Who are We? A Question of Identity

I’d like to think that my essays/articles have meaning or resonate with a wide circle of reasonable people. However, my unashamed focus is always on helping Black people in particular to “Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!” 

Throughout my life, I’ve addressed in one way or another- via activism or scholarship – the issues of economics, politics, incarceration, police brutality, fratricide, Black Nationalism, corporate exploitation, nation building and other pertinent issues to the Black community.

It is truly difficult to rank such issues in order of significance. And yet the issue of who we are as a people and how we identify ourselves, is surely one of the most important, given that it directly impacts all of the others.

On Monday April 11, 2016 Harlem Liberation School will host a panel discussion to address this issue of group identity. Our three panelists have distinguished themselves as resources on this topic, through intense study, writing, presenting and lived experience, or any combination of the above. While all three were/are “God Body,” or adherents of the Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths, each panelist brings a slightly different perspective to the identity discussion.

Brother Laheen Allah, learned much of his information while enduring more than a decade of captivity in the U.S. prison system. While others spent vasts amounts of time in other pursuits, Laheen educated himself in the library, and gained an impressive knowledge of sociology, law,  history and psychology. He is now working to finish a book on criminology in which he offers his own theories about why Black people commit crime, along with methods to rehabilitate them. 

Born M. Allah, a highly respected community organizer and educator, teaches biology from a Black consciousness perspective, owns a music entertainment group, and approaches the question of identity from a historical and  scientific perspective. 

 

sharif debateBrother Sharif Anael Bey, a member of Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple of America, is a longtime martial arts practitioner/instructor, and founder of “Ali’s Men,” a group of lecturers, researchers and writers around the country that specialize in Moorish Science history. More recently, Sharif has distinguished himself as a much sought after debater on the topics of history and identity. One day before the panel discussion at Harlem Liberation School, Sharif will debate the popular Afrocentric street scholar Brother Reggie, at the National Black Theater in Harlem.

Clearly, we cannot underestimate the importance of group identity. For this reason, and because we want to avoid the insults and combativeness that often occur in the street debate culture, Harlem Liberation School is proud to host a conversation on April 11, 2016 focusing on identity.

We expect all panelists to present their perspectives on the subject, support their perspective with facts and reason, and do so in the spirit of respect and community learning.

I should emphasize that our objective is to challenge and broaden our community understanding about how we identify ourselves, the factors that constitute individual and group identity, and ways to identify ourselves that are empowering and self-determining. I do hope you will consider attending this free event.

My own thoughts on this subject are as follows:

1. Identity is an issue of self-determination. This means we have the power to choose how we identify ourselves. Regardless of how well we argue our point, or our own beliefs, the bottom line is that everyone has the power to choose how they define themselves.

2. Ideally, our choice concerning identity should be informed and empowering. We can certainly choose to identify ourselves as “Thots,” “Gangsters,” “Bitches,” or “Niggas.” The questions then become: Are these identities empowering? Do they liberate us or contribute to enslaving us? Do they represent the best of ourselves, or the ugliest factions of our character? Do they produce and encourage confidence and love, or humiliation and self-hate? These questions and their implications are amplified for we Black descendants of Africa who’ve been systematically taught that we are nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing. I believe that we should identify ourselves in ways that unite us, benefit us and empower us. Identify is a matter of choice, and is relative, but it is by no means neutral. When we identify ourselves, we consciously or unconsciously align ourselves with some things, and detach ourselves from others. It is in fact, a political choice.

3. Several factors impact how we identify ourselves. We can choose to identify ourselves based on geography/place of origin, language, race, gender, religion, and political ideology to name a few. The issue of identity is not simplistic, but complicated. This also implies that identity is not fixed but fluid, which goes back to the first point. This is why we are advised not to impose our views of identity, but to educate people on the issue so they can make informed and empowered choices.

4. We should be careful about adopting the identities of those who subjugate us. At the risk of insulting some brothers and sisters (which is not my intention), I don’t understand why we identify ourselves as Muslim, Christian, American, French, or any other designation of our enemies who imposed these identities upon us. These identities are not neutral; they come with values, and a imperialist history replete with colonization, forced conversion, and persecution. In the case of religion for example, we must stop erasing historical record. These major religions some of us subscribe to, in fact, stole much of their mythology and doctrine from African civilizations then distorted them. These religions also work to serve and benefit white supremacy. These religions were not indigenous to ancient Africa; They were imposed upon us, often at the penalty of death. 

5. I interchangeably identify myself as “African” and/or “Black.” “People of Color” is a vague term born from the politics of multiculturalism. It does not unite people around a common experience. “African-American” is a compromised term that attempts to fuse our African origin with an American nationality. But I do not view myself as “American.” That red, white, and blue flag and those representing it, did everything imaginable to mistreat, exploit and murder us. Africa is our motherland from which we were snatched and dispersed all over the world. It connects us to a rich land base and even richer history and culture of values and practices. “Black” refers to our phenotype, color or race. It is the essence from which all other hues come. It is genetically dominant, and an all-encompassing term we can use to unify our people around the world. However, despite what I believe, I still recognize that our people have to choose identity for themselves.

6. We may never be able to determine a historical identity with precision. Are we Moors, Kemites, Hebrews, Asiatics, Muslims? The answer is not definitive. Because of lost or destroyed historical records, and contemporary limitations of archaeology, it may be impossible to say with precision who we are historically. We can say with authority that we are the original people of the Earth that created civilizations which have benefitted all of humanity. We can say that our people have been among the world’s most creative, influential and underappreciated. We can say that we are some of the world’s most resilient people, having survived and overcome the most horrific and enduring forms of oppression. Perhaps those realizations might suffice for now. Whatever identity we claim should make us loving toward each other, unified, productive and confident, and help us to be purposeful, forward-thinking and powerful. 

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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. 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 Ethos of Harlem Liberation School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agyei Tyehimba,
Founder/Coordinator, Harlem Liberation School

Want to Help Black People? Here’s How

As we know, there are fraudulent, compromised and conflicted people in our community who deem themselves “conscious” or “progressive.”

They often demonstrate poor or inadequate analysis, pontificate about problems without offering solutions, offer solutions/theories without implementing them, develop ill-conceived or dishonest plans/projects, and fail to create viable organizations and institutions to transmit ideas and practices for present and future generations.

Fortunately, all is not lost! We also have plenty of Souljahs, sincere and competent folk who want Black people to reclaim our power, exercise control over our lives, be liberated from outside or internal oppression, and who do all they can to bring these plans into fruition.

If you desire to be in that second group, here are some basic suggestions for doing so. You sincerely want to help Black people? Here’s how:

  1. Study to understand empowering African values (Maat for example), civilizations, contributions to humanity and how Africa was attacked and weakened. Also know how our ancestors resisted outside subjugation.
  2. Study to understand key methods of oppression and the tactics they employ, in addition to their objectives. You must study white supremacy/racism, colonialism, chattel slavery, segregation/jim crow, imperialism, patriarchy, mass incarceration, and capitalism.
  3. Be familiar with important Black people, organizations and movements for social justice/liberation, in addition to the challenges they faced, their victories/contributions, and mistakes or miscalculations.
  4. Be familiar with the strategies and people used to undermine our leaders, organizations, and movements. Cointelpro is a good reference for this.
  5. Acquaint yourself with our own self-defeating behaviors and attitudes; We have internalized many negative ideas, habits and values taught to us by our oppressors. To empower our people, we must be courageous and honest enough to identify and resolve our internal demons and shortcomings.
  6. Refuse to be a one-man or woman show. Individual superstars might be entertaining and very talented, and they might even win a few games by themselves. But they will never win a championship. For this, we need teams. A strong team amplifies the skills and impact of each individual teammate exponentially. A team provides more resources and support than an individual. No one person – regardless of his/her talent – can defeat an opposing team of people. In all our efforts, we should solicit the help of other brothers sisters to form powerful and organized efforts.
  7. Based on all the above points, develop sound strategies, organizations, institutions, movements and/or programs to help our people “Wake up, Clean up and Stand up!” A relative minority of people have done points 1-6 or done so effectively enough to accurately understand the complexity of issues we face. Even fewer have taken the step of effectively addressing these problems beyond talking about them. Because this last point is sorely lacking, I must explain further. Based on your study and understanding: If the miseducation of our people is a problem you are concerned about, become a teacher, write books/blogs, create documentaries, afterschool programs, independent schools, or teacher training programs to address the problem. If you feel our people need to create wealth and develop stronger economics, create programs to teach financial literacy/economic empowerment and establish community cooperatives; If you find that our people lack the will or ability to organize, create programs to teach them such skills and information. Never forget: Our enemies don’t just hate or fear us; they don’t just talk about subjugating us; They study our culture movements and habits. They create legislation, form think tanks, lobbying groups, military units, schools/curriculums, and a variety of programs and institutions to fulfill their agenda. We must do the same. Also remember what is at stake – our lives, safety, and freedom. It is not sufficient to say “At least he/she is trying.” this is a lazy and defeatist position for supposedly enlightened and knowledgeable Black folk to adopt. If you are at a restaurant and you contract food poising, would you be satisfied that “at least the cook tried” to use proper sanitation? If you send your child to school and discover that his/her teacher is incompetent, would you take the approach that “at least they tried to teach?” If an attorney represented you in a court case and failed to include important evidence, properly cross-examine witnesses, or represent you well- and you do jail time you didn’t deserve, would you think “At least she tried to represent me?” your likely answer in each scenario, is “Hell No!” You expect quality effort and excellent service because you value yourself! The same is true for we as teachers, organizers activists and leaders. We cannot afford to hold low standards or to embrace mediocrity becaNor can we be too lazy to do the serious study, organizing and institution- building that liberation requires. Always we should work to be more informed, effective, and relevant.

In this spirit, we have created the “Harlem Liberation School.” Our objective is to provide Black community members with the consciousness, information and skills they need to become conscious, competent and committed agents for Black liberation and empowerment.

Beginning on February 8, 2016, we will hold meetings twice a month at no charge to the community for Black folk aged 14 and up. Our meetings will be fun, engaging, and informative. We plan to accomplish this by using group activities, panel discussions, debates, lectures, skits, video clips, etc. We will also implement what we learn via actual community organizing and activism.

If you are Black, live in NYC, and want to learn and do more to uplift Black people, we encourage you to come out. If you are a Black person with serious organizing experience, expertise in African and African American history, youth development, politics, education and journalism/writing, please contact me about volunteering time to lead/moderate workshops, presentations and other activities. If you are a Black vendor selling books or DVDs on Black history, politics, education or culture, contact us about selling your goods at Harlem Liberation School. You can email truself143@gmail.com or call 872-222-6764. The time for just talking and complaining is over. Its time to ACT! The following reading lists provide a wealth of information….

Recommended Reading List for Black Revolutionaries

Introduction to Political Liberation Reading List

Recommended Reading List for Black Adults

Graduate African American Reading List, History at Rutgers University

Students for Social Justice Reading List

The Black Radical Tradition

Documentaries

Black History

African Diaspora

Atlanta BlackStar Picks

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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.