In the movie “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the wicked witch of the west lured Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Dorothy into a field of poppies to make them fall asleep. As we know heroin and opium are powerful narcotics processed from Poppy plants. This movie was fictional, but during the 80s and even today, the wicked witch of the western hemisphere really used drugs to ruin urban Black and Brown communities throughout the United States.
This issue is personal to me given that 1) my beloved father fell victim to drugs in his later years and died as a result 2) I was born and raised in Harlem, New York and
personally witnessed the tremendous damage done to families, individuals and the culture of Harlem by the influx of Heroin, Cocaine, Crack and the violence and social disruption that ensued. 3) In 2007, I worked with Azie Faison – legendary former Harlem drug dealer – to write his Essence Bestselling memoir, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler. Last year, Azie and myself provided commentary in A&E’s documentary, Alpo Alberto Martinez: The Mayor of Harlem.
These experiences inform my perspective on the impact of drug dealing and drug usage in urban American neighborhoods. Some popular Hip Hop artists do young people a great dis-service and provide support to the American prison industry by glamorizing their sale of cocaine and other drugs in the hood. On any given song we hear redundant (and often exaggerated) tales of pretty ladies, luxury cars, exquisite jewelry, gun play, and street credibility. In our book, Azie listed the names of people he personally knew that died in the streets from drug-related crimes. He listed the names in one column and these names took up four pages of the book! I did an internet radio interview with Azie Faison which I encourage you to examine.
Seldom discussed in these songs is the havoc that drug dealing lifestyles cause on our communities. The hunger for drugs lead some men and women to become prostitutes, thieves and murderers. Competition for drug sales and protection of territory leads to increased murder. We can’t forget how drug dealing and using often lead to incarceration. About one-quarter of America’s jail and prison population is there on drug convictions. Black and Brown men represent a disproportionate number of the prison population, and due to the thirteenth Amendment, become virtual free labor as they work in various fields for as little as 30 cents an hour.
Additionally, “Crack” was used throughout the 80s and 90s to engineer whites’ rather unsubtle takeover of Harlem and other Black communities. Azie and I note in Game Over, “One part of the Black community was addicted to drugs. Another part of the community wasted away in America’s prisons and correctional facilities. Another segment was murdered by street rivals and cops in the drug war. “ These dynamics lowered property values in Harlem along with its Black population. 15-20 years later, the rest is history.
I encourage you to view Azie’s famous documentary, “Game Over,” and see for yourself just how much damage drugs have done to our communities. Far from being heroes, our misguided young brothers selling narcotics are simply Black pawns in a white drug game….
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.