Black Educators Must Take our Rightful Place in the Movement to Educate our Youth!

Black people’s concern with the U.S. public education system – it’s intent, policies, curriculum and practices – is longstanding. Our forced entry into the colonial system later the United States was anything but fair and democratic. Whites brought us here to exploit our labor, amass their industrial and agricultural wealth at our expense, and then devised various laws and practices to maintain our servile and powerless position in the social hierarchy. Education therefore was an important weapon in their attempt to maintain and expand white supremacy. In other words, education as it related to Black people was hegemonic, not empowering or even neutral.

Nonetheless, even a cursory glance backwards demonstrates that our people, in every historical period, valued education. Long before we endured the horrors of European imperialism, we not only developed educational philosophy but also family and societal institutions designed to transmit intergenerational knowledge.

egyptian books of instruction

Coming as this did before the development of capitalism (or modern considerations of”industrial development”) our educational philosophy was holistic and not focused solely on material gain, career advancement or status. Unlike many people today, we viewed education both as a means of character/ethical development, and vocational preparation. Without going into voluminous detail, proof of these facts are found in the Egyptian Books of Instruction, and the University of Sankore (containing over 700,000 manuscripts) for starters.

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University of Sankore

Even after the Transatlantic Slave trade where we were viewed and treated as scorned objects and where learning was officially prohibited, our people used the Bible as a primary tool for literacy and our educated brethren as teachers. Scholar James Anderson notes that by the mid-19th century our enslaved ancestors created approximately 500 schools to educate themselves in this country.

This coalition of slaves that wanted to learn and those that knew how to read and write is instructive for those of us today who want rescue our children from miseducation and social conditioning today.

Allow me to digress. As I explained in a previous essay, the “emancipation” of 4 million Black people during the 19th century concerned whites gravely – so much so, that they held three education conferences (Capon Springs Conferences For Christian Education) to determine:

  • If Blacks should be educated
  • What the content/nature of that education should be

These conferences gave rise to the creation of education boards across the country, and models of education designed to keep Black people disenfranchised, servile, non-resistant, protective of U.S. interests, and languishing in the lowest economic strata of this country for generations to come. We see the results of this educational agenda: Confused, culturally disconnected youth with inadequate social, emotional, leadership, financial, and academic skills who become easy prey for gangs, privatized prisons, broken families and unfulfilled lives.

Those of us who are serious about reclaiming the minds and hearts of our children realize that education is the primary tool in this regard.The problem is that noble intentions in this area and political ideology are simply not enough to accomplish this task.

First, we must be clear about what proper education is and does from our perspective. An adequate education empowers people to understand, participate in or transform the world they inherit. It prepares a person to sustain themselves, solve problems, make decisions and embrace/manifest values that are beneficial, and that exert power in their lives. From the perspective of an oppressive society however, education as noted by Paolo Friere, is a project in social control and hegemony.

pedagogy of the oppressed

The educational systems we develop accordingly, include but involve far more than teaching African history, Black pride and Black solidarity. Our alternative and reformative educational theories and systems cannot be guided by political ideology alone We must be thoroughly and accurately familiar with our children’s holistic educational needs (i.e. academic, psychological/emotional, cultural, sociopolitical, ethical, vocational , and economic). In confronting the problem of Black miseducation, we must be careful not to oversimplify the problem and instead develop solutions that are practical and take into consideration the realities we face, rather than imposing our political ideology alone.

We must understand our children’s preferred learning styles, effective and humane methods of discipline, effective and alternative diagnostic methods, and how to create structures that can combine all the above effectively and affordably so that the majority (if not all) of our children can benefit, not just those of privileged classes.

carter g woodson

 Just about every Afrocentric or Black Power speaker, author or activist has said (or will say) “We can’t send our children to their oppressor to be educated!” The logic behind this is simple. Oppressors will never educate their subjects to become free and empowered. But simply acknowledging this fact is not enough. Several compelling questions remain: How do we create engaging, relevant and empowering curriculum, practices and environments that maximize our children’s ability to lead, solve community problems, love/value themselves and their people, and develop the creativity to sustain themselves and create much-needed community institutions/movements? How will independent Black schools be funded to make sure our poorest students can attend? How can we support via information and funding, the Black homeschooling movement? In summary, how do we properly educate almost 8 million Black children (most of whom are poor) in a country actively working to keep them ignorant, poor, and powerless?

To adequately address and resolve these questions, WE MUST INCLUDE PROGRESSIVE AND BLACK POWER EDUCATORS IN THE DISCUSSION!  Education, contrary to popular belief, is a serious vocation like any other. Fiery rhetoric and political pontification without strategic thinking and educational expertise will not rescue our children and might even compound their problems! To make the point clearer, if you wanted to build a bridge you consult engineers and construction workers; To defend yourself in court you hire an attorney or someone well versed in the law; You expect a trained surgeon to perform your operation; You include an architect in a discussion of erecting a building. Education too, is a serious field requiring trained, experienced and knowledgeable theorists, teachers and administrators. That we don’t readily understand this, only demonstrates the low regard we hold for education and teachers, even as we shout “Knowledge is power and Save our babies!”What all of this means is: the movement to properly educate our people absolutely must involve Black folk with classroom teaching and school administration experience, background in Afrocentric educational theory, and successful school creation.

By writing this, I do not come from an elitist perspective suggesting that non-educators cannot contribute meaningfully to the Black Education Movement. To the contrary, I am arguing that we cannot leave trained, experienced and informed educators out of this discussion. Only a determined coalition of sincere, committed and informed organizers, parents, students, Black educators/scholars and Black philanthropists will accomplish the task of reforming the existing educational system and creating viable alternatives. Black educators, and school administrators MUST take their rightful place in this movement by dispelling myths, identifying/modeling best practices in education, and lending our expertise and experience to this important discussion. This might bruise the egos of some in our community. Others might become defensive, but it must be done. Our children’s very lives and the future of our people depend on 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 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.

What Makes a (“Real”) Man or Woman?

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

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

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

41. Appreciate the importance of balance and moderation.

42. Be able to enjoy yourself without feeling guilty.

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

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

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

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.

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

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

Dr. King: Beyond the Myths and Propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debunking The Myths Surrounding Dr. King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

About Freedom Schools

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

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

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

The Vision Behind Liberation Schools

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

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

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

Unique Features of Liberation Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of Liberation Schools

This alternative form of education has important benefits:

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

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

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.

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

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

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.

Open Letter to Brother Umar Johnson Concerning Your Plans for a New Boys Academy

June, 19, 2015

Dr. Umar Johnson:

Days ago, I wrote an article in which I supported your mission  to create the Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey RBG International Leadership Academy for Black boys. I hope you will read my article of support at the link above when time permits. I also hope you will read an article critical of you which I referred to in my own article.

As you will note when you read my article, it was balanced and fair. I referred to you as “a brother using his voice and knowledge to push a strong Black agenda for our people.” I included a link to your Gofundme page and encouraged people to support you. I included video clips of you speaking for yourself. I addressed concerns from some in the Black community alleging that you are sexist and “homophobic.” I attempted to argue that Black folk representing these concerns  have a right to raise questions with you and even challenge your positions, but that we should still support the proper education of our children and your mission to build a new academy. I specifically supported your institution-building and educational endeavor rather than you specifically, because I didn’t think our people should see this as personal issue specific to you, your personality, academic credentials, fundraising methods, speaking style, etc.

Over 2,000 people (at last count) read that article, and I’ve naturally received a number of supportive and critical responses. Of those who were critical of you, some sent selected video clips of you and raised questions concerning your level of humility, gratitude, transparency, accountability and strategic plans for the school. I should add that many of these people are themselves credible Black activists, educators and organizers with a long and deep record of service to our people. They are not “Uncle Toms,” “sell-outs” or to the best of my knowledge, informants or agents. I myself am a fellow Pan-African Nationalist. As such, we believe that no one is above legitimate criticism, and members of our community have a right and responsibility to raise questions whenever someone takes the mantle of leadership, endeavors to speak for us, or asks us for financial contributions. I write to you humbly asking you to respond to the following questions/statements raised from our brothers and sisters concerning your plans to build a new boys academy.

One brother who responded to my article of support for your academy, sent me a link of you on a talk show:

In this audio clip, a sister asks you questions about transparency and financial accountability (“How do we know how much money you raised?”) and we hear you ask the show host to take a break, adding that the sister is “a reactionary.” The sister didn’t seem to be accusatory or disrespectful, she just asked a valid question.

Question 1: Do you have a transparent system of financial records or accounting that allows supporters to know exactly how much money you’ve accumulated without having to depend simply on what you say? 1a.How much as of this date have you raised via check, cash and Gofundme, and how much additional money do you need? 1b. Why did you cut the sister off from her legitimate line of questioning and refer to her in such a derogatory manner?1c. If for any reason, you are unable to secure the properties you mentioned, how will you use all the monies you’ve accumulated in your fundraising campaigns?

Another brother who happens to be a committed and credible activist in Detroit shared the following video clip with me upon hearing my support for you:

In this clip, you come off as arrogant, mean-spirited and ungrateful for the small contributions some in our community made to your fundraising effort. I watched it at least 5 times and was quite honestly, shocked by your words and spirit. Such words and spirit seem contradictory to your status as a spokesperson or leader for Black people. Like the previous clip, this one makes it difficult to get people to support you or your efforts. Some have said you sound entitled, callous, money-grubbing and self-serving. People (including myself) were especially disturbed by your statements “Trifling-ass Black people,” your insistence that people send you monthly payments, and your suggestion that you won’t advise or help (and would even hang up on) Black parents who didn’t contribute to money to your school effort.

Question 2: Can you respond to the above criticisms/observations of your words/behavior in this clip? 2a. Is there anything for which you’d like to apologize?

Another major critique is that you have yet to announce or produce a comprehensive plan of this proposed school (operating costs, curriculum, proposed annual budget, hiring, etc.). If you haven’t yet, doing so might help your fundraising efforts.

Question 3: Do you have a video clip or document that explains a comprehensive and strategic plan regarding the academy? 3a. If so, can you provide that link or document? 3b. Creating a school requires a collaborative team effort. No one individual can effectively raise money, plan curriculum, coordinate hiring, educational materials/supplies and other concerns alone. Do you have such a team or board in place? If so, who is on this board and what are their qualifications?

As I wrote in my previous article of support for your school:

“If people believe he has some growing to do on the issue of gender and LGBT issues, challenge, debate, and educate him. He and we must understand that homosexuality is not new and is likely not going to end. I’d bet money that some of the teachers, students, and parents involved in the academy will be gay. How will they deal with this reality?

But I encourage us not to sabotage his efforts to build a much-needed learning institution for our children. The education they receive in public schools is destroying their esteem, academic potential, and love of their Black selves and community.

Existing schools led and staffed by our collective enemies have an agenda. They are raising generations of folks who will be non-critical thinkers, and semi-skilled docile menial laborers (or over-achieving and brainwashed middle-class negroes) in a white capitalist system. And all of us who graduated from elementary, middle, or high school and college need to remember that many of those institutions were created and staffed by white folk, some of whom were racist, sexist, and had issues with the LGBT lifestyle.”

Unlike others, I do not believe you are a “fraud,” based on all your previous work, the courageous stands you’re willing to take on our behalf, and the way you respond to brother Malcolm’s call for us to Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!” I do however, believe you – like myself and everyone else – have room to grow and improve. I also believe our people (even those with whom we disagree) have the right and responsibility to question and critique you. Likewise, you as a prominent leader and educator have a right and responsibility to explain, defend, clarify, and if necessary, apologize and tweak your public positions or ideas. This is especially true given that Black people have historically been vulnerable to fellow Black people with ulterior motives, hidden agendas, and disingenuous schemes.

In this sincere Pan-African Nationalist spirit I write to you, and ask that you respectfully respond to the questions posed by those in our community who do see value in independent African-centered education and leadership.

Black power and Black solidarity always,

Agyei Tyehimba

______________________________

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.

I Support Dr. Umar Johnson’s Mission to Educate Black Boys

umar johnson

As some of you may know, acclaimed Pan-African Nationalist brother Dr. Umar Johnson is a brother using his voice and knowledge to push a strong Black agenda for our people. I listen to many of his unapologetic speeches, which I generally support because they echo brother Malcolm’s call for Black people to “Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!”

Dr. Johnson made a power move recently when he announced his intention to create the Frederick Douglass & Marcus Garvey RBG International Leadership Academy for Black Boys. To facilitate that enormous task, Johnson started a Gofundme campaign to raise $5 million. You can learn more about Dr. Umar’s vision by viewing the video clip below:

Like any Black person who is well-informed, unapologetically Black, and focused on solving problems rather than just talking about them, brother Umar generates a flood of criticism ( I have personally endured this for decades and can strongly relate). Some of this criticism is fair and comes from members of the Black feminist and gay communities) who are offended by some of the brother’s public statements which they describe as blatantly sexist and homophobic. To a lesser degree, he also has some critics from the Nationalist community who question his scholarly credentials and character (I’ll leave that issue for someone else to debate). I do encourage you to view the following exchange he had with a feminist/gay rights advocate during one of his speeches:

I believe EVERYONE should face legitimate criticism, especially those of us who are leaders, activists and problem-solvers. Because of Johnson’s perceived position on homosexuality, Charing Ball – writing for Mademnoire.com – argued that we shouldn’t support his mission to create the new academy for Black boys.

I believe that liberation must be total; it is highly contradictory to wage war against white supremacy while failing to wage war also against patriarchy, class, and sexuality-based oppression.

As a man raised in a male supremacist country and world, there is no doubt that I was conditioned to have patriarchal thoughts and behaviors myself. The same applies to me growing up heterosexual in a world where gay/effeminate boys and men, along with lesbian/masculine girls and women, endure ridicule, assault and social discrimination to the point where many commit suicide or live embittered, embattled, and disgraced.

To the degree that I’ve become more sensitive to this issue, I’ve done so from taking classes, reading, and having my thoughts challenged by members of the LGBT community. My beloved uncle who was gay and died of AIDS-related complications, once challenged me on this point:

“You say you love Black people and Black history, right? Langston Hughes was gay. Bayard Rustin was gay. James Baldwin was gay. Hoyt Fuller was gay. Alice Walker is gay….  and so were/are many others openly or otherwise. Many political activists are gay as well, and by the way nephew I’m gay….are you going to wipe all of us out of history? Will you disown all of us as members of the Black community? Are we all sick or living in sin?”

Before you mistake me as some highly evolved brother on LGBT issues, I must say that I still struggle with this issue. I still cringe or shake my head when I see a transgendered person. I still get that WTF look on my face when I encounter a “flamboyant” gay man, or a lesbian couple kissing. (And like many of you reading this) I still occasionally wonder if there is a multimedia conspiracy to endorse and promote LGBT lifestyles. But while I won’t march in a gay parade, or consider myself an activist or spokesperson on those issues, I do understand that people have the right to choose and exercise their own sexual lifestyle. Such people should not face discrimination, brutality or ridicule for doing so. Furthermore, everyone has the right and responsibility to fight oppression however that may manifest (even if that makes other people “uncomfortable). If people are not thieves, rapists, sell outs, serial killers, or con artists (regardless of their lifestyle)…..I can find room to work with them.

How does any of this relate to Dr. Johnson and his school? I write all of this to suggest that LGBT activists have the right to challenge Dr. Johnson or anyone else if they deem doing so is warranted and legitimate. Many of us Nationalists have much to learn in this territory. Perhaps Umar Johnson does as well. In any event, people have the right to challenge him and he has the right to explain or defend his position. In the process, he and people on both sides of the issue may grow and expand their consciousness. If we as Nationalists and Pan Africanists call for “Black unity,” we can’t advocate for, educate, and defend only heterosexual Blacks or those that subscribe to traditional notions of gender.

At the same time, our boys (and girls) do need proper academic, cultural and professional preparation and they will only receive that in independent Black-centered institutions. If that is what Dr. Umar is trying to achieve, I’m with him and he has my support.

If people believe he has some growing to do on the issue of gender and LGBT issues, challenge, debate, and educate him. He and we must understand that homosexuality is not new and is likely not going to end. I’d bet money that some of the teachers, students, and parents involved in the academy will be gay. How will they deal with this reality?

But I encourage us not to sabotage his efforts to build a much-needed learning institution for our children. The education they receive in public schools is destroying their esteem, academic potential, and love of their Black selves and community.

Existing schools led and staffed by our collective enemies have an agenda. They are raising generations of folks who will be non-critical thinkers, and semi-skilled docile menial laborers (or over-achieving and brainwashed middle-class negroes) in a white capitalist system. And all of us who graduated from elementary, middle, or high school and college need to remember that many of those institutions were created and staffed by white folk, some of whom were racist, sexist, and had issues with the LGBT lifestyle.

In the meantime, additional things we should focus on, pertaining to the school include:

  • Making sure the money donated for this cause is properly accounted for and handled appropriately
  • Making sure the curriculum is sound
  • Making sure the school admits students with a range of abilities, backgrounds, and income levels
  • Making sure the teachers are excellent and qualified academically and culturally

The times in which we live, mandate that we find ways to resolve our issues while providing the things we need to survive and prosper as a people. True Black solidarity involves getting unplugged. It’s about consciousness and character. Think about it. Again, I encourage you to support Dr. Umar’s efforts to build an academy for our children.

_________________________

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.

7 Tips for Succeeding in College

college success

{Note: I recently released my third book, “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.” While the target audience is 13-17 year-olds, the information it provides is also very helpful for young adults. You can purchase it here.}

____________________________________________

With so many young people attending community or 4-year colleges in September, and the realization that some will unfortunately not succeed, I must address the issue of how to do well as an undergraduate student. This article will provide insights on how to excel academically, and how to live a balanced collegiate life as an undergraduate. This last consideration is important because life doesn’t stop once you begin college. Therefore you must know how to put forth your best academic effort while balancing the other responsibilities of life (social, political and spiritual) that co-exist with your labs, exams, and research papers.Though I will focus on 4-year liberal arts colleges/universities, you will find that much of the information provided here relates to community (2-year) colleges as well.

In fairness, I should mention that the entire notion of attending college itself is debatable. Some people correctly suggest that college education is not synonymous with achieving worldly success. They support their argument by listing hundreds of “successful” people who either didn’t attend college at all, or who dropped out before graduating. Poets like Suli Breaks explains this perspective in the excellent poem below:

Speaking to some of the excellent points raised in this poem, I begin our Tips for college success list by suggesting that we be clear about the actual purpose of a college education.

1. Be clear on what you should gain from a college education. Liberal arts colleges have two basic purposes: A. To provide you with a well-rounded general education that allows you to have several philosophical, historical and academic references in your life. B. To provide you with specific skills and information that will serve as the basis of your professional life and career. Most parents present college as a non-negotiable option for their children, focusing on the career preparation. They argue that a college education in our technical and technological world provides the necessary credentials and preparation you’ll need to get a job and launch a career. This perspective is valid. However a college undergraduate experience should additionally provide you with the networks, skills, information, and habits to amass POWER and to wield it in ways that advance and protect your people and communities, while facilitating your ability to sustain yourself financially.

2.Organize your time! Taking away 8 hours for sleep, you have 16 hours each day with which to handle your business as a student. That is more than enough time to eat, accomplish academic excellence, maintain physical fitness have a social and spiritual life, and do personal grooming and preparation. Develop a sense of what things you MUST do vs. what things you WANT to do. Use your smartphone’s calendar feature (Googlejuggling time Calendar is excellent) to plug-in the days, locations and times of your classes, assignment deadlines, study times, and recreational times, then set your phone to notify you about an hour before each event. This will help you to avoid scheduling conflicts. It will also give you an accurate representation of what you must do and what “free” time you have each day. I would suggest that you view the following video on time management for college students.

3. Actively participate in class.This does not apply as much in large stadium-seating classes with 150 or more students. But in normal classes where the professor can actually see and identify each student, you are expected to ask and answer questions and participate in discussions/class activities. How else does a professor know if you actually did your reading or if you understand the information? In fact, many classes factor participation into your grade. In order to participate intelligently, you must be prepared for each class.

4. Create (and follow) a good study schedule.  When using the word “study,” I’m referring to: doing assigned readings, reviewing class material, preparing for exams, writing papers, and getting tutoring if necessary. All of these activities fall under the general studyingcategory of studying and all of these activities should be organized. This goes back to the second point about time management.There are different theories concerning how much time you should spend studying each day. The common belief is that you should study one hour per credit you’re taking. Another suggests that you allocate 4-6 hours per day to study. Find what works for you. In the meantime, check out the following video. It is long, but well worth your time.

5. Determine as early as you can if you’re struggling in a class, and get tutoring if you need it. Within two weeks, you should know if you understand the material in a class or not. If you determine that you’re drowning in information you do not understand, GETtutoring HELP! All colleges offer free tutoring services. Most tutors are Juniors or Seniors who have an excellent understanding of the subject they tutor. Take advantage of these services if you need to. Getting the help you need to succeed does not make you stupid. But failing to get the help you need, just might!

6. Make time for a social life. Contrary to what some parents will tell you, college is not just about studying. College is an experience. Your college experience is better when its balanced. All work and no relaxation can make you depressed and even negatively affect your physical and mental health. There are three main categories of college life: academic, social, and spiritual, and I strongly suggest you participate in all three. Social life includes college social lifeparties and other extracurricular activities like sports, physical fitness, and campus organizations. Spiritual life includes things you do to maintain a positive and ethical life. This can include attending a place of worship, meditating, praying, etc. Even atheists and people who practice no religion can still take time each day to meditate, visualize success, or do things that bring them inner satisfaction and direction.

7. Participate in a campus organization. Perhaps no extracurricular activity does more for college students than this one. College campuses have literally hundreds of student organizations including those that are political, cultural, social, religious, and recreational. During my undergraduate and graduate school experiences, I  became a student leader and these experiences really helped my personal and political development. Involvement in campus organizations often helps students gain leadership skills, develop confidence, do community service and sharpen their writing, speaking, and networking skills. Many of these skills, experiences, and contacts you make as a student leader will benefit you years later in the workforce, in addition to in your family and community. Trust me.

In conclusion, college is not an impossible mission. You can succeed if you are organized, work hard, and have a balanced experience. One final word of advice. While it is important to meet people and learn about other cultures and philosophies, you can do this without losing sense of your own cultural identify. As we are reminded in “The Wizard of Oz,”There’s no place like home.” College is often the training ground for future activists and leaders. Take some Black, Women’s and Latino Studies classes and learn about past and present struggles for liberation and empowerment. Remember: education is not simply preparation to get a job, but preparation to go out and empower the people and communities from which you 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 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.

The Problem With Black Exceptionalism

TEAMWORK

In April of 2014, I released my third book, “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.” Every time I appear on a radio show to promote my new book, I’m asked why I wrote it. My answer is generally the same every time and I think it’s important enough to share with you, as it speaks to issues much larger than my book.

I’m tired of how we as a community promote Black exceptionalism: “my child got accepted here,” “my child won a scholarship,” “I’ve accomplished this or that.” “She’s the first Black something or other…” Black people usually can point to any number of individual superstars and high achievers. But for every one child or adult that is exceptional, hundreds of thousands more are low-performing, content with mediocrity, and destined for lives of poverty and failure.

I was an exceptional young person, and my parents were proud of me. My children are exceptional youth, and I’m proud of them. But being “exceptional” in a context wherein the masses of your people are suffering and failing, is a bittersweet reality; It reminds me of the early days in Michael Jordan’s career when he would drop 40, 50, and 60 points in a game and his TEAM would still lose.

The presence of “exceptional” Black schools, people, and institutions should be acknowledged as signs of hope and pride. But Black exceptionalism has a dangerous side as well. To the same degree that we (and the media) celebrate and promote Black success and achievement however, we sometimes tolerate and ignore mass Black FAILURE.

Furthermore, we can sometimes forget (or fail to understand) that neither Black success or dysfunction are organic or innate, but the partial result of empowering experiences, institutions, and personal initiative on one hand and systemic institutions of oppression which collectively work to stunt, deprive, and cripple our intellectual, cultural, institutional, and creative capacity on the other.

And I don’t even have enough space here to address how some of us who deem ourselves “exceptional” often become arrogant, competitive, self-absorbed, vulgar careerists who are detached from community concerns…..

These oppressive systems I refer to subtly persuade us to tolerate our collective oppression by pointing to this or that exceptional or accomplished Black person who “beat the odds.” In effect they tell us, “Don’t be upset that the majority of the schools your children attend are criminally low-performing, staffed by new or inexperienced teachers, and setting your children up to become prison laborers or menial/semi-skilled workers, because 98% of the students that attend So and So Academy or This and That Institute graduate and go on to college.”

The problem of course, is that such schools can only physically accommodate relatively low numbers of students, so the majority of our children must settle for the inadequate schools (which are the majority of them) and thus, inadequate educational opportunity. The old “No Child Left Behind” motto is an absolute mockery. In truth, most of our children are left not only behind, but so far behind that they will never catch up (without radical educational interventions and innovations).

In this way, those who work to keep us entrenched in economic and political impotence, defend their ruthless system by suggesting that while the system is imperfect, IT is not fundamentally flawed, but is a meritocracy that fairly rewards and recognizes people that work hard, follow the rules and are well…..exceptional. In other words the system is not the primary problem, YOU BLACK, BROWN, AND POOR PEOPLE ARE!

It is perfectly understandable why we Black folk spend so much time highlighting our exceptional kinfolk. We’ve survived centuries of emotional scarring and psychological torture. We were groomed to be poor, docile servants, and the education system was designed to insure this reality. It’s easy to sell us messiahs and exceptional men and women when so many of us fall to incarceration, drugs, and the countless other traps laid for us.

Certainly life cannot simply exist of complaints, losses, suffering and failure. Such a life would quickly become demoralizing. We should be proud of and continue to support our individual superstars. But we must also work tirelessly to build a CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM! Because while our individual superstars break records, win awards, and accumulate riches and accolades, our TEAM IS STILL NOT WINNING, and we fail to adequately understand and challenge those factors responsible for our collective LOSING!

To soothe ourselves from becoming too depressed, we live vicariously through examples of Black “success” on television shows, in the media or we place a certain relative on a pedestal. It’s as if we’ve conceded that “I don’t make the grade, but I can feel accomplished by associating myself with someone who does.” Why not take that same energy to enrich ourselves and our family/community members? Many times the only things separating us are discipline, hard work, and motivation. We cannot buy into the false concept that certain people were “born” to be accomplished and important. Nor can we support a small minority of our people and allow the vast majority to fall by the wayside. As we know, without proper guidance, our exceptional youth can turn into entitled jerks, and those remaining can become demoralized, satisfied with mediocrity, and never tap into their true potential.

Do some people have more “natural” ability in certain respects? Yes. Do others struggle in certain respects? Yes. But good coaches have high expectations for the entire team! They also create routines and structures to make sure every team member is well-prepared and performing at their highest level.

I wrote my new book to expose our youth to concepts, skills and habits that are empowering and that many don’t receive from home, places of worship, or school. It is a basic and easy to follow playbook and framework designed to move us from Black youth exceptionalism to the thinking/preparation required for a championship team. My goal is not simply “no child left behind,” but also “no child in front by 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 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.

The Exploitation of Black College Athletes

{Note: I released my third book entitled, “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens,” on April 6, 2014. Check it out, and help me spread the word!}

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To be Black in America means (among other things) to exist in a constant state of detachment and illusion. For no one wants to repeatedly be reminded of their “otherness,” oppression, or exclusion. Rather than acknowledge such disturbing realities, we’d rather pretend all is well or at least not as disturbing as it actually is. Experts refer to this as “Cognitive dissonance.” We common folk simply refer to this as “living in denial.”

Seeking to remain numb and to minimize or escape the intense and dehumanizing pain of white supremacy and our failure to DO something to challenge it – out of feelings of fear or hopelessness – we insulate ourselves in the bubbles of work, recreation, drugs, simplistic optimism (“At least we have a Black president”), or the reliable tactic of willful ignorance (“I don’t know, and don’t want to know” or “Don’t blow my high”).

But bubbles are fragile and they only create very thin barriers between ourselves and the painful existence of injustice, exploitation and broken promises an arm’s length away. Inevitably,  a speech, report, or set of statistics emerges to “bust our bubble” of complacency and denial.

Such is the case with HBO’s episode of Real Sports entitled “Gaming the System, a look at NCAA student-athlete academic reform,” which aired on April 6, 2014. The segment exposed how major American universities exploit the talent and labor of student-athletes to enrich themselves, while short-changing athletes of their college education. View this episode for yourself, below:

The revelations concerning how Black athletes  deprived of their rightful education are shocking:

  • Star athletes at major colleges are often put into fake classes they never had to actually attend and for which they never personally registered.
  • At the University of Georgia, 7-15% of athletes in this  can’t read on a college level.
  • In one example, an athlete graduated from college despite failing 13 classes and 7 grades of “D.” HBO had that college graduate take a test. He scored 67% in reading, 26% in writing, and 20% in mathematics. His academic aptitude was that of a middle school student.
  • Many Black star athlete
  • HBO highlighted another Black athlete that kept a box of Dr. Seuss books hidden under his bed; he used them to teach himself to read.

When these students sign letters of intent to play at universities across this nation, they do so with the understanding that they will provide their athletic talent in exchange for a tuition-free college education. All signs show that they’ve been  cheated. Their athletic talent helps universities earn billions in lucrative media deals, ticket sales, and sports merchandise revenue, but many of these athletes graduate with degrees they can’t use to find gainful employment, start a business or much of anything else.

This is not to imply that all student-athletes are academically inadequate. Nor am I suggesting that exploited athletes and their families take no personal responsibility for bring academically proficient. But many of these universities – like most corporations – place profit margin over people and those disproportionately affected are Black student-athletes.

I recently wrote a new book entitled “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.” I’ve also written an article discussing the tragic status of Black youth in America. Stories like the one HBO reported bust our bubbles of denial and force us to recognize that our children, teens, and young adults are systematically steered away from self and community empowerment and steered towards inadequacy and incompetence. This situation is deplorable. After enslavement and Jim Crow, after the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, Black people are still denied a fair and adequate education!There is still an agenda to keep us impoverished and politically impotent! I am outraged. And you should be also.

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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-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba wrote “The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook,” and most recently, “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.” If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak to your organization, contact him at truself143@gmail.com.