— A. Philip Randolph
Unless you are Herman Cain, you know that the Civil Rights Movement was ignited by young people tired of going through back doors, tired of being refused service at lunch counters, tired of living in the prison of Jim Crow. The older of us were moved to act when we saw our babies being shot with water cannons, our babies being beaten by police in riot gear. When we saw our babies maimed by vicious, hungry police dogs, their mothers and fathers said, “Not our babies!”
News to the wise: Our young are on the move again, this time against the now semi-invisible Jim Crow — the cradle-to-prison pipeline, the divestiture of public education and concurrent divestiture of the surrounding neighborhoods, the dispensing of guns to children too young to apply for a driver’s license.
They are on the move against disproportionate minority contact with the police and against systems sustained off of Black misery. They are on the move against the tides that for so long have bound their ancestors — not just Harriet Tubman but us, their ancestors still here on earth.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, said, “I didn’t know that I could fail because my mama said so, and my pastor said so and my teacher said so.” She is also launching a revolution called the “New Abolitionists.”
They are stating the facts, targeting the specific problems of young people today, and speaking solutions, Black solutions to Black problems, shining the light on the systems that thrive off our misery. Young leaders are paving a new way.
Last night I had the privilege to be in the company of the great young men and women (and parents) of the Black Student Union of the University of Minnesota. If you missed it, you really missed it.
Imagine: candles lit on each table, soft reflective tablecloths, low lighting in the opulent U of M McNamara Alumni Center; and Maya’s vanilla, cinnamon and chocolate brown dressed to the nines, a room filled with great minds. The presenters were captivating, dynamic and young but already masters of many crafts.
In the tradition of their ancestors, these young minds are challenging one another to work for solutions, to “trail blaze” as one speaker described it.
In the midst of a room of tables filled, laughter in the air, and sharing in the African tradition of breaking bread with one another, sat the men of the Student African American Brotherhood Initiative of the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) practicing Malcolm’s beloved Black nationalism, supporting another Black organization — they showed up, and it was beautiful to behold.
One speaker described the members of the BSU as the “Talented Tenth,” and as Du Bois defined it, I would agree: “The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races. Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools — intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it — this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life.”
As I look across our great Twin Cities and indeed the world, I see so many of the Talented Tenth, some in the most unlikely places. As I challenged the audience last night, as I challenge myself daily, if I consider myself part of the Talented Tenth, what then is my responsibility to the other 90 percent?
I don’t know if I know all of the answers, but I know this: The answer doesn’t lie on Dr. King’s stool of do-nothingness. Whatever your position, find a way to use it to improve the conditions of our people.
Not everyone can risk everything, but each of us can risk something to do what Abraham Lincoln said that the Constitution was designed to do — to elevate the condition of men.
Can you dig it?
Hear Lissa Jones’ radio show “Urban Agenda” on 89.9 KMOJ-FM Thursday nights at 6 pm, stream her live at www.kmojfm.com, or read web posts from Lissa at www.kmojfm.com. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.