I took a good look at my body today (not in a creepy way). I began marveling at how precise, organized and efficient it is. Composed of muscles, bones, nerves, organs, arteries, and veins, it is an organic system in which different parts serve specific purposes, all while working together as a unit. This got me to thinking about the Black community and how it too is like the human body, though not nearly as efficient. I’d like to share these thoughts with you.
The human body has numerous systems working together to maintain the body’s health. For the purposes of this article, I will highlight 4:
Our muscular system makes work and movement possible. Interestingly, muscles used continuously become stronger and more agile. Rarely used muscles atrophy (shrink) and become weaker.
A bunch of systems that exist separately, that are divided and uncoordinated would result in chaos and dysfunction. So our nervous system oversees and coordinates all the other systems. It does this through a complex yet effective system of communication with all body parts. It is responsible for helping us accurately understand the environment we’re living in and by regulating our bodies to response appropriately. In addition, our nervous system regulates our body’s ability to fuel itself, rest, and eliminate waste from our bodies.
Our efficient bodies would not last long without a reliable and effective system of defense, however. Our immune system does just that, by attacking foreign and dangerous viruses and by creating a system of remembering its enemies and creating specific defenses against them in the future! Without this system in place, a common cold might render us immobile and in the worse case, lifeless!
Our bodies even have a system for insuring our survival as a species in the future. Our reproductive system allows us to produce children with certain characteristics similar to ours in safe and nurturing environment.
You will note that all of these systems work together in a spirit of harmony and equilibrium. How unfortunate it would be for us if organs and other parts of the human body community worked against each other! Imagine if the liver for example, envied the functions and responsibilities of the heart… or the esophagus stopped working because it felt threatened by the brain! Calculate if you will, the catastrophe that would occur if the immune system failed to identify and defend the body against attacks from enemy viruses and instead sought to peacefully co-exist with them!
Fortunately for us, our bodies are programmed by a higher power to maintain balance, harmony and cooperation. The “body” known as the Black community is not so fortunate. We fight for prestige and recognition. We envy the skills or accomplishments of another brother or sister. Our pride and ego lead us to challenge or attack others in the community when their plan is more effective than ours or their argument is more valid. We refuse to recognize and implement sound strategies and tactics because we “don’t like” the person or organization suggesting them. Rather than organizing our community body to defend, empower and reproduce itself, we allow fear, ignorance and competition to cloud our better judgement and by so doing, compromise our collective survival and development. Rather than removing our toxic waste (compromised, incompetent or fraudulent leadership, dysfunctional behavior, or ineffective/illogical strategies, philosophies and tactics) we defend them, make excuses for them, and allow them to continue wreaking havoc on our community body.
As if allowing toxic waste to exist wasn’t bad enough, we compound the problem by rejecting and alienating competent, conscious and committed members of our community body simply because their gender, sexuality, spiritual beliefs or style of dress doesn’t suit us. Economically, we support other community bodies hostile to us, but starve our own to death by failing to support our indigenous and righteous artists, business owners, intellectuals, and activists. Cowardice and opportunism leads some of us side with and defend our KNOWN ENEMIES, while making US more vulnerable to attack. We are all familiar with the AIDS virus which has killed millions of our own in mega-epidemic proportions. But we fail to realize how has created a condition of sociopolitical AIDS (because we’ve refused to organize our community bodies to defend against repeated and escalating police/vigilante violence, we have no effective and functioning immune system to protect us from such attacks. Consequently, our attackers continue to mistreat, maim and murder us, then patiently wait for our marches, rallies, and candlelight vigils afterwards). Taken together, we have a situation in which our community bodies will either die from the blunt trauma of external attack, or rot from within due to political atrophy, toxic infections caused by waste, or internal “organ” failure caused by an inability of our community body parts to work in harmony.
Perhaps we can learn some things from our personal bodies. Maybe we can emulate such systematic precision and effectiveness for our own survival and development as a people. In short, we need to have competent leadership to coordinate and strategize; the capacity for doing work and creating movements that sustain and empower us; a system of transmitting values and skills to produce competent and committed leaders and problem-solvers long after we ourselves die; and finally, we must develop the capacity to effectively protect and defend our beautiful people, culture and history without apologies to anyone!
I can hear our ancestors saying to us, “We fought, died, killed, and sacrificed so that YOU would be free. The doors of liberation are open. Who will come?”
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.