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MUHAMMAD: Help Wanted — Over 35 Need Not Apply

Askia Muhammad | 6/4/2014, 3 p.m.
As I look around our landscape today, I don't fret that we are running short of geniuses. What I lament ...
Askia Muhammad

There is an African proverb which says when an old man or woman dies, a library has burned down. Well in the last several weeks we have witnessed the departure of the likes of Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, William Worthy, Vincent Harding, Elombe Brath, Paul Robeson Jr., John Watusi Branch, Chokwe Lumumba, Rubin Carter, Sam Greenlee and Chuck Stone, among others.

Collectively, as libraries go, the loss of those towering intellectuals, thinkers, writers, speakers, is comparable in today’s world with the torching of the repository of all the world’s wisdom at the time when the great library in Alexandria, Egypt was destroyed by Caesar in 48 B.C.

We of course accept the “accident of time” which has befallen the “tall trees” in our intellectual forest not some destructive conspiracy, but their loss to us is still profound.

And so as I look around our landscape today, I don’t fret that we are running short of geniuses. No, I know there are many giants just waiting now to bud. What I lament is that the time is well past for these brilliant minds to step forward and seize the mantle of public attention, not for their own aggrandizement, but for the collective progress of our people.

The immortal Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael) described one of the most important qualities, which too many of our leaders have, which is why we remain in bondage, generation after generation. “Too many of our people simply want to escape from poverty,” he explained. “We want leaders who want to eradicate poverty!”

When I lived in Chicago, my friend Al Johnson, a janitor who worked his way up to becoming a senior public relations officer at Illinois Bell, explained the same condition facing Black people in much simpler terms: “All the successful Negroes have been bought. All the rest are still for sale,” my friend would explain when some leader we trusted would betray our cause in exchange for some personal reward or career advancement.

So we are looking for young people whose souls are committed to the improvement in our people’s collective improvement, like Amiri Baraka, and Maya Angelou, and Chokwe Lumumba, even if it means they are not rewarded with a seat nearer to our tormentor – the modern pharaoh.

Today we have more and more brilliant young people in schools all over the country. There are all sorts of programs in academics, the arts, and even opportunities in exotic sports where Blacks were only sideline participants a generation ago.

But sadly I find, too many of us have their hearts set on becoming a first-round draft pick, rather than using that athletic scholarship to get a free college education paid for by the school. Too many others dream only of becoming the “American Idol” rather than perfecting their skills to become an expert artisan or craftsperson.

I really want to see a new generation of “revolutionaries” emerge with their ambition rooted in the liberation of our people from the clutches of the oligarchs and the plutocrats, rather than looking at “leadership” as their pathway into the oligarchy and the plutocracy.