When I was a little kid everyone would tell me “you are called” or “you have a calling on your life” (mostly older church folks who were overly excited to see an articulate church going black boy). Essentially what they meant was that I would be one of the next “leaders in the black community.” However, I am not sure this is what the black community needs, nor what they want. Some still ask, is there a black agenda at all, and if so, who is leading it? As we move further away from the 1960’s civil rights movements I think it is important for individuals in the black community to speak for themselves. It makes more sense to allow people to finally have the agency and empowerment to have their own voice represent their life and experiences.
“A poll, commissioned by BET Founder Robert L. Johnson asked: “Who speaks for you?” The response: 40 percent of African Americans surveyed said, “No one,” 24 percent said, the National Action Network President and MSNBC host Al Sharpton, 11 percent said Jesse Jackson, 8 percent said NAACP President Ben Jealous and 2 percent said Marc Morial of the National Urban League.”
I believe that the 40 percent of black people surveyed could mean two things.
First off, it could mean that no progress has been made. It means that nearly half a century after the civil rights movement the black community has been incarcerated, stigmatized, and dispersed to the point that we have no central understanding of what a black agenda would look like and who would even lead it. It could mean that the “New Jim Crow” truly is here and creating a generation of disappearance in the black community.
Secondly, it could mean that black people no longer feel as though they need someone to “lead” them. It means that we have come to a point where we are independent, strong, and resilient enough to be the creators of our own life agenda. This could be the foundational creed for black youth to know that for the first time ever, they can be the president of the United States or anything they want. This is the belief in true meaning of potential and trusting that as long as we know who we are and where we come from, we can articulate our own stories and not have to negotiate the truth nestled in our own narratives. The 40 percent of the people who said, “No one speaks for me” are the ones who will rise up as leaders in their own communities, not to actually lead others, but to show others that we are all the leaders of our own ambitions. This will mean that we are no longer objects to be acted upon, but we are the subjects who are living and breathing the legacies of those who came, fought, and bleed before us.
I hope that it’s the latter.