In activist circles and via social media, you will hear/read Black people complaining that the larger Black community “Is not supportive.”
Is this true? Is it even practical to expect hundreds, thousands or even millions of Black people to support our efforts? This essay will address these questions.
Yes, it is true. Those we serve are not very supportive sometimes. We invite several hundreds of people to our event, but only dozens attend; We struggle to gather signatures for our online petition with minimum results; People “like” our product on Facebook, but don’t purchase it; People “like” our articles but fail to read or share them with others.
For those of us who invest large quantities of our labor, energy and thought to empowering our people (often sacrificing much in the process), this lack of support can be demoralizing and deeply disappointing.
I speak from personal experience. I’ve given free books to people, who have not written a review of the book as promised. I have created structures to empower our people, and sometimes received little participation. At the university I attended as an undergraduate where I served our people with integrity – I’m referred to as a “legend,” but no one from the organization I led has brought me to speak or consult Black students there once since my graduation 25-years ago. Although my Student activism book does well commercially, it is not supported nearly as much as it should be by college Black Student Unions across the country (for whom I specifically wrote the book).
Therefore I completely understand the frustration other activists feel when they decry limited support from thise they serve. Nonetheless, I want to challenge our notion of “support” in an effort to keep us vigilant in our organizing and consciousness-raising tasks ahead.
First, we must remember that the architects and managers of white supremacy use all the power and talent at their disposal to sabotage Black resistance and liberation. The lack of support we witness from our people is not accidental or incidental, but instigated and promoted by our sworn enemies.
Through spiritual, political, entertainment and cultural institutions they send us the same messages:
- “Accept your inferior status.”
- “Don’t be a trouble-maker.”
- “Your misery is your fault.”
- “If you resist and organize Black people we will slander your name, compromise your ability to earn a living
- “If all else fails, we will imprison or kill you for challenging our system”
The hedonist tendencies of our people (also promoted by this society), along with our ignorance of history and self-hatred, insures that the majority of us will not be supportive of Black liberation efforts. Know this and also know that attracting community support will be very challenging as a result.
We should also dispel the myth that we even need ALL or even MOST of our people to support us. This is a simple matter of probability. All of us have never and will never support one thing. For the reasons stated previously, most won’t either.
All we need is a consistent core minority of our people’s attendance, participation, attention or financial contributions. This level of support is all we need to create significant change. Here’s an interesting fact: Most Black people weren’t active in the Civil Rights or Black Power Movements. A core minority were. Others were sympathetic but not significantly involved. We just need to attract a core minority and another group of those who may not be involved, but who agree with our cause. Over time, some in this second group will join our core minority and thus broaden our influence and power. This is how movements and even consumer trends/paradigm shits occur (Read Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point).
Related to paradigm shifts, we organizers and educators need to stop taking lack of community support so personally. It is far more productive to ask ourselves how our methods of outreach and other personal factors contributed to the poor attendance and participation we decry. Sometimes we blame our community for poor results that in fact stem from poor planning, rushed efforts and failure to understand the culture/circumstances of the people we target.
Lastly, it isn’t fair for us to attack or play the guilt card with community members who are already heavily involved, for not “supporting” us.
As you read this, I am working with others to start a national grassroots organization, writing/revising books, developing political education curriculum and working to create “Liberation Schools” around the country. I also have family obligations and need for rest and relaxation. This means I have little time to support or participate in the hundreds of events/projects to which I’m invited. In no way does this imply I am a hypocrite or self-absorbed. I write for several others as well.
In conclusion, allow me to summarize:
- Black people are programmed not to support empowering projects and products. We must find creative ways to work around this and avoid becoming frustrated.
- We don’t need all or most of our community to support us. All we need is a core minority and some who symathize. History overwhemingly supports this point.
- We must understand that some in our community are already very active and seeking support themselves.We cannot expect people with limited time and resources to support all of our projects in addiion to their own. To offset this, we can combine our efforts and work together around simlilar projects/products.
- Don’t simply attack the community for being apathetic; examine if your methods, tone and personality account for poor community support.
- Always remember that everyone does not share YOUR interests or consciousness. It is your job to cultivate this interest. Also recognize that people generally don’t support things that don’t interest them.
- Some people’s support or participation is toxic and compromising. It’s better to attract a sincere minority than a large gathering of mischief-maker’s.
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.