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HAPPY 50TH BIRTHDAY, TAVIS SMILEY!
“You can‘t LEAD the people if you don’t LOVE the people. You can’t SAVE the people if you won’t SERVE the people.” Motto of the Tavis Smiley Foundation, Youth 2 Leaders
On Thursday, September 11th, 2014, I sat in an audience of people—friends, supporters, and employees of Tavis Smiley—in New York City’s Union Square Barnes and Noble for the signing of his seventeenth and latest book, The Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Year.
While on the stage underscoring his level of commitment to his work, he called my name, told the audience I worked with the young people in his foundation—Youth 2 Leaders—and led me in completing the motto of the foundation. I was in the notes section of my iPad trying to take down his most salient and thought-provoking points (there are so many all the time) so I was initially caught off guard, but I fell right in line with him in reciting our motto. Tavis responded, “See? She understands it. That’s what this work is all about.”
For nearly 20 years (I first met Tavis Smiley when I was 19 years old), I have been a student of Tavis Smiley. I have learned that he is deeply committed to the growth and development of all people, and particularly to Black people.
“I believe if we make Black America better, we make all of America better.” Tavis Smiley
I can appreciate the unapologetic resolve in that premise.
For ten (10) years, he provided a platform for many of our community’s intellectuals and cultural critics; and, they gained national notoriety from their inclusion and involvement in the State of the Black Union symposiums. As a spectator and as an attendee, I would look at the panelists and think to myself, “If Tavis Smiley included this person, they must be something!”
Tavis has always been my barometer of intellectual excellence and my go-to example of critical curiosity and inquiry. And, he fits perfectly into the cast of leadership. Through the publishing of books such as the Covenant with Black America (2006), and my all-time favorite, Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure (2011), Tavis has consistently provided an entry point for Black communities into discussions of politics and socio-economic growth. While his vocabulary is impressive and vast, his approach to giving our community the wings to fly in areas that sometimes compromise our esteem, has been practical, doable, and enumerated in a way that keeps many of us from getting lost or resorting to the comfort of believing our inability for doing better is because of not knowing how.
What I know for sure is that Tavis Smiley has always done what he has publicly said he would. I respect that on his imprint (Smiley Books), he publishes books that help to guide our ways of thinking about issues. Through media outlets in television and radio, The Tavis Smiley Show is what he uses to package his voice and his truth, on his terms. I also know that Tavis is personable, engaging, loves Black people, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
I like Tavis Smiley!
At his young age, Tavis Smiley has done so much and he has not nearly tipped the scale in the more to come.
Happy 50th Birthday, Tavis Smiley!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Marcus Garvey!
“The whole thing, my friends, is a bloody farce, and that the police and soldiers did nothing to stem the murder thirst of the mob is a conspiracy on the part of the civil authorities to condone the acts of the white mob against Negroes.” Marcus Garvey
With a few minor changes in the words, one would think this quote was in reference the unrest happening right now in Ferguson, Missouri due to the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, but it isn’t.
The quote above by Marcus Garvey was delivered when he responded to the 1917 East St. Louis Race Riot, nearly 100 years ago.
Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, historically known as the UNIA, responded to the race riot of East St. Louis by calling it a “crime against humanity.” This riot occurred after 470 African Americans has been hired to fill positions left abandoned by white workers that had gone on strike against the local Aluminum Ore Company. The angry whites of the town filed formal complaints to the Mayor against Black migration to the city of East St. Louis. Soon after the formal complaints, an alleged attempted robbery of a white man by an unarmed Black man began to circulate. As a result, an angry white mob began beating and violating the Blacks of the city—these actions resulted in the National Guard being called in to quell the violence, but it only grew worse. The end result of the St. Louis Race Riots, amidst all of the violence and the maimed and murdered African Americans, was that several officers of the East St. Louis police force were indicted for not doing enough to eradicate the mob violence.
Marcus Garvey, born in St. Ann’s Bay Jamaica on August 17, 1887 was a fearless, enterprising man of great conviction. Highly inspired by the formerly enslaved American hero, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey set out to establish a united Black people. He encouraged repatriation to Africa, the industrialization of Blacks and the establishment of an organization that would help Blacks to meet his goals, the UNIA formed in 1914. Further inspired by the large numbers of Black people living in Harlem, Marcus Garvey relocated the UNIA to Harlem’s 138th Street in 1917, and was a leading voice against racial injustice every time these injustices arose. As demonstrated above, Marcus Garvey spoke against the East St. Louis Race Riots of 1917, and his vigilance against the killings that occurred during the Red Summer of 1919 led to the continued growth of the UNIA.
Using Madison Square Garden as his venue, Marcus Garvey attracted 25,000 people to hear him deliver the Declaration of Rights the Negro Peoples of the World at the UNIA International Convention of 1920.
This man was on a mission.
To fulfill his dream of Blacks repatriating to Africa, Marcus Garvey and the efforts of the UNIA purchased a fleet of ships, The Blackstar Steamship Line. Although the ships were never able to fulfill the purpose intended by Garvey and the UNIA, purchasing the ships was a promising move by any Black leader, and a clear testament to the UNIA’s economic prowess.
Like most leaders of his time, Marcus Garvey was not devoid of controversy that would taint his reputation among Black followers and other Black organizations. The point, however, is that Marcus Garvey was a visionary and he was emphatic about the direction he thought would suit Black people best. He had an “All Black Everything” vision; under the banner of Red, Black and Green he envisioned a Black Army. He lauded Black women as “queens” that gave “color to the world.” He also was clear and staunch in this assertion that he was equal to the white man and he wanted other Blacks to feel and know the same thing.
Marcus Garvey, having been consumed by the poetic and political potential of the United States, specifically Harlem (He was in Harlem in the height of the Harlem Renaissance), as well as the ideas of Black Unity and a Black nation, Marcus Garvey was a true Renaissance Man.
Marcus Garvey died in 1940 while in London, England after having two strokes.
He has influenced people who still follow his teachings, Garveyites. Rastafarianism is highly influenced by Garveyism. The man heralded by Ossie Davis as “our own Black shining Prince,” El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), was raised by a Garveyite, his father Earl Little. And, all around the world we can find many examples of people holding true to Marcus Garvey’s call, “Up you mighty race; you can conquer what you will.”
On this Centennial (100 years!) of the UNIA and on what would have been the 127th year of Mr. Garvey’s birth, we say HAPPY BIRTHDAY Marcus Garvey!
Robert Mugabe: Facing the Book of History
Facebook has proven to be worth all of the hype it has earned—it has connected childhood friends, helped friends become lovers, and it has even been a great stage for [healthy] political and historical debates.
My friends of Facebook have contributed to a rich conversation about President Robert Mugabe’s latest decision to remove about 35 white landowners from landownership, but not from owning businesses and other properties in the Southeast African nation of Zimbabwe.
According to a July 2014 article called, “Mugabe Orders White Farmers Off Of Land” written by Abena Agyeman Fisher on Face2FaceAfrica, President Mugabe is planning to make major changes in the distribution of land ownership in Zimbabwe. Not everybody is happy about it, and my Facebook friends have a lot to say about it.
Some of them view Mugabe’s policies as “ignorant” and they assert that he is no longer the “independence hero” he was once thought to be. In addition, some of them present that he is establishing a “two wrongs make a right precedent” while others maintain that the people of Zimbabwe, represented by the leadership of Robert Mugabe, have a “God-given right to put changes in place…”
Clearly there are no easy solutions to correcting the wrongs of histories past and rightfully so. History is a very convoluted concept of facts, memories, rights and wrongs. It is filled with vantage points, imposters, oppressors, victims and survivors. And ultimately, each of us, whether in positions of power, or as conscious citizens, supports the concept of history we construct and the role we play.
Robert Mugabe is no saint, and of course, like each of us, is a sinner. And now, he will face the book of history for this recent decision and for his legacy of as a leader.
While Mugabe may no longer be a hero to all, he may certainly become one again to many.
One of my commenters wrote the “…sins of the father don’t pass on like bank accounts and to attempt to correct historical injustices using today’s players sets a bad “two wrongs make a right” precedent.”
When the sins involve racial injustice that have been systemically implemented and violently enforced over the course of prejudicial / discriminatory, unjust, inhumane, dehumanizing laws, the posterity (next generations) of the purveyors (creators) of those laws reap the benefits, and the subjects reap the disadvantages of those laws. These sins absolutely pass on like bank accounts. Even worse, most of us, especially when you’re on the beneficial end, never question why these sins are so advantageous—it is just passed on as “the way that it is.”
And, those in power often run away from explaining the origins of these de facto benefits.
The reality of Zimbabwe is that it is a country that has not resolved its racial and political issues—the roots run deep. The other reality is that the generations of white families that have “owned” its land have done so through illegal occupation. There is no statute of limitations on doing what is right, no matter how many generations pass. The whites of Zimbabwe today are reaping the benefits of the crimes of their ancestors, just like the Africans have reaped the disadvantages of theirs.
Just because the “Star of Africa”, the largest diamond ever to be found in the world, has been in possession of England since 1905, does not make England its rightful owner. Because Africa was invaded and illegally occupied by European nations through violent means and war via the Berlin Conference of 1884, none of what Europe has taken in Africa makes Europe Africa’s owners. The same is true for the whites in Zimbabwe.
The theft of land is a horribly debilitating offense, and it is directly tied to a people’s sustenance, the sustainability of their generations, and acquisition of [future] wealth–ask any of the Blacks that endured Jim Crow America and were forced to abandon their hard-earned, formerly-sharecropped, and former plantation lands in places like Alabama and Mississippi due to vicious, legal and uncontested racial violence; and, without delay, they would attest that their stolen land has created major communal, familial and financial setbacks in their lives. Remember Mose Wright–Emmet Till’s uncle that testified against the men that killed is nephew? He was run off of his Mississippi land and there are many more stories like his. He and the others are entitled to reparations.
In his very craftily written article, The Case for Reparations, TaNehisi Coates presented a pristine argument for reparations for Blacks that had been unfairly denied access to wealth-building and the acquisition of property due to Chicago’s unfair red-lining and housing laws. These laws were established by an American government that refused to recognize the rights of all of its citizens. Blacks were left out. And, we are entitled to reparations because the policies were wrong.
The whites in Zimbabwe are not entitled to own Zimbabwe’s land because the policies that made them “owners” were wrong. The Blacks were denied access to Zimbabwe’s land during imperialism, and history has a way of correcting those wrongs. It’s called reparations; and, Robert Mugabe is leading that charge for Zimbabwe on his watch.
Over the course of nearly 60 years, Germany has paid some $89 billion in reparations to Holocaust survivors, survivors’ children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren–and they’ve even paid the survivors living in Russian-occupied territories. The policies that savagely killed Holocaust victims and left some scarred for life were wrong; and, the German government of today says that its people are entitled to reparations.
In all issues of race and racial injustice, we must speak plainly, openly and honestly. The whites of Zimbabwe do not “own” the land. No matter how many generations have been on the land, they are in Zimbabwe due to colonial occupation and racial subjugation.
Robert Mugabe does not have all of the answers, but we cannot be so quick to condemn his policies as “ignorant” when they attempt on implement fairness for people for whom justice escaped. If Robert Mugabe is a villain for attempting reparations for his people, then all leaders that correct past wrongs are villains.
There is the implication that once the land gets [back] into the hand of the Zimbabweans that they will be very unproductive with it and the land will lose value because Zimbabweans will not industrialize the land for business. It is the same arguments America used to deny Black Americans access to land, property, politics, and education. The argument is wrong.
I am always intrigued by the use of semantics when there is an examination of white people being governed by the policies of Blacks. Arguments of morality and justice are quickly asserted in their cases whereas Blacks are usually only afforded a legal argument—about laws that are already unjust and immoral.
Robert Mugabe must face the book of history about the legacy of his leadership, and in the meantime, I look forward to reading more about his plan for implementing [land] reparations.
Celebrating Legislation: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 Turns 50 TODAY!
It is always the strangest thing in the world to me when we celebrate milestone events in this country that are nuanced with a particular group of Americans in mind–especially when that group is African Americans. It is especially peculiar to think of celebrating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the premier pieces of legislation that defined the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. But, today we commemorate it–Happy 50th Anniversary!
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a long and hard battle fought by African Americans to get Congress to pass a strong meaningful piece of legislation that would secure our ability to be treated fairly according to the law, and especially in places of public accommodation. Congress was not super sold on passing this bill as America was ultra polarized and the racial tensions of America were about to reach their boiling points during the decade of the 60s. Prior to Johnson’s passing of the bill, it had been introduced by former president John F. Kennedy. Congress had made attempts to kill this bill and the likes of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Georgia Congressman John Lewis, and organizer A. Phillip Randolph had organized and participated in the August 28th, 1963 March on Washington to underscore the need for African Americans’ fair and equal treatment under the law.
Although revised and arguably watered down by most analyses, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it so hotels that were once suddenly “vacant” when African Americans solicited them could no longer prevent our stays. Those very same Woolworth counters that refused groups like the Greensboro Four (4) of 1960, only four years earlier, now had to open their counters for African American patronage and dine-in participation and not just take out. With the passage of this bill African Americans were not ever going to move the backs of any buses unless we wanted to. And, certainly after this bill was passed, discriminatory practices still prevailed because bad habits and even worse beliefs and practices were not abandoned overnight, but at least they were easier to fight and criminalize due to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2nd.
Take a listen:
On Friday, July 4th, 2014, we will celebrate 238 years of American independence from the control of the British crown and King James. Long before American Independence was a conceivable idea in the mind of European immigrants looking for solace from their nations’ persecution, African Americans were here and even before Columbus–we were merchants, mariners, explorers, and of course, we were the labor that created this “land of the free” and “home of the brave.”
No matter how strange it is to have to even celebrate 50 years of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 victory, especially in a country nearly two and a half centuries old and one that would have never seen the light of victory without its “native sons”, we celebrate this legislation nonetheless.
Happy Birthday Civil Rights Act of 1964!
President Obama Makes History All the Time!
Tuesday night, June 10th, 2014 I hopped into a cab. As part of my cab riding ritual, I always make it a point to find out the country from which my driver comes. On this particular ride, my driver was Sindhi and when I asked him where he was from, he responded, “Sindh.” I was confused.
Initially, I believed he was from Pakistan so I asked him if he spoke Urdu. He replied, “No. I speak Sindhi.”
He proceeded to explain the Sindhi’s journey to sovereignty to me and even handed me his iPhone 5 to show me a picture of his daughter wearing a traditional Sindhi cape. My driver informed me that he was an anesthesiologist in his country, but what gave him a huge inflection in his voice was when he reflected that one day his country would be a sovereign nation again with its own leader.
“If America can elect Obama as its President, there is hope for Sindhi people, too.” NYC Sindhi cab driver
Beyond the fact that our 44th President, Barack Obama, will forever go down in history as America’s first African American president, he is still inspiring others with hope and making more history.
This Friday, June 13th, 2014, President Obama became only the fourth sitting American President to visit a Native American Reservation–The Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Former Presidents Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929, 30th
President), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932-1945, 32nd President), and William “Bill” Jefferson Clinton (1992-2000, 42nd President) all made visits to Pine Ridge or the Cherokee Nation.
America’s relationship with Native Americans has been very little of beautiful and a whole lot of ugly: through the displacements and massacres and simply not acknowledging the existence of Native Americans through unequal treaties and the American Constitution, it is great that President Obama’s visit can represent a sign of the times to come.
There is so much prophecy in the fact that President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are visiting this reservation as the leaders of our nation considering Black America’s sordid past of being enslaved by Native Americans in the United States of America.
In these changing times it is great to see President Obama serve as a bridge linking our past, present and future. President Obama’s presence is the beginning of a long overdue conversation, a much-needed intervention of two marginalized groups that need a whole lot of healing, and a nation in need of reckoning.
It is always great to see good history being made–the kind that has the potential to heal old wounds. Way to go President Obama!
Check out the MSNBC article below written by Trymaine Lee as he further explains President Obama’s Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation trip.
Rest in Peace, Ms. Ruby Dee!
How can you hear the name Ruby Dee and not fall in love?
It sounds pretty and petite, caring and loving, and just like someone every little girl would want to be.
This was Ms. Ruby Dee.
In her presence she was small in height, very poised and attentive. She was dainty, wore red lipstick, and really quite a lady. And, she smiled a super-watt smile.
It was a pleasure for her Diana Ross-esque eyes to land on you because in that moment you had been seen by this oracle of a woman.
Some people stuttered with their words, and as she grew more seasoned, she stuttered with her breath–taking in sporadic moments of life others experienced with her…in interviews.
She was pretty.
Every character she played, we’ve loved and every line she’s read lives on.
After 91 years, the feminine ferocity and audacious activism packaged in Ms. Ruby Dee has departed us.
And, we loved her so.
Rest in Peace, Ms. Ruby Dee.