We declare our right to be respected as human beings and we intend to bring these rights into existence by any means necessary. – Malcolm X, 1965
Is there a Black agenda in America? Will a Black agenda help us gain our rights and respect in America? And, if so, what will such an agenda entail and who would best articulate it?
Have you been waiting for some fallout from Black America over President Obama's support for same-sex marriage? No Black cultural, political or business leader spoke out against Obama's support for same-sex marriage, save one. Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan responded to Obama's politically-expedient endorsement of gay marriage calling him "the first president that sanctioned what the scriptures forbid."
Obama's presidency has African Americans fawning over notions of "a post-racial society" and a contemporary definition of "marriage." Clearly neither champions the societal needs of Black Americans. Although we're not monolithic there are many things that bind African Americans together: racism, the struggle for equal opportunity, health care, and how we are viewed in America and abroad. Because of these inequities, some of us wonder if we don't need "Black leaders" who will authentically champion our causes.
To make any progress economically, Blacks will need a plan. Blacks who aspire to "the American mainstream" would shudder at the thought, but contemporary Blacks could surely use leadership in the mold Elijah Muhammad exhibited in the 1950s. Before the Civil Rights movement came about, Mr. Muhammad developed the Nation of Islam's empire of schools in 46 cities, restaurants, stores, a bank, a publishing company and 15,000 acres of farmlands in three states that produced beef, eggs, poultry, milk, fruit and vegetables. The Nation of Islam delivered these products across the country to stores they owned via their own trucks and air transport.
A major example of "Black self-help", Mr. Muhammad built the Nation of Islam on principles of: "knowledge of self" is vital, "doing for self" is necessary. These principles brought The Nation scorn from both Black and White Americans. Mainstreamers such as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said that Mr. Muhammad's organization was "run by a bunch of thugs organized from prisons and jails and financed ... by some Arab group." Justice Marshall said that Mr. Muhammad's followers were "vicious" and a threat to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state law enforcement agencies.
George Schuyler, a columnist for The Pittsburgh Courier, wrote in 1959, "Mr. Muhammad may be a rogue and a charlatan, but when anybody can get tens of thousands of Negroes to practice economic solidarity, respect their women, alter their atrocious diet, give up liquor, stop crime, juvenile delinquency and adultery, he is doing more for Negroes' welfare than any current Negro leader I know."
The opportunity to be "somebody" was one of Mr. Muhammad's major offerings to men and women who joined the Black Muslims. Mr. Muhammad was one of the few who has been able to combine religion and race with a continuing economic influence. Mr. Muhammad's concepts came from Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington before him.
The African American society is fragmented these days because of a dedicated American government covert initiative called "COINTELPRO." It was a program designed to divide America's descendants of slaves. So, it's not so much that Black leadership is dead, as that our standard notion of it is no longer useful.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad provided a platform of empowerment that taught individuals and families how to tap into the power within. Don't we need some level of this discipline and dedication in our lives today? Mr. Muhammad said, "The slave master is no longer hindering us, we're hindering ourselves. The slave master has given you all he could give you. ... Now get something for yourself."
We doubt President Obama will miss the support of Farrakhan, especially considering his support among Black voters in general is unfazed by his gay marriage support. But, some among us realize we need leadership who can act as guides creating a path for themselves and others through uncharted terrain.
(William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via the Bailey Group.org)