Black Educators Must Take our Rightful Place in the Movement to Educate our Youth!

Black people’s concern with the U.S. public education system – it’s intent, policies, curriculum and practices – is longstanding. Our forced entry into the colonial system later the United States was anything but fair and democratic. Whites brought us here to exploit our labor, amass their industrial and agricultural wealth at our expense, and then devised various laws and practices to maintain our servile and powerless position in the social hierarchy. Education therefore was an important weapon in their attempt to maintain and expand white supremacy. In other words, education as it related to Black people was hegemonic, not empowering or even neutral.

Nonetheless, even a cursory glance backwards demonstrates that our people, in every historical period, valued education. Long before we endured the horrors of European imperialism, we not only developed educational philosophy but also family and societal institutions designed to transmit intergenerational knowledge.

egyptian books of instruction

Coming as this did before the development of capitalism (or modern considerations of”industrial development”) our educational philosophy was holistic and not focused solely on material gain, career advancement or status. Unlike many people today, we viewed education both as a means of character/ethical development, and vocational preparation. Without going into voluminous detail, proof of these facts are found in the Egyptian Books of Instruction, and the University of Sankore (containing over 700,000 manuscripts) for starters.

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University of Sankore

Even after the Transatlantic Slave trade where we were viewed and treated as scorned objects and where learning was officially prohibited, our people used the Bible as a primary tool for literacy and our educated brethren as teachers. Scholar James Anderson notes that by the mid-19th century our enslaved ancestors created approximately 500 schools to educate themselves in this country.

This coalition of slaves that wanted to learn and those that knew how to read and write is instructive for those of us today who want rescue our children from miseducation and social conditioning today.

Allow me to digress. As I explained in a previous essay, the “emancipation” of 4 million Black people during the 19th century concerned whites gravely – so much so, that they held three education conferences (Capon Springs Conferences For Christian Education) to determine:

  • If Blacks should be educated
  • What the content/nature of that education should be

These conferences gave rise to the creation of education boards across the country, and models of education designed to keep Black people disenfranchised, servile, non-resistant, protective of U.S. interests, and languishing in the lowest economic strata of this country for generations to come. We see the results of this educational agenda: Confused, culturally disconnected youth with inadequate social, emotional, leadership, financial, and academic skills who become easy prey for gangs, privatized prisons, broken families and unfulfilled lives.

Those of us who are serious about reclaiming the minds and hearts of our children realize that education is the primary tool in this regard.The problem is that noble intentions in this area and political ideology are simply not enough to accomplish this task.

First, we must be clear about what proper education is and does from our perspective. An adequate education empowers people to understand, participate in or transform the world they inherit. It prepares a person to sustain themselves, solve problems, make decisions and embrace/manifest values that are beneficial, and that exert power in their lives. From the perspective of an oppressive society however, education as noted by Paolo Friere, is a project in social control and hegemony.

pedagogy of the oppressed

The educational systems we develop accordingly, include but involve far more than teaching African history, Black pride and Black solidarity. Our alternative and reformative educational theories and systems cannot be guided by political ideology alone We must be thoroughly and accurately familiar with our children’s holistic educational needs (i.e. academic, psychological/emotional, cultural, sociopolitical, ethical, vocational , and economic). In confronting the problem of Black miseducation, we must be careful not to oversimplify the problem and instead develop solutions that are practical and take into consideration the realities we face, rather than imposing our political ideology alone.

We must understand our children’s preferred learning styles, effective and humane methods of discipline, effective and alternative diagnostic methods, and how to create structures that can combine all the above effectively and affordably so that the majority (if not all) of our children can benefit, not just those of privileged classes.

carter g woodson

 Just about every Afrocentric or Black Power speaker, author or activist has said (or will say) “We can’t send our children to their oppressor to be educated!” The logic behind this is simple. Oppressors will never educate their subjects to become free and empowered. But simply acknowledging this fact is not enough. Several compelling questions remain: How do we create engaging, relevant and empowering curriculum, practices and environments that maximize our children’s ability to lead, solve community problems, love/value themselves and their people, and develop the creativity to sustain themselves and create much-needed community institutions/movements? How will independent Black schools be funded to make sure our poorest students can attend? How can we support via information and funding, the Black homeschooling movement? In summary, how do we properly educate almost 8 million Black children (most of whom are poor) in a country actively working to keep them ignorant, poor, and powerless?

To adequately address and resolve these questions, WE MUST INCLUDE PROGRESSIVE AND BLACK POWER EDUCATORS IN THE DISCUSSION!  Education, contrary to popular belief, is a serious vocation like any other. Fiery rhetoric and political pontification without strategic thinking and educational expertise will not rescue our children and might even compound their problems! To make the point clearer, if you wanted to build a bridge you consult engineers and construction workers; To defend yourself in court you hire an attorney or someone well versed in the law; You expect a trained surgeon to perform your operation; You include an architect in a discussion of erecting a building. Education too, is a serious field requiring trained, experienced and knowledgeable theorists, teachers and administrators. That we don’t readily understand this, only demonstrates the low regard we hold for education and teachers, even as we shout “Knowledge is power and Save our babies!”What all of this means is: the movement to properly educate our people absolutely must involve Black folk with classroom teaching and school administration experience, background in Afrocentric educational theory, and successful school creation.

By writing this, I do not come from an elitist perspective suggesting that non-educators cannot contribute meaningfully to the Black Education Movement. To the contrary, I am arguing that we cannot leave trained, experienced and informed educators out of this discussion. Only a determined coalition of sincere, committed and informed organizers, parents, students, Black educators/scholars and Black philanthropists will accomplish the task of reforming the existing educational system and creating viable alternatives. Black educators, and school administrators MUST take their rightful place in this movement by dispelling myths, identifying/modeling best practices in education, and lending our expertise and experience to this important discussion. This might bruise the egos of some in our community. Others might become defensive, but it must be done. Our children’s very lives and the future of our people depend on it…..

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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.

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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Ideology and Dogmatism Vs. Black Power

Anytime you read or hear an organizer, leader or spokesperson discuss their ideas, policies, concerns, solutions or projects, you are observing elements of his/her ideology.

When these ideas come across as contradictory, confusing, ridiculous or scattered, we are witnessing either their  inability to communicate effectively, or evidence of weak ideology.

Ideology is no light or trivial matter.  We can define it as an ethos or set of principles that guide and direct a person or organization’s worldview, policies and practices. All institutions and organizations operate from an ideology, including the military, schools, places of worship, fraternal organizations, community organizations, police, the medical establishment, etc. One’s ethos or ideology shapes how they think, their values/priorities, what they do, and how they do it. You can clearly see how important ideology is to say, a community organization.

Sound ideology develops in response to real circumstances (i.e. concerns for safety, law and order, miseducation or political empowerment) sound analysis of these circumstances and their causes, and a good understanding of community culture, history and sensibilities.

Ideology should respond accurately and effectively to a group’s actual circumstances/reality. When our ideology conflicts with or proves ineffective to address the realities we confront, we are compelled to seriously reconsider, adjust or dismiss our ideology altogether. If we continue believing, promoting or operating on inaccurate or irrelevant ideas, we compromise our organizing and put ourselves in danger of becoming reactionary (pro status quo, politically backwards or ultra conservative).

Instead, we must be disciplined and mature enough to acknowledge when our conceptual frameworks are inadequate/inaccurate and do what is necessary to rectify our thinking. To do otherwise is simply irresponsible…

Signs that our ideology needs reshaping

  1. It leads to policies/practices that encourage innocent segments of our community to be discriminated against, bullied, isolated or dismissed.
  2. It paints large segments of our community with a broad brush without allowing for difference and nuance (i.e “Black Christians are sell-outs,” Black single-parent mothers are the primary cause of delinquent Black children,” “Black gays and feminists are the reason we are no longer unified or strong as a people”).
  3. It suggests policies or practices based on assumptions that are false or contain logical fallacies leading to weak arguments.
  4. It suggests policies that divide our community, generate unnecessary resentment, and make us more vulnerable to the system of white supremacy.
  5. It is driven by fear, hatred and insecurity rather than an accurate analysis of historical, economic or political conditions, and love.
  6. It articulates policies, sentiments and practices identical to those endorsed by the maintainers and beneficiaries of white supremacy.
  7. It leads to policies that create an oppressive and oppressed class of people in our own community.
  8. It is too rigid and dogmatic, leading to a feeling among some that their perspective is the ONLY valid one, or that those who disagree with it are government agents worthy of persecution and attack.

 

dogmatism

Let us underscore that last point. When we become dogmatic, we make our opinions or ideas more important than people and the quality of their lives. The irony is obvious; Community leaders and organizers are (or at least should be) concerned with people, the quality of their lives, and their happiness.

This group – by virtue of their mission – should be the least dogmatic, and yet when it comes to some elements of the Black “Conscious Community,” be they Socialist, Nationalist, Pan-African, Religious, Atheist, Feminist, etc., we find large pockets of highly dogmatic people.

I regularly read social media posts, watch YouTube clips, and observe community discussions that are disturbingly narrow, prejudiced and inhumane toward other brothers and sisters.

I’ve literally heard Black people angrily suggest that members of the Black Gay community should be killed, along with our petty criminal element and those with an appetite for non-white dating partners. I’ve heard/read others label all Black Christians as “ignorant tools of the white man,” or openly advocate removing Black churches in our community (One of the the institutions in our history that most advanced literacy, civil rights and community organizing). And each one of these individuals considers him or herself an activist, leader or community organizer for Black people.

Such words and ideas often get packaged as “Keeping it real,” but make no mistake – history reveals such to be the thinking of dictators and tyrants. They begin by fighting for the people and eliminating an oppressive regime.

Once in power, they claim absolute authority and power over the very people they set out to “liberate.” Next they choose what books people can read, what things people can say, and what affiliations people can have. These people become leaders for life, hold corrupt elections or ban them altogether, and live in luxury as the people starve and endure lives of squalor. Check the history of revolutionary leaders and you’ll find that more than a few commmitted horrific acts of torture and genocide against their countrymen whose only “crime” was difference of opinion.

Some embrace brother Malcolm but forget his political transformation and evolution. Take the statement he made at the March 1964 press conference announcing his departure from the Nation of Islam:

“Now that I have more independence of action, I intend to use a more flexible approach toward working with others to get a solution to this problem….

As of this minute, I’ve forgotten everything bad that the other leaders have said about me, and I pray they can also forget the many bad things I’ve said about them.”

…The problem facing our people here in America is bigger than all other personal or organizational differences. Therefore, as leaders, we must stop worrying about the threat that we seem to think we pose to each other’s personal prestige, and concentrate our united efforts toward solving the unending hurt that is being done daily to our people here in America.”

In the same year, in his presentation at the Oxford debate, he said:

I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

Malcolm clearly came to realize the need for Black solidarity. He recognized his attacks of people he disagreed with as a mistake. He acknowledged that he had to work with various segments of the Black community and even some of those outside of our community who were sincere. In other words, he developed compassion and  adjusted his beliefs and methods to address the realities he observed. If he was willing to work with serious and sincere whites, can we conclude that he might also work with Black feminists, Christians and members of the LGBT community? One’s gender, sexuality and spirituality don’t dictate their politics necessarily…

Today, we have more knowledge of ancient African societies, more understanding of economics and sociopolitical struggles, more knowledge of how to create alternative schoo than did Malcolm -and yet, we have lost compassion for members of our extended family whose spirituality, sexuality, and other beliefs/practices are different.

To be clear, I am not Christian (nor any other religion), atheist, gay, or feminist, nor does this matter. My position stems from being clear on one point: Black people – our lives, health, liberty happiness and concerns – are more important than my opinions or those of anyone else. I believe in “unity without uniformity.” I also agree with comedian Dave Chappelle: We don’t have to hate or fear those whose lifestyles we do not understand or condone. Nor do we have to agree with everything someone we love says or does. “We don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

dave  chappele compassion

Some of you reading this article will disagree. That is your right. I just hope you truly UNDERSTAND. When we lose compassion for our people, and allow our opinions to become more important than their lives and right to choose, then we become part of the problem. Where is the love, Black Conscious Community?

_________________________

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.

Who are We? A Question of Identity

I’d like to think that my essays/articles have meaning or resonate with a wide circle of reasonable people. However, my unashamed focus is always on helping Black people in particular to “Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!” 

Throughout my life, I’ve addressed in one way or another- via activism or scholarship – the issues of economics, politics, incarceration, police brutality, fratricide, Black Nationalism, corporate exploitation, nation building and other pertinent issues to the Black community.

It is truly difficult to rank such issues in order of significance. And yet the issue of who we are as a people and how we identify ourselves, is surely one of the most important, given that it directly impacts all of the others.

On Monday April 11, 2016 Harlem Liberation School will host a panel discussion to address this issue of group identity. Our three panelists have distinguished themselves as resources on this topic, through intense study, writing, presenting and lived experience, or any combination of the above. While all three were/are “God Body,” or adherents of the Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths, each panelist brings a slightly different perspective to the identity discussion.

Brother Laheen Allah, learned much of his information while enduring more than a decade of captivity in the U.S. prison system. While others spent vasts amounts of time in other pursuits, Laheen educated himself in the library, and gained an impressive knowledge of sociology, law,  history and psychology. He is now working to finish a book on criminology in which he offers his own theories about why Black people commit crime, along with methods to rehabilitate them. 

Born M. Allah, a highly respected community organizer and educator, teaches biology from a Black consciousness perspective, owns a music entertainment group, and approaches the question of identity from a historical and  scientific perspective. 

 

sharif debateBrother Sharif Anael Bey, a member of Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple of America, is a longtime martial arts practitioner/instructor, and founder of “Ali’s Men,” a group of lecturers, researchers and writers around the country that specialize in Moorish Science history. More recently, Sharif has distinguished himself as a much sought after debater on the topics of history and identity. One day before the panel discussion at Harlem Liberation School, Sharif will debate the popular Afrocentric street scholar Brother Reggie, at the National Black Theater in Harlem.

Clearly, we cannot underestimate the importance of group identity. For this reason, and because we want to avoid the insults and combativeness that often occur in the street debate culture, Harlem Liberation School is proud to host a conversation on April 11, 2016 focusing on identity.

We expect all panelists to present their perspectives on the subject, support their perspective with facts and reason, and do so in the spirit of respect and community learning.

I should emphasize that our objective is to challenge and broaden our community understanding about how we identify ourselves, the factors that constitute individual and group identity, and ways to identify ourselves that are empowering and self-determining. I do hope you will consider attending this free event.

My own thoughts on this subject are as follows:

1. Identity is an issue of self-determination. This means we have the power to choose how we identify ourselves. Regardless of how well we argue our point, or our own beliefs, the bottom line is that everyone has the power to choose how they define themselves.

2. Ideally, our choice concerning identity should be informed and empowering. We can certainly choose to identify ourselves as “Thots,” “Gangsters,” “Bitches,” or “Niggas.” The questions then become: Are these identities empowering? Do they liberate us or contribute to enslaving us? Do they represent the best of ourselves, or the ugliest factions of our character? Do they produce and encourage confidence and love, or humiliation and self-hate? These questions and their implications are amplified for we Black descendants of Africa who’ve been systematically taught that we are nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing. I believe that we should identify ourselves in ways that unite us, benefit us and empower us. Identify is a matter of choice, and is relative, but it is by no means neutral. When we identify ourselves, we consciously or unconsciously align ourselves with some things, and detach ourselves from others. It is in fact, a political choice.

3. Several factors impact how we identify ourselves. We can choose to identify ourselves based on geography/place of origin, language, race, gender, religion, and political ideology to name a few. The issue of identity is not simplistic, but complicated. This also implies that identity is not fixed but fluid, which goes back to the first point. This is why we are advised not to impose our views of identity, but to educate people on the issue so they can make informed and empowered choices.

4. We should be careful about adopting the identities of those who subjugate us. At the risk of insulting some brothers and sisters (which is not my intention), I don’t understand why we identify ourselves as Muslim, Christian, American, French, or any other designation of our enemies who imposed these identities upon us. These identities are not neutral; they come with values, and a imperialist history replete with colonization, forced conversion, and persecution. In the case of religion for example, we must stop erasing historical record. These major religions some of us subscribe to, in fact, stole much of their mythology and doctrine from African civilizations then distorted them. These religions also work to serve and benefit white supremacy. These religions were not indigenous to ancient Africa; They were imposed upon us, often at the penalty of death. 

5. I interchangeably identify myself as “African” and/or “Black.” “People of Color” is a vague term born from the politics of multiculturalism. It does not unite people around a common experience. “African-American” is a compromised term that attempts to fuse our African origin with an American nationality. But I do not view myself as “American.” That red, white, and blue flag and those representing it, did everything imaginable to mistreat, exploit and murder us. Africa is our motherland from which we were snatched and dispersed all over the world. It connects us to a rich land base and even richer history and culture of values and practices. “Black” refers to our phenotype, color or race. It is the essence from which all other hues come. It is genetically dominant, and an all-encompassing term we can use to unify our people around the world. However, despite what I believe, I still recognize that our people have to choose identity for themselves.

6. We may never be able to determine a historical identity with precision. Are we Moors, Kemites, Hebrews, Asiatics, Muslims? The answer is not definitive. Because of lost or destroyed historical records, and contemporary limitations of archaeology, it may be impossible to say with precision who we are historically. We can say with authority that we are the original people of the Earth that created civilizations which have benefitted all of humanity. We can say that our people have been among the world’s most creative, influential and underappreciated. We can say that we are some of the world’s most resilient people, having survived and overcome the most horrific and enduring forms of oppression. Perhaps those realizations might suffice for now. Whatever identity we claim should make us loving toward each other, unified, productive and confident, and help us to be purposeful, forward-thinking and powerful. 

________________

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.

4 Ideas I Reject (and maybe you should too)

Before we can stand up in unity and acquire true power, we must be crystal clear about our condition. This becomes difficult when some of we Black folks enable our dysfunction with inaccurate or self-defeating ideas or beliefs. Let us strike a blow for liberation by dismissing some of the bullshit some of us say and believe.

1. Equality: This is a myth and misunderstanding. We want to be treated equally in terms of the law for example. However, we are not the same as other people. No other people has endured the level of brutality, scorn and oppression that Black people have, for as long as we have. Other people share aspects of our experience but not our experience in totality. We are not equal. Therefore, we don’t seek the illusion of equality, but the reality of power and fair treatment.

2. Multiculturalism: To facilitate the demise of radical political development ushered in by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, “liberal” whites introduced the concept of “multiculturalism.” Soon this idea infiltrated and influenced political and educational circles. It encouraged us to view ourselves as “People of color,” rather than “Black” people. It encouraged us to embrace and unify with Asians, Arabs, Latinos, American Indians, (white) women, the LGBT community and other traditionally oppressed or marginalized groups. But by linking arms with these groups, we linked our issues and interests with theirs. This weakened our political movement by creating diversions we could ill afford. This also gave members of these other groups the impression that our issues and interests are the same. It is not uncommon to hear people say things like “Gay is the new Black,” for example. As mentioned previously, our issues are similar in some cases, but not the same. I should add that significant elements of these groups we allign ourselves with, harbor deep and unresolved resentment toward Black folk!

White women do not receive the same treatment, respect or power as white men. Yet, they are not generally as poor, mistreated or mischaracterized as Black women.

The discrimination one endures for being Black differs in some aspects from the plight of the larger gay community. While they suffer from sexuality-based discrimination, we suffer from discrimination based on phenotype (skin color). One’s sexual preferences and activities are technically private manners which only become public when observed or suspected by others. One’s pigment (which is conspicuous at all times) is a different matter altogether. Furthermore, both white women and white members of the gay community enjoy larger rates of formal education, social mobility, political access and income than Black people.

I believe it is unethical and contradictory to mistreat any women or members of the LGBT community. Liberation must be total. However, our attention and priority must focus on Black people.

It is foolish and counterproductive to further fragment our already divided people by treating any of our folks as lepers or outcasts. I also disagree with using our scarce energy and resources to advance and defend non-Black women or others. Our primary concern should in my opinion, be our own survival, development and liberation. This is especially true given that white women and the larger gay community are far better funded, organized and powerful than Black people. Multiculturalism obscures these objectives and observations.

3. Trusting electoral politics: A common phase I hear from well-meaning Black folk around election time is, “Our people fought and died for the right to vote.” If we study our history, we know this statement bears some truth. However, this applies specifically to participants of the moden Civil Rights Movement who engaged in acts of civil disobedience for voting rights, which resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In describing our struggle in the United States, it is more accurate to say, “Our ancestors fought and died to be free, safe and treated fairly.” In saying this, we acknowledge that grassroots organizing, legal challenges, revolutionary activities, radical journalism, institution building,  and scores of protests and demonstrations – more than voting – comprised our most effective tactics of choice. These tactics pressured sympathetic and adversarial politicians to write, pass and enforce legislation for Black people.

4. The definition of power: Our history clearly demonstrates both what power is, and how to acquire it.

Power is the capacity to advance/protect one’s interests, solve problems, and meet objectives. We often confuse this with “influence” which is the capacity to appeal to those in power in an attempt to shape or affect other people’s thinking or behavior in our interests.

To exercise power in relationship to adversaries, we must also demonstrate an ability to enhance or threaten their image, finances, safety/comfort, success and/or stability. If we cannot do these things, we cannot expect those on power to advance or protect us. We are naive to think they will do so on a moral basis.

My hope is that we will proceed forward as strategic and informed thinkers who perceive things/people as they are, not as we want them to be….

_______

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.

Dr. King: Beyond the Myths and Propaganda

Today – January 15, 2016 – marks the 87th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. Today through his holiday on Monday, we will reflect on his message, mission and moral mandate.

Much of what transpires on his holiday is predictable: Students and some workers will enjoy the day off, and opportunistic retail chains will likely have sales in his “honor.” Churches and community centers will hold large and small commemorations and television networks will air their nostalgic Dr. King movies, interviews, and news specials.

Some of us will play audio or video clips of Dr. King’s passionately poetic speeches and marvel at his courage, commitment and vision.

And despite all the media attention and gestures of reverance, Dr. King will unfortunately remain misunderstood. For almost the 48th consecutive year after his murder, this society will narrowly depict him as the nonviolent and “reasonable” contrast to Malcolm X, the lucid and colorblind sociopolitical “dreamer,” or the brilliant and poetic wordsmith-turned-folk- hero whose oratory moved the world from the black-and-white video clips of snarling police dogs and angry waterhoses to the promised land of integration.

All towering public figures risk our misinterpretation, as we try to distinguish between their private and public personas and the mythology created around them. In this sense, Dr. King is no different from other celebrated people.

Yet Dr. King is not just another “celebrity” in the sense that we understand the term today. Like brother Malcolm, Ella Baker and so many others, Dr. King didn’t distinguish himself by outlandish displays of wealth, or other forms of self-absorption; He made his mark by organizing, speaking truth to power, and challenging the ideological foundations of white supremacy.

Dr. King certainly was not without flaws.. The young activists of SNCC felt his leadership was often too charismatic and top-down. Ella Baker (an active organizer within King’s  organization who later coordinated SNCC) constantly challenged King and the male civil rights leaders in their patriarchy.

Nevertheless, as an important Black leader, Dr. King joins a huge pantheon of people whose significance and meaning were deliberately distorted by the American elite and by various groups around the world who see in Dr. King, a role model and influence for their own particular issues and interests.

The plain truth is that America often vilifies its heroes while they’re alive, and honors them in their death. We must NEVER forget that the government wiretapped King’s home and office telephones and hotel rooms across the country. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover – with permission from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy – compiled a ruthless  record of harassment against King, which included the false accusation of him being a communist,  making audio recordings of his sexual encounters, threatening letters, and ultimately, complicity in his 1968 assassination.

Only after an assassin’s bullet quieted his voice, did Dr. King posthumously receive America’s adulation: The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, voted the number six most important person of the century by Time Magazine (2000), voted the third greatest American by a Discovery Channel poll, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (2004), the declaration of his home and other relevant buildings as a National Historic Site, and in 2011 was the first non-president honored with a memorial in Washington, D.C. On November 2, 1983 following an impressive campaign led by Coretta Scott King and Stevie Wonder, President Ronald Reagan (of all people) signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor King. The holiday is now observed on the third Monday of January each year.

Despite these deferred accolades however, make no mistake; The government that honored Dr. King after his death, harrassed, despised and eventually killed him.

<> on August 22, 2011 in Washington, DC.

A man with over 700 American streets named after him, a national monument in his honor, and the subject of hundreds of books, movies and documentaries, needs no long introduction.

Indeed, we can fetch any amount of trivia pertaining to Dr. King from the internet in minutes.

I find it more useful to uncover dimensions of Dr. King that are often obscured in a collection of misleading myths. My hope is that this will help us to better understand, defend, and implement his ideas.

Debunking The Myths Surrounding Dr. King

1. King was no threat to the power structure. Some politically conscious people, in an attempt to trivialize King’s impact because they disagree with his nonviolent and “integrationist politics,” suggest that Dr. King posed no real threat to American interests. This myth is inaccurate and easily dismissed.

Dr. King confronted the philosophy and practice of racial segregation, particularly the racist assumption that Blacks were inferior to whites and subject to their domination. In   this sense, he challenged and threatened the philosophical basis and justification of white supremacy!

He helped Blacks gain access to educational, political and economic sites of power. Dr. King challenged the military industrial complex by speaking out against war and American imperialism. According to him, “America should support the shirtless and barefoot people in the Third World rather than suppressing their attempts at revolution.” Dr. King also had a class dimension to his analysis. He decried poverty and once noted, “Something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

He planned a “Poor People’s Campaign” which sought to have Congress create an “Economic Bill of Rights,” for all American citizens. And lest we forget, his last political move prior to his assassination was to support the strike of Black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

Therefore contrary to the myth, Dr. King posed very serious threats to the concept of White supremacy, to the military industrial complex and American imperialism, and to the selfish and ruthless interests of big business/corporations. In fact, Dr. King delivered a powerful speech in 1967 entitled “The Three Evils of Society,” which he identified as racism, imperialism and materialism.

On a more basic note, if Dr. King were not a serious threat to the establishment, he would not have been jailed over 30 times, had his house bombed, been under government surveillance, or assassinated!

2.  Dr. King’s nonviolent tactics were weak or cowardly. My own political hero Malcolm X once believed this and later came to change his position. Regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, we must understand that Dr. King did not simply speak against racism, but organized masses of Black people to challenge hostile southern racists directly. He confronted brutal police chiefs, rabidly racist white citizens right in their backyard! He endured time in some of this nation’s most dangerous jails, willingly put himself in great physical danger to do so, and inspired others to join him.  We may disagree with the wisdom or impact of King’s tactics, but we certainly cannot say they were “cowardly.”

3. Dr. King was Color-Blind.This myth usually derives from liberal whites who feel left out of the King discussion or from Negroes whose humanitarian interests lead them to confuse racism with self-determination. Dr. King grew up in the racially segregated south. He experienced the isolation of having to use black bathrooms, water fountains, and dining facilities. And he vowed to change this condition. These race-based conditions are what led him to become a leader for social change in the first place. Read his sermons or speeches and see how many references he makes to the “Negro condition,” “racial superiority or inferiority,” or our “sick white brothers.” Or listen to this interview in which he outlines how he developed racial consciousness as a child. Dr. King clearly saw himself as a Black man confronting white supremacy on behalf of Black people. This was his foundation. He certainly welcomed white support and challenged issues beyond race, but to suggest that he was color-blind is simply inaccurate. We cannot remove people from their geographical, historical or political context. Nor should we impose our own politics on those of Dr. King’s.

4. Whites Chose and Appointed Dr. King’s Leadership. This is another example of disingenuous claims from segments of the Black community. Dr. King rose to national and later global prominence from his leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1953-54, initially called by longtime activist Jo Ann Robinson. The Montgomery Improvement Association, composed entirely of Black clergy and community members (my maternal grandmother included),

Several years passed before Dr. King received mass support from liberal elements of the white community, and even then he received criticism from some of those elements – a situation for example that led him to write his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” in response to white clergy who thought him too impulsive and radical.

Concluding Thoughts

Why is it necessary for us to debunk myths about Dr. King? So that we are empowered to understand, defend, and implement his ideas.

If we sift through the propaganda, and truly understand Dr. King’s motives and ideas, we can diligently defend him from those who wish to distort and pervert his meaning for us today.

This empowers us to use his ideas to challenge politicians and others who claim to support Dr. King, but write legislation and public policy diametrically opposed to his politics. We can also raise important questions. For example, how does Dr. King’s philosophy speak to the murder of Osama Bin Laden or Muammar Ghaddifi without the benefit of a trial by members of their countries?

How should we interpret and respond to escalating acts of police brutality and corporate malfeasance?

How do we understand America’s military relationships with Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan or Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land?

What is our moral and political mandate concerning poverty, public education, healthcare, homelessness and the prison system?  Has America truly become “post-racial,” or does white supremacy and discrimination still dominate the landscape?

In closing, I urge everyone to listen to Dr. King’s sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” 35 minutes into the sermon he concluded by explaining how he wanted to be remembered in the event of his death. His words, like his life, are moving…

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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.

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.