Regardless of the ascension of Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States, racism remains the greatest threat to our efforts toward peace and unity. Far too often, politicians, journalists and so-called leaders lack ideas as to how to inspire people and often resort to the lowest common denominator to mobilize support on the basis of racial and cultural differences. “Us against them” is the political mantra of the ideologically lazy.
While racism is our country’s original sin, another reality has recently insinuated itself on the edges of our national consciousness in the midst of what has been called the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, social and economic inequality. America is one of the most unequal countries in the world where it has been estimated that the top 2% of the population control close to 80% of the country’s wealth while the bottom 10% control less than 1%. This inequality of opportunities has placed near-permanent barriers that lock large sections of our population in an inescapable poverty trap – the poor get poorer while the rich get richer. Too many cannot properly feed their children or afford quality education for them, which locks them out of the job market and confines them to lowly paid jobs and the cycle continues.
Against the backdrop of the struggles of the nation and in spite of the challenges facing our city, or perhaps because of them, we as a community must continue in the effort to build a society that upholds human dignity. I am convinced that our diverse ethnic groups are a gift from God out of which we can create a beautiful mosaic as we learn from one another’s strengths and make up for each other’s weaknesses. In order to overcome our challenges and create a new paradigm, we must remain selfless and creative while fighting for the policies that are necessary to raise the standard of living for everyone and working for the day when no child will have to go to bed on an empty stomach. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once poignantly reminded us, there is enough for all our needs, but not for all our greeds.
Leadership in the black community must be groomed in order to meet the challenges of the current generation. As opposed to utilizing divisive tactics, such as designating a select few as our spokespersons, we must realize that leaders come from all classes and professions. Therefore, “designated black community leadership” is a dated concept that only serves to further divide an already splintered community. The fact is, the black community and those who profess leadership in it, have never been monolithic or single-minded.
The great generational divide we continue to experience can only be bridged when we recognize that progress is not made up of the young replacing the old or the old putting the young in its “proper place,” but the old and the young working together for the good of the entire community. We should continue to value the wisdom and the experience of the old, but they must recognize that whatever their past achievements, there is no success without a successor. They must therefore prepare a new generation of leaders in all sectors to take the dream forward.
As we negotiate the treacherous curves on the path to the future, we as a community have a historical role to play in modeling a truly caring, compassionate and united community and in shining a light in the dark corners of our city, commonwealth and nation that are currently inhabited by the ghosts of racism, inequality, crime, violence and other forms of injustice.