Monday, April 30, 2012

Week 18: Ella Josephine Baker - Silent Impact

The Organizer

Sometimes the most important people are never seen, and seldom heard. As a society, we’re enamored with the larger than life personalities that tend to dominate movements. They often tend to be the faces and public personalities, but they are always supported by the lesser-known, but no less effective stalwarts and behind-the-scenes activists and workers who get the day-to-day work done. That’s unfortunate because in a perfect world, everyone’s contributions would be equally celebrated, but it’s an artifact of western culture to focus on individuals while ignoring the communal efforts that lead to transformational change.
Ella Baker’s career as a civil rights activist spanned almost 50 years and she worked with three generations of civil rights activists. She worked with such luminaries as WEB Dubois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thurgood Marshall. She also was a mentor to younger activists such as Rosa Parks, Diane Nash and Stokely Carmichael. 

Ella Baker was born in 1903, the grandchildren of slaves and as a young girl, the stories her grandmother told her of her experiences being a slave made a huge impact on her. From a young age, she involved herself in the nascent civil rights movement. She focused strongly on grassroots approaches and empowering individuals to make their own change. This approach hugely influenced the civil rights movement. Her idea of ‘participatory democracy’ was her guiding philosophy. The idea was radical at that time, but she never wavered from her view that true change must involve everyone and she was strongly critical of the hierarchical and strongly male dominated structure of most activist organizations.

Between 1938 and 1967, she was involved with the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Conference Education Fund. She held numerous leadership positions within these organizations and contantly pushed to make them more democratic and grass-roots oriented.  She was an intensely private person who preferred to remain out of the spotlight and her important role in the Civil Rights movement is sometimes forgotten as a result. She remained an activist until her death in 1986. 

I really admire her understated style. She never yearned for the limelight; she was just very quietly effective. She treated everyone with respect and was hugely influential as a result. Her emphasis on empowering individuals to make their own change is something that is sorely missed today. 

Greatest quote:
You didn't see me on television, you didn't see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is, strong people don't need strong leaders

Week 18: Paradiso


A very long wait
Standing outside of heaven
For our salvation
A step away from paradise
Standing outside of heaven, waiting for God to come and get me.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Week 17 - The Road to Salvation

Dead-end world

In a world so cold 
All roads are cul-de-sacs
And all the ends are dead a dead end

Week 17 - Nelson Mandela: Father of a Nation


Nobel Prize Winner and First Post-apartheid President of South African. Nelson Rolilahla Mandela is well known. Everyone I’m sure has a good idea of who he is and what he has done. He is considered the father of South Africa and was a key architect of Apartheid’s long overdue demise. He braved terrible hardships and a long 27-year prison sentence in the famed Robben Island Prison.

I have already spoken at some length about the apartheid system in my examination of Steve Biko’s life, but it bears repeating: It was a horrific and brutal regime that was quite happy to use violence to perpetuate and maintain its unjust system. In the face of this brutality, what I love most about Mandela’s leadership in the fight against apartheid was his pragmatism. He responded in kind as necessary. He was originally the leader of the militant wing of the ANC ‘Umkhonto We Sizwe’ which used guerilla tactics to fight against the regime and their cadre of military might.

It’s easy to say that he was young and rash, but it’s clear that he used the tactics that he felt would yield the best results. For a time, these guerilla tactics paid dividends, but they led to an even more brutal crackdown and Mandela to his credit changed tactics. His use of non-violent resistance then proved a stark contrast to the regime’s brutality and led to an outpouring of sympathy for the anti-apartheid activists. 

He also was willing to subsume his own well being and accepted his 27 year imprisonment to further the cause. He was brilliant in so many ways; a great orator, a brilliant strategist and an unparalleled leader who inspired unwavering loyalty. He could not have done it alone, but his leadership was key. I have constantly been inspired by his courage and dedication. He is rightfully now a statesman of the world and has advocated for human rights around the world. The world will be a darker place when he is gone.

Greatest Quote: I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Outtakes: Innocence Lost


Victor Frankenstein
Created a dread monster
That lived inside him
By Mankind's evil...