Booker T. Washington focused on empowerment through education and entrepreneurship. WEB Dubois focused on a "gradualist political strategy." Malcolm X focused on total economic and political independence. Martin Luther King Jr. marched for civil rights and equality. A few years ago I sat on a panel between Rev. Jesse Jackson and another gentleman. Rev. Jackson and this gentleman were on either side of me debating about the most effective way of empowering the black community. Rev. Jackson's perspective was unless we can pass legislation to level the playing field we will never see equal progress. The gentleman believed in starting your own business and creating/managing your own wealth. The moderator lost control of the discussion, the debate got heated, and I chimed in with a simple message saying, "You are both correct."
For far too long the black community has been dividing itself on seemingly opposite sides of the coin. We even lay claim to ideologies by calling them out by name... "I'm a Malcolm man" ... "I'm a Martin brother." However, in reality whether we are fighting for systemic change, or focusing on personal responsibility/accountability and economic empowerment, we are NOT on either side of the coin. We are in fact representing two equally critical components of the comprehensive advancement for all people of color.
I agree we should be fighting for the increase of minimum wage (systemic change). However, we should also fight for increased financial literacy education so those who make more money are able to stretch their dollars further (personal responsibility).
I agree we should be pushing to expand Medicaid in all states (systemic change). However, we should also be increasing health awareness through educating the community of healthy diets, exercise and increasing health food small business development to address the food deserts in inner city communities (personal/community responsibility).
I agree we need to push for more funding for education (systemic change). We should also be holding our parents more accountable in addition to pushing corporate professionals to volunteer to empower our youth in various communities (personal responsibility). As one who has been volunteering to work with youth in schools for over a decade, I can personally attest to the blessing it feels like for an overworked and underpaid teacher to receive support from the community.
I agree we need to advocate against the injustice of unequal sentencing and was glad when Attorney General Eric Holder spoke in favor of revising sentencing guidelines. In 2007 more than 81% of those convicted for crack cocaine offenses were Black, but only about 25% of all crack cocaine users are Black. There is clearly an unequal level of justice that needs to be addressed (systemic change). However, how about we also try to decrease the use of crack cocaine? I also spend time volunteering in community substance abuse programs because I am aware of the limited resources given to these crucial programs (personal/community responsibility).
Blacks have fought long and hard to amass many legislative battles in our history. Here are just a few of the victories:
• The passage of the Anti-Lynching Bill in 1922.
• In the 1940s A. Philip Randolph lobbied President Roosevelt to open thousands of jobs for Black workers and eventually President Roosevelt set up a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC).
• In 1954 Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregation in schools.
• In 1957 the congress passed the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction following the American Civil War.
• The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited discrimination in voting.
These legislative victories are just a few of the many which were crucial in the advancement of African Americans. There shall be more to come as I continue to support issues like the "Ban the Box" movement which addresses employment discrimination for the formerly incarcerated; overturning the "Stand Your Ground" law; fighting against police misconduct; and fighting to put more into our educational system and less into the industrialized prison system. However, the conversation shouldn't end there and needs to be expanded. It is time for the black community to learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time. In discussing systemic change and personal responsibility/accountability it should no longer be a question of which should we do... WE NEED BOTH!
There was a story of two men fighting a battle in a trench together. One man had a machine gun and the other had a sniper rifle. The machine gunner said, "My weapon is the greatest... with one pull of this trigger I can kill 10-20 men."
The sniper said, "Your weapon isn't accurate... I can shoot a man right between the eyes from a mile away and pick them off one by one."
The two fools sat in the trench arguing so long the enemy snuck up and killed them both.
MORAL: It doesn't matter what weapon your teammate chooses to fight with; it only matters that he/she is actively fighting and you are both fighting for the same goal.
Just like the military, the black community also has a mission. I am not concerned about the weapon one chooses to utilize to participate as long as he/she is actively contributing to the cause. There are those who will choose to pick the weapon of holding our elected officials accountable and pushing for systemic change; and there are those who will choose to pick the weapon of empowering the individual to be self-sufficient. They are not adversaries and they are not on the opposite sides of the coin.
Audre Lorde said it best, "It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."
MY PRAYER: Lord, give us the strength and direction we need to replace the perpetual criticism of one another with tangible action; replace the arrogance with humility; replace any animosity, jealousy, and hatred with love; and allow all of us to see the good in one another's efforts despite how different they may be. Lord... allow us to realize our march towards comprehensive advancement for people of color will halt if we continue to compete with one another, but will advance if we look to complete one another. Amen.