…functions mostly as a consequence
of steady expenditures
of blood and bone marrow
some hair follicles
a tooth to every child
the shedding of skin
reserved air held in the space
of an evidence forthcoming
functions mostly as a consequence
of everything, nothing
and things in between
better to live for
I am an outgrowth
of My Own making
made whole by all those
whom I have encountered
and call My Own
functioning mostly as a consequence
and a desire to never be left alone
in the world I have made.
…functions mostly as a consequence
where life is stretched
like a clothesline
betwixt two high rise
In bedroom chamber
when lovers meet
in a midnight embrace
and the intention
the cresting wave
of loins calling forth
a fiery reconciliation
finding two strangers
engaging each other
across a broad expanse
of weather or workplace
into the unexplored
of the frontier
where they carve
into the landscape
a pending casualty
of learning to leave open
your listening ear
The storyteller tends
of burning honesty
where heat is this
shared glow of protection
the contingent outcome
of a consistently available
for all whom hold stake
in its flourishing
A gainful return
on the fastidious
Make a bed for the children of other people in the place where your own children sleep. ~ Moroccan Proverb
In the time since my initial essay, I have gone through a great many changes in seeking out the direction of my next entry. I had initially considered dance which has been the flint spark igniting a creative wildfire in this present leg in my artistic journey. That idea was quickly usurped by a conversation which occurred on Twitter beginning with a simple declaration by Kirsten West Savali that for lack of a better alternative political choice, she would again be supporting the Democratic ticket. The discussion between she, Journey, and myself continued to spiral outward further until the following cry was heard.
Community building is a question that I have spent the better part of my young adult life contemplating, running test scenarios, attempting implementation and by design, falling flat on my face when further planning was needed. I have been a party to many communities since I came into my organizational own in Chicago circa 1999: The Temple of Applied Theosophy, Frontline/Black Fist, C-Medina Youth Academy, Betty Shabazz International Charter School, Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living and the list rolls on.
Some of these communities have overlapped, engaged and walked alongside one another. Others were isolated. Some overflowing with unity and positive cooperation amongst participants. Others filled with contempt and disharmony now doomed to self defeat. All were necessary for me to learn the skills I now offer to the communities whom hold my present attention. Thus brimming over with the accumulated desire to see others create and engage their own communities in ways that are both novel and replicable, I offered the following sentiment in reply.
I have been fortunate in my 31 years to be surrounded by a diverse array of activists operating in hemispheres spanning atheism, food security, social justice, sustainable living and gun ownership legislation. One learns quickly that in building a community, it is important to not judge each other’s political positions too hastily for we may never come to understand how we may be of service to each other and still move forward in a principled manner.
This recalls to mind a conversation that Michael Eric Dyson had with Dr. Bernice Reagon & Martha Noonan regarding the recent text “Hands On The Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts By Women In SNCC”. Martha Noonan was discussing her work with the movement and the notion of “preventative nonviolence”. She elaborated on the role that armed advocates played in protecting those nonviolent organizers in areas of the deep south where racial tensions were so inflamed that death could arrive swift and immediate to anyone who sought to agitate the social order. The point is only further made by the revelations of Rosa Park’s strong support for the work of self defense pioneer Robert F. Williams as noted in Danielle McGuire’s “At The Dark End Of The Street”.
These cases are not enlightening to those whom lived through the period, but have remained the substance of oral history while being submerged deep within the narrative that there is some clear line of demarcation drawn between proponents of Black Power through self defense distinguishing them from the nonviolent resistance of the Freedom Riders. Revisiting this discussion offers us the opportunity to consider the subtle weaving together of the elements of this era’s social struggle which are all too often simplified into Malcolm or Martin.
Kamau Rashid framed it as a difference between a coalition and an alliance. We must understand that it is possible for us to form strong alliances for specific core issues where we find agreement and work to advance the position of that issue. For example, I am a member of the Black Freethinkers of Chicago, an alliance of black freethinkers working to advance the understanding of atheism in the black community where it remains a position of heresy. Amongst our ranks, you will find a capitalist, a few socialists, a war hawk, and a pacifist. This makes for very colorful debate during meetings, but only in so far as we miss the point that we come together for a very specific purpose. Coalitions would then be formed for broader issues and longer term concerns than alliances.
All of this is stated in my present effort to grapple with the new hour of struggle in which operate. As the landscape evolves, so must the strategy that we use to navigate that landscape. This requires a measure of social and communal adaptation on our part as we seek out new forms which will work for us collectively. For my own part, I bring a sense of the significance of community and relationships in every action taken moving forward. I don’t want that passage above to sound like some manner of cryptic social theory so I bring along some present day examples in the form of the Healthy Food Hub, the Cowry Collective, and the Aya Leadership Development Institute which actualize the theory.
The Healthy Food Hub was born of a partnership between the Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living and the Parent Council of the Betty Shabazz International Charter School. The Hub was designed to be a channel connecting the urban communities of Chicago with the rural communities of Pembroke Township and enabling black farmers who were growing produce in rural areas to cultivate a consistent supply chain direct to consumers which would allow them to make greater use of their available land. Through this relationship consumers could purchase both locally and organically grown produce which would solve two of the primary issues created by modern food deserts: food that travels too far to reach the consumer and the terrible quality of goods that are available directly in the community.
But the Hub was not simply a means to create an additional form of consumption. The urban community has been encouraged to become members of the supply chain. Those who are interested in working the land have been able to participate in the Rotating Apprenticeship program where they visit the Black Oaks Eco-Campus and learn permaculture, crop rotation, sustainable building and biofuel development. Through the bi-monthly market held on site at Shabazz Charter School, the members of the Hub are able to pick up pre-orders, shop for additional Market Day produce, network and engage with each other, and attend workshops and cooking demonstrations facilitated by other members or the staff of the Hub.
This is relationship building and a picture of the new vision that we must organize around how we think about food. When we shift our consciousness to buying local, let us disengage also from the consumption mindset that only hears buying local. Let us instead come into the awareness of building locally. Build local food systems which engage community and school gardens in the process of learning and growing the necessary food which then becomes an additional link in the supply chain and furthers the goal of localizing the food system while at the same time educating children and the community to the process of being part of the collective solution to food insecurity.
The Cowry Collective is a time banking organization founded by Chinyere Oteh whose stated purpose is “to build community among people of African descent in the greater St. Louis area by strengthening ties between strangers, neighbors, friends and family through a circle of giving and receiving.” The collective is named for the cowry shell which is a well known form of currency in numerous cultures throughout Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. The concept of time banking is a modern revision of the classic system of bartering. Members of the collective post service requests for other members to perform such as painting, yard work, flyer design or tax preparation. In exchange, the member performing the work receives a cowry for each hour of work performed. Those cowries are “banked” and may then be “exchanged” with other members for your own service requests in the future.
The thing that I particularly love about this concept is that it cuts away at how we presently understand the economic order. My personal problem with money in general and the economic system in particular is that it encourages exploitation in some measure. Those who have greater wealth are almost predestined to keep most of it throughout the course of their lives. Those who arrive poor are likely to remain that way also barring a few loopholes that some are allowed to leap through to keep a class explosion at bay. But I digress from my point. This removes the trappings of that economic system and reduces them to their most basic element, the relationship between members of a community who work to sustain the operation of the village as a whole instead of merely the individual components.
The Aya Leadership Development Institute was recently founded by Kamau and Safia Rashid with the objective of creating an enriching and engaging learning space where their children might build relationships with other children whose parents hold similar values thereby creating the connections which might sustain them throughout their life. As adults, we are well aware of the various stages of transition we have undergone to reach the place where we presently stand. We are working towards something quite different from many of the friends we knew as children. It may have been a strain at times to have relationships die off as we realized that some people were simply no longer compatible. It is possible that we can provide an opportunity to create those relationships now which may alleviate some of that strain in the lives of our children.
Thus far, the children have come together to experience camping classes each Thursday and in September, they will be heading to the Black Oaks Eco-Campus where they can practice the skills they have learned. Some students have participated in drumming classes with Baba Kwame Cobb. They have done map reading and compass navigation, self defense, first aid, fire training and water purification. In the future, we plan to hold critical thinking workshops and perhaps work on other languages. In the time between, they play tag, pick at plant matter and laugh together. This is a system which truly seeks to personify the Moroccan proverb which opens this essay “Make a bed for the children of other people in the place where your own children sleep.” How does one measure the strength of the village? By how they protect the most vulnerable of their members.
All of these organizations are examples of grassroots exercises in community building. Each of us came into them quite unaware of the task ahead, but devoted to the journey and the mission of drawing people nearer to one another for a variety of purposes: food security, alternative economic engagement or education. I am a skeptic and therefore I am blindly devoted to no single point of action. No system of living or governance is presently above criticism. I am therefore unafraid to say that we have to throw all of it out and revisit again how we see ourselves living together in the future. We are in dire need of new systems of cooperation. I encourage those who visit here to share your method of alternative living and any new system which you are presently a part of creating.
I want to close with a story which I initially saw posted on the Facebook page of my dear friend Shakti and that I later found to have originated on Paulo Coelho’s blog. The story is entitled “Paying The Right Price”. I think it to be the most perfect example of the sort of scaling down that is required of us. Don’t think bigger, more growth and more expansion. Think smaller, closer and nearer. By thinking and acting locally, we can stimulate regional networks which can better tackle larger concerns than each smaller organizations acting individually. Grow the village sustainably.
Nixivan had invited his friends to supper and was cooking a succulent piece of meat for them. Suddenly, he realised that he had run out of salt. So Nixivan called to his son.
‘Go to the village and buy some salt, but pay a fair price for it: neither too much nor too little.’
His son was surprised.
‘I can understand why I shouldn’t pay too much for it, Father, but if I can bargain them down, why not save a bit of money?’
‘That would be the sensible thing to do in a big city, but it could destroy a small village like ours.’
When Nixivan’s guests, who had overheard their conversation, wanted to know why they should not buy salt more cheaply if they could, Nixivan replied:
‘The only reason a man would sell salt more cheaply than usual would be because he was desperate for money. And anyone who took advantage of that situation would be showing a lack of respect for the sweat and struggle of the man who laboured to produce it.’
‘But such a small thing couldn’t possibly destroy a village.’
‘In the beginning, there was only a small amount of injustice abroad in the world, but everyone who came afterwards added their portion, always thinking that it was only very small and unimportant, and look where we have ended up today.’
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are times when one enters into a text blindly knowing not what to expect. One sets no expectations that their present opinions will be confirmed or refuted. They simply are on a journey and reaching out for other input about the direction of their walk. I came to locate this text at while browsing the Chicago Public Library and am delighted that I chose to add it to my present reading list. She calls it “radical black masculinity” though by the time you reach the end of the text you realize that she is seeking a certain return of a black masculinity that we once held which is now lost to many of us.
Upon reading such chapters as “Gangsta Culture” and “Schooling Black Males”, I saw glimmers and glimpses of my formative years pass by. I recall one instance where I was in the car with my mother and I decided to play the tape in my Walkman which was by a group called the Luniz and an album titled “Operation Stackola”. In the particular song I played, “Put The Lead On Ya”, a rapper named Dru Down utters the words “and if you’re a woman / don’t think i still won’t put the lead on ya / bitchhhh”. My mother without hesitation snatched the tape out of the deck and tossed it from the car window. Why did I think this sort of material was acceptable to play either for my mother’s ears or my own? Why was I obsessed with emulating the sexual lothario and street combativeness that I saw emanating from my brother’s daily existence? How did I come from the place where I previously lived to the ground where I now stand? I credit the women.
Whether it was my mother snatching that tape from the car and clearly showing me that certain language and actions were entirely unacceptable or my daughter now who cautions me to both censor myself until the practice becomes a lifestyle and also to stop trying to shield her in ways that might make her consider patriarchy and paternalism the manner all men should exhibit in her future. There are many other women in between who have shown me how “quaint” some of my assumptions were and helped to groom and grow me forward. For their presence I am forever grateful.
After my daughter was born, I was known to say that it was probably a good thing that I didn’t have a son because I would not know how to teach him how to be a man as I perceived the world to see them. I don’t play the usual sports or watch them. I enjoy the kitchen and cooking and poetry. Had I a son, he might suffer a terrible time during his schooling years subscribing to some the ways I live at present, but I am wholly aware of what a fool’s errand that statement was now. There are many ways to be cool as hooks’ offers to us now and they don’t have to be rooted in the dying patriarchy of the past, but a brilliant, bold, and creative manhood of the future. One that subscribes to the notion that men mustn’t always be stoic, they can be open and vulnerable and self aware. They can say the things amongst friends that others have chosen not to say because of masculine groupthink and they can find more innovative ways to be cool that don’t involve sexual exploits, physical combat and domination, or monetary gain. We too cool to be caged by white supremacy. In other words, we off that.
This principle is informed in the first by the dialogue that occurred between myself and Sis. Shanika regarding how we act on the principle of Unity in the course of performing our duty to the individual communities in which we operate. It is informed in the second by my dialogue with Bro. Jitu on the development of the charter school movement and the devaluation of the Local School Council as a power base from which the community can inform the direction of the school.
If we observe the principles as series of stages that interact with one another and operate towards the ultimate objective of creating a cohesive and forward looking community, we would see in this observation that Nia is the stage in which we envision what future direction our community will take. We have unified. We have determined as a unit what we should do. We have set the stage for collectively working amongst ourselves. We have examined our resources and committed a portion of them to be returned to this community that it may grow and be sustained.
Nia is the place where we part ways if but briefly because we should recognize that we cannot always operate within a vacuum unless we are choosing that we should always remain a fringe community. Nia calls us to be larger and more expansive. I envision that what is happening at Shabazz, Freedom Academy, the Harlem Children’s Zone, and elsewhere should inform the future of the education of Black children everywhere. It is one thing for us to get this right inside of a single institution, but can we franchise it?
Can we create communities such as these nationally and internationally while keeping the fiber and fabric of those institutions singular in thought, heart, and action? This is the difference between making a change today that resonates to the following day or establishing a legacy of change the reverberates across 7 generations as the indigenous members of the Americas have stated. Nia creates a continuum for us to declare that what we do shall last. – tekhen djehuti
PURPOSE (NIA) – Knowledge: A collective design set up as an end, intent, or objective to be attained. Wisdom: To make our collective duty and vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. Understanding: For lack of a vision, the people perish. Where there is no vision, there can be no purpose because the people can’t see where they desire to go. Where there is no purpose, the people lack direction. This results in a people who are lost and without the basic, elementary values that fuel the creation of a community. Our purpose directs how each of us functions in our everyday lives because when we truly understand our common destiny, we will do what is beneficial to mold that destiny into the fulfillment of our legacy of greatness.
In a conversation I held amongst a group of co-workers at one time, I made the statement that essentially there was a cap to my actual need for an increase in salary and that I would care to make this amount and not any more. This statement may have been a bit wrongheaded in the context that I now speak since the conversation stands as to how much wealth is actually held by our community and if we are not individually generating our own forms of economic currency in the community, how else would we be able to get economic value in without pulling it from without? I still stand by the intent of my original statement.
What is the source of the so-called economic crisis? How is it that monetary value can be said by economists to have “evaporated” into thin air? When a single party begins to hold a disproportionate amount of wealth whether gained by good means or ill gotten, it creates a liability to entire economy of a community since at any time that individual could destroy the currency which holds the economic value and through scarcity make everything in the community more expensive.
Ujamaa states that whatever action I perform in my personal economy should in some way stand to be of benefit to the greater community. Cooperative Economics should not stop at the simple “buy black” rhetoric. This is an oversimplification of the principle. What are our vendors selling to us and how does it add to the economic, moral, or cultural value of our community? In this way, we take a holistic view of the economy of the community. If unhealthy products are sold to us and destroy our physical value, that is not Ujamaa and we should not cooperate or corroborate our own destruction simply because the person taking the bills has a face like our own. – tekhen djehuti
COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS (UJAMAA) – Knowledge: The willingness and ability to work with others in order to produce, distribute, and consume our own goods and services for the mutual benefit and progress of the collective. Wisdom: To build and maintain our own shops, stores, and businesses in order to profit from them together. Understanding: In the teachings of Ptahhotep, it is said "Be generous as long as you live. What leaves the storehouse does not return. It is the food in the storehouse that one must share that is coveted. One whose belly is empty becomes an accuser. One who is deprived becomes an opponent. Therefore, do not have an accuser or an opponent as a neighbor. Your kindness to your neighbors will be a memorial to you for years, after you satisfy your needs." The collective has a responsibility to support those establishments, which benefit the whole and counteract those which do not. By the same token, businesses have an obligation to the communities they serve because it is their support, which continues to keep the businesses thriving. Wealth ceases to be beneficial the moment it ceases to serve the people and begins to be served by the people.
I learned my facilitator’s rules of the road on location at the Temple. Lessons that I carry with me to this day and implement in every thing I do. My position as the Minister of Information taught me how to organize data and express a single, more powerful cohesive thought. I came to understand the role that each block plays in the setting the foundation of the building. During Kwanzaa 2002, I was appointed to organize speakers and facilitate the flow of the event. Though small in scope, this event gave me great insight into how best to instill the spirit of cooperative work in the members who are setting the stage for the event.
My time in Temple for the period of 3 years showed me that if any single individual holds an inequitable sway over the navigation of any idea, it is doomed to collapse like any corporate entity without a succession plan in place. Ujima should find us always involving every necessary and able hand in the process of building our community. It is not sufficient in the Commons that we should allow individuals to survive in the Commons on the work of the other members of the body. Let every shoulder that ain’t broke put its weight upon the plow! – tekhen djehuti
COLLECTIVE WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY (UJIMA) – Knowledge: Labor, tasks, duties, functions, and mental accountability as stages in the completion of a greater mission which is dispensed amongst all individuals in a group. Wisdom: To build and maintain our community together while making our Brother’s and Sister’s problems our own in order that we might solve them together. Understanding: No man is an island unto himself. The Universal Law of Karma is eternal and infinite. It states that, "So long as you take care of your Family in their time of need, so shall the collective take up your plight in your time of need." Those issues that currently affect your Brothers and Sisters today will with all surety affect you tomorrow. Therefore, it must be understood that we all have a responsibility to each other and a definite part to play in the struggle to reclaim the glory of our People.
As the father to a budding cheerleader, I can feel this brother’s pain. The intense yearning to provide positive motivation and reinforcement to the young lady juxtaposed against the motivation to look over one’s shoulder to see who is watching. The final decision that you do not care so long as the young woman grows to embody a positive self image. Cheer Dads Unite! Bang Bang Choo Choo Train, Come Cardinals Do Your Thang! Such pride and overwhelming joy to see them enjoying themselves. There is no feeling that can stand as the equivalent.