by William P. Muhammad
As we approach the end of the millennium’s first decade, it is clear that many of history’s lessons from the twentieth century have gone unheeded. With America embroiled in two wars, unemployment in the double-digits and a population divided over the policies of America’s first Black president, Black Americans have still found themselves “the last hired and the first fired” while clinging to increasingly outdated social, economic and educational paradigms.
As middle management is cut in the name of flattening tall organizational structures, profits are coming at the price of increased worker output as job positions are both downsized and eliminated. Employment opportunities that were previously long term, leading to pensions and retirement, are now becoming things of the past as the dollar loses its value and economic uncertainty continues.
For years Black people in America have been made to believe that the key to socio-economic advancement has been in getting an education in order to find a job. While such thinking has been the traditional model for upward mobility, it is fast becoming an outdated plan of action within the context of both wealth creation and long term economic security.
Going to college to find a job may be desirable, but graduating from school in order to create jobs is much more in tune with the time in which we live. Receiving a true education that stresses math and the sciences, and frees the mind to seek out and accomplish self-interests, is superior to that which trains prospective employees to fit into an increasingly obsolete workforce.
In an economy that continues to streamline itself by sending manufacturing and service industry jobs to cheaper labor markets overseas, Black workers are increasingly compelled to compete against a labor force that earns only a fraction of the American wage. Within this context, additional stress is placed upon both individuals and communities as jobs disappear and workers are left behind.
Since it is unlikely that vibrant and dynamic Black communities will emerge from the hard work of others, our social scientists, business professionals and urban planning experts should consider new models for our collective advancement and success. With the aim of breaking the counter-productive mindsets of ignorance and dependency on others, for those bold enough to try, new ideas will open the doors of opportunity.
With the goal of building communities that are “safe and decent places to live,” a meeting of the minds, focusing on properly training, guiding and supporting our people, could make technological innovation, the skilled trades and college level education into a means of breaking the mold. With finding employment after graduation only a stepping stone toward independence, matriculating for the purpose of doing for self will help to create a new economic paradigm.
Nearly every ethnic group in America has built an independent community that manifests its social, political and economic interests. Through building businesses or by exercising cultural assertiveness, these groups also educate their children to continue their legacies and to build upon their collective successes. Whether Asian, South Asian, Latin, or European, these groups have immigrated to America with a tradition of doing for self, building for self and establishing institutions that serve the interests of self.
Black people have already proven a capacity to build according to our self-interests and in the face of opposition we have also shown an ability to rise above the circumstances in our lives. No one will build a Black community but Black people, and it is only when we take ownership of the fruits of our labor that we will have the wherewithal to maintain and safeguard “a piece of this earth that we can call our own.”
To build a community that is productive, respected and relevant, Black people must consider the importance of transformation. Changing the aesthetics of a rundown neighborhood by planting gardens, cleaning up trash and painting over graffiti is good, but transforming our people through a new “educational paradigm” is better. An assertive people with pride in themselves take pride in their communities and proud communities make for stable environments where men, women and children can live in peace together.
In order to build schools, factories, hospitals and enter into international trade and commerce for the good of ourselves, our families and our people, we must resurrect the do-for-self work ethic that had proven so effective among us in the past. We must also be about the business of leaving a legacy of which our children will be proud and allow for them to build upon it. The window for taking decisive action is fast closing and there isn’t much time to lose.