Sunday, November 30, 2008

Now that a change has come, what's next? (Part 3 of 3)


By William P. Muhammad

Within the global community, it is abundantly clear that America’s economic and political standing has seen better days, but regarding what it takes to maintain a super-power status in an increasingly competitive global market, both American leadership and the common man have a duty to reclaim the culture of learning.

Focusing primarily upon the Black community, however, this argument is much more acute. Domestically speaking, Black Americans must reclaim a pursuit of knowledge that for years defined our traditional pathway to success. From the days of slavery, where in Virginia, for example, it was a violation of the law to teach a Black person to read, many of our fore parents risked the lash, the noose and the gun to have such an opportunity.

Today, however, from either a collective fatigue that has caused various African-American communities to give up or because of a young person’s rebellion toward that which is irrelevant to his or her life’s experiences, the problem of apathy, which has been so harmful to the growth and development of our community, seems to have reached epidemic proportions. As societal distractions, parental obligations and youthful indiscretions clash with “the time and what must be done,” the rest of the world is either passing us by or is preparing to do so.

With the seriousness of the hour requiring immediate intervention, it is a known fact that education and the quest for knowledge are the only realistic tools available for leveling a historically uneven playing field. Re-kindling the desire for the pursuit of knowledge is absolutely necessary, as it opens doors and opportunities that would otherwise be closed and ensures a better quality of life, not only for the American people in general, but also for Black Americans and other people of color.

With concerns over the U.S. economy revealing an automotive industry in trouble, an increase in corporate downsizings through lay-offs and mergers and the exporting of low skilled manufacturing jobs to foreign labor markets, well-paying trades and professions of the future will require a new dedication to mathematics and the sciences not seen since the launch of Sputnik in 1957.

Now that an historic change has come to the American political landscape, the proposed “green economy” and the so-called “green revolution” it hopes to inspire will likewise require a revolution in the U.S. education system. As in the early days of the Cold War where new math and sciences were stressed in American schools, the same is being called for today by environmentalists and policy-makers who argue the paramount importance of “clean energy” and independence from foreign suppliers.

However, with the environmental dimensions of this new challenge being that of pollution control, global warming and depleting natural resources, renewable energy and green technology have also become a rallying cry for buttressing the economy among policy-makers.

Yet with all of these facts in front of us, and the need for such change on the horizon, how do we motivate and inspire a new culture of learning among our young people?

One of the realities of living in a digital as opposed to an analog age is that while attention spans appear shorter, younger minds are much quicker in their ability to process information. Perhaps this being one of the reasons why it is difficult to capture and maintain the attention of our young people, techniques should be examined as to how to place more information within shorter time spans while challenging young minds to question, inquire and analyze the environment around them.

Starting with parents, we must first make an honest assessment of where we stand in inspiring curiosity in young minds. Requiring more than just turning off the television and demanding that homework be done, starting at an early age, we must engage in activities that encourage a culture of questioning and critical thinking.

Visiting museums and libraries and walking outside to look at the diversity and wonder of nature helps to ground children and makes them more apt to succeed in school. Also, showing our youth where they fit into society, as well as into the international community, helps them to know that they too have a stake to claim, and that they matter as persons of color.

With Mr. Obama on his way to the White House in January, he has proven to the world that a Black person is capable of attaining the world’s most powerful seat, and with all that Black Americans have sacrificed for, to forfeit a future we prayed, marched and died for, because we failed to adequately prepare for it, would be a great tragedy.

Education is the key to our success, but only if we use it to our advantage. Sitting and waiting for bread to fall from the sky is just as unrealistic as waiting on a politician to deliver singlehandedly the solutions to our problems. Mr. Obama has shared a vision for the future, but it will take all of us to make it into a reality.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Now that a change has come, what's next? (Part 2)


By Bro. William P. Muhammad

With the domestic priorities of an incoming Obama administration clearly focused upon the economy, healthcare reform, renewable energy and middle-class taxes, immediate issues facing the masses of Black people such as poverty related concerns and racial disparities do not rank high in the President-Elect’s national agenda.

When Mr. Obama takes his oath of office in January, the challenges facing Black people will be no different than before and our communities will face increased national and international scrutiny as the impression that the African-American has “finally arrived” is sold around the world. With the rise of America’s first Black president will come the rise of higher expectations for Black people, putting forth yet more challenges to be faced and solved.

Regarding the African-American standing in a weakening U.S. economy, our consumption oriented dollars still far exceed our production oriented dollars and the Black community remains vulnerable to higher unemployment rates, higher numbers of home foreclosures and a decline in quality of life standards. In an economy where productivity, entrepreneurship and institution building is, for the most part, rewarded, now more than ever, a change must take place in the current African-American ethos.

In the physical and mental health of the Black community, there is much dependence on an affordable healthcare system and African-Americans suffer with the highest rates of preventable diseases.

Certain cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes and HIV/AIDS rank highest among Black Americans and with an Obama administration in power, these maladies will be neither eliminated nor reduced without the Black community’s appreciation of what is in its own best interests. Such problems cannot and will not be solved by a politician, but they can be solved by personal education, enlightened religious communities and good old fashioned home training.

However, with energy probably one of the greatest issues facing the world today, the buzzword for the future is “green economy.” But what position, if any, will African-Americans hold in such an economy if our children are not adequately prepared to participate in it?

Educational statistics show that African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans rank at the lower end of math and science scores - in both primary and secondary education - and these subjects are the keys to prosperity in a so-called “green future.” With one of Mr. Obama’s campaign pledges being to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, renewable energy has become one of the solutions toward alleviating this problem.

Requiring advanced degrees and inventions in a multiplicity of disciplines such as chemistry, engineering, agriculture, practical oceanography, physics and a myriad of other sciences, a great change must first come in the thinking of parents who wish to prepare their children for this new future. Mr. Obama may propose and lay out the mechanisms to create five million new “green economy” jobs, but only individual families can prepare their children to prosper and thrive in such a labor market.

The last eight years has placed a burden upon the shoulders of the middle-class and the promise to reduce that stress by cutting taxes for those earning less than $250,000 sounds well and good, but for the urban and rural poor this will do little to change their realities.

Leaving few opportunities available for advancement except for some form of federal service like the military or the Peace Corps, the only other realistic option for escaping poverty is education, which requires a cradle to grave respect for knowledge and understanding. Looking at the state of the American public school system; however, and the priorities of the teenaged subculture, there is much work to do, particularly among Black youth. Yet how do we inspire and motivate our young people to step up to the challenge and accept the mantle of excellence?

After many years of struggle, some Black people have become tired, if not complacent, and as a result, some have become satisfied with “just getting by.” This unfortunate attitude, fueled by decades of barriers and resistance to Black advancement, appears to have manifested itself in a form of apathy that truly undermines the national and international image of Black Americans.

Nevertheless, the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States has re-energized the hopeless among our people, but in that new spirit of hope, Black folk cannot afford to rest upon the laurels of November 4, 2008. Requiring more than the usual lip-service and the desire to be included now is the time for stepping up to the plate to claim what is rightfully ours - a dignified seat at the table with the best civilization has to offer.

However, in order to take our proper and rightful place in what is called the United States of America, we must not only create a vision for our own future, but we must also work to bring that vision into fruition. We must qualify ourselves for those future positions awaiting us and we must inspire our children to see their role in that future. The election of Mr. Obama should prove to the world that an intelligent Black man can make a place for himself in any civilization, and his campaign should likewise serve as a sign that nothing can keep us from success. If we are willing to endure the trials necessary to see any challenge through, now that change has come, we know what we must do for ourselves, our families and our people.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Now that a change has come, what’s next? (Part 1)

By William P. Muhammad

Most of us may not have been ‘born down by the river in a little tent,’ but we can certainly say that many of us have marched, strived and prayed for the change that seems to have come in the presidential election of Barack Obama. After 143 years from the official end of slavery, some 44 years from the end of Jim Crow and only 40 years since the vicious assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Black man has been elected President of the United States of America.

In what has become a seemingly surreal moment in American history, with the official inauguration only two months away, Americans in general, and Black people in particular, have reached a significant cross-roads where hope and expectation meet the challenge of change and pragmatic realism.

While it has been ‘a long time coming,’ those issues which have traditionally knocked Black people to their knees have not changed with the November elections, and as Mr. Obama’s campaign rhetoric has attested, issues affecting the poor will not become a priority in his administration. Mr. Obama’s stated focus is with the middle-class and we should not expect poverty related issues to be solved overnight or from his first term in office. Such a responsibility lies more directly with “we the people” in our individual households, our houses of worship and through our individual consciences.

According to The American Heritage College Dictionary, the first definitions of change are: to cause to be different, to give completely different form or appearance to; to transform. With this said, what are the changes President-Elect Obama intends to bring to the country if not to Washington D.C. and to the White House and how will it effect African-Americans and other people of color?

During his near two year campaign for office, then Senator Obama repudiated the ‘trickle-down’ economic theory, where wealth concentrated at the top of an economy, if given the opportunity to expand through legislative favors and tax cuts, would “trickle down” to the masses below. Therefore causing all to prosper in proportion to their station within the American economy, the theory puts forward a top-down philosophy skirting the edges of elitism where those at the top know what is best for those at the bottom.

However, after nearly eight years of such a policy, a failing economy, factory closings, manufacturer relocations to foreign labor markets and a general decline in America’s quality of life, Mr. Obama’s repudiation appears correct, not only in economics, but also in the philosophy of change itself.

If “self-improvement” is in fact “the basis of community development” and self-improvement is the goal of national, regional and local change, then the African-American community must respond to President-Elect Obama’s call for a change not only by agreeing that change is, in fact, necessary, but also by engaging in “self-examination, self-analysis and self-correction” as called for by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan since the 1980s.

By embracing a bottom-up method as opposed to a top-down method for implementing change, Black people, people of color and Americans in general have the opportunity to both turn the page of history and to prosper as never before, but not without a serious change in individual, family and community priorities.

In what may be called a quartet of high priority national issues: the economy, energy independence, health care reform and middle class tax cuts, the common denominator needed to implement the so-called agenda for change appears to be in the comprehensive education of the American people.

When compared to the rest of the world, however, particularly to that of India and China, American secondary education leaves much to be desired. Subsequently hobbled by inadequate pre-college preparation, American students often find themselves inadequately prepared for the increasingly competitive math and science oriented career paths their foreign peers are mastering.

Regarding Black Americans, in order to qualify ourselves for those positions awaiting us in the global marketplace, a great change must first come from within if we are to claim Barack Obama and his ideas. In our schools we must pursue excellence in all of its forms and manifestations; we must applaud scholastic achievements as we do athletic accomplishments and we must rebuild a culture of learning and a respect for grades, higher education and the intellect among our young people.

Old Testament scriptures say that where there is no vision, the people perish, and if our communities are socially, politically and economically dead, then the shepherds of our communities have truly failed in their duty. President-Elect Barack Obama can inspire us with his vision, but he cannot do for us what we cannot or will not do for ourselves, and there is no one outside of ourselves required to do so. If the Black community is to benefit from his victory, it must also realize that now, more than ever, is the time to work for change within ourselves, our families and our communities.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.