8 Jewels of Wisdom

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Famous people and common folk alike often compare life to a roller-coaster ride: It has ups and downs and frequently occurs at neck-breaking speed, leaving us feeling reckless and out of control.
Regardless of our intelligence, age, or past accomplishments, life will sometimes have us feeling lost and despaired. However wisdom (accurate knowledge plus the ability to apply it successfully) can help us maintain balance – or at least recover quickly – through the most turbulent times.
What follows are a few powerful words of wisdom that can serve us well, particularly if we apply them to our lives:
1. “Mind your business”: We often use this expression in frustration, and at these moments;we are basically advising people to stay out of our affairs. But the saying goes deeper than that. Rather than being an insult or warning, it simply reminds us to pay close attention to our own affairs so that we can be successful.
2. “It is better to light a candle than it is to curse the darkness.” This encourages us to focus on solving our problems rather than complaining or getting stuck in frustration mode.
3. “Charity begins at home.” A reminder that we take care of the issues and people closest to us, as we seek to make an impact on the larger community or world on which we live.
4. “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” Most of us are complex people with several interests and skills. We are curious about various things. This is fine. However, scattered energy is not as powerful as focused energy. Even in our world of multitasking,, we gain more proficiency, productivity and success when we concentrate on developing mastery of one thing rather than squandering our time and effort in several different directions.
5. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” More than just a clever play on words, this speaks to the power of making choices and defending or honoring them. Neutrality has its place, but the practice of forming informed opinions involves research and reflection…practices that also guard us against being duped or misled.
6. “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” We might debate the accuracy of inventor Thomas Edison, but the point is clear. Consistently high-caliber performance and extraordinary outcomes are not simply a matter of  having an epiphany; more often than not, and almost without exception, such things stem from constant work (study, practice). Identity any entertainer, athlete,or person successful or acclaimed at anything, and you will discover that they’ve invested thousands of hours practicing and/or studying in the background.Even those we deem highly creative or innovative spend vast amounts of time reflecting on problems and experimenting with various ideas and techniques.
7. “It takes a village to raise a child.” This proverb from ancient Ghana is timeless, which explains its overuse. It reminds us that the proper preparation and development of children or any worthwhile project is usually requires a collaborative effort. Interestingly, the inverse is also true: It takes a village to destroy a child as well.
8. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King’s insightful statement reminds us to think universally/globally, not just on the micro or local level. If oppression is wrong when practiced against one segment of the population or it is wrong when applied to others as well. In fighting cites/practices of oppression, we must remember to see linkages and intersections beyond the struggles we immediately identify. Not only should we guard against isolating social justice struggles, but King reminds us to guard against becoming oppressive ourselves. Various historical example demonstrate how revolutionary figures overthrow oppressive regimes only to become oppressive themselves.
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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

The Secret of Making Miracles

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Religions create complicated (and sometimes counterintuitive mythology) to describe it. Societies on the verge of technological advancement believed they could use a combination of science and magic to realize it. In contemporary times, Hollywood’s powerful science fiction brand spins fanciful tales about it to the tune of billions of dollars every year.
Whether we’re discussing the Holy Grail, massive wealth, immortality, or our fascination with superheroic powers/characters, it seems we repeatedly miss the point entirely. Miracles ARE possible! But this point is forever lost on those who cannot decode or make sense of the countless mythology, allegories, and tall-tales that bear the clues.
The 2011 movie “Limitless,” starring Robert De Nero and Bradley Cooper, provides fertile ground for our discussion. It explores the pitfalls and triumphs the protagonist experiences once he takes (and struggles to maintain access to) a pill.
Of course, this is no ordinary narcotic. ” NZT” enables its user to use 100% of his/her brain capacity. For example, Cooper’s character writes a best-selling novel in a couple of days, seduces the women of his choice, becomes a wealthy Wall Street mogul, learns several languages with ease, and even becomes an aspiring presidential candidate.
But even sensational Hollywood movies include negative consequences and cautionary tales in their storylines: withdrawal symptoms include paralyzing headaches, unaccounted for lapses of time, and death.
What most  religious traditions, mythological systems, and science fiction tales lead us to believe is that the road to miracle-making and superhuman feats involve divinity, drugs, exposure to radiation, or biological mutation.
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What we rarely learn is that a masterful and powerful energy force (obviously superior to us, despite what the atheists say) has given us the magic pill and potential to peform superhuman tasks and think at genius level. Our brain, more specifically, a disciplined and fine-tuned mind, supplemented with unwavering faith and preparation is the elixir and secret we’ve searched for throughout the ages.
The experiences of Black people in this country clearly demonstrate this. Pore through the pages of our rich history and you’ll rediscover superheroes, miracle-makers, and master magicians.
Learn about Imhotep, the world’s first physician and master architect whose writings are still used today by doctors some 5000 years later; Note how members of Ancient Ghana established Timbuktu as a world center of learning and commerce; how an enslaved woman who could not read or write successfully led her people out of bondage several times, braving darkness, wilderness and ruthless slave patrols; think about how
A former addict, house burglar and hustler emerged from 6 years of incarceration to eventually become a great libera,tion theorist and organizer known all over the world.
Consider that all of these individuals suffered deprivation and discrimination we cannot imagine. Yet they and others like them, “mutated” into real-life superheroes unrivaled by any comic book story.
Societal gatekeepers set themselves up as the arbitrators of truth, success and style. They use religion, mythology, scholarship and the media to hypnotize us into believing that only “special” “divine” or “exceptional” people are capable of brillance or achievement. We are taught that only certain people are “born” to lead, fight for justice or accomplish great things.
Yet our very history teaches us what few institutions, movies or belief systems dare to: The secret to making miracles involves determination, vision, discipline, faith, and hard work. Everyone is capable of calling upon such power and amassing such accomplishments, even amidst the concrete realities of racial, class and gender oppression.
In short, we are all potentially “LIMITLESS” if we choose to identify, develop and use our own special powers. Of course you are free to sit around and wait for the so-called “natural-born leaders to solve your problems and advocate for you. But then that would literally be more fictitious than anything Hollywood could ever create, now wouldn’t it?
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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com. 

15 Powerful and Educational Movie Clips

Originally posted on MY TRUE SENSE:

Note: In reviewing this post, I realized how male-centered it is. Everyone of the characters speaking is male. I apologize for this, and will do better in future posts. Like most men, I consciously and subconsciously reference and privilege fellow men. I’m working on this.

I look for motivation, references, and lessons in all types of places. Truth exists almost everywhere we look. Movies often contain very powerful and transformative ideas. I present here 15 of my favorite.

1. Yoda Schooling Luke Skywalker  on  belief and the “Force”(Star Wars)

2. Morpheus explaining to Neo who the enemy is (The Matrix)

3. Uncle Ben explains to nephew Peter the relationship between power and responsibility (Spider Man)

4. Charlie Chaplin’s speech  (“The Great Dictator”)

5. The Revolutionary speech (V for Vendetta)

6. Confronting Abuse and Guilt (Good Will Hunting)

7. “The Minister” confronting his killer (Belly)

8. Neo discovers and uses his…

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Mumia Abu Jamal Speaks on “The ISIS Crisis: A U.S. Creation”

Originally posted on United States Hypocrisy:

The following is the latest commentary from America’s most well-known political prisoner worldwide, Mumia Abu Jamal. All credit goes to Mumia as well as to Noelle Hanrahan for regularly recording these radio commentaries, which are available online at PrisonRadio.org.

The Isis Crisis: A U.S. Creation (2:43) by Mumia Abu-Jamal

When the ISIS group cracked the news several weeks ago, it stunned millions of Americans who wondered, “Where did this come from?”

The media, performing their function of servant to the corporate state, just as they did in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, simply distributed audio from the Pentagon and politicians.

Few went deeper.

One had to search hard to find the truth – that ISIS was armed, paid and equipped by the U.S. And moreover that ISIS, like al-Qaeda, was a tool of U.S. Grand Strategy, a strategy designed decades ago to win the grand prize…

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Measuring the Effectiveness of our Organizations

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Creating or joining a Black organization is one thing. Leading one is another; Leading one effectively is another matter altogether. An important part of the process involves evaluation. By this I refer to an accurate way of determining if we are leading effectively. Without a reliable evaluation method, we have no way of determining where our organizations stand or if they are successful.

This article will attempt to create a very basic form of leadership evaluation using questions in various themes. A more thorough method would involve scoring each section and would establish a range of scores representing poor, average, good and exceptional designations (this method is, as I explained, basic and leaves room for elaboration and expansion). However I do believe this battery of questions can help us evaluate and improve our organizations.

VISION/MISSION: A measurement of how successful we are in communicating our organization purpose and objectives

1. Do we have a clear vision of our purpose and the people we serve?

2. Do we have a clear sense of how we fulfill our purpose?

3. Are both of these clearly worded, written and distributed/taught to our members?

4. Do our members demonstrate an accurate knowledge of the vision and mission?

INTEGRITY: A measurement of the extent to which what our organization does aligns with its stated objectives/values.

1. Do our group meetings, programs/events, decisions, expenditures, and issues we raise/address coincide with, reinforce and advocate our stated vision purpose, and the people we serve?

2. What is our membership’s opinion on the previous question?

3. Are leaders taught to make organizational decisions based on the organization’s vision and mission?

TRAINING: A measurement of how successful we are in building leadership capacity within our organization.

1. Does our group have a formal process for identifying and grooming/mentoring new leadership and building leadership capacity?

2. Does this process work? Do the people we train demonstrate they have the skills, habits and knowledge needed to effectively lead the group?

3. Do we provide hands-on opportunities for such people to grow into effective leaders?

4. Is our training both theoretical and practical?

5. Do we delegate responsibility in ways that develop important leadership skills and experience?

ARCHIVES: Measuring how effective we are in recording, storing, and using our organization’s history.

1. Does our organization have a historian or archivist responsible for recording and storing events and documents?

2. Do we have a way of determining what material is relevant to record and keep?

3. Do we make audiovisual recordings of our programs, speakers and events?

4. Do we use various means of storing important recordings, documents, and photographs (physical file cabinets, online storage)?

5. Does our membership have access to our historical documents?

6. Do we have a system of backing up our files?

7.  Are the files and materials we record stored safely?

8. Do we actually use these files in our meetings or leadership training?

9. How organized and easy to search our the files we keep?

OUTREACH: A measurement of how well our organization communicates with other organizations and people

1. Do people in our community whom we serve, know we exist and what services we provide?

2. Are the fliers, articles, advertisements, social media posts, etc. we create to announce our events distributed at least two weeks prior to the event?

3. Do we set clear goals for attendance at our meetings and events?

4. Do we have a standard for determining what makes an event “well” or poorly attended?

5. Do the same people attend our meetings or events, or do we notice a significant number of new faces?

6. Do we rely only on the officers of our organization to do outreach, or do we involve lay members in this process as well?

7. Do we do outreach in our larger community to develop relationships with like-minded groups and people?

GENERAL BODY MEETINGS

1. Do our meetings occur in the same place, time and location, or do these variables change often?

2. Do our meetings start and end when they are supposed to?

3. Are the meetings we convene fun, informative and inspiring?

4. Do we disseminate or post written agendas for each meeting to our members? Do we follow the agenda, or do our meetings often steer off into other matters?

5. Are members given time to voice their opinions or ideas?

6. Is there always a secretary present to record minutes of our meetings?

7. Are meeting minutes posted online, in our office or in a newsletter for members who missed meetings?

8. Do we use our meetings to resolve issues, raise issues, debate ideas, and solicit assistance?

9. If we decide on doing something as an organization, we we set a specific timetable for when tasks should be completed? Do we determine specific people responsible for completing tasks?

10. Can members critique decisions or actions of the organization without being ostracized?

11. Are criticisms or ideas from members actually considered and/or implemented by the leadership?

12. Do leaders debrief after general body meetings?

CHARACTER/PERSONAL INTEGRITY

1. Do organization leaders do what they say, when they say they will?

2. Do leaders submit paperwork or complete important tasks in a timely manner?

3. When leaders communicate with outside people, do they promptly follow-up with those people via phone or email?

4. Are leaders accessible by members (office hours, phone, email, social media)?

5. Do leaders respond to phone calls or emails within one to two business days?

PROGRAMMING

1. Does our organization do events that inform and inspire members?

2. Does our programming reflect the vision and mission of our organization?

3. Do our events duplicate those of other organizations?

4. Do we use our events to promote our organization, recruit new members and solicit assistance?

5. Do our events draw good attendance?

6. Does our programming meet the needs of our membership?

7. Do we use our resources (financial and otherwise) to protect and advocate for the vulnerable and voiceless members of our larger community?

MORALE: A measurement of how well we inspire pride and positive feelings about our organization from its members.

1. Does our organization do a good job of promoting the benefits of joining our group?

2. Do we use promotional materials to instill a sense of pride and belonging (t-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers)?

3. Does the leadership officially recognize and publicly celebrate the achievements and contributions of individual members?

4. Do we create events that provide opportunities for our members to meet, encourage, and fellowship with each other?

These are just a few categories we need to consider in evaluating our organizations. Hopefully you find this information helpful. Our organizations must strive for excellence and effectiveness because so many people depend on them.

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 Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Beware! The Dangers of Fundamentalism

There is a dangerous way of thinking that lay dormant for years but is re-emerging within the United States among white people and within the Black community as well. It is called “Fundamentalism,” and I will use this article to critique it and hopefully persuade my brothers and sisters seeking freedom and justice to dissociate with it immediately.

What is Fundamentalism?

According to Wikipedia, fundamentalism describes “strict adherence to orthodox theological doctrines.” But the term has also come to describe the strict or overly-rigid interpretation and adherence to just about any religious, political or social doctrine or belief system.

This last point is important, for the corporate media far too often isolates Muslim Jihadists (like those involved in the Iraqi-based “ISIS” group for example) as fundamentalists.  While the Isis movement is in fact fundamentalist, our obsession with their form of it sometimes causes us to forget that right here in the United States, we have various forms of fundamentalist groups and ideologies. To be specific, we are also surrounded by the teachings and practices of Christian fundamentalism, Conservative (political) fundamentalism, and yes, even Black Nationalist fundamentalism.

Examples of fundamentalism include but are not limited to:

  • Teaching that all things in a religious book are infallible (even on non-religious matters) and happened literally. Also, a refusal to recognize the allegorical or metaphorical nature of religious stories.
  • teaching that one’s lifestyle or beliefs, because it differs from that of the group, automatically condemns such people to death, unhappiness or damnation.
  • Believing that people who disagree with your principles should be physically harmed or killed.
  • Insisting there is only one way to enlightenment or salvation, and that only your organization, place of worship, or ideology teaches or practices it.
  • Refusing to even  discuss alternative perspectives or conclusions.

Fundamentalism – as should be self-evident -is dangerous and divisive. What any person believes is just that – a belief, no more, no less.

Once any belief is deemed immutable law or the only acceptable way of perceiving or behaving, we are delluding ourselves: Beliefs are valid or invalid, but making any of them inflexible facts/laws above critique or analysis only leads to cults. Jim Jones and David Koresh illustrate the folly of such thinking.

Our efforts to avoid fundamentalist thinking  and instead adopt reasonable thinking, doesn’t imply that we simply accept any or every idea at face value; On the contrary, progressive-minded people must  begin to understand that EVERY idea or belief is up for critique in the marketptlace of ideas. Reasonable folk don’t purchase cars, houses or anything else of value hastily or without investigation. This is a practice that serves us well with respect to assimilating ideas as well. People (Black Nationalists included) that adopt fundamentalist thinking or approaches do our struggle for dignity, empowerment and liberation a great disservice by squashing free-thinking and broad-minded thinking.

A Sankofa Call for Real Black Leadership

Originally posted on MY TRUE SENSE:

sankofa

If you read my previous article entitled. “A Sankofa Call to Black Student Unions,” you already know where this article is headed.

There are some who believe different economic and political terrain forges different politics and therefore, leadership. Using this logic, it is impractical to expect race-conscious, mass movement leadership like that of Dr, King, Marcus Garvey, or the Huey and Bobby. “Those were different times, those days are gone,” such people say with a touch of melancholy nostalgia in their voices.

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THe Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and “ Negro World ” newspaper, visionary behind the “Black Star” Shipping Line, and one of our greatest advocates for self-reliance and race solidarity.

Yet this issue like most is a matter of perspective. Certainly Garvey’s rise to prominence first in Harlem then throughout the world, owes much to the large immigration of West Indians to Harlem, 750,000…

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11 Qualities of Effective Leaders

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Leadership. So often spoken about, so rarely exemplified. This is especially true regarding effective Black sociopolitical leadership.

The jury of Black historical experience has deliberated for decades, and the verdict is in: Both our local communities and larger national landscape are witnessing a void in effective leadership. This doesn’t imply that we have NO competent or sincere individuals pushing agendas, advocating for people, challenging injustice or implementing solutions to our problems. Any brother or sister living in any U.S. city can produce a list of such people with respect to their own  locality.

And yet, we cannot allow idealism or a tendency toward  brown sugar-coating to obscure the sobering reality: all across this country, the masses of Black folk emphatically decry an absence of effective leadership on their behalf. Even if no one verbalizes this sentiment, it is self-evident. In virtually every indicator of human empowerment (educational attainment, gainful employment, job stability, mortality, mental and physical health, social mobility, household composition, political representation, property acquisition, business ownership,creation of viable independent institutions, personal safety, disposable income, savings and assets, freedom from incarceration, life choices, etc.) Black people rate very poorly, and in most cases, worse than everyone else.

Our enemies have been and likely will always be present; We’ve always worked with more financial, academic and other disadvantages than those oppressing us. These realities are not new. But what is disturbing is our collective inability or unwillingness to effectively identify our challenges, those responsible and our ability to fashion our righteous indignation into effective campaigns to address/resolve our conflicts.

In an effort to inspire and inform those if us  aspire to lead, advocate or organize our people, I’ve identified 11 qualities of effective leaders. Please note that numbering does not imply a ranking system of these qualities. Also remember that no leader is perfect, but with hard work and perseverance, he or she can be excellent:

1. Courage: An effective leader must be courageous enough to say and confront the pivotal issues and people necessary without catering to his/her fear of reprisal from the opposition. In addition, they should feel righteous indignation about injustice and oppression.

2. Confidence: A leader must truly have faith in his/her ability, vision and decision-making. This confidence should not be hollow or pretentious, but created from excellent preparation and actual achievement.

3. Strategic/Analytical Thinking: We cannot make decisions or respond to policies or tactics of our opposition impulsively. A good leader exercises good judgement by being accurately informed, patient, and discerning, and by being aware of and taking into account, important considerations. They are not simply concerned with what, but why and how. They seek to truly understand things and come up with effective solutions.

4. Integrity: People organize, unify, respect and work hard with/for leaders that tell them the truth, refuse to mislead them, compromise their interests, or steal/misuse group resources.

5. Humility: This quality does not mean that a person is soft-spoken or introverted (necessarily). It describes a person who has an accurate (not inflated or deflated) sense of themselves and his/her abilities/shortcomings and who constantly seeks to learn, improve and increase effectiveness. Leaders are not driven by being popular, becoming wealthy, getting favors or attracting fame and recognition. A real leader wants justice, empowerment, and progress for THE PEOPLE. They realize that they need input from others they trust, and they encourage such input, rather than acting in a unilateral fashion. The best leaders actually groom new leaders.

6. Inspiring: Effective leaders motivate others to see potential in themselves they didn’t formerly recognize. By their own confidence, conviction, and discipline, effective leaders push people to become active agents of self and collective empowerment, to evolve, leave their comfort zones, and even become leaders themselves. One way they achieve this is by being genuinely passionate about their ideals, the people for whom they advocate and the issues they address.

7. Hardworking/Thorough: Realizing that they set the tone for everyone and everything, effective leaders demand more of themselves than anyone else.They spend time researching, reading, holding meetings, recruiting members, educating their members and preparing themselves to render EXCELLENT service. There is a reason Dr. King was so eloquent, Garvey attracted so many followers, and Malcolm was so good at raising people’s consciousness. They didn’t simply rely on natural ability. They honed and refined their skill sets, and put hours of study, networking, and practice into their leadership. No effective leader relies on shortcuts, easy solutions, or get-free-quick schemes.

8. Articulate: Effective leaders adequately communicate his/her vision accurately, clearly, and in a way that inspires and educates those listening. He or she can also effectively explain the issue at hand, the opposition, and how people are negatively impacted. One need not be the world’s greatest orator to be articulate.

9. Decisive: Effective leaders are discerning and strategic but also willing and able to make important decisions in a timely manner without constantly changing their minds. Related to this quality is a commitment to being a change agent. Leaders want to improve conditions, raise morale, and resolve conflicts….and they understand that such things need to happen in a particular time-frame.

10. Visionary: Effective leaders have a clear and specific vision of the outcomes they want, and the culture they want to create immediately and of the legacy they want to leave long after they are no longer in leadership. Because they are grounded, the decisions and associations they make and issues they address have a level of consistency. Effective leaders do not flip-flop or address every issue under the sun. They do, say and promote the things that lead toward their vision being realized. They have the discipline to stay focused and true to the vision and they do not allow opposition forces to deter them in these efforts.

11. Knowledgeable: Effective leaders make it their business to know the history of their organization, along with the people and issues for which they advocate. They take the time to know what their members care about, where they hang out, and what skills or interests they have. They ask questions and involve themselves in the lives of the people they represent. As a result, they tend to also be familiar with the community in which they live and have relationships with other leaders and organizations.

___________________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

How the Black “Middle Class” is Used to Maintain Our Oppression

Sell outs

When W.E.B. DuBois published his “Talented Tenth” essay in September of 1903, he sought to define and characterize the type of leadership class Black people needed at the turn of the century to move from the ambiguous status of former slaves, to full U.S. citizenship.

According to DuBois,

“The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst.”

DuBois believed that those of us with the best education and opportunities would teach and cultivate the masses.  These individuals would be “race men” or people devoted to uplifting, defending and advancing Black people.

The venerable historian and sociologist later came to see the error of his thinking. Speaking more than 40 years after publishing “The Talented Tenth,” Dubois noted: “I assumed that with knowledge, sacrifice would automatically follow. In my youth and idealism, I did not realize that selfishness is even more natural than sacrifice.”

What DuBois failed to consider was that the acquisition of higher learning, higher salaries, and more social status comes a class consciousness. For those members of the Black middle class (which by the way, is quickly eroding in this economy), this class consciousness often translates to an emphasis on accumulating wealth, material consumption for the purpose of acquiring or demonstrating social status, a disconnection from civil or human rights concerns, an arrogant and detached attitude toward members of the Black working class, and the view that one’s success has everything to do with intelligence, talent and work ethic, rather than structural forces.

It is both inaccurate and unfair to cast blanket condemnation over the Black middle class. We can all name quite a few Black celebrities, college grads and professional brothers and sisters that are outspoken on issues of race, class and gender and who use philanthropy to support Black institutions.

And yet E. Franklin Frazier’s analysis in his 1957 classic, “Black Bourgeoisie is still germane to the discussion:

  • The Black Middle class generally seeks assimilation into and validation from the dominant culture, rendering their leadership/policies for the Black working class severely compromised
  • Many members of this class spend too much time and money acquiring possessions to demonstrate their class status or “importance.”
  • They tend to become alienated from and hostile to the Black working class, which incidentally, comprises the majority of our people

But it is brother Malcolm’s critique of the Black middle class as being pacifiers of the race and defenders of corporate and racial oppression that I’m most interested in here. In their attempt to fit in, and be validated by whites, they often adopt conservative values, identify with oppressive agencies and policies, and work to defend the status quo and neutralize or misdirect the righteous indignation of the Black masses. Malcolm explains this dynamic brilliantly in his analogy of the “House Negro and the Field Negro,” then uses this to explain how/why Black middle class leaders of the 60s tried to cool the flames of Black working class resistance.

Both Frazier and Brother Malcolm’s critique of the Black middle class helps us understand some rather troubling developments in American society today. This is why certain Black folk like Larry Elders and Ben Carson argue that racial injustice is either non existent or greatly exaggerated by Black people. This is how some of us actually promote the false notion that America is a post-racial nation. This helps explain how some of our leaders become government informants or agents, or white-sponsored critics of more radical or progressive leadership, ideas, and movements. Finally, this also helps explain the disturbing trend of college Black Student Unions transforming from uncompromising agents of radical Black resistance and political/cultural empowerment, to apolitical, sanitized social clubs sponsoring fashion shows, date auctions, and debutante balls. Concerns about building impressive resumes, career/financial stability and middle class households begin to replace concerns about social justice, race/gender/class oppression, or Black liberation within and outside of corporate offices.

Certainly all members and aspiring members of the Black middle class do not collaborate with our sworn enemies. In fact, some commit “class suicide” by unashamedly standing with the masses and being critical of establishment politics. But make no mistake. The class divide in terms of values, priorities and political trajectory is conspicuously evident.

When we stand up to protest, petition, or confront oppressive forces in our society, white political interests turn to their effective buffer group, conservative members of the middle class, to defend their policies, and encourage us as Malcolm said, to “Suffer peacefully.” They will continue to lead attacks on Affirmative Action, to justify tax cuts for the wealthy, and try to convince us that our collective suffering stems from our lack of work ethic, family values, and personal accountability. Even in the face of escalating police violence, corporate corruption, and legal injustice, they will tell us to relax, cool down, and allow the system to do its job. When we complain about racism, whites will point to these exceptional Black people as evidence that racial barriers and ceilings don’t exist. And in doing all of this, they will expose themselves as naive or willing collaborators with those who despise our very presence and see our wealth and labor as their own possessions. The time will come when you’ll have to choose sides or even contemplate class suicide yourself. Choose wisely. You’ve been warned…

___________________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Why We (Must) Honor Daryl Washington

dwash rest in peace2

Currently, I’m working with a group of Harlem residents and neighbors (just a block over from where I was born and raised) who’ve started a campaign to honor Daryl Washington, a young Black man who lost his life to gun violence on July 29, 2014 just feet from his residence. Touched by his inspiring life, the mourning and love of his family and others that knew him, and by our collective disgust with escalating gun violence and gang activity in Harlem and throughout the United States, many of us decided we would work to see that his memory lives on.

But family, friends and neighbors were not satisfied with simply mourning or commemorating Daryl Washington. We understood that the block, neighborhood and country of Daryl’s birth have claimed thousands of young lives due to societally-promoted ignorance, self-hatred, and a disturbing tendency to settle disputes by ending life. His senseless murder, we concluded, was part of a national epidemic of gun violence and fratricide plaguing Black and Brown communities with alarming frequency. So we launched a campaign with two objectives: 1. To have the street where he lived renamed in his honor to “Daryl Washington Way.” 2. To coordinate an annual event commemorating Daryl and raising awareness about gun violence in our community. To achieve the first goal, we launched a paper and online petition drive with a goal of 5000 signatures. To reach the latter goal, we’ve held a number of building meetings in addition to meetings with community leaders and organizations including Harlem Mothers Save and the West Harlem Empowerment Coalition.

So far, we’ve attracted many supporters (from West 144th Street in Harlem all the way to South Africa) and naturally some pessimistic cynics and people who are sincerely confused about the campaign. I’ve talked to quite a few people, including some personal friends, who’ve raised some questions and I’m writing this article to address those most frequently asked.

Question: Do you have the family’s support/permission to do all of this?

Absolutely. We never forget that at the root of this all, a family lost one of their own and they are in mourning. We make no move without first conferring with Daryl’s mom, and soliciting her input. She and other family members have signed the petition and have enthusiastically shared it on their own social media sites. As his mother recently wrote, “I really appreciate all the love and support given freely and generously to myself and my family during our tragedy. Please, if you haven’t, go to change.org and sign our petition to co name W. 144 St Amsterdam Ave to Daryl Washington Way! Ask your family and friends to sign as well, please. Our goal is 5,000 signatures. It’s not just about his name but the Daryl Washington way of life. A peaceful, courteous, kind and helpful way, done with a smile, hugs and consideration for others. That’s the way he lived and loved and I’ll do all I can to honor his legacy and his memory in the same way.”

Question: Why are you trying to rename a street? This won’t bring the young man back, and it won’t stop gun violence. What will this accomplish?

This is interesting since we live in cities and walk on streets named after all types of people, some of whom meant us no good. Why should the idea of naming a street after one of our own cause such resistance from some of our own? Our idea to rename the street came from conversations between Daryl Washington’s family and neighbors. They knew his death had a devastating impact and they wanted to know what they could do to help. His mother especially, made it clear that she wanted Daryl’s name and memory to live on. In conversations about how to do this, neighbors came up with the idea to rename West 144th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway Avenues, “Darryl Washington Way.” When we shared this idea with his family, they liked the idea and supported it. The street renaming is primarily for his family and friends We all believe it will help his memory live on, and help those who loved him through what must be a difficult time. To some degree, a street sign bearing his name will be a physical marker that might lead some people to ask about Daryl and learn about his life and about gun violence. In terms of what this campaign HAS accomplished: I’ve seen so many people talking, meeting, and working together in a spirit of love and solidarity. I’ve seen community folk getting petitions signed, determining meeting agendas, expressing their views, and thinking strategically around this campaign. In other words, the campaign to honor Daryl Washington, is also helping to identify and develop new community leaders, raise the confidence of people, and encourage community solidarity across gender, ethnic, and religious lines.

Question: But What makes Daryl Washington so special? Many other people were killed on his block and in that neighborhood. What about them?

This question is particularly disturbing because it implies an insulting type of competition between lives. As we state in our petition, “Many people are unfortunately killed by gun violence in NYC (and other large cities) on any given day. Each premature death is tragic, as no life is more valuable than another.

Daryl Washington’s murder resonates with so many relatives, friends and NYC residents, workers and business owners precisely because he represented the very best examples of ambition, self-improvement, community service and integrity that the “Big Apple” represents at its core. Everything from his decision to pursue a career in which he would potentially sacrifice his life to help others, from the way he died, demonstrates a central NYC and American creed: “I am my brother’s keeper.”

By launching a campaign around Daryl Washington, we are not suggesting that he was more important than anyone else. New York City has a process for renaming streets. We are simply organizing and utilizing a process that is open and available for anyone. It is unfair and impractical to hold us responsible for the fact that other people do not have streets named after them. In order to address the similar murders of other residents, we are hosting an annual event to address the issue of gun violence.

I must also address the issue of contrasting Daryl with other murder victims who unlike him, participated in selling drugs, gang activity or other forms of criminality and community mischief. When a young person is killed, regardless of his or her personal character or activities, a family and extended family grieves; a community loses a potential or actual parent, leader and productive citizen. As stated before, no life is intrinsically “better” than another.

However, we understand that a solider who dies overseas made a commitment to engage in war and therefore understood the likelihood of being injured or killed in the line of duty. But what about a civilian who did not enlist in the military, lived a life of peace and worked to uplift the community, yet gets killed by a grenade or missile launcher? Such an individual is an unfair “Casualty of war.” This civilian did not sign up to kill or be killed. Therefore his or her death is more tragic and resonates more deeply with people as a result. If you can understand this, you can understand the difference between a person like Daryl dying from gun violence, versus gang members, drug dealers and community predators dying from the same cause.

Not one Black parent I know wants their child to gang-bang, drop out of school or participate in criminal activity. On the contrary, All of them (including myself) have high and noble expectations for our children, even if WE were or are criminals ourselves! We all beam with pride when our child receives academic or athletic recognition; we brag when our child has the privilege to travel the world, do honest work for a living, win a scholarship or attend and graduate from college. So we need to be honest and stop being hypocritical!

When something tragic and undeserved happens to people like Daryl Washington, we FEEL it because people like Daryl represent the hopes and aspirations we have for our own children. People like Daryl symbolize and embody the life and meaning that our enslaved ancestors prayed and fought for, knowing full well THEY wouldn’t live to see their visions come true. When we fail to give people like Daryl the respect they deserve, and instead lump them together with any and everyone that was murdered, we do ourselves a major disservice. Instead of being hypocritical and making this a negative competition between “good” and “bad” seeds, we should strive instead to teach and learn the lessons presented by the murders of exemplary youth and their more troubled counterparts. As I noted on Facebook, “When a role model and person of high character is killed, we are reminded that our best and brightest can still fall prey to the ignorant among us, so we must always work to uplift our entire community. When a person involved in criminal activity is murdered, we are reminded that the negative choices we make have negative consequences and negatively impact our lives. The “village” has dropped the ball; We ARE our brother’s keeper….”

If we really want the best for our youth, we cannot “hate” on or dismiss those that are exemplary, nor can we continue to defend those who consciously wreak havoc among us, make our communities unsafe and threaten the future of our people (at the same time, we cannot judge them or write them off as incorrigible). No, this is the weak and ignorant approach. This approach will only continue the vicious cycle of fratricide we already see. We must encourage those doing well and educate others to do and be better! We must teach our troubled youth that despite what the world tells them, they are valuable and their lives matter! They are not natural-born “T.H.O.Ts, thugs, bitches and hos, but the victims of those that treat and perceive them as such. If we want to make things better, we must begin to do exactly what Daryl’s family and neighbors are doing….reminding people of what is good and noble in our young people and holding our community to positive expectations, while educating our people to the horrors of self-hatred, ignorance and fratricide. This point is actually self-evident; This is why we have gang-prevention programs rather than gang recruitment programs; This is why we brag about young people that do well and feel ashamed of those who bring dishonor to ourselves and our community; This is why we urge our children to stay in school rather than drop out; This is why we create programs to keep our youth from experiencing prison life rather than programs to help them “enjoy” incarceration; This is why we want our children to learn job skills and learn to run legitimate businesses of their own rather than teach them to become good thieves, murderers, and cheats.

Hopefully, this sheds some light on the Daryl Washington campaign for those with questions. Anytime that Black and Brown people work together, plan together, and fight together in positivity, we should support this in principle even if we ourselves don’t personally get involved. There is indeed a problem when people in our own community (typically those who do little or nothing to uplift the community and are part of the problem rather than the solution) spend so much energy attacking those of us who are trying to do something to improve our condition. I realize that some people are deeply cynical, while others are genuinely curious. But we believe in Daryl, his family, and the righteousness of this campaign, and we will proceed in our efforts regardless of whether people agree or understand it. We have the backing of the Washington family, and we believe, the backing of the Creator….

Again we ask that you read, sign and share our petition and stand for something bigger than yourself….

______________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.”

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

You can contact or learn more about Agyei Tyehimba by visiting Agyei’s website.