NAACP: Realizing the dream

July 14, 2000|By Charles G. Tildon Jr.

A CAREFUL examination of the history of African-Americans reveals a strong, determined, compassionate, resilient, faithful people.

In our efforts to survive while reaching for the "American dream," we have demonstrated a genetic strength, a spiritual dominance and ability to defy the odds as we experienced one of the most unique forms of oppression and human degradation the world has ever known.

Despite constant shifts in positions and changes in the rules designed to maintain this oppression by those in power, many African-Americans have succeeded in approaching some participation in the way of life enjoyed by the majority population.

The ideals that formed the basis for this country's evolution as a world power -- the idea that all human beings deserve the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- are at the root of the American dream. Some of us have moved from slavery (two-thirds of a person) to leaders and participants in many aspects of this country's social, political, religious, educational and, to a very limited degree, its economic fabric.

As the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convened its 91st convention this week, a review of its history reminds us that the phenomenal progress under unbeatable odds results in a large measure from the efforts that began as the Niagara Movement and became the NAACP.

Just as its history is legend, so are its many adaptations to the constant shifts in America's approach, however subtle, to maintain the condition that would sustain second-class citizenship for African-Americans. Likewise, the opportunities to meet the challenges of today can be met if we are willing to think outside the box.

Notwithstanding the progress that many have made and the many successes identifiable at many levels, we note that the gap between African-Americans and the majority community is getting wider by every index.

Analysts continue to tell us that mortality rates from all causes, morbidity rates, family income, educational success, housing patterns, employment rates, small business development, neighborhood development and all other measures are showing a growing gap. We are sure that there are many reasons for this.

Nevertheless, these reasons don't change the circumstance or the consequences. These growing gaps create an ever-increasing underclass of African-American citizens. The challenge is to narrow that gap with a view toward closing it. Then and only then can all of America boast of the validity of the American dream.

The NAACP can use the genius of its history, its mission, its current leadership and its bright future to create a paradigm to bring about this shift. The leaders can meet the challenges and begin to close the gap by stimulating its membership to think outside the box. Some random thoughts follow that may help bring about the changes necessary for the paradigm shift:

Collaborate, not compete, with entities that have similar or complimentary goals. Take the lead in eliminating the "crab in the barrel syndrome."

Emphasize on voter registration, voter education and turnout.

Be courageous and daring in identifying systemic problems and the development of powerful means to attack them -- e.g., a dramatic enhancement of the current TV initiative.

Identify and expose those institutions, practices and traditions that support racism, hatred, divisiveness and inequality.

Expand mentoring efforts that include creative approaches toward the development of a positive value system with particular emphasis on black males.

Develop and support efforts to ensure that the good, bad and the ugly elements of our history are not abstractions. Each generation must be made acutely aware of the strength, the value and pain of our experience. Our struggles should not be an abstraction.

As we face an accurate review of our history, we can begin to remove the impact of the pain and join with others to ensure that such pain is never inflicted again. As we accomplish this, we can come to the table as equals, prepared to narrow the gap. Why should we be disproportionately represented in so many of the negative aspects of our great country? But to do this, we must take on the following challenges:

Develop a clear strategy to move toward economic parity.

Demand a larger piece of the pie.

Demand accountability from African-Americans at all levels.

Demand high standards while carefully exposing all levels of our community to the opportunity for success.

These goals offer the opportunity for the NAACP to lead this country into this millennium with the potential to begin to narrow the gap. The NAACP can serve as a catalyst for positive change. The opportunity for the NAACP to provide a prescription for the future has never been more evident. This prescription could well be the means by which this country continues its position as a world power.

Charles G. Tildon Jr. is a former president of Baltimore City Community College.

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