On May 13, the National Cares Mentoring Movement, founded by Essence magazine’s celebrated former editor-in-chief, Susan Taylor, hosted a virtual town hall meeting featuring activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte. The event was moderated by poet, author, activist Asha Bandele. Approximately 1,000 community leaders, activists and media professionals from around the country were present for the hour-long conference call.
The purpose of the discussion was to access Belafonte’s depth of knowledge and decades of experience in the civil-rights arena in a quest to decipher effective modes of tackling issues affecting black communities. The dialogue was in response to the recent deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police and subsequent uproars in Ferguson and Baltimore.
The weight of Belafonte’s appropriateness as thought leader was summed up in Taylor’s introduction of him: “Mr B., you’ve been Grammy’d and Tony’d and Emmy’d — and also Jim Crowed. Blacklisted by Hollywood; harassed by the House Committee on Un-American activities; spied on by the FBI; threatened by the Klan, state troopers, the Las Vegas Mafia bosses, and you’re still standing strongly.”
As I listened in, Belafonte’s exploration of violence, injustice and degradation as universal to world culture, with racism being a piece of that broader picture; and the notion of collective self-care as the way forward for blacks, piqued my interest.
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Belafonte delved into the dominance of a value system that not only marginalizes people, but also animals and the environment. He suggested that the plight of blacks is not separate from the world’s destruction of nature, nor the devaluing of women and children and the cycle of global poverty. Undoubtedly, these exploitative realities stem from a root of rudimentary thinking, which thrives on the need to assert power and superiority, often directly linked to capitalism and monetary gain.
This rationale implies that eradicating these issues, including racism, requires us to debunk the merit we place on domination, trumping it with stronger ideals around fairness and equality. Large-scale change is possible if we, as a human race, are willing to dissect our ways of thinking and actively pursue functioning from a higher intellectual state.
As there is a responsibility for all forward-thinking people to expose the world to a more productive mode of existence, Belafonte and others emphasized the responsibility of black leaders in activating collective self-care within black communities. If the black community has not yet strengthened its full expression of self-love, external perpetrators will continue to find wounds within which they can implant further destruction. Establishing a norm of elevated thinking is one of the highest expressions of self-care.
This in no way diminishes the need for other races — particularly whites, for their role in perpetuating the degeneration of many races — to take measures for introspection and change, recognizing the magnitude of their responsibility in the problem and altering the pervasiveness of antiquated belief systems within their communities. When we all are bold and thoughtful enough to pursue self-examination and transformation, our actions will only benefit the entire society. The nation should also take a long look at itself as a unit and strive to operate from an advanced intellectual capacity, where senseless killings, hate, prejudices, violence, poverty and abuse are all rarities.
As Belafonte asserted, black culture needs to be utilized for the growth of it community, rather than just for wealth creation for a few. We should use our strength as a unified economic powerhouse for the support of our people and those who are fair and just in their relations with all people — as, too, should all conscious consumers, of all races, seek to support entities grounded in social responsibility. We should foster self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-love within our unit as we mold a new reality for ourselves.
For the “rebels” leading the way, Belafonte noted, nonviolence does not equal passivity. “We have to make them see that indifference to our experience from this moment on is unacceptable, and we will do what is necessary to make your life uncomfortable as long we stay in this place of abject pain and discrimination.”
Certainly, the pursuit of change and rebellion against the status quo, for the good of all, through strategic, nonviolent approaches, demonstrates the use of the intellect in its highest form; and that is the ultimate expression of collective self-care.
Kinisha Correia is a blogger and writer based in Broward County.