Black Empowerment 2017

With the Barack Obama presidency a thing of the past, and the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue constantly at the center of controversy, many Blacks have serious concerns about our current and future well-being. The administration members installed and policies pushed by President Donald Trump, have only exacerbated these fears, and have prompted some to seek old and new methods for affecting positive change for Black people in 2017 and beyond.

According to University of Houston History Professor Gerald Horne, the path forward is simple, yet not easy.

“How do we bring about change; three words – organize, organize, organize,” said Horne. “Form or join a block association, or student group or tenants’ union or workplace union and push aggressively for better housing, cheaper tuition, better working conditions and higher wages.”

For Dr. Merline Pitre, Interim Dean of Texas Southern University’s College of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences (COLABS), change involves tending to several specific areas, the first of which demands getting more people out to vote.

“One of the ways by which one can change government in a democracy is by voting,” said Pitre, “that is, voting people into office who support the interests of Black people.”

Pitre added two other suggestions that have already gained local and national traction and attention, advocating for economic empowerment in Black communities and becoming more involved in criminal justice reform. The #BuyBlack and #BankBlack movements have continued to grow in impact and participation. The monthly Buy Black Marketplace held at the Shrine Cultural and Event Center, as well as other similar efforts, and the surge in Blacks opening accounts at Unity Bank attest to the momentum these movements have garnered.

Regarding Blacks’ involvement in criminal justice reform, Michelle Alexander’s best-selling book “The New Jim Crow,” the advocacy work of Randall Robinson and the Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stevenson have rallied more troops nationally to that critical cause.

Pitre, however, added an additional vehicle for change.

“We must encourage more Blacks to become school teachers. There seems to be a decline in the number of Black teachers in the school system, although African Americans and Hispanics make up the majority of the student body population in many urban areas.”

Statistics seem to bear out Pitre’s concerns. According to the September/October 2016 issue of Mother Jones, “In Philadelphia, the number of Black teachers fell 18.5 percent between 2001 and 2012. In Chicago, it dropped 40 percent.” And the Department of Education’s “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce” report (July 2016) begins with a quote from then Education Secretary John B. King Jr’s March 8, 2016 speech at Howard University which states, “Without question, when the majority of students in public schools are students of color and only 18 percent of our teachers are teachers of color, we have an urgent need to act.”

Dr. Anthony Pinn of Rice University holds several titles, including Professor of Humanities, Professor of Religious Studies, Director of Graduate Studies, Founding Director of Rice’s Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning, and more. So it is no surprise that he believes there is more than one method needed to bring about change for Black people in 2017.

“We need robust conversation concerning the forms of oppression impacting Black communities,” began Pinn. “And, we then need to recognize the need for multiple strategies to address those overlapping forms of oppression.  We need to protest publicly with our bodies, privately with our dollars and votes, and we need to build solidarity across lines of difference.”

All agree that change, be it educational, economic, judicial, or otherwise, won’t happen for Blacks in a day, but rather daily, with sustained effort.

“Change cannot occur overnight or in a vacuum,” said Prairie View A&M University History Professor Dr. Ronald Goodwin. “For there to be a change in 2017 the Black community has to build upon existing foundations, particularly in economics and education.”

Goodwin suggests taking a page from Booker T. Washington’s playbook and investing in vocational skills as Washington stated over 100 years ago when he said, “No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”

“Today’s Black millennials must also understand this and not be seduced by the fast money of sports, entertainment, and drugs,” added Goodwin, who also suggests Blacks recognize the debt Blacks owe to past generations.

“Today’s millennials seem to think Blacks have always had access to the state’s flagship universities. The reality is that those doors have not always been open to Blacks. Few students at Texas Southern know the story of Heman Sweatt and the efforts by state officials to keep Blacks out of the University of Texas,” said Goodwin, who believes whether today’s college-bound students attend an HBCU or a predominantly white college, they should recognize the debt they owe those who came before.

Goodwin believes one of the best ways to lay a foundation for 2017 change is for Blacks to deemphasize sports and entertainment, and understand Black history and the value of hard work and sacrifice.

“Surely, there are many with the God-given talents to be a Beyoncé or James Harden. However, to quote Washington, ‘Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor, and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life.’”