All Black Everything
A new group aims to boost neighborhood businesses, health and self reliance
A range of people, old, young, black and white gather at the Body & Soul Healing Arts Center in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood. The walls are bare and colorless as the place is in the process of being renovated. A documentary called “The House I Live In” keeps everyone’s eyes glued to a small TV. Mumbles of displeasure at the mentions of U.S. drug policy.
The film details what it calls the mass incarceration of Americans as a result of the drug war. The people gathered here believe this had a dire impact on Black America, and that discriminatory drug laws are only part of the problem.
One person who is fed up is Eyon Biddle, Sr. He says African Americans need to step up and find answers. “Black people need to do things for themselves. The American government has systematically dismantled black people through the war on drugs and mass incarceration,” says Biddle. “In a situation where you have a government who is not being responsive to your needs and your problems and not offering any solutions, it’s time for people to offer their own analysis and their own solutions to their problems.”
With this in mind, Biddle and Monique Liston created All Black Everything (ABE), because they believe that African Americans need to do things for themselves through leadership. Their organization , created last year, focuses on three elements: The Sankofa study circle, to learn about African American history; the Buy Black program, to support black-owned businesses; and The Feed the People program, to promote healthy eating for African Americans.
Liston is an advanced opportunity fellow at UW-Milwaukee and enjoys showcasing African culture through her clothing. She says the time was right for change: “All the right people who were interested in the right issues were ready to come together and kind of say, well what do we do next? So, it was perfect timing with perfect people!”
Biddle says people need to take action to be powerful within their own community, to find ways to solve their own problems and not be followers. “I want to figure out ways to employ our people, I want to figure out ways to educate our children,” he says. “I want to figure out ways to protect our children from police brutality.”
ABE encourages the community to come together to restore black culture and get rid of economic oppression. It is committed to the reclamation and progression of black power as well as black people.
Go and Get it
Sankofa is a word from the Akan people of Ghana. It translates to, “Go and Get it.” The All Black Everything members who attend the study circle live by the seven virtues of Ma’at: truth, justice, harmony, balance, order, reciprocity, and righteousness. They also live by the seven principles of Kwanzaa: umoja (unity), kujichaguila (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith).
Sankofa study circle coordinator Supreme Allah says black liberation groups such as ABE can be beneficial for neighborhoods. “They definitely help the community,” says Allah. “To go back to certain traditions that were theirs before we came over here as captives” can be empowering, he says.
ABE member Melissa Marthol says black liberation groups are needed for people to have conversations and debates, and to critically assess, analyze, and act. “We always talk about being warrior scholars,” says Marthol. “Because not only do we need to fight but we need to study and we need to do the work.”
Marthol is a sales marketing manager at UWM. Conversations in class with Liston led to her getting involved in helping organize ABE. She says the group encourages members to become better people, and figure out their role in black liberation. “So if it’s influencing 20, 30, 40, 50 people that is a win.”
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