Black August is about knowledge of self and reflection; participating in meaningful functions; studying the profound history of Black folk and the diaspora; and being of service to others. Here’s 21 ways to do this.
Every Black August, the question that pops up is, “What is it?” It is an annual observance spilling out of California prisons by those who rehabilitated themselves by freeing their minds through knowledge, prayer, fasting, and employing the power of collective action. Though Black August launched in 1979, its intentions and energy blaze with more intensity today.
When the unfortunate events around the George Floyd murder stimulated conversation of communities taking more bold methods to freedom, Black August made its re-entry back into the conversation. To avoid it becoming a commercialized, co-opted event, Ark Republic curated a list of activities to consider this month.
Paying it forward is what Black August is all about. Revolutionaries such as George Jackson and Ruschelle Magee, always extended a helping hand in whatever capacity they could for the furtherance of the people. In kind, many Black August observers engaged in acts of community furtherance and benevolence over the years. Here are 21 ways you can help consummate the works of Black revolutionaries.
Offer pro bono legal services
Black August is a lesser known period of time that requires reflection and the action of its observers. Since the 1970’s-era Black inmates in California founded the holiday, it is based on the Black Liberation movement ideology. One viable means to obtain said liberation is legal representation.
This year, Sunidata Acoli was freed after serving 50 years. He was one of the three who were in a car that was pulled over by New Jersey Turnpike patrol in 1973. The stop ended in a shootout with one comrade (Zayd Malik Shakur) and a New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster dying in the exchange. Acoli and another member, Assata Shakur were arrested and convicted in 1974. Shakur escaped and fled to Cuba in 1984 where she received political asylum. Acoli was sentenced to life plus 24 to 30 years, but has been eligible for parole since 1993. He was denied release six times before he was released on May 25, 2022. Of the 48 years he was in prison, 42 of those have seen no infractions.
Today, Acoli lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, while he adjusts to using what we take for granted, such as a cell phone or an ATM card. Overall, there were millions of dollars and countless numbers of people who worked to see Acoli free.
Ruschelle Cinque Magee, was convicted of aggravated kidnapping after a dispute over $10 at the age of 23 years old in 1963. Still in prison until this day, he has acquired a reputation of lending his legal assistance to fellow inmates.
Let’s face it — acquiring legal counsel is expensive. Attorneys practicing law in small towns and rural areas charge between $100 and $200 per hour, while lawyers in big cities charge between $200-$400 per hour. Then of course there are specialized lawyers that charge anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per hour. To that end, providing free legal services would be a great way to bridge the gap between the economically disadvantaged and legal counsel, while honoring the work that Magee has done.
“Once the facts can be clearly established and shown to the people where these dogs are practicing slavery under the color of law, then this automatically requires a special investigation by the people to look for themselves,” said Magee.
Most importantly, activism is often seen as something done by those who are the working class or poor. Everyone can and should participate in using their expertise, voice and power to move progress forward, regardless if you wear a tie or Timbs, or both.
Tap into the Black performative arts
Liberation can come in many forms. It can be a physical act of defiance or speaking out against an injustice. It can also be a more subtle form of expression, such as a Negro spiritual.
Liberation sounds like the messages that were sang and embedded into Negro spirituals. The song ‘Sweet Chariot’ for instance referred to the numerous routes in the Underground trail that enslaved Blacks used. The lyrics, “swing low” means to use clandestine measures to travel in the South, only to come forth to be carried home to the North. As well, the folk song ‘Wade in the Water,’ encouraged the enslave to flee their harsh conditions introduced by the New World.
Similarly, South African miners in Johannesburg spoke out against injustice subtly by way of a coded dance coined gumboot dancing. This form of dance was created by miners in Johannesburg who were not allowed to speak with miners of other ethnicities. In order to communicate, they developed a system of signals and gestures that could be conveyed through dance.
Similarly, the Black Arts Movement spearheaded by Amiri Baraka, and the 1970s sonneteers, the Last Poets, are examples of spoken word liberation. These artists used their words to resist discrimination and express the frustration and anger of the African American community.
Liberation is a powerful force that can take many different forms. Whether it is speaking out against oppression or finding a way to express oneself, it is an important part of resisting discrimination and promoting change.
To that end, an effective way to subtly tap into Black performative arts is by facilitating a theatrical performance, consisting of Negro spirituals, dance and spoken word. Theatrical performances have a way of drawing onlookers into the world of the characters while educating them about their circumstances.
“I believe in [the theatre’s] power to inform about the human condition, its power to heal, its power to hold the mirror as ’twere up to nature, its power to uncover the truths we wrestle from uncertain and sometimes unyielding realities,” explained playwright August Wilson during his speech at Princeton University’s McCarter Theatre.
If you cannot conjure up the writing bones of August Wilson, seeing an independent production is another fantastic way to commemorate the festivities this month. Boston Court will host the Black August Film Festival on August 13-14, 2022. Festival attendees will view films about social issues from around the world. Entries are closed now but if you’re a socially conscious filmmaker on the rise you can certainly throw your hat in the ring next year.
May the ancestors’ memory be a blessing. A cornerstone of observance is to honor revolutionaries and acts of defiance that reverberated advancement across the Diaspora. This deep dive into past heroes allows observers to raise awareness of many, not just the popular names.
| Check out: 25 Museums and tours featuring Black cultural contributors
Community altars are quite familiar in America. Sept. 11 Memorial, the holocaust memorials, war memorials, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and the Lincoln and Washington Monuments in Washington DC were built a sacred spaces to honor the dead. During August, visit a memorial dedicated to the lives of people of African descent and Black natives in the U.S. Here are some that you can visit to pay homage:
- Legacy Museum and Memorial in Montgomery, AL
- African Burial Ground in New York, NY
- The Ark of Return, the Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade at the United Nations in New York, NY
- Florida Slavery Memorial in Tallahasse, FL
- Portsmouth African Burying Ground in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
- America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) in Milwaukee
- Harriet Tubman Memorial in New York, NY
- Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Atlanta, GA
- Frederick Douglass Memorial Park in Washington DC
Another cool idea is to construct a community altar at your Black August events or gatherings during this time. Just like in Dios de la Muertos in the Latinx community or La Toussaint in the Black Louisianian town of St. Martinville, everyone comes together to pay homage to those who come before us. It is the basic principle of Sankofa, and a core one for Black August.
Read a book, Give a book
Anti-literacy laws between 1740 and 1834 banned the teaching of enslaved persons and free people of color to read or write. When an enslaved person was discovered to be literate, they were often met with the severest of consequences such as lashed mercilessly with whips, mutilated or even murdered. This was especially so when their skills were used to help those escape or challenge the slave system.
Reading is not only fundamental, but a right that many died to have. It might sound like rhetoric, and an all-too-familiar line when voting comes around, but the fact of the matter is, people did die. Another sordid fact, the illiteracy rate is growing in poor and communities of color, as well as the decreased participation in voting.
So pick up a book, or a digital copy. Hell, we’ll even take an audio version, although there is nothing like turning pages on a hardback.
- The Biography of Assata Shakur
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X
- To Die for the People
- War Against the Panthers
- Blueprint for Black Power
- A Taste of Power
- Black Jacobins
- The Wretched of the Earth
- Black Skin, White Masks
- Even the Rat was White
- Black Man of the Nile and His Family
- They Came Before Columbus
- African Origins of the Major Western Religions
- The Destruction of Black Civilization
- Soul on Ice
If you have more resources, host a book fair as an effective and engaging way to help spread knowledge in your community via the written word. The fair can be a private or community event, and it could also be in the form of a book swap. On the contrary, host a book drive so collect literature for those who learn to read, but cannot afford the rapidly growing costs of paper and hardbacks.
If book fairs are not really your speed, you can always donate subject-specific material to inmates in need. George Jackson University is currently facilitating a book donor project.
Create a month-long calendar highlighting liberation and freedom events
Many people are interested in observing Black August with the collective, but few know where to start. Another great idea is to curate a calendar of events either celebrating Black August, or those that promote its principles, and the ideas of liberation for Black people.
Become a Plant Mama or Fur Baby
Have you ever heard of MOVE, an organization out of Philadelphia that was antagonized by local law enforcement and a white racist power structure? MOVE was a collective of Black environmentalists who saw basic civil rights in greening the community and living with natural elements. A juxtaposition from the concrete jungle of Philly, the MOVE members practiced veganism, growing food and taking care of animals as a form of justice and healing a troubled world.
One of the first environmental activists of color, other than Natives, the MOVE organization held protests and challenged the establishment. Ultimately, their lifestyle and activism were marked as a threat. Subsequently, they were targeted by local officials and police which resulted in their compound being raided several times then bombed. The attack also killed their children. Some of the MOVE members that survived the bomb were jailed.
Within the last five years, MOVE members have been released. Though the machine attempted to quell their campaign, it can be shown in the surge of Black folk farming and going back to nature. But, if you are in the city or lack a green thumb, a happy medium is to raise house plants. I heard they are addictive.
Plus, who cannot stand a cute dog or cat, or even a canary to bring joy into your home. We must not forget that joy is intertwined with resistance.
Put on relationship classes
Black August is also a time to reflect on the present state of Black people, and how we got here. What can we do to improve our relationships with our significant others, family, and friends? What can be done to build a stronger Black community?
One way to start is by taking relationship classes; especially after two years in a pandemic. Many couples, friends and family admitted that the ramifications of the global crisis placed a significant strain on all relationships.
To come back from a rough time, there are many workshops and seminars available that can help Black couples learn communication skills, conflict resolution, and how to deal with stressors that can put a strain on any relationship. By learning these tools and sharing them with others, we can help make our relationships stronger and our community closer.
#BlackLove could always use a little more TLC. The Journal of African American Studies, revealed that until federal funding in 2006, there was little or no education to help couples sustain relationships to marriage or maintain the marriage. So this Black August, take some time to think about your relationships and how you can make them even better to build Black love.
Organize activities for children
First off, do not go to Sesame Street Place. Not saying Disneyland is any better, but for a change, put together both fun and educational exercises for the community’s youth.
For example, Black August is the perfect time to visit local historical sites. This can be done as a field trip or even just a day trip. Black history is so important and it is vital that we teach our children about it. Black August is also a great time to have a gathering in the park. This is a perfect opportunity to get the community together and have some fun. There are so many different activities that can be organized for Black August. It is up to you to make sure that your children have a memorable time.
Yoga in the park, at the beach or in a green space
Liberation yoga was founded by black yoga instructors. The practice consists of traditional yoga poses and breathwork, but also includes elements of mindfulness and social justice. Liberation yoga classes often focus on topics such as race, class, and gender, and how they relate to our experience of yoga. The aim of the practice is to help participants connect more deeply with their own bodies and experiences, as well as to promote social change.
“Remaining neutral in the name of equanimity is yet another example of spiritual bypassing,” says Yoga Teacher, Race-Equity and Anti-racism Trainer, Michelle Cassandra-Johnson.
Liberation yoga classes are typically open to people of all backgrounds and levels of experience. Like Kali Alexander’s Classes for the Masses, a weekly free yoga practice at Crenshaw/Baldwin Hills Mall in Los Angeles. For occasions that require a particular kind of healing, Black yoga instructors often create space for people of color to practice together in order to foster a sense of community and solidarity. If you’re looking for a yoga class that will challenge you both physically and emotionally, an outdoor Liberation yoga held outside may be the perfect fit.
Plan an event for the seniors in the community
Black August is a time to reflect on the contributions of Black seniors in the fight for justice. All too often, we forget those who carved our paths and made it possible for us to live our lives with dignity and respect. There is a saying that says, “You can tell a nation by the way it treats its children, women and elders.”
Indeed, Black seniors have fought tirelessly for our rights, and they continue to do so today. This month, let us take the time to show our appreciation for all they have done. There are many ways to do this, but one idea is to hold a Black August celebration in your community. This can be a time for Black seniors to come together and share their stories, play cards or other games, exercise, and enjoy each other’s company. It can also be a time for Black elders to mentor Black youth, teaching them about the importance of community and solidarity. By taking the time to celebrate Black August, we can honor those who have sacrificed so much for us and show that we are committed to carrying on their legacy.
Incidentally, there is a tech divide among the elderly. Seniors make a minor portion of those who research information online. As well, they make up a small portion of those who use the internet.
Hosting a digital literacy class would create a connection between generations and revere the elderly during Black August.
Take or administer a class on vagina and penis health
As anyone who’s paying attention knows, Black people are at a higher risk for reproductive health issues. According to recent studies, Black men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and Black women are more likely to die from cervical cancer. These statistics are even more shocking when you consider that most Black people don’t have access to quality healthcare.
One way to fight back against these disparities is to take or administer a class on vagina and penis health. Learning about our bodies and how they work can help us to better take care of ourselves and our loved ones. And as we continue to fight for justice, knowledge is power.
In the nearly 50 years since Roe v. Wade decision, Black women have made great strides in closing the gap with white women in terms of reproductive rights. But there is still work to be done with the historical legislature being dismantled by the Supreme Court this past June.
As we remember those who have lost their lives to police brutality this Black August, let us also remember and support the plethora of organizations that are committed to fighting for Black women’s reproductive justice like Black Feminist Future.
This Black August you should take some time to learn about your reproductive systems and how you too can advocate for the issue. My suggestions, start by learning about the functions of your reproductive organs and how they work together to create life. Then research the history of Black women’s struggle for reproductive justice. A great book to read is Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet Washington.
Finally, consider what you can do to support the reproductive justice movement. Black August is a time to celebrate our blackness and our power. It is a time to remember that we are strong, we are beautiful, and we are determined.
Vagina power can be radical love. Author and self-love advocate, Alexyss K. Tylor is one such person who is using her platform to empower Black women and men. Through her work, she helps us appreciate our bodies in a whole new way by teaching that vaginas and penises are not just sexual organs, but powerful sources of energy that can be used for healing and pleasure. In a society that too often sees Black bodies as objects of violence, Tylor’s message is one of radical self-love and acceptance.
As we continue fighting for Black liberation, let’s remember the words of Alexyss K. Tylor: “Our vaginas and penises are not just sexual organs, they are weapons of mass creation.” With this power, we can create the world we want to see.
Put on a Black Farmers Market
Often referred to as the most important meal of the day because it replenishes the body’s essential nutrients after a long rest, hosting breakfast is a way to pay tribute to the revolutionaries of old.
The Black Panther Party, well known for their breakfast program, provided children their first meal of the day before school – which promoted sharp and alert learning during class. Similarly, putting on a Black Farmers Market is an awesome way to source the meals so everyone knows exactly what they get and where they get it from. As well, it economically empowers small Black businesses and memorializes their philanthropy.
Since the pandemic, the focus on the gross inequities of the USDA’s treatment of Black farmers has grown. So much so, that even Ark Republic launched a media project called Black Farmers Index to bring more business to growers and agriculturalists in the U.S. Scaling the index or just combing through social media pages, nab information on a farmers markets directed to highlight or only feature African American growers and the diaspora.
Launch a letter writing campaign to political prisoners
Although it may be a thing of the past, there is something so nostalgic about a handwritten letter. Plus, they spark creativity and require your undivided attention, making them even more special.
Conducting a letter writing campaign for political prisoners to let them know they are out of sight but not out of mind is a way of providing inspiration, motivation and encouragement to keep them going.
Put a poetry show together
Poetry night anyone? As Gil Scott Heron once said, “A good poet feels what his community feels. Like if you stub your toe, the rest of your body hurts.”
Putting on an open mic that commemorates Gil Scott Heron or the Last Poets, who were politically charged rappers and other performance artists during the civil rights era is a great idea. As well, it could entertain and provoke the thoughts of listeners.
History classes or talks on revolution
The foundation and aim of revolution is transformation. The first change that takes place is in your mind. You must reconstruct your mental state before you change the way you live and move.
Hence, what better way to observe Black August than to educate your community or yourself about revolution? George Jackson, an avant-garde revolutionary, was big on shifting the thoughts of inmates from a prison mentality to an uplifted one centered on empowerment. He co-founded the Black Guerilla Family with fellow inmates George “Big Jake” Lewis, James Carr, W.L. Nolen, Bill Christmas and Torry Gibson to further this mission.
Classes on revolution don’t have to be all talk. Shake things up with a documentary film screening. Imagine what living in the 60’s was like. “Folks on the corner were thinking Black, talking Black, and being revolutionary. Hustlers were wearing red, black, and green. That breakdown was conscious,” said filmmaker and activist Jamal Joseph.
Take a trip back in time by hosting a documentary film night featuring projects such as The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. Holding a screening is a great way for your community to submerge itself in the tumultuous experience of that era. It can also serve as a reminder of where we came from and how far we have yet to go in the mythical “post-racial America.”
Facilitate a think tank to exchanges ideas
Black August is all about forward-thinking. Facilitating a think tank addressing concerns such as prison labor exploitation can lead to consummate change.
“Mass incarceration is deeply rooted in slavery and white supremacy. Although slavery ended in the U.S. more than 150 years ago, its legacy lives on through prison labor and the exploitation of people who are incarcerated,” Vera Institute of Justice tweeted.
Private corporations lease factories in prisons. Inside, inmates make everything from shoes to detergent. Their work also includes dental lab services, at one point booking for airlines, and wood and metal production.
Undoubtedly, creating a think tank focusing on the oft-neglected challenges is a veritable way to honor Black political prisoners during this month.
Educate yourself and others
Knowledge is power whether you are outside or inside prison walls. What we learned through the teachings of George Jackson, the organization and education of prisoners is a threat. As he educated himself through very painstaking efforts, his discipline to be self-taught led to him being acknowledged as one of the prolific thinkers who gave another lens into the failures and public harm of mass incarceration. Plus he was a major contributor in creating Black August observation.
Speaking of educating oneself, Jackson studied economics and military ideas for the first four years he was incarcerated and for good reason. The generational wealth gap has been a difficult one to close. According to the Brookings Institute, Black households — who make up 13.4 percent of the population in the United States—account for four percent of total household wealth as of 2020.
Resist economic disparities by hitting the pockets of capitalists through economic literacy classes.
Create a green book guide mapping out Black businesses
Green books were travel guides published during the segregation era in the United States. They pinpointed businesses that accepted Black American patrons.
“We have tremendous spending power, but it does us no good because we spend it outside of our community,” said President and CEO of Industrial bank, B. Doyle Mitchell.
Creating a green book guide of Black businesses in hopes of Black Wall Street return — when the dollar circulated 19 times before it left the community — would support a plethora of small Black owned businesses like restaurants and healthy eateries, in observance of Black August.
Host a ‘Know your rights’ workshop or seminar
The elephant in the room of grave concern to our entire community: If stopped by the police, what do you do?
In the wake of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders at the hands of law enforcement, and frankly the ones before and after, there has been an uptick of knowing how to engage with police. Right now, racial tensions are at an all time high. Knowing your rights and what to do if you are stopped by police is absolutely essential, and might save your life, or that of a loved one.
Hosting a “know your rights” workshop or seminar would not only educate members of your community, but it could also trigger a cathartic and poignant conversation that is typically glazed over. Participants can come up with a communal plan on how to address excessive force and department accountability.
Organize a health fair
It is no secret that the blood pressure rates of Black Americans are amongst the highest in the world. As well, Latinos have some of the highest prevalence of meanly controlled blood pressure. Their socio-environmental and psychosocial stresses exacerbate high blood pressure, making them more susceptible to COVID-19.
If you are gifted in the area of nursing or medicine, providing a free COVID-19 testing site and or checking the blood pressure of community members, especially that of the elders could be right up your alley. This way you can give back and engage with your community during Black August.
Not to mention, exercise is closely associated with decreased blood pressure and dancing has been linked to anxiety and stress relief. Take things a step further by providing African or line dancing classes.
On the other hand, if you would prefer to take a more holistic approach there’s always alternative health fare with vendors who do things like reiki healing, acupuncture, crystal work, massages, aromatherapy, tibetan bowl meditation.
Host classes addressing infant mortality
Oftentimes, family members, spouses or friends are the healthiest support system for a pregnant woman and the coming child. In that case, resist against the ethnoracial disparities of infant mortality by sharpening the doula and nutrition skills of those in your community.
It is no secret that stress is closely associated with low birth rate. According to the National Library of Medicine, stress is an important distinguishing factor of ethnic differences in infant mortality.
The benefits of having the support of a doula range from physical to emotional support, lessening the amount of stress on the pregnant mother. As well, having a nutritionist while pregnant is beneficial to the health of the mother and fetal development.
Commemorate Black August by training members of your community to take the load off of pregnant women and thus increasing community members as opposed to losing them.
One of the misconceptions of the word “revolutionary” is that you have to have a Black fist in the air, and look or act in a certain way. Some of the most revolutionary actions happen from the most unassuming people, but in the most powerful ways. Your Black August can be a day or a week, but just take time out to know one of the most prolific lineages of resistance. Although the revolution starts within, it is not a selfish act. In the words of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.” Similarly, the commemoration of Black August, is the rent we pay for the revolution
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