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There is a stark contrast between Blacks on social, political and economic issues today compared to the civil rights era. In the 1960s (and preceding years), freedom and justice were the clarion call. Today, Blacks in general differ substantially, not just about remedies, but on the definition of problems and major priorities.
Actually, today’s is the sixties drama featuring the same play and same actors—the only difference is that some can now afford more expensive costumes. Differences are most evident in the chasm between today’s middle-class and poorer Blacks which makes an already unequal playing field even harder to navigate, i.e., far fewer Blacks than needed are actively challenging race-based barriers. In the 20th century, culminating with Brown v. Board of Education and passage of civil rights laws, Blacks did not have one voice but functioning as a chorus, persevered.
Even though the need for unity is as great as ever, it will not happen without major changes in attitudes and behavior. The irrelevance and impotence of traditional civil rights organizations in recent years is tragic but unacceptable. They seem to distance themselves from rank-and-file constituents having become increasingly dependent on corporate money. Rhetoric of concern has replaced hands-on efforts to secure full rights for Blacks and corporate interests regularly trump community concerns.
In Los Angeles, the NAACP and CORE are shadows of their past, inexplicably clinging to ineffective strategies and operating largely in a vacuum, seemingly oblivious to pressing issues of the day. The NAACP Hollywood-Beverly Hills branch’s Image Awards the national organization’s premier event is more a nod to Oprah Winfrey than W.E.B. DuBois. (Apparently, Los Angeles CORE is still seeking direction since the death of its president, Celes King III several years ago, their task made more difficult by long-time internal strife.)
The Los Angeles Urban League presents different issues. The League—locally and nationally—has always been largely driven by business, not civil rights. Its mantra is job training and employment; it is not, nor ever was, foremost a civil rights organization.
Many Los Angeles residents may be surprised to learn this because their information about the Urban League came mainly from the L.A. Times and other media sources. For years, they featured John Mack, former L.A. Urban League president, as chief spokesman for the “Black community.” Mack embraced this role without a disclaimer, even though civil rights were peripheral to Leagues’ main charge.
Currently, the L.A. Urban League, under new leadership, continues the basic mission but is significantly broadening its scope. The ambitious, mainly corporate funded “Neighborhoods Work” initiative is a comprehensive approach to adverse conditions in a designated area of South Los Angeles. Focusing on areas including employment, safety, education and economic development, the initiative is an important undertaking that will require broad community support commensurate with its mission.
It is axiomatic that effective leadership is the cornerstone of change. Unfortunately, many Back leaders have been neither particularly effective nor accountable to their constituents. Leadership should be based on a new, group-oriented paradigm and greater accountability to constituents, be they voters, parents, well-off or poor. Failure to adopt new standards and assume personal and organizational risks will ensure a continuation of oppressive conditions. Revisiting values such as the high priority accorded individualism and materialism is critically important. Compassion and ethics should also be a significant part of the new leadership equation. Elected officials are often singled out for criticism, but everyone in a leadership position should be responsible and accountable to their constituents. Changing leadership ingredients is a daunting task that begins with explicit agreement on core concerns.
Slavery’s tentacles are still a major obstacle; negative mindsets continue to contribute to what see as Blacks’ intractable inability to come together and this erroneous belief is still widely embraced.
Unity involves intra-group collaboration, the antecedent for effectively working with others; sound, ethical decision-making is more important than acquiring needed material resources, just as working with others from a position of strength is essential.
Developing Black unity is hampered by self-serving impotence masquerading as leadership. If we continue to emulate whites without access to the same benefits, the naysayers will have been proven right and the future forever bleak. Such a scenario is totally unacceptable.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail