In Pursuit of Equality: Sentiments Past and Present

Clockwise from upper left: Barack Obama, Shirley Chisholm, Tom Bradley, Carol Moseley Braun, Colin Powell, Doug Wilder, Confoleezza Rice

As we stand boldly and enthusiastically on the horizon of the year 2009, it seems like only yesterday that the 1960s civil rights revolution took full stride. The tumultuous and tremendous Civil Rights Movement monumentally reconstructed America’s social and political scene to a more inclusive and equal playing field, ushering in a new day of opportunity and self-confidence for Black America.

The increased levels of confidence among African Americans combined with the shield of liberty, equality, and justice gave rise to a multitude of remarkable achievements too numerous to mention in this brief article. Any achievement ascertained by an African American today is a direct result of the relentless efforts, significant struggles, and admirable sacrifices of the civil rights freedom fighters.

At this time of year, most people reflect back on the events that took place within that year. However, in light of President-elect Barack Obama’s tour de force, I would like to take this opportunity to appropriately reflect back over a course in time to history-altering events that forged the trail for this historical moment in African-American history.

Back in 1973 the greatly accomplished and progressive Thomas J. “Tom” Bradley was elected as the first, and to date the only, African-American mayor of Los Angeles. Throughout his five-term tenure (20 years) as mayor, Bradley led and navigated Los Angeles through a series of detrimental issues—including the first energy crisis of 1973-1974. The crisis prompted the mayor to develop a program that not only positioned Los Angeles as the leader in energy conservation, but also dubbed LA the “solar city of America”.

Although sensitive to environmental concerns, Bradley was also an aggressive executive who encouraged economic development and private investment in his city. He contributed tremendously to the financial success of the city by undertaking initiatives to support technology development, improve public transportation, control freeway construction, and vitalize the city’s core. Bradley made national headlines when he won for Los Angeles the privilege of hosting the 1984 summer Olympic Games and played the role of official host; this effort increased the city’s publicity, visitorship, and helped revitalize the city’s flailing economy.

Mr. Bradley’s political ideology was well-accepted across a myriad of racial groups. He managed to maintain the support of a coalition of Blacks, Jews, Latinos, and liberals. His progressive endeavors opened up more city jobs for minorities than any previous mayor. As well, Mayor Bradley incorporated business fundamentals into city operations, realizing that the city could function as a well-oiled machine if it was treated as such. For a period, Los Angeles was viewed as a model of racial co-operation and partnership between the business community and the public sector.

Although other great leaders occupied the Mayor of Los Angeles role prior to and succeeding Mayor Bradley’s reign, he left a legacy—lasting impression—yet to be surpassed by any other person in that office. Mr. Bradley was widely recognized for his business savvy, leadership, progressive nature, and calming, reassuring temperament.

During Bradley’s tenure, Angelenos were uncertain of what to expect from him; as with today, the American people do not know what to anticipate from President-elect Barack Obama. However, to assuredly calm one’s anxieties, one only has to look back and consider the success of the inaugural African-American mayor of Los Angeles.

Need more re-assurance? Edward Brooke became the first African-American Senator since Reconstruction, 1966–1979. Carol Mosely Braun was the first black woman Senator serving from 1992–1998 for the state of Illinois. The first black female U.S. Representative was Shirley Chisholm, Congresswoman for New York from 1969–1983. L. Douglas Wilder, Governor of Virginia, 1990–1994. U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, 2001–2004. The first black female Secretary of State was Condoleezza Rice, 2005–current. All of these people accomplished firsts and performed exceptional jobs in each of their roles.

Unfortunately, intertwined among these extraordinary high fliers and attainments is another stark reality: Black America’s dark side—the unrelenting desire to self-destruct. The negative sides of hip-hop and entertainment has played prominent roles in promoting crime, drugs, violence, misogyny, cultural disrespect, and, of course, the use of the demonic n-word.

The collective African-American community can no longer allow executive America (black and white) to blatantly disrespect and dishonor the African-American race through the likes of some African-American rappers and comedians, or “black puppets.” For instance, Black comedian D.L Hughley is on record supporting and agreeing with Don Imus’ opinion that black women are “nappy head ho’s”; instead of being held accountable for this outright act of stupidity and degradation, he was selected by the NAACP to host one of their awards shows.

For more than 25 years, ministers, political and civil rights leaders, and celebrities—influential figures—sat bound, muted, and blind by their own rights as the negative elements of the hip-hop culture and entertainment world conditioned an entire generation of black youth for self-destruction. If the black community is to re-build and present a unified, serious stand, influential African-American organizations and people must stop half-stepping and truly lead by example. Simply holding burials for the n-word or placing sensor labels on CD covers is not enough. All of Black America must move from an apathetic, indifferent, or victimized mindset to an active, self-help role in American matters. We must voice our concerns when we feel our community is being wronged—within or without—and hold ALL accountable for their actions.

Many strides and achievements have been made to resurrecting the African-American community into the prideful, heritage-filled, and intelligent community our ancestors dreamt of and fought religiously to one day attain. The soon-to-come January 20, 2009, inauguration of the first African-American president of the United States is another great step ahead forged in the trail of liberty, equality, and justice for African Americans.

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However, the ills that currently plague the African-American community will not self-correct, as many African Americans may believe, due to having a black man in the chief office. To the contrary, President-elect Barack Obama will only be able to avail so much opportunity within the power of his authority. To correct the state of Black America, each African American must step up to the plate and take advantage of the opportunities presented.

From the day of inauguration, all races will look on to see whether Black America runs freely with the opportunity afforded it or remain a complacent people on the whole. African Americans fought and prayed without ceasing, other African Americans undoubtedly sacrificed their lives, and still others fiercely treaded unsafe and turbulent political grounds to arrive at this monumental moment in black history. At best, we have finally received the very thing we asked for—the chance at equal opportunity. If we, today, do not become active guardians of and servants within our black community, the election of President-elect Obama will be just another significant milestone in the saga of the African-American’s pursuit of equality.

The African-American community must accept this magnificent moment in history as our calling to rise up and make Black America the dignified, solid, and self-sufficient society we were always destined to become.

H. Lewis Smith

H. Lewis Smith is the founder and president of UVCC, the United Voices for a Common Cause, Inc., and author of Bury that Sucka: A Scandalous Love Affair with the N-Word. Reprinted with the author’s permission from UVCC.

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