by Starla Muhammad, Charlene Muhammad and Tariqah Shakir-Muhammad
“I just want the American people, and particularly Black people, to see that ‘influence’ is not gained by ‘sitting in,’ ‘wading in,’ ‘prying in’ or ‘praying in’—it’s buying in with the power of your dollars and your unity. This will increase your ‘influence,’ not only in America but throughout the world. And that’s why this Program of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is so important, and that’s why so many may fight against it! Because it brushes the leaches off one-by-one—and the vultures and bloodsuckers cannot stay around an Active Body of Living People.”—Minister Louis Farrakhan
Regardless of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, life for the majority of Black people in the United States will not suddenly and drastically change for the better—whether President Donald Trump is re-elected or former vice-president Joe Biden takes the oath of office in January of next year.
Politics has its place as a tool for if used strategically, but who occupies the White House is not the end-all-be-all for Black America. Blacks are also utilizing other avenues to progress.
While the country is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic which disproportionately impacts Black economics, employment, education, health and other critical areas, there is a “silver lining” amid the hardship and opportunities for progress and self-determination, analysts and activists point out.
Whether it is growing their own food, recycling Black dollars at Black businesses or taking charge of educating their children, Black folks are looking beyond simply voting as a means to all ends.
“Covid-19, has us homeschooling, praying, spending time with the family, praying for others and being sober-minded people, it sounds like God is in control here. This is not a plague. This is an awakening as far as I am concerned,” said George C. Fraser, chairman and CEO of FraserNet, Inc., a global networking movement that brings together Black people for business and educational opportunities.
“If you haven’t noticed, by now you know 2020 was designed for you to get back in touch with your soul and to raise your consciousness so that you can elevate your life,” he said.
Now more than ever is a time for Blacks to take control of their destinies individually and collectively, Mr. Fraser told The Final Call.
Though it could take years for the country to rebound from the impact of coronavirus there are opportunities Blacks can take advantage of, he argued.
Black economics is Black power
Economics must become the new Black power and while we are in our homes we must use it as an opportunity to study and educate ourselves on financial literacy and business, said Mr. Fraser, author of several books including, “Success Runs in Our Race: The Complete Guide to Effective Networking in the Black Community.”
There are “four pillars for intergenerational transfer of wealth,” that Blacks can begin enacting, two of those include acquiring land or real estate and business ownership, said Mr. Fraser.
Blacks own the fewest number of businesses per capita of any cultural group in the U.S. but need to continue to start, build and support these businesses, he explained.
According to a CBS News report in June, 40 percent of Black-owned businesses are not expected to survive coronavirus. “There were more than 1 million Black-owned businesses in the U.S. at the beginning of February, according to research from the University of California at Santa Cruz, which drew from Census survey estimates. By mid-April, 440,000 Black business owners had shuttered their company for good—a 41 percent plunge,” reported cbsnews.com. And, a majority of Black businesses that applied for loans via the federal Paycheck Protection Program were denied a loan, the news outlet reported.
However, around the country Black folks are not giving up hope and are encouraging the continued support of Black-owned businesses.
In Chicago, Cassiopeia Uhuru, co-founder of The Black Mall launched a “Black Business Crawls” initiative which highlights Black-owned businesses throughout the city every Saturday of August. Nearly 50 businesses have been a part of the initiative.
“I think it is successful, we are seeing people are showing up. We’ve probably had about 40-50 people actively participating,” she told The Final Call. “What’s also really good is for people who can’t come the day of, they are actually going on their own and using those flyers that we’ve put out there to pick and choose businesses they want to visit in their own time and with their own family and friends.”
Mrs. Uhuru said more attention should be directed to Black businesses because they struggle the most yet are essential to the community.
Coverage by local media outlets and social media buzz have helped drive customers to these businesses.
During the last few months other initiatives such as “Buy from a Black Woman,” “#BlackOutDay2020,” “#15PercentPledge” and others have sought to drive more support to Black businesses.
“The more people are seeing these businesses, the more awareness that they get, the more we’re able to maintain, like I keep saying, that muscle memory. We keep practicing and working at it, it’ll be a natural reaction for our dollars to go into our communities first,” said Ms. Uhuru.
Mandene Muhammad, owner of Legacy Men’s Boutique in Chicago said independent thinking is essential in Black economics because it allows us to use our own skills and talents to provide for our communities.
“I think the atmosphere now is more so than ever,” he explained. “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad was always saying that he wanted to make the South Side of Chicago just like the North Side as far as the success of businesses; and if you notice all his businesses was always on in particular, the South and East side and they were strategically placed. It’s been an ongoing awakening of our people as far as buying more and being more strategic,” Mandene Muhammad told The Final Call. He hopes to see the business crawls continue as part of a continuous effort to showcase and support Black businesses.
According to the U.S. Census only about 107,000 of Black businesses have employees, most are sole proprietorships. Asians, Arabs and Jews are the number one employers of their people, said Mr. Fraser.
Support of Black businesses means the opportunity for growth. “You can’t grow a business unless you employ people. We have to employ people. That’s why business ownership is so important. By the end of the 21st century, we have to become the number one employer of Black people,” said Mr. Fraser.
More Black people have also taken steps toward self-sufficiency by growing their own food and acquiring land. Whether living in an apartment or a house with a yard, increased food prices coupled with food deserts in many Black neighborhoods makes growing food a necessity, explained Melody Muhammad.
She is a Philadelphia-based businesswoman and agriculturalist. She said more and more Blacks are showing an interest in gardening for their health as well as to save money. About 10 years ago she began studying urban farming and now works with various non-profit and for-profit groups teaching others. She also recently purchased seven acres of land in North Carolina. She hopes one day to use it as a camp and training center for youth to learn different aspects about farming, agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, and all the things related to the earth.
“We could start selling different goods with each other, which some of us are doing. But I see that is the new way of being able to get through this pandemic and that the key is uniting, working together,” Melody Muhammad told The Final Call.
An educational shift?
President Trump is insisting that America’s schools reopen and that students need to get back to in-school learning despite the dangers it could pose to them, teachers, school employees and families. But for many Black and low-income students this means going back to educational institutions that were either sub-par or failing even prior to the epidemic.
Black parents striving to teach their children at home due to Covid-19 face many challenges, but a growing movement of parent advocates and groups provide a source of rescue. Some point out how the global pandemic has provided a vehicle for many Black parents to take control of their children’s education.
In Georgia, Cheryl Fields-Smith, associate professor in the Mary Frances Early College of Education’s Department of Educational Theory and Practice, and Dr. Khadijah Ali-Coleman, a mother and multi-disciplinary artist, co-founded Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars to share best practices that serve Black homeschooling families.
Efforts like the Black Student Fund promote different organizations, including African American Homeschool Moms, a blog with TED Talk videos, curriculum resources and a Facebook community that tackles the logistics of homeschooling.
In Philadelphia, Ansharaye Hines, programming director at the Center for Black Educator Development, works to increase the number of Black educators and to strengthen those currently teaching.
“We’ve had to do a lot of community-facing organizing because Philadelphia, we have this tag of being one of the poorest big cities in the United States, so when Covid-19—when the pandemic really started to take off—a lot of students were left without internet access. And a lot of the parents were left without regular stable income,” Ms. Hines told The Final Call.
That only exacerbated racism, oppression, and economic disenfranchisement, she said. In response, the center launched a campaign to ensure the community had access, and to reiterate that schools are community institutions that meet people’s needs, noted Ms. Hines.
The organization made the online link to its Freedom School available so anyone who wanted to join could take advantage of some form of education during the pandemic, and the slots filled in three days, she stated.
The advent of Covid-19 and having to homeschool children has put the onus on parents to look more deeply into what their children are learning, and invest more in their education, said Deborah Muhammad, founder of the Supreme Wisdom Educational Center.
“Really, to be honest with you, even though the pandemic has been terrible in terms of peoples’ lives being lost and people being sick, at the same time, it is really giving us back the control that we need to do for self,” said Deborah Muhammad.
She also cited Muslim educators offering online classes in various subjects from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to fashion design. For instance, she noted, Chicago-based Dr. Shahid Muhammad, “The Math Doctor,” offers online math classes for all levels.
“Now we get an opportunity, being that we’re doing online education, to augment whatever our children were learning in school with the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, which really is the foundation upon which we have to build and I think that we’re really stepping up with that information,” said Deborah Muhammad.
Gwen Samuel, president of the Connecticut Parent’s Union, sees a trend especially in the Black community of parents who realize and believe in their ability to support the education of their children.
“That comes to that whole indoctrination, you know, poor, poor, Black people are not capable of raising your children. They are victims. They need to be saved,” said Ms. Samuel.
Feed people that type of narrative and they start to internalize and then become victims, she stated.
Another trend she’s seen is a reluctance by Black parents to return their children to a school system that’s demonstrated hatred for them based on skin color.
Ms. Samuel encouraged parents to leave their comfort zones of thinking school districts know best for them and develop education plans tailored to student gifts and abilities.
“We have enough in our communities. We haven’t really gone back to being a collective village, but if we were, the needs of every one of our children can be found right in our communities,” said Ms. Samuel.
Proper political leverage
and the ultimate solution
Political analysts and experts noted that the Democratic ticket has stirred hope amongst Black voters. But some ask, could a win for the party’s presidential nominee Mr. Biden and his vice-presidential running mate Senator Kamala Harris still mean a loss for Blacks?
“We’re not recognizing and operating in our best interest if we think that Joseph Biden, who cavorted with segregationists, who over the past near 50 years has taken every opportunity to advance and aggrandize himself and his own interests is going to suddenly put it at risk for Black people is just not thinking,” argued Efia Nwangaza, director of the Malcolm X Center for Self-Determination, and a spokesperson for the Free South Carolina Prisoners Movement.
“The idea that the White man who enslaves and exploits us is going to be the one who frees, who liberates and affirms our dignity and worth as human beings is going to be the same person is illogical to put it mildly,” Ms. Nwangaza told The Final Call.
It’s obvious that the Democratic Party is running on a platform of anti-Trumpism, stated Ajamu Baraka, national organizer for the anti-war, anti-imperialist Black Alliance for Peace.
What that means is that they’re not offering anything with any kind of clarity that addresses the continued plight of Black folks and the Black working class at all, he argued.
“The question then becomes, if you are not offering anything but a continuation of things as they are, or to go back to the so-called good ole’ days under (Barack) Obama, which wasn’t too good for us, then what is the basis of Trump being such an existential threat, and that with the win of Joe Biden is supposed to mean better days for Black folks?”
Mr. Baraka urged Blacks to go beyond voting and engage the political process critically to avoid being used by forces they don’t understand and whose interests are quite different from theirs.
Look at the position of candidates beyond the presidency and where those on the level of city council, mayor and commission stand, he said. Also consider joining an organization that is fighting for the interests of Black people, recommended Mr. Baraka. Join groups, build cooperatives, and build community power, he said.
“We’ve got to really transform the country because the way things are organized now, it’s such a way where we’re not going to be able to ever elevate our people as long as we are ensnared in the system,” concluded Mr. Baraka.
Dr. Greg Kimanthi Carr is associate professor of Africana Studies and chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. Blacks must think realistically and sensibly in the coming national elections, he cautioned.
“We’re very clear where we live. The United States is not a nation. It is a settler state with a number of different interests in it,” said Dr. Carr.
America is also fractured, so while Blacks work nationally to forestall or prevent or obstruct the White nationalist party—which he said is what the Republicans have become—Blacks must vote on state and local levels for people that represent their interests, he added.
“We can’t vote for candidates who are not running, and we should participate in this process in whatever way we think is most effective,” he said.
Always be clear that politicians should be engaged as tools, Dr. Carr continued. “They are not leaders. So, if, in fact, Biden/Harris wins, then our goal must be to bend them to our will and not sit and listen to speeches. No! Not at this point.”
Dr. Ava Muhammad is national spokesperson for Min. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Politics deals with the distribution of resources and Blacks most certainly not be oblivious to the political happenings in the country, she explained. As Black people, we have to get a better and more mature understanding of politics, Dr. Ava Muhammad noted.
“We’re not immigrants. We came here as slaves. And we built a great deal of this country. We are heavily responsible for America’s wealth, but unless and until we function in a unified manner—that I think is our greatest weakness. In our quest to be assimilated, we tend to want to disconnect with our identity; and that’s hurting us economically, because we’re not pooling our resources, and then creating a voting bloc, based on that as much as on the fact that we are Black,” she explained.
The Nation of Islam’s position of separation is a practical solution that Black people must consider, said Dr. Ava Muhammad, an author, attorney and student minister. Prior to the pandemic she presented dozens of town hall meetings across the country on the program of separation based on the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad on the best and only solution for Black people.
“When you talk about survival, you’re getting down to the core of a species. Every species is designed to be fruitful and multiply. And the essence of our teachings is: Accept Your Own and Be Yourself and then: self-first then others.”