The recent analysis on local black leadership (or lack thereof) entitled “Missing in Action,” published by PolicyBridge, a black think tank, takes a deep dive into the myriad ills affecting Cleveland’s black community and offers up a slate of potential solutions. The report is to be applauded for its effort to galvanize the black community into action and create a sense of urgency in terms of addressing the ills that hold us back. The report can be read in its entirety here.
While the report focuses on the fairly recent past — the last 50 years or so — the problems within black communities (in Cleveland and other locales around the country) go back much further, indeed, all the way back to Emancipation. By 1903 W.E.B. Du Bois recognized that we had a problem and wrote in The Soul of Black Folk that “…all races advance by a surging forward of the exceptional man, and the lifting of his poorer and duller brethren to his vantage ground.”
I submit that as a race we have not paid enough attention to Du Bois’ admonition. We certainly could take a lesson from the Jewish community in terms of helping each other out. But granted, they’ve had thousands of years of practice, while we American blacks have had less than 200 years — and for most of those years, every roadblock imaginable has been thrown in our way.
Middle-class blacks do an excellent job of raising funds and providing college scholarships for the sons and daughters of our doctors, lawyers and other professionals. But we tend to avoid those still trapped and poverty, crime and low goals — avoiding them as if they have the plague. Blacks in Greater Cleveland are among the most address-conscious folks in the country; many can hardly wait to move to outer ring suburbs and then often proudly boast “We’re the only black family on our street!” Idiots.
So, while I agree with many of the suggestions contained in the PolicyBridge report (particularly in regards to educating youth in civic engagement), I submit that a lack of new black leadership is not our only, or indeed, our primary problem. To my mind, it’s a lack of involvement on the part of the average black citizen in the uplifting of our race that is holding us back, not a dearth of black leadership.
The way the report reads, it suggests that in the past the black community had a group of successful leaders, which is simply not so. Men like Carl and Lou Stokes, George Forbes and Michael White were indeed talented, driven and dedicated. But alas, they, for the most part, were not impactful; they were not able to overcome the deep-seated, institutionalized racism manifested by the corporate power structure that rules Cleveland, and were thwarted in their efforts at every turn, in spite of their skills and best intentions. The proof of the foregoing is this: If these black leaders were so successful, then why are the problems they dedicated their lives to solving still with us, and indeed have worsened in many instances?
Nonetheless, we do have a cadre of emerging young black leaders, such as the brilliant community organizer Yvonka Hall, who is leading the charge on the issue of lead paint removal in Cleveland; my Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones, whose community meetings are so packed it’s hard to find a nearby parking space; Erika Anthony, who is doing excellent public policy research at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress; Ward 6 councilman Blaine Griffin, who is ably setting the table for the renewal of a large part of Fairfax; Crystal Bryant, who is spearheading innovative strategies as the director of the Office of Reentry for the county; the very smart Anthony Hairston of Ward 10, who is gaining quite the reputation around City Hall for his diligence and insightfulness; Kevin Alin, the president of New Frontiers Development Group, who wants to insure that black builders fully participate in the development and rebuilding of Eastside neighborhoods — and my list could go on and on: Bishara Addison, Mordecai Cargill, Justin Bibb, Evelyn Burnett, Jeremy Taylor, Freddy Collier, Cicely Philpot, Angela Bennett, Alton Tinker (I told you I could go on and on). I’m privileged to know many of the brightest and most engaged young black leaders in Cleveland, and they cause me — as they should cause you —to almost burst with pride. We need to recognize and lift them up.
This is not to say the PolicyBridge report — while a bit Delphic — is inaccurate in its findings, although I do find it lacking in placing the blame for conditions in the black community where much of it squarely belongs: On good ’ol institutionalized, American-styled racism. Scant mention is made of all of the efforts that have been ongoing for over a century — and usually via official government policy, mind you— to keep blacks at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Indeed, the report did briefly mention the redlining that has historically been engaged in by financial institutions that have been used to prevent the accumulation of black wealth. But it fails to charge those responsible with the crimes they have been committing against the black community, crimes that can only be remedied through the Courts, which — in most cases — have ruled for continued racism and against inclusion and fair play.
Know this: America was built on two things: Slavery and credit. We cannot erase the former, but we should focus laser-like on doing something about the latter. We blacks did not put ourselves at the disadvantages — social, economic and cultural — that we find our race mired in at this juncture of this American experiment in democracy. No, there’s nothing wrong with us, but rather, as Randall Robinson said in The Debt his brilliant 2001 book, “… something was done to us.”
The fact is, we know who did this to us, how they did it, and even why they did it: America had to give poor whites someone to look down on so they would not look upwards at the rich folk who have systemically kept them on the verge of poverty. Black poverty is a tool used to placate impoverished whites, who increasingly are living paycheck to paycheck, but are fond of saying, “I may be poor, but at least I ain’t a nigger!”
The PolicyBridge report calls for a deeper involvement on the part of blacks in the local and national political dialogue, and in that respect, it’s dead accurate. Black Clevelanders aren’t the only group in the country suffering in innumerable ways and the only real solution has to come from where the problem emanates: Washington, DC. All Americans who wish for a better life have to organize and in 2020 go to the polls and take back the country. Otherwise we all — black and white — are in deep shit.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.