Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
Over the past two years, I’ve met with hundreds of Black men and women in a number of cities, who are designated, appointed, elected, or by doing the work of our community can/should be considered as our leaders. It’s obvious, based on what many do on a daily basis, they have a good understanding of the problems facing the Black community. Unfortunately, the needle isn’t moving and we’re not making any real progress as a group – in fact, our problems are getting worse. Who is to blame? Black leadership and/or the lack of Black leadership have a significant level of culpability.
Who represents the Black community locally and/or nationally? Who speaks for the Black community? When it’s time to negotiate on behalf of the Black community, who represents Black people? Is it Rev. Al Sharpton? Is it Minister Louis Farrakhan? Is it the NAACP? Is it the Urban League? Who is it? Is it Black elected officials? Is it President Obama? The honest answer is that the Black community has no leader. I compare our community to a body without a head because having a multitude of leaders is like having no leaders at all, especially if those individual leaders are not working together.
We live in a democracy and in a democracy everyone, if you want to “win,” must have leadership and/or be a leader. Every group has representation and every idea, if it’s to win among other ideas, must have a voice. Where is our Black leadership? How is it that our leaders are unable to mount any real and sustained campaign to challenge the multitude of serious issues facing the Black community? Given our current socio-economic condition coupled with the history that we’ve faced in this country having leadership is not some option – it’s an absolute necessity. The Black man in America is a very unique group unlike no other in the world.
We were snatched and robbed from our motherland by extreme force; carted here like cargo under the most vicious and inhumane conditions; placed into the most violent levels of chattel slavery for nearly 300 years; and during this same period, we were systemically stripped of nearly every aspect of our culture, history, language and knowledge of self. Our ancestors fought against a very powerful foe and in many cases won only to leave the leaders of this current generation with a severe case of amnesia forgetting all of the horrible things that have happened to us in this country and not realizing that the gains that were achieved came with the ultimate level of sacrifice on behalf of our ancestors. Is it no wonder that we still are talking about police brutality; mass incarceration of Black men; and the inequalities in every measurable area (i.e. economics, education, health, etc.) at levels not seen since we’ve been emancipated?
The Black community as a whole hasn’t had a real win in nearly 50 years and our issues are now considered to be in the final stages of a terminal disease. This paralysis of Black progress also occurred during the same period when a number of other groups had tremendous victories. If we look at what’s happening in the Latino community and how they are now considered the “preferred” minority – from immigration reform to business set asides – their organization is paying off. The LBGT community has legally challenged the traditional definition of marriage and we see the legalization of gay marriage by a number of states. The extreme conservative right (Tea Party) has, in a very short time, become an absolute powerhouse within the Republican party advocating extremely conservative policies that if not met come with immediate and serious consequences for the violators.
In a democracy you must have leadership or you perish. This is truer when you’re at the bottom of the economic ladder. What is leadership? The definition of a leader is a person or organization that can establish a clear vision so that others could willingly follow and those they provide information, knowledge and methods to realize that vision and coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all stakeholders. A leader is exceptionally visible in times of crisis and is able to think and act creatively in difficult situations. Are we not in a time of crisis? Shouldn’t the type of leadership reflect this state of crisis? Then where is Black Leadership?
Our leaders continue to fail us by not doing the very basic things needed. We must be united. We see division at every level. Our academia has not been able to, as a collective, utilize the knowledge acquired from the so-called best universities in the world, to advance the self-determination of Black people. I asked you if Harvard, Yale, or Princeton University taught us how to do for self? The tools we were given only allow us to assimilate (we act like we’re at the top of the food chain but we’re at the bottom) and even uphold systems and public policy that oppress our own people. Our religious leaders are divided into so many different sects that it’s practically impossible to align to allow for “functional” unity. The on going spiritual message from each spiritual center is self-serving that is geared at keeping and maintaining the status quo – dis-unity is quietly preached. Our politicians clearly have lost their way. They practice majority politics but forget that they are a minority. When you’re a minority in politics, you consolidate your power by becoming a caucus. In many cases, the Black caucus is ineffective, unorganized and uninspired. Rarely have I seen the Black politicians pool their individual power.
We have no Black leadership because we have no Black unity. We won’t have Black unity until the leaders begin to unite. This is real leadership. Everyone agrees that if we keep doing the same thing that we’ve been doing, we will get the same outcomes. Creating a collective is absolutely the way to go. However, distrust has paralyzed and morphed our community into a deep level of hopelessness. Unfortunately, the distrust can never be challenged if we don’t come together. The ultimate Catch 22 – We need to establish trust among our people, but distrust keeps us from making an effort. Our leadership must set the example of the unity that our people need. We can all talk about our problems (we have experts) ad nauseam. Unfortunately, few discuss what we can do to get out of this mess and can describe step-by-step as to how.
There are three things that we must recognize if we are to have a shot at changing our conditions: 1) It’s going to take a significantly high level of unity among Black people, especially our leaders; 2) Our progress will only come when we organize our resources, capacities, and people; and 3) We will have to earn the success that we envision. No one will give us what we need and what we deserve. We must do the work. What’s really going on with the Black leaders in Milwaukee? Our conditions demand that you get out of your comfort zone and make your voice heard. We must end our self-imposed complacency and join the fight. We won’t EVER be able to remove the distrust we harbor until we internally fight against the “Catch 22” and get ourselves to the table. Too many of are sitting on the fence waiting to see what happens.