Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
Brother and Sisters, we can make history, but we will have to earn it.
No one is going to give it to us. It just doesn’t happen that way.
To make history we will have to overcome some very serious odds and obstacles.
That’s what constitutes “making history.” You don’t make history when you doing something mediocre and/or normal.
You can only make history when you do something absolutely abnormal and/or super-human; when what you do defies the odds and you overcome hurdles that appear to be humanly impossible to overcome.
What does it take to go down in history as a great leader?
Why do revolutions occur, riots break out, and lynch mobs assemble, and which events do people find the most shocking or memorable?
When you examine the lives of history-makers, you find them to have overwhelming personalities, often defined by the events that they initiated and/or influenced that resulted in changing or forever altering the course of history.
For Black people, the emancipation was clearly a game changer and altered history forever.
Not only was the event history making, but also everyone who played a major role in making it happen made history.
The people that go down in history are different from the average person, but everyone has the capacity to achieve greatness.
For greatness, what comes first? Is it the specific personality traits and their predisposition to become world leaders, movie stars, scientific geniuses, and great athletes?
Is it destiny or is it that ordinary people rise to the challenge and do extraordinary things?
I believe that it’s both, but more of the latter because everyone has the capacity to take a position that will make history.
Take, for example, the following three Black people who absolutely changed history:
• Frederick Douglass – There is no greater contributor to American Black History than Frederick Douglass.
What he did, how he did what he did, the context of the circumstances in which he did what he did, guaranteed that he would go down in history.
Frederick Douglass was a Black social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman during the height of slavery.
He was an escaped slave who taught himself how to read and write and he became one of the biggest voices for the abolishment of slavery by winning the argument that the enslavement of Blacks was not only immoral and tortuous but also illegal.
His great oratory speeches and in-depth writings were the catalyst for the acceptance and growth of the abolitionist movement, which ultimately ended the American Institution of slavery.
• Honorable Marcus Garvey – There is no greater contributor in developing the movement for the economic self-determination of Black people than Marcus Garvey is.
How he did what he did and the circumstances under which he operated guaranteed that he would go down in history.
Without internet, social media, television, or any of the modern communication tools, Marcus Garvey was able to mobilize millions of Black people in the early 1900’s. Marcus Garvey built the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which is still considered to the largest mass movement in Black American history.
Proclaiming a Black Nationalist and Pan- Africanism ideology, Marcus Garvey promoted a “Black Race” first and “back to Africa” message. Marcus Garvey believed that Blacks could compete economically if they worked together.
The movement was significant with Garvey and the UNIA establishing 700 branches in thirty-eight states by the early 1920s.
Garvey’s message reached into small towns across the country as well as being a significant influence of groups such as Father Divine’s Universal Peace Mission Movement and Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. • Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King – There is no greater contributor to human rights than Dr. King.
In addition to being a spiritual giant and modern day prophet, Dr. King is by far the greatest champion for human and civil rights for Black people in America and the world through a model of nonviolent civil disobedience (i.e. boycotts, marches, rallies, etc.).
In challenging America to treat Black people fairly, he continually confronted extreme hatred, violence, incarceration and it ultimately cost him his life.
Dr. King’s leadership is legendary and was reflective in his galvanization of the Black movement to produce historic legislation around voter, civil, and fair rights in the 1960’s, for not only Black people, but for all Americans to come.
As with the ending of the American institution of slavery and the accomplishments of the civil rights movement, today’s generation of Black people are faced with monumental challenges that, if left unchecked, will do to Black people what neither slavery or the lack of civil and human rights could and that is to permanently place future generations of Black children as 2nd class citizenship in America.
Black communities, from an “image” perspective, having been viewed through the eyes of a selected few so-called successful Blacks rather than the actual 45 million Blacks that live in America.
We have been blinded by the media regarding our social and economic reality.
Yes, we have made limited individual progress, but most of that progress isn’t in sustainable or transferable assets.
Most successful Blacks have achieved their success via entertainment and sports.
Most middle class Blacks achieved their status primarily through public, government, and non-profit sectors.
Neither pathways are generationally transferable.
Blacks are all but invisible in every economic demographic and dominate all of the negative demographics.
We must stop living though rap artists, movie stars, athletes, and those few elected officials and examine our growth within the private sector, which is the true pathway and foundation for achieving the American dream of economic prosperity and bliss.
The economic needle hasn’t moved for Black people in over 150 years because Blacks still only own less than one-half of one percent of the nation’s wealth, the only real and transferrable asset that is invaluable to the creation of Black self-determination.
As a group, we must make the distinction between individual progress and group gains.
Once we do that, it becomes extremely clear that the individual gains pale in comparison to group economic gains or lack of gains (economic paralysis).
This reality affects every aspect of American life and hinders Blacks every step of the way.
Why? Because wealth or the lack of wealth will determine how much of America you get to experience.
Not only does it affect the quality of your “total” life but it will also dictate your place in life (i.e. where you live, where you’re educated, where you work, what you own, etc.).
I’ve written repeatedly that the issues that the Black community faces are near fatal — the mass incarceration of black males; the massive levels of unemployment especially amongst Black men between ages 18-35; nearly two-thirds of all blacks living at/or near poverty levels and growing; the demise of the Black family with nearly 90% of all Black children living in homes with one parent and the percentage of Blacks that will never marry increasing at alarming levels.
Education attainment is diminishing from the highs of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s in the areas of high school graduation rates and college enrollment/completion rates coupled with low levels of literacy and math attainment across every grade for Black students.
Wealth gains are nearly zero since emancipation and while incomes have risen, they have not nearly risen at the rate needed to keep up with the economic needs of the Black community (estimated to be nearly 75% behind).
They are fatal because they are not improving and receive very little attention from Black leadership and public opinion as to the alarming level of disparities that exist.
It’s one thing to have statistical deviations of 2-3 points, which is normal and somewhat treatable.
When you have statistical deviations of 40-50 points, such as exists between the White and Black community, statisticians have no recourse and for the most part people don’t even bother.
What’s even more troubling is that Blacks are more concentrated and segregated than prior to the 60’s integration.
Today, nearly 75% of all Black people live in 50-60 urban cities and each of these cities is experiencing similar social and economic conditions (i.e. failed public schools, shrinking tax base, neighborhood disinvestment, high levels of crime and low levels of quality of life, shrinking resources, ballooning cost, etc.).
There are nearly 45 million Blacks living in America with nearly 70% struggling socially and economically.
Many of the neighborhoods within these cities are segregated racially with a higher concentration of poor people, primarily Blacks.
The cost benefit of these neighborhoods are upside down meaning that these neighborhoods cost the city more (i.e. unemployed, entitlements, social service needs, etc.) than they produce revenues (i.e. wage taxes, sales taxes, real estate taxes, etc.).
The disparities are so great that Black neighborhoods are getting poorer while White neighborhoods are either stable and/or growing economically.
Poor Black people living side-by-side with wealthy white people create a “tale of two cities” and there is little evidence that these trends are changing.
While the economic realities are prevalent, they pale in comparison to the culture and climate created by generation after generation having little to no idea on how to combat their reality to the degree that a significant level of hopelessness has become infused into the minds of poorest Black people.
With this population growing, a number of otherwise abnormal behaviors have become normal in the minds of several generations.
Fueled by inferior language and messages of self-destructive and self gratifying behaviors, too many children are being born in unstable environments and lack the core supports to counter the growth of the negative culture so you find the near total breakdown of any sense of community.
Young Black men are being socialized to adopt learned behavior of social pathologies that exceed those of their parent (i.e. academic failure, lack of conflict resolution, self medication, personal responsibility, etc.) that ultimately will increase their chances that they will have children that they won’t/ can’t provide for – further advancing the negative image of Black men. Young Black women are equally troubled and are having children at a clip that is changing the makeup of the traditional family forever.
No longer do we have children living within a traditional two-parent household, but just the opposite where we see many young mothers with several children all with different fathers.
This dynamic will have long-term negative ramifications and will ensure that the social-economic challenges remain for the next generations to come.
Large population within these communities are socially regressing and more and more children are being damaged at a faster pace.
In effect, the Black community in America is seriously ill with every system nearly dead or on life support.
What is even worse than the above statistics is the ignorance of the so-called experts and what they determine to be the problems.
The experts are so wrong because, for the most part, they only focus on the “outcomes”, which I call the “symptoms.” Rarely are the symptoms that they do examine compared to other symptoms, but instead are discussed and approached in isolation.
Most, if not all, of the problems of the Black community are interconnected and interrelated. Any diagnosis that does not consider these realities will prove to be WRONG.
In addition to making the wrong diagnosis by not associating the symptoms, the diagnosis is further compromised by the fact that the experts all but neglect any historical connection to the problems as if the Black community is inherently inferior and troubled.
Restated, very rarely is there an examination of the systems and how they work to either support or hinder the problems (structural and institutional racism).
When you examine the different systems in the Black community (i.e. actual conditions, delivery continuum, policies and solutions being used), you cannot help but wonder that the conditions will continue to deteriorate (it’s called oppression).
The Black community is dying because all of its systems are breaking down and the sickness has been misdiagnosed; therefore, the problem is not improving, but is getting worse.
Externally, every system is working against the success of the Black community, but that isn’t the whole picture.
There is a reason why Blacks haven’t made the political progress of other minorities.
Many Blacks never venture out from their predominantly Black neighborhoods and as a result don’t fully appreciate that they are a minority.
This has confused many members of the Black community in understanding their reality.
Another significant challenge that is apparent within the cities with a Black majority is the fact that rarely is the Black community able to optimize and benefit from its majority status.
In fact, in many of these cities, the Black majority has little or no political power. No matter how you slice it, the Black community has never truly understood its political power and resorted to asking for what it needs when it had the numbers to take what it needs.
The term “when you know better, you can do better” perfectly describes the lack of economic progress of the Black community.
The Black community is dying both externally and internally because all of its systems are breaking down and the symptoms have been misdiagnosed.
The so-called experts rarely address the root cause of the illness head on, which guarantees that the problems will continue to worsen (over the past 50 years, we’ve seen the social-economic numbers consistently worsen every ten years).
In my opinion, the root cause is the legacy of slavery that has produced a massive wealth gap between whites and Blacks (where you start matters) and America’s institutions have embraced the discarded institution of slavery while perpetuating an American climate and culture of white supremacy and Black inferiority.
All of these issues and more only point to the real cause for the condition of the Black community.
The Black community must come to grips with the fact that, as a people, we have been seriously damaged internally by the legacy of slavery.
This is evident in every aspect of Black life in America.
The Black man, in addition to historical references, is bombarded on a daily basis (24/7/365) with negative images and negative inferences regarding thinking Black, living Black, feeling Black, and most importantly, being Black.
He has been led to believe and accept that he is inferior. We can say that this doesn’t exist, but I can prove that in every system in America, this is where we began and many times, this is where we end.
Carter Woodson once said “to handicap a student for life, you teach him that his black skin is a curse and his struggle to change his condition is Wisconsin Governor and GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker. hopeless – it’s the worst form of lynching.”
I fundamentally believe in the people power but we will have to earn it.
No one is going to do for us what we must do for ourselves.