Soundtrack: Tef Poe “Change The World”
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.