You will notice this article is entitled “A” not “THE” Black Power Outline. This is to connote that it is not the definitive, exclusive, or “divine” plan – just my own thoughts on how to transform our collective condition in the United States.
The reference to an outline, suggests that this is not an exhaustive plan. Everything is not spelled out or filled in here, nor should it be. Use your imagination and intelligence and modify, apply or reject as you see fit.
Finally, this plan is not novel, new, or any indication of some “genius” on my part, but simply an attempt to apply some common sense and draw from great minds of the past. You will also notice that the following remarks draw from a number of my previous articles which generally address the questions of how we are oppressed, why we are oppressed, and what we must do to liberate and empower ourselves.
I conclude that our people (though imperfect like others) are beautiful and valuable. We have the human rights to “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with or without man or a document’s validation or recognition of such rights. This oft-quoted phrase impacts and implies a number of issues (healthcare, incarceration, employment, etc.)
We have an obligation to do everything in our power to continue the fight of our ancestors and ensure these liberties/rights for ourselves and our children.
I conclude that we cannot allow any religion, philosophy or idea to blind us to fundamental truths or realities we know and observe.
I conclude that any faith or philosophy we subscribe to should either advance us in the previously mentioned ways, we should modify them to do so, or abandon them altogether and embrace those that do.
I conclude that it is our primary responsibility to solve our problems, and that we must observe the principle of self determination. We have the right to select the methods, people or resources to acquire power and liberation without regard for what other people think.
I conclude that Black people have a very real enemy – the American empire – who deliberately works to sabotage our safety, advancement, health and liberty. This enemy includes white supremacy, corporate avarice and malfeasance, and government repression as manifested through imperialism, forced poverty, war, hunger, mass incarceration, urban decline, socially engineered fear/confusion, etc. I further conclude that though the architects of this oppression were privileged whites, their modern-day advocates and collaborators are comprised of various social classes, ethnicities/races (including our own) and other designations. So in a larger sense, our “enemies” are those individuals and systems that support, promote or defend injustice, avarice, and oppression regardless of race, gender, or other designations, directed toward Black people.
To be more specific, I conclude that many Black people due to ignorance, fear, greed and compromised values and priorities, collaborate with the policies and practices of the American empire. Also, some whites – though in conspicuous minority – have demonstrated political clarity, integrity, and sustained struggle to expose/challenge the empire supremacy and to refuse its benefits. Therefore I conclude that while it is wise to maintain a healthy distrust of white people in general, it is equally unwise to make concrete assumptions about a person’s political consciousness or character based solely on his/her perceived phenotype or so-called racial classification. History should never be ignored, and history demonstrates that small elements of whites committed to social justice were active in the Abolitionist Movement, Reconstruction, Populist and Progressive Movements, Communist Movement, Civil Rights and even Black Power Movements. History also demonstrates that many of these more radical white elements still harbored feelings of paternalism, opportunism and a stubborn reluctance to respect Black authority and leadership (which explains why we must maintain a healthy distrust until they gives us reason not to).
Given the urgency of our condition and the uphill battles we face, I conclude that we have no time to engage in frivolous, divisive or irrelevant discussions and activities or diversions. We must both stay focused on the urgent goals of Black liberation and dismantling or restructuring the oppressive institutions, policies, practices and values/priorities of this empire. We must in other words transform this empire into a civilization or if necessary, create an entirely new civilization of our own.
I conclude that this American empire is highly organized, well-resourced, intelligent, highly effective and able to transorm itself as needed. No one tactic, philosophy, charismatic leader or organization is powerful enough to restructure or defeat this empire. We will need to collaborate and strategize with various ellements of our own community and others to accomplish this monumental task. This includes Black people and others of different faiths, political ideologies, social classes, etc. We must draw on our various resources (information, finances, leadership, skill sets) and learn the arts of prioritizing issues, grassroots organizing and coalition-building.
Finally, I conclude that even if we don’t read another book, view another documentary, listen to another speech, take another class or attend another conference, we have enough accumulated knowledge, experience and skills to do something right now to empower and liberate ourselves.
If you find all of this to be irrelevant nonsense, you can of course choose to disregard it. If however, you find the following ideas helpful or even partially valid, then teach and apply them. The true credit in my opinion, goes our brave and committed ancestors who fought for Black liberation despite the personal challenges and restriction they endured. Some were thoughtful enough to create and leave ideas and examples for us to utilize build upon.
Now that my disclaimers and introductions are done, let’s journey together in thought to explore the thinking and actions I conclude are required for our freedom and empowerment.
In a society that uses enormous resources to keep Black people confused, bitter, disorganized and powerless, any discussion of how to reverse or eliminate such conditions is extremely important and radical. So I hope you will continue reading and apply what you find useful.
On August 3, 1857, Frederick Douglass delivered his “West Indian Emancipation” speech. Most people only quote two paragraphs of his speech, because they speak so well to the nature of resistance.The truth of Frederick Douglass’ famous words concerning power and resistance continue to resonate with truth and relevance, and we should keep these words ever present in our minds:
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
In this spirit, allow me to suggest that:
1. While many human beings speak of “humanity,” Black people still are more impoverished, incarcerated, stigmatized, and disproportionately victimized than all other people in the United States (despite actual and perceived progress). Blacks fight for “humanity,” while few seem to fight for or even acknowledge ours. Given this reality, we need people who advocate for Black advancement and liberation without apology or explanation to anyone else. In the old days, such people were referred to as “race” men or women.
2. We all have adopted various religious and political philosophies which sometimes are at odds. But regardless of this, Black Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, atheists, those who practice indigenous African religions, capitalists, Marxists, nationalists, etc. at any given moment face police brutality, failing schools, health issues, poverty and racism. It is easy to say the oft-repeated slogan, “We must learn to work together to resolve our problems and uplift our people.” However this implies that we understand and implement a strategy brother Malcolm suggested and what Dr. Maulana Karenga terms “Operational Unity.” This means that we organize around ideals/issues that a majority of us value and agree upon, then create institutions, movements, and projects where we actually work together despite our differences to create change and empower ourselves. Chancellor Williams in his classic book, “The Destruction of Black Civilization,” warned us about the dangers of continued disunity: “Just as it is in the case of Africa and Black people everywhere, the central problem of over 30 million Blacks in America is unity…The picture of several thousand Black organizations, each independent and vying for leadership, is substantially the same picture of fragmentation and disunity in Africa that led to the downfall of the entire race. We have often seen that even in earlier times very often all that was involved was that somebody wanted to be the “head,” was not getting there fast enough, and therefore, organized his own little state. Most of them perished, picked off one by one. The same thing will happen to any Black organizations, standing alone, that disturb the white mind.”
3. We have lost many of our youth who have been seduced to ignorance, violence, apathy, indifference and materialism because we’ve failed to properly guide them. and create support systems to help them succeed. We cannot depend on public schools as they do not exist to properly prepare our children to become leaders and problem-solvers for our people. These schools prepare our children to be obedient low-wage workers for other people or cheap labor in American penal institutions. We must organize leadership training programs, community centers, homeschooling programs, independent schools, Saturday schools, and Rites of Passage programs and parenting classes to rescue and reclaim our youth.
4. Traditionally Black working class communities are under serious attack. Gentrification has diluted our political and cultural power in communities around the country with an influx of entitled whites and Bourgeois Blacks who rob such places of their cultural and political integrity. We must begin an aggressive program to purchase property, develop and maintain our cultural institutions, and create financial institutions like community credit unions and foundations. Such institutions provide the money so necessary to start community cooperatives/businesses, provide employment and redevelop our communities.
5. Wealthy and socially conscious Black entertainers, athletes and professionals must be organized, politicized, and called upon to invest some of their wealth and networks to help build quality Black schools, realty companies, supermarkets, lobbying groups, hospitals and other institutions/programs so vital to true community development.
6. Black people continue to face unbridled brutality at the hands of racist/fascist police, white vigilantes, and predatory Black people. Like Robert F. Williams and Malcolm X, I support the right of our people to protect ourselves and our families from such victimization. Every time a cop for example, kills one of us, is exonerated, and keeps his/her job, it sends a message that we are not valuable and that we are “easy and unprotected prey.” Prayer circles, candlelight vigils, tearful funeral testimonials and marches have not made a dent in this issue. Therefore, we must develop the capacity to defend and protect our communities from those who prey on them, regardless of their race or job title. It is shameful that we neglect to do this out of fear or cowardly interpretations of scripture. If gang members can intimidate and terrorize Black communities, if Black military officers can fight and kill for American interests all over the world, perhaps someone should organize and politicize them to use that same energy to protect our own men, women, children and elders. Contrary to popular opinion, our lives are just as valuable as anyone else’s. Perhaps we should patrol and protect our own communities.
7. Our identity and citizenship extends beyond local, state and national boundaries created by men. We are African-descended people (although largely disconnected from African values and practices) whether we admit it or not. In the Pan African tradition of Garvey, Nkrumah, Sekou Ture Malcolm, and Kwame Toure, we must establish business and political relationships with black and brown people in Africa and throughout the world. We should also take an active interest and actively participate in anti-imperialist causes, starting with those in our motherland. An international presence and network will prove mutually beneficial in several ways. We certainly cannot afford to adopt America’s definitions of “enemy” or “ally” as our own. This is a sure way to alienate people and nations who truly support our initiatives, and tie us to those who aid in our continued oppression. The time has come for us to accurately understand who the true “terrorists” and champions of freedom are.
8. We must understand how politics really works, and understand how we’ve historically made “progress” in America. Politics has little to do with morality or ethics, but with power, money, propaganda and leverage. National elections in my opinion, are a complete sham designed to create the illusion of choice and inclusion. The fact that party politics don’t seem to produce benefits for us commensurate with the time, money and energy we invest in them, should indicate this fact. We should definitely control local politics in territories with a Black majority, and we should seriously study the deceased Mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s plan for Jackson, Mississippi which was developed by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. In places where we are not in the majority, we must amass and use wealth and power to make the elite do our bidding. How? By posing a threat to or supporting their image, comfort, safety, plans, or finances and by disrupting their ability to operate normally. Check history and see if I’m misleading you.
9. Notwithstanding religious doctrine, comic books, sci-fi thrillers, or cults, it is abundantly clear that no one man or woman has come to save Black people or has the power to do so. What is required here is a collective effort utilizing the various resources of different segments of Black people. As much as possible, we should teach and promote the concept of Black solidarity and demonstrate it so people can see what it looks like.
10. Related to the previous point is the realization that no one regardless of how long they’ve served us, how well they’ve served us, their wealth, amount of wisdom, speaking ability, past achievements, number of followers, political title, etc. is beyond constructive and valid criticism. We are human after all, and therefore prone to dishonesty, opportunism, ego and misjudgment. To stimulate this value we should actively create community spaces where we study, discuss and debate the ideas or practices of old and contemporary organizations and leaders. These debates should not degenerate into shouting matches or insult fests. The emhasis should be on understanding and serious evaluation.
11. Many of us know that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution created a new form of enslavement called incarceration. The American incarceration rate grew an incredible 700% between 1970-2005, largely because of the nefarious “War on drugs.” 60% of America’s prison population are people of color. 1 in 3 Black men will be in prison in their lifetime. Then there’s the issue of Black political prisoners, many of whom languish in American dungeons due to their political beliefs, not criminal activity. Once imprisoned, inmates become a very cheap labor force for the American empire. And they don’t just make license plates or repair furniture. Today’s inmates make just about every product you can think of including: headphones, home appliances, office furniture, airplane parts, military supplies, medical supplies clothing, and food products. Many prisons are now privatized. Shareholders earn enormous profits from prison labor without the hassle of strikes, paying unemployment benefits or providing vacation time. The prison industry is indeed a new form of enslavement, and therefore we are compelled to address this major civil, human rights, and labor issue not just by prison reform, but perhaps the elimination of prisons altogether. In the meantime, we must spend significant resources and energy to liberate our inmates, protect their rights, and provide rehabilitation when necessary. When one of us is chained, none of us are free. Eliminating or modifying the 13th Amendment.
12. All multi-national corporations believe in a god and it’s name is profit. Their tenacious drive for expansion and profit has led to genetically engineered food products, electoral corruption, war mongering, environmental pollution, mass unemployment, and the repression of dissent among other things. The people must wage a movement to dismantle or at minimum severely regulate these bloodsuckers. In very real ways, they are possibly the greatest threat to global peace, harmony and health in the world.
13. The fight for freedom, justice and equality must be total. No man, woman or child should be victimized by discrimination, brutality or deprivation. In the truly liberated society, racism, imperialism, class exploitation, patriarchy, or sexuality-based oppression will not exist, or at minimum, will exist with maximum accountability.
14. We must teach our people to value study and research aimed to solve our problems. Knowledge is not something we acquire to win money on a television game show or to become masters of trivia. We must revitalize and/or create Black think-tanks composed of activists and intellectuals who focus on researching our and others’ past liberation movements, leaders, in addition to the blueprints and critical ideas/programs they produced. Times and the tools that accompany them, have changed in some cases, but there is no need to “reinvent the wheel.” Some of our dedicated and effective people and organizations of the past have already done important work and posed effective solutions, that many of us today have not seriously studied, critiqued, and tried to implement! To maintain focus and integrity, these think-tanks cannot accept even one penny from outside corporations, government agencies or universities. These think-tanks will constantly share their findings with community leaders and organizations and make themselves available for presentations/consultation to help these leaders and organizations solve the problems they face, based on strategic thinking and sound analysis.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei 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. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.”
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at email@example.com.