Guest Blog from Atum Walker, a LLY friend and will be joining us for the Yin and Social Justice Leadership training in Jamaica in February. Come and join us, this program is a creative and collective reasoning, great change occurs when community gathers and works together.
All around us we are saturated by advertisements, promotions and marketing campaigns geared towards getting us to spend more money. If we were to follow the psychology behind a lot of these ads, we'd spend more and more frequently and end up consuming a lot of things we don't actually really need to live, or even to thrive in our environment. Black Friday is the epitome of the consumer culture that drives a lot of the economic inequality and environmental degradation that is responsible for so many of our problems today. SO, instead of joining the race to get the most impressive sales, we thought we'd instead focus on a more grounded idea of Black Friday. Although every day should be Black History day, in light of the Thanksgiving holiday across the US and what that represents or should represent, let's focus our attention on recalling some of the greatest black leaders to impact our history here in the Americas, and offer up a giving of thanks for their lives and the great works they have done. Here are a few who have inspired me, and I share in the hopes that they might inspire you too:
A popular man, and even more so important figure in the struggle for equality and the establishment of a united and truly independent Africa, Marcus Mosiah Garvey is a name that still resonates within black communities around the world today. Founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, the Black Star Liner and the Negro Factories Corporation among many other successful organizations in their prime; Garvey held firm to the mission of reuniting blacks spread across the world in the African Diaspora with their continental homeland. Starting in 1914 with the UNIA as a Black Nationalist centre from which various other groups would spawn, Garvey set out to establish for black people their own means of economic empowerment and social welfare. Although his vision would not be realized in its fullness in his time due to racist strategies and the infiltration of the movement he had stirred by his opposers both black and white, much of his ideologies live on today and have deeply affected the social consciousness of Africans at home and scattered abroad. He has arguably been the greatest leader to achieve uniting these scattered peoples around a common goal.
A true academic, Angela Davis has been a prominent face and reminder of the Civil Rights Movement of the USA in the 1960s. Davis emerged as an activist and close ally to the Black Panther Party at the height of its organizational success, bringing to popular culture the militarization of resistance or rather the arming of black civilians in defence of their humanity, rights and freedoms against organized white supremacists and where necessary, the state. Angela co-founded Critical Resistance in 1997, which is a grassroots organization focused on building a critical mass of unified people working to eradicate the prison-industrial complex, which she has long criticized for its unfair and inhumane targeting of Black and Native Americans as well as other "minority" groups. Through Critical Resistance, Davis and her allies have successfully lobbied against unfair laws such as Proposition 21, the privatization of prisons and the school-to-prison pipeline. Throughout her life Angela Davis has also strongly advocated for gender equality and is a retired Professor of the History of Consciousness and Director of university feminist studies.
Another great father of the Pan-Africanist movement of Garvey’s time, Kwame Nkumrah was a nationalist leader of Ghana who led the struggle for the liberation of the ‘Gold Coast’ from Britain. In December 1945 Nkumrah founded the West African Nation Secretariat, just after the fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England. This organization would successfully mobilize Africans working towards the decolonization of Africa and eventually led to the 1949 formation of the Convention People’s Party under which Nkumrah garnered the support of cocoa farmers, trade unions and women. The support of these groups was critical and Nkumrah organized civil ‘disobedience’ or rebellion against the colonial forces including boycotts and strikes. This rebellion led to his arrest not long after in 1950 and he was sentenced to be imprisoned for three years. The following year, 1951, due to international pressure and internal civil unrest, the British were forced to leave the Gold Coast and organized the first general elections. Nkumrah from behind bars, was successfully elected Ghana’s leader and was released. By 1952 he was declared Prime Minister, and then by 1957 after much investment and strategy he declared Ghana free and successfully lobbied for independence from Britain. By 1960 he and his fellow lawmakers successfully amended Ghana’s constitution and Kwame Nkumrah became the first President of the Republic of Ghana. Under his presidency, Ghana’s modernization began and the industries of forestry, fishing and the production of cocoa expanded greatly.
Self-described as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde spent her life and creative energy dedicated to confronting and addressing the injustices she faced, namely racism, sexism and homophobia. Deeply concerned with modern society’s need to categorize or box in groups of people, Lorde fought against the marginalization of people categorized as “lesbian” and/or “black woman” and challenged her readers to react to the prejudices in their own lives. Although Lorde was targeted by those who opposed what has been described as her ‘radical agenda’, she undauntedly continued to express her individuality and refused to be silenced. Lorde did not see her conversations as merely about sex and sexuality or even obscenity, but rather revolution and change.
While expressing freely her opposition to racial inequality and injustice, Lorde also spoke on feminist issues and occasionally criticized black men for playing a role in perpetuating sexism. A big theme in Audre Lorde’s work is also the parent-child relationship and in many of her poems she recalls feelings towards her mother and father, as well as her own daughter. Many of the themes reflected in her work can be seen to represent or extend to similar struggles faced by black families in an American reality, and created a space for difficult but necessary conversations to be had. In the late 1980’s Lorde co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which was focused on expanding the reach of the writings of black feminists. Lorde would also later create Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa and was an active voice on behalf of women who suffered during apartheid.
Last but not least on this short list is the late great Walter Anthony Rodney, Guyanese educator and revolutionary, recognized as one of greatest Caribbean scholars of all time. After completing his African History PhD in 1966 at just 24 years old, successfully challenging many assumptions about African history and culture, Rodney returned to the Caribbean where he actively challenged the post-colonial status quo. While in Jamaica as a history professor, Rodney joined with others to object the actions of the still young government; engaging the poor and working class, including Rastafari brethren who were deeply marginalized in Jamaica. He educated large groups of people at-a-time, any who were willing to listen and be engaged on the lies and propaganda they had been told of Africa and indeed of themselves, and began to empower these groups with self- and social awareness. A collection of his speeches and lectures in these communities were published under the title Groundings with My Brothers, which although banned by several governments, has been critical reading in many grassroots organizations and black power groups. While attending the 1968 Black Writers’ Conference in Montreal, Rodney found he was banned from re-entering Jamaica, cited as being a threat to national security, which led to civil unrest, particularly on the UWI campus where many of Rodney’s students staged protests remembered today as the “Rodney Riots”. Although ill-treated by his own government, Rodney retuned to Guyana in the 1970’s where he was a leading figure in the resistance movement against authoritarian leadership until his assassination in 1980. Walter Rodney lived with constant threats and police harassment and through it all he still managed to publish academic and children’s books and liberate the minds of people around the world.
While this is by far no extensive list of names or full descriptions of the great works these and so many other great black leaders have accomplished, I hope that it may spark an interest in knowing more deeply who we are as a people, and the power we have to inspire change. There is so much more out there to know and to share so I encourage you this week to find a leader who inspires you and share their story with someone. Social Justice works better when we all commit to realizing its full potential. Love and blessings until we meet again, Atum.