Who Speaks for the ‘Hood?: How Black Leaders Failed Us

(“Black Power Fist” image courtesy of Osiris Black)

“Follow the leader is the title, theme, task/ Now ya know, you don’t have to ask.” – “Follow the Leader”, Eric B and Rakim

An election was held in Harlem yesterday to elect a new national Black leader. For months, top contenders, Rev. Jesse Sharpton and Dr. Cornel Smiley, had been trying to out shine each other in an attempt to grab the coveted title. However, when the final vote was cast, the late rapper “The Vanglorious Makaveli Smalls” won a decisive write-in victory. Sharpton and Smiley took the first flight out of town, ashamed that the biggest civil rights leaders in the world had been beaten by a rapper from the ‘hood who was murdered 15 years ago.

For the last few years, there has been an uncivil war going on in the Black community between Rev. Al Sharpton, reppin’ the old school Civil Rights crew, and the intellectual tag team of Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. For months they have traded disses back and forth like a “Freestyle Friday” battle over who is the legitimate leader of the masses of Black folk.

Problem is, neither side really speaks for the streets – especially the youth. It can even be argued that the late Tupac Shakur is still more politically relevant to this generation than today’s Black leaders.

Traditionally, Black leadership has been made up of members of the middle class who use the poor as political pawns. In 1957, E. Franklin Frazier wrote in his book, Black Bourgeoisie, “As the intellectual leaders in the Negro community, they have never dared think beyond a narrow, opportunistic philosophy that provided a rationalization for their own advantages.”

How many forums have you watched on C-Span where a bunch of highly educated Black “leaders” in expensive suits talked for three hours about the problems facing America and not a word was relevant to the ‘hood ?

As Dr. Carter G. Woodson wrote in The Mis-Education of the Negro, “One of the most striking evidences of the failure of higher education among Negroes is the estrangement from the masses, the very people upon whom they must eventually count for carrying out a program of progress. ”

The biggest scam played on the streets by “Black leaders” is the “non-economic liberalism” con, which Harold Cruse discusses in his book, Plural But Equal. According to Cruse, groups like the NAACP traded Black economic empowerment for the impotent, feel good ideology of civil rights. So people died for the right to sit next to a white person in a restaurant when they should have been fighting to own the joint.

The fight over who should be the leader of Black Americans can be traced back to the 1843 National Convention of Colored Citizens and the debates between Frederick Douglass and Henry Highland Garnet. According to Bradford Chambers in “Chronicles of Black Protest, ” Garnet wanted to go hard against slavery with his “Call to Rebellion” speech, but his efforts were undermined by Douglass’s softer call for “moral suasion.” Because Garnet was seen as too radical, Douglass became America’s first national Black “leader.”

During the early 20th Century, the fight for Black leadership was between Booker T. Washington and Dr. WEB DuBois. Washington was the reigning champion after the 1895 Atlanta Exposition, where he delivered a speech that, according to his book, Up From Slavery, was used to “cement the friendship of the races and bring about hearty cooperation between them.” Dubois, however, wanted to intellectually and politically challenge the idea of white supremacy. After the death of Washington, Dubois went against Marcus Garvey, an advocate of Black Pride, self sufficiency, and a strong identification with Africa, as discussed in detail in Dr. Tony Martin’s work, Race First.

The conflict of the ’60s was between the Civil ights leaders led by Dr. Martin Luther King and members of the Black Power Movement who followed the ideology of Malcolm X. Because they were less threatening to the staus quo, the followers of King became the “official” Black leaders.

During the late ’80s, a second Black Power movement emerged via Hip-Hop, as young Black kids began to identify with the outcasts. Instead of repeating the “I Have a Dream Speech,” Hip Hop artists such as Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy began to sample speeches by Kwame Ture, Dr. Khalid Muhammad, and Min. Louis Farrakhan. Also, a new generation of Black youth begin to embrace Afrocentric thought, courtesy of scholars like Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, and so-called “conspiracy theories” by Del Jones and Steve Cokely, who mainstream Black leadership had deemed political pariahs. These vibrations still flow through underground, conscious Hip-Hop, even in 2012.

This is the real reason that the torch was never passed to the Hip-Hop generation. Although the old school Civil Rights leaders always complain about how young people aren’t willing to “pick up the mantel of leadership,” in truth, they ain’t givin’ that up without a fight. The only way to get that golden mantle is to pry it from their cold dead hands. Even today, it is the clones of Dr. King who sit on the thrones of Black leadership, as they have the cable news networks, radio stations, and magazine covers on lock.

But we have something they never will – Hip Hop and the ears of the streets.

Hip-Hop still remains the most volatile weapon that can be used to challenge the status quo. What if rappers used the money that they are spending “makin’ it rain” in the clubs to build more Black businesses? Or instead of rapping about “Rack City,” they used their words to make a strong “Black City?” Maybe it’s time for the Hip-Hop Nation to overthrow traditional Black leadership and replace them with people who truly rep’ the poor and oppressed in ‘hoods across America.

The choice is yours.

Like Nas asked on “My Generation, “What’s up with tomorrow?/ Will you lead? Will you follow?”

TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip Hop,” a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. His website is He can be reached at or follow him on Twitter (@truthminista).

  • rep87


  • I will lead. I am willing.

  • The Truth

    Hip hop sucks.

  • Pingback: Who Speaks for the ‘Hood?: How Black Leaders Failed Us : KPR1 – Keeping It Positive in Hip Hop & R&B()

  • Anyone who is out it the public eye speaking or taking action in trying to do good for the black or minority community gets my respect, regardless if the methods work or not. So, I’m not here to dog out our so-called leaders.
    Now what I will say, is instead of talking about or criticizing blacks who are atleast doing something. How about we do something ourselves. Feeding off what rep87 said, how about we be our own leader and stop looking for other muthafuckas to do for us. Take care of your own. Shit, at the end of the day, all we have is our own.

  • Another direct hit!

  • EG

    Very thought provoking article.
    The problem today is that black leaders fail to recognize God as our foremost leader and allow small/side details divide us. I do not think black leaders have failed us, i think we have actually failed our leaders (J.Jackson/A.Sharpton are not the leaders i speak of). When Amerikkka killed/murdered/imprisoned our leaders in the 60’s/70’s we did NOTHING…They killed Jesus too 🙂 Every leader we get they take out, why would anyone want to lead the masses of GREEDY, SELF SEEKing people (not all of us) everyone wants to be the leader and not lead. I continusly get asked to lead personally (Leader in the church only), but who can lead a race that has never followed its first leader…GOD. (no you are not god, nor a god mc, or a kush god…mearly a man with a plan)Mr.StL

    • Adrian Barron

      ok, i was rocking with you @ 1st until you contradicted yourself, walk with me myG…

      “The problem today is that black leaders fail to recognize GOD as our … leader and allow small/side(d) details (to) divide us”

      than in the very next line you say:

      “i think we have actually failed our leaders (excluding J.Jackson/A.Sharpton)”

      understanding 1st that there isn’t one person that can aptly be named LEADER and not fall short of expectations therefore we need/have more than 1 – also because we as individuals appeal to different values, views, and ideas WHAT YOU CONSIDER REAL TO YOU may just in fact be FLAWED to me – to expound on that a little more YOU MAY PARTAKE IN THAT “OLE TIME RELIGION” and i might be the one that researched what my GREAT, GREAT, GREATS were taught and found something contradictive to what they were taught – it even says in the GOOD BOOK “why would you follow the traditions of your elders if the traditions of your elders forsake GOD”

      – pretty sure you celebrate CHRISTMAS which isn’t a holiday ordained by GOD – yet in still we all fell into the church in droves Christmas Sunday, right?

      now, not all BLACK LEADERS fail to recognize GOD 1st and foremost
      you being a MAN OF GOD than it wouldnt be right to exclude T.D. JAKES, Noel Jones, the local church pastor, etc… as LEADERS – depending on your faith you may consider FARRAKHAN a leader and so on and so forth (not passing judgement on any of them bruvahs just yet)

      then you have to recognize the CURSE thats been upon US since the beginning of time
      because we are so “GREEDY, SELF SEEKING” – unfortunately, we wont ever be as 1, ever because that was the way it was meant to be.  It starts first with SELF similar to what REP87 stated and once you are able to surrender SELF – than you can begin to CONQUER all

  • Casor_Greener

    You don’t need a leader to get a education and a job.  People in the hood don’t need a leader they need some self-motivation and to start making better decisions.

    Stop looking for messages from this b.s hip hop too. Pick up  a damn book.

  • Mark Olford

    Great article…..but the break down of leadership in the hood is the church…..Every “hood” in America has more churches than schools and if you go to one of them, you are not likely to return because the atmosphere is depressing….There’s no one you would really look at and say well “I’m gonna follow this dude because his/ her teachings inspire me and those in our neighborhoods….I’m gen Y and most of us grew up in the 70s 80s where ya mom made you go to church 24/7 and you really didn’t get much out of it….you saw the problems reflected on the streets in the place where most blacks found peace and hope and one time or another…..Hiphop came along from our generation and it was the vehicle we used as our voice…..problem was we were young and didn’t know how to express ourselves in a way that would have established us on the political landscape… in point Tupac, he had the right message but he was young….had he not been murdered his message would be so potent now, its unbelievable…..right now, no one in America white or black is really discussing self reliance, self education, ect…..we are depending on the government to do that for us, or some gov program to do it for us…..We have the internet and let me just say, I graduated from Oregon State Uni in 96′ and since that time I’ve acquired skills learned over the net that would run circles around my degree….education is continuous…As long as you are living breathing you are learning….we first must accept that fact….

    As far as leadership, today we have the power to create more than any other time in history…..yes the “man” will try to suppress us but we can over come and take back out hoods and create a better life for the next generation….problem is, who would be willing to step up and possibly sacrifice their life for the cause???  All Americans got too comfortable with being in the middle class….”I got mine” mentality, right….Now we see that it still isn’t enough, even for white people….We gotta pull our heads out of the sand and use the tools we have to make a change…..Once we take on that mantra leaders will emerge because the people will see their work….people will respect their hustle…..”if he can do it so can I”….The internet IS that tool…..It must catch on like wild fire, you do your part….look at the person in the mirror and make sure that person is doing right by the flesh…..and if you feel it’s over whelming now that’s when you call on Jesus, or whom ever you serve….I have so much more to say but I will end it there….

    God bless you all

    • EG

      I CAN DIG IT! Be the change I want to see 1st.

  • William Richardson

    Reblogged this on Fight the Power UB and commented:
    Thought provoking piece that can be related to our previous post concerning spreading the message of Fight the Power. Check it out!

  • “…..groups like the NAACP traded Black economic empowerment for the impotent, feel good ideology of civil rights. So people died for the right to sit next to a white person in a restaurant when they should have been fighting to own the joint.”
    My sentiments exactly. I feel history such as Tulsa, OK AKA Black Wall street should talked about more rather than just MLK and Civil rights. At that time White America was a closed energy source. They would let blacks work ( at menial jobs) and pay them for it but would not accept our money. This was prime time to invest in your neighborhood with money from whites, but instead people were fighting, being disrespected and dying in order to give white people their money. It seems like irrational to me. 

    Our leadership have the same problems they did in 40-70’s. They get so comfortable in their upper middle class neighbors that they feel they are to big for the little people they are supposed to be helping. Dr. King addressed this in Black power defined. Also they are fighting an old fight, constantly looking for racism pushing that victim mentality instead of creating programs to help ourselves. 

  • Humble_servant

    Rep87.. U need to tell that to those idiots who join cults (freemason & Illuminati) for fame and fortune…. It seems like over 98% of artists in this country are demonic worshipers, and that’s the reason why they keep flashing demonic hand signs in public and movies. Its only God who can intervene b/c they’ve infiltrated everywhere, including d church

    • 98% though? Really? Where in the world did you get that percentage from? Where are the facts? Maybe you should do your own research before regurgitating false information.

  • I love how everyone is blaming everything else except themselves.  Without that ” feel good” civil rights movement in which THOUSANDS lost there lives, the world wouldnt have known or cared about what was going on with blk ppl in the US. The facts are that MLK, Bro. Malcolm, the Panthers, were all young people. Early to mid 20’s, that put in the work to change things.  Most people today care more about whats on this blog and facebook than actually going out and making things happen. We have failed our blk leaders. Its much more effective to have someone your age speaking to you, rather than ppl youve seen in blk and white pictures. My question is where are the blk leaders now? Why are we still turning to Sharpton and Jesse? Because there has been no one else to step up and fill the position. 

  • sagacioussolomon


  • Elling Borgersrud

    I have the impression that there is a problem of american politics as a whole, (and not just the US, but allso south-america) that the movement is identified with THE LEADER in person. A little unlike europe, I think. That means kill the leader, and you kill the movement. That´s Malcom X or Dr. King. Or put him in jail like Mumia. 
    If the black american movements could be less oriented towards the leadership, and more towards the actual activists and members, maybe they could be harder to buy, to kill and to jail? 
    Maybe the Occupy movement is less oriented towards the personal leadership? Or am I beeing too optimistic? 

  • AlbertoRipRon

    Straight up, a leader never looks for a title.  His actions deem it so.  The problem is, Tavis Smiley, Cornel West and Jesse Jackson are doing it for the publicity.  Its not in their hearts to change anything.  Any true leader who passionately wants to see black people flourish would take to that television and pound the masses with just opinions.  Federal government needs to be exposed.  Newt Gingrich needs to be silenced; amongst other things.  And these same so called “black leaders” can’t even venture into the hoods and talk with their own people.  They are nothing more than pacifiers or just paper soldiers.