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Going Further During African History Month

The following are remarks that I offered on February 26, 2023, at Love Assembly Worship Center, a Christian church in Greeleyville, SC in honor of African History Month. 

Good morning everyone! I bring you all special greetings as we begin to bring this year’s African History Month to a close. My name is Salifu. I grew up right here in this area and attended GES as a kid, and right now I am a 7th and 8th grade English teacher at C.E. Murray, the same school I graduated from, with my classmate who invited me here today. I am also here on behalf of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party and the Black Alliance for Peace. I am a product of this area and I am very grateful and honored to be here speaking in front of my people today. 

I have been asked to speak quickly in recognition of African History Month. The first thing that I hope you will notice is that I have used the words “African” History Month. Today, I want to make sure that everything that I say is clear, so if at any point I say something that is confusing or you don’t understand, please stop me. It is very important to me that we are on the same page today. Because I don’t know if you have turned on the news lately, or even just stepped outside and seen what is going on, but our people are under attack. In our cars. In schools. In grocery stores. Laying down asleep in our beds. But if we are being honest with ourselves, we have been under attack for the past 500 years, and unless we start to get on the same page, we are in trouble! So I really need the youth in here today to listen up, because this involves you.

So let’s go back to my first point— African History Month. 1926 was the first time anything like “Black History Month” was ever celebrated. It was created by a man named Carter G. Woodson and at the time he called it “Negro History Week”. And at the time that Negro History Week was created, family, it was needed really really bad. At that time, what was understood about Black people was that we were slaves, with big lips, dark skin, and small brains. I’m not kidding. Science was being used to measure our skulls and people were making scientific arguments that because of the color of our skin, we were a weaker race than everyone else. Please understand that this was not just about making jokes about how we looked, but they were using this scientific evidence to prove that they were right to discriminate against us. To deny us homes to sleep in, jobs to make money, food for our families to eat, and schools for our children to learn to read. Their point was that if genetically these people are so weak and stupid, why would anyone even waste time “giving” us a chance to make a life? But Carter G. Woodson was a brilliant man who had been studying the history of Africa and African people. He knew that these lies they were spreading about us were not true. But as he looked around at the state of his people, he could tell that many of us had started to believe the lies! He could see in our faces that we were beginning to believe in our hearts that we had climbed out of trees, with bones in our noses, and would never be capable of doing anything for ourselves. Many of us, maybe even some of us in this room right now actually still believe those things. We hear it all the time “Black people ain’t worth nothin’”, “Black people can’t do right”, or “I don’t like being nowhere up around a bunch of Black people”. We say these things with our mouths not knowing that words become actions. Don’t our pastors tell us every Sunday that there is power in the tongue?

So Carter G. Woodson took it upon himself to work with other people to give us our own week. It would be a week where those of us who knew the truth about who we were, would dedicate ourselves to teaching each of the others who didn’t, about our history. Carter G. Woodson believed that in order for us to know who we were WE HAD TO START IN AFRICA. BECAUSE WE ARE AFRICANS. Today you will go outside and find a Black person as black as me, as dark as night. And you can say to them, “What are you?” They will tell you with confidence “I am a Jew”, “I am a Indian— my grandma was Cherokee, that’s why I got that good hair.” Some Black people want to be anything besides what they actually are, and that is AFRICAN. The people we descend from were stolen from AFRICA. They were African when they were fighting back in Africa. They were African when they were fighting back on the slave ships (many of them were such good fighters that they won the fights on the slave ships like a ship called the Amistad. They killed the captains, and turned the boats right back around to Africa). Can you guys imagine that? And they were African when they were right here in South Carolina fighting back on the plantations. At no point in time did our ancestors ever drain their blood and replace it with new blood so they could say “Welp, I guess I’m not an African anymore.” They did not give that up and we are wrong to try to take that away. We need to be proud of who we are. That is what Carter G. Woodson was trying to do with Negro History Week. He wanted us to find for ourselves all the reasons that we had to be proud. And he knew those reasons started in Africa. Negro History Week grew into Black History Month. But since we have been brought to this country, we have allowed people to call us everything under the sun. We’ve been niggers, colored, Negros, Black, Niggas, African-Americans. People have assigned us so many names, but no one has ever addressed us properly. So every year during this time, I like to take it upon myself to say HAPPY AFRICAN HISTORY MONTH. Because the accomplishments our people have made in this country belong to AFRICA. 

If you can’t tell by now, I do have some beef with the way African History Month goes every year, and I want to take some time to share some of that with you. Every year when February comes around you can expect to go through the same motions: someone will mention Martin Luther King and his I have a dream speech. Someone will recite “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. And someone will mention that Rosa Parks sat on that bus. I want to be clear: ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT. But it is our job to learn more about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks than we’ve been told! So let me pause for a second to ask the youth here a question. Can someone tell me anything you know about Martin Luther King? 

All of that is great and thank you so much for sharing with us! Can anyone tell me where MLK was when he died? How many of us knew what MLK was doing down in Memphis, Tennessee where was killed? 

Because MLK was not from Tennessee and he never lived there a day in his life. So why was he there? MLK was killed in Tennessee while he was there striking with Black sanitation workers who were fighting for better working conditions. Can someone tell me what we call sanitation workers today? “The garbage man”! MLK spent his last days in Memphis fighting for the people who come by and pick up our trash because their conditions at work were so bad that they were getting swallowed up in the garbage trucks and killed. And nobody was doing anything about it. 

How many of us knew that at the end of his life, MLK was having serious doubts about whether or not he had done the right thing with integration? After he had led all the marches, made the “I Have A Dream Speech” and finally had what we call a “seat at the Master’s Table” after the Civil Rights Act was passed he was looking around and he was terrified at what he saw. He was beginning to realize that even with these new Civil Rights, the majority of Black people were being left behind, while only some Black people were getting ahead. He was beginning to see the US for what it actually is— a country that worships money like money is god. He saw how thirsty this country was for war because of the War in Vietnam and it scared him so much. He said with his own mouth, ‘I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house’. He was afraid that we were going to walk into this country as “full citizens” and we were gonna lose ourselves— our sense of dignity and community, in the race to finally become “Americans”. 

Did you know that today the US is trying to starve more than 40 different countries out of existence? It does it by using these things called “sanctions”, which put restrictions on these countries being able to trade with other people. Did you know that the US has more than 30 military bases in Africa it uses to control African people and Africa’s resources? Did you know that the program called AFRICOM, which expanded those military bases was led by our first Black president, a man we now celebrate every year during Black History Month? Can I tell the truth here today? I know that doesn’t always make us feel good, but I have to! Because if we accept that we are Africans, then that means Africa is our homeland and we must be concerned about what happens there. Once upon a time, it was white men, or Europeans, who had come to conquer us and make us slaves. That was called “colonialism”. Today, because that doesn’t work anymore, they have figured out that they can use us against each other. This is part of a system called “neo-colonialism” (new colonialism) and unless we wake up and call it what it is, it’s going to kill us! The great Marcus Garvey made it clear to us when he said “Until Africa is free no African anywhere in the world will be free and respected.” 

When you turn on the news do you hear about the war in Ukraine? Do you hear about all of the money going to Ukraine every day while people in this country can barely afford eggs because they done got so expensive in the grocery store? I’m sure you are hearing these things, but what you may not be hearing on the news is all of the ways that the US actually started that war and plans to keep it going on for as long as it can. These are the things that MLK was afraid of when he mentioned the burning house! And we should never forget that MLK loved poor, regular Black folks so much that he lost his life down in Memphis, Tennessee trying to support us. Just for us to turn around every African History Month and give all of our attention to rich and famous Black people! We have got to be more serious, yall! 

Can someone tell me anything you know about Harriet Tubman? Someone? Anyone? Yes! Thank you! All of those answers are great and I am so happy that we know these things about our ancestors. But allow me to teach you something about Harriet Tubman you may not have known. I did not know it, and when I learned it, it made me so happy to know! When Harriet Tubman was making her way across the different stops on the underground railroad, sometimes she would come across pregnant women or women who had newborn children that wanted to escape to freedom. The people that would be helping her to travel would tell her “No Harriet! You can not bring her or that child because what if the child starts to cry and gets us caught!” But this is how much Mama Harriet Tubman loved us, y’all. Harriet Tubman became an herbalist. What that means is that she learned to make different syrups and drinks from plants she found in the woods that could knock your baby out stone cold. That way she could bring the baby and the mother without fear that the baby would wake up and cry and get them caught! And I have also noticed that many of us have this idea of Harriet Tubman as this hard, cold woman who didn’t play no games and would shoot any slave that tried to turn around. But people who knew Harriet Tubman say that wasn’t true! They say Harriet rejected that lie because she did not believe in turning the gun on her own people. She said she shot that gun at many a white man who tried to stand in her way but never once at another African. Now think of today, the violence that we use against each other! In our words! In our actions! In schools! On the street! We have been psychologically manipulated into seeing each other as disposable. Disposable is a word that means “able to throw away.” We are so ready to throw each other away, all of the time, and then we open our mouths to honor Harriet Tubman during African History Month! Where is our shame!?

To the youth in this church, I need you to know that you are about to inherit a world that needs YOU to fix it. I know that you know about climate change. Unless we force those people in power to do something serious about it, we are about to enter a period of time where the damage we cause to the environment can not be undone. And let me tell you something about Earth. Earth is going to be fine. Earth is going to adapt to survive through anything. It’s us that need to be worried about whether or not we will be able to keep living here. We are seeing constant food shortages across the world. Here in this country, the number of people who are growing up unable to read is growing. White supremacists and neo-nazis are getting organized in our faces and gaining more power every day. War has become never-ending. There are forces in this country that straight up want to take Black History out of schools. They don’t want you to learn this. And on top of all that, we are in a daily spiritual battle with the devil for control of our hearts and our minds. We need new soldiers and those soldiers have to be you! It has ALWAYS been young African people who have made the real change in this country. We can not win this war unless you are learning every day, taking your studies seriously, and getting the tools that you need to fix these problems. We need you focused and healthy, and learning as much about the world as you can. Remember, you can not fix anything you do not understand. We need people with the ability to ORGANIZE. If you look around today, we have more Black mayors, governors, businessmen, politicians, athletes, and celebrities to celebrate than ever before! But the situation for the MAJORITY of our people is not changing or in many cases, is getting worse. We have been manipulated into always talking about representation, but what we really need is ORGANIZATION. What good is representation without an agenda and organizations to help hold us accountable? 

So as I get ready to wrap this up, I just want to express how happy I am to have been invited here to this church today to speak with you. Although today I am a Muslim, I grew up in a church just like this, and because of the way my parents raised me, I know that we, Christians and Muslims, have 2 major things in common: we both love God, and we both have serious respect for the man named Jesus. But something we must be honest about is that throughout our history, our enemy has tried to use the Bible and our faith against us. They used the Bible to justify slavery. They told us that God did not want us to fight back or be free. Today, many of these false preachers, the ones that you can see on TV and Facebook always showing off new clothes, new cars, and new houses, just throw bible verses at us to keep us quiet and never questioning anything. But the worst thing we can do is use Christ as an excuse not to stand up to the devil here on Earth. Because if we know anything about Jesus, he was a lover AND a fighter! This is the responsibility of all religious and spiritual African people. If we are not using our faith to fight to make this world a better place, we are not following our command from God and we are definitely not following the example of Jesus. 

Can I have everyone in the church repeat after me: 

We are all African! 

Learn to celebrate it! 

Learn to defend it! 

Thank you so much for having me and I wish you all a very Happy African History Month. 

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Salifu Mack is a Pan-Africanist and organizer with the All-African People's Revolutionary Party and the Lowcountry Action Committee in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

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