ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
While everybody and their mother wants to be in elected office and hold up a place
at the table, few seemingly have the guts to lead. Few seemingly have
the ability to connect with the issues of the people
Who Will Lead?
By D. Morton Glover
Our beloved Baltimore: a majority African American East Coast city of approximately 650,000 souls, all seemingly bound together by a beltway and possibly nothing more, particularly as it relates to the caliber, cohesiveness, and vision of its African American leadership. Standing at the vestibule of a brand new millennium, many are consequently wondering what future – if any – awaits African Americans here in a city where more money is spent on new stadiums than on schools.
As Hope VI developments replace former housing projects now extinct with the dinosaurs, thousands of poor blacks have been moved as far out as Liberty Dam. In their stead, new market-rate homes now stand, garnering one- and two-hundred thousand dollar price tags. Clearly, former project residents will not be the ‘norm’ in these modern, upscale dwellings created with the urban professional in mind that can now be seen from W. Franklin Street at MLK Blvd.
No. These homes, located minutes from downtown and easily accessible to interstate highways, are meant for upwardly-mobile individuals who, in many cases, work and study at the downtown University of Maryland complex. In other areas, like East Harbor, similar plans are in effect such that East Baltimore public housing tenants with 30 and 40 years of history in areas like Flag House and Douglass Homes are being uprooted to never live in these communities again.
Pundits suggest that this new housing stock undoubtedly attracts many whites back to the city. Meanwhile, communities like Sandtown-Winchester and Upton are plagued with dilapidated homes and crime-infested corners. While there is some semblance of development in these communities, there are more negatives than positives. Some community residents can’t wait to relocate.
Although there has been promise of improvement in these areas, such change cannot come quick enough. And although non-profits paint visions of “community-based transformation,” many residents of these historically-black communities complain that bureaucrats and transformation guardians do a better job at creating hefty salaries for themselves than they do at helping empower community residents to lead.
Further, many argue that those elected to represent these areas in both Annapolis and City Hall only show up when there is a television camera present. As a resident of Sandtown-Winchester, one of Baltimore’s most challenged inner-city communities, I can honestly say that this is absolutely true. Granted, the biggest challenge in the African American community is not the elected officials.
The greatest difficulty is the spiritual illness of people in poor communities. And, truth be told, no legislation in the world can effect the type of change that is truly necessary for lead-filled houses to be torn down, for schools to be rebuilt, for commercial corridors to be rejuvenated. BandAid approaches from the past can no longer be implemented. Only love and genuine care can cure these ills.
This type of leadership can only come from within. And who better to point the way than African American leaders? Be they from the church, from City Hall, from the community — who is better qualified to address the issues of the African American community but the leaders from that same community? However, such leadership is absent. It is void. And we are left without.
While everybody and their mother wants to be in elected office and hold up a place at the table, few seemingly have the guts to lead. Few seemingly have the ability to connect with the issues of the people, galvanize the necessary support, stand up like a man — like a woman — and speak truth to power. Instead, our leaders are more like children asking their parents’ permission to speak.
And mind you, the next time you’ll see these “leaders,” it will be 4 years later and another election — and they’ll have with them more of their posters and palm cards — and they’ll be telling you to once again listen out for their expensive radio promos telling you for whom you should vote. And then, when they do finally come, they’ll bring with them the same vestiges of broken power and ‘divide and conquer’ philosophy that helped emasculate this community from the jump.
Put differently: African American leaders in Baltimore seem to think their own ice is not cold enough. They move as if their self-esteem is connected to that of the larger society, that it is better to “go along to get along.” Further, their lack of effectiveness suggests that either they are gun-shy to speak-out because of fear of retribution, including the loss of a second income, or they are comfortable with what is happening. If it were not true, if these leaders truly cared for their communities, I personally think the African American community in Baltimore would be in better shape, and not in the faltering — if not embalmed condition in which it currently finds itself.
Look at the younger generation and the condition of the Baltimore City Public Schools in which our youth are expected to learn. According to youth and children expert David Miller, more black children will be going to summer school in 2003 than the 40,000 in 2002. He estimates nearly 70,000 youth will be spending next summer — not working a summer job under the mentorship of one of Baltimore’s developing professionals — but in a hot classroom on the Eastside or the Westside of Baltimore catching up on reading and math.
The educational advocate for Baltimore’s Urban Leadership Institute also pointed out that as of October 2002 in Baltimore, 1,078 juveniles have been arrested. This number surpasses last year’s stats easily. To me, this suggests that although things are going terribly awry in this city, few if any have seized the opportunity to speak truth to power.
True, there have been a boatload of emotional responses to crisis situations, like the murder of the 7 members of the Dawson family. But emotion only leads to more emotion. What is needed now is calculated methods and strategies — designed by our leaders — to improve and empower the very least within our community. And this effort is going to take all facets of the community, including individuals who have successfully re-entered society after serving time in prison.
In any event, it starts with leadership. Otherwise, the black community will fester in a swarm of warm feces while other communities develop and prosper. The Dawson family is but another unfortunate example. At the southeast corner of Preston & Eden late one mid-October nite in 2002, this entire family was murdered over drug-related foolishness. Did black leadership show up? They sure did. However, when the cameras left, so did those part-time leaders.
Today, there are reports that the murder scene is still a distribution point for crack and dope. Point: Real problems require real solutions designed and implemented by real people who want to accomplish real feats. I ask, Where is the leadership in our community? Who will genuinely care and lead the black community through what is the most difficult of times — characterized by mounting budget deficits and burgeoning shortfalls? Who will step up and speak truth to power, taking a stand for the entire community to see and not just for a network television camera? Who will go out and make that uncomfortable stand such that drug dealers and community residents alike both begin to see the harm done in our community, as well as the ways to correct that harm?
Further, as it relates to black and minority-owned businesses, Who will truly advocate for these businesses to help ensure that they get their fair share of city and state contracts, and don’t fall prey to hand-picked politics? Hell, who will make some black millionaires and billionaires? Who will, as Brother Bey and the Fraternal Order of Ex-Offenders (FOXO) argue, finally see — for example — the value of the ex-offender population when it comes to dealing with unruly youth?
Who will step up and say how if groups like FOXO can be added to the solution, headway can be made with our ostracized youth population? As Bey suggests, “When we fail to do what we’re supposed to do with our young people, others will.” Hence, there is little wonder why many young people are prematurely involved in the revolving door of adjudication and incarceration.
There is little wonder why many of them would rather sell drugs than go to school; sadly, Baltimore and the much larger American society has twisted the values of our youth such that a pair of tennis shoes is worth more than a human life. Selling drugs is more prestigious than working a 9 to 5.And given that some 50% of the jails are filled with black men, there is no question that ‘others’ are left to do the job of fathering. From there, the groundwork has been laid for the next generation of dealers and criminals.
Again, who will speak truth to power? It is as if black leaders are first looking to the broader community for permission to speak. Simultaneously, the city mourns the horrific death of a beautiful little girl, Marciana Ringo, whose throat was slit from ear to ear in retaliation over an otherwise petty dispute. Who will speak truth to power? Is it the church? Is it the mosque? Is it the synagogue?
Who will come to the corners with love and truth and mobilize this energy such that crime is once again viewed as taboo in the black community? “I Can’t We Can” (ICWC) recovery network will show up. Whether it is at Park Heights and Cold Spring, Carrollton and Riggs, or Holbrook and Hoffman – ICWC is one of those rare gems which consistently answers the call for help.
Yet, there again are those politicians who only try to usurp the effectiveness of such organizations for their own benefit. They show up for special appearances with this and other community-based groups, but few if any of these politicians have lobbied for money to ensure their future.2003: A new year is here! My question is, Who will lead us? Who will put their own stuff on the side in order to proudly serve the masses of African Americans in this city? Who will get out there and shed the blood, sweat, and tears to get 50,000 young people from Baltimore City registered to vote and educated about the process and the candidates? Who will pull the scattered communities in West Baltimore such that leadership in districts like the embattled 44th state legislative are organized and educated about everything from the upcoming session of the Maryland General Assembly to the redistricting process for the ‘new’ Baltimore City Council?
A wise man once said that elections don’t make leaders. Situations do. That being the case, it is safe to now presume that the leadership needed in the black community will not come from elected officials. No. Such leadership will and must come from within and with love. Nevertheless, the question still remains: Who . . . will lead?
D. Morton Glover, CEO / DMGlobal Communications / Creator of BmoreNews.Com410.331.7715 – Voice 1.866.262.2620 – Toll-free
* * * *
From The World and Africa, 1965
* * * * *
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
online through PayPal
* * * * *
Browse all issues
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
update 29 October 2011