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An “African American Knowledge Transfer Summit” is being held this week in Los Angeles to discuss the future of Black advocacy and leadership. Topics range from leadership succession to operational unity.
Black leadership and unity are recurrent themes in this column and the group’s advocacy for full freedom and justice is increasingly urgent. Accordingly, best wishes for the summit’s success.
Many Blacks believe slavery’s damage is indelible, effectively preventing Black unity. Although fatalistic, this does reflect slavery’s pernicious legacy that continues to soil Black peoples’ lives, no matter their status. Ineffective leadership and Blacks’ fabled problems coming together for the common good is a manifestation of that legacy.
Chronological and economic markers are easily recognized; equally devastating psychological indicators of slavery’s impact are not. And like physical cruelty, perhaps more so, protracted mental suffering though not as evident, is just as crippling.
Slavery’s sign posts include: the institution of slavery itself; the Dred Scott decision; emancipation; reconstruction; Jim Crow—codified by the Plessy vs. Ferguson, “separate but equal” decision; lynching-extending into the second half of the 20th century; Brown vs. Board of Education; the Civil Rights Movement; civil rights legislation and affirmative action.
Among slavery’s contemporary indicators is the growing chasm between the Black middle class and poorer Blacks (e.g., virtual abandonment of inner cities by the middle class), failure of urban schools to educate Black children, Black’s recent economic decline, waning Black political influence (despite more elected officials), and an inability to deal with troublesome demographic changes, especially the massive increase in the Latino population.
Slavery’s ramifications should be contextualized in order to properly assess continuing harmful impact as well as to develop strategies that serve the common good. Hopefully, Blacks will collectively, begin to see and acknowledge reality as it is, not as generations have viewed and internalized it through America’s racist prism that denigrates the fundamental value of Black life.
Slavery’s oppressive reality impacts many other areas, underscoring the necessity for Blacks to work together to gain an equitable share of power and influence. Worsening conditions should be sufficiently compelling for Blacks to mount serious challenges to the status quo and no longer need to mask their powerlessness under a cloak of weathered bravado.
Lessons can be learned from efforts (though many were not successful), to build Black unity. Leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, A. Phillip Randolph, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hammer and many others sought, albeit in different ways, to empower Blacks through straight forward, unapologetic afrocentric agendas.
All of these leaders represented organizations whose successes differ substantially. Civil rights organizations and later other groups emerged to increase Black empowerment through collective action. Most began with a flurry then faded.
Los Angeles has seen a number of attempts to bring Blacks together around major issues. Arguably, the most ambitious and inclusive of these was the Black Congress (1968). Members ranged from nationalists to churches, civil rights, educators, etc. Unfortunately, the Black Congress lasted barely a year.
From the 1930s through the 1960s, Los Angeles had strong men and women leading the fight against discrimination, police abuse and racial injustice. People like Colonel Leon Washington, Loren Miller and Charlotta Bass articulated the pulse of community concerns and fought long and hard to correct entrenched racial problems with relatively few resources.
More recently, the Thomas Kilgore Community Convention Series (2000) was formed to address an array of issues facing Blacks in Los Angeles. Despite broad community participation initially, and informed, strategic planning, the Convention Series also dissipated.
Solutions to Blacks’ disunity must include an understanding that slavery’s affects are interrelated and require multi-pronged solutions. A model for unity might begin with people who have convergent views agreeing on issues for discussion and eventual action. Having agreed on the particular issue, strategy or plan, they are in a better position to hold each other accountable for mutually agreed upon goals, responsibilities and results. Expansion of the group is based on explicit buy-in to its mission and purpose. This approach would replace lack-of-accountability, ineffective leadership practices currently in vogue.
Transforming Black disunity is an intermediate goal. It requires knowledge, consensus and commitment also critical for achieving the ultimate goal of political and economic empowerment.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail