The Ethos of Harlem Liberation School

On February 8, 2016 Harlem Liberation School held its first meeting. Our topic was “The Power and Importance of Black History.”

I’ve previously written an article that called for Black people to create Liberation Schools and one that detailed the preparation that went into creating HLS, and I’m happy to announce that we will soon begin traveling and creating such programs around the country.

This article highlights the character of Harlem Liberation School. This includes group1our guiding philosophy, spirit, objectives, how we engage with our community, and how we set out to reach our objectives. This is important, because all community programs and organizations proclaiming themselves “servants of Black people” in this country are not the same. Some operate on the premise of arrogant and ruthless capitalism, individual over community gain, or getting something accomplished no matter how many people are hurt, deceived, or misled in the process. At HLS, we work to create a culture  of Black love and Black community. To make sure we are clear, and those who participate in HLS are clear about who we are, who we serve, and how we do that, I have written the following statement:

“We are not here for vindication or validation. Our egos need no stroking or self-congratulation. We do not proclaim to be the sole authority on ANYTHING nor to have all the answers. No individual, regardless of his/her talent or intelligence, is more important than our COMMUNITY.

We strive to understand our condition as it is, meet people where they are, and use our resources and experiences to create the world we wish our children to inhabit.

We don’t seek to promote ourselves nor demote anyone else. We understand liberation is a marathon, not a sprint and a relay race that requires the involvement of various segments within our community.

We start with a spirit of LOVE.
We demonstrate that love through respecting our people, listening to our people, and working with our people to help us all do better and be better. We recognize ourselves as beautiful yet flawed works in progress.

We identify and challenge our enemies – internally and externally.
We study. We analyze. We value our elders and mentors. We build leadership and organizing capacity in our community.
We have FAITH in our people.
We are about the transformative WORK needed to rescue, renew and reclaim our values, priorities and practices.

We are not territorial. What we have means nothing without community. We do not demoralize the people or expect us all to agree. We believe that integrity, clarity, self-determination, cooperative economics, grassroots organizing and institution building are critical to our development. We believe in learning and building upon the legacy of our elders and ancestors before us. We work to align our values and priorities with the projects of Black education, unification and liberation.

We do not condescend our people nor act as if our ish don’t stink. We value principled disagreement over insults and attempts to demean those with whom we disagree.
We are the people. The people are us. We fight to help Black people “Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!”

Agyei Tyehimba,
Founder/Coordinator, Harlem Liberation School

Avoid Becoming an Enemy of the People

When the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Ella Baker, Malcolm X and Kwame Ture (a.k.a. Stokely Carmichael) and others raised consciousness and Black Power capacity in the Black community, they built upon the examples and ideas of Black people before them.

Some of us in recent generations are heeding our ancestors’ call for justice and Black Power. We are attempting to implement their theories, emulate their practices, and do so in ways that resonate with our people in 2016.

Yesterday in Brooklyn, I sat on a panel discussing Black Consciousness and ways to build our community, hosted by brother Que Butter and the XyayX Movement. It was refreshing to discuss important issues in our community with a panel of fellow educators and organizers.

Even more encouraging was the manner in which panelists candidly addressed some areas we in the “conscious community” need to improve. There was much I wanted to say, but simply not enough time. I want to share some thoughts on this matter in this essay.

If you enjoy the “Star Wars” franchise, you appreciate the character of Anakin Skywalker. He is the most talented and promising of all Jedi Knights (who exist to protect several galaxies from evil). Prophesies indicate that he will bring justice/righteousness to known galaxies.

But Anikin becomes arrogant and fearful, seeking glory, attention and power for himself. Eventually, he transforms from a great Jedi Knight to a cold-hearted and ruthless DEMON that seeks to destroy the very galaxy he was sworn and trained to protect. Using this as a framework, there are a few observations for us to consider:

  • Greater, more talented, more accomplished and more intelligent people than ourselves were destroyed by arrogance and self-absorption. NEVER forget that. Stay humble, seek and heed the counsel of wise elders, and see yourself as one of many souljahs in the Black Liberation Movement.
  • Strive to be part of the solution, not the problem.
  • Don’t view other organizers as threats or rivals to your throne. See them as resources and allies.
  • Resist the temptation to be territorial. There are 35 million Black people in the United States. A few programs are organizations in this or that city, town or state cannot possibly address our people’s needs. Another Black Power group or program started close to your base of operations? Great! This means more Black people will receive the life-changing information and skills they desperately need. This means you will not burn yourself out trying to do everything for everyone. We should not fool ourselves into thinking our programs can meet everyone’s needs. This is both impractical and arrogant. At the same time, we should attempt to coordinate activities and dates to avoid sabotaging our mutual efforts. We are in a competitive tug-of-war for sure. The question is, are we tugging against Black ignorance and white oppression, or are we jealously tugging against each other? I am not aiming to control the east or west side of  a local neighborhood, but to influence and empower Black people on the east and west hemispheres of this planet. See the difference? No one group has any divine claim on a territory or section of the neighborhood or planet. But if we work together and drop our egos, we can serve and empower a greater number of our people. We must stop being so competitive and antagonistic with Black folk we claim to love and serve. Otherwise, we become enemies of the people rather than their humble servants…..

______

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.

Real Talk About Harlem Liberation School

Recently, I wrote an essay calling on Black people to create Liberation Schools all over the United States. The creation of Liberation Schools I argued, was part of a multi-layered approach to resolving the problem of Black Miseducation (in addition to apathy and disunity).

Since then, I’ve had the honor of working with fellow Harlemites to launch the “Harlem Liberation School.”

The objective of this essay is to  share with you our first meeting, in addition to what we did/are doing to put this community program together.

In the spirit of humility and practicality, I must begin by reminding us that one program will not liberate Black people. Far too often, Black community activists become territorial over programs or projects they created.

This must stop! There are 35 million Black people in the United States. No one or two programs or organizations can adequately accomodate all of these Black people!

We must abandon our egos and obsessive need for recognition. This limited and competitive thinking threatens to sabotage the Black Liberation Movement. We literally need and can benefit from hundreds of empowering programs in our cities, thousands in our states, and millions throughout the country.

Competitive and self-absorbed solo-act leaders who refuse to “share the stage” are not effective. We need selfless and humble activists/organizers willing to share community space, information and other resources with fellow community workers.

Furthermore, if a program shows promise, if a blueprint or strategy proves effective in our city or section of the city, we should work to share and replicate it all over the city, state and nation, so large numbers of our people can reap the benefits regardless of their geographic location.

harlem liberation school2

This requires that we stop viewing programs as “mine” or “yours” and begin seeing them as “ours.” It also requires that we institutionalize our programs and projects so that they outlive those who created them. If a community program ends with our death, relocation or imprisonment, we have partially failed our people.

harlem liberation school

Picture taken after the first meeting of HLS ended. Legendary poet Abiodun of “The Last Poets” is pictured in the center wearing red.

Harlem Liberation School held its grand opening on February 8, 2016 (we meet on the second and last Monday of every month). Approximately 30 people attended.

The theme was “The Importance and Power of Black History.” We did an icebreaker designed to introduce everyone and help participants learn each other’s names. This activity worked well. People laughed, relaxed and got to know each other.

Next, we had legendary poet-activist Abiodun from “The Last Poets” speak to us. He had us all laughing and nodding in agreement with his perspectives on education, white supremacy, and Black culture. As an added bonus, he also sold and signed numerous books, CDs and DVDs of his original poetry and took pictures with admiring fans of his music.

After this, we began our presentation. By exploring how the “Wizard of Oz” applies to Black people, we explained the importance of our history. We discussed how we must go beyond using our history for trivia games or a roll-call of celebrities or “Black Firsts.”

Preparation

To prepare for this opening day, we had to do a number of things which I want to share with you. As I noted in a previous article, the Liberation Schools have flexible structures, don’t need tons of funding to start or maintain, and do not require people with advanced degrees to coordinate them.

  • We secured a venue. The founders of Imagenation graciously agreed to give us use of their art gallery called “Raw Space,” free of cost. All they ask is that we make a love offering of any amount.
  • To avoid asking people for money, we allow 8 Black vendors to sell their wares at Harlem Liberation School. We charge them a modest $10 vending fee which we give to the art gallery as a love offering.
  • Once we secured a venue, we created an online flier using Smore.com. The flier contains our purpose, location, days/hours of operation, contact information, upcoming topic and a downloadable flier. Fliers created by smore.com are excellent because they are interactive, multimedia friendly and easy to edit and revise. You can also easily share fliers on various social media sites, follow the number of views your flier generates, see what links your visitors click and see where your visitors are located around the country and world. Once the flier was completed, we shared the link on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus. At last count, our flier was shared over 700 times and viewed by people all over the country and also in the U.K. and New Zealand!
  • After creating this online flier, we designed a paper flier for Harlem Liberation School. We posted and passed out about 500 fliers.
  • At the same time we met with various local activists, educators and Community residents to both inform them and enlist their support. Don’t skip this step if you want community support for your liberation school.
  • On the day of meetings, we post an agenda, and provide participants with a pen to complete information sheets. We use these sheets to communicate with people that attend, and to determine what skills, knowledge, and other resources they can contribute to Harlem Liberation School.
  • We provide an online exit ticket (review sheet/survey) after every meeting (though we forgot to do this at our grand opening). We use this to evaluate how well people understand and remember the information or skills we discussed, to reinforce the information and skills and to receive group feedback and suggestions.
  • We’ve begun calling people that attended to get their feedback and to solicit their assistance with planning and publicity.
  • Using Mailchimp, we distribute a digital newsletter to our email list of attendees and others to provide a record of our activities and help people you missed the meeting review what we did.
  • We constantly promote a warm and inviting spirit. We focus on being inclusive, creative and collaborative. We involve various elements of our community and constantly seek input from participants. We work to avoid senseless rivalry and competition and to focus instead on information, analysis and community action.

As time goes on, I will give updates about Harlem Liberation School. I will also begin posting YouTube clips that detail this particular model and important tips for creating your own. I sincerely hope that Black community activists  and organizers around the country look at this model, tweak it to their needs, and begin educating and empowering our people. You can view our Grand Opening here.

_______

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 is the National Director of Education for Souljahs of the People. 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 does Nation-Building Involve?

images

Many Black Nationalists like myself talk about building a nation… This sounds like a noble task, but what does it mean, and what factors does doing so involve? These are the type of high-level questions serious Nationalists must debate/discuss in the 21st century as we struggle to survive and emancipate ourselves from the United States empire. This essay will briefly outline these concerns.

First, what is a nation? The word derives from the Latin term “Natio,” which describes people, tribe or kin.” in a modern sense, a nation is a large group of people that share a common language, culture, geography, kinship, historical experience, etc..

By that definition, Blacks in the U. S.. constitute a nation (albeit a dormant one). Clearly our definition needs expansion.

A modern nation is no mere grouping of similar people with similar values and interests within common geographic boundaries. Nations as we know them, have formal governing structures, and a common historical narrative, along with official institutions that regulate, monitor and enforce economic, defense, political and social operations.

We can agree that all of these national operations, while tangible, are in effect, based on philosophical and theoretical concepts. Of course, political pundits and corporate media networks will never concede this point. They want us all to drink the red/white/blue Kool-aid and believe that capitalism, the two-party Democratic Republican system, and the U.S. methods of education, healthcare, and justice are innate and organic. Lies. In truth, all of these are ideas and philosophies developed by white economists and political scientists which the nation adopted, utilized and sold to citizens as indisputable truths.

Those who speak of nation-building must develop new theories or modify existing ones. We must give serious thought to a number of issues, some of which I outline below. This abbreviated outline demonstrates just how complex and intricate is the project of creating a new nation. As you read over this, think about all the time we waste debating non-productive matters, when we have more crucial issues pending.

Healthcare
-How do we create a system of training competent doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical professionals?
-We must create a network of hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.
-How do we coordinate communications between them?
-How do we make sure all citizens have adequate and affordable (or free) healthcare?

Government
-How will our government be structured?
-what are the officers and their responsibilities?
-How do we guard against corruption?
-How and how often are leaders elected?

Economics
-What economic system do we use?
-How form of currency do we use, if any?
-How do we care for the indigent, elderly and disabled?
-Do we tax citizens and if so, how much and for what purposes?
-What are the natural resources at our disposal? How do we access and use these resources?
-How do we prevent or address hunger, homelessness and severe poverty?

Education
– What curriculum(s) do we use?
-how do we identify suitable educational materials?
-What system do we create to recruit and train competent teachers?
-How do we fund and evaluate schools?
-Do we use a public, private or mixed system of education?
-How do we assist students with learning disabilities or academic deficiencies?

These are just a few general topics and questions.. We haven’t addressed law, agriculture, foreign policy, housing, national defense or employment.

The point is that nation building is a complex process requiring sound theory and the creation of effective systems for millions of people… In addition to these things, we also must address how to promote shared national values and a national culture.

One day soon – after our irrelevant debates and often fundamentalist posturing subsides – we will get to the serious work of nation building.

——————————

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 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: How to Organize in the Community

together

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

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

Why Should We Organize in our Community?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do You Organize?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Reading

The Art of Leadership Vol II by Oba T’Shaka

Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby

The Making of Black Revolutionaries by James Forman

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

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

Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky

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

________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

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

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

What Does Revolutionary Black Love Look Like?

che

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

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

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

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

What Does Revolutionary Black Love Look Like?

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

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

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

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

We can summarize that revolutionary Black love involves:

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

How do we cultivate it?

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

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

How will Revolutionary Black love impact our community?

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

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

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

_______________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

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

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

Resolving the Problem of Black Miseducation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing, Black Nationalists like myself always argue that “We can’t send our children to receive education from our enemies.” Yet, I  should remind you that Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Kwame Ture, Assata Shakur, George Jackson, or most of our most radical and committed Black Liberation leaders did not attend African-centered schools. They either attended segregated Black schools or integrated schools. In either case, neither brand of these schools were African-centered by our contemporary definition. The creation of African-centered schools was a direct product of the Black Power Movement. Most of these schools did not appear until after the 1970s and later. This means that while African-centered schools are the preferred ideal, our children need an empowering education NOW and we cannot afford to wait several decades to accommodate all of them in such schools. However, we can still help our children emerge competent, committed, and conscious even in the framework of the existing school system if we seriously reconfigure and maximize educational capacity within the larger community VILLAGE that raises them.

_________________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. In 2015, he wrote My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Race, Politics, and Culture. 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. He is the founder and coordinator of Harlem Liberation School.

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.

A Short and Sweet Reminder for Black People

I promised myself that I would remember to balance my blog with long and more concise articles. I realize that certain information should be expressed succinctly.

If I were to ask members of our community about the major issues confronting our people, I’m sure I’d hear a list as follows:

  • Academically and culturally bankrupt public education
  • Imperialism and Police brutality
  • Unemployment, low wages, and lack of economic power
  • Little connection to Africa or African-centered culture/history
  • Fratricide (Black-on-Black violence)
  • Narcotic drug trafficking and other forms of criminality
  • Privatized prisons and the mass incarceration of Black people
  • Bourgeois values and priorities
  • White supremacy
  • Broken, disconnected, or dysfunctional families and communities
  • Self-Hatred
  • Drug addiction
  • Black physical and mental health concerns
  • Domestic violence, and sexual abuse in our households
  • Patriarchy and homophobia
  • Little to know political power or representation

And the list goes on, I’m sure. The vast majority of these things are actually symptoms of  larger problems that we often fail to address.

Social scientists, nonprofits and governmental agencies – with varied motives – produce large volumes of studies and reports that detail and describe these issues.

Naturally, this plethora of problems compel answers and solutions. And this I’m afraid is where we fall short all-too-often. Our responses to these social, economic and political ills often do not effectively address and resolve these concerns.

So here is my short and sweet reminder to my Black community: Acquiring political consciousness, earning diplomas or degrees, exposing conspiracies, gaining an encyclopedia knowledge of ancient Africa, becoming a more spiritual or religious being, buying Black, joining this or that cult, church or organization, debating, protesting, giving speeches, writing blogs, praying, meditating, getting a job or starting businesses …..have their place, (some more than others) but are by themselves, inadequate.

The simple fact is, our liberation requires a coordination of various efforts, consciousness backing them, institutions to promote and facilitate them, and power to implement,support and defend them. This remains our challenge going forward…..To hear this point in more detail, please take time to view the following video of Dr. Amos Wilson:

__________________________________

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.

Damaging Ideas/Practices Promoted by Some Members the “Conscious Community”

confusion

This phrase “Conscious Community” is quite popular these days. I use it myself. Generally speaking, it refers to those brothers and sisters with some useful degree of sociopolitical awareness, African-centered knowledge of Black history or the Black experience, and an understanding of white supremacy. In an ideal world, this term also describes people who fuse their knowledge and understanding of such things with programs, institutions, activism, and things designed to help Black people Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up! However as we all probably agree, this is not an ideal world, but a REAL world, and definitions of “conscious community” are as confused and varied as member of this community itself. Nevertheless, I will go with this term for now, as it is an all-embracing term that provide general understanding.

I want us to spend some time being critical of this community which includes Black artists, writers, intellectuals, activists, organizers, students, workers, and national organization leaders and their members. The simple yet uncomfortable truth is that some members of this community – a community I claim for myself as well – are becoming a large part of our collective problem rather than a reassuring a liberating part of the solution for Black folkcritically supportive seeking empowerment and liberation. Why is a serious critique of the Black conscious community warranted? Note the following compelling reasons:

  • They/we sometimes attract huge followings and exert some degree of influence on their followers particularly understanding of key concepts like identity, oppression, solidarity, and resistance
  • In some cases, they/we are responsible for monies and other resources solicited and collected from our community, for the purpose of starting programs, institutions, and political movements
  • Because they/we tend to be more articulate, fearless, and knowledgeable than most,  the masses of our community tend to see us as trustworthy leaders and molders of community consensus and empowerment
  • They/we play a major role in our people’s capacity to Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up

Our people deserve the most sincere and very best people advocating on their behalf, raising consciousness, and cultivating Black resistance to oppression. While some clearly have an over-inflated sense of importance, members of this community are important for the reasons stated above, and then some. And because our integrity and the success of our efforts are so largely influenced by the conscious community, it is our duty to support those who speak, educate, organize and fight with us effectively.

However when such people are inaccurate, self-serving, or leading us in counterproductive directions or toward disastrous outcomes, we also have the duty to be critical. Neglecting to do so just because some individuals or organizations are popular,  or even well-intentioned, is not patriotic or righteous – It is cowardly, foolish and counter-revolutionary, period. As Dr. King reminded us,

Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right.

With this guiding principle in mind, I offer the following ideas and practices which some members of the conscious community champion (in sincere and opportunistic fashion), that I believe are fundamentally incorrect and destined to set our movement backwards.

  • The belief that knocking on doors, and/or holding rallies, marches and protests are the only legitimate forms of protest. We are now over a decade into the 21st Century. This is an exciting time when internet technology, smartphones and social media make the world smaller, more manageable, and this scenario radically improves our ability to conduct research and communicate. We simply cannot afford to stay in the Fred Flintstone era of activism. It’s time to leave “Bedrock” behind and explore the world of the “Jetsons” that is upon us. We must continue the best practices of traditional activism while effectively utilizing the new tools at our disposal so that we can reach more people, and better expose, challenge, and defeat our enemies while empowering and liberating ourselves.

Another fact that bears repeating: We must also realize that our enemies attack and oppress us in almost every major area of human activity and that they use multiple means to do so. We cannot successfully counter such a sophisticated multi-level attack by using one mode or weapon. If we members of the conscious community are serious about removing the shackles of ignorance and oppression, we need to recognize, support and participate in varied forms of consciousness-raising and resistance including but not limited to: blogging, social media, internet conferences, building alternative and African-centered institutions, in addition to using traditional forms of activism and education. White supremacy is a twenty-headed and twenty-hearted beast with body parts that regenerate themselves when damaged. We cannot defeat that beast with one sword or one tactic.

  • Degrading, insulting, and using unnecessarily crass and vulgar language, against fellow members of the conscious community with whom we disagree. I don’t know when it became acceptable to demoralize and belittle other activists, intellectuals, leaders and community organizers simply because we disagree with their tactics or strategy. Elements of fundamentalist Nationalism exist among some members of the conscious community. This narrow-minded, dogmatic, intolerant, and simplistic mode of leadership/activism is dangerous and threatens to create violent and unproductive tribalism in our community. Fascism is NEVER fashionable. I find that many “conscious” people who claim to follow and respect brother Malcolm,  tend to behave this way. Malcolm himself behaved this way, insulting Dr. King and other Black leaders with whom he had ideological and tactical disagreements. He later recognized his mistake, and attempted to correct himself by apologizing publicly to those he insulted, and by attempting to work with civil rights leaders he believed were sincere. We cannot on one hand proclaim to our community that we need “all hands on deck,” then on the other hand, insult and question the authenticity of those who have differing opinions or who participate in varied forms of activism. This of course, does not suggest we should allow opportunistic, self-serving Black collaborators of oppression to exist without challenge. To the contrary, we must challenge them vociferously.

There is room in the struggle for several organizations, perspectives and approaches. The only thing we absolutely cannot tolerate in any circumstance, are insincere and opportunistic types whose lust for fame, money or recognition compromise our forward movement, and government informants. We must learn to disagree with fellow conscious folk in a mature and responsible fashion, that allows us to still work together and share resources and networks down the road. We can all agree that life for those of us in the Black liberation struggle is often uncomfortable, lonely, and highly-pressurized. We need support! Therefore, we should work on heightening movement morale, giving credit where due, promoting/supporting other people’s activities,  and building sustained and productive relationships with fellow activists, rather than insulting them

  • Failing to emphasize and promote universally empowering qualities/virtues of personal development. The conscious community famously emphasizes our need to be culturally and historically connected, appreciative of Africa’s contributions to world civilization, and vigorous in exposing and challenging white supremacy. These are in my estimation, absolutely mandatory and pivotal to our collective development. However, we cannot forget the equally important role of personal development. We compromise all efforts at collective empowerment if we fail to promote and model the qualities and virtues of being organized in thought and practice, embodying a strong work-ethic, striving for academic and general excellence in all we do, developing good character and exercising  self-discipline. These tools helped our ancestors to advance/develop themselves despite seemingly overwhelming societal oppression and persecution, and we do ourselves well to remember and emulate this. DuBois, Malcolm, and Ella Baker weren’t just dedicated opponents to white supremacy, they were also devout practitioners of personal empowerment, starting with themselves. Do the research and observe their meticulous time management, tireless work-ethic, and self-discipline. Do not allow ignorant people to deem these qualities “white” or counter-revolutionary. Realizing the importance of this point, I wrote a book entitled, Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. This book teaches our youth how to manage time, make solid decisions, avoid societal traps develop self-love and confidence, and the importance of education and excellence. It is a must read for teens and their families.
  • Creating or promoting a climate of anti-intellectualism.Brother Malcolm wrote, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” If education (research, reading, studying, analyzing) give us the power and mobility to move forward and explore possibilities, then ignorance is our prison sentence of long-term solitary confinement allowing for isolation, deprivation, and the inability to exercise mobility and self-reliance. If you did not obtain a college education,  you can still read, study and be analytical. If you are college-educated,  realize your education did not start nor will it end with earning a degree. But however you acquire education, formally or informally, ACQUIRE IT! Ignorant, misinformed people who are heavy on opinion and light on study do us little good. We need people who can not only consume, understand and explain information, but who can also create, publish and put information into practical use. Not everyone will be an intellectual or scholar. Nor will everyone be a hardcore “boots-on-the-ground” activist. Our ancestors revered and respected knowledge and those who possessed it. Somehow, we’ve gone backwards on this issue. People can’t do the right things unless they know the right things.We will also have to agree that the purpose of research and study is not simply to accumulate a bunch of facts or trivia, but to gain information and the ability to use that information to understand the world, past and current events, and to positively impact present and future circumstances. I’m personally not impressed with people who can regurgitate tons of trivia. I’m more concerned with uncovering meaning and analysis, and discovering ways  to use that information to advance ourselves and/or solve problems.

We should support our radical intellectuals and activists. Instead of arguing over who is most important, we should encourage mutual respect and cooperation. Activists should read the work of radical intellectuals (alive and deceased) to better refine their analysis of the sociopolitical terrain. End this nonsensical hatred of scholars. If you’ve read or quoted Chancellor Williams, DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, Yosef Ben-Jochannan, John Henrik Clarke, Amos Wilson, Kwame Nkrumah, Huey P. Newton, Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael, Khalid Muhammad, Sister Souljah, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney, Angela Davis, or Cheikh Anta Diop, you actively respect and utilize the work of college-educated Black folk and are hard-pressed to question their revolutionary credibility; Likewise, If you admire Frederick Douglass, J.A. Rogers, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, Minister Farrakhan, Fannie Lou Hamer, Maya Angelou, or George Jackson, you appreciate self-taught organic Black intellectuals whose revolutionary credibility  is also above reproach.

__________________________________________________________

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.

Ending the Epidemic of Violent Black Death

IMAG0263

On Tuesday evening,  at approximately 10:50pm, 27 year-old Darryl Washington died of a fatal gunshot to his head, literally feet from his Harlem residence. Just 15 minutes earlier I stood feet away from where he drew his last agonizing breath.

This young Black man was killed by other young Black men, because he  intervened to protect his family member from being assaulted.

IMAG0261_1_1

Beloved 27 year-old Darryl Washington, tragically killed on July 29, 2014

During the days following this incident, relatives, childhood friends, neighbors, and even passersby acknowledged this young man’s life with a shrine including beautiful flowers, candles, his pictures and large sections of oaktag with various R.I.P.messages of other heartfelt expressions.

Everyone I spoke with – and I mean EVERYONE – noted how Darryl (also known as “D-Wash” or “LeBron”) was a law-abiding, humble, and well-raised gentleman undeserving of his fate. Tragic.

But this individual tragedy unfortunately represents one teardrop in a mighty ocean of mangled Black bodies, blood-stained streets, and emotionally charged funeral services all over the United States. with disturbing frequency.

Cruise through every city with a sizeable Black/Latino population, you will find hundreds of shrines like Darryl’s, or colorful portraits of Black people (typically men) spray-painted on the walls of barbershops and corner stores honoring the slain. Funeral after funeral along with floods of news reports, neighborhood tributes, and the horrific wailing of mourning parents demonstrate this sad truth: Perhaps the greatest tragedy outside of the obvious, is that incidents like Darryl’s are occurring far too frequently in American cities.

Black violent death – whether by racist law enforcement, white vigilante, or ignorant Black hands – is not a few isolated incidents, but rather an EPIDEMIC.

It makes me cringe to note that according to a 2013 report by the Children’s Defense Fund, gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black children and teens.

I am no expert on this issue. I come with no specific legislative remedies. What I do know is that Black households, schools, places of worship and community organizations must place this issue high on their priority list (along with domestic violence, mass incarceration, the miseducation of our youth and rising unemployment). Alll of us, must leave our political and religious bubbles and begin teaching our children to value life, beginning with their own, and to develop nonviolent ways to mediate their conflicts with peers.

This greed-driven and shamefully misogynist and racist society, along with our own negligence and failure to exercise leadership, is mass-producing generations of young brothers and sisters who lack confidence, feel hopeless and lost, or like the Tin Man character in “The Wizard of Oz,” have no heart.

Patriotic Black folk waiting for federal agencies or corporate sponsors to effectively address this problem should not hold their breath. Booker T. Washington’s call to “Cast our buckets where we are,” is most appropriate at this time. Right in our communities-turned-battlefields, we must create local and national movements to literally save our youth.

No college degrees are necessary for those that volunteer for this task. No long list of past accomplishments, impressive resumes, or claims to divinity needed here. The antidote to this epidemic will be the stuff of which all social movements are made: fearless, optimistic, clear-thinking, spirit-intoxicated, sincere and committed Black men and women young and old who are prepared to spread the Social Gospel of character development, self-love/empowerment, skill-building, cultural connectedness, and emotional intelligence through individual or organizational efforts to young people throughout this nation. As the phenomenonal reverend Dr. Charles G. Adams once noted, “We will either live and work together as intelligent women, men and children, or die separately like fools.”

 _____________________

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.” 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 truself143@gmail.com.