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 continue to try to organize the Black leaders with the hope that they would come to the same conclusion that I have, and that is no one is going to do for us what we must do for ourselves. Our leaders are the best hope to, not only understand the issues, but to provide expert knowledge, and wise guidance on how to proceed to a very complex and “structural” issues that impede our collective progress. We not only have the issues that are created today based on the circumstances of today, but we bring to the equation a whole host of historical issues that are equally damaging and continue to hold the Black community back – I call this the legacy of slavery.
We can no longer listen to the “emotional” drumbeat of resolving our issues that this will be easy and all we must do is implement some simple solution. My position is that the Black man’s issues in America are unique and extremely complicated. Addressing these issues will require our brightest and most talented people working together on a joint solution and this can’t happen without organization. It will require a serious effort to organize and mobilize the many groups of followers and constituents that these leaders represent. Unfortunately, organizing Black leaders is much more difficult than I could’ve ever imagined. Some say that it’s impossible, which I don’t agree, but it’s been very difficult to say the least – this is where our struggle must prevail.
If you polled 100 Black leaders you’d probably get 100 different approaches and 100 different agendas and therein lies our dilemma. Mathematically, it’s impossible to succeed given the multitude of challenges that the Black community faces and the multitude of systems and institutions that it covers without being unified in thought, purpose and agenda. We can’t win having 100 agendas, someone must prioritize what agenda is first, second and third. Someone must also make the distinction as to what resources we have available and what strategies are doable; how long will it take; what does progress look like; and how can it be measured? —This is called Leadership.
We have Black leaders but we lack Black leadership – there is a big difference.
It’s very clear that no “single” Black organization or Black individual has the capacity or the resources to save the Black community by themselves. Black leaders must see that working together is a necessity for the good of the entire Black community. To achieve this, Black leaders need leaders too, and this is something that has not been taught. For the most part, we’ve been sold a bill of goods that somehow, we alone can fix this. Therefore, we see so many “starts” and “stops” which ultimately contribute to our collective hopelessness. There is very little continuity over generations addressing the issues that impact our community the most (i.e. economics and education).
It’s impossible to have continuity without organization. I’m not sure how the message of disunity is transmitted over generations but it is most prevalent amongst our so-called Black leaders. However, ego and selfishness are two sure ways that this dysfunction has been normalized. When we have hundreds of people leading one aspect or another of our community, this isn’t leadership. It only means that you have hundreds of people doing different and sometimes similar things without any type of coordination. How can that be productive and why aren’t more Black leaders demanding more from themselves and each other? It’s no wonder why the Black community continues to decline socially and economically – this is absolute dysfunction.
When Black leaders work together this represents true Black leadership. The difference between leaders and leadership is the former represents an “individual” and limited approach while the latter represents a “group” and collective and more powerful approach. Special attention must be placed on the word “ship.” The ship in leadership is like the vehicle that carries and/or holds individual leaders and allows them to become much stronger together than they could ever be as individuals. For example, look at the United States Congress with each individual Congress member being a leader. What makes the Congress a leadership is when they work as a group, as a Congress. Black leaders must build the right structure “ship” to allow Black leaders to deposit their political capital that will allow us the opportunity to lift the whole Black community.
Not having Black leadership continues to cripple the Black community, and the lack of cooperation amongst Black leaders is used to reinforce the belief that Blacks are unable to work together. Most Black leaders will say that having a unity and solidarity of thought, purpose and agenda is the right thing to do. It’s obvious that doing the right thing is not enough because we still have too much disunity amongst our leaders. One would think that giving our social and economic conditions in this country, organizing our leaders would be the easiest thing to do – but its the hardest thing to do. In fact, Black leaders have been operating on different tracks for a long time and this methodology has truly damaged the progress of our community.
Last time that I checked, we are a free people and we have the freedom to materialize whatever legal goals and objectives that we see appropriate. We are free to pursue solutions that will address our issues. We don’t need to wait for others to do for us what they expect that we must do for ourselves. We have allowed ourselves to believe that White people will save us and they won’t and they can’t – its delusional thinking. We must do for ourselves and that’s the bottom line. Then what’s stopping us? What’s holding us back? Why can’t we get better traction? Why can’t we move the needle in organizing our talent and our resources to give our group a better chance to make progress for the whole?
It’s not what they are doing to us, it’s what we are not doing and what we’re not doing is working together.
Hopelessness is so prevalent in the Black community because there is a general belief that we don’t have any choice or any options – our fate is already complete and not much can be done. I disagree totally with this approach. I believe that we’re in a funk and that only working together and organizing our Black leaders will give us a fighting chance to make some progress. We must take a page from the book of our ancestors who made tremendous progress under some of the worst conditions known to man. Every fight waged by our ancestors was met with the most devious, hated, and mean-spirited resistance ever organized – but they didn’t give up and we can’t either.
Sure, we’ve had a bad deal in this country but we can’t give up. We must master the use of the tools that we have and create a critical mass of Black leaders committed to Unity and Solidarity of Thought, Purpose, and Agenda. Today the Black community has thousands of leaders but no leadership.