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"Free Your Mind": Marcus Garvey and the Fight for Black Liberation

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!

 Although those words might be famously associated with Bob Marley, they originally sprang from the mind of one Marcus Garvey.

 Mental slavery – as I understand it – refers to a state of mind characterised by the inability to engage in autonomous thinking and conscious upgrading, which leads to a dependence on learned behaviours (tradition, religion, media messages, etc).

 In his calls for mental emancipation, Garvey strove to remind Black people not just of their noble heritage, but also the great power and influence they had once wielded.

 To this end, in 1914, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which at its peak strength in the 1920s, boasted 20 million members around the globe – making it the largest Black mass movement in history.

 Garvey’s central goal was to re-establish the connection between Black people – both in Africa and the diaspora – and the modern world, which had been interrupted by both slavery and colonialism.

 He held that Black people historically were once masters of the universe; slavery was “a mere interruption”; and it was time for Blacks to not only put up a united front, but also build a strong power base.

 With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that Garvey's tireless efforts to emancipate Black people from the proverbial wilderness of despair and self-loathing they had been forced into by slavery, earned him the nickname of "The Negro Moses".

 His emotionally charged rallying cry of, “Up, up, ye mighty race! You can accomplish what you will!”, was not an invocation of Black supremacist sentiments to rival the likes of the BNP or KKK.

 Rather, it was simply a reminder to oppressed Black people that Africa was both the birthplace and source energy of all mankind – that “being Black” was something to be proud of.

 Garvey envisioned a race of successful Black people who would one day regain their rightful seat at the table by establishing tangible achievements.

 The way he saw it, Blacks would never realise true freedom and empowerment until they were able to collectively exhibit their competence and power in the world – hence, instilling racial pride in his followers and the global Black community at large was a key objective of his movement.

 But, perhaps, the most enduring aspect of Garvey’s legacy was his fervent belief that Black people should be at the forefront everything – particularly technology. 

 The seeds of inspiration sown by this innovative vision would eventually blossom into rich, ripe fruit like Tony Sewell’s Generating Genius initiative, which helps gifted Black youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds – both in the UK and Jamaica – realise their full potential in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) fields.

 In its laudable bid to level the playing field for academically talented but economically disadvantaged Black kids looking to attend selective colleges and universities, this innovative scheme has partnered with – among others – the likes of Brunel and Oxford.

 Marcus Garvey was the first to construct an ideal for Blacks in the post-slavery Western world to aspire to – one free from self-hatred, anti-intellectualism and victim mentality.

 It’s no wonder then why Bob Marley, who himself eloquently championed Black political and cultural empowerment, kept Garvey’s legacy alive by co-opting his powerful words.

 For these many reasons, I wholeheartedly believe that Garvey’s story and principles should be a compulsory element of all school curriculums across the globe, as learning about this great visionary would benefit not just Black children, but those of all races.