Celebrate the Drum Major by Bringing the Band Back Together

Yesterday and every year, we commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. as statesman, drum major and dreamer.  But 24 hours later, we’re back the same old complaints, tactics, and worse, the same old successes to which we’ve grown accustomed in the years following his assassination.

Collectively, we are more educated, richer, more culturally influential and healthier than we’ve ever been upon these shores, yet we remain the top target of the prison industrial complex, an at-risk population as defined by the most basic public health standards, politically disenfranchised and unengaged a municipal and federal levels, and at war with our own nation for the preservation of our bodies, culture and free will.

We have more successful Black Americans than we’ve ever had, but a dying Black America. 

We anointed King to speak truth to our desire for racial empowerment, and our anointing certified his death orders, much in the way it did for Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and countless others. Following their deaths, we anointed assimilation and integration as the ideal way to honor their ultimate sacrifices. But even 60 years later, the most compelling non-black figure to champion black equality and the inherent value of blackness has been Rachel Dolezal – which means that, largely, the concept of abolition and racial tolerance remains in national white conscience as Dwight Eisenhower described in the years following Brown v. Board of Education:

”…improvement in race relations is one of those things that will only be healthy and sound if it starts locally. I do not believe that prejudices, even palpably unjustified prejudices, will succumb to coercion.”

Internally, we have traded the objective of improving black spaces for the right to occupy white spaces. We have exchanged the concept of creating and supporting black businesses for the right to patronize white corporate conglomerates. We have ceded the idea of black parenting and communal child-rearing to the emotional rush of claiming police murder and brutality against black youth gone astray. And we’ve decided that white school systems and colleges can do what white churches, white barbershops, and other white establishments apparently cannot do; prepare our youth for productivity and survival in an all-white world.

King spoke of reforming our natural drum major instincts to be more aggressive in individual pursuits of justice and equality. And we’ve been largely successful with this idea, with millions of black-earned dollars and volunteer hours nationwide being dedicated to improving the causes of our own humanity, freedom and dignity. But nearly 48 years after King’s death, our focus should be upon bringing the band back together; towards creating the transparent and cohesive alliances which can fortify black people and institutions in the name of racial autonomy, and not acceptance. 

Seemingly, this reorganization of national black infrastructure begins with the black college, where the majority of our political, intellectual, research and cultural capacity is housed. If we are serious about bringing more students to our campuses, then all students, alumni, faculty and administrators should become aggressive recruiters of youth in our communities. If we are serious about building black businesses, then HBCU leaders should go out of their way to patronize and award contracts to black-owned companies and corporations. If we no longer want mass incarceration and violence against black bodies, than more black bodies should be exposed to social and political programming on our campuses. 

And if we no longer want to be disappointed by the failure of state and federal government intervention in our communities, then it is up to us to forge new partnerships with churches, with fraternities and sororities, with civic organizations to begin the process of recruiting and grooming candidates for public service. 

These are the things that so many HBCU presidents and advocates have, over the years, tried to champion. All of those HBCUs which enjoy a place of distinction in Black American culture – Fisk, Hampton, Howard, Morehouse, Spelman, Tuskegee – all do so because of their foundation in the inherent capacity for black folks to do for ourselves and by ourselves. Yes, white benefactors have augmented this ideal, and predominantly white government has, through grants and contracts, aided in keeping this ideal alive.

But their support has and will not be borne of some great reformation of racial morality. Rather, it is because the nation is better off with black folks working to advance her ideals of global preeminence rather than working against them, or in being a blight upon the concept of democracy. 

So when will we get together and adopt the same philosophy for our own benefit?


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