“Free Agency” and the Black Liberation

A “Black Paper”
March 2011

According to the Wikipedia free encyclopedia as applied to sports, a “free agent” is a player whose contract with a team has expired and is thus eligible to sign with another club or franchise. “Unrestricted” free agents are players without a team. Unrestricted free agents are free to entertain offers from any and all other teams and decide with whom to sign a contract if mutually desirable. In the world of professional sports free agency is considered a good thing from the vantage point of the athletes because it provides them with more control over the compensation and terms they receive for their services. Free-agency is not a good thing for owners of professional sports teams and their management personnel.

“Free agency” as applied to the movement for the uplift and advancement of people of African descent is a bad thing, and when all of us are “unrestricted free-agents,” that is the worst possible situation, because we are without a “team,” which is another way of saying – we are without an “organization.” The Most Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey noted that: “The greatest weapon used against the Negro is disorganization;” In this writer’s opinion, by “disorganization” Mr. Garvey referred to lack of effective organization, or lack of organization altogether.

Perhaps the greatest weakness inherent to the “Black Liberation Movement” as it was known during the 1960s was/is the fact that unlike professional sports, no one is being PAID to work for the uplift and advancement of our beleaguered people! Those who endeavor to champion our cause do so because of an intrinsic “call” to that service; there is no expectation of compensation. For all effective intents-and-purposes then, activists for Black liberation are all “unrestricted free agents,” owing neither allegiance or loyalty to anything or anyone other than their own personal convictions. As such they are free to pick-and-choose whether, when, how, where, why, and under what (if any) circumstances they are willing to engage the battle. Ashiki Taylor refers to this situation as one that leaves Black folks’ battles for liberation to be fought by “volunteer armies.” Clearly, this is not a recipe for victory.

Back in 2007 when Jim Clingman and I were struggling mightily to generate and sustain the Movement to Bring Back Black, and build the Nationalist Black Leadership Coalition (BBB/NBLC), I sent out a communiqué to our 300+ racially-conscious activists asking each of them to make a list of the seven (7) most important priorities in their lives. I had predetermined that anyone who could not list the BBB/NBLC in the top three (3) of their personal priorities would be unlikely to contribute much of substance to our cause. As best I can now recall, only two (2) persons other than myself who responded to my request were able to include our organizational effort in their top three priorities, none of them as number one. Most never responded at all.

Readers who are attuned to professional sports can well imagine what the National Basketball Association (NBA) or National Football League (NFL) would operate like if they were leagues made up of volunteer players instead of the “Forty Million Dollar Slaves” referred to by William C. Rhoden in his best-selling book by that name. There could be no regularly scheduled games because no one would be obliged to show up to play! Bleachers would be empty because games could not be publicized with assurance that there would actually be a game. Yet, this is exactly the situation that exists today with regard to what used to be called the “Black Liberation Movement” and today is more often referred to as the “black consciousness movement.” We are at best comparable to what is euphemistically called “sand-lot” ball-players. No thinking person would expect a collection of sand-lot players to compete successfully against a team of professional athletes, and it is just as unrealistic for us to expect well-intentioned but disorganized advocates of black liberation to be victorious against better organized integrationists negros, or supremely organized, armed, and equipped white supremacist forces.

In “The Art of War,” the brilliant Chinese militarist Sun Tzu taught that: “When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.” He goes on to add that “When a general, unable to estimate the enemy’s strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be a rout.” I submit that this is why Mr. Garvey put so much emphasis on ‘disorganization’ being “The greatest weapon used against the Negro…;” He recognized that in our state of disorganization, we have no generals; orders are neither clear or distinct; no fixed duties are assigned to anyone – and indeed, there is no one to fix them; and we have no ranks to be formed — slovenly, haphazardly, or otherwise!

In the absence of organization and the structure and discipline it requires, spokespersons for our movement make strategic and tactical errors, urging our inferior forces to attack larger ones; sending our weak advocates against powerful opponents; and, having no trained, select, experienced soldiers to place in the front rank. Is it any wonder then, that we have been ‘routed’ to the extent we bear no resemblance to an organized force ready to engage an enemy?

I believe that most – if not all racially-conscious blacks – are well-intentioned in their expressed wishes for the uplift and advancement of the Black collective, and I believe they are sincere; however, in this regard, good intentions and sincerity plus $5.00 will get you a cup of coffee at any Starbucks store! Where we conscious blacks err is in our persistent failure to organize ourselves into a force to be reckoned with; a force capable of achieving the noble goals and objectives we spout so much rhetoric about! That is why no one takes us seriously and no ‘soldiers’ are attracted to our ranks. We are seen as “talkers” not “Do’ers!!”

If free-agency is not best for sports organizations, it is even less desirable for military ones; the need for uplift and advancement of Blacks collectively has more in common with military purposes than sports. In a real sense we are “at war,” though not with bullets at this point, and insofar as we are not in circumstances conducive to waging a “hot war,” we would be foolish to incite one! We have too few troops, and those we have are ill-prepared for direct confrontation with an organized, disciplined opponent. We would do well to learn as Sun Tzu taught: “…the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.” And said another way: “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” Until such time as we are “organized” for fighting, we would do well to concentrate on the unglamorous work of organizing. If we are unprepared and/or unwilling to do that, we cannot win anyway, and our efforts will be futile.

When “conscious” blacks get serious about liberating our people, we will organize ourselves appropriately to do so. We will develop and implement means by which to employ people in key roles needed to carry out the day-to-day functions of building an organization. We will have a budget to compliment our goals and objectives. When we mature to the point that we take ownership of our movement and begin to manage our affairs, we will have become “management,” and must thereafter act accordingly! As management, the last thing we need — or should tolerate – would be dependency on a free-agent workforce!!!

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