Today, April 25, 2014 is my 46th birthday. This article unlike all the others is about me. I am a little uncomfortable talking about myself, unless there is a lesson or some instruction involved. Nevertheless, it’s important sometimes to put our own lives in perspective and connect ourselves to humanity. 35-40 years ago my definition of “birthday” included balloons, cake, music, games, presents, and plenty of friends and family to celebrate with me.
My views about my birthday are now radically different (Rightly so, because it would be truly disturbing if my views and sensibilities hadn’t changed in 40 years, right?) Now, I use this day to reflect, give thanks for my blessings and conflicts, and think about the things I want to accomplish and how I want to improve for the next year.
Today friends, relatives and acquaintances on Facebook will send happy birthday wishes. A small circle of close friends and family members will provide expressions of appreciation in the form of gifts or invitations to go out and celebrate at their expense.
I take none of these expressions of love lightly; Some of my beloved friends and loved ones did not live to see 46 years of life. I grew up in Harlem, New York during the 80s surrounded on all sides by street gangs, murderous police, random violence, failing schools, and a flood of illegal narcotics and guns. So in a very real sense I am grateful to be alive, especially when you consider that I had a stroke 14 months ago, and have made a full recovery.
According to this society I am a middle-aged man nearing the last third of my life. This is the time when I should focus on questions of personal health, career trajectory, mortality and legacy. But although a birthday is seen as a personal matter, I believe it provides us with an opportunity to look beyond ourselves, So I posed a question to myself: Agyei, what do you want, not just for or on your birthday, but in a larger and more humanitarian sense? This question is paramount because its answer directs my life and beliefs in so many ways. And because this birthday list will not be achieved in my lifetime, it fuels me with limitless energy and motivation. This also has implications and relevance for so many other people. So with all of that said, what do I want for my birthday and beyond?
- An oath that adults of color will agree to mentor youth in their neighborhood, place of worship, or school. And that such adults will use my new book, “Truth for our Youth,” or any number of other educational tools to help prepare and empower our young people.
- The release of all people imprisoned for their political beliefs throughout the world
- Black control of counties/cities with majority Black populations
- A spirit of self-reliance among Black people and other oppressed people that leads us to create our own institutions and solve our own problems without apology
- Black and Brown people being appreciative of our history, culture and accomplishments, and loving ourselves as we are, hair, lips, hips, complexion and all
- A willingness to stand up for ourselves, speak for ourselves, determine our own issues, standards, goals and definitions
- A cease to America’s involvement in ALL wars, the removal of all military bases overseas, the use of that money for education, healthcare and social services, and an understanding that nations will rules themselves without interference from larger, bully nations
- A cooperative spirit among people to work together in various capacities to challenge injustice and oppression regardless of artificial and man-made divisions and differences among us
- A government and media apparatus free from corporate control, truly representative of its citizenry, and focused on protecting and advancing all people
- A criminal justice system that is fair and that holds members of the powerful elite to the same standards as everyone else
- The disbanding of the Federal Reserve System. It is ridiculous that the Federal government would borrow money from a collection of private financial managers and print essentially counterfeit money, thereby creating a tremendous deficit numbering in the trillions of dollars every year along with inflation
- A class of leadership that puts common people and their needs over their own and that does not sell out or bow to personal comfort, status, corporations, popularity, bribes or threats of death or imprisonment
- An economic Bill of Rights for all American citizens as encouraged by Franklin Delano Roosevelt that articulates, protects and facilitates the right to leisure time, adequate income, housing, medical care, recreation, and retirement care
- And lastly, an understanding among Black people that we will support – with mind, body, and finances – institutions, individuals and projects designed to defend, educate, liberate and empower us in various ways. With all the money we throw away on frivolous items there is no reason why worthy and committed Black musicians, artists, community leaders, authors, and business people should struggle to survive or be dependent on people and organizations that mean them no good. Buy Black. Help people promote their goods or services. Hire a Black attorney, agent, or accountant. Frequent Black venues. Purchase some books from Black authors. Donate time or resources to Black non profits that work to develop our community.
Oh, and a new laptop wouldn’t hurt either (I’m just serious…LOL)
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 recently wrote his third book, “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.” If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org