I wasn’t the only person to raise my hand to join the A-APRP that night. In fact, I’m pretty sure that everyone present raised their hand to join, but none of the others ever participated in any A-APRP programs or work. I’m still here, and the reasons why have nothing to do with me being smarter and/or more dedicated than any of the others. I continue to maintain some level of relationship with a couple of the people present that night and they have each gone on to positive and productive lives.
I am convinced that the firm difference between me and those others is how I came into that room that night. I had already made up my mind before I even entered the room about joining. The meeting was simply a formality for me. This is an important element because I had spent time before that meeting thinking through what would be involved with my deciding to join this organization. I knew from studying about the organization and participating in events that I agreed with the ideas and objectives of the A-APRP. On my own, even before becoming aware of the A-APRP, I had come to see Pan-Africanism as our solution, but I had a very watered down version of what I understood Pan-Africanism to be. For me, working as a 17 year old in other Pan-African formations, I was operating under the understanding that Pan-Africanism stopped at recognizing that all people of African descent are Africans. I didn’t have any comprehension of us waging a fight across colonial borders and I definitely didn’t see Africa as anything beyond some Chancellor Williams (my main text at that time) inspired, non-class struggle based African Kingdom from the feudal era. The fact that the A-APRP had helped me develop and improve my understanding of the latter concepts helped solidify my belief that this organization was a good life choice for me.
The key there is the question of a life choice. I had known individuals in the A-APRP. I had watched their work. Their contradictions in carrying out their work. I understood on some level how to interpret all of this because I had my brief exposure to the mass contradictions that existed in trying to organize the Pan-African Student Unions I had belonged to along with the community based Pan-African formation I worked briefly with. From those experiences I understood on some levels the challenges of resources, white supremacy, patriarchy, and class contradictions that all impacted successful organizing potential. So, I didn’t walk into that orientation meeting that night under any pretentions and/or illusions. I knew that if I decided to join that didn’t mean to me that I was signing up to have someone else teach me how to be free. I wasn’t expecting anyone else to resolve all of the contradictions I mentioned and then “get to me when you are ready.” I knew that by joining I was committing to become a part of those contradictions because those contradictions are a part of me. I knew I had to join all in and that if I wasn’t willing to do that, I shouldn’t join at all.
Thirty-seven years later I can look at my time in the A-APRP with pride. I have made what I believe to be significant contributions to our Pan-African work over the years and I plan to continue to do so. I have met and developed relationships with so many amazing people. Some for extended periods of time that, in many cases continue. Others for a brief – yet intensely inspiring – moment in history. And, in this entire time I have had major challenges, disappointments, and anxieties, but not once, despite whatever challenges were being faced, have I regretted that decision I made in June of 1984. I actually see myself as a much better organizer today than ever. More experienced, knowledgeable, and steeled at dealing with the many, many challenges that come our way. I’ve learned how to identify, develop, and maximize my skills so as to make my best contributions. I’ve learned the importance and value of collective work. I feel like I’ve helped countless people learn how to recognize and make their best contributions, whether they acknowledge my role in their lives or not (and many, many times they won’t. In fact, I’ve learned in true fashion the meaning of the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished”). And, all of this has translated into my personal life as well. I’ve learned the importance of focus on my internal and external operations as a human being. It hasn’t been perfect by any stretch, but I can say that I’ve exceled in parenting and no one anywhere can tell you any tales about me exploiting them, taking advantage of them, or doing anything other than making my best effort to contribution to their lives. All of this cannot be separated from the organizational work because its that work that shaped who I am as a person.
From my story I believe there are two main keys I hope will be helpful to you in helping you understand the critical importance of organization building. The first point is that anything worthwhile in life that you pursue, you have to respect the process enough to take whatever time is necessary for you to determine that you are ready to show up and be present in developing that process. No one outside of you can motivate you to do anything unless you have the desire to be motivated already. I often experience(d) and am told now by organizers about the people who hear one thing they don’t agree with or have an experience they don’t like, and leave organization, blaming the experience, etc. I’ve learned that most of the time (unless there is abuse involved), this happens because those people were never really committed in the first place. They hadn’t taken that time for internal reflection to determine whether they were ready to be present in the process. They were expecting others outside of themselves to prove to them the value of the organizational work. That’s never going to happen.
The other point is the ill-refutable reality that collective work and not individualism is 100% what’s responsible for every single opportunity, resource, and skill that we each possess today. If you have it, its only because someone before you, someone you don’t know, many people you don’t know, fought diligently for the conditions you are benefitting from. Since you cannot pay those people back now, your responsibility is to carry that sacrifice forward. This means that whatever job, income, house, car, money, resources you possess, can never be your personal property. People who had more skills in their pinky finger than any of us possess in our entire existence today never had the opportunities that we take for granted. The only difference between them and us is those who sacrificed for us. So, do away with the egotistical perspective that you are where you are because of you. That’s a complete lie. You may be outstanding. In fact, I’m sure that you are, but you still owe that debt. So, the question of whether you should join an organization isn’t really even a question if you understand that you owe a debt because if you do understand that than the next question is simply how you can repay that debt. Clearly, you cannot repay it on an individual basis. You can tell yourself that you can do it individually all you want, but the inescapable truth is that you don’t have what you have today through someone’s individual actions. Mass movement got you your education, stability, etc. So without question, collective engagement is our best weapon to further our struggle. Anyone who attempts to argue otherwise just isn’t serious. And, collective struggle means organization. It doesn’t have to be the A-APRP or any other established organization. It doesn’t have to fit into a mold of any type. All it has to be is two or more people working together for a collective goal. Organizations can range from the Mafia to neighborhood/community clean up committees and everything in between and beyond that. So, you define it whatever way suits you. The only part of history you don’t get to redefine as you wish is the part about justice and all us having a responsibility to make some type of contribution to it. Even what that contribution looks like you define. One hour per week. If someone approached me and told me they agree with the aims and objectives of the A-APRP and they have one hour per week to give, I would love that! Benjamin 2X Karreim told Malcolm X when he helped him form the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1964 that he would dedicate at least one year to helping build that organization. Of course, Malcolm didn’t live another year, but if all of us made that type of serious commitment, our organizing capacity would be off the charts. Imagine if we had no less than 20% of us committing to at least a year of consistent work. Even at a rate of one hour per week. And, that 20% was equally committed to avoid criticizing the organizational work (like you are somehow separate from the contradictions) and instead supporting it and/or making it better. Think of that for a moment and tell me that if we did those things we would not advance significantly in our fight?
Whatever organization. Whether you start one on your own. No one can effectively argue that a better organized people isn’t a stronger weapon for forward progress. I’ve had zero regrets over the last 37 years. I do often wonder how much more effective I could have been had I learned things years ago that I know now. I also wonder how much more I can learn that I don’t understand today. Either way, the main thing is I sleep well at night (at least most nights) because I feel strong that I contribute much more than I consume which is something I think we should all strive to achieve. Also, that’s something all of us can control. And, whatever challenges, problems, headaches, I’ve encountered in my organizational work over the last almost four decades, this work is essential in helping me become the person I’ve become. And, my primary objective is just to ensure that whatever time I have left, when that time expires, that honest people will have to say mine was a life worth living.