As some of you may know, acclaimed Pan-African Nationalist brother Dr. Umar Johnson is a brother using his voice and knowledge to push a strong Black agenda for our people. I listen to many of his unapologetic speeches, which I generally support because they echo brother Malcolm’s call for Black people to “Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!”
Dr. Johnson made a power move recently when he announced his intention to create the Frederick Douglass & Marcus Garvey RBG International Leadership Academy for Black Boys. To facilitate that enormous task, Johnson started a Gofundme campaign to raise $5 million. You can learn more about Dr. Umar’s vision by viewing the video clip below:
Like any Black person who is well-informed, unapologetically Black, and focused on solving problems rather than just talking about them, brother Umar generates a flood of criticism ( I have personally endured this for decades and can strongly relate). Some of this criticism is fair and comes from members of the Black feminist and gay communities) who are offended by some of the brother’s public statements which they describe as blatantly sexist and homophobic. To a lesser degree, he also has some critics from the Nationalist community who question his scholarly credentials and character (I’ll leave that issue for someone else to debate). I do encourage you to view the following exchange he had with a feminist/gay rights advocate during one of his speeches:
I believe EVERYONE should face legitimate criticism, especially those of us who are leaders, activists and problem-solvers. Because of Johnson’s perceived position on homosexuality, Charing Ball – writing for Mademnoire.com – argued that we shouldn’t support his mission to create the new academy for Black boys.
I believe that liberation must be total; it is highly contradictory to wage war against white supremacy while failing to wage war also against patriarchy, class, and sexuality-based oppression.
As a man raised in a male supremacist country and world, there is no doubt that I was conditioned to have patriarchal thoughts and behaviors myself. The same applies to me growing up heterosexual in a world where gay/effeminate boys and men, along with lesbian/masculine girls and women, endure ridicule, assault and social discrimination to the point where many commit suicide or live embittered, embattled, and disgraced.
To the degree that I’ve become more sensitive to this issue, I’ve done so from taking classes, reading, and having my thoughts challenged by members of the LGBT community. My beloved uncle who was gay and died of AIDS-related complications, once challenged me on this point:
“You say you love Black people and Black history, right? Langston Hughes was gay. Bayard Rustin was gay. James Baldwin was gay. Hoyt Fuller was gay. Alice Walker is gay…. and so were/are many others openly or otherwise. Many political activists are gay as well, and by the way nephew I’m gay….are you going to wipe all of us out of history? Will you disown all of us as members of the Black community? Are we all sick or living in sin?”
Before you mistake me as some highly evolved brother on LGBT issues, I must say that I still struggle with this issue. I still cringe or shake my head when I see a transgendered person. I still get that WTF look on my face when I encounter a “flamboyant” gay man, or a lesbian couple kissing. (And like many of you reading this) I still occasionally wonder if there is a multimedia conspiracy to endorse and promote LGBT lifestyles. But while I won’t march in a gay parade, or consider myself an activist or spokesperson on those issues, I do understand that people have the right to choose and exercise their own sexual lifestyle. Such people should not face discrimination, brutality or ridicule for doing so. Furthermore, everyone has the right and responsibility to fight oppression however that may manifest (even if that makes other people “uncomfortable). If people are not thieves, rapists, sell outs, serial killers, or con artists (regardless of their lifestyle)…..I can find room to work with them.
How does any of this relate to Dr. Johnson and his school? I write all of this to suggest that LGBT activists have the right to challenge Dr. Johnson or anyone else if they deem doing so is warranted and legitimate. Many of us Nationalists have much to learn in this territory. Perhaps Umar Johnson does as well. In any event, people have the right to challenge him and he has the right to explain or defend his position. In the process, he and people on both sides of the issue may grow and expand their consciousness. If we as Nationalists and Pan Africanists call for “Black unity,” we can’t advocate for, educate, and defend only heterosexual Blacks or those that subscribe to traditional notions of gender.
At the same time, our boys (and girls) do need proper academic, cultural and professional preparation and they will only receive that in independent Black-centered institutions. If that is what Dr. Umar is trying to achieve, I’m with him and he has my support.
If people believe he has some growing to do on the issue of gender and LGBT issues, challenge, debate, and educate him. He and we must understand that homosexuality is not new and is likely not going to end. I’d bet money that some of the teachers, students, and parents involved in the academy will be gay. How will they deal with this reality?
But I encourage us not to sabotage his efforts to build a much-needed learning institution for our children. The education they receive in public schools is destroying their esteem, academic potential, and love of their Black selves and community.
Existing schools led and staffed by our collective enemies have an agenda. They are raising generations of folks who will be non-critical thinkers, and semi-skilled docile menial laborers (or over-achieving and brainwashed middle-class negroes) in a white capitalist system. And all of us who graduated from elementary, middle, or high school and college need to remember that many of those institutions were created and staffed by white folk, some of whom were racist, sexist, and had issues with the LGBT lifestyle.
In the meantime, additional things we should focus on, pertaining to the school include:
- Making sure the money donated for this cause is properly accounted for and handled appropriately
- Making sure the curriculum is sound
- Making sure the school admits students with a range of abilities, backgrounds, and income levels
- Making sure the teachers are excellent and qualified academically and culturally
The times in which we live, mandate that we find ways to resolve our issues while providing the things we need to survive and prosper as a people. True Black solidarity involves getting unplugged. It’s about consciousness and character. Think about it. Again, I encourage you to support Dr. Umar’s efforts to build an academy for our children.
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.