June, 19, 2015
Dr. Umar Johnson:
Days ago, I wrote an article in which I supported your mission to create the Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey RBG International Leadership Academy for Black boys. I hope you will read my article of support at the link above when time permits. I also hope you will read an article critical of you which I referred to in my own article.
As you will note when you read my article, it was balanced and fair. I referred to you as “a brother using his voice and knowledge to push a strong Black agenda for our people.” I included a link to your Gofundme page and encouraged people to support you. I included video clips of you speaking for yourself. I addressed concerns from some in the Black community alleging that you are sexist and “homophobic.” I attempted to argue that Black folk representing these concerns have a right to raise questions with you and even challenge your positions, but that we should still support the proper education of our children and your mission to build a new academy. I specifically supported your institution-building and educational endeavor rather than you specifically, because I didn’t think our people should see this as personal issue specific to you, your personality, academic credentials, fundraising methods, speaking style, etc.
Over 2,000 people (at last count) read that article, and I’ve naturally received a number of supportive and critical responses. Of those who were critical of you, some sent selected video clips of you and raised questions concerning your level of humility, gratitude, transparency, accountability and strategic plans for the school. I should add that many of these people are themselves credible Black activists, educators and organizers with a long and deep record of service to our people. They are not “Uncle Toms,” “sell-outs” or to the best of my knowledge, informants or agents. I myself am a fellow Pan-African Nationalist. As such, we believe that no one is above legitimate criticism, and members of our community have a right and responsibility to raise questions whenever someone takes the mantle of leadership, endeavors to speak for us, or asks us for financial contributions. I write to you humbly asking you to respond to the following questions/statements raised from our brothers and sisters concerning your plans to build a new boys academy.
One brother who responded to my article of support for your academy, sent me a link of you on a talk show:
In this audio clip, a sister asks you questions about transparency and financial accountability (“How do we know how much money you raised?”) and we hear you ask the show host to take a break, adding that the sister is “a reactionary.” The sister didn’t seem to be accusatory or disrespectful, she just asked a valid question.
Question 1: Do you have a transparent system of financial records or accounting that allows supporters to know exactly how much money you’ve accumulated without having to depend simply on what you say? 1a.How much as of this date have you raised via check, cash and Gofundme, and how much additional money do you need? 1b. Why did you cut the sister off from her legitimate line of questioning and refer to her in such a derogatory manner?1c. If for any reason, you are unable to secure the properties you mentioned, how will you use all the monies you’ve accumulated in your fundraising campaigns?
Another brother who happens to be a committed and credible activist in Detroit shared the following video clip with me upon hearing my support for you:
In this clip, you come off as arrogant, mean-spirited and ungrateful for the small contributions some in our community made to your fundraising effort. I watched it at least 5 times and was quite honestly, shocked by your words and spirit. Such words and spirit seem contradictory to your status as a spokesperson or leader for Black people. Like the previous clip, this one makes it difficult to get people to support you or your efforts. Some have said you sound entitled, callous, money-grubbing and self-serving. People (including myself) were especially disturbed by your statements “Trifling-ass Black people,” your insistence that people send you monthly payments, and your suggestion that you won’t advise or help (and would even hang up on) Black parents who didn’t contribute to money to your school effort.
Question 2: Can you respond to the above criticisms/observations of your words/behavior in this clip? 2a. Is there anything for which you’d like to apologize?
Another major critique is that you have yet to announce or produce a comprehensive plan of this proposed school (operating costs, curriculum, proposed annual budget, hiring, etc.). If you haven’t yet, doing so might help your fundraising efforts.
Question 3: Do you have a video clip or document that explains a comprehensive and strategic plan regarding the academy? 3a. If so, can you provide that link or document? 3b. Creating a school requires a collaborative team effort. No one individual can effectively raise money, plan curriculum, coordinate hiring, educational materials/supplies and other concerns alone. Do you have such a team or board in place? If so, who is on this board and what are their qualifications?
As I wrote in my previous article of support for your school:
“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.”
Unlike others, I do not believe you are a “fraud,” based on all your previous work, the courageous stands you’re willing to take on our behalf, and the way you respond to brother Malcolm’s call for us to Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!” I do however, believe you – like myself and everyone else – have room to grow and improve. I also believe our people (even those with whom we disagree) have the right and responsibility to question and critique you. Likewise, you as a prominent leader and educator have a right and responsibility to explain, defend, clarify, and if necessary, apologize and tweak your public positions or ideas. This is especially true given that Black people have historically been vulnerable to fellow Black people with ulterior motives, hidden agendas, and disingenuous schemes.
In this sincere Pan-African Nationalist spirit I write to you, and ask that you respectfully respond to the questions posed by those in our community who do see value in independent African-centered education and leadership.
Black power and Black solidarity always,
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.