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16 Mar 2024

Commentary: Black power plus specific Black intent

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March 16, 2024 Category: Commentary Posted by:

By George Burrell

ABOVE PHOTO: Mayor Cherelle Parker signs executive orders in her new office on Inauguration Day at City Hall in Philadelphia, on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024. Parker is the city’s 100th mayor, becoming the first woman to do so.
(Monica Herndon/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Mayor Parker
Establishing a minority business success office and inviting the public to hold the administration accountable for outcomes is refreshing.

Hopefully Black and brown businesses will be given priority with white women businesses as a second tier. The office’s leader must be empowered. Public and private sector procurement professionals should be charged to produce written plans that produce in the normal course of business, increased year-over-year percentage participation, tier one subcontract awards, profit margins that facilitate access to capital and unbundled contracts to create Black prime contract opportunities. CEO engagement is necessary to insure accountability.

The mayor, council president and City Council’s Black majority should not shy away from prioritizing Black people, a core constituency. Ronald Reagan and George Bush governed to conservatives, and Bill Clinton to moderates without a discrimination peep.

The Urban League’s state of Black America
A McKinsey Black Economic Mobility study predicts that, “at the current pace, it will take one to three centuries to achieve Black parity.” — No rush.

In this file photo taken April 12, 1963 Rev. Ralph Abernathy, left, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lead a column of demonstrators as they attempt to march on Birmingham, Ala., City Hall. Arrested for leading a march against racial segregation in 1963, King Jr. spent days in solitary confinement writing his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” which was smuggled out and stirred the world by explaining why Black people couldn’t keep waiting for fair treatment. (AP Photo/Horace Cort)

CEO Marc Morial stressed voting as an obligation, rather than challenging Democrats. Black people are running out of gas as the party’s backbone in exchange for unfilled promises. In Philadelphia, 40% of Black people, mostly Democrats, live in poverty, deep poverty and economic insecurity, fear their children may not get home safely after school, and operate businesses which stand in line behind white women, while the status quo wins by a knockout, and protected class businesses — including those of white women — profit off of Black blood, sweat and tears.

As a Black man living a privileged life, I see threats to democracy. Donald Trump is a pending disaster, but in the 40% mirror, disaster is a daily reflection. Unless the Urban League and Democrats compete with billionaire racists, competing like the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter, two minutes left, no time outs, needing a touchdown to win, Black people have no selfish or hope-based motivation.

Wake up
Absent motivation, Black people skip elections without guilt or losing sleep. No Trump love exists, but Trump fear gets limited traction. President Biden needs to provide Black specifics on creating a clean, green, safe and economic opportunity for all. But we’re not getting (expletive) done –we need Black clarity with only eight months remaining before what could be history’s most important presidential election. In that context, voter registration targeting young Black men should add a turnout component. Blacks are arriving at “no mas” rejecting the message and messenger.

Fearless visionary leadership is key
Historically, fearless, visionary Black leaders have led the fight against racism, white privilege and delivered transformative outcomes. Mark Whitaker in “Saying It Loud” highlights Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, and Stokely Carmichael of SNCC. Philadelphia leaders with comparable skill sets are comfortable providing their “Philly thing” siloed leadership.

Nationally, Barack and Michelle Obama would be superstars. In “A Promised Land,” former President Obama writes that he entered public life to transform the Black experience and identifies Michelle as a partner in campaigning and governing. With them at the helm, a generational army would fall in line.

Imagine the Obamas challenging Black athletes and entertainers to forego personal foundations and aggregate funding to underwrite think tanks, transformative lobbying capabilities and independence for Black leadership organizations. On demand access to mainstream and social media would be at their fingertips, and Michelle would be a rock star. Without White House restraints, the former president and first lady could focus their extraordinary talents on transforming the Black experience. To whom much is given, much is expected.

Black power
The idea of Black power receives periodic criticism as unnecessarily negative. Apologies extended, but Black demographics for a quarter century relating to poverty, education, health care, housing, wealth creation, and safety, is a compelling argument. Absent demanding, disruptive and “negative” leadership, Black demographics will continue to run in place, except for we who are privileged and who can afford to be patient.

Civil rights and Black power movement leaders, even the nonviolent ones, were unapologetically demanding, disruptive and sometimes “negative” on local and national nightly news, and the front pages of Black media, such as Ebony and Jet.

Dr. King, in his “Letter from a Birmingham jail” called out white clergy advocating patience. Stokely, responding to Malcolm’s call to resist race-based violence, said, “We been saying freedom for six years, and we ain’t got nothin’. What we got to start saying now is Black Power! We want Black Power.”

That generation mirrored Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there’s no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will. Find out what people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them and will continue till resisted with either words, blows or both.”

Philadelphia businesses, institutions and new leadership organizations casually defaulting or deferring to George Floyd-themed promises, evidence little or no concern about the ability or willingness of Black leaders to impose consequences. A Black specific intent bus, armed with leaders irrevocably committed to transformative outcomes and willing to take the risks associated with non-negotiable demands and the exercise of Black power is essential. Black people lose, as long as the challenge is bigger than the response. Black power is not optimized through siloes, where large numbers of individuals, families and businesses get services, but optimism and hope remain unplugged.

Democrats not supporting progressives, running against democrats, is fair, but the two should partner, when governing. In Washington DC, Senators Sanders, Warren and the Squad have found common ground, despite governing conflicts.

Last fall Black democrats, threatened by the party chair, chose party and personal power, over the Black community’s best interests. Campaigning against Black progressives’ candidates, running against republicans with no history in the Black community. Stunning, given Black ward leaders do not get thrown out of the party for accepting dollars and supporting non-endorsed candidates.

Country boy – 76 years, rewards and regrets
I grew up in small South Jersey town, where racism was rationalized. Dr. King was a hero, so a college introduction to Malcolm’s legacy and the Nation of Islam were intellectual and philosophical challenges. After Wharton and Penn Law, business and political giants Reagan Henry and Bill Gray became mentors, teaching me strategic thinking and distinguishing between objective and self-interested decision making.

After a fierce rivalry with John Street on City Council and opposing his reelection and candidacy for council president Street violated Philly DNA, we became friends. Despite FBI and grand jury headaches, working with Street was a privilege. My procurement recommendations are the byproduct of a failure in the Street administration. Helping Black businesses, lawyers and financial advisers was a priority, but not transforming procurement, when I had the power, so Blacks could compete in the normal course of business without intervention was a negligent oversight.

These memos reflect a farm boy, experiencing America as a privileged Black man, looking back to evaluate. I’m proud of my personal legacy, but not my generations’ failure to accelerate Black access to the American Dream, given available resources.

After 50 years, I am convinced if Black leaders continue to operate in siloes without specific intent and a sense of urgency, Black futures will erode as America becomes a majority minority nation, where Blacks are not the largest majority member. Congressman James Clyburn recently identified why private sector power is a critical component in winning when he said, “the political process is about compromise — no one gets all they want.” Private sector power with lobbying resources would position Black elected officials to push whites beyond their comfort zone, accelerating the pace of change.

Visiting Black Hurricaine Katrina victims, Barack Obama concluded that no matter how much his life had changed for good, their lives had not changed for decades. They were forgotten people, forgotten voices, and people feeling neglected by a government blind or indifferent to their needs. This observation, now 19 years old, describes the 40% of Black Philadelphians living a version of those lives, praying the hurricane doesn’t come.

Running for City Council, Bill Miller persuaded a white ward leader to support my candidacy. Congressman Gray suggested meeting to confirm support. Why? “Because Bill cannot impose consequences, but, if she reneges on a commitment to me, she knows I can and will,” Gray said. Former president and current GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump derailed bipartisan border legislation based on fear of consequences.

Black leaders have become comfortable insiders, hoarding and exercising power within non-transformative and non-threatening boundaries. Black power positioned to impose consequences is essential, because Black people do not independently control the resources required to pave multi-lane pathways to the American Dream from cradle to grave. Black power needs to integrated and rebalanced. The community stakeholders, led by Sam Staten and Ryan Boyer, can facilitate that dialogue and outcome.

Warning signs
The billionaire/Republican/Supreme Court (the racists) attack on DEI is a civil war, not a speed bump, and Black people not voting last spring in the most expensive election in history — in which every Black leader in Philadelphia was aggressively engaged — is a warning. There will be four years with the racists in charge if we keep straight at the next intersection, Election Day 2024.

At this Mason-Dixon Line, Black people have delivered Black Power and have earned the rising tides that lift all boats and provides lifelines for those who are doggie paddling in poverty, public and charter schools and struggling businesses. Time to drive a stake in the ground and deliver transformative outcomes for Black people across the economic spectrum over the next decade.

If Joe Biden had kept his 2020 South Carolina promise, he would be enjoying a comfortable lead in swing states. The State of the Union address spoke directly to independent white women and the LGBTQ+ community, but not Black people. If you were among the 40% living untenable lives, would the president, reporting Black unemployment and poverty are at record lows nationally and that his priority is the middle class, resonate? I remember raising the middle-class issue with Valerie Jarrett during the first Obama campaign, and the candidate thereafter referred to the middle class and those aspiring to the middle class. Black people no longer interpret political rhetoric, regardless of messenger, as gospel, and are fed up with ‘Waiting for Godot.’

A March 9 Daily News editorial captures the ‘take Black people for granted, smack in the face, 2024 generic Black communication,’ when it highlighted, “pressing issues at stake, including climate change, immigration, inflation, abortion rights, Obamacare, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, peace in the Middle East, the future of NATO, support for Ukraine, crime, public education, student loan debt, gay marriage, and affordable housing.”

Generic messaging is a loser, whether the messenger is Black or white.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, The Philadelphia Sunday SUN, the author’s organization, committee or other group or individual.

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