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)
I have fundamentally come to understand, given the magnitude of all of the issues challenging the Black community in America, there is NO one individual and/or single organization that has the organization capacity (know how), nor the economic resources to remotely challenge the many issues that we face as a total group. We spend most of our time chasing the symptoms and very rarely can we focus on the solutions.
Even those Black organizations and individuals who are attempting to defend the Black community in the area that they have some limited capacity, they spend a considerable amount of their time trying to secure adequate resources making their organization effectiveness simply inadequate – our community is woefully under-resourced and this is part of the Economic Structural Deficit.
If you don’t believe that the Black community has a resource issue, then you must believe that the needle isn’t moving because the Black organizations are just ineffective, which I totally reject.
In fact, I believe just the opposite; I believe that most, if not all of the Black organizations that are on the frontline fighting the fight daily are severely underfunded and the public and private giving infrastructure is skewed against the Black agenda and those Black organizations.
This makes it nearly impossible for the needed resources to be available either by direct grant making or through the competitive process to secure the funds.
It’s extremely clear that our community doesn’t have the resources to finance our own independence – this is a perfect description of the Economic Structural Deficit.
Look at our history (the past 100 years), there are no completely independent Black organizations that have grown to become Black institutions.
Organizations can only become institutions when they have become financially independent, and I don’t know any Black organizations that are endowed at the level that guarantees their sustainability for generations to come.
Most Black organizations are, like Black individuals, living pay check to paycheck – we lack the resources. Not only are our non-profits not endowed properly, our for-profits aren’t capitalized properly either.
This presents a new set of challenges because if our businesses are not successful, wealth can’t be created. While there have been many attempts by some of our greatest leaders in the past to try to build the infrastructure and organization capacity to defend the Black community and challenge the racism and discrimination, none are around today – they just couldn’t solve the sustainability issue, the Economic Structural Deficit.
Brothers and sisters, we must understand that every issue we have requires an organizational defense because behind every challenge that we face there are forces that are even stronger that we are intent on keeping things the same.
Whether it’s non-profit or for-profit, the delivery of any services requires the same ingredients (i.e. human talent and expertise, business infrastructure, financial resources, etc.) – it’s all business. Even if we wanted to feed the homeless – how long can we do it without dedicated resources?
At some point the weight of the task and need will overwhelm you individually if you’re unable to secure dedicated resources. Without dedicated resources, the quality of your delivery of services (feeding the homeless) will be in question and definitely the ability to do it long term is almost impossible.
Feeding the homeless is a definitely a legitimate need to do because we don’t want children to be subjected to the consequences of living in families that are impoverished to the point where they aren’t able to be properly feed – this will ultimately impact our children’s education, nutrition, etc.
Many times, when we focus on issues like homelessness, we come to realize to be effective, you must address a number of other issues because the cause for homelessness could be mental health, housing, economic (unemployment).
The bigger the need, the bigger the business and when the business gets bigger, all of the ingredients get bigger as well. No one can argue that the Black needs are absolutely huge, which require that we have the corresponding organization capacity and resources that we just don’t have.
If the Black community is unable to extract the needed resources from the traditional sources (utilization of wealth and net assets), it will not be able to sustain Black non-profits to the level of growth of becoming institutions.
Have we already forgotten the civil rights movement, and how much was done and how many sacrifices were made to get that legislation completed in the 1960’s?
This was no gift to the Black community, this was a very hard struggle and for what – the right to be treated as humans??? Up until that legislation, America openly participated in the overt oppression, discrimination, and racism against Black people.
Our community was targeted for no reason except that we were Black.
Don’t get it twisted, we didn’t get economic reparations for the nearly 400 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crowism; we didn’t get an equal funded public school system that would have the capacity to educate our children equitably; we didn’t get a whole host of things that would ultimately cost America its resources.
The economic structural deficit keeps Black organizations from growing, expanding and most importantly sustaining itself over several generations to address the many issues we face.
Complicating our issues is the fact that our issues are not just isolated to one or two issues, they are complexed and multifaceted. Even the homeless analogy suggests that tying to just feed people isn’t enough. If you want to solve the problem – the problem is multi-faceted and require coordination that we have not seen to date.
Why has our experience been such a struggle? The Black challenge is both external and internal. External in that all of our issues have a historical connection to our start in this country which has now become the “status-quo.” Our issues are inter-connected, inter-related and require a “multi-faceted” response that no one organization or individual has the capacity to take on by themselves.
The Black community is owed a great debt by America. Internal in that, we as a group, have not responded correctly, we have acted that the economic structural deficit doesn’t exist. We acted like our oppressors, and worked independently versus working together – a requirement for addressing a structural deficit.
The Black community must come to understand that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” and we don’t have the luxury to act in a “silo” way – in fact, just the opposite.
We must fight the Black inferiority programing and brainwashing that has forced us to become competition with each other versus seeing ourselves as comrades and partners in the delivery of the Black agenda.
We must see ourselves as partners and not as competitors if we are to have a shot at fighting against the economic structural deficit – this will require that we change some really bad behavior.
The internal dysfunction (disconnectedness), which is evident at every level of the Black community, is our first order of business because we will need a certain level of unity to challenge America for what it still owes our community – we will never achieve this without some level of Black “functional” unity.
Functional unity is predicated on a “critical” mass of Black leaders pursuing a common economic agenda because at the end of the day, while we have so many issues, none is greater than the structural economic deficit that we currently experience. We must get beyond our “perceived” differences” to realize that our power lies within the unity of family, community, race and leadership.