Black Leaders

mirror tom

Uncle Toms are the greatest threat to black America. In 2017 Uncle Tom might take the form of Dr. Dre on Monday, T.D Jakes on Tuesday, Future on Thursday and morph into Very Smart Brothas by week’s end. Even I, the writer, am guilty. In his autobiography Malcolm X indicated that he could stomach a conservative racist more than an Uncle Tom. Malcolm understood the danger. If black people are to achieve true revolution and freedom, we must eliminate Tom, wherever he might be found.

The trouble in 2017 is that we don’t understand what makes one an Uncle Tom and we resist the notion that each of us, woke as we believe ourselves to be, have some Uncle Tom in us. Again, I myself am not exempt.

The Uncle Tom, for our purpose, is any person who identifies as black but actively or passively undermines black power; black power= black freedom and self determination. This can be momentary or a permanent condition, for some. Holding conservative views does not make one an Uncle Tom. Having liberal views –which I do– does not make one aligned with black power, either. In fact, the most dangerous Uncle Toms in 2017 happen to be liberals/Democrats. The danger we pose is that we think ourselves woke because of our liberalism. When our lives are misaligned with the ideals of black power and independence, however, we have to be convinced that we are in fact Uncle Toms.

By virtue of American citizenship all black people wrestle with some level of internal Tom. Indeed, it is often a necessary evil for survival. In the 1940’s it may have been necessary to buy from white folks to literally escape death. Survival. In today’s world Van Jones went from basically condemning Trump voters on election night as bigots to now traveling the country, holding town halls with Trump supporters to explore their “viewpoints.” Again, survival. But black power is beyond survival and to attain it we must be mature enough to reflect on our level of Uncle Tom and work to kill that son of a bitch. Are you bold enough to join this collective journey and identify which variety of Tom lives in you?

The Religious Uncle Tom

Bishop T.D Jakes has shined brighter than most preachers for years. His books and sermons have reached millions. Still, given his tremendous platform, it is fair to ask how it all has furthered the quest for black freedom. The bishop is to be commended for preaching a message of self-healing and empowerment but he is positioned to actually erect or support institutions to help facilitate that empowerment. Based on the ministries his church website promotes, this is not the case. Further, sermons are fine but black people need his voice to confront the many crises we face on a more consistent basis.

Yes, his ministry helps ex-offenders and needy people but because the Bishop has been given much, more is required. Some might say his role as a preacher is simply to inspire individuals, who then will minister to society. That argument is tempting but disarmed when the history of the black church is considered. The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church is the oldest denomination founded by black people in America, back in 1816. They preached the word but also built colleges like Wilberforce University and by 1880, operated over 2,000 schools. In an era of strict segregation, their congregations raised the money needed to keep those schools operational.

In a time when black people literally risked death for speaking out on social issues, AME bishops like Henry Mcneal Turner were fearless in the political arena. From the dangerous terrain of central Georgia, Turner successfully ran for the state legislature and used his voice as a trumpet for justice. Jakes, on the other hand, speaks loudly on prosperity but historically has been mute on topics of black oppression. He plays it safe, not wanting to alienate supporters. Turner risked his life to speak out but Jakes appears apprehensive about losing offerings or influence. After all, he never would have gotten a talk show had he gone all Jeremiah Wright.

The religious Uncle Tom is dangerous and I have been him. My thoughts were of heaven and developing the self toward godliness. In that state I chose to downplay social issues, having been taught that if we all just stopped sinning everything would be fine. I knew oppression existed but again, I was told that it was the result of sin. I saw racism but rather than call it out, I was taught that we should focus on –you guessed it– the sinful nature. I was told that it was godly to bring people together rather than directly rebuke those who oppress others. Those who taught me seemed unaware that it was Jesus who said that he did “not come to bring peace but a sword.” As we looked to the sky in our piety, we failed to see the urgency on planet earth.

I prayed often but the ills of the world persisted. At times I even tried to feed the hungry but never evolved to the understanding of Archbishop Hélder Câmara, who said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” The religious institutions I belonged to played it safe. Feeding hungry people earned our nonprofit a grant. Speaking against those who oppress the poor and building institutions that promote power, however, might lose offerings and friends. Our nonprofits ultimately rendered us “non-prophets.”

Some of our churches can raise a nice offering. In fact, the black church is one of the few institutions that successfully pools the capital of black people. Those dollars, however, go toward maintaining facilities and the work of the “ministry.” We can’t seem to connect the dots. Our community faces crises in employment and resources and yet, the church’s successful pooling of black capital never results in job creation or combatting the deep disparities our communities face. The church building remains in tact, however, as the neighborhood crumbles. We believe we are doing the Lord’s work but in fact, we hinder the progress of black people.

Black churches have not the luxury to exist as other churches do. No other group in America had to emerge from the depths of chattel slavery, live under neo slavery/Jim Crow and seek equality in the face of constant harassment, void of meaningful reparations. The urgency, focus and commitment required to overcome this legacy leaves no room for passivity. Here are a few tangible ways to take action as a faith community:

  1. Use money collected from members to start a fund to support local entrepreneurs and black institutions, such as your closest HBCU.
  2. Deposit church funds into a black owned bank.
  3. Use the pulpit and church communications to direct members to business owners in the congregation and the community.
  4. Require candidates for public office to articulate their plan for black empowerment through economic development prior to giving them a platform at your church.
  5. Use the pulpit to rebuke policies and policymakers that hinder black freedom, especially locally.

To kill Tom must be a daily fight and it is difficult. On the other side of that fight, however, is a world where black people are free, independent and collectively walk in power. Religion can serve the aim of liberation or pacify both the oppressed and the powerful.

Stay tuned for the next installment on “The Hood Uncle Tom”

 

MLK Memorial

You will die one day for no one lives forever. When people gather to celebrate your life and mourn your passing, would it be okay if they mentioned your deeds as a teenager but not those of your mature self? Would you rest in peace knowing they opted not to tell people of your most urgent convictions? You would roll in your grave and yet this is precisely what we do every year on King Day. The nation’s annual bastardizing of King’s legacy is hindering the progress of black people seeking liberation. This most recent King celebration must be the last of its kind.

I cannot stomach another King holiday in which we make vague statements about equality and peace. Peace was the last thing King had on his mind when he died. His thoughts were of bringing pain. As he told an audience the night before his death, “Now we must…redistribute that pain.” The pain he was referring to was that of poor sanitation workers in Memphis who were striking. The redistribution of it was to be felt by corporations, which up to that point had been responsible for or at least apathetic to black suffering. In seeking to move from that suffering to true liberation, King told his audience, “We don’t have to argue with anybody.” Rather than argue and protest, King admonished his audience that night to practice the power of “economic withdrawal.” King was over marching and debating. His calculus was simple: we have money and we can simply withhold it to hurt our enemies, then use it to strengthen ourselves. No argument needed. Yet each King holiday fosters fresh arguments with those who don’t see a problem with our nation’s treatment of black people, empty marches and some hollow acknowledgment of America’s progress. This can’t actually be helping us.

The King holiday presents black America with a fresh opportunity to embrace apathy. It is an occasion in which we are reminded to be good, peaceful and love our enemies. We should reject that message and embrace a violent commitment to that which the mature King taught us. This is why HopewellThought chose to launch a yearlong buy black campaign this month. The time for arguing is over. We are celebrating King’s legacy by actually living up to it, not concealing it with empty pleasantries. If you have not already, read up on what we are doing and get involved. Reflecting on “peace” and praising America for all her “progress” has done nothing to change the fact that black unemployment has been double that of our white counterparts since we’ve kept stats. Giving America a pat on the back for spotting a black man a holiday has not created jobs in our neighborhoods or helped our entrepreneurs access the capital they so badly need. This cannot be the celebration Dr. King had in mind.

If we are to celebrate this day we must do so in a different way. No more empty words and feel-good service projects. Those things are befitting of the 26 year old Dr. King who was the front man for the Montgomery Bus Boycott but not the mature leader who came to Memphis years later to redistribute pain. King felt no need to argue with anyone–he saw an opportunity to take power. The Dr. King who spoke in Memphis the night before his death was fully grown in his thoughts and convictions. He’d seen the weaknesses of the movement up to that point. He’d learned from his earlier successes and failures. He was ready to lead black America down a path toward true progress and power. Then he was shot. Since that time his voice has been muted in history and we are annually seduced by a holiday in his honor; it has been perverted and lacks the revolutionary spirit of the man it claims to honor. Join the campaign and let’s truly honor the legacy of Dr. King because this is not helping us.

 

 

ali

I thought I had a cold this morning but I realized I was just sick of the fake tributes to Muhammad Ali. We hated his guts, just be honest. UNC professor Matthew Andrews points out that we hated him so much, we made the movie Rocky about a white underdog beating a faux Ali because no one could do it in real life. Ali had the audacity to say that whites were universally the enemy of suffering blacks. Ali delved further into race when he refused to fight in Vietnam because those “darker people” had never lynched him or called him nigger. As he is now being celebrated, our hypocrisy is on display and we must reckon with it–we still hate what he stood for and thus we should stop our insincere praises posthumously.

black-panthers

Full disclosure: I’m divorced. I have hundreds of friends, family and acquaintances who’d willingly testify to my overall good character but I’m uncertain that my ex-wife and her family would extend such grace. I suspect they might be slightly more eager to tell you of my shortcomings and more dangerously, attribute innocent actions to ill intent. I would not want my ex’s family charged with writing my biography. Sadly, this is precisely the way we treat the history of the Black Panther Party.

FILE - In this July 6, 2009 file photo, former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry attends a news conference in Washington. Barry has been hospitalized in Las Vegas. Barry is currently a District of Columbia councilmember. His chief of staff told The Associated Press on Monday that Barry is resting comfortably and is expected to make a full recovery. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
Crack cocaine was in the room. As agents swarmed Marion Barry he uttered, “Bitch set me up…I shouldn’t have come up here…goddamn bitch.” Yes, that is the man Baltimore needs for mayor. The city is still smoldering from the fires set ablaze after the death of Freddie Gray. From those embers, DeRay Mckesson, a Black Lives Matter activist, has emerged as a candidate for mayor. On February 3rd the The New York Times wrote that, “At the center of the mayor’s race will be issues of race and policing in a predominantly black city.” For Baltimore’s sake, I hope they’re wrong. If that is Mckesson’s platform, I certainly hope he doesn’t win.
The latest data available from the American Community Survey indicated that only 59% of black males between the ages of 25 and 54 are working in Baltimore. For whites, the number is 79%. The median household income for blacks is around $33,000, white households bring home about twice that. Washington- also overwhelmingly black at the time- was once a symbol for all that could go wrong in a city: drugs, crime and poverty. It was Marion Barry who laid the foundations for the city’s turnaround. Barry did not accomplish this by focusing on police violence, although the issue is an important one. Rather, it was all about the money.
Don Peebles runs the largest black-owned development company in the nation. Starting from an appointment from Barry to the Property Tax Appel Board, Peebles built a $4 billion empire in real estate. As Peebles pointed out at Barry’s funeral, Barry created the black middle class in Washington. When Barry was elected mayor in 1979, minority businesses received 3% of city contracts; that is, in a predominantly black city. When Barry started his third term as mayor, minority businesses were receiving nearly fifty percent of the city’s contracts. Peebles went on to point out that to the present day, minority businesses in New York City only receive three percent: exactly where DC was when Barry started as mayor in 1979.
That shift was not accidental. In a 1986 interview with Black Enterprise Barry said, “For blacks, it is much easier to get political power than it is to get economic power.” He also added that “Blacks in politics should see to it that more economic power is distributed to the black community. As one of those with political power, I feel that my job is to see to it that this power is achieved.” Barry’s administration required all city agencies to ensure 35% of the dollar volume of their contracts went to minority firms. Close to fifty minority firms performed more than a third of the city’s construction contracts for development projects. No, Barry didn’t change black Washington overnight- big ships don’t turn on a dime- however, in a majority black city, Barry took tax dollars from blacks and put those dollars back to work for them. In so doing, Barry laid the foundation for people like Don Peebles to create wealth and opportunity for others. Parenthetically, many have a problem with routing tax dollars from blacks to contracts for black businesses. Oddly enough, they see no issue with black tax dollars going to white firms, in predominantly black cities.
Meanwhile in Baltimore, a Baltimore Sun article from October 2015 highlighted that “City officials said they do not know how many contracts now go to small businesses” or “how much those contracts are worth.” To be fair, that article was written to announce changes to benefit small, women and minority owned firms in the area. Even so, it shows just how misplaced the focus has been for Baltimore City leaders for some time. It shows, clearly, that the next mayor has much work to do and simply focusing on matters of criminal justice reform or street activism simply won’t do.
Yes, Marion Barry did start as an activist but he matured to see the larger picture and more importantly, what his political platform could do to benefit blacks in Washington economically. There is no magic formula: tax dollars in, city contracts out. To whom those contracts go, so also does millions in wealth. The Democratic primary for Baltimore mayor is April 26th. What will the candidates choose to focus on? How do they envision the mayoral chair serving the needs of the people? They should carefully study Marion Barry.
Coretta Scott King, wearing hat and gloves, and her four children view the body of her husband, slain civil rights activist leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Atlanta, Ga., on April 7, 1968.  The children are, from left, Yolanda, 12, Bernice, 5, Martin III, 11, and Dexter 7.  Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. on April 4.  Other members in the photograph are not identified.  (AP Photo)

Between January 2014 and October 2015 nearly 19,000 civilians were killed in Iraq, according to a United Nations report. Another 36,000 were wounded and 3.2 million were internally displaced, including one million school aged children. None of this screams peace and brotherhood.

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To My Jewish Brothers and Sisters,

I say with love and extreme sincerity, shalom. I feel it appropriate at the outset of this journey, wherever it might take you on this blog, to address you and all others on some very serious topics and rules of engagement.