Reflections on My 47th Birthday….

Today makes 47 times around the sun for me. I’m so full of gratitude. Every year I receive a flood of phone calls, texts, and Facebook timeline messages from friends, relatives, former classmates, and comrades in the struggle for Black liberation.  Needless to say, such salutations are touching and deeply humbling. I interpret these to be basic expressions of respect and love, and make no mistake, there is no feeling like being appreciated….

Yet this feeling is mixed with a tinge of sadness. Many beautiful people including friends, mentors, and family members either are no longer here or didn’t make it to this age. Some of them, like my dad and grandparents would be so proud (I think) to see how I’ve developed over the years, and managed to overcome quite a few personal and professional storms in my life.

I also made touch decisions to sever relationships with a few friends and love interests throughout the years who I believed were toxic. While these were deliberate and self-managed decisions, it was still sad to let some people and energies go – initially. We develop connections to people and powerful memories even with those with whom we experience disharmony. I wish them all well and hope they’ve matured and gone on to be fulfilled. And let us not forget: even toxic people exhibit various degrees of beauty and goodness.

I also feel tremendous gratitude on this day. I grew up in Harlem, NYC during a time when news agencies reported that people in poor developing nations lived longer than Black men in the United States. I vividly remember many brothers in my hood saying, “I’m 25. I didn’t think I’d make it this age.” Then there was the stroke I suffered two years ago, a condition that came with no pain or forecast, that almost took my life. Partially paralyzed on my left side, and badly slurring my speech, I was blessed to make a full recovery.

As a result, I take no day for granted and no one. I go forward remembering that I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I work every day to be a giant for others one day…..

So what are my reflections on this my 47th birthday? What lessons do I take with me as I go forward?  What are my birthday wishes?


  • Be patient with yourself and with those for whom you advocate. We all have room to grow, and we do so at different speeds and times. Our job is to model the qualities/practices we value and to do the work we are called to do at our highest level.
  • Forgive yourself and others. Just as people have violated us, we are equally guilty.
  • Have the strength to sever relationships with toxic people and free yourself to experience deeper and more fulfilling love relationships and friendships.
  • Suffering and challenge is a natural part of life. Don’t try to avoid it or spend much time complaining. Ride through it, develop character and strength from it, and learn the lessons it provides.
  • Be judicious about how and with whom you spend your time. Surround yourself with people who are motivated, genuine and who respect you.
  • Do the work you are called to do and let no one distract you from your mission. You will eventually reap the fruits of your labor and experience great fulfillment.

Wishlist (This is not a joke. I’m serious)

In parting, I leave you with my official anthem (courtesy of Mos Def)


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-SpanNY1 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

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