Many waited. Many died waiting. It has been over a decade since Hurricane Katrina wrecked millions of Black lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. Images of rats and alligators feasting on the bloated corpses of flood victims have permanently stained the psyche of millions of Americans divorced from the desperation brought on by the neglect of a federal bureaucracy that seemed to be in no real hurry to stifle the spiraling body count of a cataclysmic act of God. The catastrophic body count demonstrated just how vulnerable black people are in times of peril. WHERE were the generators? WHERE were the disaster centers? WHERE were the community organizations? It appears that if this society disintegrates the first group of people to kiss extinction will be the ones of a darker hue.
For far too long, it appears that far too many black Americans have been tricked into depending on the kindness of strangers. After the shootings of Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, and Tamir Rice, rapper Killa Mike asked the following questions in an interview: how many black people owned a weapon for hunting? how many black people grew their own food? how many black people were studying the arts necessary for survival? Very few answered in the affirmative.
Only two groups in the history of the Black experience have really concerned themselves with active survival programs: The UNIA and The Black Panther Party. Under the leadership of Marcus Garvey, the UNIA had a department for almost every individual peril that threatened the continual threads of black life. The Black Cross Nurses (Garvey’s answer to the Red Cross) were established with a matron, head nurse, secretary and treasurer to provide health services and hygiene education to the black community. It was one of the few programs which would admit women of African descent into nursing training programs. Doctors, nurses and lay practitioners took courses ranging from six months to a year to make sure that standardized care was being given.
Additionally, the organization functioned as a social reform movement, while developing role models for young women. The BCN addressed a wide variety of topics from advice to expectant mothers to contagious diseases, heart disease, and hygiene, as well as descriptions of the conditions, symptoms, and treatment options. Community service programs distributed clothes and food to those in need. By addressing the most fundamental needs of the Black Working Class, the BCN was able to reach more people faster than any of the UNIA’s other auxiliary units. It is estimated that the BCN saved over 100 lives from the most basic diseases. With this organizing tactic we are able to see that Garvey’s target demographic was not the hoy paloy of black society. He knew that true loyalty would always come from the most vulnerable sectors of the community. Garvey’s formula was later adopted by a young man from Sandersville, Georgia. In 1933, he was building a new organization and co-opted the BCN model, renaming it the MGT (Muslim Girls Training). Though he was never formally a member of the UNIA, he built a social organization that like Garvey, drew its members from among the black poor and working class.
The Nation of Islam also contained a drug rehabilitation program, a network of interlocking corporations, stores and small businesses that employed its members. Whatever its’ sins were in later life, the NOI understood that Black America was nothing without organization. It could not allow the destiny of black people to be left to the whim of the government. But while it was effective, it was far from the most effective organization in Black America.
The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was reviled by White Americans. While over dramatizing its oratory and theatrics, it purposely undervalued its survival programs that were the key component in defending the community. More potent than the wild notions of fantastic gun battles with the police were its Breakfast For Children Programs. Created from a government study that showed how nutrition effected a child’s ability to learn, the program fed the most impoverished children in the community every morning. Party Members rose every morning around 5am to prepare breakfast for the children. It was this program that J. Edgar Hoover stated was more dangerous than all of the party’s weapons put together. He understood one simple fact: people listen to those who are feeding them. And if they were not dependent on the state, then they might desire some abstract thing called freedom. Without the state providing any subsistence to the community, the community would owe the state: nothing. And with nothing owed to the state, it may desire to change who controls it. This was the real fear that Hoover had of the Party.
When people are independent and self reliant, they have greater understanding of their own power. They are more willing to challenge overwhelming odds with a resolved determination to win or die. And with that determination there is a creeping suspicion that they might indeed win. This is the real spirit of limited government. The real opportunity for true democracy. Self reliance is not a republican or democratic principle. It’s the ruling principle of politics. It’s not black power. It’s not black nationalism. It’s common sense. Every people have organizations that build their ability to control their options. They understand that independence from the ties that bind and choke, hands them the reins over that power, and thus gives them control of their destiny. The next calamity will come. It maybe a storm, an economic meltdown, or the deterioration of a digital society by human error. The only question is whether we will be waiting on the magnanimous hand of a benevolent government or whether we will stand self reliant before the world and declare control over our future.
TONY MACEO Is a senior blogger at the Negromanosphere and the Chief Blogger at Power and Strategy.com. Like, share and subscribe to the You Tube Channel. Till Next Time, I’ll Holla!