gilbert-raiford-web.jpgSecond of two-parts.

African Americans know from history that we cannot relax our vigil. Racism is still very much with us. The task is to keep on keeping on. The task is to refrain from simply glorifying our heritage and, instead, use it as an indicator of what oppressed people can achieve.

Structurally, it should be easier for us than it was for our foreparents. Their barriers were erected mainly by others, whereas we primarily erect our own. (We were duped into thinking that legalized integration is the same as mandated equal treatment. We are beginning to find out that there is no association.)

Vigil is essential to hold the American social and political systems to the professed ideals of this country. These ideals are lofty and the country has consistently shown that when these ideals are called to question the nation responds. That is, perhaps, the greatest lesson of Martin Luther King Jr. And when the so-called race card is dealt, you play it because it is most likely the only trump you have.

Gone are the days when African Americans can eke out a living as laborers. Even though a national minimal wage was established, many states — Florida excluded — were shamed by it and instituted a higher minimum. (The national minimal wage is about half of the established poverty line). In spite of this, Florida employers are very likely to use the national structure.

But even if we could make a living as a laborer, job opportunities for African Americans are no longer there. They have been taken over by the newly arrived immigrants and refugees.

Preparation is essential not just to succeed but also to survive in the 21st Century. A computer will be as essential as a car, if not more so. Software will be considerably more of a gift than Michael Jordan shoes and hair weave. In time, computers will replace books and journals. School homework will be impossible to do without a computer in the home. (The few computers in schools and public libraries are not nearly enough to respond to the high volume of users and use is time limited).

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, which forecasts the labor market, lists the 10 top employment areas for the 21st Century. They are systems analysis and computer support, engineering, healthcare, personal and home care, marketing and sales, investment and financial services, general management, retail industry (sales), social work and education.

All of those areas require various kinds of education and/or training. It is not glib to say that the future belongs to those who prepare for it. The competition for employment in any job category will be herculean. Those who cannot effectively compete are destined to become members of the permanent underclass, alternating between homelessness and welfare.

The vehicle that will move the African American into the 21st Century has already been built and we just need to get on board. That vehicle is our rich heritage, symbolized by our penchant for education and its power to grant us upward mobility.

It is symbolized by our demonstrative inventive genius that enabled us to make wonderful and enduring contributions to the world in the areas of science, culinary arts, entertainment and literature.

It is symbolized in our long history of gracious survival as an oppressed people and it is symbolized in our unity as we begin to make no distinction between the general welfare of ourselves and that of other black brothers and sisters who have come here to swell our numbers.

As we stand on the horizon of this new and mysterious century, we look to our heritage to propel us forward.     

Gilbert L. Raiford is a retired social worker who has had a long career in teaching and working for the U.S. Department of State. He may be reached at