MELVIN L. Stukes, the African-American city councilman from the 6th District who will never be mistaken for a shrinking violet, made it clear last Saturday that what he called a new movement had started.
Before the cynics among you start thinking, "Oh, great, yet another black movement," Stukes wants to make clear that this movement's goal is to change behavior among African-Americans.
"The emphasis, without question, of this resolution is on the black community -- no ifs, ands or buts," Jet magazine quoted Stukes as saying in its Aug. 12 edition.
The resolution is one that Stukes and nine other City Council members adopted this year that urges people to quit using the dreaded N-word. The resolution passed by a vote of 16-0. Stukes has received hate mail -- by snail and computer -- since the beginning of his crusade. But as if to let folks know he's undeterred, Stukes held a forum Aug. 31 and brought in people from around the country.
Cliff Gahagan flew in from Oakland, Calif., for the event. Samuel Taylor was up from Richmond, Va. Peter Grear came from Wilmington, N.C. Gahagan and Taylor have written books critical of blacks who use the N-word. Grear is founder of the National Black Family Empowerment Agenda, a faith-based organization that focuses on African-American economic empowerment. The NBFEA Web site also has a "renounce the N-word" resolution.
Others spoke at the forum. Carolyn Krysiak, a Baltimore woman of Polish heritage, told the 30 or so folks gathered at Cherry Hill's Hemingway Temple A.M.E. Church that she grew up listening to fellow Polish-Americans tell self-deprecating ethnic jokes. The reality of such "humor" hit home for Krysiak when she heard a child say "Polish" didn't refer to an ethnic group, but to stupidity.
Leutrell Osborne, an African-American with 26 years' experience in the CIA, said the use of the N-word might violate Maryland's hate-crime statutes. Grear, Taylor and Gahagan gave insightful, coherent presentations decrying the overwhelming African-American use of a word ORIGINALLY meant to demean and degrade an entire race.
Everything was moving along pretty well there, until some of the speakers dredged up Willie Lynch.
Remember Willie? You shouldn't. No credible historian has ever offered proof of his existence. But Grear talked about Willie Lynch as though he did. Taylor said both his and Gahagan's books contain references to Lynch. (To the eternal shame of both these men, they do.)
The current African-American scuttlebutt has it that Lynch was a Jamaican plantation owner who came all the way to the banks of Virginia's James River in 1712 to tell American slave owners how to "control" their slaves. The contingent of Afro-America that will never embrace a fact when a good fiction will do really believe Lynch said this:
"You must pit the old black male versus the young black male ... the dark-skinned slaves versus the light-skinned slaves ... the female versus the male and the male versus the female."
Willie Lynch's speech -- and the way it was put into practice, believers in this fable tell us -- is the reason why black folks are so messed up today.
The only problem with that belief is that black folks aren't messed up. Over 75 percent of black people are above the poverty line now, some 50 percent middle-class. African-Americans are the wealthiest and best-educated group of black people on the planet. That's one of the few positive legacies of slavery, handed down from black folks whose goal was freedom, education and achievement, not being "controlled" by some white man.
You have to know your history -- a history all in attendance said was necessary -- to know why you shouldn't be called, or use, the N-word. It took one of the youngest in the church -- 16-year-old Keah Moore -- to bring that fact into focus.
Moore is a junior at the New Mark of Excellence Academy, a private black school in Woodlawn, which she has attended for two years. She said she learned little black history in Baltimore's public schools.
"The only history I learned was European history," Moore said. "The only thing I learned about in African-American history was that Harriet Tubman helped 300 slaves to freedom." Moore was never taught that some 25,000 black Baltimoreans bought themselves and relatives out of bondage before the Civil War, becoming a crucial part of the city's economy.
It is such history that teaches us that black Americans are anything but that N-word used to describe us, and which many of our youth now use almost exclusively. Moore said she feels, if blacks her age know the history, they'll be less inclined to use the word.
Let's just drop Willie Lynch from the history when we teach them.