Jackson People’s Assembly, new elders council promote grassroots empowerment

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As thousands were celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King in Jackson, Mississippi, at least two other gatherings were taking place advancing his work in another way. At the Civil Rights Museum, several hundred people answered a call to attend the first Jackson People’s Assembly this year. A smaller group met at the Afrikan Art Gallery and Bookstore to help REAL Learning Institute conduct an elders/youth session, which will eventually include a council of elders sharing with the youth ideas of how to implement the seven principles of Kwanzaa in their daily lives. Both gatherings intend to promote grassroots empowerment, something dear to the heart of Dr. King.

 Jackson People’s Assembly

Under the leadership of Attorney Rukia Lumumba, the assembly gathered for the first time in more than a year. It was, nevertheless, a revisit to assemblies held in days past. The biggest difference may have been that new faces were seen in the audience and that the line-up of partners had expanded. This assembly listed as its partners: JXN People’s Assemblies Volunteers, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, People’s Advocacy Institute, MS Poor People’s Campaign, MS Prison Reform Coalition, Mississippi Bail Fund Collective, Strong Arms of MS, Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, and Operation Good and Safe Streets.

In one sense the assembly was something of a political rally in that after its opening prayers and singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” there were brief speeches from Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade, Central District Public Service Commissioner DeKeither Stamps, and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. Each touted what he had done or planned to do in order to improve the community. Each expressed an intention to listen to the voice of the assembly as he carried out his job responsibilities.

Another feature of the assembly was an update on the Jackson’s water condition. The update explained the original lawsuit that led to the appointment of Ted Henifin as the administrator of the Jackson Water and Sewage Systems. The speakers also explained what can and needs to be done to complete the job with the systems, including the replacement of pipes and the role that the citizens can and should play.

The bulk of the meeting time was devoted to discussing the dreams, the needs, and the proposed solutions for a battery of municipal conditions and issues. The category of these matters included: public safety, health and healthcare, youth, food scarcity and deserts, water and infrastructure, education, policy and laws, and jobs and economic security.

Citizens in attendance were asked to dream and then place them on the wall poster boards and/or offer comments that represent their dreams in those areas, their experiences in the areas, and the changes and/or suggestions that they would like to see implemented. It is in that part of the process that one could see the possibility for grassroots empowerment.

As several members pointed out, the degree to which such grassroots empowerment actually takes place depends upon if, when, and how the messages of the assemblies are received by the officials of the area. It was pointed out that there have been other people’s assemblies going back at least to those in Lowndes County, Alabama, in the 1960s, and when the idea was first utilized in Jackson by the elder Chokwe Lumumba, it was with his Ward Two constituents.

With those thoughts in mind, one could advance the idea of having the assemblies open to and attended by the officials from each ward and supervisory district, and/or having the assemblies held periodically in each ward and supervisory district. If and when that occurs, the results from each assembly should be formally reported to the mayor and city council and to the board of supervisors for their actions. Citizens then may do well to monitor the people’s assembly process and help see that it actually leads to greater grassroots empowerment.

  REAL Learning Institute’s Council of Elders

Under the leadership of Baba Asinia Lukata, a group of youth arrived ready to listen to and interact with a team of their elders. As is the case with Rukia Lumumba and the assemblies, Lukata has been sponsoring such sessions for a number of years.

Among the things new for 2024, he has invited a number of residents to serve as a council of elders. Among those invited to serve in that capacity are long-term community activists Eddie James, I’ya Omobola, Ivory Phillips, Ada Robinson, Wilma Scott, Alice Tisdale, and Patricia Williams. (Others may follow.) In addition to that, it is another new leaf to learn that these elders will provide, from their life experiences, wisdom in helping the youth learn to put into practice the seven principles of Kwanzaa – self-determination, purpose, faith, unity, cooperative economics, collective work and responsibility, and creativity. These are all principles directed toward community empowerment and have been preached since the mid-1960s. What would be new is the formalized, systematic teaching and illustrating of them to specific groups by a designated, committed team of elders.

Such a successful endeavor would most certainly be invaluable for the Jackson community and the larger world of African people. As in the case of the people’s assembly, such success would also advance the work of Dr. Martin Luther King. 

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Jackson People’s Assembly, new elders council promote grassroots empowerment

By Earnest McBride
January 22, 2024