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|The conundrum of Black Progress -- Where to from here?|
|Written by Roger Madison Jr.|
|Friday, 07 October 2011|
The pinnacle of African American progress in the USA seemed to have been achieved with the election of a Black President. If so, why are African Americans so far behind in education, employment, home ownership, entrepreneurship, and our wealth is 1/20th of the average white household?
At nearly every station of American progress, you can find the presence of African Americans: successful entrepreneurs and millionaires; Corporate managers and "C" level execs -- CEOs, CFOs, CIOs; Academic achievements -- Ph.Ds in many disciplines; Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners; military leaders; political leaders; leaders in entertainment and sports (including ownership); even Black billionaires. Why then, does this not translate to widespread advance?
What is the conundrum? Why don't significant achievements of individual African Americans translate into significant progress broadly for all African Americans? Why have our collective efforts yielded such poor results?
Is it professional organization? We have formed the NAACP, National Urban League, UNIA (United Negro Improvement Association), Southern Christian Leadership Council, National Society of Black Engineers, National Medical Association, National Black MBA Association, National Bar Association, and many others. Yet, our professional and organizational efforts lag in affecting broad advance -- in society at large, or in creating a stronger professional pipeline.
Is it grassroots organization? The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led the protest movement of the 60's. Dr. Leon Sullivan's OICs (Opportunity Industrialization Centers) led the movement to increase skills of Black workers in the 70's and 80's. Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH , and Al Sharpton's National Action Network, are examples of recent grassroots movements focused on the plight of disadvantaged African Americans. Why are the numbers of African Americans in poverty and the unemployed at Great Depression levels?
Finally, is it lack of political clout? The Congressional Black Caucus has 42 members in congress; there are more than 650 Black mayors across the country; and there are over 650 Blacks in state legislatures -- with representation in all but 9 states. Why hasn't our presence at every political level translated into significant benefits for African Americans?
There is a huge disconnect between perception and reality. There is a perception of widespread progress, but a disproportionate reality of increasing gaps. This is a riddle that has not been solved by political pundits, social activists, academic analysts, or business leaders. Where is the disconnect?
In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois said, "The problem of the 20th century is the color line." A full century later, the color line is still definitive in every measure of social progress toward the American dream. There is a real and measurable difference in the conditions in Black America and White America. Instead of iconic racists like the Ku Klux Klan, we now speak of "institutional barriers" to our progress. So, perhaps a different strategy is needed to break through these barriers.
strategy will produce new results. Most of what I read about the
progress of high achieving Blacks fits into the category of self-motivated
achievement. There is a lot to be said for self-starters. In fact, that is the
starting place for all high achievers. The recent death of Steve Jobs is a good
example. He was lauded as a genius, visionary, and driven to success. However,
he created an institution that will survive him, a culture of innovation, and an
inspiration for generations to come.
There is much that needs to be done to improve the number of successful African Americans in every aspect of American life. Most of what needs to be done needs to be done by us. But first we need to recognize that individual accolades and success stories without a collaborative effort to sustain the gains we have made will leave our children the legacy of being less well off than we are -- lost without a compass. We need to quit running from our African heritage when we become successful.
We can solve the riddle of Black progress if all of us recognize that none of us "has arrived" with a singular individual success. We are still in a game of catch up, and that requires greater effort to make progress. We must build "Black success institutions" that preserve our gains and leverage our progress for future gains. And finally, we need to quit apologizing for being Black. It is okay to say, "I'm Black and I'm Proud!"
Where to from here? I believe that we have much more collaborative capacity than we realize. The future is in our hands.
Roger Madison, CEO
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