Fighting for Black liberation, or any form of social justice is not simply a sociopolitical or economic fight. Working to challenge injustice and create empowerment is also a spiritual, cultural, and psychological struggle, involving as it does, the decolonization of minds, views, values, and habits. Many great soldiers in this war suffered nervous breakdowns, mental illness, suicide, isolation, burnout and worse, because they were not prepared for the non-political aspects of their activities.
This essay provides inspiration to brothers and sisters out there working to improve the lives and circumstances of others and to everyday Black folk. Because keeping one’s “mind right” is a difficult but necessary task. I hope you find this useful.
1. There are a million issues to join or organize around. Trying to get involved in too many of them will make you ineffective and scatter your energies.Choose one issue you feel strongly about and do your best to be informed and engaged with respect to it. It is far better to be an excellent advocate around one issue than to give a mediocre effort around several.
2. Budget your time and schedule your life. You must take inventory of how to best utilize your time and energy each day to avoid being scattered, ineffective or simply worn out. If you schedule time for rest, study, recreation, etc., you can live a well-rounded life without “stretching yourself too thin.” In this way, you will know what events you can or can’t attend, and what responsibilities you can take on. Never be afraid to say “NO” if you can’t do something or assist someone.
3. Good people, especially activists, are somewhat idealistic; we believe we can change the world, starting with changing people’s way of thinking. This is true! However, we must always realize that all people are creatures of habit. We’ve been thinking, and behaving in certain ways for many years. So when we’re trying to raise consciousness in the community, we must remember that this is a process; it is not a sprint, but more of a marathon. This means we must be patient with ourselves and those we’re trying to reach. The more dysfunctional and counterproductive a person is, or the longer they’ve lived in a culture of misery and defeat, the harder and smarter we must work to raise his or her consciousness. Often, we will find ourselves arguing with the very people we want to assist. Listen, give your perspective, and gracefully bow out from arguing. If what we’re saying is true and wholesome, the truth we speak will play out at some point.
4. Be honest with yourself and see the role you play in all of your conflicts. This level of internal honesty allows you to improve undesirable or counterproductive aspects of yourself, which ultimately allows you to grow and become more powerful and effective. Don’t fall into the convenient but immature habit of blaming your problems on other people. None of us is perfect or without blame. It takes nothing from you to admit when you’re wrong or being immature. Lastly, knowing exactly who and what you are (by taking self-inventory) protects you against the insults of others or their attempts to project their shortcoming on to you.
5. Make time to laugh, be grateful, listen to good music, and enjoy good company.
6. Reserve some alone time for yourself everyday. Use this time to rest, plan, reflect on your day, or meditate, invoke the spirit of your ancestors, or pray.
7. Don’t take everything someone says or does to you personally. If you do, you’ll be fighting and arguing all day everyday. Sometimes people act in insulting or ugly ways because they are tired, ill, or any number of things that have nothing to do with you. It’s okay to say, “I see you’re not in a good mood, so maybe we’ll talk later.” If the person in question is someone you don’t know, like a clerk in a department store or a waiter, simply ask for someone else to help you and speak softly if they yell. Doing this will dramatize that they are the one with the problem and might even get them to calm down. Yelling back rarely works and usually escalates the problem.
8. If you’re going through conflicts in life, always keep the situation in proper perspective. Resist the temptation to exaggerate or blow things out of proportion. Also remember that your conflict is not unique and that several other people on your block, in your city or in the world are experiencing the same or similar conflicts. We tend to become more depressed when we feel that we are the only ones going through a particular conflict. Also, refrain from constantly complaining or giving voice to the problem or replaying the negative emotions you feel in your mind or aloud. Give yourself 5 minutes to be really upset then spend the majority of your time and energy identifying what the real problem is, what factors caused the problem, and then coming up with a plan to resolve the problem. As the ancient Chinese taught us, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
9. Keep a healthy distance from people that always have something negative to say or who get joy from deflating your good mood. These people are draining to the spirit.
Good songs that promote tranquility:
I find that good music or poetry really help me to calm down or keep things in perspective. The following are some songs that help me get through tough times. Maybe they will help you as well. Of course, I would suggest that you identify songs or poems that fit your personal taste:
1. “Optimistic” by Sounds of Blackness
2. “Keep on Moving” by Soul II Soul
3.” Sun Goddess” By Ramsey Lewis featuring Earth, Wind, and Fire
4. “Moody’s Mood for Love” by James Moody
5. Breezin’ by George Benson
6. Cruizin’ by D’angelo original by Smokey Robinson
7. “Happy” by Pharrell
8. “Simply Beautiful” by Al Green
9. “Keep Rising to the Top” by Keni Burke
10. “Sweet Thang” by Chaka Khan
11. “Gotta Be” by Des’ree
12. “Zoom” by The Commodores
13. Whenever, Wherever, Whatever” by Maxwell
14. “My Life” by Mary J. Blige
I hope this was helpful, inspiring, and relaxing. Until next time….
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.