Should There Be A Cover Charge For The Revolution?

May 9, 2016  |  

Dr. Umar Johnson made his “debut” in his hometown of Philadelphia over the weekend. Which is ironic because how do you debut in your hometown?

Anyway, I was going to go – and write about it – but I couldn’t find anyone to front me the $21.49 for the entry.

That’s right: I said you had to pay to see the revolutionary speak.

Or as the program description in the Eventbrite reads:

During the Fall of 2010, Philadelphia’s #1 Pan-Afrikanist and school psychologist participated in a series of lectures and interviews in Chicago & New York City that catapulted him straight to the top of the Black Consciousness Community. In history-making fashion, Dr.Umar Johnson would travel to more cities, states, Countries & continents than most other scholars combined. Now Here were are, nearly six years later, and The Prince of Pan-Afrikanism is a household word. Having been the most requested Black orator on the planet for nearly six years, and selling out venues from Europe to the Caribbean, Nana Panyin Yena has been accused of neglecting the hometown faithful for fame and fortune around the globe. So the time has come for the most prolific Black psychologist since Amos Wilson to return home and preach the Good Gospel of Garveyism.”

Okay, I got questions…

First, who is Nana Panyin Yena? And why does Dr. Johnson have more profiles than Facebook?

Second, what fame and fortune around the globe? I thought we were building schools for the community, not chasing after the precious, precious ring with Smeagol and Nana Panyin Yena.

And third, how do you get to be the number one Pan-Afrikanist (Wh-what, wh-what, what)? Is it just a matter of spelling “Africanist” with a “k?” Or do you have to battle it out with a bunch of conscious ninjas with ankh-shaped knuck-chucks and cowry shell-encrusted throwing stars like in bootleg version of Enter the Dragon?

What I’m asking is, did Dr. Umar Johnson beat this dude?

Anyway, for the asking price the agenda for Dr. Johnson’s three-hour homecoming appeared to be pretty jammed pack. It included such topics as: The 2016 Presidential Hoax, The School District of Philadelphia’s Agenda to eliminate Public School, The Special Education Conspiracy, Philadelphia’s Black Bourgeoisie, Black male-female relationships (of course) and several other topics as well.

He also promised to let folks know about the status of his boy’s academy. No, for real. That’s still a thing.

More specifically:

Dr.Umar will be giving an update on the FDMG Fundraiser, fundraiser totals & the possibility of putting the 1st of many schools in Philadelphia. He will be signing up parents for the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Independent Black Parent Association (NIBPA). He will be also provide details on this summer’s 2016 Black Boy College & Manhood Tour, as well as the 2016 Unapologetically Afrikan group tour to West Afrika. Philadelphia your time has come to witness the Blood Relative of Frederick Douglass in the flesh! Often imitated but never duplicated!”

I have to say, this is some good marketing and chest-pounding. And it proves that if you believe your own hype, nothing is impossible.

Still, since when is there a cover charge for the revolution?

I get Black empowerment, including our own personal empowerment (we can’t let those folks who put themselves out on the front lines for us, starve). And I get that there are a lot of upfront costs associated with these speaking engagements and that money has to come from somewhere.

But there is something icky about the commodification of information, which is supposedly meant to liberate oppressed people. And it is especially icky when the majority of the money raised through this commodification comes right out of the pockets of the very people folks claim they want to empower.

As Audre Lorde once said, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” And yet, I see a lot of nation-building centered around emulating a lot of the dominate culture’s systems and structures.

And just to be clear: this is not just about Dr. Umar Johnson. He is kind of an easy target here because…well, he is one questionable mofo.

But what about the other activists, revolutionaries and self-proclaimed leaders of The People who take speaking fees or sell a bunch of products at programs meant to empower the community?

Better yet, what happens when the revolution itself becomes the product?

Charing Ball is a writer, cultural critic, free-thinker, slick-mouth feminist and bonafide troublemaker from Philadelphia. To read more of her writing, visit

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