The Black Reality Think Tank will discuss the work and legacy of this intellectual giant. The program will broadcast live tonight 2/18/20 on www.timeforamawakening.com at 8 pm eastern time; 7 pm Central; 6 pm Mountain; and 5 pm pacific time.
One can also listen via telephone at (225)490-9832.
The program host is Dr. William G. Rogers.
https://www.timeforanawakening.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Time-for-an-Awakening-with-Bro.Elliott-2-09-20-guest-Prof-Michael-A.-Gomez-mp3.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 2:09:03 — 59.4MB) | EmbedSubscribe: Android | Email | RSS “Time For An Awakening” for Sunday 2/09/2020 at 7:00 PM (EST) our guest was Professor of History and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at New York University, Michael A. Gomez. Prof. Gomez discussed his latest work “African...
Young Black Americans who want to explore their roots can take a free birthright trip to Africa. Here’s how
By Alaa Elassar
Scholars drumming with artisans from the Arts Centre Market in Accra, Ghana.
(CNN)There are a lot of things that make up who we are as people. Our physical features, our pet peeves, our passions — and our roots. It’s a puzzle we spend our entire lives trying to finish.As human beings, we are complex and difficult to understand. But sometimes, looking back at where we came from and discovering the successes, struggles and sacrifices of our ancestors can make that puzzle a bit more complete.For young black people, that discovery can mean the world. That’s why Birthright AFRICA, a nonprofit organization based in New York City, offers free trips to Africa for youth and young adults of African descent looking to explore their cultural roots. The organization also funds local and national exploration in cities like New York City and Washington, where scholars live and are a bus ride away from gaining an understanding of their history and contributions in the US before visiting the continent. “National Black History Month often focuses on the past, but this is about creating an infrastructure so that we can help people transform their futures,” Birthright AFRICA co-founder Diallo Shabazz told CNN.”This isn’t about validating black identity. It’s about providing an opportunity for people to explore their ancestry. “
An education you can’t find at school
One of Birthright AFRICA’s most important goals is giving young scholars the knowledge that the American school system often fails to provide.Those who go on the trip visit cultural sites, museums, universities, and organizations managed and led by people of African descent to learn about the “historic and present-day resilience and brilliance of their heritage often lacking in our school curriculums,” according to Birthright AFRICA co-founder and CEO Walla Elsheikh.While it’s been more than a half a century since the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling found that “separate but equal” has no place in US public schools, true racial equality in our education system has yet to exist.
Scholars on a Birthright AFRICA trip to Ghana in 2017.Schools with more black students are less likely to provide counselors, offer advanced classes, and hire teachers with proper licenses. Consequently, black students are more likely to be absent from school and get suspended. Although black students in colleges have more access (and freedom) to choose their own courses, when it comes to study abroad programs, the lack of diversity and equal opportunities continues.”Only 6% of study abroad students are black or of African descent. And only 2% of US managers, leaders, and entrepreneurs are of African descent,” Elsheikh said.”To address this gap in diversity and talent, Birthright AFRICA is creating the next generation of global leaders and entrepreneurs that are proud of their African heritage, confident in their innovative aspirations and connected to the African continent.”
“My life will never be the same”
While tourists visiting Africa are more likely to remember the food or safaris, those who have taken the birthright trip have something else to cherish.For Shaina Louis, a 23-year-old Haitian student born and raised in New York, her birthright trip to Ghana in 2018 as a student at the City University of New York gave her one thing she’d never expected to find: closure. “Prior to Birthright Africa, I had a lot of pent up resentment and antagonism due to a history that I felt my people had no say in. For those of us in the diaspora, our history, according to the textbooks, starts with slavery. I was doubtful and kind of cynical about what the future held not only for me as an individual, but also for black people as a whole,” Louis told CNN.After years of wondering where she fit in in a world where her ancestors were “stifled” and doubting the connection between Africa and those whose were forced to leave, Louis finally got the answers to all of her unspoken questions.”We may not speak the same language, but the foods we eat, the way we carry ourselves, the way we relate to one another, and our deeply ingrained spirituality reflect a bond that is still there,” she said. “There is a sense of inner peace and ease I now have, that wasn’t there before. I can move forward with my life, with intention behind everything I do.”
Scholars dancing with a professor from the University of Ghana’s Performing Arts School in Accra, Ghana in 2018.Kareem Williams, a 26-year-old scholar who went to Ghana on his birthright trip in 2019 as a participant of community-based GrowHouse NYC, said he felt extremely disconnected from his Jamaican roots while growing up in New York. What surprised Williams the most, he said, was the kindness he received from people in the country. Unlike the “feeling of separation” he’s experienced in the US, for once, he felt like he belonged. “Before I had even touched down in Ghana, the energy I felt as I got closer to Africa, I felt a rush, a vibration, and it was so strong,” Williams said. “It felt like something was pulling me towards the country. It felt surreal.”Visiting Ghana, he said, made him feel that he had a place where he didn’t have to “constantly face resistance,” an environment — and a system — that would help him thrive instead of hold him back.”It has to do with the American system. There’s so much prejudice and micro aggressions that I didn’t feel in Ghana. I felt so connected to my ancestors for the first time. When I came back to the US, I realized how much it changed me. Like my life will never be the same.”Now, Williams says he plans to someday return to Africa in hopes of getting into a position where he can become a global leader with the ability to influence reform, economic decisions, and infrastructure to collaboratively strengthen African businesses and communities.
What it takes to take a birthright trip to Africa
To take a birthright trip to Africa, you have to be a US citizen and between 13 to 30 years old.You also have to be of African descent; this includes African American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Europeans, Afro-Asian and Afro-Latinx, according to Elsheikh.”We consider all black people of African descent,” Elsheikh said. “Our target groups are those who have been negatively impacted by the traumatizing enslavement and colonization of black people.”Birthright AFRICA collaborates with high school, college, or community-based organization who are then considered “partners.” These educational partners select the participants and the country they will visit as part of the Birthright AFRICA program.Anyone who isn’t already a part of one of these education partners can register through the Birthright AFRICA website which will then redirect them to a partner in their area with available spaces where they can apply. Those who take the trip to Africa get to go for free — flights, hotels, food, and costs of museums are covered by Birthright AFRICA and the educational partners.For those who aren’t interested in a trip but would like to help fund them, Birthright AFRICA heavily relies on donations to make these life-changing trips possible.
CNN’s Saeed Ahmed contributed to this report.
By Char Adams Feb 6, 2020
When he wasn’t helping some 600 slaves escape through the Underground Railroad, David Ruggles was running a bookstore. In 1828, Ruggles opened a grocery store in New York City and later, as he became involved in the burgeoning abolitionist movement, opened a reading room and a bookstore for Black Americans. It was the nation’s first Black-owned bookstore.
In a building in what is now known as the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, Ruggles sold anti-slavery works and later published the Mirror of Liberty, known as the nation’s earliest Black magazine. This made him especially concerning to slavecatchers and anti-abolitionists, because not only was Ruggles facilitating escapes via the Underground Railroad, but he was also disseminating politically problematic works. Still, he ran a boarding house, reading room, and the bookstore through riots and attacks before leaving New York in 1839. He was repeatedly beaten and jailed for his efforts.
Born a free man, Ruggles was an ardent advocate for abolition. He even helped free Frederick Douglass from slavery by hiding Douglass in his own home. With Ruggles gone from New York, though, his store was no more. But its legacy lived on: His business was the first in a long tradition of Black-owned bookstores with ties to Black political liberation.
“Black bookstores have continuously been hubs for the community to simply be with one another.”
Before Ruggles, the community’s need for Black literature was largely met by Black bibliophiles like him who went to great lengths to collect books, periodicals, and newspapers by Black writers that focused on Black life. Their goal was to make Black literature available to the Black community in reading rooms at a time when Black people were routinely told no books by or about them existed.
Today’s brick-and-mortar Black bookstores continue the legacy of the space that Ruggles created. Black bookshops, owned and operated by Black people, cater to the community with written works by and for Black readers. Many shops also feature a variety of writings by non-Black authors. For all their transformation over the centuries, though, Black bookstores have continuously been hubs for the community to simply be with one another.
Historically, Black independent booksellers have been viewed as the keepers of Black culture. And just as Ruggles’s store allowed him to purvey abolitionist works, many Black bookshops have been closely tied to political movements of their day. Because of this, the stores have long been sites of liberation — and government interest.
“They felt he was running some type of movement here because he was promoting Black culture.”
Some of the earliest business owners to follow Ruggles’s example were Lewis Michaux, an outspoken activist who owned the famous National Memorial African Bookstore, a Harlem landmark that opened in the 1930s, and Alfred and Bernice Ligon of the Aquarian Book Shop in Los Angeles, which operated as early as the 1940s and was a stopping place for writers like Maya Angelou and Alex Haley. In the 1960s, more than a century after Ruggles ran his store, the daughter of Dawud Hakim, the owner of Hakim’s Bookstore in Philadelphia, heard her father talk about the FBI agents perched outside his shop.
“People used to stand across the street from the store and take pictures,” Yvonne Blake tells Mic about her father’s store. “They felt he was running some type of movement here because he was promoting Black culture.”
In 1968, then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered FBI outposts across the country to investigate Black bookstores and their owners as part of COINTELPRO, the infamous counterintelligence program that worked to combat the Black Power movement. Each office was ordered to spy on “Black extremist and/or African-type bookstores” to determine whether they served as secret meeting places or hubs for Black extremists.
Some 140 miles away from Hakim’s Bookstore, veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a major direct-action civil rights organization formed in the early 1960s, were having their own run-ins with federal law enforcement at the Drum and Spear Bookstore in Washington, D.C. The store quickly became a target for federal law enforcement because of its links to prominent Black activists like Stokely Carmichael. Judy Richardson, an early member of SNCC who worked in the bookstore, recalls a pair of FBI agents visiting the shop.
“It was so obvious who they were,” Richardson tells Mic. “These two white guys, they always looked the same. Very buttoned up, standard-issue shoes. They were buying up Mao’s ‘[Little] Red Book’ and all of the revolutionary literature … to ‘prove’ the case that we were left-wing and to minimize any support we might have in the public sphere. It was an attempt to smear us.”
“They were tracking us,” she continues. “We all had [FBI] files.” The FBI’s monitoring of the group is well-documented, with several files made public by the FBI.
In 1971, Hakim was quoted calling the operation “a waste of taxpayers’ money,” per The Atlantic. “We are trying to educate our people about their history and culture,” he lamented, adding that the FBI should have been pursuing other priorities like “organized crime and dope peddlers.”
“Black bookstores are political spaces. That connection to politics was absolutely essential.”
The feds’ interest in Black booksellers spanned the country. In New York City, booksellers like Michaux and Una Mulzac of Liberation Bookstore were monitored. Edward Vaughn of Vaughn’s Bookstore in Detroit was singled out too, along with the owners of Denver’s Sundiata bookstore. Even Martin Sostre, whose Afro Asian Book Shop was located in relatively lesser-known Buffalo, New York, was under investigation for simply selling Black literature, as University of Baltimore history professor Joshua Clark Davis notes in his book From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs.
“Black bookstores are political spaces,” Davis tells Mic. “That connection to politics was absolutely essential to these bookstores. So many Black activists, so many Black people who started bookstores in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the vast majority of them came out of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. You have folks who come out of movements and start bookstores. That’s a pattern that repeats itself.”
The late ‘60s marked a sharp increase in Black independent bookstores, and the timing of the surge — during the height of the Black Power Movement — was no coincidence. Hoover was right about one thing: Black bookstores were gathering places rooted in activism. But they went far beyond politics, too. These shops catered to the community and provided a space for Black people to come and not only read, but also talk about what they read. Chester and Lillie Owens and James and Dorothy McField, two Black couples, understood this full-well when they opened The Hub in 1965 in Kansas City, Kansas. They served tea and gourmet foods to those who came to the bookstore to simply hang out, and sold African clothing and jewelry, according to Kansas City-based NPR affiliate KCUR.
“[It was about] the young people who would sit down on the floor of The Hub and read the books,” Chester Owens told KCUR in October. “[Profit] had nothing to do with it.”
The number of Black bookstores dwindled along with the Black Power Movement in the mid- to late-’70s. And the dismal economy of the decade only led to more closures. However, in the ‘90s, major Black cultural and political moments — like the Los Angeles Riots, the Million Man March, and hip-hop’s golden age — led to a sharp increase in such stores.There was a renewed interest in Black history, especially after New York’s Howard Beach killing in the late ‘80s and a series of fire-bombings at southern Black churches in the ‘90s, according to the Los Angeles Times. Major bookstore chains took notice and ramped up their African-American book offerings, the Times reported then. But the variety and culturally specific titles that the major retailers lacked, Black independent bookstores offered to literature-thirsty Black communities.
“It was a vehicle for people looking for new ideas and thoughts from a Black or African-centered perspective.”
Akbar Watson, director of the Boynton Beach, Florida-based Pyramid Books, launched his shop in 1993 after he and his friends grew tired of having little access to books by Black writers and about Black life, academia, and culture.At the time, he says, “reading was hot.”
“It became political,” Watson tells Mic of his store. “I didn’t start [the store] to become political, but I was housing [books] with universal issues that catered toward Black people. It was a vehicle for people looking for new ideas and thoughts from a Black or African-centered perspective. The customers demanded that. It quickly became political because it was part of the business. It’s what people wanted.”
The number of Black bookstores peaked with at least 200 in the mid-‘90s, Davis says, before plummeting over the years to just 54 in 2014, according to the African American Literature Book Club. The number slightly recovered to reach 70 in 2016, per the database. When you put those numbers in context, you realize how precarious the situation was for Black bookstores: The Open Education Database notes that independent bookstores overall endured a precipitous drop too, thanks to the rise of Amazon and major chains — from more than 4,000 independent stores in the early ‘90s to just 1,900 by 2011.
But now, yet another revolutionary political climate has resulted in a new wave of Black-owned bookstores, even as brick-and-mortar bookstores struggle in the shadow of online titans like Amazon. Today, the African American Literature Book Club estimates that about 120 Black-owned bookstores are operating in the U.S.
“People are realizing bookstores offer something special,” Davis says, crediting “everything from Obama’s second term and Trayvon Martin to Black Lives Matter and Black Twitter” for drawing increased attention to racism and injustice and fueling an uptick in interest in Black life.“Black bookstores are uniquely positioned to serve citizens who want to learn more about Black history and culture or learn about racism,” Davis says.
Of course, the books are part of the appeal, too. The latest increase in Black bookstores may also be due in part to the “huge number of excellent new Black authors,” Davis says. Writers like Tressie McMillan Cottom, Brittney Cooper, Roxane Gay, and Kiese Laymon have produced works that fly from the shelves and spark meaningful conversations, Davis says, and Black bookstores have long been a stopping place for Black writers promoting their work.
“Whatever the country is going through, the Black community is feeling it 17 times harder.”
Still, bookstore ownership is known as one of the most challenging plights in retail. Many of the stores still in existence have relied on monetary help from their communities. Blake, who still runs her father’s store in Philadelphia, has turned to crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to keep the doors open. Other shops, like Seattle’s Life Enrichment Bookstore, have done the same.
This was also the case for Noëlle Santos, the owner of The Lit. Bar in the Bronx, New York. Despite having no bookselling (or retail) experience, she stepped in to fill a void after the neighborhood’s only bookstore — a Barnes & Noble — closed. She used her social media prowess and several pop-up shops to establish the Lit. Bar name before opening the store in 2019.
“Whatever the country is going through, the Black community is feeling it 17 times harder,” Santos tells Mic. “It’s not that we lack the talent — we lack the investments. We have to go out and get it.”
Santos’s shop includes a wine bar, and she additionally holds offsite events and even provides textbooks for nearby schools. Her model is similar to the one that held up Black bookshops in decades past. Just as Lit. Bar provides a space for the community to gather, so does Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books in Philadelphia (owned by Marc Lamont Hill), WORD in Brooklyn, and many more.
While we enjoy this most recent wave of Black bookstores, it’s hard not to wonder whether some new pressure — political, social, or economic — will once again diminish their number. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that these shops are as resilient as the people who occupy them. Santos, for example, sees her business not as an entry in history but as an investment in what’s to come.
“I never thought about making my mark on history. That never registered,” she says. “I’m thinking about the future and how much impact I can make.”