One of my absolute favorite quotes by our dear Brother Malcolm X is his characterization of ‘The March on Washington’ as “a circus, with clowns and all.”
I have always found humor in Malcolm’s summation of ‘The March on Washington’ because it conveys how flustered and frustrated our dear brother must have been at witnessing his people mobilize once again to beg white folk for something that they truly could have done for themselves. Although I make humor of this moment, the truth of the matter is that there really isn’t much humor to be found in what appears to be a habitual pattern of Black leaders leading their people astray.
Unfortunately for today’s African-American community, if the March on Washington could be characterized as “a circus with clowns and all,” today’s ‘movement’ should be termed a 5-ring-circus with every type of irreconcilable, illogical, contradictory, immoral, and half-baked scheme and thought known to man. Things within the movement have gotten so bad that activists have often been forced to turn upon those that they previously considered friends, if not family, and denounce their beliefs, statements, and actions, in a last-ditch effort to salvage what parts of their organization that they could.
If one could term the current status of the movement to be a circus, there is no doubt that Dr. Umar Johnson is positioned as its foremost ringleader. Dr. Umar Johnson is the self-appointed Popa (Prince of Pan-Africanism) of the movement, an intra-racial polarizing figure. The mere mentioning of his name elicits moans-and-groans from veteran activists. For example, many have alleged that this is only the latest alias or maybe it would be more appropriate to say manifestation of this brother.
Make no mistake about it, everything about Dr. Umar Johnson from his academic credentials, ancestry (his claim to be a descendant of Abolitionist Frederick Douglass) to his prodigious fundraising abilities for a yet to be formed school (Frederick Douglass – Marcus Garvey – RBG International Leadership Academy) for African-American males has proven to be divisive with the ‘movement’; there quite simply no middle-ground to be found when dealing with Johnson.
What makes this voluminous discord flowing from the personage of Dr. Umar Johnson particularly disconcerting is the fact that it is unlike previous discord between figures such as Anna Julia Cooper and Booker T. Washington, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in that it is not based upon politico economic disagreement or discord. Anyone who has studied Black America’s repeated attempts to emerge from the sorry plight that our people have so often found themselves will tell you, there has never been consensus regarding the ideological path to liberation among Black leaders, often-times there was an absence of consensus in regards to the ultimate goal of the movement as some pressed for separation, others for integration, and a few others unwisely pursued assimilation.
I point this out to reiterate the point that this latest manifestation of what Malcolm X termed Black America’s ‘circus with clowns and all’ is grounded in other things and matters that should never occur within any movement or be projected by the authentic leader of any people.
If forced to pick a single issue, although there is a plethora of issues that could be highlighted, that has led to the majority of the voluminous discord it would be the aforementioned school that Dr. Umar Johnson has desired to build for African-American males.
During a recent interview with Dr. Umar Johnson in my role as Content Editor for African-American News & Issues, he spoke about his desire to start an academy for Black Boys, however, he honestly shared little about the inner-workings of the project beside his frustrations with Black folk not donating money for what most theoretically agree would be a major step in the correct direction for our people.
It is this absence of specificity that my brilliant brother Agyei Tyehimba took Johnson to task via an open letter that appeared on his site, MY TRUE SENSE: Raising Consciousness, Challenging Oppression, Inspiring Action. What follows is a portion of the questions that Tyehimba provided Johnson an open platform to address.
“Question 1: Do you have a transparent system of financial records or accounting that allows supporters to know exactly how much money you’ve accumulated without having to depend simply on what you say? 1a.How much as of this date have you raised via check, cash and Gofundme, and how much additional money do you need? 1b. Why did you cut the sister off from her legitimate line of questioning and refer to her in such a derogatory manner?1c. If for any reason, you are unable to secure the properties you mentioned, how will you use all the monies you’ve accumulated in your fundraising campaigns?
Another brother who happens to be a committed and credible activist in Detroit shared the following video clip with me upon hearing my support for you:
In this clip, you come off as arrogant, mean-spirited and ungrateful for the small contributions some in our community made to your fundraising effort. I watched it at least 5 times and was quite honestly, shocked by your words and spirit. Such words and spirit seem contradictory to your status as a spokesperson or leader for Black people. Like the previous clip, this one makes it difficult to get people to support you or your efforts. Some have said you sound entitled, callous, money-grubbing and self-serving. People (including myself) were especially disturbed by your statements “Trifling-ass Black people,” your insistence that people send you monthly payments, and your suggestion that you won’t advise or help (and would even hang up on) Black parents who didn’t contribute to money to your school effort.
Question 2: Can you respond to the above criticisms/observations of your words/behavior in this clip? 2a. Is there anything for which you’d like to apologize?
Another major critique is that you have yet to announce or produce a comprehensive plan of this proposed school (operating costs, curriculum, proposed annual budget, hiring, etc.). If you haven’t yet, doing so might help your fundraising efforts.
Question 3: Do you have a video clip or document that explains a comprehensive and strategic plan regarding the academy? 3a. If so, can you provide that link or document? 3b. Creating a school requires a collaborative team effort. No one individual can effectively raise money, plan curriculum, coordinate hiring, educational materials/supplies and other concerns alone. Do you have such a team or board in place? If so, who is on this board and what are their qualifications?
According to our sincere brother Agyei Tyehimba, Johnson has yet to respond to any of the above questions or issues that were presented to him.
Most are in agreement that Dr. Umar Johnson’s school, although a great idea that is already being accomplished on a lesser scale by a courageous cadre of Black educators who have created and currently operate Black Independent schools throughout this nation.
Quite possibly, the most unfortunate aspect of this current ‘five-ring-circus’ that Dr. Umar Johnson has been the foremost, although most certainly not the only, leader to once again damage the brand of Black leadership by betraying the trust of those who are so desperate to raise our people out of their present plight that they are willing to do, say, and try anything; make no mistake about it, the vast majority of our people are seeking a solution to the seemingly never-ending misery and suffering that they, or those that they dearly love and care for, are experiencing on a moment-by-moment basis. However, the absence of transparency, maturity, and reasonableness is most certainly making it appear that they have been ‘Took! Hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led Astray! Run Amok’.
One has to wonder if it is finally time to discard the antiquated model of ‘charismatic leadership’ in favor of an Ella Bakeresque ‘de-centralized leadership’ philosophy or it may very well for each of us to assume the mantle of leadership and be about the business of making our lives and those all around us better; we won’t even need a GoFundMe page for such.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016.