WE NEED A PLAN!: The Origin of Black America’s Leadership Vacuum



Soundtrack: Tef Poe “Change The World”

                    Tupac “Hold Ya Head”

     Michael Brown was murdered by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9th. I was able to conclude my #TantraTour2014 and return home to St. Louis on August 16th. When I arrived I landed in the middle of a warzone. By now, we have all seen the images on social media and on the news. I saw them up close and personal. I also saw a community struggling to find answers about what to do in response to the injustice of Mike losing his life as well as the nightly violations of the human and civil rights of those gathered in Ferguson to protest against the injustice. Many of the people who came out of their homes and got involved were very new to the task of community organizing. They had very little knowledge of the historical forces shaping the situation that erupted when Mike was killed. They only knew the anger and hurt of their personal stories.

     Over the course of the 18, 292 meetings I attended in 11 days of working on the frontline of this fight, I heard the phrase “We need a plan!” (with the exclamation mark) countless times. As I watched Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and Iyanla Vanzant and other Negro “leaders” come into town and get booed out, it became clear that the masses of the people might not know what they want to do, but they know what they don’t want. They don’t want to be told not to be angry, not to fight back against the police, not to uprise. They want to know how to keep Mike Brown from happening again in the future. How did we get to this point of not having anyone who the masses of the people trust to speak for us? Why is there no one who has the ear of the people and can articulate their frustrations and desires in a way that resonates with them? What happened to Black leadership?

     There is a somewhat controversial opinion that I’ve been holding onto for a while now. My belief is that the oppression heaped upon Black America in the past 50 years constitutes as great of a crime against our humanity as the whole 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow which preceded it. Why do I say that? In the 1500s through the 1800s, it was politically correct for African people to be held as slaves. Everyone was doing it, it was the In Thing. In the late 1800s and early 1900s it was politically correct for African people to be treated as second class citizens. The world wasn’t shocked and appalled about Black people in the United States living in ghettos and having sub-par schools.

     However, the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, and especially the greatness which was Martin Luther King Jr., made the world start to feel differently about our condition. It became no longer politically correct for us to be oppressed. The world came to expect the United States to grant us the full rights and privileges that go along with being citizens of this country. And the Powers That Be put on airs to give the impression that they were doing just that. The Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Bill and such was designed to make it appear that America was becoming an integrated Land of the Free. However, the reality 50 years later is that the vast majority of us are still suffocating under the effects of institutional racism. Mike Brown and Ferguson is the latest and most clear illustration of that reality.

     I say that the oppression of the last 50 years is worse than what came before it because our enemies knew that they had put us in a Hell of a condition (literally), they knew that the eyes of the world were upon them, they knew that we were attempting to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and gain some equal footing in this country, and instead of letting us breathe and do for self, they took the proverbial knife out of our back just a bit and then forcefully shoved it back in. They killed our leaders. The moral of this story is that our collective prayers and cries produced some of the greatest leadership that the world has ever seen. Black America produced some absolutely amazing spokespersons and generals, many of them all in the same generation. But not only did our enemies not give us our promised 40 acres and a mule or its 20th century equivalent, they systematically snuffed out those whom Nature had given us to lead us out of Hell. The following is a quote from an internal memo of the FBI written in 1968:

“For maximum effectiveness of the Counterintelligence Program, and to prevent wasted effort, long-range goals are being set.

1. Prevent the COALITION of militant black nationalist groups. In unity there is strength; a truism that is no less valid for all its
triteness. An effective coalition of black nationalist groups might be the first step toward a real “Mau Mau” [Black revolutionary army] in America, the beginning of a true black revolution.

2. Prevent the RISE OF A “MESSIAH” who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have
been such a “messiah;” he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammed all aspire to this position. Elijah Muhammed is less of a threat because of his age. King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed “obedience” to “white, liberal doctrines” (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism. Carmichael has the necessary charisma to be a real threat in this way.

3. Prevent VIOLENCE on the part of black nationalist groups. This is of primary importance, and is, of course, a goal of our investigative activity; it should also be a goal of the Counterintelligence Program to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence.

4. Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining RESPECTABILITY, by discrediting them to three separate segments of the community. The goal of discrediting black nationalists must be handled tactically in three ways. You must discredit those groups and individuals to, first, the responsible Negro community. Second, they must be discredited to the white community, both the responsible community and to “liberals” who have vestiges of sympathy for militant black nationalist [sic] simply because they are Negroes. Third, these groups must be discredited in the eyes of Negro radicals, the followers of the movement.
This last area requires entirely different tactics from the first two. Publicity about violent tendencies and radical statements merely enhances black nationalists to the last group; it adds “respectability” in a different way.

5. A final goal should be to prevent the long-range GROWTH of militant black organizations, especially among youth. Specific tactics to prevent these groups from converting young people must be developed.”

     Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Bunchy Carter, Fred Hampton, Lumumba Shakur, and Carl Hampton were killed by the government or by government agents. Geronimo Pratt, Mutulu Shakur, Assata Shakur, Sundiata Acoli, Dhoruba bin Wahad, H. Rap Brown (Jamil Al-Amin), and others were imprisoned for decades, some still locked up right now. It would take me too long to explain what makes all of these people great but I strongly suggest that you google any of these names that you’re not already familiar with.

     All of the organizations these people were affiliated with in the 60s and 70s were either destroyed or severely damaged by the end of the 70s. Only one organization from that time was successfully rebuilt to even resemble its former glory and that is the Nation of Islam under Louis Farrakhan. However, today Minister Farrakhan is 81 years old and has been suffering from the effects of prostate cancer and radiation treatments for about a decade now. He is no longer the globetrotting, fiery leader that was able to bring two million men together in Washington, D.C. at the Million Man March.

     All of the inspiration and motivation and organization that these leaders were born to provide to their community was taken away. And what happens to a people whose leadership is taken away? Our community is the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, running around aimlessly until we eventually hit the rock bottom that we are currently seeing in response to the killing of Mike Brown. Our people are tired of feeling powerless and not knowing what to do about it.

     We just covered what happened to the leadership class from the young adults of the 60s and 70s. The young adults of the 80s spent a whole decade reeling from the effects of what had happened to their parents and older siblings. The combination of a lack of guidance along with Reaganomics and the introduction of crack cocaine and its accompanying War On Drugs that enslaved (imprisoned) our people in record numbers basically wiped out that whole generation. The young adults of the 90s attempted to pick up the pieces and use the wisdom of the 60s to revitalize the movement for our liberation.

     The 90s generation started new organizations and worked hard in older organizations. They sought to establish gang peace treaties across the country and help people to get over drug addiction. Many of them wore Malcolm X hats and Africa medallions and carried backpacks with books on black history with them everywhere they went. They were the fanbase that drove the careers of musical acts like Boogie Down Productions, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Brand Nubian. And their primary spokesman was a young son of the Revolution named Tupac Shakur.

     Tupac was born into the same family as all of the Shakurs whom I mentioned earlier. He was fearless, articulate, charming, handsome and talented. He survived being shot and actually shot cops and got away with it. He was our invincible general, our modern day Hannibal. And even though the government has done everything they can to hide it, most of us know in our hearts that Tupac was killed by the government, just like his predecessors. His death, along with that of the Notorious B.I.G., knocked the wind out of our youth in a way that we are still recovering from.

     In the absence of having many leaders in the areas of politics and community activism, we produced artists and entertainers who could fill the role of leaders with their art. Since the assassination of Tupac our youth are still looking to entertainers as our primary spokespersons but the quality of the entertainers has changed dramatically. Those who control mainstream media corporations have made a collective, conscious decision not to fund entertainment and entertainers who have a message of liberation in their art. And as a result we are producing fewer and fewer artists who have that message. However, every absence presents an opportunity for those who are able to see it and capitalize on it.

     The stage is set and the time is ripe for a new crop of entertainers to step into the gap and provide the spark of inspiration that we so desperately need at this time. Technology and the internet has made it easier than ever to bypass the mainstream media corporations and create fame for yourself. The entertainer(s) who can seize the opportunity today to create high quality art that entertains as well as educates stands to make an incredible fortune as well as make an incredible impact on the world. Yesterday, rapper The Game released a tribute song for Mike Brown featuring superstars like Diddy, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, and others. He released it straight to iTunes and advertised it via his social media platforms. That is an example of what the near future holds.

     The young people of St. Louis who have taken the lead in organizing on behalf of Mike Brown have rallied around an independent rapper by the name of Tef Poe who is from St. Louis. Tef has been there since a couple of hours after Mike Brown was shot and has worked tirelessly to keep his name alive and to fight for justice and systemic change. Tef is the prototype of what I am referring to here. If he can maintain his organic connection with the people as well as his independent business model and quality business team, he can be a new millenium Tupac-type artist/leader.

     It is important that our people understand the history behind how we got into our current situation of being short on quality leadership. We need to be less frustrated with ourselves and more encouraged by our possibilities. There are literally new leaders popping up everyday right now who are worthy of the support of the people. Those who have a platform to reach people are beginning to feel the responsibility of using their platform in a productive way. Time is on our side. By staying focused on our common interests and staying aware of our common enemies and supporting our new leaders, we can breathe new life into our liberation movement and turn our situation around overnight.

     Go to http://www.HandsUpUnited.org

Apartheid By Apathy

Soundtrack: The Temptations “Ball of Confusion”


Apartheid: a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. From the Afrikaans word meaning “separateness”, usually used to refer to the (former) social system in South Africa.

Apathy: lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern

I have returned home to St. Louis, Missouri…North County to be exact, which contains Ferguson, where the eyes of the world are focused. The home that I grew up in is about a 9 minute drive from where Mike Brown was killed. As I sit down to write this, social media reports that there was just another shooting of an unarmed black man by St. Louis city police. (Editor’s Note: Apparently, this most recent shooting victim was holding a knife).

As we have all heard by now, the municipality of Ferguson is about 70% black. 1 of the 6 city council members are black. 3 of the 53 police officers are black. 7 school board members, six white, one black. The mayor is white. And this pattern is typical of the small municipalities that make up the northern part of St. Louis County.

My family moved to North County in 1985. There was a veritable flood of black people moving from the inner city into this area around that time. And, of course, the white residents began to move out in droves. Those whites who didn’t leave are now elders, by and large. The black community is largely young, poor, and constantly moving from apartment to apartment. It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out that these conditions are going to lead to more white people choosing to vote in electoral politics than black people. Older people of all races can be counted on to vote no matter their race.

The end result of this is a situation where a minority white population rules over a majority black population that is generally too busy surviving from day to day to be worried about who is running for political office or what the issues are. And because these white people are typical white Americans, many of them really don’t like blacks very much. And it shows in the way they treat the black people who they rule over. The aftermath of the Mike Brown shooting shows us the ultimate result of all of this.

Apartheid by Apathy.

The failure of Black people to get collectively involved in political and civic affairs leaves someone else to do the troublesome job of actually running the local governments and institutions.

Apartheid by Apathy.

This situation is one of the troublesome legacies of U.S. slavery. The democratic political process is a cultural habit acquired by people over the course of time. When the first Europeans arrived in the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries, when they lived in British colonies, they didn’t have the cultural habits necessary to politically control their communities. The only reality they knew was being ruled by the British powers-that-be. Those people learned how to govern themselves through trial and error. They didn’t automatically have the process figured out in 1776. It took them 13 years after making their Declaration of Independence to come up with a Constitution. Initially the two dominant political parties in this country were called the Federalist party and the Democratic-Republican party. Those two parties fell apart around the 1820s. There was a second set of parties that dominated politics from 1828 to 1854, including the Anti-Masonic Party. And there were more distinct periods in America’s political development after that. 100 years ago it was common knowledge that much of this country’s political machinery was heavily influenced by organized crime, street gangsters. The current way that things look in this country is very, very new.

The Africans in the United States were released from physical slavery in the 1860s. After less than 15 years of Reconstruction it was decided that we would be excluded from the political process by the Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. We were just officially let back into the political arena in the late 1960s. Less than 50 years ago. We have not had the time to develop healthy cultural habits surrounding politics that other communities have had. To expect us to compete equally on this political playing field is to deny our history in this country.

Now, it is only our responsibility to get us up to speed. No one is going to do it for us and no one should be expected to do it for us. However, it should not be surprising that we don’t have it all figured out yet. Especially when the current Establishment has been using tactics like the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program and Reagan’s War On Drugs (which is really a war on Black people) to keep us from being able to develop politically for the whole past 50 years. That masterful behind-the-scenes repression of our political aspirations has resulted in many of our people giving up on the political process because it hasn’t garnered results for us. This is the background that has led to us now living under Apartheid by Apathy.

Our community is mainly divided between those who choose not to engage in politics at all and those who have been absorbed into the Democratic Party. The elements among our people who have attempted to develop organized groups to exclusively pursue our political interests have been nullified. I won’t take this time to get fully into our relationship with the Democratic Party, other than to say that that is not in our best collective interest.

Ultimately, we have to learn from the example of other groups who have political effectiveness. The National Rifle Association, the homosexual community, the Jewish community, and others have laid a blueprint for how to do group politics well. The foundation of it is learning how to use lobbying groups, political action committees, and fundraising effectively. Detailing how that process works would have to be the subject of a separate writing. For now, I would like to reiterate these three points:

1) Black people in the United States are living under apartheid conditions. Being dominated over by people who don’t look like us, don’t identify with us, and don’t love us. And that condition is starting to boil over into rebellions as we see in St. Louis surrounding the killing of Mike Brown.

2) This Apartheid by Apathy is the natural result of our history in this country. Having been only recently allowed to enter the political process and never having been allowed to enter the political process free of interference, it would be silly to expect us to be able to compete equally with other communities politically. That is not how reality works.

3) Our situation is an unpleasant one. We don’t have the power to control our own lives and our own communities. No one outside of our communities is going to give us any assistance in gaining power for ourselves. It is up to us to take our dissatisfaction and channel it into some serious organizing work. We have to study the example of other communities and learn how to apply those principles to our own community. We must develop a Black America lobbying group and political action committee. We must free ourselves from the clutches of the Democratic Party. If they want our votes then they will have to earn them.

Let us love ourselves and stop being so hard on ourselves for not having it all together just yet. Let history soothe our minds and allow us to be kind to ourselves and to one another. And let us charge forward as a unit, determined to claim the Power over own communities that we should have.