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Friday, August 28, 2015

"Justice or Else!" Community Meeting


On August 27, 2015, Rev. Isaac Williams of the Greater True Vine Missionary Baptist Church in Pensacola, opened his church for a community meeting hosted by the Nation of Islam.  The community meeting had three items on the agenda: the October 10, 2015, twentieth anniversary of the Million Man March, this time called "Justice or Else!"; a follow-on economic boycott of "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" modeled on the Montgomery Bus Boycott; and, the need to create a new school in Pensacola catering to African-American children with the purpose of teaching them at a high academic standard as well as their true African and African-American cultures.

The meeting was hosted by Sister Candace Muhammad.  The panelists included Sister Tarah Muhammad, Mrs. Carol McIntosh, educator; Ms. Kenita Mitchell, teacher; and Brother Tarus.

L-R: Ms. Mitchell, Mrs. McIntosh, and Sister T. Muhammad

Moderator/Host: Sister C. Muhammad

"Justice or Else!" Million Man March

This march will occur in Washington, D.C. on October 10, 2015.  The original march took place on October 16, 1995.  The aim of this march is to bring together men from all races, nationalities, ethnicities, and religious beliefs, to demand that the federal government address the issue of police killing people in local communities, especially people of color, who are disproportionately more likely to be killed by the police.  People of color are more likely to be over-represented in the prison population due to the War on Drugs.

Brother Tarus told the assembled community members and activists, "We have to bring balance and justice for all humanity; not just black; not white; not brown; not Asian; not indigenous; but for all humanity."  When asked how he defined justice, Brother Tarus stated, "Justice is fairness irregardless of race or creed."

While the aim of the "Justice or Else!" march is to pressure the federal government into action, the equally important aim is to send these men back into their communities to link up with women activists and begin a process of change in their communities.

What is the Else?  The Economic Boycott

The Nation of Islam plans to build on the model of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which severely hurt the bus company.  Anyone familiar with the history of civil rights actions in Pensacola led by Reverend H.K. Matthews, head of the the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in northwest Florida, and the NAACP in Pensacola in the 1960s and 1970s knows that economic boycotts forced many businesses to begin employing African-Americans.  Even the threat of a boycott was sometimes enough for local stores and businesses to begin hiring African-Americans.

Sister Candace briefly highlighted that the idea of an economic boycott of companies, is what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in his very last speech on April 3, 1968, known as the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech (see Cornel West, editor, The Radical King, pp. 265-75).  In that speech (pp. 270-1), King spoke of the economic power of the Black community.  At that time, the Black community had an annual income of $30 billion per year, making the Black community "richer than all the nations of this world, with the exception of [the] nine [richest]."  King declared, "Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal....And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you."

In his last speech on the last full day of his life, King called for the movement and the community to use the power of an economic boycott of Coca-Cola, Sealtest milk, Wonder bread, and Hart's bread, to further the cause of economic justice for the sanitation workers and to "redistribute the pain."  As King put it, "We are choosing these companies because they haven't been fair in their hiring practices; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying, they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike.  And then they can go downtown and tell [Memphis] Mayor Loeb to do what is right."

The Black community now has between $1.1 and 1.3 trillion dollars of economic power that generally leaves the Black community quickly.  Dr. Sinclair Grey writing at the Financial Juneteenth website reported on a study conducted by the NAACP in 2012 that found that a dollar spent in the Asian community circulated within that community for a month; in Jewish communities, about 20 days; in white communities, about 17 days; and, in Black communities, about six hours.  In other words, only two cents of every dollar is spent on Black businesses.

The major aim after the "Justice or Else!" march is to boycott "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" which primarily benefit major corporations.  The aim is not to spend those dollars in Black businesses.  Rather, it is to save the money in order to boycott Christmas, and, if necessary, begin to celebrate Kwanzaa and its seven principles--unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, purpose, creativity, and faith.  If one must celebrate Christmas, celebrate it with a family meal and love and not consumerism, according to the Nation of Islam panelists.

In other words, the aim of the NOI strategy, consistent with the aims of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 is to achieve equal justice under the law through economic pressure for justice.  According to the speakers, the greatest strength of the Black community is unity, the ability to come together and stand together as a community.

An Alternative School for African-American Children

There is a well-grounded belief (pdf) in Escambia County's Black community that the school system is failing our children.

Several panelists noted that the poor educational outcomes of Black children cannot and should not be laid solely on the shoulders of parents.  Educating a child is a community effort.  Mothers and fathers may be exhausted from working two jobs to make ends meet; the village model of raising children is broken; there are not enough resources in the Black community to address the unfunded needs.  On the other hand, Black children are not treated fairly by teachers, principals, or the Sheriff's deputies.

Mrs. McIntosh, an experienced educator and expert on the local school system, noted that the community needed to understand the policies and procedures that effect our children, and, they must know not only the problems, but also have solutions at hand.  Ms. Mitchell, a substitute teacher in the district, noted that many times concerned parents and community activists intervene too late in the process.  There is a great need to attend school board meetings and parent-teacher meetings.  But, not all parents are equipped to do so.

There is also a need, these activists suggested, to reconsider what the children are learning.  The panelists and community members attending eventually reached a consensus that an alternative school could provide the answer to helping the children.

Brother Tarus suggested there is a need for a new curriculum so that Black students learn real Black history and culture.  For example, students should know that they were not freed by President Lincoln, but, like Nat Turner, they freed themselves.

Mrs. McIntosh noted that the standards needed to be raised in the schools and that schools are changing the way they teach and the technology they teach with.  Both have the potential to leave Black parents and students behind.  Moreover, while the schools do a very good job of teaching academic subjects, they do a poor job of teaching Black culture.  The latter, however, must come from the community.

Ms. Mitchell noted that parents and the community must teach the students.  The many churches in the Black community could be opened to take children in after school where they could get additional instruction.  She also noted the existence of a nation-wide group of educators and parents who participate in African-centered home schooling that caters to all religions, but where the common ground is culture.

The consensus of the panel was that while white teachers were very competent in teaching academic subjects, they really did not understand how Black children learned in school and did not really understand why Black children behaved the way they do or how to bring them back into focus.  The cultural understanding of Black children is simply lacking.  Moreover, the lack of Black teachers overall and Black male teachers exacerbates the problem of cultural ignorance.  Nor could they really teach Black history and culture.

The consensus model appeared to be the Muhammad University of Islam which the Nation of Islam suggested had very high academic standards, taught children that what they were learning had the purpose of making them independent and entrepreneurial, while also teaching them about their culture and history.

Brother Tarus suggested a sort of "college bowl" contest between similar grade-school children (third grade, for example) from a Muhammad University of Islam school and Pensacola Christian Academy in order to test academic achievement and standards.

Whether considered from the perspective of police violence against Black people, black-on-black crime in neighborhoods, poverty, health care, or a poor educational outcomes, the Black community senses that it is in a state of crisis.  They feel they are in a race against time to save their children, not only from violence, but from being left behind as economic globalization picks up momentum.  As one panelists put it, if we do not do something to save our children, "The alternative is death."  Another panelist stated at the end of the two-hour discussion, "We must change the way we think or nothing will change."  Another panelist stated, "We must incorporate our children into every decision we make."

Concluding Observation

The emphasis on separatism is an issue that can be divisive or made to be divisive.

But, as I listened to the discussion by the panelists and questions and comments from the audience, I was struck by the missing historical context.

Catholics, at one time a reviled religious/ethnic group(s), created their own education system, from grade school to university.  The most famous Catholic university is, of course, Notre Dame, but there is also Loyola University, and many other fine institutions of higher learning populating the Big East in basketball.  They created their own hospital system.  They created their own charities.  And, in almost any state where Catholics take football seriously, there is almost always a Sacred Heart High School that is a state champion.  Now, these institutions are open to anyone, but they began with the purpose of self-defense.

Anyone familiar with reading either a history of the Jews or a history of the Jews in America will know that the Jews created numerous social welfare organizations that helped immigrants get a foothold in whatever country they were emigrating to.  In America, Jews created great yeshivas and invested heavily not only in Jewish businesses, but Jewish schools, Jewish universities, Jewish medical practices and hospitals, and Jewish charities.  While many of these institutions are Jewish, they are now open to anyone or cater to anyone in need.

But, the point is simply this.  At one time or another Catholics and Jews were despised in this country and to protect themselves they created their own institutions for self-protection.  Conservative Protestants like to strut and crow about American Exceptionalism, but the history of Protestantism has been one of hatred and bigotry.

As Allan Lichtman observed in the Introduction to his book, White Protestant Nation, "The vanguard of American conservatism in the 1920s, however, shared a common ethnic identity: they were white and Protestant and they had to fight to retain once uncontested domination of American life" (p. 2).  Lichtman continued, "Both religion and race have mattered for conservatives who view nationhood as anchored in white, native-stock peoples and their distinctive culture.  Since World War I, conservatives have been cultural, religious, and at time racial nationalists, dedicated to protecting America's superior civilization from racially or culturally inferior peoples, foreign ideologies, sexual deviance, ecumenical religion, or the encroachment of a so-called one-world government" (p. 4).

Many people love the Santa Claus version of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his seeming call for a color-blind America in his misnamed "I Have a Dream" speech.  But, in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here, excerpted in Cornel West's The Radical King, King wrote that "Black Power, in its broad and positive meaning, is a call to black people to amass the political and economic strength to achieve their legitimate goals" (p. 192).

Whether you are a Black separatist, progressive Democrat, or even Tea Party conservative, there is a sense that the current system is fundamentally flawed towards the ruling oligarchy.  Ordinary people are expendable and redundant.  But, for the Black community, there is also the real, everyday danger that this system is fatal to Black people and poses an existential threat to all--whatever their religious beliefs or lack of beliefs, their social class standing, their gender, or their sexual identity.  It is this sense of crisis and threat driving the need to seek protection in institutions that Black people control and that serve the needs of Black people as they want to be served.

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