There is so much to concern ourselves with in a society characterized by injustice, political compromise, and repression. Naturally, people seeking social justice, political empowerment and “liberation” focus much of our efforts on external factors and situations (employment/graduation rates, racism, sexism, oppressive institutions, discrimination, etc.) Certainly, we cannot meaningfully conquer social ills without identifying and confronting them.
Yet we sometimes forget to maintain the balance so necessary to being complete and healthy human beings. My study of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements helps me understand that while much was done to raise consciousness, identify/expose/confront opposition forces, and build alternative ideas and belief systems, activists calling for revolution and solidarity had little time to address their internal/personal needs or those of the “flock.” People were expected to make personal sacrifices of time, sleep, and family. The “struggle” sometimes became so overwhelming that some good people in the Black liberation movement suffered great personal pain.
Once in graduate school, I was feeling very sick and fatigued. This was partly due to the rigorous academic nature of my doctoral program. Looking back, I realize that I missed my friends and family, and felt surrounded by insincere and insecure students with no interest or background in Black liberation. Their idea of struggle was publishing scholarly papers and presenting at conferences. Unlike my experience as an undergrad or Master’s student, the people here were young, careerist and highly clique-oriented. And this was at an African-American Studies Department! One day a professor in my department (who would later spearhead an effort to unfairly terminate my funding) asked why I missed a class. I explained how I felt and what I was experiencing. To my surprise, he angrily responded: “You students are too soft. The Department coddles yall too much. When I was coming up, we were engaged in revolution. We didn’t have time to worry about how people felt or to address their personal problems. We were trying to change the world!” What he didn’t realize is that because of such insensitivity and imbalance, some of his contemporaries of that time suffered nervous breakdowns, killed themselves (or others) ruined families, became drug addicts, domestic abusers, or predators of the (Black) people they vowed to help.
This speaks to our need to maintain healthy balance in our lives. Organizing and activism should stem from a place of concern and love for people, freedom and justice. Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara noted, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” Yet constant soldiering against hostile forces and people can, if we’re not careful, make us bitter and insensitive. We who fight to make a better world cannot allow this world to sabotage our love or balance; we must have strategies for guarding against self-righteousness, rigid thinking and becoming jaded.
I certainly don’t have all the answers regarding this. But these are the things that work to bring me peace and balance. Perhaps you’ll find some of it useful as well:
- Meditation, prayer, or ancestor invocation
- Taking time to identify and celebrate victories
- Giving thanks for blessings
- Listening to music I enjoy
- Realizing that no matter what we do, there is always more to get done
- A daily walk
- A verbal fast: A designated time when you don’t speak to anyone
- A food fast
- Writing, reading and performing poetry
- Quality time with loved ones
- Playing chess
- Receiving and giving a massage to your mate
- Adequate rest
- Reading inspiring and relevant scripture
- Watching a quality comedy movie/show
- Spending fun time with close friends
- Laughing at myself, my quirks, my mistakes always helps
- Telling people “No” sometimes
- Leaving hostile people and experiences
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.