With the month of November now upon us, we recognize two days which have special significance (depending on whom you speak with): Thanksgiving (according to the conventional narrative at least), and Black Solidarity Day.
White settlers of the “New World” first celebrated Thanksgiving in 1621. To say the holiday is culturally embedded is an understatement. Evidence of this lies in our ready familarity with turkey & stuffing, sentimental tales of vulnerable pilgrims and helpful Native Americans, championship college football and the annual Macy’s parade – complete with TV-themed balloons, triumphant marching bands and ceremoniously decorated floats. You can turn to Wikipedia for more of that his-tory at your leisure; This essay concerns itself with the far less celebrated yet far more relevant Black Solidarity Day (BSD).
Celebrated annually on the first Monday of November (today), BSD is a uniquely Black observance practiced in the United States beginning in 1969.
Community groups, families and Black Student Unions around the country often recognize this important observance in limited and superficial ways (like wearing all-black clothing for example).
BSD however, has its roots in the Black Power Movement of the 60s and 70s which was anything but superficial. Despite media depictions to the contrary, this Black Nationalist movement galvanized Black community folk, intellectuals, college students and activists/organizers under basic principles of Black Nationalist ideology. These principles and practices included self- determination, self-reliance, Black solidarity, self-defense, cultural re-identification, the creation of independent and Black-centered institutions, a critique of normative white values/standards, Black pride, and a call for relevant education and history, among other things.
In this fertile intellectual cultural and political soil, Black people in the United States questioned our relationship to this country along with its multi-century mistreatment of us, and we seriously discussed and implemented ways to redefine that hegemonic relationship. Some even worked to cultivate groundings with our Diasporic brothers and sisters throughout the world.
It is within this context that Douglas Turner Ward – a co-founder and director of the Negro Ensemble Company – wrote a one-act play entitled “A Day of Absence.” The play debuted at New York City’s famed St. Mark’s Playhouse in 1965 and continued for over 500 performances, later earning Ward the Drama Desk Award. The play explored the social, political and economic impact that might befall the U.S. if Black “citizens” suddenly disappeared. The play dramatised how Black absence would bring U.S. industry, commerce, and culture to an abrupt halt, thus demonstrating how vital Blacks were to the success and productivity of the United States.
By 1969, then Brooklyn College professor Carlos Russell and others, inspired by the popular and controversial play, called for Black people to observe what he called “Black Solidarity Day.”
Blacks were asked to:
- Refrain from attending school or going to work.
- Wear all -Black clothing.
- Boycott white businesses and industry.
- Attend educational/cultural events addressing Black power and liberation.
Russell and others felt these activities would demonstrate our collective strength and value to ourselves and the modern-day robber barons of the United States (corporations).
Black Solidarity Day predated calls for “Black Fridays,” “Cyber Mondays,” and other contemporary demands that arose from our resistance to the racist state-sanctioned killings of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and countless other brothers and sisters.
If ever we needed Black Solidarity, we need it now. There is too much divisiveness over petty concerns and a general failure to work together despite minor disagreements. Yet our righteous indignation over state-sanctioned murders, the criminalization of our people and the cruel devaluation of Black life coupled with an ongoing withdrawal from oppressive institutions and consumer habits are excellent forms of recourse for Black folk in 2015.
Today, I hope we proudly wear all-black clothing, take a day off from work and school if possible, participate in Black liberation events, and refuse to economically support those who persecute us. Black Power and Black Solidarity!!
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 lead. 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.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.
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.