I Ask Black People: What is the Prize?


Peace and blessings, dear readers. I come to you today with a very serious question for you to ponder. Our understanding of this question and our collective answer to it, will have major ramifications for our liberation/civil rights/Black Power agenda going forward. Our answer to this question and our implementation of those answers, will partly determine the future of our people. Quite simply, the question is, “What is the prize?”

To provide some historical context and perspective, our enslaved ancestors might have seen the prize as the ending of enslavement in America. But they inevitably saw the limitations of this answer after the 13th Amendment was passed, and their exploitation transformed from being chattel slaves to being sharecroppers without land or property and victims of convict leasing.

Those who were disenfranchised and could not vote might have viewed the prize as the right to vote. They too, likely saw the limitations of their vision once grandfather clauses, gerrymandering, and literacy tests were implemented to rescind this right.

Those Blacks who languished under a century of Jim Crow laws – Apartheid American style – saw the prize as being the elimination of segregation in public facilities and schools. They likely applauded the Brown vs. Board Supreme Court decision and the victories of the Civil Rights Movement’s attack on segregation. But their applause was premature, as they discovered schools were just as segregated 30 years later, their children performed dismally in public schools, and all the Affirmative Action policies designed to aid them were now used by whites to marginalize them once again.

Participants of the Black Power movement, specifically radical college students, intellectuals and activists partly saw the prize as the development of Black Studies Departments and Black Student Unions on college campuses, along with the establishment of independent Black political/educational/artistic institutions and the development of conscious Black elected officials, intellectuals, and professionals. They too surely cringe in disappointment as they see Black Student Unions largely become social clubs or true Black Studies fighting for its very existence while the others operate more like traditional academic departments and centers for vulgar careerists rather than the center of radical Black theory and community think tanks they were envisioned to be. The leaders of Black radical political thought that were not killed, imprisoned or co-opted,  are now old and desperately calling out for younger conscious leadership that doesn’t seem to hear their call.

In 2008, millions of Black people saw the prize as the election of Barack Obama, a Black man to the presidency. Over 95% voted for him as his politics of hope and change, only to see him become the charismatic face of American imperialism.

Perhaps the genre with the most potential for revolutionary energy – Hip Hop – has largely become mute on questions of social justice and liberation, clearly steered toward the yellow-brick road of materialism, misogyny, hypersexuality, fratricide and obsessive self-love.

As professor Michelle Alexander suggests in her book the New Jim Crow, we’ve abolished slavery only to see millions of our brothers and sisters criminalized and locked away where they work almost for free in America’s ever-growing prison population.

Even the school reform movement is dominated by corporate charter schools by with condescending views of our children, ulterior motives and draconian disciplinary procedures.

So what, Black people is the prize for us today?The accumulation of assets and capital? Independent institutions? More “Black” elected officials? Jesus’ return? More college graduates? A large Black middle class? Better schools?

Whatever our collective response to this question is, I pray that we will consider the question itself very seriously against the backdrop of all our hopes and dreams in the past. I hope we will consider all the legislation, political movements, elected officials and ministries before answering. Because in my humble opinion, we’ve been duped at every historical moment when it relates to “the prize.” Our future in this country and that of our progeny, calls upon us to answer this question comprehensively and wisely….


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-SpanNY1 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 to your organization, please contact him at 872-222-6764 or truself143@gmail.com

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