The twenty-first century poses increasingly daunting challenges for Black Americans and solutions will require new motivation and leadership. However, Blacks’ individualistic and materialistic values mirror those of white America even though they do not serve Blacks’ best interests.
In the near future, Blacks’ storied resilience, juxtaposed to a penchant for not challenging systemic barriers to their progress will, be severely tested. But addressing this off-setting phenomenon is crucial if Blacks are to take ownership of their future. Further, leadership’s commitment and courage are required for developing Blacks strength at least proportional to its numbers in the population.
A compelling question is how Blacks navigate increasingly hostile political and economic environments since we seem more adept at perpetuating rather than altering the status quo. Blacks’ mindsets and behavior must change which will likely be based on prevailing dissatisfaction with existing conditions and a (collective) willingness to actually do something about it.
This column focuses on three issues, which among several others, are recurrent themes here: Black leadership, reducing violence in Black communities and public schools that fail to educate Black children. They are periodically highlighted because of their importance and also because they have been grossly neglected by Black leaders and the Black community itself.Effective, moral and ethical leadership are critical, but Blacks tend to rationalize and downplay their significance. While emulating white’s self-serving behavior, some Black leaders are known to exclaim, “whites do it, why shouldn’t we?” Such callous self-serving comments are made with impunity. The ability to call a press conference does not make one a leader, nor does the presence of a Black face on television or radio. More important questions: Are leaders group oriented, do they have vision, are they critical thinkers, honest, caring, etc. Such questions are rarely posed by the media or the Black community.
A new infusion of commitment and integrity will likely come first from those with non-traditional backgrounds and therefore more likely to challenge Black leadership’s and ineffectiveness. This must include youth, as well as street-level folks interested in real change and willing to buy into common ground and progressive strategies. Such folks would be invaluable additions to any Black leadership cadre.
Effective leadership calls for new thinking and planning that take into full account oppressive underlying factors and recognition that top-down/bottom-up accountability should be the norm, not the exception in the Black community. (Speaking of top- down accountability, the smart money says that Barack Obama’s presidency benefiting Blacks is a real long shot.)
Violence reduction is urgently needed to improve the quality of life in Black communities, especially in the inner cities. And the need is pervasive and well beyond gang violence. Solutions require reassessing current public policy and practices that often perpetuate violence while minimizing prevention and causal factors. (Violence and values are inversely correlated: the stronger the positive human values, the lower potential for violence.)
Education remains the single most important avenue for realizing one’s potential. And quality schooling is critically important for Black children, the nation’s lowest academic achievers, especially those in low income areas. Nonetheless, public education continues to fail these students and does so with impunity; inequity and woefully inadequate resources are the near criminal norm. And neither Black leadership, parents nor the broader community consistently demand that Black students receive quality instruction and resources commensurate with their needs. Clearly, their schooling does not prepare them for either a career or higher education. Systemic negligence continues, spurred by silence, not only of the establishment, but parents whose children are most affected by school systems’ failure to meet their legal or fiduciary responsibility. Black students remain primary victims of institutional racism and in the words of the late Derrick Bell, remain, “Faces at the bottom of the well.”
Finally, a Los Angeles Unified School District policy designed to focus exclusively on closing the achievement gap for African American students, (the African American Learners Initiative) out of public view, morphed into “A Culturally Relevant and Responsive Education that Benefits African American Students and All Other Students.” (The political addendum, “and all other students,” was the death knell.) Predictably, even the bastardized program struggles to survive because it is an underfunded non-priority. District-sanctioned monitoring reports on the program contain important, though largely unheeded, observations, analyses and recommendations and LAUSD has continued to treat Black students as disposable commodities.
Leadership, violence reduction and public education are just three areas that call for principled, courageous responses-but continue to receive just the opposite. The Black community must meet its own responsibility by demanding that leaders respond to its needs, not self-serving agendas. Collectively, we are the ones we have been waiting for and must begin anew to forcefully attack the barriers that continue to confine Blacks to an inferior status.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.