2000-2009 End Of The Decade: Are We Better or Worse Off?

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    The end of the decade is upon us.

    Some of us are taking stock of the terrible decisions we’ve made, and others are rejoicing in accomplishing the best under their circumstances. Regardless of where we stand on the pendulum of the decade, the year 2009 is rolling quickly into the dustbin of history.

    Marking the end of a very trying and troublesome decade, 2009 will be remembered in Detroit, the nation and the world as a year of mixed fortunes. Thus we can ring in 2010 with resolutions and wishing family and friends and coworkers a happy new year, depending on what we have determined to do at the beginning of this new decade.

    But I am an eternal optimist and I refuse to see trouble and crisis in every opportunity. Instead, I want to see opportunity in the most difficult circumstances to enable me hope for the future with a resilient spirit. These are the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls, according to Thomas Paine. Yes, life presents difficulties, but there is always an opportunity for a strong comeback based on how willing we are to rise from the ashes, rising everytime we fall.

    The year 2010 is a hopeful one. And if you are doubtful about that, hear from one of my favorite R&B artists India.Arie, asking us to muster hope in the lyrics of one of her songs: “Back when I had a little, I thought that I needed a lot. A little was overrated, but a lot was a little too complicated. You see, zero didn’t satisfy me, a million didn’t make me happy. That’s when I learned a lesson that it’s all about your perception. Hey, are you a pauper or a superstar? So you act, so you feel, so you are. It ain’t about the size of your car, it’s about the size of the faith in your heart.”

    There is hope.

    Now let’s go down memory lane and recall what happened in the last decade, the reasons we must be hopeful as we move forward. A recap of the decade will reveal a very trying era that sometimes offered moments of hopelessness and in some instances, rays of hope.


    In this decade we witnessed the biggest story in the history of the Black experience in America. The world saw the campaign, nomination, election and eventual inauguration of the first Black president of the United States: Barack Obama. The son of a Kenyan man and a White woman from Kansas, Obama ignited hope for change in America and the world.

    SEPT. 11, 2001
    This was the day that terrorists hijacked planes and bombed the Twin Towers in New York, bringing the world’s financial capital to its knees, and hit the Pentagon, killing thousands. That day changed the world and the George W. Bush administration used that occasion to launch the war in Iraq in search for weapons of mass destruction that were never found. Today the United States is fighting two wars, one in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, two terrorist hotbeds.

    Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in Louisiana and the Gulf states. The dismal response of the Bush administration in sending aid to thousands of New Orleans residents – the majority of whom were African American – caught in the stench of the Silver ome for days, was a shocking reminder of a failed administration. Many died, including prisoners who could not be saved and senior citizens in nursing homes left to drown in the deadly floods. Many of those who survived remain homeless to this day. It was America’s “Third World moment” that revealed a large underclass – majority poor – who could not afford escaping the flood begging for help.

    Coretta Scott King, wife of civil rights and non-violence philosophy leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. succumbed after a long battle with illness. Known as the first lady of the Civil Rights Movement, Coretta Scott King, after her husband’s assassination, continued to be a voice for social and economic justice. Her death marked the end of an era and the impact the King family has had on America’s march toward freedom for all people.

    In this decade we saw the emergence of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and how Google positioned itself to compete with traditional media. These social media outlets have dramatically changed the landscape for traditional media at a time when Facebook alone boasts of 350 million users.

    The deregulation under the George W. Bush administration in this decade led to the financial meltdown on Wall Street with adverse impact on the lives of working poor who lost their homes and jobs. While Wall Street was bailed out with tax money for its own reckless actions, Main Street was left to pull itself up by its bootstraps.

    The nation watched one of the youngest and most promising politicians, Kwame Kilpatrick, descend into political destruction for major missteps taken by his administration in Detroit. The trappings of political power became the hallmark of an administration once considered ambitious and progressive. Now the former Kilpatrick administration is being haunted by the specter of federal corruption investigations; his former deputy mayor, Kandia Milton, pled guilty in federal court to bribery.

    We saw the election of businessman and former basketball great Dave Bing as mayor of the city Detroit after the fall of Kwame Kilpatrick. Bing has vowed to bring needed change in how the city does business as he faces a mounting budget deficit.

    General Motors and Chrysler shook the world when they went into bankruptcy, dashing the hopes of thousands of families. Emerging from bankruptcy with tax dollars, these two companies are still trying to figure their way out to economic solvency. Critics would say this was the result of shortsighted decisions made about its products in the ever-changing consumer environment. Meanwhile, Ford also faced challenges but was able to keep its head above water.

    Rosa Parks, known worldwide as the Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement, died in this decade in her adopted city of Detroit. When Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat to a White man on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955, it led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott which put the Civil Rights Movement in high gear, thrusting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the center of the movement.

    Former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, wife of Congressman John Conyers Jr., pleaded guilty to bribery charges in a billion dollar sludge-hauling deal. Others connected to the deal are facing charges, as Conyers awaits sentencing in March 2010.

    In this decade we saw the gradual dismantling of the Detroit Public Schools and its resouraces mismanaged from one administration to another. Despite the election of an empowered school board to end the state takeover of the district, DPS was still being mismanaged. That prompted Gov. Jennifer Granholm to appoint Robert Bobb as the new emergency financial manager. Since his arrival in Detroit like a tornado, Bobb has been instituting rigorous changes in the district. Most recently voters approved a $500 million bond to build new schools and upgrade the technology of the school system.

    Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer in the history of the game, was netting $100 million a year in endorsements; But he yielded to the trappings of star power and extra-marital sex. All of a sudden, the world of Woods came crumbling down after a slew of women came out, admitting to a series of sexual affairs with the golfing great, who once touted himself as a family man with values. Woods, whose crisis began with an altercation with his Swedish wife and a car crash, rapidly began losing lucrative endorsement deals.

    Considered the dean of the Civil Rights Movement, Joseph Lowery gave the invocation in this decade at the inauguration of the first Black president of the United States, Barack Obama. It was a tremendous feat for a man who was there at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. King in founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Lowery would later join other international notables including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an anti-apartheid activist, to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

    The King of Pop’s shocking death this year created a media frenzy unlike that for any other cultural icon in recent memory. That a lad from Gary, Ind., whose talents were groomed at Motown would dominate the world’s musical landscape for nearly four decades is phenomenal. Yet again, it reinforces the power of Black musical talent and its influence across the musical spectrum.

    In this decade African-American power and stature increased in Congress as John Conyers Jr. from Detroit became chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department, FBI and the courts.

    A pioneer of Detroit politics, Erma Henderson, the first Black woman elected to Detroit City Council and its first Black president, passed away this year. A crusading voice for not only women’s rights across the globe, she was also a rebel rouser for the poor and less fortunate in Detroit who were cut out of political power.

    The first Hispanic justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination by President Obama rekindled a sense of pride among Hispanics and other people of color. Despite the failed attempt of the conservative right wing machine to derail her nomination, she crossed the Rubicon with grace and dignity which is embedded in her fascinating American story.

    Six young African-American teenagers (Robert Bailey, 17; Mychal Bell, 16; Carwin Jones, 18; Bryant Purvis, 17; Jesse Ray Beard, 14; and Theo Shaw, 17) were convicted of assaulting a White teenager, Justin Barker, at Jena High School in Louisiana. But later it would be discovered that the assault resulted from a noose found hanging under a tree near the schoolyard, a graphic reminder of the lynching days of Blacks. The case became a racial battle for justice as the Black media got the word out about the prosecution of the Black students, resulting to thousands from around the country converging in Jena to demonstrate against prosecutorial vigilantism.

    Jennifer Granholm became Democratic governor after Republican John Engler. As she prepares to leave office, her legacy is divided, largely due to a dismal economy that is pushing graduates out of the state.
    Watch senior editor Bankole Thompson’s weekly show, “Center Stage,” on WADL TV 38, Saturdays at 1 p.m. This Saturday’s program, Jan. 2 , will feature an exclusive interview with Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing, talking about his gubernatorial ambitions. The interview will be followed by a roundtable with political analysts Adolph Mongo and Jonathan Kinloch. E-mail bthompson@michronicle.com.

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