Message to the 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)
Brothers and sisters, we have work to do and no one will do it for us. If we are to achieve what we want, we have to earn it. Earning it requires taking one step at a time. There are no shortcuts.
We cannot erase our reality of being nearly 400 years behind economically, and we are not going to get out of this mess overnight. We cannot skip through the process. We will have to go through the pain of the struggle (learning curve).
Earning it will require that we do something we have not been able to master and that is working together through functional unity,
In response to H. Rap Brown comment, “If America doesn’t come around, we’re gonna burn it down,” Dr. King responded with “Our slogan must not be ‘burn baby, burn. It must be ‘build, baby, build.’ Organize, baby, organize. Our slogan must be learn, baby, learn’ so we can ‘earn, baby, earn.” If we are to make Dr. King’s statement a reality, we need to organize because the issues we face today are surprisingly greater, in many respects, than those in 1967 when he made this statement. We must have functional unity.
The Black community currently dominates in every negative demographic (i.e. poverty, incarceration, health, academic achievement, unemployment and underemployment, etc.) while, being almost invisible in every positive demographic (i.e. job and business creation, wealth, income, business growth, etc.), both representing extreme levels of disparities. For example, disparities generally allow a margin of error of 2-3 percentage points, but the African American community is experiencing a 10–30 percentage point differential. Where unemployment could be seven percent nationally, with African American men between the ages 18-35 unemployment could be as high as 50 percent.
This is an alarming disparity and creates major consequences to the fabric of both family and community life for the entire Black community.
These types of disparities will require new and different approaches unlike anything we have seen to date. In addition, most of these disparities will only worsen over next 15-20 years because the pipeline is “primed” at the start of the continuum coupled with the reality that the Black community has no stated, viable and sustained plan of action or defense.
If we work together, we must ask ourselves if our individual efforts really change these issues and move the needle. If you are honest, you must answer “no.” Then, what do we do?
The abnormal disparities that the Black community suffers from will require major efforts to combat. Correcting these issues will require a unified and comprehensive approach, not an individual or silo solution. By moving the needle, I mean some of the following:
• reducing the mass incarceration of black men
• decreasing the senseless violence and deaths of our children
• raising the level of black men gainfully employed
• increasing the number of successful and thriving Black owned businesses in our community
• removing the blight and decay that overwhelms many of the neighborhoods where Black people reside
• reversing the nearly 60 percent of Black students academically failing in public schools
• increasing the number of Black children living in stable families
• eliminating or decreasing the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites
• increasing and/or restoring Black pride at a level that could counter the massive media campaign that has defined Black people as inferior and deserving of the social-economic position we currently hold, and
• creating jobs, jobs, jobs, and more jobs
The issues we face are severe and real and their impact is severe and real. These disparities and these issues have real impact on the lives of Black families and more importantly, Black children. This is not an intellectual argument. This is a real disaster for our people and there is no evidence of a plan of action or strategy. Something is seriously wrong with our approach. We are lacking togetherness. We are lacking functional unity. It appears that we have not been able to figure it out or that we do not know any better. Why? When people know better, they do better. The proof that we have figured things out and that we know better will be seen in the outcomes. Until we figure out we cannot do this alone and we need each other to move the needle, we will never see our outcomes improve.
The Black community, especially the leadership, must conclude that our community just does not know “how.” In fact, who is responsible to handle of these issues? Who is responsible for defending the Black community? Currently there is no one responsible. The community must figure this out because no one is going to do it for us (we are on our own). Our community will never achieve true self-determination until it has the capacity and the ability to “do for self”, which means that it must be able to lead the efforts in the areas of greatest need and that offer the greatest results. Though the learning curve may be steep, we have no other option. This is extremely problematic because since we lack resources, we must depend wholeheartedly on the majority community to fund and finance our capacity many times without regard for the importance of Black people and organizations to serve as the lead. Unfortunately, because of our history in this country, our abilities and capacities are extremely limited both by content IQ and by resources – the ultimate “catch 22.”
The Black community is challenged in many ways but none more than economically. The Black community does not have enough income nor can it generate enough income to combat poverty (this phenomenon is a direct link to the legacy of the enslavement of Black people). To address poverty and the associated social ills, it will require that the Black community has the capacity and the ability to focus on a few selected areas simultaneously
• Economics – We must significantly increase Black business capacity to expand and grow and we must create wealth and jobs. We must recapture our own markets and expand our reach into both the public and private sector markets
• Education – We must stabilized education and refocus on Black self-determination/ liberation education and school to career (vocational and skill focus) and make it available to our entire population
• Public Safety – We must slow down the mass incarceration of Black men and create ways to reduce recidivism
• Health and Wellness – In addition to addressing physical health disparities and the entire health delivery continuum, we must identify and implement strategies that will allow for the psychological healing of the Black community
• Black Cultural Enrichment – We must better control the narrative and definition of “Being Black” in America with the goal of significantly increasing Black cultural organizations and their ability to increase the “pride” in the Black community
If the Black community were to “know better” and begin to “do better” it must begin to come together and address the issue of “functional” unity.
This is where our strength lies, but if were unable achieve it, we will continue to decline as a group. Let us be clear, we have real issues outside of the structural ones we face.
We have internal issues that we must overcome and we will never be able to hold the external forces accountable until we begin to change our behavior and hold ourselves accountable. Yes, we must fight to make it for ourselves and our families, but we must be accountable to our people, to our group. We must come to grips with some obvious issues and challenges that we must own up to and navigate in our efforts to organize and address the issues we face. We must overcome the following:
• Time Deficit – Time is not on our side – Our oppressor is so resourced and in control of the systems and infrastructure, that it gives them the capacity to compete and address all of the issues of the time. Our community is less prepared. We spend most of our time addressing the symptoms we face and are unable to address the root of our problems – our lack of power and resources (this is a historical issue). We have become a reactionary rather than proactive community and, many times, we just cannot afford the luxury of this behavior. It takes resources and capacity. While we attempt to build the capacity and infrastructure to defend ourselves against structural and institutional issues, we are bombarded by immediate and current issues that require that we utilize our limited resources and prevent our abilities to build for the future. We have activity, but no progress is being made.
• Enthusiasm – Inability to Mobilize our People for a Sustained Period of Time – The work that we must engage in is long-term in nature and will require a sustained effort over a number of generations to challenge the social and economic conditions that Black people face that has taken nearly 400 years to produce. This will require a deep level of strategic planning and thinking (proactive) versus the reactionary mode in which our community currently resides. Sure, we must have rapid responses (i.e. protest, agitation, act-up, etc.) to the issues that arise but most of the issues we face are structural in nature and cannot be corrected with emotional responses. The issues we confront are the same ones we have confronted since being in this county – our inability to chart a path for self-determination, our inability to do for self and how do we sustain the movement (enthusiasm) until we become self-sustaining.
• Inability to Raise Funds – Overall, our community lacks resources. The struggle for equality in America for Black people has been a protracted and onerous one and to this day has not been achieved. Blacks rank last in almost every positive category and are nearly invisible in the one category that matters the most: wealth. The race we must win is an economic race and it is all about capital and wealth. Very few of our non-profits are endowed (they’re practically non-existent) and our for-profits are not capitalized; we lost the economics within our communities and affirmative actions (set-asides) have been totally eroded and/or undermined. While we have a few individuals that have accumulated some resources, for the most part, our community is extremely poor.
Given our current challenges, the Black community has been unable to aggregate and align its limited resources (i.e. human and financial) in any meaningful way to have any real impact. Any solution must involve a significant level of organization within the Black community. It will require a collective and comprehensive approach if we expect sustained improvement and progress. Once we have become more organized, we will need to organize and align other external systems to interface with our efforts and to assist in the delivery of our agenda.
Society, in general, is organized but it is not organized enough to address the massive disparities that continue to challenge and oppress the very existence of the Black community. Our efforts have been severely impeded and in order to address this, society will require extensive reconfiguration. Every institution will have to be reformed or reshaped to support the Black agenda and that will not happen without having the right level of force (power) and organization. Every level of government, philanthropic, large nonprofits (i.e. health, education, and service delivery), business and corporate, civic, and political sectors must be organized and aligned if the Black community will achieve success in the implementation of its agenda. This is call self determination.
Today, our challenge is to establish “functional” unity. Today, our challenge is to fight as hard as we can against dis-unity, pervasive hopelessness, fear and distrust that have paralyzed our community. Today, with regard to many of our issues, it is not what they are doing to us, but what we are not doing. We must stop making excuses why we refuse to come together, because no one will do for us what we must do for ourselves. Our generation is at a crossroads and so much is at stake. We also have a chance to do something great and mighty. The time is now for our community to stand up and heed to the spirit of change that is percolating throughout our community, but we have not been able to leverage and channel this energy into a “central” vehicle. This is organization. We must change our behavior. We must really want it. Our success will not be achieved by an individual or by one organization. It will only come when we begin to work together, through functional unity and cooperation.
Many times when we call for “unity,” we are calling for something that is unachievable, especially at this stage of where we are. Why? Many of us believe that unity is when we are all are doing the same thing at the same time and not taking into account the vast diversity and interest within our community. We are not monolithic; we are diverse in our thinking and our solutions will require a hefty dose of dialogue and compromise. We must base our unity on our collective interests and on what is or is not happening within our community. We cannot keep calling for unity only when something alarming happens. We must call for unifying and aligning our resources to fight for our lives (this is functional unity). Unfortunately, we have wasted so much time trying to obtain a false sense of unity that it has gotten us nowhere. We must change our thought processes and focus on achieving a measurable and achievable goal – cooperative unification. We must unite around a common agenda, a common cause.
Brothers and sisters, we have been severely damaged by our experience in America and we must recognize how this has manifested. We must come to understand that not everybody is at the same level. Some are more damaged than others are and this impacts our ability to work together. Those that have no inkling of working with together are the most damaged and this has paralyzed our movement. We must focus on organizing those who are the least damaged. Even then, we only need a critical mass of people who feel the same way. The idea that we will have everyone on board at the same time is unrealistic. The movement will grow initially with those that are the least damaged amongst us and they must come to understand they are the ones that must take on this challenge to unite. I believe we must stop calling for unity and call for cooperation. Unity will come.
Because of the unbelievable challenges that we face, our solutions must be balanced, sober, and as best as possible, without emotion, rhetoric and theatrics. As people, we must grow up and do the hard work. We must get past the fantasy of unity to the reality of cooperation. We must organize the unbelievable talents and skills of our people if we are to have a fighting chance. I liken the resources and power that exist in our community to the electrical energy that is running in the wires representing thousands of watts of energy. Guess what?
We must capture and contain the energy in order to use it. In order to use the electrical power, we need a grounded electrical socket (infrastructure and coordination). Together, we must work together to build that socket.
Yes, we face serious issues that if not addressed, will only worsen and burden the next generation with not having the same limited resources we currently do not have. The fact remains that the systems we must correct and or adjust have no history of serving our people and, therefore, will require the best strategic thinking and planning. Marching, hollering, screaming, protesting, and/or agitation will not get it done. We need functional unity if we are going to be able to build the infrastructure (grounded electrical socket) to harness the talent and resources that exist in our community and use it like a laser to begin to eradicate our problems.
WE NEED FUNCTIONAL UNITY.