Message to the Black Community
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)
Excerpts from the Black National Anthem:
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
CAN WE KEEP IT REAL? AS THE YOUNG PEOPLE SAY, CAN WE KEEP IT 100?
If Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Frederick Douglas, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman or any of other of our great leaders (pre-1960) were to miraculously return today, they would not know this Black America nor would they recognize this Black leadership.
They wouldn’t believe what Blacks have to work with yet the Black community, in many respects, has lost ground and hardly any evidence exists that the movement for freedom, justice, and equality is being waged. What would also give them tremendous concern, given the level of Black despair, is the lack of any real sense of urgency as our Black Community is more passive now than ever before.
Many of us romanticize about these great leaders, but very few are prepared to “live” up to what these people represented. These great leaders made tremendous sacrifices to maintain the struggle, and advance the liberation of Black people.
We’ve relegated honoring their legacy by acknowledging them during Black history month -a shame indeed. The children of the 50s and 60s, while they were the biggest benefactors of the gains from their struggle, were lured into the belief and the “illusion” of “inclusion” adopting individual goals over group goals. The children of the 50s and 60s assimilated nearly completely within the infrastructure of White America.
We have become the first Black “this” or the first Black “that” but unfortunately we have made these accomplishments without being grounded in the role that we were to play. Many of these Black “firsts” have adopted the “cushy’ positions within America’s government and infrastructure which resulted in them abandoning the struggle – the advocacy, protest, and the fight. Help for the black community is now invisible amongst this group.
The fight and struggle was supposed to be “continued” by this group of newbies by dealing with outright racism/discrimination and addressing the systemic bias that we’ve experienced for nearly 450 years. Racism and discrimination have become more covertly practiced but when no Blacks are involved (visual bias), this becomes easier to address.
The belief of many of our ancestors was that if we could get more Blacks on the “proverbial” job/ position, we could begin to reverse the massive and near complete social and economic bottom that Blacks occupy.
Our ancestors worked tirelessly and accepted tremendous levels of abuse to assimilate. Many of us still implement these same strategies- we think by becoming a part of the team of the White majority, we will bring about change.
Today, the coveted job/ position has become the proverbial “carrot” not the power associated with the job/position that could be used to help our people and our movement. This is why I say that for every step made towards progress that we’ve made, we’ve taken two steps backwards. The Black community hasn’t had a collective win in nearly 60 years. Instead all of our wins (i.e. affirmative action, set asides, civil and voter rights) are all undermined today.
What we have achieved are “individual” wins unfortunately at the expense of our “group” success. We must come to understand that even our individual success must be tied directly to our struggle whether we realize or accept it – in effect, each of us are a Black leader.
This is why I conclude that our Black leaders have failed our people. They have, as echoed by the prayer/anthem of James Weldon, have become “drunk with the wine of this world,” and have taken their eyes off the prize of Black liberation.
When the first group of Blacks were allowed to participate in the magnitude of America’s power and wealth, they became deluded and blinded. Instead of fighting for Black people and against status quo, many only did what their White predecessors did.
However we define Black leadership, we must conclude that they have failed our community (what was hoped was never achieved). Certainly, this doesn’t apply to all Black leaders.
Eldridge Cleaver, undoubtedly one of our soldiers in the struggle for Black liberation, once said “you either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.”
What makes matters worse is that not only are these leaders now a part of the problem, but many have become actual impediments to the Black struggle and liberation.
Not only was the hope that their progress and success would become a factor in our liberation, but also to have them now impede the struggle is extremely sad and demoralizing – this is why I say we’ve taken two steps backwards.
Huey Newton, another great soldier in the struggle for Black liberation said “every Negro has the potential to become Black.” I’ve amended his statement by saying that every African American has the potential to become Black if they’re able to align their personal goals with the goals and needs of Black people. We will never be able to make this alignment without knowing our history.
Not only is knowing our history required for the alignment but it is also our most powerful weapon. This is why even today, TEACHING our children and our people about Black history remains the single most significant challenge to our continuing the struggle.
Carter G. Woodson, who coined the termed miseducation, has produced a definitive and constructive critique of the educational system with regards to its inability to provide an accurate Black history account to our children. We must come to understand how being polluted from this educational system has damaged us all.
The education system continues to fail to present authentic Black History and most history books give little or no space to the black man’s presence in America.
In addition to just casual references of Blacks, most history books depict Blacks in menial, subordinate, and more or less sub-human roles. These history books written from a white supremacist viewpoint stress the good fortune that Blacks were exposed, through slavery, to the more superior white man’s civilization. In American history books, Blacks are referred to as primitive and having heathenish qualities-never do these books acknowledge the deplorable state of affairs of Black people as an American tragedy.
The American education of Black children amounts to no more than the on-going brainwashing of Black children to believe and accept an inferior role assigned to them by the dominant White race. Black children and the entire Black race, its contributions, culture and heritage is relegated to “nothingness” and “nobodyness.” This type of education can only serve to perpetuate White supremacy and Black inferiority.
In my humble and informed opinion, this issue represents the “root” of the problems facing the Black community in America including Black leaders. BLACK LEADERS, WHO ARE UNABLE TO THINK FOR BLACK PEOPLE, ARE UNABLE TO LEAD AND FIX OUR PROBLEMS BECAUSE THEY SUFFER FROM BLACK INFERIORITY.
The Black community is facing a very serious dilemma that if not addressed will permanently place our children as second class citizens (modern day slavery) and because we are confused as to who our leaders are, we suffer. If we asked ten Black people who are our leaders, nine will say either Black politicians and/or Black clergy.
In every other community in America when you asked who their leaders are, very rarely do the politicians and clergy make the list. The leaders of most communities are always the business people, not politicians and not clergy. It is the business leaders who should be the leaders; these are the people who run the country, the state, the county, the cities, and our neighborhoods.
Like many things, our community has the notion of leadership upside-down.
For the record, I define Black leaders as those individuals who serve the needs of the Black community (i.e. elected, appointed, business, nonprofit, civic, public sector, religious, etc.) – these people have knowledge, resources, expertise, and capacity to HELP OUR COMMUNITY. I also define Black leaders as those who are the wealthiest amongst us-some time it’s the same group. I want to single them out because many of them believe that they have no obligation to the Black race – they are operating on the worst form of Black inferiority and self-hate and represent the house “N” mindset.
In many instances, these Blacks are so enamored with the Eurocentric way of life that they use it to claim “success.” They have come to believe wholeheartedly in assimilation – success is defined by how close they are to White people and how far away they are from Black people. Because of their supposed success, they have come to believe that the reason many Blacks are in the economic position that they are in-is due to them not being willing to work hard; in effect they believe Blacks are lazy. Restated, they say look at me – I made it and if you don’t, it is because you’re lazy. This group believes that they “made it” on their own and because they’re ignorant of our history and the contributions of our ancestors – many of them either don’t know or have forgotten about the struggle that continues for the majority of Black people in America.
Some of these “so-called” successful Blacks claim that they’re not even leaders – they don’t consider themselves leaders because they are under the impression that you had to be a politician or a member of clergy to be a leader. In fact, I remember Charles Barkly making this type of statement in regards to being a professional athlete. I say absolutely. Athletes, entertainers, and actors must consider themselves as leaders because, many times, these people have a large following of people that follow their every move. At a minimum, if utilized properly, their success could be leveraged, if not replicated, if the right conditions were developed.
For those successful and influential Blacks who don’t believe that they are leaders, tell that to the millions of poor Black children that are without fathers and live in substandard conditions and look up to them. Tell that to the thousands of Black mothers that are burying their sons or seeing their sons being sent to prison with God-awful sentences who idolize entertainers and/or athletes. Tell that to our Black senior citizens who are more vulnerable now than at any time in their lives and live in a state of poverty compounded by fear. For the most part, when people make this statement, they usually mean that they don’t want to use their influence, status, or resources to help their own people -they’re in a deep state of denial and self hate. Look, I’m not naïve to believe that everyone who achieves a degree of success will commit themselves to those less fortunate within their race. However, I do believe that if more successful Blacks would see “giving back” as their responsibility, we could get more done.
While everyone is a leader of some sort, some peoples’ actions and influence have a greater impact than others. Leadership also exist in others who we call “content” specialist in an area of need for our community. They are also leaders and the community is expecting that this group will do the right thing for and by them. The issues that impact the Black community are inter-connected and inter-related and require a “comprehensive” approach. Summarily, no single organization and/or individual has the capacity to take on the issues of the Black community by themselves. The term “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is perfectly suited for the Black community – we must begin to see ourselves as one. We must begin to break the cycle of disunity and dis-connection which is evident in every aspect of today’s Black community. “I am one with my people” and our survival and our success is dependent on our ability to establish “functional” unity – our power is in our unity of family, community, and race.
This concept is also called synergy – which is absolutely needed by our community of leaders -a laser and stronger focus on our issues. This term is absolutely true because not one of these Black leaders or their organizations can resolve the problems facing the Black community by themselves – it requires a unified approach. Because these leaders are unorganized and many of the sectors that they represent are also unorganized, coupled with individualism and organizational tribalism, nothing is moving in any “real” way for the Black community – WHERE WILL THE HELP COME FROM.
Even though our Black leaders possess many of the resources needed by the Black community, unfortunately, what they lack is vision, motivation, creativity, and hope – THEY’RE MISSING THE MARK AND ARE UNABLE TO HELP OUR COMMUNITY. Yes, some Black leaders have the Black community at heart and are motivated by seeing the Black community progress; however, there are too many Black leaders who have no clue about their history and the shoulders that they stand on; therefore they don’t feel they have any obligation to help other Black people.
The HELP that we need cannot come from the politician exclusively.
Black politicians are still a minority within the political circles, and they have yet to build a strong Black caucus needed to advance the issues exclusively for Black people. The Black Caucus in Congress has yet to get reparations for slavery to be studied let alone to receive economic and legal relief. Black politicians will act like that have the power when they don’t. Yes. It is true that the legislative bodies have power but individually politicians have very limited powers. Even the leaderships of these legislative bodies have responsibilities to the body that can supersede the responsibilities to the people.
Even states and cities which give governors and mayors an incredible amount of power are still balanced by legislative bodies – they are not Kings and Queens.
All politicians serve at the mercy of those who help them to get elected (money and votes) especially those who provide the financing.
While Black politicians may get all of their votes from the Black community they represent, very few of them get all of their finances from the Black community -our community is either too poor or hasn’t truly understood the game of politics. Many times our politicians get their money from unions and other special interest groups – they are beholden to these organization and less to the Black community.
Black politicians serve at the mercy of their constituents. It is very clear that there is a constituent base that supports the idea that Black people not be equipped with the tools to achieve self-determination and this constituent base continue to participate in the oppression of Black people.
Black politicians can help by supporting a Black agenda but they can’t be the exclusive leadership for the Black community.