Know that the world is not run by people who wear their pants at their knees. Know when to say please and thank you. Don’t let black women raise your children alone. Refuse to be consumed by the myths of black inferiority or white superiority. Oh—and don’t litter.
Forty black men gathered Saturday to pledge to follow that creed.
The event took place at the student center auditorium of Southern Connecticut State University.
It was the first public taking of the Kiyama Pledge, created by local activist and criminal defense attorney Michael Jefferson.
Jefferson named his son (pictured) after the late black nationalist leader Malcolm X. Jefferson further honored Malcolm by creating Kiyama in 2005, the 80th anniversary of his birth. “Kiyama” means “resurrection” in Swahili.
The grassroots movement Jefferson hopes to start is non-sectarian and non-religious, although highly spiritual. “It’s set up to be universal,” Jefferson explained.
Jefferson took the pledge himself in front of his family in 2007. He said Saturday’s ceremony—which had the feel of half black history seminar, half secular revival— was not prompted by any particular event.
“It was just time to have a documented public pledge,” he said. Yet he said he sensed something growing in the African-American community, a conscious sense of African-Americans taking charge of their own fate.
Which can happen a lot more quickly, in the Internet age.
The site includes a Kiyama curriculum on black history and issues, compiled solely by Jefferson from his reading, replete with links to publications and sites.
“It’s fully researched,” said Jefferson.
It has info on everything from the Dred Scott decision to the fact that Rome at the time of the movie Gladiator had a senate that was one third black. Jefferson also said there were three early African popes.
People can go online, study, and take the pledge before their families or in public. That would include a “war on ignorance” within the black community including the prevalent showing of underpants in public, displayed by grown men as well as kids: “Not acting your age but your foot size” is how Jefferson put it.
“Kiyama is simple,” he said. “It’s about being better. Look at how Richard Pryor stopped using the N word.” He suggested that if rappers would pull their pants up, so would the huge audience of boys who follow them.
By Jefferson’s design, the pledge in public is always administered by a woman. That’s because, according to Jefferson, black women have sustained the black community over the generations; black men have to pick up their game as responsible parents and leaders to complement them.
On Saturday, Hill Alderwoman Jackie James-Evans did the honors. Among the many pledgees as well as well-wishers were Wooster Square Alderman Michael Smart, New Haven Family Alliance’s Barbara Tinney; Wilbur Cross Assistant Principal Larry Conaway, and Hamden High School Principal Gary Highsmith, who gave a stirring post-ceremony address.
Highsmith spoke of how he struggles to channel his anger to positive ends when for the umpteenth time a white visitor to his school enters and can’t believe he’s the principal rather than a custodian.
By the same token, Highsmith said, he was exasperated with the black father who emailed him to confirm some matter about his son in relation to child support. “That boy is a senior at Hamden High and I hadn’t heard a word from [the father] or seen him in all the four years of the boy’s attendance,” said Highsmith. In effect, that is no model for black fatherhood either.
Jerry Smart (left in photo) and Rick Goodjohn were among those taking the pledge Saturday.
The two have been involved in pledge-like work already. The are both single custodial dads, that is, taking care of their children alone. Smart is the PTO president at Conte/West Hills. Goodjohn works with youth programs at Community Action Agency.
They said they are in the process of forming an organization called Fathers Impact. Goodjohn said there are services for women raising kids alone in New Haven, but almost nothing for custodial black dads.
And, they assert, that population is growing.
What has all this to do with littering? “We need to confront some of our own self-destructive tendencies,” Jefferson said. “You can’t blame white men for littering if you litter.”