Note: My formal educational background is in sociology, education, and Black Studies/History. I’ve worked as an educator and youth development specialist for over two decades. In this capacity, I’ve helped to create a middle school, created overnight college tours, presented life management workshops, conducted college preparation activities, created educational materials for rites of passage programs, and coordinated paid summer internships based on teen career interests. I’ve spoken with and counseled hundreds of Black and Brown youth from 5th grade to high school and was privy to their academic and life challenges and triumphs. I’ve facilitated workshops for parents and listened to their (often tear-filled) concerns regarding their children’s’ behavioral or academic progress or lack thereof. I’ve seen shy awkward youth blossom into confident and masterful young adults, and watched in horror as equally bright teens squandered their intelligence and talent and became victims of drugs, gangs, and prostitution. I state these things to establish some level of credibility in the area of youth development in hopes that parents, educators, members of spiritual communities take my following words to young people seriously and urge the youth within their sphere of influence to read and absorb/implement them.
This message is for all youth composing the African Diaspora. The African Union defines this term as “consisting of people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union.” Of course, we would be foolish to speak of a Diaspora without including our continental African brothers and sisters born and still living in the Motherland.
A brief history lesson
Much scholarly evidence exists proving that the original people of ancient Africa (prior to European contact) created the foundations of art, law, medicine, spirituality, music, math and science which through migration and contact with others, spread throughout the world designating Africa as the “cradle of civilization.”
Early non-African historians from the fifth through 13th centuries – notably the Greek historian Herodotus, and Muslim historian Leo Africanus – wrote favorably of early African societies, noting how scholarly and advanced they were. Between the 13th and 17th Centuries European exploration of African coasts were common.
By the 16th century, the transatlantic slave trade was underway, dragging millions of Africans from their native land and dispersing them in the Caribbean islands, South and North America. Later by the 18th century, Europeans and others began exploring the African interior and raiding the continent for gold, rubber, labor, and other natural resources.
African societal rivalries and Europeans’ advanced weaponry along with religious propaganda spread by Catholic priests laid the foundation of Africa’s continuous colonization for centuries thereafter.
Africa’s role as educational/spiritual center of the world thus gave way to its role as the chief source of cheap raw materials, mineral resources and labor for European industrial growth. The false concepts of White supremacy and racism paralleled these developments as European nations sought to justify their greed and brutality toward Africa through enslavement and colonization. In a complete change of history, Europeans begin referring to African people as “primitive, “uncivilized” and “pagan.” These developments changed the course of world and social history until this day, as African people were dispersed throughout the world and generally relegated to the lowest rungs of the political, economic, and social orders wherever we existed.
During the post WWII period many African nations – led by individuals who received the benefit of formal education college educated and were enlisted to fight on the side of their colonial powers during WWII – participated in the African Independence Movement. One by one, former subjugated nations defeated the colonial powers like France, Britain, Germany, Portugal, and Spain. After many centuries of external domination, African nations were now free to run their own affairs (though in many cases conformer colonial powers still manipulated the affairs of such nations from behind the scenes- a dynamic referred to as “Neocolonialism”).
It is vital that you understand this history in order to properly understand the present. Today, though most of us are not literally enslaved, many of us throughout the world find ourselves living in conditions of poverty, injustice and oppression. In America for example, after hard-fought victories against enslavement and “Jim Crow,” and the election of our first Black President,we still have a higher rate of infant mortality, poverty, and incarceration than other Americans. Also we, like people of color in other nations, still suffer from European/white propaganda teaching us that we are ugly, unintelligent, naturally violent, lazy and hopeless. I refer to this as the “Wizard of Oz Syndrome” which you can read about here. In summary, I argue that we were systematically made to believe that we are not capable, to shrink away from taking our rightful place in the world, and to believe we lacked humanity and compassion. Far too often our own behavior demonstrates that we are victims of this insidious syndrome.For example:
- No respect for learning
- Accepting overcrowded, filthy and disease-ridden living conditions as normal or “good”
- Embracing a criminal lifestyle and boasting about incarceration
- Disrespect for elders
- Premature and unhealthy sexual practices
- Indifference/disregard with preparing for the future
- Seeing value in objects and possessions rather than one’s self
- Willingness or desire to inflict harm upon members of one’s own community
- High instances of suicide, homicide, and severe depression
- Belief that other groups of people are smarter, more attractive or “better” than one’s own
Message to Youth
I’m sure you can see how such beliefs and practices damage our communities and our future. Given this, I’m calling for you, the youth of the African Diaspora, to reclaim your greatness, honor your ancestors and take hold of your future in the following areas and ways:
The legacy of white propaganda and our forced dispersal all over the world caused us to not only to lose sight of our own value, but to look upon our Diasporan brothers and sisters as enemies rather than those responsible for exploiting our labor and stealing our wealth in the first place. In our ignorance we developed prejudices and hatred toward Africans, South Americans, African-Americans, Asians,the original people of Australia, our people in the Caribbean, and Black people throughout the world. Indoctrinated by the miseducation provided by our former slave owners and colonial masters, some of us fought wars against each other on their behalf and tried desperately to adopt their ideas and practices. You must educate yourselves to see past this trickery and begin to recognize each other as distant relatives separated at birth.
The world is composed primarily of original people of color. Unifying around our common experiences and common oppressors and forming economic and political bases of power will prove most beneficial for all of us in the future. Because we’ve embraced different ideologies and political views and some of us have become mirror reflections of our oppressors, this task is difficult but not insurmountable.
Without good health, nothing else matters. People of color die prematurely at rates that are disproportional to other people. I myself just had a stroke two weeks ago so this topic is VERY important to me. In addition to having a healthy diet heavy on fruits, grains, and vegetables and light on animal products, You MUST exercise regularly, to build and maintain a healthy heart and other muscles. Don’t forget your mental health also. You must find healthy ways to release stress in your life and get proper medical attention when you need it. This naturally means you should avoid drugs that damage your body and mental health. “Fun” now will cause pain later. This includes cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. In addition, you must practice safe sexual habits. The presence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases means you should use condoms when having sex or risk harming your or other people’s lives.
As a young person your life should include preparation for adulthood in addition to fun and recreation. Many countries make basic education mandatory for this reason. Being a capable worker or business owner in the future requires you to have certain skills like reading, mathematics or science. Responsible citizenship requires you to 1. Read and understand newspapers, books, laws and important documents of your country; 2. Know basic geography in order to locate and understand other places in the world 3. Have strong writing skills so you can write editorials in local newspapers for example 3. Develop public speaking and critical thinking ability to educate other people, protest injustice, debate your ideas with other people, or run for local/national political office in your country.
In addition to these forms of education, you will also need to develop good character in order to be a fair-minded, compassionate, and responsible adult. Then there are very specific non-academic skills you must learn to function effectively in society. Some of these skills might include:
- Cleaning your household
- Defending yourself
- Prioritizing issues
- Budgeting money
- Learning other languages
- Solving problems
- Organizing people
- Conflict mediation
- Understanding economics
- Self-defense and military strategy
- Time management
- Logic and Debate
- Critical Thinking
- Effective communication
- Hygiene and grooming
- Cooking well-balanced, delicious and nutritious meals
- Creating a business
- Conflict mediation
- Anger management
I’m not referring to formal politics involving campaigns and elections (although that is important) but to identifying problems in your community or nation and working with others to solve them in constructive ways. The world is forever in need of capable, dedicated and informed individuals to lead organizations, create schools and businesses, and overcome poverty, illness, and injustice.
There is plenty of opportunity for you to become involved in leadership. For example, you can become a doctor, lawyer business owners, engineer, scientist, historian, teacher, civic and union leader and the list goes on. Every nation and society no matter how small or impoverished has produced such leaders and organizers. Yours has too, and you should consider continuing that tradition. I would strongly suggest learning about your nation’s leaders throughout history (along with those in other parts of the world).
You are no good to yourself or anyone else if your thoughts and actions are negative and self-defeating. Nor will you be successful if you don’t believe in yourself and have a negative personality. I have developed a list of life lessons for young people, which you can view in text form here or as a slide show here.
I’ve given you much to think about here. My hope is that you will take these words/ideas as seriously as they were intended. Regardless of your place of birth, language, gender, level of education or family income, you are capable of improving yourself, your village or city, and of changing the world for the better.
Refuse to believe the lies our former slave owners and oppressors taught us! They developed these lies to keep us divided and powerless!. Stand up and take your rightful place in the world. Learn about the world around you and prepare yourself to play an important role in it. Draw inspiration from young Kelvin Doe in Sierra Leone, Taylor and Kennedy Everson in Kenya, Bilaal Rajan in Canada, or Shanoah Washington in the United States, all young people who’ve made a difference with their lives.
I’ve provided a very basic set of ideas The challenge is or you to improve upon and implement them. My generation and those before it have done much to protect AND jeopardize the future of this planet. The challenge is for you to do and be better than us so that you can improve the future of this planet and the future of our people!
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-Span, NY1 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.