Making black voice heard Consortium to seek role in formulation of social-issue policies

July 18, 1998|By Alec Klein | Alec Klein,SUN STAFF

Denouncing public policies as racially biased, three major black institutions in Baltimore launched an ambitious joint venture yesterday to address key social issues from an African- American perspective.

After four years of confidential, soul-searching meetings, Associated Black Charities, Coppin State College and Morgan State University have created New Thinking Consortium, a nonprofit organization unique to the region. The collaborators say New Thinking will serve as a beacon for African-Americans in Baltimore and nationwide on issues of education, housing, economic development and health care.

"The key is public policies don't involve the thinking by African-Americans because their thoughts are not sought," said consortium Chairman Charles G. Tildon Jr., retired president of the then-Community College of Baltimore.

The group has not targeted specific policies, but when federal or local policy-makers mull decisions that affect black people, New Thinking intends to influence the process, members said in unveiling the consortium at Mondawmin Mall.

Civic leaders welcomed the consortium -- and the prospect of another vocal advocate in the African-American community. "It will bring a perspective that is not necessarily given by the public policy-makers," said Roger I. Lyons, president of the Baltimore Urban League. "It might give a perspective that's missing."

To promote the viewpoints of African-Americans, the consortium plans to publish reports, called Black Papers, on issues affecting the black population; sponsor conferences and events; monitor public policies; commission projects, such as films and videos; and encourage dialogue among educators, researchers, entrepreneurs, community leaders and government officials.

"It's an absolutely new way of looking at problems within the African-American community, very powerful in terms of the potential," said Coppin President Calvin W. Burnett. "We're starting locally, but we're going to go globally."

In one of its first acts, the consortium has created a publishing arm that is distributing to area bookstores its first book, a vision of a prosperous future for African-Americans called "Clairvoyance: Reweaving the Fabric of Community for Black Folk."

" 'Clairvoyance' is important to us because it's about the future of African-Americans," said attorney John H. Morris Jr., the book's co-editor. "We want to show all policy is personal."

In explaining the hurdles facing blacks in society today, Morris and Tildon, his collaborator on the book, write: "For too long, we African-Americans have been the prisoners of the categories of someone else's thinking. We not only need to find our own voice. We must divine our own syntax to express and describe the world, as we see it and would see it if we could just reform it, for our own purpose."

Public policy, they say, requires the active participation of African-Americans "from the boardroom to the barbershop."

The idea for the book, and the principles behind it, grew out of a monthly dinner of 10 men -- Tildon and his friends, fellow community leaders -- about four years ago. What emerged was a sense that public policy was the product of mainstream America, based on assumptions and premises that neglected the perspectives of African-Americans.

Eventually, five private forums on housing, economic development, education and health care involved more than 100 African-American men and women. Elected officials and members of the media were excluded.

"This was a growth experience for all of us," said Michael E. Cryor, board chairman of Associated Black Charities.

Out of those forums, papers were written, and the consortium was formed. And from the papers came the ideas for "Clairvoyance."

"The focus," Tildon said, "is setting policy for African-Americans, by African-Americans."

Pub Date: 7/18/98

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