As an educator and activist, I constantly search for ways to empower through teaching. Many of our most effective and inspired leaders addressed how ignorance perpetuates our own victimization and powerlessness. One way to address this is by challenging and changing the way we think because doing so works to change our attitudes, priorities, and behavior.
This in fact describes precisely the importance of raising consciousness in our community. Those who oppressed us did so through coercion and propaganda. Whips, guns, economic discrimination,, segregation and legislation were the externally applied tools of coercion. But the oppressive apparatus became most effective when they taught us to accept ourselves as inferior and servile. Miseducation, largely through religious and educational institutions and societal propaganda served this purpose.
Generations of anti-Black propaganda (as Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm X skillfully explained) made it possible for white supremacy to operate with our cooperation! Taught to devalue ourselves, we turned our hostilities toward our oppressors inwards, as we created false divisions based on complexion, education, religious belief, class, gender, and any number of distinctions.
One way our self-hatred manifests itself is though deep feelings of insecurity and inadequacy which frequently harden into jealousy, irrational resentment, unhealthy competitiveness ,over-defensiveness, failure to respect our own authority, and displays of misplaced bravado.
We must spiritually cleanse ourselves and develop genuine feelings of self-love and value. Too many individuals walk around feeling small, worthless and conflicted. And these feelings become self-evident in their repeatedly condescending and bitter interactions with others.
We must get to the point where we can disagree with each other without expressing vulgar and intolerant bitterness or personal attacks – or, without assuming the worst in another person’s intentions.
While we are free to have religious and political affiliations/ideologies we cherish and that give our lives meaning, we must be flexible and compassionate enough to entertain ideas and perspectives that differ from our own.
We must realize when we are wrong, in violation, or incorrect, and be humble when called on it so that we can evolve.
We must remember that no matter how much we know or have done, we are still imperfect seekers of truth with much to learn; we are lifelong teachers and students.
True empowerment comes from developing relationships with other people, and being able to collaborate and organize with people who challenge our comfort zones and perspectives.
In conclusion, we must be keen in assessing people. Be wary of those whose main topic is always themselves, their accomplishments, their activities or special qualities in the name of religion, politics or anything else. Deep vanity and self-absorption are hallmarks of insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. These qualities are NOT representative of effective and progressive individuals or leadership. Such qualities eventually degenerate into jealousy, resentment, divisiveness and violent rivalry. Zealots and all-or-nothing types are dangerous as they do not seek understanding and progressive movement, but to bully others into their way of thinking. They typically operate on the overly simplistic assumption that people whose thoughts differ from theirs are evil or wicked.
Those of us in positions of leadership, must work to be excellent leaders, spokespersons and intellectuals. If our people “die for a lack of knowledge,” we do them a grave injustice by providing misinformation, narrow interpretations, or an inflexible understanding of ideas, scripture or history. The late great historian John Henrik Clarke personally gave me great advice when I questioned him in Harlem, and I’ll never forget it… “Read unceasingly, with a focus on answering specific questions. Read widely to provide context. Cross-reference. Master the area of history you’re interested in and defend it with all you have.”
When we fall short, we should apologize humbly and work to avoid repeating our mistake. .There is room on this planet for everyone to shine, provided they do so legitimately and do the preparatory work required. But If we are driven primarily by a desire for validation, recognition, or praise, we should consider entering the world of entertainment. Political/religious leaders and intellectuals seek truth, justice and empowerment.
Agyei Tyehimba 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. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.