My end-of-the-year piece focused on the journey that I seek to take with you, to develop patterns, practices and cultures that can help more Black folk change their fortunes, improve their well-being and transform our neighborhoods.
I have to share an important and connected story. As I have been studying and working with brothers and sisters on urban and business development projects, one group of people that I was working with, where I believed I was a good citizen and seeking to grow and learn with, the owner of the group didn’t trust my intentions and removed me from the group. This hit me pretty hard. I certainly wasn’t expecting a decision like that, and it was a serious inconvenience with the projects and the community of people I was working with. All of a sudden, I was instantly cut off from the laboratory and the relationships I was forming with other members of the group.
The crazy thing on top of that is that I don’t have a difference of opinion in the strategy or the ideas implemented with the research and the work–I believe it is a vital direction for Black America to move toward and the tools that are offered are the way Black folk have to go and where we have to evolve in a technological, increasingly global society. At the end of the day, the owner had a difference of opinion with me and let me go. It is not the first time that has happened with me, and it highly likely will not be the last. I am fascinated with science, technology and learning, and I am big fan of a number of curiosity and education-focused videos, such as Vsauce and Veritasium. It was the main guy of 2Veritasium, Derek Muller, who mused on something about what he referred to as “self-efficacy” that really got me thinking:
There is an agency, an important need for us to grow through wrestling with challenges. To take on tough questions or problems that we do not yet know the answer for, where someone isn’t readily there to give us a pre-packaged response. I’ve recently been forced to deal with being on the outside looking in…but that’s not a reason to give up. It is to take the structure of excellent ideas, take the good things that I have learned so far, and form new relationships and partnerships with others to forge a vision of how Black folks’ lives and our communities can be improved in real, long-lasting ways.
I love and respect my elder scholars. When I knew little about myself and the history of my people, coming to know and read the writings of these women and men taught me things that I did not know and to better understand systems that I did not understand. I was introduced to information that was an oasis for me in a desert of “intellectual white supremacy and anti-Blackness” that helped me to survive. Survive to continue to learn, to grow, and to do better. African-centered education is a starting point and a necessary corrective on the false narrative that people of African descent aren’t much and are of little consequence. However, that in and of itself will not be the complete corrective to heal your community and improve your lives…although it starts you on the journey to improve yourself and to stop holding yourself and people that look like you in low regard and respect.
What I will not get with — and what ironically our millennial generations of color have generally come to understand and embrace — are that our struggles are intersectional, and the sexism and homophobia that can be a significant part of African-centered discourse are not policies that I can or will accept. Analysis from our classic Black scholars and ancestors are a useful tool for understanding irrational and anti-Black behavior and practice, but it does not hold up to the scrutiny as a “theory of everything” that can be applied to the challenges of Black disparities.
I want more Black men to be great fathers and for more men to be better able to co-exist and functionally co-parent with the mothers of their children. I want more men to embrace the responsibility of, and go through the necessary development and healing processes for, making and re-making themselves into men that will build healthy households in predominantly Black neighborhoods and communities. I believe that men can do this without having to engage in rhetorical and real bullying that attempts to oppress women or marginalize the LGBT community. Let people be who they are and live the lives that they must for their health and to pursue their happiness. All humans deserve freedom, justice and equality. We are in a continuous process of growth and education. Frankly, we don’t know what we don’t know. Even the ideas and practices that I believe and strive to apply today could be considered obsolete and antiquated by the standards of future generations. The enlightenment that we have was made possible by the scholars and ancestors that gave us alternative ideas to consider, who introduced us to new ways of viewing ourselves and caring for ourselves that lifted us from self-loathing and self-hate. So even with their explorations and conclusions, I do not view them as an end, but a continuing part of that exploration and journey.
The Fundamental Flaws of the “Great Black Leader” Model
When it comes down to it, a Black leader is a mortal human that, when interacting with other humans as a figure of leadership and followers, is inherently a setup for failure. Humans are flawed and not perfect. The added glare of social media and the internet and its world of instant scrutiny does not make things easier. Our expression of opinions in 140 characters or less allows snark and cynicism to have more influence over nuance and shades of gray. The practical effect of this and the structure of such leadership in a country that historically has not and even today, does not often work with Black people’s interests, is to see those leaders killed or “killed” in the court of public opinion. This has the effect, desired by those who do not want to see Black self-determination and uplift based on that to become demoralized.
Let’s Get Agile
Thousands of software developers have embraced the Agile methodology as the means to get things accomplished through a centralized manner with no central leaders. Taking this strategy, and translating it for modern-day relevance for workers, doers, facilitators who care about "the Black Community"–this is Agile Activism. Agile Activists answer to the stakeholders – the Black community. Many people who are in technology use Agile as their strategy and it is one that exposes the flaws in Dr. Claud Anderson’s “Powernomics” model – a linear, tiered strategy that is forced to wait for Black reparations to execute its objectives are a fatally flawed process. Agile is not a linear process, nor does it require a massive undertaking. Agile involves a constant, ever-evolving working process and collaboration that builds values and gives people iterative successes, things that give the people something to show for it, even if small.
Take a look at this main image. Let me break down the processes involved.
Individuals and Interactions over Process and Tools. Agile focuses on regular interaction with the community with frequent sessions to receive feedback, provide input and to prioritize goals. This isn’t another gathering of Black intelligentsia and media figures or some mainstream media-appointed “Black leadership” that goes to the White House with our interests in mind – the community developers speak directly to the people, get the people’s feedback about what their concerns are, and what their priorities are. As we accept the mission and accomplish those missions, we gather feedback from the people to get better or make corrections, but the contact and interaction remain. Less about tools, more about relationships and interactions.
Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation. An Agile Activist understands what matters and that it is in working solutions that Black folk can use right here and right now. The people have a multitude of books and authors, but not enough working “software” and practical applications that delivers the results for sisters and brothers to improve their lives. It’s one thing to talk about health and wellness but another to take over an empty lot with a mobile health van that shows up every Tuesday. It’s one thing to talk about insurance and banking, and another to have a developed crypto-system that can be used for trust and verification purposes. Software to our technological generations means both the literal thing that you use for our computers and devices to the practices and patterns that we use in service to the people. Agile strategies must be applied to both.
Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation. Whether you’re talking about web development or the software industry, you often have cats charge you to build something and the product that you get is completely different than what you originally envisioned. When you are upset at the end product, the vendor then wants to charge you more to fix the problem, another contract, another headache. Looking at Black folks’ history, this is the way a lot of our ambitions and desires have been stunted with Black leadership. Vision is fine, but beware those that sell you a lofty story to accomplish some grand goal – it’s a thin, thin line between genuine vision and nebulous vaporware. Cats that ask you to give them millions (or even hundreds of thousands), with no practical track record of producing the desired output of their vision…so what happens when you trust this person or people with your hard-earned money and the project never comes to be? What then? An Agile Activist that is tech-connected and ever self-improving and self-developing can work back and forth with the Black community every step of the way, producing iterative accomplishments, all the while gathering feedback and input.
Responding to Change over Following a Plan. After years of observation and a life of trial and error, I have evolved to this conclusion. The over reliance to scripted, linear plans have a higher rate of failure in an ever-changing, dynamic world. The struggle of Black people cannot be based on some grand “master plan,” even generated by Black people! It set us up with a zero-sum, binary outcome of success/fail that makes any scripted plans of ours outdated. Our struggle cannot afford to fail. People, I’m reading the tea leaves, I observe this country of ours…and we cannot afford to fail in 2016 and beyond. Black folk must learn to anticipate and react to change and be dynamic with our solutions. Then we continue with gathering feedback, accomplishing the next step, gathering more feedback and moving on to the next challenges.
This is continuous improvement. This is placing a new focus on small tasks meant to bring improvement in smaller increments that builds victories that build confidence. When you and yours can take pride and pleasure in small victories, that matters more than any success story out of Black Enterprise and contained on a Facebook meme.
What is Your Story?
When we browse around social media, we often see thread after thread from our social media friends of other people’s stories and accomplishments. To be fair, I get that a lot of this done to provide inspiration and give Black folk a sense of pride and achievement that there truly is greatness among us. After a lot of years and putting more thought into giving this a cold, hard look, too often Black folk use this as a methadone-like replacement that keeps too many people from making greater efforts to improve our everyday lives.
What is your story? Amongst your family and friends, what can you share with them and tell them regarding your positive stories. You out there starting that business! You out there pursuing your goals and dreams? For us to make tangible organic progress in 2016 and beyond, we cannot continue with the “other people” faux-inspiration narratives that we have settled for in the past.
Let us create solutions! We do this through collective ownership. Waiting for another Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X is folly (and truth be told, all the people who say they love these cats so much now did not do so when they were alive). Let us use Agile practices and patterns to guide our methodology of creating solutions. Let us shift responsibility from an “anointed” individual to both stakeholders and people of training and talent to use applied practices and patterns to deliver real, tangible results.
How to Create Your Story
Let’s start simple. Get a pad of sticky notes, inexpensive stuff that you can pick up at a dollar store and find an empty wall in your personal, private space. As you have a thought, write it down on the sticky note and place it on the wall. Don’t limit yourself. As the ideas come, put them on the wall. Do that for 30-40 minutes and time yourself. When you’re finished, look at what you’ve put out and realize that this is the story of your hopes, concerns, thoughts, dreams and wishes that you have now.
Now with these thoughts stuck to the wall, develop your story, craft your narrative of what you desire to be. Look at the stickies and create larger picture categories that will be your Theme and beneath those Themes are features.
Learn the Agile methodology and process to create your user stories. Build your greater pictures: your Epic, with its Themes and Features. Then, learn to find and work with the talent and resources that matters to help with the necessary tasks to address problems such as freelance web sites to see your user story brought to creation. It will be through this journey that you will build rewarding processes and where you will incur much smaller risk in accomplishing micro-tasks that fill up and fulfill a bigger picture. As you see this start to work for you, you’ll say to yourself, “Damn, we should have been doing this all along!” Stop waiting for the next “Great Black Leader,” whether consciously or subconsciously. Find your people and build self-organizing teams to complete little tasks, as we fulfill our stories that define the features of the themes that shape the Epic of our story and experiences as Black people.
You are a bright, shining star! Your story matters! And when you, and when we, understand that better, it makes it easier to relieve ourselves of the stupid hangups and walls of differences that we place between ourselves as an ethnic group and so-called race. We can better accept each other as individuals who make up a larger collective who have the right to be ourselves. You want to travel the world and live abroad? Do it. If you are LBGT and Black, then that is your story and it does not matter how anyone else feels or what they say or think. You want to give back to your neighborhood? Do it. Each of us bring a special story. It is unique and we can allow the expressions of those stories and we can love each other for that and treat other each other with respect and dignity. We, indeed, are the collective sum of our stories.
2016 is going to be a big year. It can be a year of triumphs or one of crushing pain, but much of that is up to you. These are not the times to run our mouths on empty rhetoric or get lost in arguments over knowledge and consciousness. Quit begging for acceptance. Recognize that your stories matter and you are the ones best equipped to tell them. I, as the webmaster of this blog and web site, do not desire be the next "great Black leader." I do everyday however, strive to be the Leader That I Want to See and I want the people to get wise, get skilled and decentralize and build your "can-do" teams. Start small, build successes, connect with the people and build out. As always, Narrow The Gap! strives to be there, support you, and assist in providing you the resources to get there in every way that we can.