I spend quite a bit of time on Facebook keeping up with friends and family. I also keep up with some of my favorite celebrities and public figures. Last week I decided to check out Dr. Cornell West’s fan page. He posted several announcements in support of a youth leadership conference, hosted and organized by his good friend, Tavis Smiley. There was one question in response to the post that is often asked of black leadership when these types of conferences are called: “Is there going to be some definitive strategy and planning or a bunch of talk about our “glorious” past?”
I tried to walk away from the question, but I couldn’t. This question annoys me every time I hear it. It reeks of laziness and complacency. I posted the following statement in response:
50 years ago there were leaders who shared a vision and guided the masses to action. Why ask about “definitive strategy”? Even if there is “definitive strategy” THE PEOPLE still need to move and be active! The leadership cannot do it all, and we should not expect them to do it all! What will YOU do with or without a definitive plan from the leadership?
Even after the responding to the post, the nagging question in my spirit was: Do we even know what we are fighting for anymore? The message of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s has been watered down, hijacked and distorted. Since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. the black community has been searching for the “next” black leader. Many of us believe that the dream has been fulfilled because our children attend integrated schools; we live in integrated communities, and can choose to hold something other domestic or labor positions. But have those milestones given us complete freedom? I don’t think so.
August 28th marked the 47th Anniversary of the March on Washington where Dr. King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech. Many will post the speech and video on blog posts this weekend, it will be a part of every news cast, and tomorrow the dream will be put back in the closet until February, when we are called to remember to history of black folk. Yes, the trials and triumphs of black history has become that compartmentalized. We cannot blame our leadership for that. We, the community, dropped the ball.
Dr. King gave another speech in August of 1967 at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference called, “Where Do We Go from Here?” He laid out what we need to do to continue to pursue and hold on to our rights, and be valuable members of a country we helped build. He spoke on three points: Pride, Power and Non-Violence.
1. We must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amidst a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values. We must no longer be ashamed off being black. The job of arousing manhood within a people that have been taught for so many centuries that they are nobody is not easy.
Said another way: “It’s not what you are called, it’s what you answer to,” and quite often, it is what you call yourself. Have a sense of pride! Are you a thug? Pimp? Bitch? Hoe? Hood Rat? Just a baby mama or baby daddy? Ghetto fabulous? The labels placed on us by society are reinforced by the labels we created for ourselves. You cannot demand (and expect to receive) respect without having respect for yourself first. Consider what comes out of your mouth. There is a time and place for slang. The rest of the time, the words that seep from your lips should be a reflection of the high intelligence you possess. People judge books by their cover and people by their outward appearance. Pull up your pants! Wear clothing that doesn’t expose all of “the family business.” We have invested so much energy in trying to promote and investing in the “hood mentality,” that the rest of the world accepts the “dumbed-down” version of blackness as the standard. Dr. King said it best in his speech: “As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long of physical slavery.”