Return to the Source - Sister Eraka
Dec 12, 2013

One of the African principles most vitally needed at this time is the principle of eldership.


There is an incredible number of vitally important issues facing people of African descent in America, and a host of probing questions regarding the optimal philosophy to adopt and actions to take toward addressing those issues. I submit that the answers to these questions – every single one of them – can be found in two places: (1) the education and understanding of African and African American history, and (2) the reinstatement of fundamental African principles.

For those of us who respond “I ain’t from Africa,” remember the words of Brother Malcolm X who said “We must act intelligently.”  That means balancing how we self-identify with how we are identified by others – particularly those in a position to control our access to vital resources.

I am not asking anyone to change their name to something with a whole lot of consonants and few vowels; I’m not asking anyone to exchange FUBU or Under Armour for Dana Buchman or Versace. I am asking that we invest in changes to our attitudes… that we adopt principles, not necessarily practices.

One of the African principles most vitally needed at this time is the principle of eldership.

Youth have assumed leadership of American culture. Their exploding ability to earn their own money and the exorbitant expenditures parents are making for their children’s every desire has made our young people a primary marketing target of capitalist America. This has resulted in young people having an inordinate amount of influence in socio-political decisions – decisions being made without the benefit of wisdom.

In the African paradigm, elders lead the community. No decision of any importance that would have an impact on the lives of the people is made without the counsel – and often the authority – of the elders in the community. Youth has its place: old souls often manifest in young bodies, and the innocence and directness of youth often serve the goal of clarity. That said, nothing is more critical to discerning the broadest and most permanent solution to a problem than the time-tested wisdom of a sage elder.

In October, as we enter the season when North America begins to show its age in the annual cycle, I ask that we each invest in our elders or our elderdom. If you are age 30 or younger, seek out an elder and ask them about the issues you are grappling with – personally, professionally, or culturally. If you don’t know an elder, find one: visit a neighborhood senior center or assisted living facility, donate some old cds or books, and strike up a conversation. Talk to the old man who sits on his porch everyday with the newspaper – he may have the real 411. If you are age 31-49, you are in early eldership. Make a commitment to share your wisdom with the youth in your life, be they your own children or not. Consider becoming a mentor or adopting an incarcerated youth as a pen-pal. Find some way to grow into your leadership responsibility.

And if you are age 50 or older, your task is to grow your courage. Decide for yourself how you will raise the bar of expectations regarding the attitudes, actions and behaviors of the young people in your sphere. Read up on conflict management, so you can become an active force of peace; give advice to young people – unsolicited… whenever you see it is needed – such as to a young single mother or father. Find a way to overcome any fear of risk… a people whose elders are afraid of their own children are doomed.

Whenever someone builds something and it displays fundamental flaws in its construction or operations, the best thing to do is return to the source and start over. I believe this is also the best way for us as a people to answer the questions raised as we strive to survive in a land without a culture of survival.