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If you’ve followed my recent articles on internal challenges and the call to organize, you will notice that I’m laying a framework for effective leadership and organizing. This is so important because Black people are still largely oppressed, impoverished, and suffering despite having more Black politicians, education and technology than at any previous time in our history.
Indeed, these are curious times. 90% of our news/information is controlled by 6 mega-corporations, the United States government may pass legislation to monitor internet activity and share users’ personal information, and police brutality is at an all-time high. Add to this the chronic failure of our public schools to teach Black students, and a prison system that disproportionately affects Black, Brown, and poor people, and you have explored just the tip of the iceberg concerning the problems confronting us in America.
Yet in face of these blatantly oppressive conditions some of our “leaders” in typical house negro fashion, continue to sell us the same tired set of patriotic American commandments: “Go to school,” “work hard,” “pray,” “vote in national elections,” and “trust the system to do its job.” Most of these approaches fail to seriously challenge these systems and moreover, only work for a select minority of us. Meanwhile, the mainstream religious, political, and educational institutions play their parts in selling and justifying such nonsense, and we good citizens go along with it even though our lived experiences tell us such thinking/practices haven’t worked in the past, and do not work now, at least not for the majority of us.
Complicating matters is the unfortunate reality that many of us that do know/understand the situation are unwilling to organize with the people and implement our various theories, philosophies, and methods. And far too many of us that allow artificial divisions, titles, ideologies, and denominations to get in the way.
Based on Black history and culture (or at least my understanding of them) our diversity is not a curse, but a blessing. It insures that we have a deep and broad ocean of resources and perspectives to draw from. Our churches for example always contained people with a variety of talents, ideas and interpretations, and the same is true for our Masonic lodges, community organizations and civic organizations. The only groups within our communities in which all members are identical in belief and practice are cults, which by definition largely cater to their own members rather than the masses. When dealing with a 10-headed monster like white supremacy, we must have the capacity and flexibility of a large and diverse arsenal to defeat it. One type of approach simply won’t be effective.
Brother Malcolm X skillfully advocated for a Black united front approach of organizing in his famous “Message to the Grassroots” speech. Drawing inspiration from the Bandung Conference of 1955 (in which 29 Asian and African nations met to develop a strategy to combat colonialism), he urged Black people to become less territorial and to think in terms of a Black United Front.
Today, we recognize that our battle includes an analysis of gender,class, and imperialism in addition to race, and that oppression is more sophisticated today then when Malcolm lived. The problems we face today can’t be solved simply by “excluding the white man” for we now know that we cannot determine a person’s politics simply using the rubric of race. We have people of color (i.e.Ward Connerly, Larry Elder) whose thinking and behavior join them with the enemy, and whites (i.e. Tim Wise) who are progressive and serious about social change. Yet, Malcolm’s words concerning the formation of a Black united front remain relevant. We can delude ourselves into thinking we will win this war with unilateral leadership, cults, or an organization of identical thinkers and activists. But how practical is this approach in a Black community composed of feminists, socialists, nationalists, religious and non-religious people? How do we win a battle with less than one half of 1% of our people represented and participating?
The days of believing only one organization, idea, or method would save us are dead and gone. That approach only heightens our division, helps the enemy conquer us, promotes rivalry/fratricide and leads to disjointed and disconnected efforts (Study the forces that weakened Garvey’s brilliant movement). What we need is a Black organization that works with other organizations to get things done, rather than arguing among ourselves over differences and accomplishing nothing.
The key words for today are collaboration and grassroots organizing. How is it possible to organize people with such a diversity of beliefs? Just as Malcolm noted, by identifying points of common interest and working together around them. All of our people need to eat, earn income, have shelter, healthcare, legal representation if necessary, adequate education/training, and be protected from brutality and discriminatory practices, right? So we form organizations and work with existing organizations to address these issues, bringing all of our diverse ideas, methods, talents, and resources to the table. This idea of a united front is neither new or abstract. We have tangible precedents for this in the Bandung Conference, the African Union, and the National Black United Front. When we organize in this manner, a strange thing happens. We begin to form relationships and mutual respect for each other despite our differences, and we have multiple resources and people on our team!
I am working with other progressive-minded Black folks to create this type of national organization as you read this. We must resist the propaganda that Black folks can’t organize or that all of us must believe the same thing. Aren’t you tired of complaining about the issues, fighting over petty distinctions and continuing to suffer? Don’t you believe in our right to be free and empowered and our need to work together to make this happen? The doors of self-reliance, collaborative leadership, and social justice/political empowerment 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-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.