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Youth focus of Black History Month

Published Feb 22, 2007 9:52 PM

The war on the Black Nation within the United States, particularly on the youth and how to fight back, sparked lively discussion at two Black History Month events at the U. of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

Speaking before a packed room of multinational campus members, representatives from three community-based Milwaukee youth organizations spoke Feb. 13 on “The Reality of African-American youth.” On Feb. 15, M1 of the hip hop group Dead Prez also spoke at the university.

The chair for both events, Dr. Ahmed Mbalia, an assistant professor in the department of Africology and a member of the Pan African Revolutionary Socialist Party, began the Feb. 13 panel discussion by describing the effects of institutional racism confronting African Americans, specifically youth in Milwaukee, and nationwide. He described health care disparities, endemic poverty, unemployment rates which are double that of whites, failing schools and how African-American youth in Wisconsin are imprisoned at the highest rates in the nation.

“Our youth are a product of the environment they come from. This is a population that is indeed faced with major crises,” said Mbalia.

Reggie Moore of Urban Underground grew up and still resides in Milwaukee. He described how he had to search for institutional assistance beyond his family and kinship networks while he saw this wasn’t the case in more affluent areas. This, in part, led him and others to create Urban Underground in 2000. Moore said much of the organization’s focus is “how to create spaces for young people in this community” and help them overcome personal challenges. Activities, mostly led by young African-American women, include community organizing such as fighting police brutality and harassment, educational programs, finding alternatives to incarceration and workshops.

Victor Barnett, executive director of Running Rebels, described how this organization has participated in helping thousands of youth since 1980. Barnett said one of the main goals of Running Rebels is to “show the youth that someone cares about them.” With an expansive office in the central city, the organization runs a variety of programs focusing on educational and recreational activities. These include mentoring, tutoring, crisis stabilization, anger management, daily living skills, a music instruction program and an after-school and summer safe-and-sound program.

“We have to save us. If you’re not organized then nothing’s going to happen. As college students you can create change,” began Carey Jenkins of Campaign Against Violence, which works with 18- to 35-year-olds teaching non-violent conflict resolution, voter education and more. His organization recently conducted a survey in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and found that many residents felt “a lack of resources” was a major reason why their communities were being devastated. Jenkins closed with a spoken word rap about a 7-year-old girl shot dead by a stray bullet and asked, “If cocaine is running the economy are they really concerned about the youth?”

Questions by audience members included the role of the corporate media, such as Clear Channel, that often only portray African Americans as criminals and sub-human; how to build unity between African Americans and other disenfranchised individuals and communities, including the white working class; the role of African-American and other women; the often negative treatment of youth by police and security personnel at public spaces such as Mayfair Mall; the lack of public spaces for youth; the relationships between youth and elders; nutrition; the role of unions and churches; the U.S. war on Iraq and its effect on poor communities; and the negative and positive aspects of hip hop culture.

Concluded Mbalia, “We must no longer sit back and do nothing. If you are unorganized you can’t control any situation. If you’re organized you can make a difference. Youth are the spark.”

‘Defeat imperialism!’

On Feb. 15 M1, or Mutulu Olugabala, focused on the relationship between Black revolutionaries in the 1960s and 1970s and the international movements arising from these roots, including hip hop. Olugabala is currently on a U.S. speaking tour that is being filmed for a future DVD release. He had just come from Omaha, Neb., Malcolm X’s birthplace.

Olugabala, wearing a military hat with a red star insignia and “Cuba” above the star, spoke before a large multinational audience that included many long-time Black and other liberation movement freedom fighters—including African-American Milwaukee City Council Alderman Michael McGee Jr., who is currently under racist attack for defending and supporting working class and oppressed people.

Olugabala described his personal journey, beginning with his formative years from his birth in Jamaica to living in Brooklyn, Raleigh, N.C., and Tallahassee, Fla., where he met his Dead Prez partner Sticman, helped form the Black Survival Movement and joined the African People’s Socialist Party and the National Democratic Uhuru (Freedom) Movement.

From there he gave an overview of the U.S. “undeclared war” on the Black Nation in the latter half of the twentieth century largely waged through COINTELPRO, a counterinsurgency program that used assassinations, torture and other forms of terror against the Black and other liberation movements. Olugabala stressed that particular targets of U.S. imperialism were the Black Panther’s people’s programs and dynamic leaders, organizers and theoreticians such as Assata Shakur, Fred Hampton Sr., Dr. Huey P. Newton and Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt. The inspiration these struggles gave to international liberation movements was another main reason for their neutralization, said Olugabala. He said after the military defeat of the U.S. liberation movements, beginning in the early 1970s, the U.S. “doped out the ‘hood and brought in crack cocaine in the most vicious way,” in another form of racist neutralization.

Olugabala closed by stressing the need for revolutionary political education, using the science of dialectical and historical materialism, and declared that organizing to build for socialism to defeat imperialism is the way forward.

“All of us have a role to play in this struggle that we’re in,” said Olugabala. Suggesting a life mission to those progressives and revolutionaries present, he concluded: “I’m going to do everything I can to defeat imperialism. That’s my job.”