Creating Sustainable Change

Wherever we are in life, whether blessed or oppressed, affluent or struggling, the condition of the global village will directly affect us all sooner or later, and it is in our best interest to work towards sustainable progress. I have penned a number of essays on issues of justice, racism and white supremacy over the years (see my blog Rise up Hip Hop Nation). For this article, my focus is not analytical but practical. While ideas and theory inform my writing always, this essay focuses on a specific list of actions to organize this moment into a sustainable movement.

The first thing we must do is realize that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We can no longer wish for better and act the same, maintaining status quo by default. To get out of the hell that corporate greed, concentrated power, western imperialism, religious fanaticism, and “ideology over reality” have created, we must get specific about what it will take to realize people power.

This list is a start. It is in no way definitive, but it can bring sustainable community change if each and every one of us acts on some of the suggestions listed (and others). The reason I focus on sustainable change is because our history shows us that we are very capable of big movements (Abolition, U.N.I.A., Civil Rights, Black Power), but what we have not been able to do as yet is sustain these progressive movements over time. Our history to date has been a pattern of progress, then backlash, then progress again (and so on). To sustain progress, we need continual people power and community involvement. Micro level activism can off set macro level power imbalances.


  1. Answer one question: What are YOU doing to affect change?

Have a specific, developed answer to be a part of the solution. If you have no answer or just a vague, undeveloped one, you need to get a specific answer or you will be a part of the problem. Check your idealism at the door. Change takes action, not hope. Remember: #HOPEisNOTaSTRATEGY

2. Educate yourself on issues. Pick at least one local issue and one global issue that you will educate your self about and stay informed! Share information with your networks purposely. Education is an ongoing process throughout our lives. As an educator of more than 20 years, I still gain new knowledge everyday. For the many growing up in the United States that only learned a western civilization version of history in school, education must begin with a correction of the record. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is a good starting point.

3. Join at least one organization. You can join a local organization for community actions and the mailing list of a number of nationally based organizations for petitions and information.

4. Sign at least one petition a month. Activism in the digital age is much easier than in previous eras, and it is easier to stay informed via the internet and email. For those that do not have internet access at home, utilize your city’s public library. Sign relevant petitions and share them with your networks.

5. Be a conscious consumer. It’s a simple as this: support what you believe helps your community; reject what does not.

6. VOTE, especially in local elections. Whether the system works or doesn’t; whether elections are stolen or not, too many of our (fore)fathers and (fore)mothers fought to give us the right to vote, and for no other reason than that, we need to honor that right. I strongly recommend all, particularly full time workers, consider absentee voting (this way you don’t have to worry about making it to the polls on the day of the election). Visit your state’s Secretary of the State page to register to vote and/or sign up as an absentee voter. Voting is easy and doesn’t cost to do, but it might cost greatly when we do not. Do not buy into the idea that two evils are the same. Voting may not directly affect your community but not voting could. To directly affect your community, it takes activism by community members and this list hopefully provides some guidance.

7. Never Scapegoat other communities. Whether it be Muslims, “illegal immigrants” (read Mexicans), gays, “big government” or liberals (from the right of the political spectrum), or conservatives and “big money” (from the left of the political spectrum), blaming others for our woes is standard practice. Instead of working actively towards progress, scapegoating allows us a convenient fall guy to point to when no real progress is achieved. The problem with scapegoating is that it provides a flawed analysis of social problems at best, and excuses for inaction with no working solutions at worst.

8. Never fall for the politics of distraction and divide and conquer. Make a sincere effort to communicate across class, color and generational lines. Most of what ails our community can be fixed with honest, open dialogue. With this we can overcome the internal divisions that separate us, and unity (which is necessary for self determination) can be realized.

9. MENTOR anyone in your network that needs direction, guidance, help, and love. Mentor one child (For parents, mentor your children fully and completely). For childless adults (21+), mentor a child at your local school, Boys/Girls Club, or Big Brother/Big Sister organizations. Each One Teach One; Each One Reach One.

10. SERVE your community in some concrete way. Always remember: We are all we need. We have all the resources (human capital and natural resources) to sustain our own communities. Work from this perspective at all times.

11. Be Media LITERATE. Study media literacy, understand media framing, and get information from a variety of sources. Recognizing that all media is framed (left/right, conservative/liberal), get your news from multiple media sources. By doing this, you will learn to separate facts from ideology.

12. FORGIVE. No sustainable change will be possible until we develop the ability to be critical but forgiving, unyielding on principle but yielding on people and humanity. Mistakes have been made but if we let our mistakes keep us divided, it will impede our progress. We have to embrace our mutual interests and avoid getting clogged down in our differences. A community divided is a community conquered indeed. Sustainable change will require that brothers and sisters reconcile with our humanity, and forgive past (as well as future) shortfalls and indiscretions. It is in human nature to be self-preserving, even at the expense of our progress at times. Informants have sold out movements for personal reward — and will again; some leaders have played politics at the community’s expense for power — and continue to; brothers and sisters have disrespected themselves and their ancestors through some thoughtless actions (and some even profit from it). Our inability to forgive our trespasses will be our biggest impediment toward self determination.

While I believe critical analysis is essential, making criticism of others our primary focus (personal), it makes it that more difficult to find common ground and unify around common interests. In the words of Iyanla Vanzant, Be against nothing…just be clear what you are for. Keep your framing positive and your eyes on the prize. SEIZE, never cede your power.


The Model = A 21st Century SNCC*

*term coined by TVOne journalist Roland Martin

  1. ORGANIZE around ISSUES, not leaders, personalities, political parties, or ideology.

Why? Keeping focus on issues over all else makes it possible to collaborate and build with others despite other differences that often keep us from uniting. As Dr. King best stated, we must keep our work in “a positive action framework rather than engaging in consistent negative debate.

2. Nurture COALITIONS of the Willing. Create lists of organizations (local and national) to collaborate with on chosen issues.

Strong people don’t need strong leaders. — Ella Baker

3. Establish TRAINING Regiments.

A. Grassroots organizations must study SNCC and other freedom organizations to learn how to train its members to effectively 1) promote the issues we want to promote and 2) challenge/overtake the systems we must challenge/overtake.

B. For training, keep focus local.

C. Utilize community centers, schools, community colleges and universities, and churches for meeting , planning, organizing and training sessions.

D. Keep a consistent schedule. Meet regularly so community members can know to always expect your presence, and learn to count on it.

Service over Leadership — Carter G. Woodson

4. Community SERVICE.

A. Always remember: We are all we need. We have all the resources (human capital and natural resources) to sustain our own communities. Work from this perspective at all times.

B. Collaborate with local CBOs to support and promote their services to wider community (database all available CBOs and services offered by city/county/state).

C. Study the UNIA for its cooperative economic model that promotes community self reliance. Utilize crowd funding strategies and ready available community resources to meet community needs.

I have a right, even a duty to resist, with violence or civil disobedience….you should pray I choose the latter. — from the film Great Debaters

5. Mass Mobilization Actions — Think Globally, Act Locally

A. Identify specific outcomes and next steps (to sustain movement)

B. Coordinate events with coalition of the willing to maximize impact

C. Promote extensively and share information via all media and social network sites

D. Keep pressure on local media outlets and elected officials

6. Media Strategy

A. Study Social Network Analysis and Media Discourse Theory

B. Draft and Promote NARRATIVES that focus on chosen issues (proactive strategy)

C. Utilize our own media resources first and foremost to disseminate information

D. Share data and information with networks

E. Watch dog panel: Monitor all media outlets to immediately counter any narratives that undermine our adopted narratives (reactive strategy).

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. — Frederick Douglass


We can change our world. We have the resources to do it. We know what we need to do. We obviously have had the endurance to survive oppression. The only question left is do we have the endurance to end it?

Sustainable progress will take more than just vision for a better tomorrow; it will take reconciliation with the past and acceptance of the present reality. The reality is that social structure rules our lives. And like the entire natural world, humans must adapt to survive whatever structural conditions they must bear, and today that entails an uneven distribution of resources where 6% control most and 94% have little. When we reconcile with this reality, we can move to build solutions, based on “what is” instead of “what ifs”. So while the Panthers tried to build consciousness they also served the community with hot meals and health care. Bob Marley inspired souljahs across the globe, but those in most need in his native country, he gave food and shelter to daily. It is the only way to liberation: people must live before they can grow in consciousness and self determination, and each of us can take these specific actions to help our fellow beings live, learn and grow, both physically and consciously. Through self determination, we can free ourselves from dependency on a system that has never, and will never, serve us well. To that end, I offer this list of specific actions individuals and communities can adopt, and if we follow it and work together to build on it, we can finally move the crowd…to freedom. One love.

First published via @LinkedIn.

For more, visit