“What is your Problem with Umar Johnson?”

I often read a lot of commentaries criticizing Dr. Johnson because I’m trying to discern whether he is just as bad for us as black church pastors. I agree all public figures subject themselves to criticism. What I don’t get is what the criticisms and sometimes attacks are about regarding Umar. What false information is he giving out? I have not heard anyone, who is critical of Umar, deny that what he says about public schools and the misdiagnosis of black boys is true. What I do hear is people attacking him about the money he’s trying to raise to build a school; the rant he made via video and him being intimate with a stripper. Is that it? Are those all of his major flaws? People are also quick to attack him for being charismatic. When did charisma become bad? Not enough black youth aren’t being taught how to enunciate and speak properly, let alone how to be charismatic. Do we really want to tear down a conscious black man over those things? If so, why aren’t we as hard on elected officials? We easily take what they dish out and we know they hate us. Where is the kudos for Umar’s black college & consciousness tour last year? He’s doing two such tours this year. What exactly are we going to appreciate about conscious leaders? Better yet, what expectations do we have or want to see in a leader?

(Daryl B. Gray)

Let me first say thank you for this question that conveys so many of the issues and questions surrounding not only Umar Johnson but also larger matters surrounding ‘charismatic leadership.’ I am going to do my absolute best to answer a few of these issues in a precise manner. To achieve that goal, I have deconstructed your question into two smaller and therefore more manageable pieces for today’s response.

(A) What false information is Umar Johnson giving out?

(B) When did charisma become bad?

So here we go.

(A) What false information is Umar Johnson giving out?

I believe that you are on solid footing to inquire about ‘what false information’ has Umar Johnson put out. This is the thing about Umar, those who have issues with this brother are not particularly disturbed by the myriad of untruths that have emanated from his mouth such as the following:

  • His celibacy claims that were proven false by his interactions with the ‘conscious stripper.’ I think that most people could care less regarding what he does in his private life, however, what disturbed most was the presentation of a public Umar that does not match the private life. It most certainly conveys a willingness to advance a lie if it will benefit you; a dubious and dangerous character flaw for any person in a leadership position.
  • Umar’s claim to be a descendant of Frederick Douglass is yet another example of his willingness to advance a lie to promote himself and advance an agenda. This particular myth regarding Douglass is particularly offensive to me because he said it directly to me during an interview with an authority that would have made one think that he should have been named Frederick Douglass V.

Those who have significant problems with Umar trace their issues to the type of information that he does not share. At the core of the alluded to angst is the absence of transparency regarding the monies Umar has raised for his “school.” Put simply; there has been zero accountability regarding the monies raised, how these monies were used, the status of this “school” or any infrastructure that has been created surrounding the above entity.

It is this absence of ANY transparency that causes the majority of his critics to consider him worse than an exploitive preacher. In many ways, Umar is like a jackleg preacher in that he is peddling a path to end the misery and suffering of the masses. “If only you donate to this school, all of your problems will be alleviated.”

What makes these matters extremely troubling is that those who have chosen to support Umar with their hard-earned dollars materially are operating totally out of a blind-faith that is fueled by their innate desire to do something to help lift our people out of their multi-generational politicoeconomic marginality.

It is to that population of ‘believers’ that Umar owes transparency. My greatest fear is that when these ‘believers’ who have stepped out on faith realize that this has all been a charade, they will adopt a rigid position of ‘never again’ and will refuse to aid legitimate uplift efforts such as the already existing independent black school movement that desperately needs an immediate infusion of funds to continue educating African-American children.

(B) When did charisma become bad?

To address this issue, it is imperative that I separate the idea of charisma from an entirely different issue of “charismatic leadership.” Brother Gray, you wrote the following in your question. When did charisma become bad? Not enough black youth aren’t being taught how to enunciate and speak properly, let alone how to be charismatic. You are absolutely correct in your summation that charisma is not a negative quality. I have found that charisma is a pre-requisite for leadership, particularly in regards to leading an African-American populace that desperately craves a well-constructed combination of information and inspiration.

I likewise agree with your assertion that “Not enough black youth aren’t being taught how to enunciate and speak properly, let alone how to be charismatic.” One needs to look no further than the absence of enunciation found among contemporary ‘mumble’ rappers, let alone the speech patterns and vulgarity found within so many of our educational institutions to find a reason to support your assertion. However, that form of charisma is not what is being addressed when critiques of charismatic leadership are advanced.

When charismatic leaders such as Umar Johnson are being critiqued, it invariably revolves around the fact that they are “all sizzle and no steak.” Put simply, they do not use their prodigious God-given oratorical talents for the uplift of the community, they consciously plot and plan to use those gifts for personal gain.

It is their charm, their rhetorical wizardry and phrase mongering that invariably enchants their ‘followers’ to do as they say, in Umar’s case this means donating money to his yet to be realized school as well as vociferously attacking those who have the audacity to publicly critique his exploitation of the masses, a problem that you will find among all charismatic leaders.

Consider for a moment, that well-meaning, yet naïve, African-Americans have been donating monies to Umar’s yet to be realized educational venture for several years. When pressed as to why any educational institution has yet to be realized, his answer has always been the same, “The people haven’t given enough.”

One of the most obvious signs of a charismatic leader is his ability to always place the onus for the achievement of goals upon the followers, such sayings are common among leaders such as Umar Johnson or any random prosperity preacher, “if only you would pray more,” “if only you would donate more money,” “it is your lack of faith that is causing God not to bless us with what we need.”

Umar Johnson has slyly concocted a ‘us vs. them’ narrative among his followers that detracts their attention from his failure to provide a single sign of what their commitment to economic collectivism and black-on-black support has achieved.

Umar’s followers have become so emotionally invested that not even his recent tirade and denigration {which he taped and disseminated himself} against a fellow black man is sufficient to break the enchanting spell.

As with all charismatic leaders, it is their eloquence, charm, and expert ability to manipulate the emotions and perspective of people who are seeking a way out of no way that is their source of power, not the building of anything tangible such as a school. It is the bartering of hope and a dastardly lie that he is the only one diligently working to uplift Black America that is the base of Umar’s hold upon a people who have so much invested in him that they will never abandon his cause as it will serve as the supreme admission to the naysayer that they were correct in their criticisms and condemnation of associating with a critically flawed, seemingly mentally unstable, narcissistic individual such as Umar Johnson.

I realize that I did not touch upon each and every issue that you presented in your interesting query; I vow to you that I will address the other matters that you presented such as “What exactly are we going to appreciate about conscious leaders? Better yet, what expectations do we have or want to see in a leader?” in future writings. Once again, thank you for the question.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

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