William P. Jackson is a 2014 Echoing Green Fellow and the founder and executive director of Village of Wisdom, an organization that works with families of black youth to "develop the resiliency and self-confidence necessary to overcome the academic opportunity gap."
Protecting Black Genius, a treasure that lies within every child—that must be our VOW.
This is not an appeal to save The Talented Tenth. Nor is it a plea to find those Black youth who will be responsible for the next STEM breakthrough. This is a demand for us to recognize the gifts that lie within each and every one of our children. Gifts that if nourished and allowed to thrive will usher us into a more just and equitable future.
The potential of Black Genius lies within the interest, and inevitably the talents, we all have within us. The potential and capacity to achieve Black Genius grows when that interest is cultivated into skills. Black Genius is realized and achieved in those spectacular moments when we collectively utilize our talents and skills to disrupt and dismantle institutional systems of oppression. Black Genius is realized when we collectively imagine and construct new systems based on the values of equity and justice for all. Black Genius is within us all, but can only be realized when we recognize it in each other. Even more, Black Genius is ours to deepen, to understand, and to leverage to create a better tomorrow.
But there is a war going on that is threatening the talent and ingenuity of Black children being born across the globe. From the classrooms of South Carolina to the groves of the Dominican Republic and from Chicago to Congo, Black children are being violently attacked, deported, and even enslaved in the name of maximizing profits and maintaining a lower class to exploit.
Dr. Bettina Love, professor of Educational Theory & Practice, often uses the term spirit murdering when she reflects on the cultural devaluation many children of color experience in school. After seeing slain Black body after slain Black body as I scroll through my social media timelines, I am forced to consider that this world is attempting to murder the souls of Black folk. So I can't, we can't, sit idly by any longer as our children's souls and physical bodies are murdered. The proposition we lay out today is to see the genius inside of ourselves and protect those who will use their interests to create a better world: our children, those who will amplify Black Genius.
Black Genius creates new systems of equity that render ideas of racial superiority useless and dismantles oppressive systems. As a worldwide community we have the opportunity to cultivate young people who are in-tune with their interests, and help them catapult those interests into skilled talents. These skilled, young, gifted and Black youth will be proud of their African ancestry and the magnificent cultures produced by the diaspora. We must help them and ourselves develop what Professor Jim Johnson calls the cultural elasticity to move from one cultural context to the next with ease, skillfully melding practices for maximum impact and communicative clarity.
We must work with Black youth to develop the element of genius that allows them the selective vulnerability to discern whom they can and cannot trust. They must understand that not everyone is their advocate and simultaneously know that the entire world isn't against them. Through selective vulnerability they will realize the power of collective strength and recognize without trust they'll be unable to create, love, and embrace these and other benefits of community.
Albert Sykes, the executive director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America, often talks about a child's ability share through a favorite proverb: children are born with their hands closed because that's where their gifts are. As children grow old they are supposed to learn to unfold their hands and share their gifts with the world. If we want our children to share their Black Genius, then we must put them in positions where they don't have to close their hands to fight.
If you are ready to protect Black Genius, together we must do a few things.
First, we must make the assertion that every Black child has genius with in them. We have to promise to use the great majority of our energy and efforts to make them understand they are valuable beyond measure despite the propaganda of our world. And we must see this genius potential in ourselves—for if we cannot see for ourselves, we will not be able to recognize it in our youth.
Secondly, we must prepare youth to create new knowledge—new knowledge based on the strengths of the Black community, knowledge that provides the structure, conceptual framework, and measures to build new systems that will strip the sting of implicit and explicit biases of the power to reinforce the oppression of racism.
Third, we must commit to keeping those who possess Black Genius alive—mentally and physically. If anyone should dare to threaten our children's mental or physical health then they must face a system of real justice. And we must create that system of justice, a system that ensures peace and human rights for Black children worldwide.
To really accomplish this plan of protection, it's critical that we leverage the collective power of the diaspora, here in the United States and globally. We must use the weight of our collective wealth to establish a structure that provides racial justice assurance and familial support while also funding a knowledge generation machine. We must create a Village of Wisdom.
There is a shift happening in our country and across the world. The passion of non-respectable Negroes, the energy of unapologetically black youth, the power of melanin on fleek is rising. With their growing power the words of John F. Kennedy seem increasingly relevant: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable."
Whether we are ready or not, a generation has been born with the potential to amplify Black Genius. The only question that remains is are we ready to work with them to build the system needed to make this world better?
See the Black Genius in yourself. See it in those around you. Let us work together to convert our interests into skills. Let's use our skills to deconstruct a system that has stood for too long and inspire the ideas that will be the fundamental knowledge for a society whose singular goal is true equity.
This article is part of a series that showcases emerging leaders' voices on a variety of issues related to social change. The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author(s). Echoing Green provides these leaders and social entrepreneurs with a two-year Fellowship, seed-stage funding, and strategic support. Learn more: echoinggreen.org.