Ideology and Dogmatism Vs. Black Power

Anytime you read or hear an organizer, leader or spokesperson discuss their ideas, policies, concerns, solutions or projects, you are observing elements of his/her ideology.

When these ideas come across as contradictory, confusing, ridiculous or scattered, we are witnessing either their  inability to communicate effectively, or evidence of weak ideology.

Ideology is no light or trivial matter.  We can define it as an ethos or set of principles that guide and direct a person or organization’s worldview, policies and practices. All institutions and organizations operate from an ideology, including the military, schools, places of worship, fraternal organizations, community organizations, police, the medical establishment, etc. One’s ethos or ideology shapes how they think, their values/priorities, what they do, and how they do it. You can clearly see how important ideology is to say, a community organization.

Sound ideology develops in response to real circumstances (i.e. concerns for safety, law and order, miseducation or political empowerment) sound analysis of these circumstances and their causes, and a good understanding of community culture, history and sensibilities.

Ideology should respond accurately and effectively to a group’s actual circumstances/reality. When our ideology conflicts with or proves ineffective to address the realities we confront, we are compelled to seriously reconsider, adjust or dismiss our ideology altogether. If we continue believing, promoting or operating on inaccurate or irrelevant ideas, we compromise our organizing and put ourselves in danger of becoming reactionary (pro status quo, politically backwards or ultra conservative).

Instead, we must be disciplined and mature enough to acknowledge when our conceptual frameworks are inadequate/inaccurate and do what is necessary to rectify our thinking. To do otherwise is simply irresponsible…

Signs that our ideology needs reshaping

  1. It leads to policies/practices that encourage innocent segments of our community to be discriminated against, bullied, isolated or dismissed.
  2. It paints large segments of our community with a broad brush without allowing for difference and nuance (i.e “Black Christians are sell-outs,” Black single-parent mothers are the primary cause of delinquent Black children,” “Black gays and feminists are the reason we are no longer unified or strong as a people”).
  3. It suggests policies or practices based on assumptions that are false or contain logical fallacies leading to weak arguments.
  4. It suggests policies that divide our community, generate unnecessary resentment, and make us more vulnerable to the system of white supremacy.
  5. It is driven by fear, hatred and insecurity rather than an accurate analysis of historical, economic or political conditions, and love.
  6. It articulates policies, sentiments and practices identical to those endorsed by the maintainers and beneficiaries of white supremacy.
  7. It leads to policies that create an oppressive and oppressed class of people in our own community.
  8. It is too rigid and dogmatic, leading to a feeling among some that their perspective is the ONLY valid one, or that those who disagree with it are government agents worthy of persecution and attack.

 

dogmatism

Let us underscore that last point. When we become dogmatic, we make our opinions or ideas more important than people and the quality of their lives. The irony is obvious; Community leaders and organizers are (or at least should be) concerned with people, the quality of their lives, and their happiness.

This group – by virtue of their mission – should be the least dogmatic, and yet when it comes to some elements of the Black “Conscious Community,” be they Socialist, Nationalist, Pan-African, Religious, Atheist, Feminist, etc., we find large pockets of highly dogmatic people.

I regularly read social media posts, watch YouTube clips, and observe community discussions that are disturbingly narrow, prejudiced and inhumane toward other brothers and sisters.

I’ve literally heard Black people angrily suggest that members of the Black Gay community should be killed, along with our petty criminal element and those with an appetite for non-white dating partners. I’ve heard/read others label all Black Christians as “ignorant tools of the white man,” or openly advocate removing Black churches in our community (One of the the institutions in our history that most advanced literacy, civil rights and community organizing). And each one of these individuals considers him or herself an activist, leader or community organizer for Black people.

Such words and ideas often get packaged as “Keeping it real,” but make no mistake – history reveals such to be the thinking of dictators and tyrants. They begin by fighting for the people and eliminating an oppressive regime.

Once in power, they claim absolute authority and power over the very people they set out to “liberate.” Next they choose what books people can read, what things people can say, and what affiliations people can have. These people become leaders for life, hold corrupt elections or ban them altogether, and live in luxury as the people starve and endure lives of squalor. Check the history of revolutionary leaders and you’ll find that more than a few commmitted horrific acts of torture and genocide against their countrymen whose only “crime” was difference of opinion.

Some embrace brother Malcolm but forget his political transformation and evolution. Take the statement he made at the March 1964 press conference announcing his departure from the Nation of Islam:

“Now that I have more independence of action, I intend to use a more flexible approach toward working with others to get a solution to this problem….

As of this minute, I’ve forgotten everything bad that the other leaders have said about me, and I pray they can also forget the many bad things I’ve said about them.”

…The problem facing our people here in America is bigger than all other personal or organizational differences. Therefore, as leaders, we must stop worrying about the threat that we seem to think we pose to each other’s personal prestige, and concentrate our united efforts toward solving the unending hurt that is being done daily to our people here in America.”

In the same year, in his presentation at the Oxford debate, he said:

I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

Malcolm clearly came to realize the need for Black solidarity. He recognized his attacks of people he disagreed with as a mistake. He acknowledged that he had to work with various segments of the Black community and even some of those outside of our community who were sincere. In other words, he developed compassion and  adjusted his beliefs and methods to address the realities he observed. If he was willing to work with serious and sincere whites, can we conclude that he might also work with Black feminists, Christians and members of the LGBT community? One’s gender, sexuality and spirituality don’t dictate their politics necessarily…

Today, we have more knowledge of ancient African societies, more understanding of economics and sociopolitical struggles, more knowledge of how to create alternative schoo than did Malcolm -and yet, we have lost compassion for members of our extended family whose spirituality, sexuality, and other beliefs/practices are different.

To be clear, I am not Christian (nor any other religion), atheist, gay, or feminist, nor does this matter. My position stems from being clear on one point: Black people – our lives, health, liberty happiness and concerns – are more important than my opinions or those of anyone else. I believe in “unity without uniformity.” I also agree with comedian Dave Chappelle: We don’t have to hate or fear those whose lifestyles we do not understand or condone. Nor do we have to agree with everything someone we love says or does. “We don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

dave  chappele compassion

Some of you reading this article will disagree. That is your right. I just hope you truly UNDERSTAND. When we lose compassion for our people, and allow our opinions to become more important than their lives and right to choose, then we become part of the problem. Where is the love, Black Conscious Community?

_________________________

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. 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.

The “Ten Crack Commandments” Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

game over book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______

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

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

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

 

Thoughts on Black Consciousness Debates

Last year, I wrote a previous essay identifying issues the Black conscious community needs to resolve.

One of the issues I highlighted was the inappropriate way we conduct formal debates in our communities. Because this is such an important and continuing issue, I’m dedicating this entire essay to the topic. I will begin with an excerpt from that article:

We waste precious time debating issues that have already been resolved, or once resolved, push us no closer to meeting an important objective. Unless we’re trying to challenge patriarchy, what is the sense of debating if the Black woman is God? Unless we’re challenging homophobia or sexuality-based oppression, what’s the sense of debating if homosexuality existed in ancient Africa?

Debating as a form of intellectual exercise or refinement is an excellent tool in academic or scholarly institutions. In my opinion, all Black folk should learn the proper way to structure, support or attack an argument and to detect logical flaws.

In the arena of organizing for community empowerment however, we don’t debate just to display our intelligence or scholarship. We engage real problems affecting real people who demand real solutions.

In this context, our goal is not to humiliate or intimidate an opponent, flaunt our knowledge or impress spectators. We seek to solve problems, create sound policies, clarify objectives, and refine and develop strategy and tactics.

As I see it, the most effective and relevant debates will occur within an organization. Once the debate concludes (depending on which side prevailed) the organization then creates policy, refines its objectives or priorities, or adopts strategy or tactics accordingly. In this manner, a debate leads to something relevant and functional.

In my hometown (NYC) and many others across the country, people host widely promoted debates between individuals in the conscious community for a fee. Some useful information comes out in these events. But many times they disintegrate into hostile shouting matches where profanity and insults  dominate and spectators cheer wildly for the person in their particular camp.

It also appears that the two people insulting and attacking one another are in fact “debating” issues that were/are far better addressed by powerful Afrocentric intellectuals like Ben Yosef-Jochannon, John H. Clarke, Ivan Van Sertima, Chancellor Williams, Tony Browder, Ashra Kwesi, Phil Valentine, and brother Kaba Kamene. Most of these individuals have books, YouTube clips, and dvds available which explain the subject matter in greater detail and with more competence than do today’s debaters.

Additionally, many of these contemporary debates provide good sums of money for the promoters and participants, but little new or relevant information for the spectators, let alone any organized and consistent way to implement and utilize this information for community empowerment.

I humbly suggest that we refine these debates as outlined above. Also we might consider creating study groups as well. Study groups are more inclusive and participatory, and generate more focused and useful information and discussion involving the input of more than just two people.

I stand by these words. About 5 years ago, a brother whose name I do not recall, contacted me and asked if I was interested in making some money by debating. He apparently found me and my email through an Internet search or through mutual associates/friends. He mentioned that he planned to put two powerful speakers/scholars against each other at each event, and invite an audience to pay admission and watch the sparks fly.

I politely declined his offer. I was enrolled in a doctorate program that required nearly all of my time and energy. Secondly, the format sounded too much like a rap battle or verbal competition like that offered in the enormously popular “Smack” events. These events feature large cash prizes, celebrity Hip Hop personalities, and several rounds of personal attacks, where two people systematically seek to lyrically humiliate, embarrass and destroy each other.

Maybe this type of vibe is expected or acceptable in the urban entertainment industry where such behavior promotes huge followings and record sales. However in the world of serious Black political struggle, this is unacceptable and inappropriate. For example, a debate was arranged between Dr. Ray Hagins and Dr. Wesley Muhammad on the topic: “Is Islam an African Religion?” when it was Hagins’ turn to speak, he explained that he didn’t intend to insult or attack muhammad. He spoke of peace and harmony among fellow activists and the need to share knowledge without hostility. Noble and mature of him, right? But the event organizer was livid, and took to the stage to verbally attack the brother for not wanting to participate in a hostile and divisive discussion. Watch this for yourself below. Nagins begins his presentation at the 43-minute mark. The tirade comes afterwards…

These days, I see the conscious community mimicking the same hostility and gangsterism we’ve come to expect of “gangsta” Hip Hop. This must stop! These events arouse resentment, encourage cliques and facilitate actual and potential violence in the Black community.

I support serious and progressive intellectual discussion, but many of these debates I see on YouTube are promoted like prizefights, which further polarizes an already fragmented and conflicted Black community.

In conclusion, I urge us to utilize debates in an empowered and less immature fashion. We don’t need provocation to publically attack one another.. Nor can we afford time engaging in irrelevant topics or discussions that don’t lead to better analysis and progressive action plans, social justice or liberation. The existence of white supremacy mandates that we “Wake-up up clean up and stand up!” I believe:

  • We should stop promoting or attending/supporting these events altogether.
  • Those people promoting these verbal slug fests should be exposed for being the opportunists and mischief makers they are. They gain monetary benefit at our intellectual and political expense, and promote too much confusion and conflict in the process. 
  • In place of these egocentric gladiator games disguised as “debates,” we should host progressive dialogues and study groups connected to Black organizations and programs who work to address and solve our problems.
  • Such debates should either be free to the community or have nominal fees for the purpose of covering the cost of venue. Perhaps a higher prices ticket option could be made available to people, but this should come with a choice of book or DVD made by one of the speakers. True consciousness raising should not be exploitive.

As our great ancestor/historian John Henrik Clark reminded us, “Every single thing that touches your life whether it be religious, socially or politically must be an instrument for your liberation, or be thrown in the trashcan of history.”

________

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.

Why The Negroes Suffer

black fist

This blog does not contain much writing. Today I’m using poetry to get points across. Some of you may know I’ve been an educator, author and activist, but many don’t know that I grew up in Harlem as an aspiring Hip Hop emcee. I wrote rhymes, practiced all the time, and really took it seriously. Most of my high school buddies thought I would eventually become a famous rap artist. In fact, two of my high school classmates and friends did become well-known artists. You know them as “Fatman Scoop” and “Diamond D.” But as I became older and more disenchanted with the violent and minstrel-like direction of Hip Hop, I moved away from being an emcee and evolved into more of a spoken word poet.

Please watch the video below to hear me perform my poem entitled, “This is My Thesis” or “Why the Negroes Suffer.” It provides a summarized and abbreviated sense of my political views. It is more dynamic of course, when I perform in before a crowd either at a poetry open-mic night or as an opening to a speech. Therefore, this rendition is not as dynamic or energetic, but content wise, it stills gets the points across.

In a larger sense, the poem provides a simplified but (in my opinion) valid critique of white supremacy while offering a sociological analysis of why and how Black people are oppressed, in addition to how we Black people unfortunately internal the negative messages about ourselves and contribute to our own victimization.

There are some minor uses of profanity, and I sometimes use the N word to convey meaning. Please be mindful of this if viewing at work, in a formal environment, and around young people.

I encourage you to share this on your social media networks, classroom discussions and sessions designed to develop political consciousness among young people. I also encourage you to post responses to the poem whatever they are as long as you do so respectfully, and to click the “like” button if you are so inclined. Black Consciousness and Black Power! Enjoy….

____________________

 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 Black Student Union Handbook.” 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.

My Reoccurring Dream: I See Empowered Black People!

dream

I just woke up from a recurring dream I’ve had every night for the past 25 years. It is a dream that brings overwhelming peace to my mind. In fact, I go to bed every night eagerly awaiting this dream. Its images inspire my waking actions and thoughts. Allow me please to share it with you.

The dream always begins the same. Black people across the country suffer from unprecedented levels of Black church burnings, company layoffs, white gentrification of formerly Black neighborhoods, killings at the hands of police, and gang violence. The president, who routinely ignored these issues, was forced to respond when his office received 20 million signatures on a petition demanding that he investigate and pour funding into America’s neglected urban areas. He neglected to contribute federal funds, noting that the bulk of discretionary federal funding was “already committed to important projects like  Homeland Security and protecting American freedoms and values.” What he did do was launch a federal committee to investigate such matters and propose solutions.

Black people around the country read the handwriting on the wall. They stopped  complaining about societal injustices and oppression. They realized the wisdom in the ancient Chinese proverb, “It is better to light a candle than it is to curse the darkness.”  Frustrated with the corporation-controlled circus of national elections and disconnected Black leadership concerned with personal gain, Blacks become proactive. In my dream, Blacks commit to addressing and resolving the issues of police brutality, failing schools, inadequate healthcare, unemployment, public safety, self-hatred and gentrification.

After a series of community polls to identify the Black community’s opinions and concerns, Black churches and political groups convene one year of local, state and national town-hall meetings culminating in a conference to develop and formalize a 13-point “Black Agenda. Black people around the country broke up into four general groups: Nationalists, reformers, enlighteners, and defenders.

The nationalists worked on all projects concerning the development of Black identity, self-reliance, and Black autonomy. Their ultimate goal was for Blacks to have land of their own upon which they could govern themselves and all-Black institutions free from outside influence or manipulation.

The reformers worked on all projects that had to do with making American institutions more transparent,  inclusive of and responsive to Black people. Their goal was to make America work for the interests of all people, particularly their own. They were charged with the responsibility to overhaul, challenge, and open up religious, political, and social institutions. If I recall correctly they were following a plan proposed by the enlighteners called “operation infiltration,” wherein Black people would literally dominate local government in the 19 American cities with a Black majority.

The enlighteners were a think tank of policy experts and intellectuals who conducted research, proposed public policy initiatives to the government, and advised both the integrationists and nationalists on strategy and tactics.

The Defenders role was to provide protection to the Black community throughout the nation, both from white racists and Black predators. Largely composed of former soldiers, military leaders, and gang members, this division policed Black communities and made societal police obsolete. The Defenders’ activities led to a dramatic reduction of violent crimes in Black neighborhoods.

The following is the 13-point agenda Blacks develop in my dream:

  1. In an era where everyone speaks of “humanity,” Black people still are more impoverished, incarcerated,stigmatized, and disproportionately victimized than most other people (despite actual and perceived progress). Blacks fight for “humanity,” while no one seems to fight for us. Given this reality, we need people who advocate for Black advancement without apology or explanation to anyone else. In the old days, such people were referred to as “race” men or women.
  2. We all have adopted various religious and political philosophies which sometimes are at odds. But regardless of this, Black Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, atheists, those who practice indigenous African religions, capitalists, Marxists, nationalists, etc. at any given moment face police brutality, failing schools, health issues, poverty and racism. We must learn to work together to resolve our problems and uplift our people.
  3. We have lost a great majority of our youth who have been seduced to ignorance, violence, apathy, indifference and materialism because we’ve failed to properly guide them. We cannot depend on public schools as they currently exist to properly prepare our children to become leaders and problem-solvers for our people. These schools prepare our children to be obedient low-wage workers for other people or cheap labor in American penal institutions. We must organize leadership training programs, community centers, homeschooling programs, independent schools, Saturday schools, and Rites of Passage programs to rescue and reclaim our youth.
  4. Traditionally-Black working class communities are under serious attack. Gentrification has diluted our political and cultural power in communities around the country with an influx of entitled whites and Bourgeois Blacks who rob such places of their cultural and political integrity. We must begin an aggressive program to purchase property, develop and maintain our cultural institutions, and create financial institutions like community credit unions. Such institutions provide the money so necessary to start community cooperatives/businesses, provide employment and redevelop our communities.
  5. Wealthy and socially conscious Black entertainers, athletes and professionals must be organized, politicized, and called upon to invest some of their wealth and networks to help build quality Black schools, realty companies, supermarkets, lobbying groups, hospitals and other institutions/programs so vital to true community development.
  6. Black people continue to face unbridled brutality at the hands of racist/fascist police, white citizens, and predatory Black people. Like Robert F. Williams and Malcolm X, I support the right of our people to protect ourselves and our families from such victimization. Every time a cop for example, kills one of us, is exonerated, and keeps his/her job, it sends a message that we are not valuable and that we are “easy and unprotected prey.” Prayer, candlelight vigils, tearful funeral testimonials and marches have not made a dent in this issue. Therefore, we must create the capacity to defend and protect our communities from those who prey on them. It is shameful that we neglect to do this out of fear or cowardly interpretations of scripture. If gang members can intimidate and terrorize Black communities, if Black military officers can fight and kill for American interests all over the world, perhaps someone should organize and politicize them to use that same energy to protect our own men, women, children and elders. Contrary to popular opinion, our lives are just as valuable as anyone else’s.
  7. Our identity and citizenship extends beyond local, state and national boundaries created by men. We are an African people (although largely disconnected) whether we admit it or not. In the Pan-African tradition of Garvey and Malcolm, we must establish business and political relationships with black and brown people in Africa and throughout the world. We should also take an active interest in anti-imperialist causes, starting with those in our motherland. An international presence and network will prove mutually beneficial in several ways. We certainly cannot afford to adopt America’s definitions of “enemy” or “ally” as our own. This is a sure way to alienate people and nations who truly support our initiatives and tie us to those who aid in our continued oppression. The time has come for us to accurate understand who the true “terrorists” and champions of freedom truly are.
  8. We must understand how politics really works, and understand how we’ve historically made progress in America. Politics has nothing to do with morality or ethics, but with power. National elections are a complete sham, and don’t seem to produce benefits for us commensurate with the time, money and energy we invest in them. We should definitely control local politics in territories with a Black majority. In  places where we are not in the majority, we must amass and use wealth and power to make the elite do our bidding. How? By posing a threat to or supporting their image, comfort, safety, plans, or finances and by disrupting their ability to operate normally. Check history and see if I’m misleading you.
  9. Notwithstanding religious doctrine, comic books, sci-fi thrillers, or cults, no one man or woman is coming to save Black people or has the power to do so. What is required here is a collective effort.
  10. Related to the previous point is the realization that no one regardless of how long they’ve served us, how well they’ve served us, their wealth, amount of wisdom, speaking ability, past achievements, number of followers, political title, etc. is beyond constructive and valid criticism. We are human after all, and therefore prone to dishonesty, opportunism, ego and misjudgment,
  11. The American incarceration rate grew an incredible 700% between 1970-2005, largely because of the nefarious “War on drugs.” 60% of America’s prison population are people of color. 1 in 3 Black men will be in prison in their lifetime. Then there’s the issue of Black political prisoners, many of whom languish in American dungeons due to their political beliefs, not criminal activity. Once imprisoned, inmates are forced to work for as little as 25 cents to $1 an hour. And they don’t just make license plates or repair furniture. Today’s inmates make just about every product you can think of including: headphones, home appliances, office furniture, airplane parts, military supplies and medical supplies and food products. Many prisons are now privatized. Shareholders earn enormous profits from prison labor without the hassle of strikes, paying unemployment benefits or providing vacation time. The prison industry is indeed a new form of enslavement, and therefore we are compelled to address this major civil, human rights, and labor issue not just by prison reform, but perhaps the elimination of prisons altogether. In the meantime, we must spend significant resources and energy to liberate our inmates, protect their rights, and provide rehabilitation when necessary. When one of us is chained, none of us are free.
  12. All corporations believe in a god and it’s name is profit. Their tenacious drive for expansion and profit has led to genetically engineered food products, electoral corruption, war mongering, environmental pollution, mass unemployment, and the repression of dissent among other things. The people must wage a movement to dismantle or at minimum severely regulate these bloodsuckers. In very real ways, they are possibly the greatest threat to global peace,harmony and health
  13. The fight for freedom, justice and equality must be total. No man, woman or child should be victimized by discrimination, brutality or deprivation. In the truly liberated society, racism, imperialism, class exploitation, patriarchy, or homophobia will not exist.

My dream always ends with Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X standing on a Harlem stage saying, “There is room for several approaches. We must work together….The doors of Black liberation are open, who will come?”

____________________________

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 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.

A Black Power Outline…(My Manifesto) Revised

black fist

You will notice this article is entitled “A” not “THE” Black Power Outline. This is to connote that it is not the definitive, exclusive, or “divine” plan – just my own thoughts on how to transform our collective condition in the United States.

The reference to an outline, suggests that this is not an exhaustive plan. Everything is not spelled out or filled in here, nor should it be. Use your imagination and intelligence and modify, apply or reject as you see fit.

Finally, this plan is not novel, new, or any indication of some “genius” on my part, but simply an attempt to apply some common sense and draw from great minds of the past. You will also notice that the following remarks draw from a number of my previous articles which generally address the questions of how we are oppressed, why we are oppressed, and what we must do to liberate and empower ourselves.

Conclusions:

I conclude that our people (though imperfect like others) are beautiful and valuable. We have the human rights to “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with or without man or a document’s validation or recognition of such rights. This oft-quoted phrase impacts and implies a number of issues (healthcare, incarceration, employment, etc.)

We have an obligation to do everything in our power to continue the fight of our ancestors and ensure these liberties/rights for ourselves and our children.

I conclude that we cannot allow any religion, philosophy or idea to blind us to fundamental truths or realities we know and observe.

I conclude that any faith or philosophy we subscribe to should either advance us in the previously mentioned ways, we should modify them to do so, or abandon them altogether and embrace those that do.

I conclude that it is our primary responsibility to solve our problems, and that we must observe the principle of self determination. We have the right to select the methods, people or resources to acquire power and liberation without regard for what other people think.

I conclude that Black people have a very real enemy – the American empire – who deliberately works to sabotage our safety, advancement, health and liberty. This enemy includes white supremacy, corporate avarice  and malfeasance, and government repression as manifested through imperialism, forced poverty, war, hunger, mass incarceration, urban decline, socially engineered fear/confusion, etc. I further conclude that though the architects of this oppression were privileged whites, their modern-day advocates and collaborators are comprised of various social classes, ethnicities/races (including our own) and other designations. So in a larger sense, our “enemies” are those individuals and systems that support, promote or defend injustice, avarice, and oppression regardless of race, gender, or other designations, directed toward Black people.

To be more specific, I conclude that many Black people due to ignorance, fear, greed and compromised values and priorities, collaborate with the policies and practices of the American empire. Also, some whites – though in conspicuous minority – have demonstrated political clarity, integrity, and sustained struggle to expose/challenge the empire supremacy and to refuse its benefits. Therefore I conclude that while it is wise to maintain a healthy distrust of white people in general, it is equally unwise to make concrete assumptions about a person’s political consciousness or character based solely on his/her perceived phenotype or so-called racial classification. History should never be ignored, and history demonstrates that small elements of whites committed to social justice were active in the Abolitionist Movement, Reconstruction, Populist and Progressive Movements, Communist Movement, Civil Rights and even Black Power Movements. History also demonstrates that many of these more radical white elements still harbored feelings of paternalism, opportunism and a stubborn reluctance to respect Black authority and leadership (which explains why we must maintain a healthy distrust until they gives us reason not to).

Given the urgency of our condition and the uphill battles we face, I conclude that we have no time to engage in frivolous, divisive or irrelevant discussions and activities or diversions. We must both stay focused on the urgent goals of Black liberation and dismantling or restructuring the oppressive institutions, policies, practices and values/priorities of this empire. We must in other words transform this empire into a civilization or if necessary, create an entirely new civilization of our own.

I conclude that this American empire is highly organized,  well-resourced, intelligent, highly effective and able to transorm itself as needed. No one tactic, philosophy, charismatic leader or organization is powerful enough to restructure or defeat this empire. We will need to collaborate and strategize with various ellements of our own community and others to accomplish this monumental task. This includes Black people and others of different faiths, political ideologies, social classes, etc. We must draw on our various resources (information, finances, leadership, skill sets) and learn the arts of prioritizing issues, grassroots organizing and coalition-building.

Finally, I conclude that even if we don’t read another book, view another documentary, listen to another speech, take another class or attend another conference, we have enough accumulated knowledge, experience and skills to do something right now to empower and liberate ourselves.

revolution

If you find all of this to be irrelevant nonsense, you can of course choose to disregard it. If however, you find the following ideas helpful or even partially valid, then teach and apply them. The true credit in my opinion, goes our brave and committed ancestors who fought for Black liberation despite the personal challenges and restriction they endured. Some were thoughtful enough to create and leave ideas and examples for us to utilize build upon.

Now that my disclaimers and introductions are done, let’s journey together in thought to explore the thinking and actions I conclude are required for our freedom and empowerment.

In a society that uses enormous resources to keep Black people confused, bitter, disorganized and powerless, any discussion of how to reverse or eliminate such conditions is extremely important and radical. So I hope you will continue reading and apply what you find useful.

douglassOn August 3, 1857, Frederick Douglass delivered his “West Indian Emancipation” speech. Most people only quote two paragraphs of his speech, because they speak so well to the nature of resistance.The truth of Frederick Douglass’ famous words concerning power and resistance continue to resonate with truth and relevance, and we should keep these words ever present in our minds:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

In this spirit, allow me to suggest that:

1. While many human beings speak of “humanity,” Black people still are more impoverished, incarcerated, stigmatized, and disproportionately victimized than all other people in the United States (despite actual and perceived progress). Blacks fight for “humanity,” while few seem to fight for or even acknowledge ours. Given this reality, we need people who advocate for Black advancement and liberation without apology or explanation to anyone else. In the old days, such people were referred to as “race” men or women.

2. We all have adopted various religious and political philosophies which sometimes are at odds. But regardless of this, Black Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, atheists, those who practice indigenous African religions, capitalists, Marxists, nationalists, etc. at any given moment face police brutality, failing schools, health issues, poverty and racism. It is easy to say the oft-repeated slogan, “We must learn to work together to resolve our problems and uplift our people.” However this implies that we understand and implement a strategy brother Malcolm suggested and what Dr. Maulana Karenga terms “Operational Unity.” This means that we organize around ideals/issues that a majority of us value and agree upon, then create institutions, movements, and projects where we actually work together despite our differences to create change and empower ourselves. Chancellor Williams in his classic book, “The Destruction of Black Civilization,” warned us about the dangers of continued disunity: “Just as it is in the case of Africa and Black people everywhere, the central problem of over 30 million Blacks in America is unity…The picture of several thousand Black organizations, each independent and vying for leadership, is substantially the same picture of fragmentation and disunity in Africa that led to the downfall of the entire race. We have often seen that even in earlier times very often all that was involved was that somebody wanted to be the “head,” was not getting there fast enough, and therefore, organized his own little state. Most of them perished, picked off one by one. The same thing will happen to any Black organizations, standing alone, that disturb the white mind.”

3. We have lost many of our youth who have been seduced to ignorance, violence, apathy, indifference and materialism because we’ve failed to properly guide them. and create support systems to help them succeed. We cannot depend on public schools as they do not exist to properly prepare our children to become leaders and problem-solvers for our people. These schools prepare our children to be obedient low-wage workers for other people or cheap labor in American penal institutions. We must organize leadership training programs, community centers, homeschooling programs, independent schools, Saturday schools, and Rites of Passage programs and parenting classes to rescue and reclaim our youth.

4. Traditionally Black working class communities are under serious attack. Gentrification has diluted our political and cultural power in communities around the country with an influx of entitled whites and Bourgeois Blacks who rob such places of their cultural and political integrity. We must begin an aggressive program to purchase property, develop and maintain our cultural institutions, and create financial institutions like community credit unions and foundations. Such institutions provide the money so necessary to start community cooperatives/businesses, provide employment and redevelop our communities.

5. Wealthy and socially conscious Black entertainers, athletes and professionals must be organized, politicized, and called upon to invest some of their wealth and networks to help build quality Black schools, realty companies, supermarkets, lobbying groups, hospitals and other institutions/programs so vital to true community development.

6. Black people continue to face unbridled brutality at the hands of racist/fascist police, white vigilantes, and predatory Black people. Like Robert F. Williams and Malcolm X, I support the right of our people to protect ourselves and our families from such victimization. Every time a cop for example, kills one of us, is exonerated, and keeps his/her job, it sends a message that we are not valuable and that we are “easy and unprotected prey.” Prayer circles, candlelight vigils, tearful funeral testimonials and marches have not made a dent in this issue. Therefore, we must develop the capacity to defend and protect our communities from those who prey on them, regardless of their race or job title. It is shameful that we neglect to do this out of fear or cowardly interpretations of scripture. If gang members can intimidate and terrorize Black communities, if Black military officers can fight and kill for American interests all over the world, perhaps someone should organize and politicize them to use that same energy to protect our own men, women, children and elders. Contrary to popular opinion, our lives are just as valuable as anyone else’s. Perhaps we should patrol and protect our own communities.

7. Our identity and citizenship extends beyond local, state and national boundaries created by men. We are African-descended people (although largely disconnected from African values and practices) whether we admit it or not. In the Pan African tradition of Garvey, Nkrumah, Sekou Ture Malcolm, and Kwame Toure, we must establish business and political relationships with black and brown people in Africa and throughout the world. We should also take an active interest and actively participate in anti-imperialist causes, starting with those in our motherland. An international presence and network will prove mutually beneficial in several ways. We certainly cannot afford to adopt America’s definitions of “enemy” or “ally” as our own. This is a sure way to alienate people and nations who truly support our initiatives, and tie us to those who aid in our continued oppression. The time has come for us to accurately understand who the true “terrorists” and champions of freedom are.

sankofa example

chokwe 1

Chokwe Lumumba

8. We must understand how politics really works, and understand how we’ve historically made “progress” in America. Politics has little to do with morality or ethics, but with power, money, propaganda and leverage. National elections in my opinion, are a complete sham designed to create the illusion of choice and inclusion.  The fact that party politics don’t seem to produce benefits for us commensurate with the time, money and energy we invest in them, should indicate this fact. We should definitely control local politics in territories with a Black majority, and we should seriously study the deceased Mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s plan for Jackson, Mississippi which was developed by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. In  places where we are not in the majority, we must amass and use wealth and power to make the elite do our bidding. How? By posing a threat to or supporting their image, comfort, safety, plans, or finances and by disrupting their ability to operate normally. Check history and see if I’m misleading you.

9. Notwithstanding religious doctrine, comic books, sci-fi thrillers, or cults, it is abundantly clear that no one man or woman has come to save Black people or has the power to do so. What is required here is a collective effort utilizing the various resources of different segments of Black people. As much as possible, we should teach and promote the concept of Black solidarity and demonstrate it so people can see what it looks like.

10. Related to the previous point is the realization that no one regardless of how long they’ve served us, how well they’ve served us, their wealth, amount of wisdom, speaking ability, past achievements, number of followers, political title, etc. is beyond constructive and valid criticism. We are human after all, and therefore prone to dishonesty, opportunism, ego and misjudgment. To stimulate this value we should actively create community spaces where we study, discuss and debate the ideas or practices of old and contemporary organizations and leaders. These debates should not degenerate into shouting matches or insult fests. The emhasis should be on understanding and serious evaluation.

11. Many of us know that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution created a new form of enslavement called incarceration. The American incarceration rate grew an incredible 700% between 1970-2005, largely because of the nefarious “War on drugs.” 60% of America’s prison population are people of color. 1 in 3 Black men will be in prison in their lifetime. Then there’s the issue of Black political prisoners, many of whom languish in American dungeons due to their political beliefs, not criminal activity. Once imprisoned, inmates become a very cheap labor force for the American empire. And they don’t just make license plates or repair furniture. Today’s inmates make just about every product you can think of including: headphones, home appliances, office furniture, airplane parts, military supplies, medical supplies clothing, and food products. Many prisons are now privatized. Shareholders earn enormous profits from prison labor without the hassle of strikes, paying unemployment benefits or providing vacation time. The prison industry is indeed a new form of enslavement, and therefore we are compelled to address this major civil, human rights, and labor issue not just by prison reform, but perhaps the elimination of prisons altogether. In the meantime, we must spend significant resources and energy to liberate our inmates, protect their rights, and provide rehabilitation when necessary. When one of us is chained, none of us are free. Eliminating or modifying the 13th Amendment.

12. All multi-national corporations believe in a god and it’s name is profit. Their tenacious drive for expansion and profit has led to genetically engineered food products, electoral corruption, war mongering, environmental pollution, mass unemployment, and the repression of dissent among other things. The people must wage a movement to dismantle or at minimum severely regulate these bloodsuckers. In very real ways, they are possibly the greatest threat to global peace, harmony and health in the world.

13. The fight for freedom, justice and equality must be total. No man, woman or child should be victimized by discrimination, brutality or deprivation. In the truly liberated society, racism, imperialism, class exploitation, patriarchy, or sexuality-based oppression will not exist, or at minimum, will exist with maximum accountability.

Survey Says....

14. We must teach our people to value study and research aimed to solve our problems. Knowledge is not something we acquire to win money on a television game show or to become masters of trivia. We must revitalize and/or create Black think-tanks composed of activists and intellectuals who focus on researching our and others’ past liberation movements, leaders, in addition to the blueprints and critical ideas/programs they produced. Times and the tools that accompany them, have changed in some cases, but there is no need to “reinvent the wheel.” Some of our dedicated and effective people and organizations of the past have already done important work and posed effective solutions,  that many of us today have not seriously studied, critiqued, and tried to implement! To maintain focus and integrity, these think-tanks  cannot accept even one penny from outside corporations, government agencies or universities. These think-tanks will constantly share their findings with community leaders and organizations and make themselves available for presentations/consultation to help these leaders and organizations solve the problems they face, based on strategic thinking and sound analysis.

____________________________

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.

A SANKOFA CALL TO BLACK STUDENT UNIONS

sas-protest2 sas protest1 BSU COLLAGE1 BSU Collage

A Word About Special Interests

Politicians regularly denounce and dismiss what they call “Special Interests” or “Special Interest groups.” Of course, these terms are often (but not always) coded language referring to issues or people that are either non-white, non-male, non-privileged, or by definition, non-important by “mainstream” standards. Typically, Blacks, Latinos, women, the poor, the gay community and many other marginalized people comprise such “special interests.”

Fortunately, organizations comprised of committed people form to protect and advance these varied “special interests.” Unions for example represent the “special interests” of workers and in doing so are responsible for making the workplace more tolerable and empowering for all of us. Tenant associations fight to protect the “special interests” of people that rent apartments in residential buildings. All renters have such groups to thank for the establishment of rent caps, written leases which clearly specify rental terms, tenant and landlord responsibilities, housing courts, and a list of protective regulations with which so-called “landlords” must comply.  In similar fashion Black Student Unions formed in the 60s and 70s to represent the “special interests” of Black students attending thousands of predominately white colleges and universities throughout the nation.

Many Black Student Unions Have Lost Their Way

These initial organizations came into being during the tail end of Civil Rights crusades and the birth of Black Power. It is my opinion that too many Black Student Unions today have abandoned the traditions of education, resistance, and Black empowerment they were created to maintain. Political rallies, demonstrations, protests, political education for high school and college students, support for Black Studies Departments, cultural programming and demands to recruit and retain more Black faculty and students, are now too often replaced with cookouts, fashion shows, parties, Hip Hop concerts and spoken word poetry events.

Certainly these events have their place on a college campus, but when such events take place to the exclusion of serious and sustained political activity, by an organization founded specifically to take political positions, we have a serious problem on our hands. Naturally, my critique does not apply to all BSUs; some have valiantly continued and expanded on the work of their predecessors. Unfortunately, in a selfish and apolitical era when we are told how “post-racial” America has become, political and community-oriented BSUs are exceptions, not the rule.

My Personal Experience

takeover1

Me in 1989, leading a protest (as SAS President) to call attention to our African American Studies Department. The University attempted to kick me and other student leaders out of school for our campaign.

My critique of contemporary Black Student Unions is informed from the perspective of a practitioner and scholar. During the late 80s as an undergraduate student at Syracuse University, I (then known as “Quentin Stith”) had the honor of being a two-term President of the Student African American Society (SAS). While I was conscious prior to becoming a college student, I came into my own as a leader and organizer because of SAS and its example. Later, as a grad student at Cornell University, where I was President of the Africana Graduate Student Association, I wrote my Master’s thesis about the Black student struggle to create Black Studies Departments during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. As a doctorate student in African American Studies, I have focused my research around Black college student activism during the Black Power Movement. This incredible journey of activism and scholarship began with my experiences as an undergrad at Syracuse University.

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Members of SAS at Syracuse University, circa 1989, protesting to rebuild and bring attention to the African American Studies Department.

SAS was our Black Student Union. This organization represented the issues and interests of all Black undergraduates on campus and did so for about 20 years prior to my arrival in 1986. When I note that SAS fundamentally changed the landscape of Syracuse University I do not exaggerate. Besides providing culturally relevant programming for Black students, conducting political education and developing competent Black leadership, SAS created the African American Studies Department (and later fought to maintain and expand it), was instrumental in the fight to secure a Blue-light system on campus (providing protection for students at night), protested CIA recruitment efforts, challenged Apartheid, protested tuition hikes, advocated for Black community members that worked on campus, and held weekly meetings to raise consciousness among our constituents.

We were privileged to receive mentorship from committed Black faculty members like Dr. Janis Mayes, Dr. Randolph Hawkins and Dr. Micere Mugo among others. And I am proud to note that many of the students involved with SAS and its leadership have gone on to do important work in the areas of politics, education, film, philanthropy, community development, religion, music, nonprofits, and countless others. It is important to note that SAS was a protest organization, but we did far more than protest. As I recently posted on Facebook:

Just for the record, the Student African American Society at Syracuse University didn’t spend all of our time engaging in protests and demonstrations. We also developed significant relationships with local Black students, community leaders, and workers, worked with Black high school students, brought powerful speakers to campus, organized educational, cultural, and social events, encouraged and facilitated Black academic/professional excellence, supported local Black business owners, fought for studies abroad in Africa, had the Community Folk Art Gallery expanded, funded, and staffed, and defended the rights of local Black residents that worked in dining halls at the university, in addition to the rights of Black professors. We cannot allow others to revise (rewrite) our history. Were we angry? Yes. Did we protest a lot? Yes. But we did a lot more and got things done for our people and (quiet as kept) several others. Those of us who are now alumni must lend our wisdom and resources to contemporary Black SU students, and teach them the principle of Sankofa; “It is no crime to go back and fetch what you have lost.”

History of Black Student Unions

As indicated earlier, SAS did not begin with my arrival to Syracuse University, but almost 20 years earlier in 1967. Several committed and pioneering Black people grew from these experiences and this period as undergrads at Syracuse University. Among these were St. Clair Bourne, the documentary filmmaker, Vaughn Harper, a university basketball star that later became the famous voice of WBLS’ “Quiet Storm” radio show for 30 years, and Suzanne DePasse, (who among other things helped discover the Jackson Five, produced the Motown 25th Anniversary telecast, along with “The Temptations” and “The Jacksons” miniseries).

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Jim Garrett, founder of the first Black Student Union in the country San Francisco State University in 1966.

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Before he became an award-winning actor and humanitarian, Danny Glover (pictured here) was an active member of the BSU at San Francisco State University. Here Mr. Glover is pictured during the student strike of 1968-69.

The very first Black Student Union began a year earlier at San Francisco State University, the same campus where a year-long student strike led to the creation of the nation’s first Black Studies Department in 1968. Organized mostly by student and young Civil Rights activist Jim Garrett, the organization essentially placed various Black groups and students under one umbrella (hence “Union”) and set out to advocate for Black liberation, solidarity and increased opportunities for Blacks on campus.

Within a couple of years, BSUs sprang up on white college campuses throughout the country. Along with protesting racial injustice and American militarization and increasing student enrollment and Black faculty, perhaps the greatest institutional legacy of BSUs was their successful fight for Black Studies Departments. Proactive, political minded and committed Black students (along with community activists, intellectuals and artists) are largely responsible for creating a Black student/intellectual presence on white college campuses, and creating numerous employment and political opportunities for Black professors.

A Sankofa Call for Today’s Black Student Unions

bsu blueprint

My book written from my student leadership experience and scholarly studies of student activism.

The term “Sankofa” is a Ghanaian concept originating from the Akan people. It means “It is not a crime to go back and fetch what you have lost.” In concluding this blog entry, I issue a Sankofa call to contemporary BSUs who have abandoned serious and sustained political struggle and have become in too many instances, social clubs providing entertainment and opportunities to socialize. Your very presence as Black college students is testimony to the struggle and vision of those who came before you. Let other groups entertain and socialize. Black Student Unions have a mandate to agitate, organize and politicize. This is especially true since white supremacy is still alive and well and hard-fought Black Studies Departments around the country face downsizing and questions of their “relevance” from white university officials. I also issue a Sankofa call to Black professors and BSU advisors. Many of you were part of the first BSUs in this country. As seasoned elders in the struggle, you have an obligation to descend from the ivory tower, mentor Black Student Unions and push them to continue the legacy upon which they were built. If we fail in this responsibility, who will be there to protect and advance our “special interests” on American college campuses?

To facilitate Black Student Unions reclaiming their purpose and activism, I’ve written a book entitled, The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook. It is must reading for Black college students and BSU leaders.

_____________________

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.