This blog, My True Sense (an obvious play on the phrase “My Two Cents), has become relatively popular. Based on the latest stats, my blog has approximately 3000 followers (subscribers who receive email notification when I write a new essay) and is read by folks in over 150 countries and on every continent with the exception of Antartica. An average of 350 people read my blog daily and over 125,000 people in total have read one or more of my posts.
I don’t share this to be self-congratulatory, just reflective and appreciative. I remember the days a few years ago when barely 25-50 people read my blog on any given day.
Over the course of these 257 essays, I’ve been referred to as a “phenomenal writer and thinker,” a “fuc_ing idiot,” and just about everything in between. I’ve received heartfelt gratitude in addition to bitter insults and denunciation.
It dawned on me that most of my essays, like that of many political bloggers, address societal or external concerns. Rarely do we delve into our own lives or motivations. Yet we are human beings with experiences, families, conflicts and motivations. I often read others’ essays, books, and novels and want to know more about the author, aside from their views on this or that topic. Don’t you?
This morning I got to thinking about these issues and my own motivations for writing this blog. I also began thinking about what I gain or seek from writing in general: “What meaning does writing hold for me?” “Why do I feel so compelled and relieved to write?” Allow me to share my observations…
I am awestruck by the power of words. I always have been. Expressing oneself clearly, creatively, and truthfully using only the tools of paper, pen, or laptop is a feat worthy of admiration in my opinion.
As a child, I was fascinated with words, a fascination developed by my parents. As far back as I can remember, I yearned to decode language. I needed to know what words meant and to understand the contexts in which authors used them, and never hesitated to ask.
My mother obliged my persistent questions up until about second grade when I began reading. From that point forward, she responded with, “Look it up in the dictionary. “Her stubborn (and admittedly annoying) refusal to define words for me, led me to develop proficiency with a dictionary. My decoding abilities escalated, though I struggled for some time with understanding those pesky pronunciation marks.
Next, she bought and regularly played word games with me (Scrabble and another board game named “IQ” if I remember correctly).
In addition to building a formidable vocabulary, these experiences allowed us to bond and further instilled in me the value of literacy and language.
Concerning articulation, my mom constantly (and again, annoyingly at the time) corrected my errors of speech. My assumption is that her school training by driven and caring Black teachers in Montgomery, Alabama’s segregated public school system accounts for this.
In any event, I can hear her clearly as I write this: “Where is your football at? Behind the preposition ‘at!’ (her reminder that I wasn’t supposed to end a sentence with a preposition). I now look back smiling, grateful even, at the realization that she left no mispronounced word, or incorrectly stated phrase unchallenged.
She also encouraged me to use very particular words to describe common activities as a young child -a practice which friends, teachers and relatives likely found amusing. Instead of “I have to use the bathroom or do a number 1 or 2, I had to say, “I need to defecate or urinate” (I hear you laughing).
My mother’s attempts to encourage literacy and learning didn’t end with verbal instruction and correction. She consistently led by example as well, and had no problems rolling up her sleeves to review and correct my homework throughout elementary school. Fortunately for me, her discriminating standard met or exceeded that of my teachers.
Mom also made reading a personal priority and habit. I often remember quiet times in our Harlem apartment where she sat on the livingroom couch and pored through voluminous medical journals, encyclopedias and other career-related materials in addition to her favorite magazine, National Geographic. Her enthusiasm became contagious, leading me to read the magazine as well. And not a night passed by during my early childhood years in which she or my dad failed to read me a bedtime story.
Unlike my mother, an excellent grade-school student and Fisk University graduate, my dad didn’t enjoy the benefits of successful school or college education/experiences.
The differences between them went beyond their educational backgrounds. Mom was a 5’2, curvy, studious, independent and shy country gal with big-city longings and old-school southern values.
In contrast, my dad had a lean athletic frame, stood 6’3, and held court wherever he went. A native New Yorker and Harlemite, he literally embodied the famed Black Mecca’s legendary confidence and street-savvy.
Rebellious, sociable and cocky, he became a basketball standout and dapper ladies’ man. He played hoops for Benjamin Franklin High School, a basketball powerhouse at the time, where ballplayers were all-too-often treated as athletes rather than student-athletes. He played on the team with the legendary Earl “The Goat” Manigault, who Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Respectfully referenced as “The greatest ballplayer that never made it to the NBA.”
I remember him recounting to me how his coach, who doubled as the assistant prinicipal, allowed he and his teammates to regularly skip class without penalty and unethically assigned them passing grades to extend their basketball-playing eligibility. Though better regulated, Black high school athletes are similarly exploited and “used” today.
As a result of such exploitation, my father graduated high school with stellar basketball and social talent, but subpar reading and skills.
As he confessed to me, this was a source of shame for him and he
eventually decided to take literacy classes on his own. He later earned his Associate’s degree at the Borough of Manhattan Community College where he served with distinction on the student government. Years later, news that I taught African American Studies at the same college made him beam with pride.
Starting from such an academic deficit clearly motivated my dad not only to further his education, but to become a bibliophile of sorts. His love of African history and Black liberation led him to acquire a small personal library of books on African and African American art and history, which I also used and cherished.
My father often spoke passionately to me about prodigious African civilizations, judicious rulers and courageous/brilliant Black freedom-fighters like Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X. In fact, it was through reading my father’s faded copy of Malcolm X Speaks in 7th grade that I began to study and embrace brother Malcolm’s work, the ideologies of Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism, and to become involved in the Black Liberation Movement.
It is no accident therefore that I became an intellectual, author and organizer. My parents and later my mentors (most notably Dr. James Turner), fueled me with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and committed service to Black people. I encourage you to view a clip of Dr. Turner speaking for himself.
So why do I write this blog, poetry, books or social media posts? Is it to become popular, “build a brand,” become wealthy, attract female admirers/bed partners, display how intelligent or “bad ass” I am, or get a job? Is my intention to compete with other writers and organizers in an effort to prove I’m superior to them? Perhaps I write to display my all-encompassing knowledge of every issue that pops up in the news? No.
I write because my ancestors’ voices and experiences are routinely erased, ignored and misinterpreted. I wriI write to make sense of the world. I write to join the fraternity of Black people that give a fuck. I write because I don’t give a fuck. I write because my parents sacrificed to make sure I could represent myself, “straight, no chaser” style. I write so my daughters call me “daddy” with pride. I write because ideas shape and govern the world. I write because communicating clearly and forcefully is a skill that facilitates organized outrage and resistance to tyranny. I write to decode the societal rules, games, propaganda and other bullshit this society uses to confuse and deceive us. I write to expose the empire, how it oppresses us, and to lay bare its vulnerabilities. I write because countless mentors invested time and energy teaching me to, in hopes that I would continue their radical tradition. I write because when I do so the drab images of life become technicolor movies in surround sound. I write because when I do, water tastes like Sprite, air smells like cinnamon and liver tastes like sweet potato pie. I write for those tortured Black souls too hungry, sick or depressed to do so for themselves. And also for those too fearful, selfish and compromised to write and speak TRUTH TO POWER. I write because I hear the ancestors whispering in my dreams, “Tell our story and continue our legacy. Don’t let our sacrifices be in vain.” I write to give Black people a non-athlete, non-dancer, non-singer, non-womanizer, non-gangsta, non-rap artist, non-idolator of whites, in whom they can be proud. I write to decapitate racist talking heads and put fire under the behinds of their cowardly lap dogs. I write to prove I exist in real-time rather than in a computer simulation. I write to repel poisonous ideas and self-defeating practices. I write to neutralize the enemy. I write to reaffirm and vindicate DuBois, Baldwin, Garvey and Lourde. I write to cleanse and renew myself. I write because my father told me before dying to “Make them bear witness to what I taught you, son.” I write to make a little Black girl proud of her mirror reflection. I write to educate, inspire, rescue and redirect a young generation seduced to sell their birthright for a phatter ass, record deal or “reality” show. I write that maybe one day a Black boy or girl in middle school will be inspired by my words the way I was by Malcolm’s. Finally, I write because BLACK LIVES MATTER, BLACK IDEAS MATTER, BLACK DEATHS MATTER, BLACK VOICES MATTER, BLACK HISTORY MATTERS, BLACK SOLIDARITY and BLACK POWER MATTERS and BLACK LIBERATION MATTERS.
But realizing that’s too much info for my blog tagline, I write to “Raise Consciousness, Challenge Oppression, and Inspire Action.”
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.