Today I mentioned to a friend that I was looking forward to analyzing the report on the State of Black America issued by the Urban League every year. The person responded to my comment with an interesting question. He said, "Do these gatherings actually lead to action or is it a matter of people just getting together to produce cute little sound bites?"
I thought about the person's question and wanted to give an answer that made sense. But when my mind referenced prior gatherings similar to the State of Black America, I realized that there are times when black leadership seems to be re-living scenes from the movie Ground Hog Day. In the film, Bill Murray's character keeps living the same day over and over again, making no progress in his life. Like Bill Murray's character, Black America remains a bit stagnant, primarily because of our stubborn insistence upon using the same methods to solve the same problems, only to get the same old results.
In their annual State of Black America report, the team at the Urban League does a wonderful job of summarizing the conditions under which people of color are living, and just how close our nation is to obtaining the true socio-economic equality that we all claim to seek in a post-racial society. I am personally impressed with the report and find the work of the Urban League to be simply invaluable.
The problem for the Urban League and its black American counterpart, the NAACP, is that many African Americans are not on my page when it comes to appreciating the relevance of either group. According to an unscientific poll taken among readers at YourBlackWorld.com, nearly a third (31%) of black respondents claimed that neither the NAACP nor the Urban League is relevant to the black community. The results surprised and disappointed me, and perhaps serve as a reminder that these organizations should work a little harder to market all the things they are doing for the African American community.
This week, I am heading to New York for the "Measuring the Movement" forum being hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton. I plan to see Ben Jealous, Marc Morial and all the usual suspects of black leadership during the trip. The most poignant question that must be asked by anyone who considers him or herself to be a part of the black leadership is this: How are the actions being taken by our leadership this year going to be different from the things that we did last year?
Every single year, I (like millions of others in the black community) watched the State of the Black Union event hosted by Tavis Smiley. While I could never understand the idea of "Black Leadership brought to you by McDonalds," I was able to look beyond the disturbing commercialism in order to try to appreciate the message. It didn't take me long to realize that in forums like this one, a sound bite that made people jump out of their seat was more valuable than any thought-provoking comment one could make. I eventually felt like I was watching an educated version of Def Comedy Jam.
Black America must move beyond Sound Bite Leadership and find constructive ways to raise a little bit of hell. As much as the black community despises the Tea Party, we'd be wise to learn a few things from the way they've come together to shape the direction of our nation. As it stands, we get together to hold one forum after another, only to get the same results we got last year. The state of black America won't change until we decide to try something new.
Follow Dr. Boyce Watkins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrBoyceWatkins1