Friday, January 23, 2009

Peril, promise and the role of Black leadership

By William P. Muhammad

Once the elation and congratulatory praise for our new president has died down, and the sobering realities take center stage, the damage wrought by the former Bush administration will come into full view. From a lack of accountability to the hubris of the last eight years, the Obama administration has inherited an unprecedented mess where international conflict and fiscal woes are threatening to undermine our quality of life.

The economic recession sparked by a meltdown of Wall Street banks and brokerage firms, coupled with America’s loss of credibility and two ongoing wars, should give African-Americans pause for serious introspection. By looking inward perhaps we may become more aware of the bigger picture and decide to become active participants in what is a global reality.

Although some in the Black community may not be aware, issues and conditions overseas do affect us here at home. From the family members of those serving in the armed forces to workers whose jobs were outsourced to foreign labor markets, international issues knock upon our doors when we least expect them.

Regarding America’s national priorities, however, the concerns of Blacks have traditionally ranked low, particularly during times of crisis. In fact, it is safe to say that not even a Black president will solve the plethora of problems affecting the lives of so many African-Americans. He will not necessarily reduce the homicide rates among our youth and he will not bring a halt to the disproportionate number of HIV/AIDS cases affecting Black communities.

Sentencing disparities, police brutality and other entanglements with law enforcement are but the byproducts of a community turned in on itself. Regardless as to who is president, no political figure can do for us what we must do for ourselves. President Barack Obama cannot eliminate the lethargic attitudes permeating so many of our neighborhoods and he cannot solve the problems of fatherless households, a condition that far too often leads our youth to prison.

During his campaign, Mr. Obama implied that his priorities would reflect the American people’s commitment to change, whereby the mind and disposition of government would reflect the mind and disposition of the people. Regarding Black people, however, if our collective condition continues to require external intervention, then we may find our relationship with government as that of a junior partner having little or no say.

Answering our unique problems with our own unique solutions shows our maturity as individuals and as leaders. By making personal responsibility paramount in our lives, we lessen our dependency upon others to do for us what we are capable of doing for self. Through the pursuit of excellence, as Mr. Obama has done, we show the world that Black is synonymous with neither hopelessness nor helplessness; and by way of vision and foresight, we build institutions to serve not only our own needs, but also the needs of our subsequent generations.

In the face of adversity, it is best to be united and of a mind to succeed, but while some of our people have been led to believe that our struggle has ended with the ascension of President Obama, the wise and the prudent among us realize that our true struggle is just beginning. As Black people, we have much “housekeeping” to attend to and it all starts with our determination to make a change in self.

In order to take our rightful place at the table, we must break the shackles of fear, dismiss the old notions of paternalism and stand up as responsible men and women who are both willing and able to work within a new paradigm. Today, Black leadership must expand their agendas beyond that of social inclusion and make the transfer of knowledge the means by which the “playing field” is leveled.

Through the acquisition of profitable information, African-Americans can once and for all establish the economic niche we have unfortunately lacked for so long - the niche, that historically speaking, was denied us through centuries of injustice, government machinations and in some cases ignorance.

In order to overcome the barriers that for years have impeded our progress, Black leadership today must embrace a philosophy of “proactive anticipation.” To elevate our community from the reactionary posture that has unfairly defined it for so long, being of a mind to offer solutions before problems arise becomes a noble goal. From this position, Black people are better able to interact with the greater community, generate opportunities for our youth and build institutions unique to our needs.

In times of trouble, it goes without saying that difficult days require strong and competent leadership. With fears of further unemployment, a steeper decline of the dollar and the possibility of hyper-inflation being not at all unfounded, Americans are grateful to have a president qualified to lead them through the rocky road ahead.

Bold and competent leadership is likewise needed in the Black community where far too often empty rhetoric and posturing take precedent over sound ideas and solutions. Our communities deserve better and for our conditions to be reversed, it is we who must rise to the occasion, take the bull by the horns and make that “change” everyone is talking about.