Recently, I wrote an essay calling on Black people to create Liberation Schools all over the United States. The creation of Liberation Schools I argued, was part of a multi-layered approach to resolving the problem of Black Miseducation (in addition to apathy and disunity).
Since then, I’ve had the honor of working with fellow Harlemites to launch the “Harlem Liberation School.”
The objective of this essay is to share with you our first meeting, in addition to what we did/are doing to put this community program together.
In the spirit of humility and practicality, I must begin by reminding us that one program will not liberate Black people. Far too often, Black community activists become territorial over programs or projects they created.
This must stop! There are 35 million Black people in the United States. No one or two programs or organizations can adequately accomodate all of these Black people!
We must abandon our egos and obsessive need for recognition. This limited and competitive thinking threatens to sabotage the Black Liberation Movement. We literally need and can benefit from hundreds of empowering programs in our cities, thousands in our states, and millions throughout the country.
Competitive and self-absorbed solo-act leaders who refuse to “share the stage” are not effective. We need selfless and humble activists/organizers willing to share community space, information and other resources with fellow community workers.
Furthermore, if a program shows promise, if a blueprint or strategy proves effective in our city or section of the city, we should work to share and replicate it all over the city, state and nation, so large numbers of our people can reap the benefits regardless of their geographic location.
This requires that we stop viewing programs as “mine” or “yours” and begin seeing them as “ours.” It also requires that we institutionalize our programs and projects so that they outlive those who created them. If a community program ends with our death, relocation or imprisonment, we have partially failed our people.
Harlem Liberation School held its grand opening on February 8, 2016 (we meet on the second and last Monday of every month). Approximately 30 people attended.
The theme was “The Importance and Power of Black History.” We did an icebreaker designed to introduce everyone and help participants learn each other’s names. This activity worked well. People laughed, relaxed and got to know each other.
Next, we had legendary poet-activist Abiodun from “The Last Poets” speak to us. He had us all laughing and nodding in agreement with his perspectives on education, white supremacy, and Black culture. As an added bonus, he also sold and signed numerous books, CDs and DVDs of his original poetry and took pictures with admiring fans of his music.
After this, we began our presentation. By exploring how the “Wizard of Oz” applies to Black people, we explained the importance of our history. We discussed how we must go beyond using our history for trivia games or a roll-call of celebrities or “Black Firsts.”
To prepare for this opening day, we had to do a number of things which I want to share with you. As I noted in a previous article, the Liberation Schools have flexible structures, don’t need tons of funding to start or maintain, and do not require people with advanced degrees to coordinate them.
- We secured a venue. The founders of Imagenation graciously agreed to give us use of their art gallery called “Raw Space,” free of cost. All they ask is that we make a love offering of any amount.
- To avoid asking people for money, we allow 8 Black vendors to sell their wares at Harlem Liberation School. We charge them a modest $10 vending fee which we give to the art gallery as a love offering.
- Once we secured a venue, we created an online flier using Smore.com. The flier contains our purpose, location, days/hours of operation, contact information, upcoming topic and a downloadable flier. Fliers created by smore.com are excellent because they are interactive, multimedia friendly and easy to edit and revise. You can also easily share fliers on various social media sites, follow the number of views your flier generates, see what links your visitors click and see where your visitors are located around the country and world. Once the flier was completed, we shared the link on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus. At last count, our flier was shared over 700 times and viewed by people all over the country and also in the U.K. and New Zealand!
- After creating this online flier, we designed a paper flier for Harlem Liberation School. We posted and passed out about 500 fliers.
- At the same time we met with various local activists, educators and Community residents to both inform them and enlist their support. Don’t skip this step if you want community support for your liberation school.
- On the day of meetings, we post an agenda, and provide participants with a pen to complete information sheets. We use these sheets to communicate with people that attend, and to determine what skills, knowledge, and other resources they can contribute to Harlem Liberation School.
- We provide an online exit ticket (review sheet/survey) after every meeting (though we forgot to do this at our grand opening). We use this to evaluate how well people understand and remember the information or skills we discussed, to reinforce the information and skills and to receive group feedback and suggestions.
- We’ve begun calling people that attended to get their feedback and to solicit their assistance with planning and publicity.
- Using Mailchimp, we distribute a digital newsletter to our email list of attendees and others to provide a record of our activities and help people you missed the meeting review what we did.
- We constantly promote a warm and inviting spirit. We focus on being inclusive, creative and collaborative. We involve various elements of our community and constantly seek input from participants. We work to avoid senseless rivalry and competition and to focus instead on information, analysis and community action.
As time goes on, I will give updates about Harlem Liberation School. I will also begin posting YouTube clips that detail this particular model and important tips for creating your own. I sincerely hope that Black community activists and organizers around the country look at this model, tweak it to their needs, and begin educating and empowering our people. You can view our Grand Opening here.
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 is the National Director of Education for Souljahs of the People. 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.