Moving from words to action

I often quote famous Black people, as I am sure most of us do.  We refer to their writings and their speeches, citing their words of wisdom and deriving inspiration from their knowledge.

I often think about how we recite the words of famous Black people after they have passed away.  It’s sad to think that the treasure-trove of so many important and enlightening things stated and demonstrated by our predecessors have not been heeded, and long after they have died, their words ring hollow among Black folks.

Some examples
The phrase, “By any means necessary” has been used millions of times by our brothers and sisters. Had we followed some of Malcolm X’s words at the time he was saying them, imagine where we would be today. Few are willing to incorporate the words into their daily lives.  How many of us are willing to have economic strength by any means necessary?

How many of us actually live by Marcus Garvey’s words? Mary McLeod Bethune’s?  Martin Delaney, T. Thomas Fortune, William Wells-Brown, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, and many more have told us what we must do for ourselves in order to have a strong economic foundation.  Are we following the principles they espoused?

Booker T. Washington practiced what he preached and demonstrated the results of his words.  And probably the most quoted of them all, Frederick Douglass told us what to do and how to do it more than 100 years ago.  We love to talk about “power” and how it “concedes nothing,” and we rejoice in his notion of agitation.

Listen or act?
Are we merely interested in feeling good about economic empowerment?  Do we just like to hear the words of these and more famous Black men and women?  Or are we willing to act upon those words as well?

Speakers can recite the words of famous people and bring the audience to a fever pitch, but if the audience goes home and does not act upon those words, they become, as another famous writer and activist said, “sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.”

If we had acted upon a few of the words our mothers and fathers uttered when they walked this earth, I shudder to think how powerful we would be, how together we would be, how truly rich we would be, not only financially but in most other ways as well.

Please don’t sit back after reading this column and simply say, “Man, that was right on the money,” or something to that effect.  If these words make you “feel good,” then allow them to make you “do good” as well. We should live the words of our ancestors, not just repeat them.

James E. Clingman is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati’s African American Studies Department. Contact him via, or call him at 513-489-4132.


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