“You have no program because you have no power. Your program is rhetoric and rhetoric never won a revolution yet. Until we begin to use our brainpower to rattle this structure, they’re only going to laugh.”

“If you truly understood what power is, you would learn the weaknesses and strengths of what you’re fighting. You wouldn’t go out there and say: ‘I’m going after Whitey.’ You’re going after Whitey’s what? You can’t change the system or anything else unless you know what you’re about. You’re just wasting energy.”

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. I’m in this zone right now where I’d rather be reading than writing… recharging my batteries. Just before I read this autobiography of Shirley Chisholm, I had just completed reading The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. It painted the “actual” political and social backdrop in the U.S. at the time of Shirley Chisholm… particularly the Nixon years. It provided me with a deeper understanding, respect and admiration for the accomplishments of this remarkable woman.

I had heard of Shirley Chisholm but never knew much about her, other than she was the first African-American woman elected to Congress in 1968 and she ran a campaign for the Democratic Party Presidential nomination in 1972. I have always had an interest in knowing about the lives of women of African descent who were just as important in the struggle for our freedom and empowerment as a people, as the efforts of men such as Marcus Garvey, MLK and Malcolm X. I have read biographies on the lives of Queen Nzingha, Sojouner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Angela Davis and Elaine Brown. My daughter’s middle name is Nzingha, after the African warrior queen. I have all these biographies to pass on to my daughter and son to read, so they can also have a knowledge, appreciation and be inspired by the struggles, sacrifices and accomplishments of these exceptional women, as well as instill in them a desire to learn about other women of African descent.

Shirley Chisholm’s life was remarkable. She was definitely a fighter, as a Black person and just as importantly… as a woman. She learnt to navigate and manipulate the political machine of her district to fight for her constituents: the poor… particularly women and children, all who were primarily Black. She made it to the New York State Legislature and to Washington as a Congresswoman, but never lost or sold out her convictions, nor her determination to work for what she believed in, i.e, to better the lives of the oppressed, disadvantaged and the displaced. Unbought and Unbossed, she transformed rhetoric into action.

A documentary of her presidential bid, Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed was made in 2004. It’s on my “must-see” list. This autobiography should be on your “must-read” list.

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