[You can read Part 1 here. Stay tuned for part 3 (Equality for Flatbush and Crystal House)]
Imagine getting an email late one night in the dead of winter asking if you can come by the next morning and help make posters, etc. for a big march the next morning in Harlem.
Imagine living in Bushwick and having to decide if you want to get on the train to head ALL THE WAY up to Harlem and get there by 7 AM.
Imagine getting there and expecting to find AT LEAST 20 other people dedicated to “the work” who cared enough to fight the cold and a weekend train schedule only to find it’s you and maybe 5 more people — Especially considering the “front wo/men” for the group are number more than 5.
Imagine getting over your surprise that there is only 1 person there who knows what’s going on — that the table to assemble the posters is outside in the cold and wind — that there were was only one roll of duct tape to use between the hand full of people to assemble at least 50-60 posters for those who would show up to march in just a couple of hours.
I don’t need to imagine, because this is exactly what happened.
*Before some of you get all in your feelings cause I’m calling folks out, let me just say — Yes, I know there is a Black Code. Yes I know, many of the issues we deal with and how we deal with each other is because of them. I also know that many of the reasons we stay traumatized and ain’t got shit is because of the Black Code and accepting mediocre. As my grandfather would say, “We do not have the luxury of extra time or resources to be half-ass doing shit jut to have to do it again!” Lives are on the line people!
After realizing there was no plan, no contact people (just 1 main member from their group), not enough space to work, and only one roll of tape to share with others (which meant just standing there waiting for someone to finish), I knew it was going to be a very long, cold and frustrating morning — ESPECIALLY once the tape ran out (after only a few posters had been made).
Not being able to find anyone who had money to purchase more supplies (tape and scissors), I decided to try and find a store.
Now, I don’t know how familiar you are with Harlem, but trying to find a store open that had duct tape and scissors is damn near impossible! I eventually found a CVS that was open, bought the supplies and made the long walk back.
So finally with enough tape and scissors to go around, we figure out a system to quickly get the job done (being that so much time had been wasted).
As many of us sat on the floors (because it was too cold and windy outside) assembling stuff, their “front wo/men” started to trickle in. Most of us felt some relief as we figured they’d pitch in to help.
Walking right past us, the proceeded into the area where snack and coffee were.
Okay. I get it, it’s early and you’re hungry. See you in a minute?
They sat chatted, did their makeup, talked a bit about security, etc. snacked, and primped some more…
It was then I decided that I would not stay to march, that I did what I came to do, but some things I can not support — and watching this with my own eyes only confirmed some things one hears through “the work” gossip lines.
By the time we finished the last poster, etc. the media and people who came out to march started to show up.
I observed, took a few pics, chatted with a few people I’d not seen in awhile, thanked the 1 brother from their crew who showed up early and did the best he could, walked across, and took the long train ride back to Bushwick.
Later that day the tweets with the hashtags started to flood my timeline with tweets from the charismatic faces of that org (and a few others), and people marching. They talked about injustice, community, etc.
And the media and those retweeting ate it up.
The next day the brother who was there early with us, sent an email thanking those of us who showed up and asked if we would send any pictures we had.
I also promised myself that I would never forget the #LessonsLearned that weekend.
I did, and unfortunately I’ve more stories like this.
You will often hear these activists/organizers used a portion of an overused quote, “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.”
Oh, how charismatic (and original)!
If one really sits and thinks about that quote — not while it’s been yelled to you through a bullhorn when the energy is ripe with excitement, anger, etc. you’ll notice the many ways that quote has not only been misused but ways it’s problematic, especially when used by most of those who repeat it.
What makes a strong leader and who gave you/them the title?
Before jumping on any bandwagons, ask yourself, what matters to you in “leadership” and movement work.
Is it popularity, exposure, authenticity, integrity, etc.?
How much do you REALLY know about these people you go hard for (volunteering your money, time, platform…)?
Are we supporting the person, the community or the potential?
For me, it looks like my people. Rather silent but not afraid to get their hands dirty — Because there will be no Uber to transport you in/out of the revolution. There will be no Twitter/Facebook followers waiting around for one to decide on which would be the best Timbs to wear or shade of lipstick.
The revolution will only sustain with integrity, accountability and a solid foundation.
But that’s just me…
Cause some people (our own people) make a living off our trauma and killings not our healing.
Last but not least, for all who only show up to march, go volunteer. Those posters, etc. don’t make themselves!