“The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.” —Malcolm X
Last week, many African-Americans woke up to an opinion blog entitled “Opportunity Negroes: Detroit’s Undercover Uncle Town.” Its goal and objective was a direct attempt to challenge certain black people in Detroit to awaken from more than 150 years of involuntary servitude and mis-education. Yesterday, former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was found guilty by a Detroit jury for running his own personal enterprise while serving as the custodian of city taxes and the head of an economic infrastructure searching for undeniably visionary and committed leadership. Monica Conyers, countless others have taken the 30 pieces of silver, and in the next few months more than 150 indictments for criminal activity will take place. Because of personal neglect for the calling to serve, leadership in Detroit’s black community has failed to keep its eye on the money ball. This has inevitably led to dissipated unique economic development and empowerment opportunities, leaving the community in the spiraling circle of calamitous financial straits that has been fostered in Detroit for decades.
“The economic status of the black freedman was the result of his lack of land and capital and of the high price of cotton. But Negro suffrage, in spite of its failures, made impossible the reestablishment of the old slavery, provided the beginning of education for the freedmen’s sons and permitted the Negro to take the first steps toward economic freedom. The new disfranchisement and the recent enactment of unfair labor laws has been engineered by the merchant class in order to secure its position as a middle exploiting class between landlord and laborer. At present, three classes of Negroes are to be distinguished: the semi-submerged group of 2,000,000 laborers, the emerging group of 1,200,000 working men, and the leading group of 250,000 independent farmers and merchants and professional men. Hope for the future lies in the perception by the intelligent American laborer of his common industrial cause with the Negro, in the physical virility, hard work, and dogged determination of the American Negro, as well as in the sympathetic attitude of the better class of Amer-i-cans.” —W. E. B. Du Bois
African-Americans must realize power is not given, it is taken. In Detroit, African-Americans benefited from a majority black population of more than 82%, which in turn helped the city to elect black leaders for more than 40 years. Detroit elected its first black mayor, Coleman A. Young, in 1973. Certain African-American leaders have taken it for granted that power can be claimed in exchange for abandonment. I use the term abandonment to acknowledge the responsibility provided off the backs of those enslaved for more than 400 years, the many who bled, died, and sacrificed their lives. Their service became the rent blacks paid for the spaces in society African-Americans occupied.
African Americas may not have kept their eyes on the money ball before, but we cannot afford to do so now. Under the leadership of African-Americans, billions of dollars worth economic opportunities have passed through the City of Detroit without any accountability. Outside special interests and non-Detroit-based businesses were awarded the majority of the city’s economic opportunities, contracts, and procurement options, while others became monopolized by the friends-and-family plan that is symptomatic of corruption. In the next five to 10 years, billions more in contract opportunities will enter the city of Detroit while local businesses either remain last in line or are not even invited to the table. This situation pertains to the M-1 light-rail transportation system, the new stadium, private sector development, construction projects, municipal purchasing, lighting, the Cobo Convention Center expansion, tourism, a new bridge to Canada, and several other multi-million dollar economic development initiatives.
With the new emergency manager coming to Detroit, we must all keep our eyes on the money ball. There cannot be taxation without representation, and economic incentives are needed to help Detroit and its residents revitalize and rebuild its global economic base and infrastructure. Now that the City of Detroit is cleansing itself from those who previously sought personal gain, we can focus on Detroit’s becoming great again. Great because its leadership became great and made Detroit a world leader once again. Great because black leaders realized their identity and assumed their roles and responsibilities to do the right thing, to serve those who depend on us to make a difference.
“There is in this world no such force as the force of a person determined to rise. The human soul cannot be permanently chained.” —W. E. B. Du Bois
Thank you GG, TG, and JG for inspiring this opinion.