By: Isaac T. Akins III
Note: I recognize that this topic is book series-worthy, but I’ve made my best effort to condense my thoughts on it into “blog” length. For those who know me, that was no easy task! LOL!
What do prominent figures in African American history like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabaz), Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Hampton all have in common? Unlike the vast majority of our leaders today, these were influential leaders who gave themselves wholly to the cause of bettering the lives of the people who followed them. They had no Twitter of Facebook pages. They didn’t exploit their influence in order to create comfortable lives for themselves and their families, though many like Malcolm and Martin could have made themselves very wealthy through their influence. They didn’t seek an audience with America as a whole for any other purpose than to further the agenda of bettering the condition of African American people. They didn’t participate in reality TV or host radio and TV shows because they were far too busy doing everything they could to educate, organize and mobilize their constituents to make a change for the betterment of black people in America. They have very little down time, and far fewer vacations. They were tireless workers, who struck fear in the very hearts of our government, so much that until their deaths they all were subject to FBI wiretappings and agents placed undercover in their organizations, sometimes for years. And ultimately their total dedication to the betterment of the African American condition led to their murders. They literally died for what they believed in. These were our leaders in the 60s and 70s that pushed our government to open the doors to the rights we take for granted today.
Flash forward to 2011. Amidst continued workplace discrimination and joblessness at alarming rates for minorities, an oppressive and unjust legal system that exploits black and brown inmates for profits numbering in the billions, a grossly unequal educational system , especially in the inner cities of America, increasing violence and poverty in minority communities and an alarming trend of scarcely veiled bigotry and racism coming from our political system in lieu of our first African American president, what do we see from our leadership? Do we see our leaders willing to die to see change in our communities? Do we see selflessness and rejecting of material wealth for the sake of seeing black boys graduate from high school and attend college, or even survive to see age 18? Do we even have enough confidence in our leaders to organize to make change? Who are our leaders, where are our leaders, where are they leading us? And if we don’t have answers for these questions then we need to demand them. We need to end our support of leaders who have plenty to say but do little in the way of educating, organizing and galvanizing African Americans to action. We need to elect a new era of black leadership who speak to the needs of our communities and who dedicate themselves to seeing these needs met against all odds. In 2011 there is a need for a new movement, a new leadership and a renewed and intensified pressure upon our government to address the rights of the marginalized “minority” in America, black, brown, red, and yellow.
I don’t propose that this will be easy, but nothing ever worth dying for ever is. We all know the tendency for our country to throw hurdles in the way of progression for those traditionally marginalized. Assassination, the influx of guns and drugs into our communities, dividing us along multiple lines (race, skin tone, age, gender, religion, gang affiliation, political affiliation, Greek affiliation, economic status, education level), appeasing us with a false sense of security (money, women, clothes, cars, ect.), all of these things have historically been stumbling blocks to unifying and organizing around strong leaders since the 60s and 70s, and even further preventing us from developing strong leaders, or at least giving the ones we do have the platform they need to lead us. But we are at a breaking point in America. The next few years are going to be pivotal in where this country ends up in the global community, and it is of utmost importance that we do our part to right the ship before it sinks. For ourselves, our children and our future generations, for this country the rights of people of color have to be met, the policies that enable institutionalized racism have to be changed, and the resurrection of African American leadership has to be brought forth.