Leadership in Action: 5 Key Principles of Effective Racial Justice Work by Kofi Annan

09 Apr

As painful and upsetting as George Floyd’s murder was, it was encouraging to witness not just the intense condemnation–and ultimate prosecution–of the officers involved, but the almost universal recognition that that incident was a mere symptom of a greater problem, systemic racism.

In the subsequent months, more resources and energy were invested into efforts to fight systemic racism than ever before. America experienced the largest and longest-running protests in its history, and corporate America pledged over $200 billion to racial justice initiatives.

Unfortunately, according to research conducted by Forbs Magazine, as of late 2022 the majority of that money either went unspent while the rest was spent on efforts that had little systemic impact. The problem is that even individuals and organizations that have the best of intentions are clueless about how to craft an effective strategy to conduct racial justice activism. This work can be daunting, and even seasoned veterans can become overwhelmed or burned out.

In this book, Kofi Annan, a nationally recognized racial justice activist, and award-winning author lays out his five key guiding principles for conducting efficient and effective racial justice work. The guide serves as a tool for individuals, corporations, or non-profit organizations whose heart is in the right place but could use help crafting a strategy.

Leadership in Action: 5 Key Principles of Effective Racial Justice Work by Kofi Annan is available on Amazon.

More About Leadership in Action: 5 Key Principles of Effective Racial Justice Work by Kofi Annan

During my journey as a racial justice activist, I learned some incredible lessons about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to racial justice advocacy. I’ve distilled it down to five key areas:

  1. Learning how to be efficient
  2. Valuing your authentic pathway to advocacy and the skills you bring to the table
  3. Understanding that being impatient isn’t necessarily a negative trait
  4. Knowing when to stand firm and not compromise
  5. Valuing your independence

These are foundational elements every activist or organization seeking to do racial justice work should incorporate into their strategy. The point is not that every situation will be the same or that applying some magical cookie-cutter approach to racial justice work will overcome centuries of racism. The point is that applying a consistent strategy and approach will improve your chances of success.

Excerpt from Leadership in Action: 5 Key Principles of Effective Racial Justice Work by Kofi Annan

At Some Point Patience Runs Out

I find it incredibly ironic that the very white people who scold Blacks for violently protesting police violence perpetrated against them celebrate the January 6 demonstrations which also resorted to violence. The hypocrisy cannot be overstated, especially when juxtaposed against the coup attempt and the endless list of violent events perpetrated by white people.

I am in no way advocating violence as a viable or sustainable means to achieve racial equity; however, as a former member of the military, I appreciate that violence applied selectively and strategically can be an effective extension of diplomacy. No one knows that better than white Americans. There isn’t a group of people more prone to use violence to achieve political or economic ends. The difference is that when white people choose violence, they label themselves heroes and patriots and erect statues and monuments in their likeness. Since they control the media and education systems, they control the narratives that are repeated throughout history.

The so-called patriots that conducted the January 6th uprising were just the latest in a long history of white people that were lionized for acting on their impatience and willingness to use violence to achieve their goals.

White people slaughtered the Native Americans and stole their land, amiably known as colonization or “Westward expansion.” Then they used violence to enslave the stolen Africans brought here to work that land. They used violence to gain America’s independence from Britain, and it was the Civil War that kept America united and ultimately ended slavery. Violence enforced the segregation and continued oppression of Black people, and violence led to the annexation of Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands.

Violence or the threat of it, by the way of the gun or economic isolation, keeps America at the top of the global pecking order. The U.S. averages more homicides and mass murders per capita than any other developed nation, and we have more guns than people. The right to carry a gun is enshrined in the Constitution—or at least that is what gun rights advocates argue.

So, when people say violence is never the answer, I can’t help but wonder to myself, since when? Violence is as much part of American culture as apple pie or cheeseburgers. Again, I am not advocating for the use of violence. But my reason is a strategic one and not a moral argument—even though I believe Black people have the moral high ground of self-defense and defense of their community.

From a moral standpoint, the victim of violence and oppression reserves the right to defend himself and his community and retaliate against the aggressor. If person A attacks person B, person B could choose to attempt to negotiate an amenable solution. This will probably yield the fastest end to the violence, as the attacker might feel sympathy for his victim. Some will feel comfortable taking this approach.

Retaliating violently, on the other hand, will almost always lead to an escalation of violence in the short term. To those who feel justified in retaliating to defend themselves, express their frustration, or restore their dignity, you’re also not wrong. Just be prepared for things to get worse before they get better…if they get better.

Omar Wasow, a professor of politics at UC Berkeley, explained in an interview with The New Yorker that violent protests can be effective to draw attention to the cause but eventually backfire because they spawn backlash in the form of more violence or diminished sympathy for the cause. “I would say nonviolent protests can be very effective if they are able to get media attention, and that there is a very strong relationship between media coverage and public concern about whatever issues those protesters are raising. But there is a conditional effect of violence, and what that means, in practice, is that groups that are the object of state violence are able to get particularly sympathetic press—and a large amount of media coverage. But that is a very hard strategy to maintain, and what we often see is that, when protesters engage in violence, often in a very understandable response to state repression, that tends to work against their cause and interests, and mobilizes or becomes fodder for the opposition to grow its coalition.”

While Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rightfully gets a lot of credit for sticking to his message and tactics of nonviolence, make no mistake about it—the messages of militant self-defense from Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X and Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton, Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale generated significant pressure on white America that was impossible to ignore and should be equally credited for the passage of the Civil Rights Act and other meaningful progress.

For those who argue that nonviolence evokes sympathy, it is worth noting that the FBI made no distinction between any of these organizations, and in conjunction with local law enforcement successfully destroyed all of them and arrested and killed several of their leaders.

( Continued…)

Published by Fighting Words, LLC March 13, 2022. Copyright 2022 Fighting Words, LLC. All rights reserved. Book excerpt reprinted by permission of the author.

Leadership in Action: 5 Key Principles of Effective Racial Justice Work by Kofi Annan is available on Amazon.

Connect with Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan is the author of the award-winning book, Bull in a China Shop: Evolution of a Racial Justice Activist, and Leadership in Action: 5 Key Principles of Effective Racial Justice Work. He and his wife founded Fighting Words LLC, a racial justice and DEI Consulting Company in 2023. He is the former president of The Activated People (TAP), an independent activist organization dedicated to promoting racial equity.

Kofi previously served two terms as the president of the Fairfax County, Virginia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was awarded the NAACP’s Thalheimer Award for being the best branch in the country in 2018.

Kofi is also the owner of Soul Rebel, a food truck based in northern Virginia that serves a unique blend of Caribbean-American fusion cuisine.

Kofi Annan served eight years in the U.S Army, and holds a Master’s of Science in International Relations from Troy University, and a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology from Tennessee State University.



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