Black history and the present challenge: preserving our institutions



Have you ever seen a Spike Lee movie? This is why I ask: In almost every one of his movies, the Black radio station plays a central role. KMOJ is a shining example of Spike Lee’s profound observations on the critical role of Black media.

The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, for which I am privileged to write, is the oldest Black newspaper in Minnesota. I believe that if we lived in Mankato or New Ulm or St. Cloud, we would hunger for the news only the Spokesman can record — our news, told from our collective perspectives.

From the heart of the village to the members of the African American Leadership Forum, the MSR is a gem we have, a gem too many of us take for granted and don’t protect with our time, talent and treasure.

The Minnesota African American Museum (MAAM) is scheduled to open this June! How many of us have sent in our donations, offered to serve on the board, or donated our time and talent?

This is not an indictment — it is a call to get up, to come with me, to build and strengthen. A lesson I was taught early is that institutions protect culture.

B96 grabbed our young from KMOJ, then made jokes about Juneteenth and our culture, more propaganda to lower our children’s self-esteem. When it was no longer profitable, B96 switched its format, but KMOJ never gave up on the people.

No organization is perfect, primarily because organizations are made up of human beings, and we aren’t perfect. Still, in large measure, we try to do our best, to make our mark, to be of value; and yet somehow, when it comes to Black business, Black thoughts or Black issues, we stay silent.

Dr. King had a great deal to say about silence and what it costs us. Too many of us serve as Monday-morning quarterbacks, always critical, mostly relying on gossip and innuendo, and we have nothing more than commentary when the institution dies out.

The St. Paul Urban League is no more, the building up for sale and the right to operate as an Urban League chapter revoked. How many Black-led, Black-serving organizations do you know that are “on the bubble”?

I met with a Black entrepreneur today who is committed to running a culturally specific home for Black boys that exists on fumes while counties play games with the contracts and majority-led institutions thrive. I ask you, is it because the Black organizations can’t do as well with our own children? If so, I say that is dangerous, ignorant thinking.

If we are to do better as a whole people not divided by light and dark, young and old, male and female, but together as a village, we can make the words of James Baldwin at Oxford the subject of a time past — “By the time you are thirty you realize that nothing you have done, nor nothing you can do…can keep this from happening to your children and grandchildren.” He is talking about the realities of a caste system wholly dependent on the myths of race.

If we are to rebuild the village, we need institutions like the MAAM, KMOJ, the Spokesman, the Urban League, African American Family Services, Turning Point, Phyllis Wheatley, and the NAACPs of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Our organizations need our time, talent and treasure to thrive.

We need to learn our history so that we understand our contributions to the world, so that we can teach our future generations. Knowledge of self is a powerful shield against the myths of racism.

Like the Penumbra Theatre, the only one of its kind in the Midwest, a priceless treasure, the MAAM will stand as a testament to the beauty and wonder of the contributions of Black Minnesotans, and the ancestors are counting on us to tell their stories.

We need to speak the words of our ancestors, return to the relationships that restore us, and harness the power of the village to change the future for our own by teaching our history. Said Baldwin, “There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.”


Hear Lissa Jones’ radio show “Urban Agenda” on 89.9 KMOJ-FM Thursday nights at 6 pm, stream her live at, or read web posts from Lissa at She welcomes reader responses to