Reflections on my life of advocacy

March 2017 marks the 24th year this column has appeared in Black newspapers and periodicals around the world. It’s time to reflect, assess, evaluate, and decide whether to continue writing the column or bring it to an end.

First, I sincerely thank you, the readers, for indulging what must be an obsession for me: economic empowerment. To the publishers, thank you for keeping this column alive.

Thanks to Marjorie Parham, owner of the Cincinnati Herald, and Donald Anthony, editor, who liked my initial “Letter to the Editor” and asked me to write for them regularly. They, along with William “Bill” Reed, gave me the opportunity to get my thoughts syndicated via the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).

It’s a privilege
This column continues to open doors to new relationships and allows me to “vent” as well. It is cathartic, but it is action-oriented and solution-based. The privilege to speak to so many people is something I do not take for granted.

Having written an estimated 1,500 articles, hosted radio and TV shows, and authored five books on economic empowerment, I should be content, right?

But I am not content, mainly because I have not seen the outcomes Black people should have achieved during my tenure as another in a long line of griots – not only because of my writing, teaching, and advocacy – but because we are too intelligent not to have done so. That hurts.

I have often said, “The message is more important than the messenger.” The same message I write about is the same one written and spoken by too many great ancestors to list herein, so I will cite just three: Marcus, Malcolm, and Martin.

They followed the paths left by their predecessors, spoke the same message to their people, and cared so much that they gave everything they had toward their mission.

Continued the struggle
Marcus Garvey, even though he faced tremendous resistance from the infamous J. Edgar Hoover and his Black spy, James Wormsley, as well as from Black folks in the NAACP and elsewhere, continued to endure.

Garvey did so well that the weight of the federal government had to be brought down on him to try to stop his UNIA movement. False charges and a kangaroo court finally got Garvey a prison term and ultimately deportation.

And to think Barack Obama, even at the urging of Dr. Julius Garvey’s petition calling for justice, did not exonerate and clear Mr. Garvey’s name before his presidency ended. Go figure. Garvey’s words, “The greatest weapon used against the Negro is disorganization,” still ring true today.

Daily threats
Malcolm X, our “Black shining prince” as Ossie Davis eulogized him, suffered daily threats on his life and his family. His opposition came from all directions and in all colors. Because of his strength and resolve, Malcolm was considered an ominous threat, a “menace to society.” Despite all that he faced, he kept going forward even into harm’s way. He “didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”

His words are here for us today and, as Ossie Davis also said, “Nobody knew better than he the power words have over the minds of men.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., demonstrated his willingness to stay on course despite knowing the risks. He exposed himself to the haranguing voices of fellow ministers who told him to take it slow, to which he responded with “Why We Can’t Wait” and “The Urgency of Now.”

Gave his all
He defied hate-filled crowds of angry Whites and law enforcement officers who wanted nothing more than to see him hanging from a tree. Unlike many ‘leaders’ today, King coupled his actions to his words. He wrote a lot and spoke a lot, but he gave so much more.

Looking back at my four decades of activism and advocacy for Black people, I realize that no one has a proprietary claim on the economic empowerment message. No one has all the answers and solutions to our problems. My words and my actions also tell me that a relatively small group can do big things, provided we stick together.

While I do not have Marcus’ charisma, Malcolm’s presence, or Martin’s eloquence, I am content to have followed their leads by using my particular gift of words and the proof thereof by my requisite actions to help our people.

James E. Clingman is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people.


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