Understanding the Dynamite Sticks and the Fuses

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….
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 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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

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Tips for Becoming More Effective Community Organizers

Those of us who are community organizers, share both blessings and challenges as a result of the life paths we’ve chosen (or that chose us).

In terms of blessings, we receive the respect and gratitude of our community members, who appreciate our hard work and noble efforts. In addition, we enjoy the personal satisfaction of knowing that our ideas and work educate and empower those for whom we do what we do in the first place.

Lastly, we often establish contacts with business owners, elected officials, philanthropists, and fellow organizers. This gives us access to funding, information, and opportunities which benefit ourselves and others.

Challenges often include long hours, arousing and enduring the envy/persecution of others, and enormous sacrifices in our personal lives.

Nonetheless, we community organizers must set aside time to evaluate our efforts, and constantly improve the important work we do in our communities.

In this spirit of self-improvement and excellence, I offer basic tips for community organizers who represent invaluable community treasures (whether people confess this or not).

I need to emphasize that my insights are informed through participating in successful movements/programs over the years, formal education/sustained study on the subject, and the benefit of receiving mentorship from wise, seasoned and accomplished Black professors, local and national leaders, and beloved elders in my immediate and extended family.

This background makes me neither infallable nor beyond critique. While I’ve recorded victories in the struggle, I’ve also survived my share of misjudgements and defeats.

Despite and because of this, I do bring some degree of integrity and credibility to the subject at hand. My hope is that you will receive this advice with an open mind, determine what works for you, and apply it as you see fit.

1. Focus on benefiting the community, not yourself. If your programs, organizations or events do more for you individually than they do for our people collectively, you will not be an effective community organizer nor an authentic or trusted one.

We don’t want a disconnected assortment of individual superstars; We want to develop championship teams in our community. We don’t want to “pimp,” mislead or exploit our folks for personal gain, because doing so makes us contradictory and reactionary.

2. This tip is directly related to the first. We develop “championship teams” by building leadership capacity in the community. We build this capacity by teaching the skills, information and character needed to help our people empower themselves individually and collectively.

If people are dependent on us or fail to recognize and exercise their own leadership potential, we have failed them. We need viable organizations and institutions, not cults or cliques.

3. Avoid becoming a clique, but learn to collaborate with those that exist. A clique is “a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.” Cliques are unavoidable and impossible to eliminate entirely. Because they do much to divide our community, we must find ways to utilize them without having them contaminate our community building efforts.

4. Know the difference between event planning and building a movement. Events exist in an isolated space and time and do not connect to a larger vision or outcomes involving collective empowerment and challenging internal and societal oppression.

Movements on the other hand, involve collborations among various individuals and organizations around shared interests. They do include specific events, but much more.

Movements include sharing resources, including different segments of the community,  and working to transform values, priorities and practices. Movements are guided by a larger objectives of solidarity, self determination, and conquering oppression. Movements are strategic, long-term and democratic, meaning that no one person decides goals, methods or policies.

Unlike events, movements are developmental and strategic, moving constantly toward a specific outcome that benefits the community.

5. Avoid tribalism and becoming territorial. Our communities and people leading them existed prior to our birth. The people and communities we serve are  not our personal possessions.

Given all the problems that exist, we should encourage new leaders and organizations, not isolate or feel threatened by them. Usually the problem is not the existence of several organizations or programs, but our unwillingness or inability to coordinate and collaborate with them.

6. Share responsibility and the spotlight. One-person operations will never be powerful enough to do all the work neccesary in our neighborhoods. Organizers must know when to get off stage and allow others to shine. They must allow room to nurture and teach others to lead.

8. Remember that “A jack-of-all-trades is a master of none.” Really effective leaders and organizers specialize or focus on one or a few things. This focus allows them to develop true expertise and skill in a given area, making them competent and more useful to those they serve. Trying to do everything oneself usually results in reduced effectiveness and mediocre effort. Rather than using this approach, establish experience and credibility in one or a few issues, and collaborate with others to mutually benefit from your shared skill sets, knowledge and resources.

8. Develop a way to evaluate your effectiveness or success. We must be able to determine if the campaigns, projects or policies we create are actually working. We must develop measureable criteria to determine this. Otherwise, we might mistake being busy for being effective or think we’re succeeding when we’re failing.

8. Don’t waste time and energy trying to convert people or force them to accept your strategy. People have the right to disagree or believe what they choose. Fighting with them drains time and energy you can invest in more productive things. Also, be practical. You don’t need to recruit everyone into your organization or program. Working with a few people who are sincere and committed is more productive than working with a large group that is argumentative or non productive.

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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-SpanNY1 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.

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 truself143@gmail.com.

All Black Organizers and Activists Should Read This!

{Check out my fourth book, “My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Racism, Politics & Culture.” It contains some of my most popular and informative essays from this blog.}

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I’ve been blessed over the last 3 decades to work with students, parents, fellow organizers, intellectuals, artists, schools, and other community institutions in efforts toward establishing empowerment and social justice. We won some campaigns and lost some.

In reflecting on these experiences, I have identified patterns of thought and behavior that characterized the successful and not-so-successful movements. I’d like to share some thoughts wuth Black organizers and leaders that you may find helpful.

In the campaigns that were successful, the people had faith in themselves, were able to unify around common goals, work around their deficiencies, build upon their strengths, resist the temptation to make excuses, and demonstrate great courage and commitment over time.

These empowering attributes led Black college students to literally renovate and strengthen their Black Studies Department, create an award-winning Black Studies library, develop a Master’s Degree program in Black Studies, hire more Black professors, create a state-of-the-art Community Folk Art Gallery, and develop a study abroad program in Africa; The same qualities led working-class Black and Latino parents to remove incompetent and non-motivated principals from power at two elementary schools their children attended; These traits stirred frustrated New York City public schoolteachers to create a new high-performing middle school in the Bronx, NY; These winning qualities galvanized a block of residents in Harlem, New York to take the tragedy of an innocent young brother’s murder and create an annual gun violence awareness event; These empowering qualities took at-risk students at a middle school in upstate New York, and helped them improve academically and behaviorally. Those same students created the school’s first student-run student funded and administered school store providing school supplies and snacks to the student body.

The lost campaigns or broken movements in which I was involved are too numerous to mention. These disappointing experiences however, became a tremendous education in their own right, teaching me lessons I couldn’t learn in school or from mentors alone. These unsuccessful attempts at social justice all involved excuse-making, fear, cynicism, lack of discipline, and divisiveness. From both sets of experiences, I have developed a few observations I’d like to share that might make your own campaigns for social justice more effective.

First off, the people we attempt to organize must understand that their suffering is not “natural,” “redemptive,” or positive in any way. Those who are religious must understand that God does not mandate suffering for anyone. As longtime organizer Ruby Sales notes, “This is poor and inaccurate theology.” She goes on to note, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.”

As organizers, we must dispel the illusion that being poor, powerless, homeless, uneducated, victimized by violence, without adequate healthcare, or living in abusive or negligent homes are natural or inevitable forms of suffering. These conditions are in fact, facilitated by governmental and corporate agencies and our own ignorance and compliance.

As a result, we have a right and responsibility to peace, health, learning, safety, empowerment, and prosperity. Therefore, we must organize, fight, and build. ANY ideology, faith-based or otherwise, that promotes, celebrates, or facilitates our suffering is by definition a tool of our enemies and should be challenged and dismissed (along with those propagating such foolishness).

Related to the first point is our need to acknowlede that that the enemy’s objective is to deceive, mistreat, exploit, degrade, and attempt to control and limit us. If they didn’t operate in this manner, they wouldn’t be our enemies! We must effectively teach our people this point. They should know how others oppress them and how they benefit from our oppression. They should know how oppression negatively affects us and robs us of our right to live peacefully and joyously.

The people we organize should not be shocked or depressed by continued acts of injustice directed toward them. They should instead be righteously indignant and motivated to act in their own interests! Our people should not engage in pity parties or excuse rituals. When they do either of these things, we should gently remind them that doing so only prolongs their suffering and allows the evil empire to remain unscathed. As I mentioned earlier, suffering is a choice.

We must always remind those we organize that there is great power in choosing. We should emphasize that empowered choices lead to empowered thinking and actions. The objective is to transform our people into agents of change and empowerment, not hopeless or self-pitying victims.

In times of crisis, people will cling to the habits and thinking they are most accustomed to adopting. When confronted about being late, unprepared, lazy, or engaging in other self-defeating behavior like refusing to take responsibility for their lives and actions, they will say “That’s how I’ve always been,” or “I didn’t go to college,” or “I didn’t have parents that cared.” This of course is the thinking of those who have accommodated to their suffering or made peace with it.

Our goal is to transform this thinking through our organizing efforts. They must begin to see enriching possibilities in their lives and develop the discipline and commitment to do the work necessary to make those possibilities become realities. There is nothing more saddening than to see a person full of potential, choose to continue living in misery, failure and suffering because they lack faith and discipline.

Speaking of faith, our people must develop unwavering faith in the righteousness of their cause. They also need to have faith in their ability to solve their problems.

Many of our people who participated in liberation struggles during the 60s and 70s didn’t have great material wealth or technology. Nor sometimes did they have much formal education. What they did have were great reservoirs of faith and trust along with a burning desire for liberation.

These triple treasures compelled them to challenge brutal government forces wealthier and seemingly more powerful than themselves. Faith and trust in themselves and their people (helped along by racial segregation) led Black people to develop our own businesses and to use our own talents, ideas, and resources.

While the Ford Foundation pioneered the use of philanthropy to  sabotage social movements in the 60s, this strategy reigns supreme today, and many Black people can barely conceive of creating social justice and liberation programs without the assistance of corporate funding.

Volunteer-based social justice organizations of the 60s and 70s gave way to the professional and salaried nonprofit organizations we see today. Consequently, many of our civil and human rights organizations receive significant funding from white foundations – who as partners of the American empire – have an interest in sabotaging and controlling threats to their finances and social order. If you look closely enough, you will discover that some Black organizations and educational programs even receive funding from the FBI and police organizations! What level of activism can you reasonably expect from a Black organization funded by a government surveillance agency and police?

The implication is clear. Organizers must develop a strong sense of faith in the Black community and this should take the form of Black self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Our people must know that those who subjugate us cannot be depended on to fund or promote authentic and effective attempts to dismantle their power. Black people in 2015 have purchasing power to the tune of $1.1 trillion. We must raise consciousness in our communities and help our people change their financial priorities, pool and invest their resources wisely, and fund our own projects with possible help from some conscious Black athletes and entertainers.

We organizers must remember to promote the art and science of organizing! As I recently posted on Facebook today:

Organize, organize, organize! Stop talking about Black liberation, our problems, and what we need to do if you are not taking opportunities to work with others. No individual regardless of their talent, knowledge or experience, will solve our problems by themselves. Individual superstars are exciting and even valuable, but only a CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM and networks of CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS are going to liberate Black people. So if you’re not finding ways to organize and collaborate and you’re still “flying solo,” it’s time for you to seriously re-evaluate your methods. Additionally, one’s willingness or unwillingness to work with others is a barometer of how serious they really are about Black liberation….

Lastly, those of us who make the bold and beautiful decision to advocate for our people, must remember to sustain and protect our own bodies and spirits, lest we burn out or become mentally or physically ill. For example, we must:

  • Get proper rest and know when to take a break from movement activity or learn to delegate responsibilities to others.
  • Understand that we cannot save people, we can only empower them. We cannot force people to change and become empowered beings, nor can we “force them to see the truth.” They must embrace change and truth for themselves.
  • In those cases when our people prove hostile, toxic, or dangerous to us, we should not feel guilty for disconnecting from them. This includes relatives, lovers, and friends. No one has the right to steal our physical or mental health, our joy, or our peace. We can’t take these situations personally, blame ourselves or waste precious time and energy on one person. The sun shines on 9 planets and an entire solar system. Our social solar system is the community of Black people wherever they exist. If one is hostile or refuses to be cooperative, trust and know that some others are receptive and appreciative.
  • Be patient with people. Everyone will not “see the light” immediately. People grow and learn at different rates. Sometimes our approach is not effective. The Black Liberation Movement has a sense of urgency but is not a sprint. Much of our success will come gradually.
  • Organizers are not machines; We are human beings. As such, we thrive in healthy and mature intimate relationships like anyone else. However, unlike everyone else, we spend much of our lives educating, defending, empowering, and advocating for others. We represent a minority of our community in this regard. We have special needs in a relationship. An attractive, “nice” or funny person simply won’t do. In addition, we need mates that understand and support our work and vision. He or she must complement our personalities and facilitate peace and understanding in the relationship.

    . We spend too much time fighting in the outside world to come home to petty arguments, insecure jealousies, and immature attitudes. Our mates should be people whose decisions we trust, people we can confide in, and people who will tell us what they really believe, not what we want to hear. It also helps if they are genuinely interested in our work and involved in our work as well. You must be “equally yoked.” We should also have the strength and honesty to respectfully end relationships when our partner does not bring these elements, or when we don’t have the time or energy to provide them with the time and love they need. There is no sense in prolonging your or another person’s agony and dysfunction by staying in a dead-end and non-supportive relationship. Any partner of a serious organizer/activist has a package deal in a relationship. They must love and accept you AND love, accept and value the important work you do…otherwise, the relationship has no chance to bloom.

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 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, Agyei released his fourth book, “My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Racism, Politics & Culture.” This book features the most loved and insightful essays from this blog. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 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 is Education Director for an organization called “Souljahs of the People.”

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 truself143@gmail.com.

Black Empowerment Series: How to Organize in the Community

together

On August 9, 2015, The Black Power Cypher (5 Black male educators, organizers and activists from around the United States) did their monthly internet show on the topic, “The Importance of Community Organizing.” We offered some of our own organizing experiences and tips, and we explored how to organize in the Black community. I suggest you view the video below when time permits.

There is perhaps, no topic more timely and relevant in 2015 than organizing the Black community. The great Pan African Marcus Garvey told us, “Disorganization is the chief enemy of Negro people.” The great Kwame Ture – mentored by Dr. King and Ella Baker – constantly urged us to “Organize, organize, organize.”

Why Should We Organize in our Community?

Certainly many of our most effective leaders spend much of their time organizing and encouraging us to do the same. This prompts certain intelligent questions: “What is the importance of community organizing? How do we benefit from organizing our community?”

Black people find ourselves beset with a literal flood of problems: failing schools/miseducation, inadequate healthcare, mass incarceration, massive unemployment/poverty and unbridled police brutality.  If we submit to cowardice and choose to accept these circumstances, there is nothing more to discuss.  However, if we choose to resolve our collective problems and confront those responsible for them, we must advocate for ourselves.

An individual can advocate for themselves, by themselves. A tenant of a residential building for example, can call the management office and complain of receiving inadequate heat during the winter. The management office may not take this one person seriously. Or, the office might solve that one person’s heat problem.

Imagine however, if this same tenant contacts other tenants in the building, organizes a tenant association, and 500 people begin complaining to management. They sign petitions, stage protests, solicit legal advice, initiate a rent strike, and attract local media. That management office would be more likely to make sure all tenants receive proper heat.

In other words, organizing multiplies the power of one person exponentially.

We can apply this principle to our own history as Black people in the United States. Did Harriet Tubman free 3000 slaves by herself? No. If there were no underground railroad system in place, her efforts wouldn’t be as successful. Did Marcus Garvey work alone? No. He had writers, organizers, attorneys, and officers of his organization working together to achieve common goals. Did Martin Luther King singlehandedly coordinate the Civil Rights Movement? No. He worked with fellow ministers, church congregants, college activists, and community organizers all over the country.

The point by now is clear. Organizing our community allows us to effectively and efficiently solve our collective problems. We can summarize the benefits of organizing as follows:

  • We enjoy the combined talents, knowledge, resources and experiences of several people.
  • Our numbers and combined strength persuades others to take our concerns more seriously than they would if we acted alone.
  • Organizing makes our efforts more powerful and tends to have greater impact (imagine one person boycotting a national department store versus an organization of 200,000 people).
  • Organizing prevents one person from becoming isolated, fatigued, or attacked. Tasks and responsibilities are shared with several people and committees.
  • Organizing inspires and empowers entire communities of people and equips entire communities to advocate for themselves. Several people gain new skills, develop courage, and create change; Therefore a movement doesn’t necessarily conclude when one person dies or years pass.
  • Organizations provide a system of accountability for people. An individual is only accountable to him or herself. But a person working within an organization is accountable to other members of that organization and the larger community of people they claim to represent or advocate for.

How Do You Organize?

We’ve briefly addressed the importance of community organizing and the benefits gained from participating in it. But we are now left with the question, “HOW do we organize in our community?” In the course of my own teaching, consulting and writing about organizing, people asked me this question literally hundreds of times. Several qualified authors and public speakers address this question. Search the internet and you will come across hundreds or thousands of books, workshops, and speeches on this topic.

This one article cannot and will not provide you with an exhaustive or complete understanding of how to organize. We also need to remember that each issue, campaign or movement is different and may demand different approaches. Nevertheless, we can highlight some central ideas which provide a basic outline for effective community organizing. You can apply this template to your tenant association, parent association, church, nonprofit organization and much more. Additionally, you can research further information to supplement what we provide here.

Identify what it is you care about. Do you want to eliminate gun violence in your neighborhood, address unfair treatment in a local store, provide better educational opportunities for your children, have better heating in your building, rename a city street, or provide food and clothing for homeless people? This is always the first step to organizing in the community, and the basis for all of your subsequent actions, policies, tactics, and strategy.

Determine who else cares about that issue. After identifying your key issue, you must now determine who else in your church, school, building, etc. shares your concern about that issue. If you fail to do this, you’ll be doing all the work by yourself, and we already addressed the importance of organizing with others. There are several ways you can accomplish this, depending on your energy level and mobility and resources. You can call or e-mail friends, co-workers, classmates, or neighbors. You can knock on doors in your neighborhood. You can create a brief survey and have people complete them. A traditional way to do this is to host a town hall meeting in your community at a place of worship or community center. Make fliers addressing  the issue (“Are you concerned about police brutality? Do you want to do something about it?”) and distribute those fliers or post them all over your neighborhood. The people who attend this event most likely care about the issue and are willing to address it. In the age of social media, you can post something about the issue on Facebook and see how people respond. Feel free to use whatever method or combination of methods that works best for you. Once you have a group of people who share your concern about an issue, you need to schedule a regular meeting time to discuss and plan.

Create a Mission Statement: It helps to have your group put your reason for organizing and your goal on paper. It is important to have something tangible everyone can refer to in times of disagreement or when clarity and direction are needed.

Have your group identify a goal they want to reach. Sounds easy enough, right? But proceed with caution. Your goal should have certain characteristics if you want to be successful and efficient (avoid wasting precious time and resources). A common method of doing this is to use the S.M.A.R.T. approach to goal-setting. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Specific: What do we want to accomplish? Who is responsible for resolving the issue? What are the requirements and limitations? Measurable: How much, how many, how will we know if we accomplished our goal? Attainable: How can we accomplish this goal? Is this a realistic goal based on the tools, skills, constraints and people we have? Relevant: Is this goal worthwhile and important? Will members of my community be willing to fight to achieve this goal? Time-Bound: By when do we want to accomplish this goal? What should we do immediately? What should we do long-term?

Create committees to accomplish important tasks: Your group want to accomplish its goal without wasting time, money or other resources. To do this, you must identify tasks, assign people to complete them, and establish a specific timeline for completion. For example, you may create media, research, finance, and community outreach committees. Each committee or person must have specific tasks to complete. These people or committees need to meet regularly and update your group on their progress, difficulties, and tasks that still need completion.

Identify and develop a strategy and list of tactics to achieve your goal. Your group, based on its goal, research, and resources, must now identify how you will accomplish your goal. This includes but is not limited to: protests, petition-drives, fundraisers, teach-ins, boycotts, demonstrations, press conferences, acts of civil disobedience, proposing and helping to write legislation, editorial articles in the local newspaper, etc.

As we approach the conclusion of this article, there are some important tips I’d like to share from my own organizing experience and study:

  • To be an effective organizer, you must develop authentic relationships with people. You must be concerned about people, interested in their opinions, and you must earn their trust. Otherwise, people will refuse to work with you no matter how prepared and committed you are.
  • You should be familiar with the community or people you’re trying to organize. Where do they hang out? What places of worship do they attend? What people or leaders do they respect? What issues are important to them?
  • You should not be condescending, arrogant, or the type of person who wants to do everything yourself. Effective organizers are confident yet humble; They know when to talk, and when to listen; They are also inclusive. They actively solicit the support and input of others and are willing to share responsibilities. Their goal is not to become famous, popular or wealthy, but to serve others and help them solve problems. Excellent organizers help other people to gain new skills, confidence, and develop into leaders themselves.
  • Take time to identify other groups, organizations and individuals who address your issue. If the goal is to reach your goal, it would help to form coalitions with other people as committed to doing this as you are. But be discerning. All leaders and groups are not what they seem to be. Some are conflicted, compromised and fraudulent. Choose your allies wisely.
  • Effective organizing is hard work, but you must maintain balance. Human beings are social creatures who need and want time to socialize, have fun and relax. Work hard and be serious about meeting your goals, but also make time for yourself and your group to celebrate victories and socialize.
  • Encourage critical thinking. Good organizers realize that all opinions or ideas (including their own) are not valid or constructive. Our goal in organizing is not to inflate our egos, impress people with our intelligence, or humiliate anyone; Our goal is to reach our goal. Therefore, make time to ask members of your group for respectfully-voiced suggestions and critiques. Encourage your group to debate policies and methods to determine the “best” or most effective ones available.
  • When organizing, it is always important to reach high and challenge yourself. At the same time, we want to make our goals and expectations manageable. If we spread our group too thin or take on too many responsibilities, we demoralize and disappoint our members, fail to meet our goals, and possibly turn people off to organizing in the future. Organizations feel proud when they have several programs or initiatives. However, it is better to do 2 things exceptionally well, than to do 20 things poorly.

As stated earlier in this article, the information provided here is not enough to make you an effective community organizer, but it is enough to get you started in the right direction. Much success to you in your community organizing efforts, and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you have about your own community organizing.

Recommended Reading

The Art of Leadership Vol II by Oba T’Shaka

Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby

The Making of Black Revolutionaries by James Forman

Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) by Kwame Ture

The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century by Randy Shaw

Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky

Organizing for Social Change Midwest Academy Manual for Activists by Kemberly Bobo and Steve Max

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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 protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

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 truself143@gmail.com.

What Does Revolutionary Black Love Look Like?

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I made a recent Facebook post affirming our constitutional and human rights as Black people to defend ourselves in the face of unrelenting brutality and murder by racist police, white vigilantes and predatory members of our own communities.. Many respondents agreed (it’s difficult not to) and some explained that our capacity to “police” our own communities increases when we cultivate revolutionary love for each other.

I agreed completely. I often quote the iconic Argentine revolutionary Che Guervara who once wrote: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”

Our powerfully insightful intellectual James Baldwin noted, “The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”

Moved by this response to my Facebook post, and by the above quotes, I began thinking deeply about the phrase. I asked myself, “What does revolutionary Black love look like, how do we cultivate it, and how will its existence impact how we relate to each other as Black people?”

What Does Revolutionary Black Love Look Like?

I begin with the following premise: “Revolutionary Black love is a redundant phrase. For In a society that has spent and continues to spent countless effort and energy teaching Black people to hate themselves, the very existence of Black love itself is by definition, revolutionary.” Yet this point still doesn’t help us understand or describe Revolutionary Black love. To accomplish this, I dive into my own life for answers, and the larger ocean of Black experience itself.

  • My mother demonstrated revolutionary Black love when she sacrificed stylish clothes, a graduate scholarship to New York University, a larger apartment, and having additional children, in order to finance a private education for me from elementary school to high school (and compelled my dad to agree with her decision). This twelve-year commitment demonstrated that she prioritized her child’s education over personal comfort and other interests.
  • My dad was a native New Yorker and Harlemite who regularly played for basketball powerhouse Benjamin Franklin High School alongside the legendary Earl “The Goat” Manigault (He also regularly played in the famed Rucker’s Basketball Tournament with the likes of Nate Archibald, Lew Alcindor a.k.a. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charlie Scott, “Pee Wee” Kirkland, and a number of other Harlem basketball icons). He told me that his high school coach – who was also the assistant principal – let he and other ball players skip class. The coach would unethically assign them undeserved good grades to keep them eligible to play basketball. Consequently, my dad’s academic skills suffered and he struggled with reading. Nonetheless, he later got help and became a prolific reader (his collection of books on African civilizations, Benin art, slavery, and Malcolm X became my first library on the Black experience). When I decided to apply to Syracuse University for undergraduate study, my dad learned about the H.E.O.P. program, contacted the assistant director, and arranged an interview with her. He told me to write an essay explaining why I wanted to attend (despite my protests that I had already done son as part of the application process). He rented a car and drove me 4 hours to Syracuse, New York where we met with Mrs. Betty Boozer. She, no doubt awed by my charismatic and determined dad, and by my essay and eagerness, pulled strings and got me into the program. Later I became a radical and controversial student leader at the university, helping to lead several months of protests, building takeovers, and meeting disruptions. A university official called my house on behalf of the university, explaining that my political activities were causing great embarrassment to the school and might end with me getting expelled. My dad later recalled the incident to me. “This administrator from Syracuse University called, saying you were a trouble-maker and you were embarrassing the school with all those demonstrations, taking over buildings, and rallies. He said to tell you to resign from president of your organization or they might kick you out. I told him, that your mother and I were proud of you, and that you have our full support. If the university doesn’t like your protests, they should make sure you have nothing to protest about. I told him the next time he calls me, it  better be to apologize, and I hung up.” My dad demonstrated revolutionary love by doing all he could to get me in college, and then supporting our Black student movement and my role in it, even with threats of me getting kicked out. Through action, he taught me to stand up for our people and stick your neck out, even at expense to yourself.

I can continue with countless examples from my personal life, but revolutionary Black love is well documented in our collective experience as Africans in America. Harriet Tubman who made dozens of trips to and from the South, rescued 3000 Black people from the horrors of chattel slavery. She did this at great risk to herself and a $50,000 bounty on her head; Ella Baker was a tireless and brilliant organizer dating back to work with the Young Negroes Cooperative League in the 1930s. She later worked with the NAACP, SCLC, SNCC and a host of other organizations for almost five decades, up to her death in 1986. Hear her for yourself in the clip below.

Baker organized a conference at Shaw University in 1960 to  coordinate the efforts of student activists around the country. SCLC hoped this would lead to a student wing of their organization. Baker instead encouraged the assembled student activists to form their own independent organization and use their own voice and ideas. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was born and went on to radicalize the Civil Rights Movement, and make it more inclusive of Black women. Rather than emphasizing charismatic male leadership, SNCC focusing on grassroots organizing and inclusive leadership. They went all over the south teaching leadership and organizing skills to poor Black folks, many of whom were previously inactive until SNCC’s contact. We might not know the names or benefit from the activism of Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Dianne Nash, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Marion Barry, Bob Moses, James Foreman, or H. Rap Brown were it not for SNCC and Baker’s political mentorship. Baker demonstrated Revolutionary Black love by spending her life in service to Black people and by mentoring youth and allowing them to make their own decisions and determine their own leadership. Bernice Johnson Reagon was so moved by Baker’s mentorship and tireless service, that she wrote a song in her tribute entitled “Ella’s Song,” which she performs with her group “Sweet Honey in the Rock.”

We can summarize that revolutionary Black love involves:

  • Fearlessness: Not allowing fears of persecution to stop us from taking principled stands.
  • Agency: A willingness to roll up one’s sleeves and get personally involved in listening to others and working with others to address day-to-day issues and larger community concerns.
  • Selflessness: Putting community needs over personal comfort.
  • Empowering and supporting those in our immediate and community family and making this a priority.
  • Being patient and nurturing with our young people, providing them with mentorship and skills-building, then trusting them to develop their own leadership and ideas.
  • Acting immediately to address current issues, but planning to bring future visions into fruition.

How do we cultivate it?

The answer to this question is simple, but practicing it takes patience and consistent work. To cultivate Revolutionary Black love, we must begin by valuing and loving ourselves. This includes loving our bodies/physical features, our history and heritage, and our freedom and empowerment. We must through knowledge and education, break through artificial layers of self-hate and devaluation created for us by those who mistreat and exploit us. We must also be honest with ourselves about our shortcomings, contradictions, and self-defeating behavior. Then we work hard to be and do better. In the process, we gain humility, as we recognize that we are fragile, prone to mistakes and errors in judgement like anyone else. This leads us to apologize when we violate another member of the community, without feeling inferior or weak for doing so.

The next stage involves extending that personal love, honesty and humility to our people. We begin to  want for our community what we want for ourselves and our families. We put ourselves in position to render excellent service to our larger communities, and we do so not with a sense of entitlement or arrogance, but with a sense of humility. As we begin to help others without strings attached, we develop trust. As we provide constructive criticism without condescension or judgement, we become community mentors whose advice people trust and actively seek. We empathize with the challenges, pain, and frustrations of our community members. We develop a capacity to solve personal and collective problems and work together despite differences of opinion. We listen when others speak and don’t take offense because we know they have only positive and loving intentions. We also learn to disagree without attacking or insulting one another in doing so. We develop the empowering capacity to forgive our brothers and sisters, and to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. In other words, we become “Our brother’s and sister’s keeper.”

How will Revolutionary Black love impact our community?

As we begin to value ourselves and our people, as we begin to show empathy, compassion, and concern, as we become fearless, community service-oriented, and selfless, we can expect to notice the following:

  • Black people willingly share their knowledge, money, and other resources to help each other in noble and authentic efforts.
  • We protect and stand up for each other even if we ourselves have not been mistreated.
  • We unashamedly identify and expose those in or outside of our community who work against our common interests, or who are fraudulent.
  • We support noble Black organizations, movements, and leaders who work to improve conditions for us, even if we don’t fully agree with their methods or ideas.
  • We take positions or create projects to empower our people, even when doing so causes controversy, or persecution to ourselves.
  • We empower and mentor our youth and give them opportunities to lead and solve problems.
  • We state our disagreements with policy, methods, and people clearly and respectfully because doing so makes our movements, organizations, and communities better.

I thank sister Loga  for sharing the phrase Revolutionary Black love, and I encourage us to really think about the information/ideas put forth in this article. In conclusion, remember that hate, envy, apathy, distrust,  and cynicism are choices. So too is Revolutionary Black Love.  It, and the various expressions of it, are indispensable and unavoidable if we truly desire to be fulfilled, successful, and FREE. The doors of Revolutionary Black love are open…..who will come?

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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 protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

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 truself143@gmail.com.

Resolving the Problem of Black Miseducation

We are familiar with the oft-quoted Ghanaian proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Sometimes I wonder if we recognize the converse of this truth: “It takes a village to destroy a child” as well.

With this in mind, reasonable Black folk must concede that we cannot attach sole responsibility for the miseducation of our youth to negligent Black households. While easy and convenient, this approach fails to assign equal responsibility to our local places of worship, community organizations, and public schools.

Of these, the last community resource (public schools) remain convenient targets for those of us working to provide Black children with an empowering education. But if it takes a village, why do we single public schools out when it comes to education? For one, they are THE recognized institution responsible for education in our communities; Secondly, they have trained teachers, administrators and staff (whose salaries derive from our taxes); In addition, schools have budgets, supplies, property, specifically allocated and designated for educating our children. Certainly, this all makes sense, that is until we recognize that the public education system has a hidden agenda for educating Black children that draws its roots from the turn of the 20th century.

This hidden agenda implies that we must begin by clearly understanding the purpose and objectives of education from a societal view. Paolo Friere in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, addresses the purpose of education by noting: 

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

Putting Friere’s quote into a U.S. context, the U.S. educational system prepares our children to integrate and conform to its culture of values, expectations and views. From the societal standpoint, our children are to assume three primary roles: 1.To become a semi-skilled pool of labor for corporations who will follow instructions without resistance. 2.To become a relatively smaller pool of directors or managers (professional overseers) for the corporate plantation. 3. To become the defenders and enforcers (military and police) of the corporate culture.

The first group is designed to generate wealth via their underpaid labor for the corporate elite while the second group coordinates, manages and helps train the first group or uses its higher degree of skill to make more money for the corporate culture.  The third group monitors, detains, intimidates and murders critics, rebels and disillusioned citizens who might threaten the corporate culture’s existence and objectives. You will note that all groups must be patriotic, subscribe to bourgeois notions of achieving the “American Dream,” defend and sympathize with U.S. capitalist/imperialist culture, and of course have the basic skills and sensibilities to fulfill their respective functions.

Black Nationalists like myself and my comrades in the educational trenches, find the social conditioning and conformity agenda of education unjust and unacceptable. We side with the freedom-oriented and transformative objectives of education. We reject an educational system which produces generations of people who uphold, defend and cooperative with an unjust and exploitive status quo. We seek one that creates critical and creative thinkers and problem-solvers who work to create a just society. We want competent and compassionate human beings who identify with and advocate for the Black experiences and communities that birthed them. Knowing that the traditional school system – along with the university think-tanks, foundations, and corporate culture that created and maintained it – aims to create people who will maintain the current status quo, we challenge and reject it. We understand that such curricula, schools, and school cultures will keep the current system of white supremacy in place. Our unashamed goal is to dismantle it and prevent it from regenerating.

For many of us then, Afrocentric schools become the remedy of choice. By definition,too much schooling such schools boast all-Black faculty and staff, use fair and effective methods of discipline that edify rather than humiliate, and promote academic rigor and competence while teaching our children to love, understand, advance and protect their history, minds, and people. Dr. Mwalimu Shujaa, a widely-recognized expert on the subject, oulined 5 characteristics/objectives of an African-centered education in his book, “Too Much Schooling, Too LIttle Education:

1. It should reflect our own interests as a cultural nation and be grounded in our cultural history.

2. It should be a process of identity development within the context of Pan-African kinship and heritage.

3. It should provide for the inter-generational transmission of values, beliefs, traditions, customs, rituals and sensibilities along with the acknowledge of why these things must be sustained.

4. It should teach children how to determine what is in our interests, distinguish our interests from those of others, and recognize when our interests are consistent and inconsistent with those of others.

5. It should prepare children to accept the staff of cultural leadership from the generation that preceded theirs, build upon their inheritance, and make ready the generation that will follow them

Before we all lock arms close our eyes, and begin singing “Kumbaya” however, we must acknowledge some serious challenges to resolving the issue of Black miseducation. No serious movement to provide our children a real education will occur easily, without opposition, or “overnight.”

1. Because true African-centered curricula and schools go against the social conditioning agenda of U.S. education, they face intense scrutiny, monitoring, and lack of support from “mainstream” society who will label them as “reverse racist,” “separatist,” and even “terrorist.” Such schools therefore, will need to seek private funding and avoid any government support. They will most likely need to be private and independent, and charge tuition to cover expenses.

2. There are not enough Afrocentric schools to accommodate all or even 10% of the school-aged Black children and youth in the United States: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2014, approximately 7.7 million Black children attended public elementary and secondary schools. From my internet search, I could only identify 37 African-centered schools in the entire country and I could not verify that all of them are still open, or are in fact, truly African-centered. It will likely take decades to close this gap. In the meantime, this means the overwhelming majority of our children will attend traditional public schools. Yet, all hope is not lost. We should begin a rigorous campaign to create viable independent and African-centered schools.

But at the same time, we need courageous and qualified Black teachers to continue working in existing public schools, providing our children with a conscious alternative to the brainwashing and social conditioning they receive. We also need to create more viable after school programs and liberation schools in our community centers and places of worship. Our churches, mosques and temples own property and have already-established congregations/members, many of whom have expertise in several important fields in additional to professional resources. Another excellent options is community homeschooling. Congregants should challenge these institutions to create such programs.

Brother Markus Kline has created 3 successful homeschools called Freedom Home Academy in Chicago which house several students, and provides a rigorous academic and African-centered education. Students learn 3 languages (Arabic, Swahili, and French) and ADVANCED academics. All students demonstrate accelerated learning. Why can’t we create schools like this in every U.S. city? See brother Kline discussing his concept below.

3. Even when we create a larger number of African-centered schools throughout the country, who will form the important cadre of teachers and administrators? How do we make sure these individuals remain true to the pedagogy of African-centered curriculum, discipline, and education? How do we prevent the ever-present tendencies of bourgeois values (materialism, individualism, profits over people, pro-imperialist thinking) or patriarchy from creeping into and sabotaging our schools, staff, and students? The not-so-subtle answer is that we must create national or regional institutions that recruit and properly train Black people to teach and run African-centered schools, and institutions that accredit such schools.

Simply being a Black teacher does not designate a person as African-centered or even “conscious,” and simply having all Black faculty, staff and students does not characterize a school as being “African-centered.” Educators in these schools will need to understand the “Developmental psychology of Black students” (Amos Wilson), African-centered education, and be able to develop disciplinary, management, and instructional methods consistent with this. We must provide parents with the capacity to determine if any school is certifiably African-centered beyond just a name or claim.

In closing, Black Nationalists like myself always argue that “We can’t send our children to receive education from our enemies.” Yet, I  should remind you that Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Kwame Ture, Assata Shakur, George Jackson, or most of our most radical and committed Black Liberation leaders did not attend African-centered schools. They either attended segregated Black schools or integrated schools. In either case, neither brand of these schools were African-centered by our contemporary definition. The creation of African-centered schools was a direct product of the Black Power Movement. Most of these schools did not appear until after the 1970s and later. This means that while African-centered schools are the preferred ideal, our children need an empowering education NOW and we cannot afford to wait several decades to accommodate all of them in such schools. However, we can still help our children emerge competent, committed, and conscious even in the framework of the existing school system if we seriously reconfigure and maximize educational capacity within the larger community VILLAGE that raises them.

_________________________

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-SpanNY1 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.

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 truself143@gmail.com.

Preparing for Black Survival in a Time of Peril

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“I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Two Towers”

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Many moons ago – during my first two years as an undergraduate student at Syracuse University, I found myself in a dilemma. After stumbling around unfulfilled in the university’s famed school of public communications, I searched feverishly for a major and academic discipline that was a good fit for me. I wasn’t seeking status, material wealth, or to accumulate innumerable gadgets or trinkets. I simply wanted to better understand the societal forces at work which led to injustice and oppression, and to become familiar with ways to challenge and dismantle the above.

I fell madly in love with sociology. Finally, I could delve fully into research, discussions, and study concerning discussions of power relations, racism, activism, imperialism, propaganda, social change and institutions. I found answers to many of my questions, and developed even more queries. Those studies, in addition to my home training, life experiences, and several mentors along the way, formed the foundations of my political theory and activism which guide me today as a middle-aged man.

And yet, one need not have a background in sociology (or college education for that matter) to read the proverbial handwriting on the wall concerning Black people in the United States. All one needs to understand, as Minister Louis Farrakhan would say, “The Time and What Must be Done,” are good powers of observation, an ability to decode news and current events, and some relevant knowledge of history.

I do not exaggerate when I insist that we live in confusing and  perilous times… perilous for reasons I’m about to explain, and confusing because so-called examples of “Black progress,”  interracial pop culture, and certain technological advancements work to camouflage the perils we face.

On the surface, many can argue that Black people have made tremendous progress compared with the sociopolitical landscape that existed prior to 1965. For example:

  • In 1963, there were 1.469 Black elected officials; At last census count, there were 10,500. And of course, we now have a Black president.
  • In 1964, 2.4 million Black people had a high school diploma; By 2012, that number grew 10 times.
  • In that same year, 365,000 Black people earned a college degree; 43 years later that number grew to 5 million.

However, we’ve also experienced key losses over the years:

  • The number of Black-owned banks decreased by nearly 50% between 2001 and 2014. At last count, there are only about 25 such banks, and close to 60% of them are losing money.
  • Over the last decade, Black-owned bookstores decreased 66%; There are approximately 54 remaining in the U.S.
  • The number of Black journalists working for “mainstream” newspapers has declined 40% within the last decade.
  • In recent years, 11 Historically Black College and Universities have permanently closed.
  • The phenomenon of gentrification has displaced tons of Black people and changed the “complexion” of traditionally Black urban neighborhoods, leading to obvious implications in land ownership, homelessness, and political power.
  • According to the NAACP, Black people represent almost 50% of all prisoners in the United States
  • The unemployment rate for Black people has been double that of whites…a statistic that has remained the same for almost 60 years!

With our alleged $1.1 trillion spending power, high-profile millionaires, Black president, and the relentless distraction of sporting events, “reality” shows,  social media,  and various gadgets, we might be tempted to forget that we are living in perilous times.

For their part, most of the old-guard civil rights leadership, clergy, and Black elected officials have failed to come up with adequate solutions for Black people in these perilous times. This is predictable as most of them receive funding from white corporations and are therefore beholden to them. They too, are quick to remind us as we challenge the system, not to be too angry because “A change is gonna come.” “Don’t be irrational,” they say. “God or the universe will work it out,” they say. But what they fail to do is explain this society’s irrationality and mistreatment of us. Hence, as brother Farrakhan reminds us, their time to lead is OVER! Time and time again when calamities hit our community, these compromised leaders come in to help us “suffer peacefully,” but they are challenged!

But there is one thing even the most distracted and shallow among us cannot forget or ignore. There is one issue that exposes the weakness and incompetence of our leadership and the ruthlessness and tenacity of our enemies.  This of course, is the constant assault and murder of unarmed Black people by police officers or white vigilantes (which according to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, occurs every 28 hours). The list of Black people killed by police since just 1999 is too long for many of us to fathom. This one ruthless act cuts across various Black community lines of division like complexion, religion, gender, educational attainment, income, age, employment status, etc.Whenever we learn of another cop killing a fellow Black person we all correctly think: :”That could’ve been me or someone I love.”

A string of highly-publicized  death-by-cop incidents across the nation – culminating with the killing of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray – slowly gives rise to righteous Black indignation and resentment. These incidents also reveal to Black people just how despised and vulnerable we still are despite any claims of “Black progress”  or improved “race relations” in the United States. We witness to our dismay how the corporate media prioritize the death or injury of white law enforcement agents over our own, forcing us to reassert the now popular slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” (Some of us) cringe at reports of our frustrated brothers and sisters challenging cops, destroying property, setting fires, and looting stores in in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. We seethe with anger with each reference to our youth as violent thugs by journalists, white citizens and even the POTUS, while debating the merit or intelligence of such actions ourselves. We keenly notice in contrast how those in uniform who kill us are depicted as “heroes,” “patriots” and “honest civil servants” despite their clear misconduct. Even the more tolerant among us are beginning to realize that cops serve a clear sociological function to monitor, intimidate, and brutalize us.

We tire of conventional approaches to this problem; For many of us, marches, candle-light vigils, proposed legislation, or ambiguous speeches by media-sanctioned and compromised Black civil rights leaders are no longer palatable. All of these emotions and occurrences lead to an increasingly hostile scenario for Black folk in this country. Based on my own observations I personally see bad days ahead, which prompted me to post the following on Facebook today. I am no conspiracy theorist, but rather as a good friend describes, an “early warning system.” I do hope those of you reading this take these words in their intended spirit…..VERY SERIOUSLY:

A NYC cop died today from injuries he sustained after a Black man shot him days ago. The New York Daily News article demonstrates a level of empathy and respect for this officer seldom accorded to unarmed Black people killed by police. Nevertheless, we are heading to very dangerous times which will likely include more rebellions, acts of police brutality, and violent retribution by vigilantes on both sides. Following this will be state of emergency declarations across the country and martial law to (“establish order”) which will eliminate civil rights for the public and inflame an already hostile environment. Black or other elected officials that don’t go with the program will be discredited, sabotaged and/or forced to resign. Negro collaborators will receive great media attention and praise. In the worst case scenario, known activists who are very vocal and effective will be arrested and detained on trumped-up charges. Pray/meditate/work for peace and justice, and learn emergency preparation and self-defense immediately. Take this how you want to, but you’ve been warned. Remember the lessons of Hurricane Katrina and the government response or lack thereof). Remember FEMA. Remember Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. Remember unprecedented government surveillance of our phones, emails, social media, etc. I apologize for offending anyone, but neither those who despise and mistreat you nor those collaborating with them will be your salvation!

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 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 protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

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 truself143@gmail.com.

A Short and Sweet Reminder for Black People

I promised myself that I would remember to balance my blog with long and more concise articles. I realize that certain information should be expressed succinctly.

If I were to ask members of our community about the major issues confronting our people, I’m sure I’d hear a list as follows:

  • Academically and culturally bankrupt public education
  • Imperialism and Police brutality
  • Unemployment, low wages, and lack of economic power
  • Little connection to Africa or African-centered culture/history
  • Fratricide (Black-on-Black violence)
  • Narcotic drug trafficking and other forms of criminality
  • Privatized prisons and the mass incarceration of Black people
  • Bourgeois values and priorities
  • White supremacy
  • Broken, disconnected, or dysfunctional families and communities
  • Self-Hatred
  • Drug addiction
  • Black physical and mental health concerns
  • Domestic violence, and sexual abuse in our households
  • Patriarchy and homophobia
  • Little to know political power or representation

And the list goes on, I’m sure. The vast majority of these things are actually symptoms of  larger problems that we often fail to address.

Social scientists, nonprofits and governmental agencies – with varied motives – produce large volumes of studies and reports that detail and describe these issues.

Naturally, this plethora of problems compel answers and solutions. And this I’m afraid is where we fall short all-too-often. Our responses to these social, economic and political ills often do not effectively address and resolve these concerns.

So here is my short and sweet reminder to my Black community: Acquiring political consciousness, earning diplomas or degrees, exposing conspiracies, gaining an encyclopedia knowledge of ancient Africa, becoming a more spiritual or religious being, buying Black, joining this or that cult, church or organization, debating, protesting, giving speeches, writing blogs, praying, meditating, getting a job or starting businesses …..have their place, (some more than others) but are by themselves, inadequate.

The simple fact is, our liberation requires a coordination of various efforts, consciousness backing them, institutions to promote and facilitate them, and power to implement,support and defend them. This remains our challenge going forward…..To hear this point in more detail, please take time to view the following video of Dr. Amos Wilson:

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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 April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

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 truself143@gmail.com.

NATIONWIDE DAY OF PROTEST, JANUARY 19, 2015!

fight to breathe pic

#WEFIGHT2BREATHE is not a formal or traditional organization, but a campaign against police brutality and the repeated murder of Black people by police all over the United States. Our supporters include political and social justice activists in Harlem, New York in addition to concerned and outraged brothers and sisters who have declared, “Enough is Enough,” after witnessing escalating acts of police using excessive and deadly force against members of our community nationwide.

We support and encourage the role of traditional Black organizations (so long as they are effective and genuine). Yet we recognize that the emergence of the Internet and social media networks have eliminated some of the bureaucracy and challenges of traditional organizations. We are now living in a time where concerned individuals can act decisively on a mass level and have great impact without the cumbersome and time-consuming challenges of developing group consensus, approving budgets, appeasing a board of directors, or a need to validate one media-recognized celebrity leader to advocate for all Black people/interests. The name of our campaign is inspired by the last agonizing words spoken by NYC resident Eric Garner before police choked and killed him…. “I can’t breathe.” These tragic words inspired a protest call by the same name heard around the country by outraged protesters.

In a society that devalues Black life, and that constantly threatens our survival, we proclaim that #WEFIGHT2BREATHE. We take this to mean that we are part of the movement to actively protest and resist police brutality against Black people, and to remind ourselves that our survival and freedom will not come from moral reasoning with those who oppress us, but from sustained protest and resistance to such people and forces. This campaign is a NONVIOLENT direct action campaign that seeks to encourage, support, and participate in peaceful protest activities that oppose police brutality.

FIGHT TO BREATHE FLIER

NATIONAL DAY OF PROTEST

We are inspired and impressed by the sea of protests around the United States challenging the unfair and racist decisions not to indict the killers of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. We are taking our stand and making our contribution by calling for a National Day of Protest on January 19, 2015. This date is meaningful, being that it is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday. We can think of no better day to conduct a nationwide protest against injustice. We encourage young people to participate and play an active part in this protest and learn to appreciate the activities and legacy of Dr. King himself. As students are out of school and many parents have a day off from work, this date helps to increase maximum participation throughout the country.

At 1:30pm Eastern Standard Time, we request that Black people and others in every United States city wear all-black, assemble at their local City Hall building, and coordinate marches, rallies, and/or die-ins to protest police brutality. We respect the authority and ability of local leadership and organizers, and we know variables like weather or police actions will affect your plans. We trust you will provide the leadership needed to make this day a success in your respective cities. All we ask is that the protest, march, rally, or die-in be peaceful, well-attended, occur at City Hall, and begin at 1:30pm Eastern Standard Time. Larger cities will have several sites of power. In NYC for example, it might be effective to conduct protests at City Hall, One Police Plaza, and the United Nations complex.

EDUCATING YOUR COMMUNITY

Many of the people you’ll be recruiting to this protest will not be seasoned and experienced activists. Some have never protested before, and know little about the issue of police brutality other than what they see on the news. Therefore we encourage you to educate them on the issue during the weeks leading up to the National Day of Protest. Teach-ins should occur in your local churches, community centers, and even in homes. This site offers excellent sources of teaching about police brutality including poetry, video clips, timelines, and pamphlets. Speaking of unfair and abusive police or law enforcement, you might encourage people to sign the petition calling on President Obama to drop all criminal charges on Assata Shakur!

You will also want to emphasize that this is a peaceful protest. Caution against members of your community taunting cops, throwing things at them, or hitting them. Also remind them that this is not about looting stores or burning property. Our goal here is to make a united and powerful statement against unfair and excessive police force in our communities. Protests like this can force mayors, city councils and police to the table to negotiate effective reforms and better policing policies.

WE WANT TO HEAR YOUR VOICE!

The presence of YouTube offers exciting and creative ways to interact with our community. We want to hear what you have to say about police murdering and assaulting Black people in this country. We’d love for people all over the country to record brief YouTube/Instagram videos stating your first name, what city, state you represent, and your thoughts about why we should fight to breathe. Make sure to include #WEFIGHT2BREATHE as a hashtag in the description or on the video itself, and leave a link to your video at our Facebook page.

WHAT ARE WE DEMANDING?

Disjointed protests are not as effective as coordinated protest movements. It is not enough to simply protest without an agenda. What exactly do we want or hope to achieve? The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement has developed an excellent set of demands, which all serious police brutality activists should seriously use and refer to.

6 Issues Worthy of Your Interest and Activism

keep-learning-and-stay-informed

As we know, media stories hurl themselves at us from all angles, and with the addition of so many internet sources, we often find ourselves up to our ears in a flood of information. Our time and energy is limited so in this situation, we often find it difficult to determine what issues to care about and address.

The following are some stories/issues that are highly important and worthy of our righteous indignation and activism (in my humble opinion, of course). Keep a close eye on these stories as they directly impact us and point to the battlegrounds of current and future human rights issues.

1. Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens: In a blatant act of shameless self-promotion, I begin the list with my new book for teens. On a serious truth for youth covernote though, the book is so important because Black youth find themselves in such a disturbing and disadvantaged situation. Tons of special reports, studies, and our own observations help us understand the problems. Now we must DO something about it. My approach involves education and self-empowerment.

2. The fate of Affirmative Action in America: The universe works in harmony. When that equilibrium is disturbed, chaos, war and strife appears. Injustices must be rectified, and until they are, we will experience pain and suffering. There is no way around this. Unfortunately, some people believe Black people can undergo 100 years of Jim Crow segregation and discrimination in jobs and education, and that the universities and the Federal government should play no part in providing restitution or corrective measures. The Supreme Court recently upheld Michigan’s prohibition of Affirmative Action in public programs. Keep a close eye on this issue, and let your voice be heard via petitions, protests, articles, etc.

http://www.c-span.org/video/?65990-1/future-affirmative-action

3. Independent and Progressive Black electoral politics: The progressive Black World mourned the recent death of newly elected Jackson, Mississippi Mayor and longtime political activist, Chokwe Lumumba. His untimely death was a setback for grassroots politics, but the plan he operated from is still alive and well! Salute to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (which Lumumba helped create) for developing this plan! A conscious and committed warrior has fallen and become an ancestor but the revolution continues until we are liberated! Lumumba’s son is now running for the Mayoral position vacated by his dad. Harambe to this young brother for stepping up to the plate. We too, should become familiar with the Jackson plan, engage Black folk in our communities, and implement this plan to the best of our ability in local political endeavors.

4. The Mass Incarceration of Black and Latino people: The prison industrial complex and the disproportionate number of Blacks and Latinos oppressed by it,  is not some hidden or clandestine issue. It is quite conspicuous in fact, and thenewjimcrow statistics are both mind-blowing and indisputable. The increasing privatization of prisons only adds to this deplorable phenomenon. Record numbers of our people find themselves unfairly placed in captivity and we must become more informed and do something to address this tragedy. One thing you can do immediately is read law professor Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

5. Immigration and the Mistreatment of Foreign-born people: The African Diaspora (African-descended peoples relocated by force or migration throughout the world) includes over 200,000,000 people throughout the world. In many cases, they face great mistreatment and disadvantage due to their foreign-born and non-white status. Latinos for example, are the largest ethnic group in the United States but they face great odds  attaining adequate education, gainful employment at fair wages, and they suffer from unfair profiling and incarceration. Despite differences in language, music and other customs, they are family and need our support.

6. American Public Education and the Hidden Agenda for Youth of Color: Every citizen of the United States is entitled to a free and adequate education, yet for Black and Latino youth, this promise remains unfulfilled. For the most part, American public schools are overcrowded and under-resourced,  and the vast majority of our youth are being set up to be a permanent and politically powerless underclass. But then again, this was the plan from the beginning of the 20th Century.

______________________

Agyei Tyehimba 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. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba wrote “The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook,” and most recently, “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.” If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak to your organization, contact him at truself143@gmail.com.