I have found over the years, that the people who make the greatest impact on society are those with passion and vision who are willing to take calculated risks and able to organize others to join them.
Movements target and seek to involve the masses, but ultimately begin with a committed and relatively small core group. This core group articulates and promotes the vision, while implementing this vision on the ground. Slowly and over time, the masses begin to join the movement, inspired by their growing consciousness, repressive actions or policies of the state, and/or other experiences that politicize and radicalize them.
I often hear fellow community organizers express disappointment or bitterness when their meetings are not packed with people or when community members don’t seem to become maximally involved in “the movement.” When we allow these emotions to dominate our thinking, we have committed a serious but common mistake in the arena of community organizing and movement building. As a study of any Black social movement will clearly demonstrate, we are seriously mistaken if we believe that all or even most Black people need to or will assume leadership.
This dynamic even exists within the community of Black folk who are considered “conscious.” Brother Malcolm once shared a powerful parable about “House Negroes and Field Negroes.” His point was to show how middle class or more privileged Blacks were more likely to defend and assimilate with the oppressor than less privileged Blacks who were treated more harshly and who received less benefits from the system of white supremacy. I have a different point to make regarding two different classes of Black people: Those who are truly conscious vs. those who are cosmetically so (remember that being conscious not only involves being aware of yourself and your environment, but being able to act or respond appropriately to your environment. In other words, consciousness is both cognitive and practically functional). To make my own point clear regarding the so-called “conscious community,” I share a parable called “The dynamite sticks and the fuses.”
We have millions and millions of dynamite sticks in the Black community. By this I mean people who are dissatisfied with things as they are, see and understand the problems, and want things to change. As dynamite sticks, they are loaded with powerfully explosive thoughts and feelings. They have tremendous potential to think critically, and confront the circumstances that rob our people of human dignity, safety, and liberty.
Unfortunately far too often, their beliefs and actions do not correspond. Dynamite sticks will angrily denounce racism but never join an organization or become involved in a sustained movement to alter racist policies and practices. They will clap or shout enthusiastically when listening to a dynamic speaker; They will read and quote books, digest political documentaries and articles, and post the most insightful pictures, and diatribes on social media platforms. In public spaces, they may swear up and down how disgusted they are with white supremacy and the treatment/status of Black people.
Despite all of their political comments, quotes and studies however, dynamite sticks never start or join a community organization/program, attend regular meetings of any, or lend their considerable talent/energy/insight to the movement for Black liberation. They do not return calls or follow up on their promises and commitments. They leave a string of tasks unfinished. These dynamite sticks will identify 500 reasons why a tactic won’t work, or why they cannot become involved. they only make personal or individual statements rather than organized and institutional ones.There are several reasons for this seemingly contradictory behavior. They may be undisciplined, conflicted, fearful, or fraudulent. Nevertheless, I do not condemn or judge such folks. I’m just describing them.
We also have within the Black “conscious community,” a relative minority of people who just like the dynamite sticks, are dissatisfied with oppression,. have outside responsibilities, challenges, personal concerns and flaws.The critical difference is that these people find ways to work around or through their personal obstacles and fears. These are the fuses. When they hear or read bullshit they challenge it strongly, in public and private. When these folks witness acts of police brutality, or see their people living on the sidewalk, or see our children being educated to be underachievers and modern-day slaves they make a commitment to do something about such occurrences. These fuses reorganize their lives and schedules to address these concerns, and they do so despite their own fears, health, financial situation, daily schedule, etc.
Fuses are compelled to connect with and help uplift, educate and empower their people regardless to whom or what. Rather than searching for excuses not to get involved, they sincerely find ways to get and remain involved. They are visionary, irreconcilably dissatisfied with oppression, and remember, they are the minority of people. However this small group has the power to ignite the masses of our people to take the actions needed to reclaim our humanity and power.
For this reason, I no longer spend too much time trying to organize idle, conflicted or fraudulent dynamite sticks. I’m looking for the fuses. Everything else will take care of itself….
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. In 2015, he wrote My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Race, Politics, and Culture. 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. He is the founder and coordinator of Harlem Liberation School and the YouTube channel Black Liberation University.
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.