Voices of change
New leaders see hope in old methods
Tashiya Umoja, here with brother Chinua, says she looks forward to becoming a leader in the New Afrikan Scouts, a youth group in Decatur, Georgia
Young African-Americans have always worked with the elders of their communities to solve problems facing their race. Student organizations during the civil rights movement played key roles in challenging the bigoted practices of the 1960s that prevented African-Americans from enjoying the same privileges as whites. The problems facing the black community have changed, but many young black people remain steadfast in their desire to improve the plight of African-Americans. They are preparing themselves for leadership roles and believe that some of the protest tactics that wrought change in the '60s are still useful today.
(CNNfyi) -- Within a few months, Tashiya Umoja will be 18. She will become a leader of the New Afrikan Scouts then and begin teaching younger African-Americans at the Malcolm X Center for Self-Determination in Decatur, Georgia.
Each Friday evening, she will stand in the class where she used to sit and share her knowledge of black history, community outreach, spirituality, time management and womanhood.
And how long has she been preparing for that role? "All my life," she says. "All my life."
Like other members of New Afrikan Scouts, Tashiya has spent her childhood and adolescence learning about the progress and problems within the African-American community. In the weekly sessions, the scouts learn how to improve and preserve themselves and their neighborhoods. Most significantly, in the setting that stresses self-reliance and self-determination within the black community, the youths learn to develop and implement solutions.
New problems, old solutions
Young African-Americans had always been at the forefront of the struggle to secure the same rights and privileges that their white counterparts enjoyed.
Ruby Bridges was 6 when she integrated the public schools of New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1960. Josephine Bradley was 17 when her mother volunteered her to do the same in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1957. And four teen-age college freshmen staged the sit-in at the Woolworth's counter in North Carolina that ignited a youth-led movement challenging racial inequality throughout the South during the 1960s.
Josephine Bradley, far right, pictured here as a middle school student in the 1950s, was the first African-American to integrate the high schools of Greensboro, North Carolina
Those young people recognized that one of the principal problems facing African-Americans since their arrival in this country was a lack of access -- access to voting booths, decent housing, restaurant service, front seats on buses and quality education.
Equal access is less of a barrier now, today's young African-American leaders said. The problems that they feel pose the most serious threats to the black community include drug abuse, poverty, homelessness, uninformed voters, voter apathy and flawed educational systems.
"Not enough black people are voting," said Mtayari Kalimara, 16, of Decatur, Georgia. "And a lot of the people who do vote, don't look at the issues, and they are just voting by word of mouth, making decisions by what other people say."
Mtayari, a junior at Southwest DeKalb High School, said he believes the old protest methods of marches and sit-ins can be effective weapons on new battlefields.
"Sit-ins and protests get people out on the streets and bring attention to issues and make people think about the problems," he said.
Crippled by comfort
But action must follow attention, said Amina Wingate, a 15-year-old New Afrikan Scout, who has been receiving leadership training for almost seven years.
"We have to be more involved in helping people," Amina said. "Drug abuse and poverty are the two largest issues today, and we need to offer those people a better way of life. I'm educating myself now about the problems. But we all have to volunteer. When I get older, I want to work in computer animation, but I plan on volunteering a lot."
Careers such as the one Amina plans to pursue are options because of the access wars older leaders waged years ago, Tashiya said, but that access has also led to apathy among many African-Americans.
Mtayari Kalimara, 16, said the protest methods of the 1960s are still relevant today
"They are not as uncomfortable as they were. Economically, everybody is doing better in the United States," Tashiya said, and prosperity has made some people oblivious to the problems crippling other people.
Education about problems within the black community, improved schools and better teachers are integral parts of the solution for the woes facing African-Americans, said Tashiya, who is a first lieutenant in the New Afrikan Scouts.
Organizations such as the Malcolm X Center for Self Determination are important in filling the educational voids, such as the lack of information regarding black history, that are needed to mold new leaders and give them a sense of empowerment, she said.
"A lot of people realize that things are not equal," Tashiya said. "But nobody knows what to do, and they think that's just the way things always are. But it doesn't have to be that way."
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