So today, April 25th is my 45th birthday. This article unlike all the others is about me. I am a little uncomfortable talking about myself, unless there is a lesson or some instruction involved. Nevertheless, it’s important sometimes to put our own lives in perspective and connect ourselves to humanity. 35-40 years ago my definition of birthday included balloons, cake, music, games, presents, and plenty of friends and family to celebrate with me.
My views about my birthday are now radically different. Rightly so, because it is truly problematic if our views and sensibilities have not changed in 40 years, no? Now, I use this day to reflect, to give thanks for my blessings and conflicts. This day affords me an opportunity to review the past, assess the present, and plan for the future while being grateful for all my blessings and conflicts.
Today friends, relatives and acquaintances on Facebook will send happy birthday wishes. A small circle of close friends and family will provide expressions of appreciation in the form of gifts or invitations to go out and celebrate at their expense.
I take none of these expressions of love lightly; Some of my beloved friends and loved ones did not live to see 45 years of life. I grew up in Harlem, New York during the 80s surrounded on all sides by street gangs, murderous police, random violence, failing schools, and a flood of illegal narcotics and guns. So in a very real way I am grateful to be alive, especially when you consider that I had a stroke just 3 months ago, yet I can still speak, write, and think clearly and I’m not paralyzed.
According to this society I am a middle-aged man nearing the last third of my life. This is the time when I should focus on questions of personal health, career trajectory, mortality and legacy. Although a birthday is seen as a personal matter, I believe it provides us with an opportunity to look beyond ourselves, So I posed a question to myself: Agyei, what do you want, not just for or on your birthday, but in a larger and ongoing sense? This question is paramount because its answer directs my life and beliefs in so many ways. And because this birthday list will not be achieved in my lifetime, it fuels me with limitless energy and motivation. This also has implications and relevance for so many other people. So what do I want for my birthday and beyond?
- The release of all people imprisoned for their political beliefs throughout the world
- Black control of counties/cities with majority Black populations
- A spirit of self-reliance among Black people and other oppressed people that leads us to create our own institutions and solve our own problems without apology
- Black and Brown people being appreciative of our history, culture and accomplishments, and loving ourselves as we are, hair, lips, hips, complexion and all
- A willingness to stand up for ourselves, speak for ourselves, determine our own issues, standards, goals and definitions
- A cease to all wars, (particularly those initiated by the United States of America), the removal of all military bases, the use of that money for education, healthcare and social services, and an understanding that nations will rules themselves without intererence from larger, bully nations
- A cooperative spirit among people to work together in various capacities to challenge injustice and oppression regardless of artificial and man-made divisions and differences among us
- A government and media apparatus free from corporate control, truly representative of its citizenry, and focused on protecting and advancing all people
- A criminal justice system that is fair and that holds members of the powerful elite to the same standards as everyone else
- The disbanding of the Federal Reserve System. It is ridiculous that the Federal government would borrow money from a collection of private financial managers and print essentially counterfeit money, thereby creating a tremendous deficit numbering in the trillions of dollars every year along with inflation
- A class of leadership that puts common people and their needs over their own and that does not sell out or bow to personal comfort, status, corporations, popularity, bribes or threats of death or imprisonment
- An economic Bill of Rights for all American citizens as encouraged by Franklin Delano Roosevelt that articulates, protects and facilitates the right to leisure time, adequate income, housing, medical care, recreation, and retirement care
- And lastly, a Black led, Black financed organization that in the spirit of Malcolm X, works with other organizations to actively/effectively confront injustice and solve our problems
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.