If revolutionary Black folk truly want to significantly influence and radicalize the thinking/politics of the Black community, we must do a few things differently. We can start a revolution by:

  • Interacting and working with our less radical brothers and sisters (not just fellow revolutionaries) around common areas of interest. Most people begin to trust you more after working with you and observing your personality in real time. Working on the same issues gives you time to have important discussions with members of our community with whom we don’t see eye-to-eye.
  • Removing the political jargon and advanced revolutionary theory when we speak with our people.”Make it plain.” We are not teaching a graduate course or presenting at a scholarly university conference. We are holding court with our brothers and sisters on our jobs, at rallies or meetings, and in the neighborhood. We must find ways to engage our people, not piss them off, portray ourselves as arrogant assholes, or cause them to tune out. A basic way to do this is to use anecdotes, analogies and references our people can relate to. Brother Malcolm (whose persuasive power was legendary) masterfully used analagies and anecdotes in his conversations/speeches which is one reason he impacted and transformed so many people. Remember how all adult characters in the “Peanuts” cartoon sound muffled and impossible to understand? This is how we sound to people when we over-intellectualize.
  • Remembering to have conversations rather than monologues. No one likes to be lectured to. No one appreciates when one person dominates a discussion. Revolutionaries should do more active listening and less pontificating, uh lecturing… I mean… speaking. When we hear someone’s experiences, dreams and perspectives, we better understand them and also people are more receptive to our ideas.
  • Training ourselves not just to be critical, but to show appreciation and respect for the work, accomplishments and sacrifice of our reformist brothers and sisters. We can have differences of opinion regarding ideology/methods, but still give reformist Blacks’ the credit and respect they deserve…
  • Refusing to diminish the importance of reformist tactics, movements or people. Through their experiences in trying to”fix” or improve the empire, Black reformists often endure police brutality, unfair arrest and imprisonment, and other forms of mistreatment that radicalizes them! Stokely Carmichael began as a reformist college student leader and evolved into the Pan African revolutionary Kwame Ture.
  • Remembering to meet people where they are in the liberation struggle. Be patient and empathetic with people and don’t expect them  to think or organize the way you do. Political growth is a process that takes time. Also don’t forget the time when you didn’t know all you do now.
  • Acknowledging that our liberation will not come from one approach, but several. This type of flexible thinking allows us to join coalitions, appreciate the work of others, and have greater opportunity to influence people beyond our own political circles.

_______

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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

The Political Dangers and Impact of Gentrification

“Gentrification” is one of those provocative terms that receives ample attention in the Black community. The mere mention of the word incites animated discussion and resentment among Black folk. And well it should, given the disruptive cultural impact it has on traditionally Black communities.

Typically however, we give far less attention to the damaging political and economic consequences that gentrification has upon Black communities throughout the United States. I argue that it is precisely these political and economic consequences – over and above the cultural concerns – that are far more damaging to Black people and they compel us to mount a collect strategy in response!

Wickipedia defines gentrification as:

A trend in urban neighborhoods, which results in increased property values and the displacing of lower-income families and small businesses. This is a common and controversial topic in urban planning. It refers to shifts in an urban community lifestyle and an increasing share of wealthier residentss and/or businesses and increasing property values. Gentrification may be viewed as “correction” of blockbusting and urban flight, as many gentrified neighborhoods of the present were once affluent neighborhoods of the past.

Let’s examine the case of Harlem. Though not representative of all urban areas nationally, it is nonetheless instructive for our purposes. A 2010 New York Times article noted that by 2008, Blacks represented only 40% of the Harlem population, down from 98% just fifty years prior.

The increased white presence in Harlem is becoming more conspicuous  (the white population in Central Harlem alone, increased five-fold between 2000 and 201o). Latinos however – in terms of population – represent the most significant demographic. They are both the fastest growing population, and they are currently the majority population in Central, East and West Harlem (the entire neigborhood).

This increased diversity (particularly that created by new white and middle class residents) arguably brings certain advantages. Some Harlem natives and long-time residents appreciate the chic bar lounges, national retail establishments and more desireable supermarkets now available. Some note that gentrification introduced safer and more aesthetically pleasing neighborhoods and entertainment options.

These “gains” however, come with conficts in the forms of cultural displacement, white entitlement and Black disempowerment.

In 2008 for example, we learned of a growing feud between Black and recently relocated white residents in the neighborhood surrounding Marcus Garvey Park (formerly known as Mount Morris). For more than 30 years, brothers gathered at the park to play African drums every Saturday evening in the summer. Other musicians would join in followed by dancers.

This longtime tradition lent cultural “flavor” to the neighborhood and attracted appreciative residents from the surrounding area. By 2008 however, a wave of affluent white professionals bought newly erected condominium apartments at price tags of $500,000 to $1,000,000. Many of them began to make formal complaints to the police. Long tradition aside, the drumming disturbed their sleep, television viewing, and phone conversations, they argued. Ugly verbal exchanges sometimes ensued, and a racist email emerged from one resident of the residential building which read in part:

Why don’t we just get nooses for everyone of those lowlifes and hang them from a tree? They’re used to that kind of treatment anyway!”

There are also stories of new white residents treating longtime Black Harlem residents like outsiders: “Looking for someone?” Can I help you?” “Do you live here?”

These are important considerations. However the conflicts stemming from gentrification go far beyond the transformation of Harlem’s cultural landscape or annoying feelings of white arrogance. When a traditionally Black working class neighborhood loses 30%-50% of it”s Black population and simultaneously experiences a significant increase of Latino and white residents:

  • The business infrastructure changes to meet new cultural demands and sensibilities.
  • Traditional Black “Mom and Pop” stores gradually disappear due to changung consumer tastes/preferences and increasingly unaffordable leases due to increased property value.
  • Larger corporate retail chains emerge, often with little empathy or incentive to hire longtime Black residents who ironically comprise their largest and most loyal consumer base.
  • Corporate interests begin building upscale commercial properties (condominiums, retail business spaces) to attract and satisfy middle class and affluent white residents and consumers. Black people who have been residents for multiple generations are forced to relocate due to escalating housing costs and scarce affordable housing.
  • Whites and corporate interests hostile or indifferent to the Black poor and working class, begin to dominate seats on trustee boards, community boards, parent associations and school boards, which redirects community conversations, priorities and resources in ways that hurt Black residents.
  • As whites and (in this case) Latinos grow in number and influence while Blacks decrease, Black residents find themselves excluded from pivotal conversations, and with reduced access to property and power and decision-making in their neighborhoods.
  • Shifting demographics change traditional public school populations as well, which results in altered  educational and hiring priorities. In this process, Black students and families become increasingly “invisible” and our unique needs and issues are neglected.
  • Gentrification directly affects Black political power. Formerly all-Black or predominately Black areas allowed Congressmen like Adam Clayton Powell to take strong political stands and write empowering legislation. Blacks formed powerful voting blocks in days past. A committed Black community board member, councilmember or representative derrived great power from representing majority Black districts or councils. This is near impossible when neighborhoods become significantly “multicultural,” because hundreds of various and often competing economic, educational and cultural interests compete for scarce resources and attention.

“Gentrification” therefore is more than a trendy word. It is more than just a Harlem occurrence. It represents more than population shifts and cultural conflicts or changes. It involves issues of property ownership, housing, political voice/representation and municipal priorities.

In summary, the gentrification of Black communities (as it currently manifests) represents the political, economic and cultural fragmentation of Black people, Black culture and Black power. No more, no less.

This being the case, how do we as Black people collectively respond to this challenge?

We must reject the multicultural trap entirely. Respect and appreciation for other peoole/cultures is fine. But always we must think of ourselves as a Black collective or dormant nation and operate in that manner with respect to economics, politics and education. We must teach and embody the principles of Black solidarity, self-determination, and Black power.

Failure to do this will leave us vulnerable and deprived compared to other “people of color” and white folk who advocate, advance and defend their unique interests without apology.

This implies that we form associations to buy property and create our own community cooperatives, and distribution networks. We can’t stop there. It is in our interest to identify businesses that overcharge, disrespect and mistreat us and boycott and picket them to draw attention to the issue and win some basic concessions. In addition, we should conduct a survey to determine how many Black folk have bank accounts and the amount of money we have in tied up in banks.

We should then launch a campaign to withdraw our money unless these banks begin lending business loans to Black people. Naturally, these efforts must be combined with campaigns to build our own credit unions and banks. We must take our communities back culturally, economically and politically and we need large infusions of capital to create the institutions needed to do so.

Politically, we must create community organizations, coalitions and initiatives that identify, advocate for and create the outcomes we desire.

We also must begin to join and exert influence on school boards, community boards, city councils other local political sites of power. This is no different from how whites, Arabs, certain Asians and Latinos operate in our neighborhoods. Because they take advantage of such opportunities, they have access to information and resources we do not. Because they work as a collective, they generate power and influence.

This is no time for illusions or sentimental politics. This is no time for us to fear being seen as “reverse racist.” The people currently running our communities do not have such hang ups. Simply observe who owns the grocery stores, laundries, dry cleaners, hair salons, barbershops, banks, supermarkets, eateries and other businesses in your community.

Notice the people that work in those establishments. But don’t stop there. Take note of the contractors and construction workers in our neighborhoods.

Look at the movers and shakers on your community boards, in your schools and who sit on trustee boards. Who runs the nonprofits? Who do they serve and employ? Listen closely to the issues they discuss, decisions they make and the people they impact. Observe the people that are landlords, “supers” and custodians in your apartment buildings.

Who are the principals, superintendents, guidance counselors, public librarians, etc.

Who opens and profits from the franchises popping up around you? How many Black people do these establishments employ? How many businesses are Black-owned? Who owns the homes? Who runs the realty companies? Where is the affordable housing?

Who works in the community centers, and what populations are served? What people in your neighborhood have access to resources and support, and who runs these programs?

After completing this research, let us have a conversation about who in fact controls and “owns” our neighborhoods and who works together to empower themselves and advocate for their interests! Like them, we must support those who support us and withdraw support from those who do not!

Wake up Black people! Gentrification is simply another form and name for the continuing agenda to keep us powerless, pitiful and penniless.

________

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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

What Makes a (“Real”) Man or Woman?

Being a “Grown man or woman” is a badge of honor that does not come automatically with age. We all know people who are mature (or not) for their age, based on their experiences and personal qualities.

Have you given thought to the things that distinguish good or authentic men and women in your life? I have. In my humble opinion, to qualify as a “Real” man or woman, you must (at some time or another):

1. Have the experience of paying bills with your own money and/or contributing to running a household.
2. Have had your heart broken and have broken a heart at least once.
3. Know how to enjoy your own company.
4. Have someone that seeks your advice.
5. Be obligated or responsible to someone besides yourself
6. Be able to freely admit when you’ve been an A-hole
7. Be able to give and receive good advice.
8. Have the experience of sacrificing for someone else.
9. Appreciate the lessons your parents/mentors taught and find yourself implementing and sharing them with others.
10. Have forgiven someone that offended or disappointed you.
11. Be able to sincerely compliment and recognize greatness or beauty in someone without being jealous of them.
12. Apologize without attempting to justify your behavior.
13. Appreciate the beauty and importance of rest and relaxation.
14. Express gratitude more than you complain.
15. Refuse to blame others for problems you caused or enabled.
16. Be fully aware of your strong and less desireable traits.
17. Have experienced the betrayal of someone close to you.
18. Have the ability and willingness to prepare your own meals, wash your own clothes, and clean your own house.
19. Have the experience of doing what you need to do so you can do what you want to do.
20. Demonstrate the ability to solve your own problems without the help of others.
21. Humble yourself to ask someone for help when you need it.
22. Know when to be diplomatic and when to be blunt.
23. Be willing to take a stand/make a decision no one agrees with.
24. Acknowledge your imperfections and work to eliminate them.
25. Know your true worth and refuse to settle for less.
26. Doubt yourself, but move forward anyway.
27. Appreciate the importance of silence.
28. Care more about being respected than being liked.
29. Know the difference between friends and enemies or “haters.”
30. Be able to tell people “no” without feeling guilty.
31. Have defended someone vulnerable when you stood nothing to gain from it.
32. Be willing to sacrifice sleep to finish an important project.
33. Use time judiciously.
34. Know who is deserving of your love.
35. Be able to sever toxic and draining friendships and associations.
36. Be able to celebrate with absolutely no money.
37. Be willing to do what you need to do so you can do what you want to do.
38. Recognize, give and receive wisdom, truth and love.
39. Allow those you love the freedom and space to be themselves (without violating or sabotaging yourself).
40. Have the willingness to be an excellent student or teacher when necessary.

41. Appreciate the importance of balance and moderation.

42. Be able to enjoy yourself without feeling guilty.

43. Have undergone the experience of rejecting a good opportunity because it conflicted with your values.

44. Overcome fears or illusions that block your progress and empowerment.

Please note: I dont claim to have mastered all of these, but I work constantly to be better and do better. I’m curious to know what you think about this list. Also, what would you add?

_____

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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

Advice for my Daughters

Dear Nubia and Zakiya:

First and foremost, I love you both and have done my best to demonstrate that in various ways. AI have also fallen short. But I want you to know that much of my life was spent in preparation for you and in service to you. I’ve done the best I can with what I knew and had – and tried to be mature, fair and very loving in my interactions with you. I don’t trust my legacy in the hands or mouths of others, so I’m writing my feelings and thoughts for myself. The following is written for you and I hope it brings you clarity, wisdom and empowerment now and in the future, when we cannot speak directly – or inevitably – when I transition to the ancestral realm.

I often reflect upon my own life and experiences to find meaning in them. I’ve worked with Black and Latino youth and their families for most of my life, so naturally, I’ve given much thought to my own youth.

  • Trying to establish my identity.
  • Curious about and awkward with young ladies I found attractive
  • Balancing my love for football with my growing political consciousness.
  • Fighting and “snapping” (joking others and getting joked on) as a Black boys rite of passage.
  • Resolving the disparity between what my parents taught me versus the messages/lessons I received from the neighborhood.
  • Contemplating my future career.
  • Often feeling confused or anxious about all of the above.

Much has changed since my childhood/teen years, yet some things never change. Children and teens still struggle with identity issues, body image, being accepted, peer pressure, etc. My reflections led me to specific thoughts and lessons I’d like to share with you……

1. Listen to those who are wiser than you and more accomplished than you…..especially when they are giving you advice that will make you better. Only fools resent wise and thoughtful advice and appreciate nonsense and disharmony. Don’t let your pride or ego get in the way of getting information that can really help you.

2. Identify and begin fulfilling your purpose in life. Don’t float around aimlessly like a feather in the wind. You’ll be surprised at how this will keep you out of trouble, foolishness and counterproductive activities….

3. Avoid being impulsive or overemotional. Don’t be quick to respond, or react to everything. Instead, strive to be mature, strategic and wise.

4. Focus on understanding and perceiving things and people as they actually are, not as you wish them to be. We must always perceive reality accurately so that we can respond or act appropriately to it. To do otherwise is the literal definition of insanity.

4. Discover and be your authentic self in all of its dimensions; Then work on expressing your authentic self accurately and eloquently. Don’t falsely represent yourself to others. An authentic jerk will often be more respected than a fake role model.

5. The things you produce or that emanate from you (including your children one day) are a reflection of your work ethic,  values and priorities. Study and closely observe what people produce/create. The things you produce and that emanate from you say more about who and what you are than any words from your mouth. You will find that accurately assessing people and being a good judge of character are indispensable tools. Trust me.

6. You are a culmination of your decisions. Learn early on how to make wise decisions. The decisions you make are a reflection of your wisdom or lack thereof, and you will often feel the effects of your decisions long after you make them.

7. Integrity is defined by how closely what you do corresponds with what you say or the principles you believe. Mistakes, which we all make, will be forgiven. Being malicious or unjust however, are a more serious offenses that create negative karma.

8. Spend a good portion of your time investing in your talents, intelligence and character. Use your youth to prepare for an empowered and properly equipped adulthood. It’s never too late to learn and prepare, but such things become more difficult and complicated with age, as career, health and family obligations become involved. Be wary of those who don’t invest time toward empowering and enriching themselves. This is a huge red flag that will come back in negative ways to hurt them and those that closely associate with them.

9. Don’t put too much stock in what people say. Pay close attention to how people use their “free” time, what discussions or activities energize them, and who they consider close friends and mentors. Often times, these factors will tell you all you need to know about people.

10. Remember this law of Physics: A body at rest tends to stay at rest (unless a force comes along to move it), and a body in motion tends to stay in motion (unless a force comes along to stop it). In life, you will find that some people are bodies in motion, while others are bodies at rest. Observe this physical law at all times. Lastly, make sure YOU are a body in motion!

11. People will always make their own judgments of you, fairly or unfairly. Some of their criticisms about you will be valid, because no one is perfect. At the end of the day, let your body of work, accomplishments, and network of appreciative and loving relatives, friends and associates speak for you. Also, be aware that some will resent and envy you. Don’t assume that your haters will only be people on the outside. Many times, they will be people in your inner circle, who claim to love and respect you.

12. Leave a legacy. Live your life with such intensity, purpose and excellence, that others are inspired by your example and your accomplishments. Don’t just read history watch television and live vicariously through the achievements of others. Make history yourself and make your own dreams come true. Distinguish yourself from people who talk big, but produce nothing of value. Be a useful resource to others.

13. Speak and act with authority and confidence. This world destroys and violates the weak and timid. Make sure however that this authority and confidence are authentic rather than empty or vain. Develop true confidence by identifying your unique qualities, overcoming challenges, learning more and accomplishing things.

14. Develop the habit of reading between the lines, or seeing what lies beneath the surface. Don’t be simple-minded; Be a thinker.

15. No matter how empowered you are, you will sometimes make mistakes, experience errors of judgement or even cause pain yourself or other people. Be willing to humbly admit your errors and make amends when possible. Rather than beating yourself up, work to learn from your errors and become wiser from them.

16. Anticipate and learn how to deal with defeat and pain. You will experience these things no matter how intelligent or talented you are. When faced with life challenges, give yourself some time  to cry, complain or vent. Then quickly get to work on solving the problem and overcoming the challenge. Make sure you understand the true nature of the problem, and don’t make it bigger or smaller than it is. Give thought to the resources at your disposal which can help you solve the problem. Calm down and think clearly. Don’t become dramatic, become peaceful and thoughtful.

17. Choose friends wisely. Too often, our friendships are chosen lightly, according to things like proximity (living in the same building, neighborhood, or attending the same school). Friends should be chosen based on  criteria like interests, values, goals, and personality traits. Also know that people bring different things into your life. Some bring fun and stress relief; others bring engaging conversation and stimulating thoughts; some inspire or console you. However, if you find yourself dealing with issues of envy, negative confrontation, competition, or attacks to your spirit, this is a “friend” you don’t need or want.

18. Should you choose to be a parent, please understand what a powerful blessing and responsibility that role entails. Please do not choose to have children until you are mature enough and ready to put others before yourself.  Too many people have children then abandon them to partying, dating, the streets, etc. Children that are abandoned and deprived of love often grow up bitter, vindictive and dysfunctional, and they often abandon or neglect their own children. Make sure you respect and love the person you choose to have children with and their family. When this time comes in your life, be sure to review daddy’s book “Truth for our Youth” (wink). Also, think of the kind of spouse, student, employer, neighbor and friend you want them to be one day. Then factor this into the values you teach them, and the structures you provide for them. Work to raise a community resource not a community burden or predator or problem in someone else’s life.

19. Identify your purpose in life. It will likely involve something you are good at doing, love to do, receive good feedback for doing, and could do all day….Don’t be swayed by what others think, or the money/status it supposedly brings. Identify your purpose, and sharpen your skills/knowledge to fulfill it. Yes, you must sustain yourself, but money should not be your only concern. Sustaining yourself honorably while serving others is truly a life well lived.

20. Identify and eliminate toxic people from your life. Deeply dysfunctional and toxic people are energy drainers not worth your time or resources.. They are always a bad bet and an investment that never pays dividends. We are not put here to have our lives constantly affected and tainted by others who deep down inside are unwilling to let go of the pain, ignorance and chronically bad choices that dominate their lives.. Let them and the toxic energy they bring GO! You will see these people 10, 20 and 30 years from now complaining about the same things and still surrounded by misery (unless of course they finally evolve). We must attach ourselves to people who build not those who walk with a mist of failure, self-hate and denial the way Pig Pen walks with a mist of filth….Through their attitudes and actions, they deserve the misfortune and pain they complain about because in most cases their laziness, enabling, poor decisions, and desire to be liked over being respected created such. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. You will meet people who appreciate and can reciprocate the beauty, warmth, and empowerment you bring to the table.

21. Whatever you do and wherever you are, find ways to educate, empower and liberate Black people, and do so unashamedly!

22. Work to become a producer, not simply a consumer of what others produce. You will have more power over your life and be a greater resource to others. Be a slave, overseer or docile worker of no one! Remember what your last name means….

Love always,

Daddy

_________________

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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

Want to Help Black People? Here’s How

As we know, there are fraudulent, compromised and conflicted people in our community who deem themselves “conscious” or “progressive.”

They often demonstrate poor or inadequate analysis, pontificate about problems without offering solutions, offer solutions/theories without implementing them, develop ill-conceived or dishonest plans/projects, and fail to create viable organizations and institutions to transmit ideas and practices for present and future generations.

Fortunately, all is not lost! We also have plenty of Souljahs, sincere and competent folk who want Black people to reclaim our power, exercise control over our lives, be liberated from outside or internal oppression, and who do all they can to bring these plans into fruition.

If you desire to be in that second group, here are some basic suggestions for doing so. You sincerely want to help Black people? Here’s how:

  1. Study to understand empowering African values (Maat for example), civilizations, contributions to humanity and how Africa was attacked and weakened. Also know how our ancestors resisted outside subjugation.
  2. Study to understand key methods of oppression and the tactics they employ, in addition to their objectives. You must study white supremacy/racism, colonialism, chattel slavery, segregation/jim crow, imperialism, patriarchy, mass incarceration, and capitalism.
  3. Be familiar with important Black people, organizations and movements for social justice/liberation, in addition to the challenges they faced, their victories/contributions, and mistakes or miscalculations.
  4. Be familiar with the strategies and people used to undermine our leaders, organizations, and movements. Cointelpro is a good reference for this.
  5. Acquaint yourself with our own self-defeating behaviors and attitudes; We have internalized many negative ideas, habits and values taught to us by our oppressors. To empower our people, we must be courageous and honest enough to identify and resolve our internal demons and shortcomings.
  6. Refuse to be a one-man or woman show. Individual superstars might be entertaining and very talented, and they might even win a few games by themselves. But they will never win a championship. For this, we need teams. A strong team amplifies the skills and impact of each individual teammate exponentially. A team provides more resources and support than an individual. No one person – regardless of his/her talent – can defeat an opposing team of people. In all our efforts, we should solicit the help of other brothers sisters to form powerful and organized efforts.
  7. Based on all the above points, develop sound strategies, organizations, institutions, movements and/or programs to help our people “Wake up, Clean up and Stand up!” A relative minority of people have done points 1-6 or done so effectively enough to accurately understand the complexity of issues we face. Even fewer have taken the step of effectively addressing these problems beyond talking about them. Because this last point is sorely lacking, I must explain further. Based on your study and understanding: If the miseducation of our people is a problem you are concerned about, become a teacher, write books/blogs, create documentaries, afterschool programs, independent schools, or teacher training programs to address the problem. If you feel our people need to create wealth and develop stronger economics, create programs to teach financial literacy/economic empowerment and establish community cooperatives; If you find that our people lack the will or ability to organize, create programs to teach them such skills and information. Never forget: Our enemies don’t just hate or fear us; they don’t just talk about subjugating us; They study our culture movements and habits. They create legislation, form think tanks, lobbying groups, military units, schools/curriculums, and a variety of programs and institutions to fulfill their agenda. We must do the same. Also remember what is at stake – our lives, safety, and freedom. It is not sufficient to say “At least he/she is trying.” this is a lazy and defeatist position for supposedly enlightened and knowledgeable Black folk to adopt. If you are at a restaurant and you contract food poising, would you be satisfied that “at least the cook tried” to use proper sanitation? If you send your child to school and discover that his/her teacher is incompetent, would you take the approach that “at least they tried to teach?” If an attorney represented you in a court case and failed to include important evidence, properly cross-examine witnesses, or represent you well- and you do jail time you didn’t deserve, would you think “At least she tried to represent me?” your likely answer in each scenario, is “Hell No!” You expect quality effort and excellent service because you value yourself! The same is true for we as teachers, organizers activists and leaders. We cannot afford to hold low standards or to embrace mediocrity becaNor can we be too lazy to do the serious study, organizing and institution- building that liberation requires. Always we should work to be more informed, effective, and relevant.

In this spirit, we have created the “Harlem Liberation School.” Our objective is to provide Black community members with the consciousness, information and skills they need to become conscious, competent and committed agents for Black liberation and empowerment.

Beginning on February 8, 2016, we will hold meetings twice a month at no charge to the community for Black folk aged 14 and up. Our meetings will be fun, engaging, and informative. We plan to accomplish this by using group activities, panel discussions, debates, lectures, skits, video clips, etc. We will also implement what we learn via actual community organizing and activism.

If you are Black, live in NYC, and want to learn and do more to uplift Black people, we encourage you to come out. If you are a Black person with serious organizing experience, expertise in African and African American history, youth development, politics, education and journalism/writing, please contact me about volunteering time to lead/moderate workshops, presentations and other activities. If you are a Black vendor selling books or DVDs on Black history, politics, education or culture, contact us about selling your goods at Harlem Liberation School. You can email truself143@gmail.com or call 872-222-6764. The time for just talking and complaining is over. Its time to ACT! The following reading lists provide a wealth of information….

Recommended Reading List for Black Revolutionaries

Introduction to Political Liberation Reading List

Recommended Reading List for Black Adults

Graduate African American Reading List, History at Rutgers University

Students for Social Justice Reading List

The Black Radical Tradition

Documentaries

Black History

African Diaspora

Atlanta BlackStar Picks

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

How to Stop the Government from Sabotaging our Liberation Movements

Many Black activists, organizers and leaders have heard of “Cointelpro,” or the Counterintelligence Program created by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

We make reference to this program whenever we discuss how the government assassinated Black leaders, created tension among and destroyed Black organizations, and sabotaged the Black Liberation Movement.

We often speak and write of terms associated with Cointelpro, such as “informants” or “Agents. ” Seldom however, do we carefully explain these terms, how Cointelpro-like operations work in our communities or most importantly, how to defend ourselves against such things.

Today, it is simply not enough to talk about this program which has killed our people, falsely imprisoned our people, caused some of us to have nervous breakdowns, led some of our warriors to become drug addicts, and smeared the good reputations of many genuine and committed men and women.  Today, we must give serious thought to how we will destroy establishment efforts to destroy us.

What was Cointelpro?

“Cointelpro” was – courtesy of Wikipedia –

A series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations.

The United States – through the Central Intelligence Agency -already had a  history of destabilizing and killing foreign leaders and organizations  under the guise of “insuring national security.”

What made Cointelpro unique was its focus on sabotaging domestic people and groups. Cointelpro formally began in 1956 when the FBI attempted to identify, monitor and sabotage the Communist Party USA organization. The program quickly adapted itself to national political trends. Throughout the 60s and 70s, Cointelpro’s focus on communism grew to include anti-war protestors, the Klu Klux Klan, The American Indian Movement, and several Civil Rights and Black Power organizations like SNCC, SCLC, the Congress of Racial Equality, Revolutionary Action Movement, Nation of Islam, Malcolm’s Organization of Afro American Unity, the Black Panther Party, and others.

Regarding the last point, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover  was deeply concerned about the increasing militance and effectiveness of progressive and Black Nationalist organizations.

The now infamous FBI Memo of 1968 outlined Cointelpro’s objectives concerning these organizations and their leaders:

To prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups” ; to “Prevent the RISE OF A ‘MESSIAH’ who could unify…the militant black nationalist movement” ; “to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence [against authorities].” ; to “Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining RESPECTABILITY, by discrediting them to…both the responsible community and to liberals who have vestiges of sympathy…”; and to “prevent the long-range GROWTH of militant black organizations, especially among youth.”

Using a team of Black informants and sneaky tactics like writing and sending fabricated letters, spreading rumors and smearing people’s reputations, falsely accusing activists of being “snitches,” instigating tension between Black organizations, destroying group headquarters, making false criminal charges and arrests of movement leaders and other forms of harrassment, the program was unfortunately, successful.

View a first-hand account of the FBI’s handy work from a negro named Dathard Perry, who himself was an informant, below (six-part clip)

By 1975, many Black Power organizations were in their decline, resulting largely from imprisonment, instigated in-fighting, sarbotaged fundraising attempts, assassinations, exorbitant legal fees, and several activists on the run from law enforcement authorities.

While the program officially ended in 1971, many activists and government watch dog group suggest that its activities continue to this day under different names and methods.

How Can We Defend Ourselves Against These Government Sabotage Tatics?

Become familiar with Cointelpro’s methods: the book “War at Home” identifies the following FBI tactics: “Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main purpose was to discredit and disrupt. Their very presence served to undermine trust and scare off potential supporters. The FBI and police exploited this fear to smear genuine activists as agents.

Psychological warfare: The FBI and police used myriad “dirty tricks” to undermine progressive movements. They planted false media stories and published bogus leaflets and other publications in the name of targeted groups. They forged correspondence, sent anonymous letters, and made anonymous telephone calls. They spread misinformation about meetings and events, set up pseudo movement groups run by government agents, and manipulated or strong-armed parents, employers, landlords, school officials and others to cause trouble for activists. They used bad-jacketing to create suspicion about targeted activists, sometimes with lethal consequences.

Legal harassment: The FBI and police abused the legal system to harass dissidents and make them appear to be criminals. Officers of the law gave perjured testimony and presented fabricated evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment. They discriminatorily enforced tax laws and other government regulations and used conspicuous surveillance, “investigative” interviews, and grand jury subpoenas in an effort to intimidate activists and silence their supporters

Illegal force: The FBI conspired with local police departments to threaten dissidents; to conduct illegal break-ins in order to search dissident homes; and to commit vandalism, assaults, beatings and assassinations. The object was to frighten or eliminate dissidents and disrupt their movements.”

Learn more about Cointelpro in general: The Church Committee hearings in 1975-76 made many of the FBI’s immoral and illegal tactics against American citizens public. The records of this committee are a good place to start.

In addition, I strongly suggest that you read through the Cointelpro Papers when time and opportunity permit.

Read literature about how to guard yourself and your organization.

One of the best references I’ve found is a manual entitled “Rats: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself Against Snitches. “

The Talking Drum Website provides a wealth of information on the topic.

Lastly, activists an organizers should consider using smartphone apps to encrypt phone calls, texts and emails. Red phone is an excellent app for android phone calls, and a simple Google search will produce a treasure of apps for text messages and emails.

Now let’s get to work, brothers and sisters, and sabotage those trying to sabotage us!

_____

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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

Dr. King: Beyond the Myths and Propaganda

Today – January 15, 2016 – marks the 87th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. Today through his holiday on Monday, we will reflect on his message, mission and moral mandate.

Much of what transpires on his holiday is predictable: Students and some workers will enjoy the day off, and opportunistic retail chains will likely have sales in his “honor.” Churches and community centers will hold large and small commemorations and television networks will air their nostalgic Dr. King movies, interviews, and news specials.

Some of us will play audio or video clips of Dr. King’s passionately poetic speeches and marvel at his courage, commitment and vision.

And despite all the media attention and gestures of reverance, Dr. King will unfortunately remain misunderstood. For almost the 48th consecutive year after his murder, this society will narrowly depict him as the nonviolent and “reasonable” contrast to Malcolm X, the lucid and colorblind sociopolitical “dreamer,” or the brilliant and poetic wordsmith-turned-folk- hero whose oratory moved the world from the black-and-white video clips of snarling police dogs and angry waterhoses to the promised land of integration.

All towering public figures risk our misinterpretation, as we try to distinguish between their private and public personas and the mythology created around them. In this sense, Dr. King is no different from other celebrated people.

Yet Dr. King is not just another “celebrity” in the sense that we understand the term today. Like brother Malcolm, Ella Baker and so many others, Dr. King didn’t distinguish himself by outlandish displays of wealth, or other forms of self-absorption; He made his mark by organizing, speaking truth to power, and challenging the ideological foundations of white supremacy.

Dr. King certainly was not without flaws.. The young activists of SNCC felt his leadership was often too charismatic and top-down. Ella Baker (an active organizer within King’s  organization who later coordinated SNCC) constantly challenged King and the male civil rights leaders in their patriarchy.

Nevertheless, as an important Black leader, Dr. King joins a huge pantheon of people whose significance and meaning were deliberately distorted by the American elite and by various groups around the world who see in Dr. King, a role model and influence for their own particular issues and interests.

The plain truth is that America often vilifies its heroes while they’re alive, and honors them in their death. We must NEVER forget that the government wiretapped King’s home and office telephones and hotel rooms across the country. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover – with permission from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy – compiled a ruthless  record of harassment against King, which included the false accusation of him being a communist,  making audio recordings of his sexual encounters, threatening letters, and ultimately, complicity in his 1968 assassination.

Only after an assassin’s bullet quieted his voice, did Dr. King posthumously receive America’s adulation: The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, voted the number six most important person of the century by Time Magazine (2000), voted the third greatest American by a Discovery Channel poll, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (2004), the declaration of his home and other relevant buildings as a National Historic Site, and in 2011 was the first non-president honored with a memorial in Washington, D.C. On November 2, 1983 following an impressive campaign led by Coretta Scott King and Stevie Wonder, President Ronald Reagan (of all people) signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor King. The holiday is now observed on the third Monday of January each year.

Despite these deferred accolades however, make no mistake; The government that honored Dr. King after his death, harrassed, despised and eventually killed him.

<> on August 22, 2011 in Washington, DC.

A man with over 700 American streets named after him, a national monument in his honor, and the subject of hundreds of books, movies and documentaries, needs no long introduction.

Indeed, we can fetch any amount of trivia pertaining to Dr. King from the internet in minutes.

I find it more useful to uncover dimensions of Dr. King that are often obscured in a collection of misleading myths. My hope is that this will help us to better understand, defend, and implement his ideas.

Debunking The Myths Surrounding Dr. King

1. King was no threat to the power structure. Some politically conscious people, in an attempt to trivialize King’s impact because they disagree with his nonviolent and “integrationist politics,” suggest that Dr. King posed no real threat to American interests. This myth is inaccurate and easily dismissed.

Dr. King confronted the philosophy and practice of racial segregation, particularly the racist assumption that Blacks were inferior to whites and subject to their domination. In   this sense, he challenged and threatened the philosophical basis and justification of white supremacy!

He helped Blacks gain access to educational, political and economic sites of power. Dr. King challenged the military industrial complex by speaking out against war and American imperialism. According to him, “America should support the shirtless and barefoot people in the Third World rather than suppressing their attempts at revolution.” Dr. King also had a class dimension to his analysis. He decried poverty and once noted, “Something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

He planned a “Poor People’s Campaign” which sought to have Congress create an “Economic Bill of Rights,” for all American citizens. And lest we forget, his last political move prior to his assassination was to support the strike of Black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

Therefore contrary to the myth, Dr. King posed very serious threats to the concept of White supremacy, to the military industrial complex and American imperialism, and to the selfish and ruthless interests of big business/corporations. In fact, Dr. King delivered a powerful speech in 1967 entitled “The Three Evils of Society,” which he identified as racism, imperialism and materialism.

On a more basic note, if Dr. King were not a serious threat to the establishment, he would not have been jailed over 30 times, had his house bombed, been under government surveillance, or assassinated!

2.  Dr. King’s nonviolent tactics were weak or cowardly. My own political hero Malcolm X once believed this and later came to change his position. Regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, we must understand that Dr. King did not simply speak against racism, but organized masses of Black people to challenge hostile southern racists directly. He confronted brutal police chiefs, rabidly racist white citizens right in their backyard! He endured time in some of this nation’s most dangerous jails, willingly put himself in great physical danger to do so, and inspired others to join him.  We may disagree with the wisdom or impact of King’s tactics, but we certainly cannot say they were “cowardly.”

3. Dr. King was Color-Blind.This myth usually derives from liberal whites who feel left out of the King discussion or from Negroes whose humanitarian interests lead them to confuse racism with self-determination. Dr. King grew up in the racially segregated south. He experienced the isolation of having to use black bathrooms, water fountains, and dining facilities. And he vowed to change this condition. These race-based conditions are what led him to become a leader for social change in the first place. Read his sermons or speeches and see how many references he makes to the “Negro condition,” “racial superiority or inferiority,” or our “sick white brothers.” Or listen to this interview in which he outlines how he developed racial consciousness as a child. Dr. King clearly saw himself as a Black man confronting white supremacy on behalf of Black people. This was his foundation. He certainly welcomed white support and challenged issues beyond race, but to suggest that he was color-blind is simply inaccurate. We cannot remove people from their geographical, historical or political context. Nor should we impose our own politics on those of Dr. King’s.

4. Whites Chose and Appointed Dr. King’s Leadership. This is another example of disingenuous claims from segments of the Black community. Dr. King rose to national and later global prominence from his leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1953-54, initially called by longtime activist Jo Ann Robinson. The Montgomery Improvement Association, composed entirely of Black clergy and community members (my maternal grandmother included),

Several years passed before Dr. King received mass support from liberal elements of the white community, and even then he received criticism from some of those elements – a situation for example that led him to write his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” in response to white clergy who thought him too impulsive and radical.

Concluding Thoughts

Why is it necessary for us to debunk myths about Dr. King? So that we are empowered to understand, defend, and implement his ideas.

If we sift through the propaganda, and truly understand Dr. King’s motives and ideas, we can diligently defend him from those who wish to distort and pervert his meaning for us today.

This empowers us to use his ideas to challenge politicians and others who claim to support Dr. King, but write legislation and public policy diametrically opposed to his politics. We can also raise important questions. For example, how does Dr. King’s philosophy speak to the murder of Osama Bin Laden or Muammar Ghaddifi without the benefit of a trial by members of their countries?

How should we interpret and respond to escalating acts of police brutality and corporate malfeasance?

How do we understand America’s military relationships with Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan or Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land?

What is our moral and political mandate concerning poverty, public education, healthcare, homelessness and the prison system?  Has America truly become “post-racial,” or does white supremacy and discrimination still dominate the landscape?

In closing, I urge everyone to listen to Dr. King’s sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” 35 minutes into the sermon he concluded by explaining how he wanted to be remembered in the event of his death. His words, like his life, are moving…

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

 

Black Empowerment Series: A Call to Create Liberation Schools in the Black Community

In an earlier essay addressing the issue of Black miseducation, I argued that – in addition to identifying, recruiting and training conscious Black teachers – we must use a multifaceted approach: 1.Build independent African-centered schools and home schools, 2.challenge and reform traditional public schools, and 3.create independent alternative after school programs to supplement the limited education provided in most traditional public and private schools.

Pouring our energy into these efforts simultaneously is perhaps the only way to accomodate the educational needs of our 7.7 million school-aged children and youth. Any one approach is insufficient.

This essay essentially asks Black activists, organizers and educators to consider collaborating, coordinating and ultimately creating “Liberation Schools” throughout the United States. These constitute a form of after school program for youth and continued learning for adults in the arena of political education. I also offer suggestions for creating such programs. My sincere hope is that we will take this idea seriously, as it can help to provide political education, develop grassroots organizing/activism in our community, and create spaces for informed political discussion in our neighborhoods. First, it helps to be familiar with “Freedom Schools,” from which the idea of Liberation Schools draws inspiration.

About Freedom Schools

Freedom schools emerged in the state of Mississippi during 1964. They were temporary centers of grassroots political and academic instruction coordinated by The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition of Black Civil Rights groups (Congress of Racial Equality, NAACP, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference).

The primary objective of Freedom Schools were to help COFO achieve it’s political aims by developing more politically conscious and informed Black citizens to become civil rights activists in Mississippi.

Because Black Mississippi residents attended inferior and underfunded schools, and most adults lived in extreme poverty and educational neglect, the vast majority of Black folk in the state had limited literacy. As a result, Freedom Schools developed alternative methods of teaching, focusing more on interactive discussions and activities centered around the residents’ life experiences. I strongly encourage you to learn more about the objectives and curriculum of Freedom Schools when you can.

The Vision Behind Liberation Schools

As the National Director of Education for the organization, “Souljahs of the People,” I am working to create alternative forms of political/historical education for Black folk around the country. The concept is inspired by that of Freedom Schools. The objective is three-fold:

  1. To provide political education for Black community residents -in areas of history, politics economics, and white supremacy/racism (Raising consciousness).
  2. To teach grassroots organizing/leadership/institution-building skills, in an effort to create a larger and more effective pool of Black community change agents (Increasing leadership capacity).
  3. To create spaces for informed political discussion in our neighborhoods. The aims are to determine the issues community members are most concerned about, encourage them to develop/implement strategies addressing these issues, and connect them with competent community organizations addressing these issues (“People’s Assemblies).

Although these are called Liberation Schools, they are not formal schools and are radically different in several ways.

Unique Features of Liberation Schools

To be effective, Liberation Schools must operate independently. Ideally, they should be housed in Black places of worship and privately or community-owned businesses, schools or other institutions.

To avoid being compromised by outside philanthopy, these schools should not seek or accept grants or other forms of funding or gifts from corporations, law enforcement or other governmental agencies.

These educational and political centers will typically not have much money. Community organizers usually won’t be able to pay huge fees to rent meeting spaces in the community. They will need to persuade community spaces to allow free or very inexpensive use of their space. This is simply a necessary sacrifice that our community institutions must bear. Black churches housed most Freedom Schools in 1964.

In terms of curriculum, Liberation Schools must remember their overall goals (raising consciousness, soliciting community opinion and discussion and teaching organizing and leadership skills. 

The basic curriculum we developed is structured into 14 units, but you can develop your own to meet the needs you observe in your particular community. Each session can have a brief reading, writing or video clip viewing assignment to help people prepare for the next session. I’ve provided a sample below:

Session 5: Discussion about White Supremacy, what it is, it’s purpose, how it works to oppress Black people and privilege white people. What is the difference between “race” and racism? Assigned viewing for next session: YouTube clip, “The Scramble for Africa and the Berlin Conference” (https://goo.gl/bwgBDX), The maps of Colonized African nations (http://goo.gl/QE5kE5), map of African resources (http://goo.gl/PcB0pQ), YouTube video Michael Parenti, “How the West Systematically Underdevelops Poor Countries – (https://goo.gl/vonjlN).

To encourage good participation and a spirit of openess, you can arrange chairs in a semi circle instead of the typical cemetary style seating (columns and rows) used in most U.S. classrooms. Two people can moderate discussions (not to dominate, but to manage time, clarify statements, and keep discussions on topic).

In this multimedia age, we can use YouTube videos and other online resources to teach and learn. For this reason, Liberation Schools should strive to have access to wifi, a screen and a laptop projector.

Weekly meetings should convene at times that accomodate working adults and perhaps high school youth.

Liberation schools have the flexibility to experiment with a variety of teaching and learning styles. During any given week, the community can expect guest speakers, panel discussions, workshops, film clip analysis, people’s assemblies, debates, skits, and interactive group activities.

As different units of learning conclude, participants can do real world projects to apply and test what they’re learning in tangible ways. This type of learning is both engaging for participants and useful for the community, two qualities that traditional forms of education rarely provide.

Benefits of Liberation Schools

This alternative form of education has important benefits:

  • We don’t need several years or millions of dollars to create them, nor much money to maintain them.
  • Because raising money is not a primary concern, we avoid corruption and are able to focus on the main concern – educating our community.
  • These programs build important bridges among Black workers, intellectuals, activists and students of various ages and social classes.
  • We create more historical and political literacy, more informed and engaged community activists and leaders.
  • Because these programs are relatively easy to create, house, maintain and staff, we can literally create them all over the country.
  • They don’t require corporate or outside sponsorship, so they can maintain political integrity and intent.
  • People who coordinate these programs don’t need college degrees or traditional credentials. Therefore, they discourage elitism and snobbery.

In conclusion, let us move from abstract theorizing, grandiose but poorly planned projects and pontification, to building actual leadership capacity and empowerment in our neighborhoods.  Via Liberation Schools, we can do this all over the country within a matter of months. I am in the process of helping to create Liberation Schools in New York City, and I hope I’ve inspired you to do the same in your own city.

______

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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

The “Ten Crack Commandments” Revisited

Most hardcore Hip Hop fans are familiar with Biggie Smalls’ popular song, the “10 Crack Commandments.” If you are not, please view the clip below (in the privacy of your home).

As you might guess by the song title, Biggie shares his tips for selling “Crack” cocaine successfully – and displays wit and lyrical dexterity while doing so.

I involved myself in several activities growing up: Chess, poetry, sandlot and high school football, fighting, Hip Hop emceeing, admiring and trying to meet young ladies, basketball and reading Black History.

I never sold or used drugs, so my firsthand knowledge of the enterprise is limited to say the least. What I do know, I learned from observation and the candid revelations of neighborhood friends and acquaintences who did participate in the street “pharmacy” business.

What I observed and heard about that life was not glamorous by any means, and needs not be romanticized by urban fiction writers, Hip Hop artists, or anyone else.

To describe cocaine as Black communal Kryptonite, is to understate the point. Drugs in the 80s and 90s nearly decimated our hoods nationwide and caused peripheral damage that continues: Women and men morphed into petty thieves, con artists and prostitutes to sustain their addictions. Rivalries between dealers that led to endless bloodshed, robberies and kidnappings. Broken families. Severed marriages. Drug-addicted newborns. Re-enslavement via mass incarceration. The decline of formerly viable Black institutions. Premature death and the destruction of human potential (to expose the ills of drug trafficking in

game over book

Black communities, I wrote Azie Faison’s powerful memoir, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler).

Therefore, while I involuntarily bop my head to Biggie’s music, I strongly reject the implicit or explicit messages of Biggie’s now legendary “Commandments” song.

We need no additional instruction on how to delibilitate or destabilize our own communities. Sadly, too many of us do a fine job of this already.

Therefore, we don’t need Ten Crack Commandments. What we need desperately, are suggestions for empowering and liberating ourselves from the oppressive grip of white supremacy, ignorance, poverty and untold suffering.

Some time ago – reminiscing on the days of my youth when I flowed over Hip Hop beats in Harlem – I playfully wrote a remake of Biggie’s song and named it “Ten Black Commandments.” One day I may actually record it for fun, but for now I’ll share it in written form.

We’ve been here for years, where they treated us like cannibals/animals/so I wrote us a manual/a step-by-step/booklet/so you can get/your mind free of uneccessary debris/

Rule one/know who you are and where you come from/your name and address, get it?/don’t be a dumb-dumb/society wants you and me to believe/we’re descended from savages and porch monkeys

Number two/always seek to self-improve/’cause being idle, is suicidal/we’re not here to complain and stagnate/but to evolve, get problems solved/ and be-come great.

Number three/never ever be naive/or believe/everybody’s who they claim to be/Many Black people met their demise/fooled by peeps who were agents in disguise

Number four/I know you heard this before/”Keep you head to the sky and fly”

Number five/take care of your family/all the fatherless kids/such a tragedy/ Our kids need affection, protection, direction/and discipline with discretion

Number six/revolutionary politics/’cause ballots and bullets usually don’t mix…/Black cooperatives, schools, and liberated territory… Now that would change his-story!

Seven/This rule is unappreciated/all that begging to the enemy, must be eliminated/self reliance/rain, sleet, hail, snow/is the only way for us to grow

Eight/ you’re so much more than your shape/face hair, derriere, bank account or weight/don’t put your energy in all things hollow/get your mind right and all else will follow

Nine/ a word called  “solidarity”/working together with no polarity/lands, languages, religions and labels/can’t stop us from sitting at the table

Ten/self-determination/no rules or methods described by them, no cures or remedies prescribed by them/thinking for ourselves is how we win

Follow these rules/you’ll have more bread to break up/watch the Black community wake up/solve problems and make up/an agenda to take up/our liberation and self preservation

Disregarding these rules prolongs our sufferin’/that no President, Execedrin or Bufferin/can relieve, do believe, you and me, can’t be free, with ignorance, selfishness or greed…

______

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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.