Thinking like an Institution-Builder



Where is the Black man’s government?

Where is his king and his kingdom?

Where is his president, his country, and his ambassador, his army, his navy, his men of big affairs?

I could not find them, and then I declared,
“I will help to make them.”

Marcus Garvey

Living as I do in NYC, the city of my birth, forever reminds me of the fast-paced and impatient nature of life. Who waits to boil tea in a pot when we can microwave a cup of water? Why bake a cake when we can buy one from the bakery? Exercise and consume fewer calories to lose weight? Certainly not, when we could surgically remove belly fat or take a pill that promises to dissolve excess weight. Why take the time to really get to know someone romantically, when we can speed date? This society is clearly impatient and obsessed with immediate gratification. In some respects, this is not necessarily a negative idea. But when we apply this thinking to our lives, personal growth, or social justice, we set ourselves up to have impractical expectations, and ultimately to fail.

Pehaps we’ve forgotten wholesome old-school ways of thought on this issue, exemplified by our grandparents’ suggestion that “nothing great is created overnight.” Not only does this advice provide perspective to our ideas about cooking, intimate relationships,and physical fitness, but it also gives a framework for understanding the marathon thinking and organizing necessary for Black liberation.

Our dysfunction, ignorance, in-fighting, dependence on others, and powerlessness are the symptoms of oppressive processes.  These conditions did not appear suddenly, but are the culminative effect of centuries of propaganda and exploitation. Clearly, white supremacy created a process that systematically siphoned our wealth, confidence, family stability, identity, etc. We do ourselves no favors by seeking the easy way out, using shortcuts, or seeking fast and immediate solutions to our collective problems. As our elders taught us, “Easy come, easy go.” Quick solutions and approaches often have little staying power a few lasting consequences. You will not lose 80 pounds, transform your thinking, end bad habits or develop power in  a week. Change of this magnitude is a process.

In the arena of Black liberation, this means that we may have to create organizational plans and initiatives/institutions with a type of marathon thinking whose focus is on long-term and persistent process. We can combat the gentrification of our historic neighborhoods (if we so desire in “post-racial” America). But this will not occur quickly nor cheaply. We can develop a generation of competent, conscious and mature leaders and problem-solvers for our community, but this will require building leadership capacity among them, and this will take time. We can become large-scale landowners, amass political power, wield community wealth, rescue and redirect our youth, become masters of manufacturing, distribution, science & engineering, publishing, and agribusiness. We can rebuild and reconfigure our families, develop powerful institutions, and heal ourselves as a people. But this collective resurrection will take resources, and planning. In other words, this will all require time. Black liberation is developmental; it is a process, not unlike Black oppression itself.

When we raise our children therefore, build our institutions, develop our programs, amass our wealth and political power, we must think about 25, 50 and 100 years from now. This does not mean that we wait around and stay idle or refuse to act on immediate issues. We have no time for procrastination, laziness, or pie-in-the-skies schemes. We must adequately respond to the issues at hand, whatever they are.

My simple point is that the days of last-minute, half-baked, poorly planned initiatives must meet a swift death. We must put aside the hasty thinking and impulsive behavior of immature children. We cannot afford to act out of fear, doubt, desperation, or default. Nothing less than mature, confident, competent, strategic and well-informed institution and nation-builders will guarantee the immediate survival and long-term development of Black people. This is the thinking that guided our ancient and even more recent ancestors who distinguished themselves by producing great literature, art, architecture, inventions, organizations law and spiritual foundations that we have yet to duplicate or exceed. We cannot prepare our children simply to get jobs, but to develop and influence industries. We must move from community medical clinics to community hospitals. We must own land, intellectual property, patents, and trademarks. We must build and manage institutions that educate, train, protect and sustain our people, and the service and staff must be excellent. This level of thinking, building and leadership will come not from the sprinters, but from the marathon-types among us. Wiill the strategic, long term planning, institution-building Black people please stand!!


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, contact him at


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