I wrote these words
who struggles in their youth
Who won’t accept
instead of what is truth
It seems we lose the game…
before we even start to play
Who made these rules?
We’re so confused
Easily led astray
Lauryn Hill – ”Everything Is Everything”
Sadly, Lauryn Hill’s words ring eerily true. We Black people – despite years of pain, discrimination, and injustice – choose to play by rules created by our oppressors to make sure we “lose the game.” Then, we have the audacity to wonder why we continue to lose.
Am I overstating the point? Certainly not. For example, I wrote an article discussing our seeming obsession with Presidential elections. We were taught through the media and our grade school social studies classes to believe the following outright lies:
-National elections represent the common person’s genuine “voice” or input in the American democratic process
such elections produce significant change for poor and oppressed people via employment, economic/political empowerment, improved healthcare, etc.
our elected officials represent all of their constituents without prejudice
Yet, after all the confetti and speeches, we find that our problems remain unsolved regardless of who assumes Presidential office. In fact, some of our problems actually deepen after the politician we supported gains office (as is the case with Black unemployment under President Obama’s leadership). Understanding our failure to understand what politics is and what it should produce, I wrote another article entitled “Political Lessons I Learned From Watching the Godfather.” To summarize I argued that,
“Politics involves power – the power to get the goods, services, treatment, opportunities, protection and outcomes you want for your people, despite opposition. People in power are not moved by appeals to morality and ethics. Powerful people and institutions simply do not speak this language. Their language is one of money, influence, image, property and self-interest. What certain other groups have learned (which seems to be lost on us) is that true strength comes either from building strong independent bases of power and/or wielding the power to promote or threaten the money, influence, image property and self-interests of the ruling elite. Without such power, we are simply barking into the wind. When Black people learn this lesson and implement it in an organized and collective manner, it won’t matter who the president is or what party is in power.”
Drawing from this thinking, I want to suggest in general terms, tactics we need to employ in an effort to wield power and carve out a degree of liberation for ourselves and relief from our continued suffering. In anticipation of all the naysayers, these suggestions are not new; many of our most effective leaders articulated and even implemented some of them. I’m simply urging us to remember and implement these ideas now. I do not mean to suggest any shortcut or tactic that will solve all of our problems immediately or at all.
But I am clear about a few things. Our people still suffer in several ways and fail to organize for empowerment out of fear and/or ignorance; most of our leadership is fragmented and ineffective because it serves corporate and selfish interests rather than ours. The radical political wing that fashions itself the heirs of Malcolm x are disorganized, overly dogmatic and prone to proclamations rather than organized action. They have also proven largely ineffective in recruiting and organizing the masses of Black people.
Meanwhile, the civil rights protest-oriented wing of Black leadership in the Martin Luther King tradition relies too heavily on corporate sponsorship, and routinely fails to challenge the same institutions and “rules” they so reverently depend upon and trust. Both wings of leadership have shamefully betrayed the legacies of X and King, and have failed to demonstrate their level of understanding, commitment and courage. This calamity creates a huge void leaving the masses without inspiration, political education or a sustained and effective social movement of any kind. Trapped in a vacuum of failed leadership, ignorance and fear, large segments of our people turn to social networks, misguided entertainers and disconnected/impotent scholars for inspiration.
There is however, an alternative. “Organize,” as the late Kwame Ture would say. Some of our more authentic organizations or perhaps new ones can resurrect the spirit of Black liberation we have abandoned or forgotten in the following ways:
- Create schools (including online schools) and extracurricular programs that help our children develop into conscious, competent leaders and problem-solvers. Create funding opportunities to support needy college students in particular fields
- Establish free health clinics providing basic health care for Black families, discounted medication, and transportation to and from medical centers for the infirmed
- Organize a movement to have Black people run for political office and wield political power within cities/counties where Blacks are the majority population. Create national political party to consolidate and organize these efforts
- Organize well-trained local Black community patrols that guard against police brutality, and promote safety in Black neighborhoods
- Develop a nationally circulating newspaper/website/media structure that works to deprogram Black people of self-defeating attitudes, habits and behaviors, and that provides important news and information
- Create economic, cooperatives and projects which provide Black employment, goods, and services
- Create an ongoing list of “Enemies of the people” consisting of individuals and organizations whose words and/or policies are offensive and oppressive to our people so that we can challenge them and neutralize their income, image, power and impact
- Develop lines of trade/business and political linkages with our people throughout the Diaspora
- Establish realty companies for the purpose of purchasing land to house our people and establish factories and farms
- Establish publishing companies for the purpose of disseminating information from Black people to Black people without outside censorship
- Teach liberation theology and establish spiritual grounding to our people that teaches Black people to in the words of Malcolm X, “Clean up, wake up and stand up”
Reverend Al Sharpton gave a brilliant speech at Rosa Parks’ funeral in 2005 that speaks in part to the spirit of my article:
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-Span, NY1 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.