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“The Black Agenda” Takes First Steps to Unite Community

By Rodney Brown


black agenda

Founding Members of The Black Agenda

More than 200 people packed the Danforth Community Center for the launch of a new group called the Black Agenda for Greater Rochester.

And, the general purpose of the group, according to founders Jackie Campbell; Jackie Dozier; Cynthia Elliott; Sheritta Bullock; Melanie Funchess; Hanis Abdul-Wahid; Jerome Underwood; Lomax Campbell; Howard Eagle; Leonard Brock; Donald Hardaway; and Adrian Elim, is to unite the black community.

“In terms of how we came together, we saw a lot of things happening in our city that were not directed by black people, but they impact black people very directly,” Underwood, the senior director of Youth Development and Family Services for the Rochester City School District, stated. “We need to be the arbiters of our own destiny. We have common struggles, but we’re not united in our response to those struggles. So, the agenda is an attempt to bring us together to do several things. One, to bring us together to be a source of information to the black community. Secondly, we want to unite, and to have some consistency in our response to the things that impact us. For example, the anti-poverty work that’s going on. If you’re going to do this in black neighborhoods, you’re going to have to ask black people for their permission. We’ve settled on three pillars. They are education, economic development, and health and wellness, with a particular emphasis on mental health.”

Underwood said the group’s core beliefs are based upon “Nguzo Saba,” or the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The principles include themes such as unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, and cooperative economics.

“When we gathered, it was the most diverse group of people that I think has ever gathered in Rochester, and that is exactly what we were going after,” Underwood stated. “We want to be the ones who say what happens to black people.”

The group first asked attendees to sign pledges, promising to:

  • Share information with, and educate family members regarding the Black Agenda;
  • share and discuss information regarding the Black Agenda with friends and neighbors;
  • share and discuss information regarding the Black Agenda within social groups;
  • and actively support activities, organizations, and institutions which will uphold the principles of the Black Agenda.

The founders of the group also commented on each of the respective pillars Underwood mentioned, beginning with education.

“It’s the black man’s and black woman’s right and responsibility, to control the economy and politics of his and her community,” retired Rochester City School District Teacher and community activist Howard Eagle, stated. “Just like everybody else. If we are to achieve this, we must have significant input into the decision-making, regarding the rules and regulations, the policies, practices, procedures, and the laws that guide and govern the political and economic institution of public education. Nobody can save us but us.”

In addition Elim, a youth organizer with the group and former RCSD student, added, “We believe the city school district’s curriculum is a huge thing we need to change. I am a graduate of the RCSD, and it took until I went to college to start learning about my black history. I had one black teacher my entire time in the RCSD.”

The group’s members went on to discuss issues relative to health and physical fitness, and the stakeholders pledged to eliminate all health disparities, through the development and execution of inclusive and equitable health policies.

“Let’s think about dying from ways that could be avoided,” Hardaway stated. “You don’t have to have high blood pressure. You don’t have to suffer from diabetes. And, we don’t have to suffer complications from obesity. We need to educate, and inform our community, so we can make better decisions regarding our health.”

Leonard Brock, currently the director of Rochester’s Anti-Poverty Initiative, led the discussion on the third transformational pillar of the group’s agenda, economics.

“America was a corporation before it was a country,” “Brock stated. “The country, essentially being a capitalistic society, is predicated on the work of slavery. Needless to say, we’ve got to control our economy, in our neighborhoods. Economic development is essential, if we’re going to make any progress as a people. The dollar circulates in most communities five to seven times. It doesn’t circulate once in the black community. We need to support black businesses, and encourage black prosperity.”

At the end of the session, one attendee doubted the black community’s ability to unify, due to differences in ideology, religion, and principles.

However, Funchess sternly refuted the statement.

“First we need to change our mindsets. We must each one, teach one,” she said. “When we leave tonight, we should be talking about this agenda everywhere we go. When we look at each other, stop looking at ourselves in terms of differences such as, Christians or Muslims. We’re black. When I see you, I see your blackness. It’s the dominant culture narrative, for us to see our differences. So, I call this out right now! This stops tonight! You are my brothers and sisters, and the things we can agree on, we all need. We all breathe, so we need to know our health. We all want our children to succeed, so we need to secure our education. We all need to own our own businesses, and own our own subsidies. So, the first thing we need to do is to stop looking at what separates us, and look at what unites us.”

According to Underwood, the group ultimately garnered a commitment from each attendee to work toward attaining the goals for each pillar, and the Black Agenda plans to reconvene with those individuals within the next 30 days.

“Right now, it’s getting people on the bus, and then we’re going to decide where we drive the bus,” he stated.

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