Now more than any time since the Civil Rights Movement, black leadership is severely challenged by relevancy. Though attempts to marginalize Malcolm X while he was alive – both from within and outside the black community – failed miserably, he has mostly faded into history.
Without Malcolm X, no universal Martin Luther King Jr. would have emerged, nor a Jesse Jackson on his coattails. Malcolm repudiated white America — lifted up her skirt and showed the dirt. Martin and other civil rights leaders essentially pleaded with white America to allow “Negroes” to be like them, to be a part of them!
James Brown brought mass sanity with the anthem “I’m Black and I’m proud.” Being black and being African-American began to overshadow the name “Negro,” but the term was consistently used by civil rights leaders, especially in the white and black press.
It has been more than 40 years since the assassinations of both Malcolm X and Dr. King, and the Black Nationalist and civil rights movements have mostly fizzled into oblivion. The Rev. Al Sharpton is now virtually the only national face and voice of civil rights in America.
The tepid Urban League and befuddled NAACP have no discernable national image, the King children are fighting over control of their father’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Congress of Racial Equality is all but gone. These are, indeed, defining times for black leadership.
What stupefies is the fact that there are more than 10,000 black elected officials in America at the local, state and national levels whose black constituencies remain unorganized. How can this be? Add the churches that proliferate within black communities and determine whether or not black political and religious leaders, as a group, are quite more than irresponsible, and are, in effect, psychotic.
(According to the Oxford American Dictionary of Current English, a psychotic is “… a person suffering from a psychosis.” And psychosis means “a severe mental derangement, esp. when resulting in delusions and loss of or defective contact with external reality.”)
Instead of adding and multiplying, black leaders tend to subtract from each other and divide. There are no folkways and mores, like cement between bricks to build upon.
There are no modern black leaders in the mold of Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. Those men were not just interested in a “talented tenth” of black people.
They tried to build self sufficiency for all black people.
They tried to organize black people economically, culturally and politically.
Greed is so massive that it is overwhelming the American economic system of capitalism. White America is suffering a recession while black America is in the throes of a looming depression. Sanity would presume it logical to organize. Now I ask you, is that right or wrong? Look around and ask yourself two questions: What is black leadership doing? What am I going to do?
Black America needs to grow a leadership that emerges through organization, not from downtown money and the white press. A new paradigm that centers on the multiplier effect is in order. Sheer numbers of people who are engaged, who are informed and properly directed, are necessary to carry out the future growth and development of black America.
These are defining times for black leadership.
Leaders are not necessarily the black lawyers, preachers, politicians and educators. Some come from prison, like Malcolm X and the biblical Paul, who organized communities of believers into an economic, cultural and spiritual matrix.
Some are youngsters who emerge through great trial, like David. And there are so many young and older women of great skill and wisdom who go untapped for their God-given gifts. As a people, we are remiss. We must get back to sanity. We must get back to James Brown: “I’m Black and I’m proud.”
And organize, organize, organize!