(BALTIMORE – January 29, 2016) – The church, the business leaders, the community leaders and the politicians – too often – are not on the same page. If they were, there would be a much different discussion than the one currently the topic of conversation as the next election is less than 90 days out.
A solid mayor can make a difference, just as a solid president can.
However, they cannot do it without the people. In truth, it all starts with the people.
What’s happening specifically as it relates to the black community – in Baltimore – and nationally, is that we are working in silos where many folks have little fiefdoms. Everybody is working on something, however, because of a lack of communication – let alone issues of trust (and truth be told, jealousy) – Baltimore City is nowhere near being the center of empowerment that it once was and that it could be.
We are stingy, to borrow the words of former Delegate and City Councilman Melvin Stukes. We are unforgiving of ourselves, so you know damn well we cannot forgive anybody else. And we are entitled. On top of that, we’ve collectively raised our children to feel entitled.
Our African American ancestors fresh out of slavery, sometimes void of even a second grade education, were able to save their pennies, nickels and dimes and build Historically Black Colleges and Universities. They were led by common sense.
Today, we have more college degrees than any generation prior and we are in fact closing black colleges (This is a whole other conversation, to say the least).
My point is that somehow, our education is not translating into a more empowered African American community, in the city or the county for that matter. Why? Because we fail to work together.
Part of me wants to blame the tenure of Martin O’Malley as mayor. Yet, as much as it is easy to point the finger at a presidential candidate who locked up one out of every six Baltimoreans, I will not. I honestly believe that if our pastors (who get a phone call during every single election from leading politicians who want their church’s support), our business leaders (who are often on some of the big time boards around town, our community leaders who know about every grant before it even becomes public and our terribly challenged black politicians (challenged, in part, because of the need to raise money) were more in lockstep, Baltimore could be a phenomenally empowering city for African Americans who comprise the majority of this city.
To date, this dream has been deferred. Where Baltimore was once a haven for black folks, integration proved to be a blessing and a curse. Sure, many of those who could afford to move to the suburbs for better homes and schools did move. And that is all good. For Baltimore, though, it meant that it lost some pretty remarkable people. What’s left is a scaled-down community that includes many folks who are barely making it.
In short, Baltimore has a lot of poor black people. My honest thought is that no politician alone can do anything if the larger community in not in sync. Over the years, we have lost many of our great thinkers: Congressman Parren J. Mitchell. Homer Favor. Rev. Vernon Dobson. Sen. Clarence Blount. And yes, Delegate Howard “Pete” Rawlings. Regionally, we lost Mayor for Life Marion Barry down in DC.
These and others carried the torch for the black community in Baltimore, once an instrumental stronghold for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the overall Civil Rights Movement. The Greater Baltimore Urban League is another important institution that has historically been a source of empowerment for our community. There is the Presidents Roundtable, a group of black millionaires. There is Harbor Bank of Maryland. There is Coppin and Morgan, and we have to acknowledge Sojourner-Douglass College. And, there are mega-churches from East to West. Do you see all of that power?
We also have fraternities, sororities and Masonic orders.
What I’m saying is that we really and truly have everything we need in order to succeed. So, what do we do?
Simple solution: Love.
Without question, if we use love as our guiding principle, I am confident we can fix any ill in our community, including AIDS, homelessness, under-education, and the cornucopia of dudes standing on the corner with their pants down around their ankles.
“If it is to be, it is up to me!” This is the mindset we must take in order to preserve something in this city for its largest group of residents.
My God, this city doesn’t even have a Harriet Tubman statue. Beyond that, historic black names have been removed from schools over the past several years – names like George G. Kelson who owned Kelson Funeral Home, the largest black business in Sandtown for years. Our history – including City Councilman Harry Cummings’ home – is disappearing before our very eyes while we stand idly by and do nothing.
Forget about the tens of thousands of vacants that have exponentially multiplied in recent years because places like Sandtown have been viewed will ill regard. When we lose a sense of our own history and then allow others to tell our story from their own perspective, we have sincerely failed to honor our ancestors and the legacy they built for us.
One positive development out of the tragic death of Freddie Gray is that finally, attention is being placed on Sandtown. (Another whole story we will have to touch later). A lesson that comes with this is that … nobody can do for you what you can and should do for yourselves. Another: Outside money tends to have strings whereby the true empowerment of a said community is constantly threatened, so … do it yourself because as soon as you become a problem, the “We Are The World” foundation money gets cut off and you are right back where you started.
You see, fam: We have a trillion dollars in annual disposable income nationally. Can you imagine if our churches worked in tandem with our businesses and our community leaders and gave our black elected officials the financing and the direction they need to effectively represent us in Annapolis, at City Hall and in Congress? We could handle anything that comes our way.
Then, we will have … true self-empowerment and a truly empowered community. It will simple take a lot of love … communication, and forgiveness … beginning with self.