A Black agenda is collectively determined social, political, and economic strategies or actions by Blacks for the benefit of Blacks.
The terms, “Black” and “Black agenda” surfaced as “Negro” faded-as had “colored.” Since the 1960s, attempts to develop a “Black Agenda” have not succeeded. Actually, “Black Agenda” is a misnomer because a single, overarching agenda for Blacks or anyone else, is not realistic. However, Black agendas focused on particular issues/concerns are not only possible, but also critically important. They must have a clear purpose, participant “buy-in,” and come to decisions through some form of consensus. (Most Black leaders do not embrace this model, presumably because it is an unwelcome, risky departure from self-serving, top-down decision-making.)
Contrary to the docile, basically contented image projected by the masters, dissatisfied slaves regularly collaborated on matters of survival, especially escape plans. Substantial dissatisfaction has always been a key ingredient in developing and sustaining successful Black agendas.
Black conferences, summits, conventions, etc., occurred sporadically in the 20th century. (Beginning in the 19th century, there was a felt need among Blacks to challenge societal inequities.) Uniting around key issues, early 20th century proponents of Black agendas included leaders such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois and A. Philip Randolph. These men, and many others, laid the groundwork for civil rights gains of the 1960s.
Certain leaders, especially younger ones, in the 1960s advocated Black agendas- “Black Power” was a potent symbol. However, no group or individual exemplified unity, perseverance and focus of struggle more than Malcolm X. (Traditional civil rights organizations like the NAACP and SCLC (Martin Luther King, Jr.) obviously were key players in civil rights victories, but they did not embrace Black agendas. Since then, attempts to develop a “Black Agenda” have faded drastically. Ironically, the need for such agendas to combat growing challenges is greater than ever.
A Black summit in Gary, Indiana in 1972 was probably the largest such gathering after the 60s. Another Black Agenda conference in Gary some five years ago, fell way short of the first one in clarity of purpose, and participation. Smaller nationwide conferences have fared no better.
Locally, the first “Black Power” conference was held in Los Angeles in 1967. The following year, the Black Congress was formed. This was a serious, broad-based effort that attempted to include virtually all segments of the community-grass roots, professionals, civil rights, educators, cultural nationalists, etc. The purpose was to unify the various factions in the struggle to challenge systemic inequities and improve the quality of life for Blacks in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the Black Congress lasted not much more than a year: The fatal mix was a changing focus and inability to sustain broad community support.
The most recent attempt to establish a Black Agenda in Los Angeles was the Thomas Kilgore, Jr. Community Convention in 2000. A series of meetings was held starting in January; the purpose of the Convention was “to bring together African Americans throughout Los Angeles to discuss issues and unite for community empowerment, mass mobilization and communication.”
The Community Convention also failed. Lessons were not gleaned from previous efforts and another vitally needed initiative for Black unity and empowerment failed. (The Black Agenda preceded the Thomas Kilgore Community Convention and technically, still exists. As in most other cases, the Black Agenda began with enthusiasm, hope, and apparent resolve, but dwindled into imagery without substance.)
More recently, Black-focused groups in Los Angeles have had difficulty recruiting and maintaining members. The reasons vary, but a common problem is clarity of purpose and no long-range commitment to the group’s agenda.
There is a direct link between Black agendas and leadership. This column, from time to time, critiques the effectiveness of Black leadership, frequently noting their lack of accountability and commitment to challenge the status quo. It is imperative that Black people distinguish between the prevailing Black leadership model that primarily serves individuals’ agendas, and group-focused leadership whose chief purpose is to address the group’s needs and concerns.
There is a pressing need for Blacks to develop agendas for their own benefit; No one else can, will, or should be expected to do this. Now, more than ever, group-oriented agendas are critical for effectively responding to the plethora of issues bombarding Black communities. Should Blacks change their thinking and begin to take collective ownership of decisions affecting their lives, arguably, Black Agendas would be the preferred decision-making method.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail