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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
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.”
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
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.”
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