Rarely will I engage in the back and forth of politics on this blog. Actually, I’ve been so busy with my work on State of the Re:Union, that I haven’t had time to update this blog at all. Please forgive me, as the truth of the matter is that blog posts on this site will remain limited until September or so, when work lets up a little bit. I’m not going to whine and complain about the job because I asked for it and I love it. But it does have me working 12 hour days, six to seven days a week—not a lot of time to do any extra writing.
This post though, is somewhat a response to Tavis Smiley’s “We Count Summit.” For the record, I didn’t watch. I’ve watched Tavis’ State of the Black Union, and while I respect his idea, I didn’t get much more information or food for thought then I’d received when going to the barber shop to take my son to get a haircut, or at the hair studio where I get my dreds re-twisted. It’s good for black people to get together and talk about what’s ailing them and pose solutions. I get it. I engage it in. So while SOTBU is not for me, I understand its place in the conversation.
But my issue with SOTBU and “We Count” is simply this; do something. Period. While Tavis seems to be focused on making the government accountable, specifically the president, I haven’t heard an emphasis on black people and black communities making their own solutions. I agree that black people need to engage with the government to help facilitate change, but change isn’t something that starts from the top. In today’s highly politicized culture, how many of these proposals will actually gain fraction? We need to deal with reality.
In my opinion, forums like “We Count” or “State of the Black Union” should not be about creating an agenda for politicians, it should be about creating and agenda for black people. It should be about:
A) Examining the problems in the black community
B) Creating solutions
C) Creating strategies
D) Implementing those solutions
Respectfully, the other part of the problem with the “We count” forums are the participants: Cornel West, Valerie Jarrett, Michael Eric Dyson, Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, Barbara Lee, Tom Burrell, Marc Morial, Ben Jealous, Al Sharpton and others. An impressive panel filled with people I like and that should be a part of the discussion. But the thing missing from this group are the people who are making solutions to the everyday problems of Black America.
Who would I add? Glad you asked.
Will Allen of Growing Power. We tend to not think about food and dietary issues as a part of the issue for African Americans, but with so many of us living in the inner-city without access to good and healthy food, it’s no wonder our rates of diabetes and other ailments are through the roof. Will Allen has created a farm in the middle of Milwaukee, where there is a large low-income housing project just down the block. Not only is he providing jobs, but he’s giving people healthy food.
Kevin Gaye of Operation New Hope. The national recidivism rate is around 70% (the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested.) Operation New Hope in Jacksonville Florida has taken the recidivism rate and reduced it to 5%, rather amazing results. In Florida in 2008, 93% of the inmates were African American. So recidivism is a huge issue in the black community.
Mrs. Codelia Taylor of Family House in Milwaukee. The Family House is a “residential long-term care facility and has served the community for over 20 years. It serves men and women 55 years and older or disabled in comfortable, clean, and cheerful conditions in a row of houses.” The residents of Family House pay if they can, but if not, FH will still take them in. Years ago, there was a lot of talk about the greatest generation. Well, here they are and they need our help. Mrs. Taylor does all this work with very little help from the government.
These three are just an example of the solutions to the problems that are facing African Americans. There are many more, if we don’t hear from them on a national level, if they aren’t a part of the solution, how will we ever know about them? Too much of our time is spent on pointing fingers and looking for the government to solve issues. If black people of earlier generations had waited on the government to solve issues, the civil rights movement would have never happened. It was the will of the people, the grassroots work that pushed the government to do the right thing.
I do not buy into the post-racial America. I am a black man, and will be treated as such in this country. My time on the road in various places, many times being the only black man for miles has proven that point to me clearly. I have no illusions about that, but to move people to create this “Black Agenda” Tavis is talking about, we have to include everyone. If you want movement in the political arena, you have to label it what it is: solutions for America. As Jack White said over at the ROOT.com “The problems blacks want to address are not different than those facing many other Americans. You can't fix our catastrophic jobless rate without reviving the entire economy or extending health care coverage to our uninsured without extending it to everybody.”
I’m not saying there is no value to forums like SOTBU or “We Count.” Clearly it brings the issues to the forefront. But we are missing the big picture when we focus on getting a black agenda into the White House. We need to bring people who are getting their hands dirty, who see the problems on a day-to-day basis, the unsung heroes who struggle everyday with making their communities a better place. Work the solutions, then watch the political tide catch on. Washington loves nothing more then to claim success for a good idea, after it’s been proven to work.