To build our community we must first start with self

by William P. Muhammad

It was 14 years ago that nearly two million Black men stood on the mall of the U.S. Capitol pledging before the world, to each other and to God that it was time for a change. Black men from all walks of life came to Washington D.C. on October 16, 1995 to atone, to reconcile and to accept the responsibility to become better men for the benefit of self, our families and our people.

An unprecedented sign of unity, and the catalyst for other marches using the “million man theme,” the march was a unique display of brotherhood that captured the imaginations of literally millions of people from around the world. Opinions of the Black American male changed instantly, and those believing that Black men were a burden upon society were forced on that day to take a second look.

A sign of what is possible when we decide to put our hearts and minds toward a given endeavor, the march still inspires those who witnessed the power and unity of that day. From Black child adoptions to voter registration and the rekindling of a new assertiveness, the march showed a side of the Black man that for years had been hidden beneath stereotypes, media propaganda and ignorance.

An entire generation has been born since the Million Man March and those who were only children at the time are now adults. Though, today, we grapple with many of the same issues the Black man faced 14 years ago, answers to these problems can still be found in the “Eight Steps of Atonement” that came out from the march.

For example, when an offended party “points out a wrong”, if the offender takes the grievance to heart, a second step calls for an “acknowledgment of that wrong.” Once accepted and subsequently “confessed,” an act of “repentance” or contrition can lead to “atonement,” the step where repairs are made and reparations for damages are offered.

With efforts having been made to restore that which was harmed, the stage is then set for entering into the process of “forgiveness.” Though difficult, once the offended person or persons learn to overcome their feelings of resentment, it is through the seventh step that “reconciliation” begins to replace discord and enmity.

In order to engage in conflict resolution and move toward a more “perfect union,” parties accepting the eight steps will find the process both a liberating and empowering force that builds rather than destroys. The self-hatred that manifests itself in jealousy, envy and so-called Black on Black violence can perhaps be overturned in favor of unity and brotherhood. When the eight steps are internalized and carried into practice, a peaceful environment emerges and the principles of atonement, reconciliation and responsibility allow for new ideas and opportunities to arise.

The building of a true community requires more than just bricks, concrete and steel, it requires the inclusion of people who have recognized their full potential and are striving to fulfill it. The ideal community recognizes the gifts every individual brings to the table and incorporates them into the whole of its make. Not unlike the cell of life which together with others makes tissues, organs and organ systems, properly guided individuals, united in purpose, make for the dynamics behind strong families, communities and nations.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan teaches us there is nothing wasted in the growth and development of the human body, and likewise no human being should be wasted in the growth and development of a community or civilization. While the Black man has been taught he holds little value in this world, as he awakens to the time and what must be done, his emerging consciousness will renew his faith in himself and bring forth a new reality.

If “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen,” then faith is the basis upon which our community must be built. More than just a church, a mosque or a synagogue, our community must encompass all facets of life where all of us, regardless of land, language or label, can live in peace together. A community that is at peace with itself is a community that has been empowered to grow. Since “self-improvement is the basis of community development,” in order to build, let us now take a close look at self and rise to the occasion.

Do Black voices count in American discourse?

by William P. Muhammad

Regarding the discourse between the Black masses and the politically connected elite, speaking truth to power has long been a method for airing grievances. From voicing principled opposition to making one’s displeasure known to government, the freedom to speak one’s mind is perhaps the most important component to so-called American democracy and the exercise of its stated values.

Although most politicians and pundits extol the virtues of free speech, depending upon the importance and weight of the subject matter, there is often a price to pay in exercising that right. While often times dismissing as illegitimate ideas that run counter to either corporate agendas or the ambitions of the privileged few, within the context of defying boundaries set by the establishment, proponents of new or popular ideas are often marginalized by way of dismissal or distortion.

Through the power and influence of commercial news media, reports and broadcasts often reflect the fears, agendas and aspirations of corporate interests. From international issues to domestic concerns, in many cases, the American public is offered news favoring the wants of the few over the needs of the many.

For instance, when Libyan leader and African Union Chairman Muammar Gadhafi, in a recent address to the UN General Assembly, blasted what he identified as injustices inherent within the UN Charter, he was ridiculed and condemned by major American news outlets. Without regard to the merits of his arguments, the media focused its attention upon him as a personality as opposed to the issues he raised. Therefore causing its audience to shift their attention, American corporate news media was successful in distracting from an issue often raised by many of the world’s developing countries.

Regarding the Black community in America, this tactic is also nothing new. For as long as there have been newspapers in the country, perspectives of the White elite have more often than not trumped those of Blacks, other ethnic groups and the poor. Although today reporters of color may be the face on a broadcast or the name on a byline, it remains true that editors, producers and in some cases even advertisers have the last word on the nature and content of a given story.

After the urban uprisings of the mid and late 1960s, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (The Kerner Commission) recommended that media require “a greater level of sophistication than they have yet shown in this area—higher, perhaps, than the level ordinarily acceptable with other stories.” While the Kerner Report was specifically referring to the media’s handling or urban unrest and violence, questions nevertheless remained over the aim, purpose and accuracy of news reporting in the Black community.

With more than 40 years having passed since the release of the commission’s report, contemporary news stories regarding youth violence are raising questions as to whether or not the young “urban male” is salvageable and worth the effort of saving. While the tragedy of senseless violence should spark earnest discussions over causes and solutions, the suggestion of writing off an entire generation opens doors to potentially dangerous interventions on the part of government and society.

Nevertheless, when workable answers come from those whom “mainstream media” have painted as controversial, they make it difficult for themselves to acknowledge the works and deeds of respected individuals. With editors then choosing to leave tried and tested solutions on the cutting room floor, the perceived lack of a solution is then compounded by the act of omission. In other words, ignoring all solutions but those deemed appropriate by the handlers of corporate media, the problem of urban violence appears to have no end in sight.

The continued marginalization of Black voices reflects a problem within so-called American democracy. If the “fourth estate” will only validate and recognize persons, organizations and movements deemed appropriate by the elite, then the corporate media is actually an institution of control and regulation. Unless and until we are able to speak with one voice, the problem of media overlooking substantive input from Blacks will continue. Corporate media will go on in positioning our leaders, organizations and movements as they see fit, and we will continuously appear as being reactive rather than proactive and one step ahead.

If the opinions, suggestions and ideas of 40 million divided Black people really do not count in American discourse, then it is time to try unity. When our voices become united, there is no telling how far we will go as a people. It is long past time to try it and for the sake of our unborn generations, it’s time to do it.