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.