Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Running Out Of Time

Uncontrolled and unabated crime and violence threaten to undermine the very dreams of Newark’s children. It also brings into question the priorities of Newark’s residents and in particular, Newark’s leadership class…elected and unelected.

How any community can sustain the level and intensity of crime and violence that has visited Newark over the past dozen years without a serious collective call to develop a comprehensive response across the deep chasms of Newark’s social, cultural and political stratifications is mind boggling. Even though survival is the issue confronting the community, maintaining the territorial prerogatives of division remains the most powerful motivator of behavior. It is no wonder that we have sunk to such a level of internal and external expectation.

Newark’s leaders seem unwilling to collaborate beyond their respective silos. This clearly represents a “Go Out of Business” strategy that has nearly run its course. The city is moving further and further away from being a community and settling into the crass balkanization of entrenched neighborhoods terrorized by subcultures of fear. And the intelligentsia is standoffish offering rationalization and historical mis-perspective.

There is a deep crisis in Newark, which is clearly economic. Everyone sees it and the ideas for dealing with it are few and dull. A full response will not be possible until a recognition that the social and cultural diseases of the city must also be treated sets in. Attacking any singular problem area in Newark alone, is not sufficient…indeed, it could be harmful. A comprehensive approach requires an enlightened view and a willingness to collaborate notwithstanding our individual convictions of superiority. To do otherwise is to continue failing.

Newark is failing. There are no ifs ands or buts about it. Newark is a dangerous city where institutions are generally sub-par and communication among potential key actors is badly stymied by paralysis of intent. Leaders, elected and unelected, lack the courage to make themselves vulnerable to the ideas and company of one another and thus routinely squander their best opportunities for success.

A diplomatic breakthrough lead by non-elected leaders is the best hope for our city. Elected leaders operate against an extraordinary backdrop of self-interest breeding suspicion into nearly everything they advocate. This is not fair, but it is the reality. Therefore non-elected leaders must summon the courage to risk the wrath of elected leaders and support the strong steps that must be taken to confront the issues that are crippling our stability and threatening our survival.

We are daily confronted with matters of life and death. The peril we all face can be no more literal. Unsafe streets, inadequate schools, weak institutions and general disregard for the future are descriptive of the situation and climate in our city today. It is only a matter of time before it all caves in on us and consumes whatever remains of civility. Unless we immediately and dramatically reverse course Newark will enter a phase of demise that will be irreversible.

There is time for change, but just barely. Time to choose another direction. At question is our desire and ability—also our courage. And perhaps the issue of courage is the most compelling of all. Do leaders have the courage to confront our own failure head on? Or is our inability to work with one another so hinged to old hatreds and animosity that we would rather become extinct than lock arms for our own survival? These are serious questions.

We have no good reason to believe that we can ride out the current systemic devolution gripping our community and rely on the next generation to be our safety net. We have not prepared them adequately. Whether or not they will successfully fend for themselves in an open question. Their ability to lift those around them is more than doubtful. We are in an “all hands on deck” moment. Our differences must become opportunities and not impediments. We must see organization and unity as methodologies for strengthening and growth. Anything less leans against the shallow haze that separates success from futility.

We have been condemned by our behavior and our failures. Indeed we have been condemned by our refusal to succeed. Our actions and inactions have led our community to the brink of the abyss and our own children stand ready to topple us toward the deep. They are our executioners. It is them that we have failed to educate and prepare who care nothing for our weak meanderings. They would kill us as soon as look at us. And we bread them and watched them grow crooked as we “minded our business.”

All hands on deck means that none of us can cling to superciliousness. Survival requires humbling ourselves to the concept of equal worth. The only validation that is truly worthwhile is that given by a neighbor offering an earnest hand in the work that must be done but cannot be done alone. Social and political statuses are meaningless in the face of the monster that has come to consume us all. If we embrace equality, courage, neighborliness and hard work, our good intentions will net us more than good luck.

I was once told and now live by the adage: “Those that you don’t let die won’t let you live.” Sometimes the things that we fight to hold on to, i.e. relationships, associations, leadership etc. are the very things that work hardest against our interest. Sometimes we must simply let them die. In particular, history reveals that our community is a victim of bad habits and bad leadership…we must simply let them die.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Psychology of Shoes

I like to wear jeans and running shoes (some people still call them sneakers). But one spring day as I walked down Broad Street I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to have on a pair of dress slacks and leather shoes. There was no way to have known that I would run into Drake. If you know Drake you will know that this a true account of two brothers from another time feasting on the delicious realities of yesteryear.

As Drake and I stood in front of what used to be McCrory's five and dime store, a young man swayed past us with his pants falling below his hips with the crotch settling somewhere between his knees. Every two or three steps he had to grab his beltless waistband to pull them up. With his “Fruit of the Looms” in full view he rocked from side to side uttering obscenities at every third word that crossed his lips which gripped a cigarette. Drake looked at me and I returned his bewildered gaze, we shook our heads in unison and we began: “What’s wrong with them?” “What happened to their self respect?”

I had the usual responses about loss of community pride, children raising children, fallen standards and failed leadership. Drake, however, was having none of that. He reduced the problem and its solution to four words, “Shoes man, it’s shoes.” “Shoes,” I said, “What do shoes have to do with it?” Then he took me on an intellectual excursion that could only be led by a brother from yesteryear.

“If we take these young boys out of those sneakers, stuff would straighten up,” said Drake. “We need to get them to put on some shoes.”

I was stunned with humor. I thought I had left reality. But Drake persisted and his reasoning was fascinating. Here goes: When we were young men we wore shoes. Sneakers were for athletic activities. We would not have been caught wearing sneakers unless we were on the way to the playground or a gym. On all other occasions, we wore shoes. We wore split toes. Winged tips, double winged tips and even biscuit toes…we wore shoes. But it wasn’t just the shoes. It was the Italian Knit shirt and the Banlon shirts. We were hooked-up when we rolled out. And when we were hooked up we had to behave accordingly. Even our walk had to be cool enough to match our shoes.

I thought hard as Drake spoke and looked directly into his eyes to be sure that he was not pulling my leg. He was dead serious. He talked about the creases in our pants, cuff links and alligator belts with passion. He even extolled the virtue of the velour hats and flat caps that we wore. But he kept coming back to the shoes. He reminded me that the brothers were serious about our kicks (shoes). Keeping your kicks ragged was essential. In fact one of the first things that you checked out when you met a brother was his shoes.

Now there was more than one dress set in the neighborhood. We started to notice it when we hit our teens. On one set tailor made four button waffle-weave suits from Wolmuth’s gave way to three button suits with vests from Jack Briedbart and other New York Ivy League outlets. And cardigan sweaters took the place of Italian knits and Banlons. And though biscuit toes made room for loafers and dessert boots, shoes were still important. The loafers were always shined and dessert boots were clean. “Even buckle in the back pants and chinos required creases,” Drake reminded me.

After all this reminiscing Drake had become quietly livid as we stood there, his own shoes glowing in the sunlight. We looked again deeply into each others eyes before we parted. I walked north, he walked south. I looked down at my shoes which were neither stylish nor shined. I wondered for a second if Drake had not been chastising me for abandoning the creed. I dismissed the thought as I considered the seriousness of his theory. I was worried though. Could we be missing something so simple yet so critical? Could limiting the wearing of sneakers play a major role in restoring civic pride?

Then I remembered my father and how well he dressed every Sunday as he prepared to assume his role as Chairman of the Deacon Board of our church. Blue striped suit, crisp white shirt that my mother had starched and ironed. His selection of ties was creative but his shoes, boy were they shined—sometimes I shined them. Those shoes and the shoes of every other man in the church were dazzling with glow. Drake was haunting me now.

I pressed on with memories of my pops who near the end of his life had become the smartest man in the world that I knew. I remembered how his jackets no longer matched his trousers and his plaid shirts matched neither and his straw hat was completely out of place in the fall. I asked him about his clothing discord. He said, “Son, the older you get the more you realize what is really important. It’s not what’s on your back, it’s what’s in your heart and head.”

With that I could put Drake in perspective. I could also enjoy my walk in the sun with my dusty shoes.

I do find myself looking at shoes more than before my encounter with Drake. But each time I see an old gent in the hood with a checked shirt, polka dot tie and a suit made of that fabric I personally choose to forget, I say thank God for freedom and long live polyester.

September 13, 2007

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Savagery in Gaza

The lack of available commentary from Black journalists and political leaders on the current war raging in Gaza is jarring. My hope is that there exists a sea of relevant expression of which I am simply unaware. If that were so, I would deeply appreciate anyone directing me to it. The debate in the Israeli press far outstrips what is taking place in all segments in America. The discussion here is primarily reflexively pro Israeli or muted. But more frequently there is just a cold detached silence. It is as though Palestinians are not really human and thus their merciless eradication not relevant.

What we are witnessing in Gaza must become the subject of serious concern and dialogue for the entire world. A brazen abuse of power and well-planned carefree warfare is on display against a defenseless civilian population. Israel's political and military leadership seem bent on forcing Hamas to its knees by way of collective punishment of all the citizens of Gaza. In the end this will prove to be just another wrong turn down the same old rickety path leading to a new and even more virulent strain of anti Zionist fervor in the hearts and minds of the next generation of Palestinians.

It is clear that the Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of resolving their complex dispute without intervention. It is equally clear that the most acceptable intervening party is likely to be the United States of America buttressed by allies and states in the region. That said, the entire Middle East would benefit from an entirely fresh approach by American leaders. It cannot continue to be our posture to simply accept, adopt and support the Israeli point of view and corresponding policies without thorough critique and without rigorous objective consideration of other points of view from the region.

Our blind allegiance and obvious favoritism in the current conflict between Hamas and Israel is clearly visible to the entire world. It is quickly unraveling whatever semblance of remaining support that we enjoy in the region and giving great pause to our allies with respect to how closely they can continue to stand with us. And "standing pat" is not a viable option for us, the Arabs or the Israelis. It's time for a drastic change in approach.

Despite all historical interpretations of right and wrong espoused by avenging parties in the Middle East, the United States must not chose sides. Our role cannot be that of dictating winners and losers-there is no credibility whatever in such a posture. America must chart its own course-a course that reflects fairness, justice and our national interests. These must be the collective considerations that balance our approach so as to legitimately render us an honest broker facilitating constructive negotiations between age-old combatants. Our understood purpose must be to help put an end to the violent disputes that too often define daily life for Arabs and Jews alike. Talk of victory by either side is foolhardy, but there must be just and mutually acceptable accommodation. The real victory will be peace through fair and just compromise. And this most desirable state of affairs can only result from an appropriate dose of evenhandedness. It would represent a radical shift in American foreign policy in the Middle East, but it is our only rational course and perhaps the only hope for millions of people.

There is better than an even chance that the current slaughter in Gaza will be over by the time President-Elect Barack Obama takes his oath of office or very shortly thereafter. Regrettably, it appears that the highly disproportional assault on Gaza is operating on a cunningly predetermined timetable-a schedule designed to take advantage of both the aggressive tendencies known to be favored by the outgoing Bush administration and the likely departure there from by the more moderate incoming Obama administration. How I would love to be wrong. For if I am right, we are witnessing a use of force so callous, reckless, depraved and morally debilitating as to defy all concepts of human decency. As a strategy or tactic, such guile would be beneath any civilized people.

The issues driving Gaza are not contrived. They are real and deadly on both sides. Even though some response of the Israeli government to legitimate concerns for the safety of Israeli citizens is justified, what the world is now witnessing is unbelievably harsh. Slaughter is the only appropriate description for the ravaging military pursuit now underway in Gaza. The wanton trampling over the bodies of innocent Palestinians serves no useful purpose. It so terrorizes the populous that it ultimately renders them immune to fear. Thus the fear being engendered loses its desired impact. Docility might be sought but implacability will almost certainly result.

For sure the rockets falling on Israeli territory must cease. But an imprisoned and besieged people cannot be expected to sit and die quietly. It is a chicken and egg scenario that does nothing to inspire hope. Here lies a perpetual breach in search of steady courageous hands. Will those be the Hands of America's new president?

The entire world cries out for a humane response to the death and mayhem visited upon so many women, children and other innocents while the United States stares blankly with a clinched jaw. The "ugly American" is taking on new meaning. No one is always right…not even Israel. For far too long America has invested heavily in never stepping back and never admitting mistakes. That was in another world. In this new world, it is time for a course adjustment in the cause of peace. We must move now and not fail.

January 12, 2009

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Discipline of the Brothers

Much has been made of the magnificent discipline of the Barack Obama campaign apparatus in pursuit of the presidency. In all accounts, the adjectives were glowing. But little has been said about the amazing restraint displayed by potentially controversial Obama supporters. Their active or energetic verbal advocacy would have served as fertile grounds through which desperate detractors in search of the tiniest morsels of taint would certainly have trolled endlessly for contaminates.

Except for a lapse moment and an open microphone Reverend Jesse Jackson was mostly on good behavior throughout. It had been widely expected that Jesse would be unable to resist inappropriate entry into either the policy or political debate surrounding the campaign. Jackson stayed in his lane and was a net plus to the overall effort. All Obama supporters should be appreciative of the Reverends righteous behavior.

Even Reverend Al Sharpton was a bastion of cautionary aplomb. Big Al held down his position with notable distinction. While not taking a back seat on any issue of local injustice he steered clear of inserting himself into the national debate and as such offered no competition to Obama for the mantle of Black thought or antics. Throughout the campaign there were many instances when Obama opponents carelessly cruised the lanes of white racism where Reverend Al might ordinarily have pounced. But he laid quietly in the cut patiently awaiting November 4th. Big ups, Al. You have our absolute respect.

Then there was Louis. How hard the opposition worked and stoked to unearth Louis. Reverend Jeremiah Wright was on the grill being roundly basted and lambasted by the tormenting fires from the deepest hottest hells of republicanism. Searing the flesh of Wright was sweet for the opposition. Just the red meat they cried out for. And then came Father Flager. Oh how delicious—a serving of apostatic delicacy that could only have been divined in one’s deepest state of revivalist froth and delirium. This was just unbelievable. The republican base thrashed about salivating in a ritual anticipated to take on viral proportions amongst the general public leading to the undoing of Obama the Muslim. Not quite, some shouted…we need Louis. With Louis in the brew, the ultimate intoxication would be certain.

Reverend Jesse was too acceptable. And he had not stepped far enough out of bounds for a thorough public excoriation. And Reverend Al had skipped across his tightrope without so much as a stumble. Reverend Wright had erred badly and was thus offered up as a sacrificial lamb; Father Flager added fuel to the fire ignited by Wright. Flager made the fire “White” hot. The religious right had a bundle—but not quite enough to make its anti-G_D ergo anti-American argument. The deal closer was Minister Louis Farrakhan. Together with Wright and Flager, Farrakhan would complete Obama’s “Chicago Trinity of Sacrilege.” But Louis declined the invitation. He demurred with a charming smile. He simply would not play. And for his adversaries the silence was as painful. Surely Obama knew him. Surely they had met. Surely Obama had attended The Million Man March. Surely Farrakhan knew best what we all secretly whispered, “Obama is a Muslim.” Flushing out Louis represented the completion that never came.

Minister Louis Farrakhan was uncharacteristically disciplined. He shut right down. He said and did nothing that might be unfairly used as a weapon to upset Mr. Obama’s chances for success. And because he is known to be so unbridled and at times caustic and bombastic, his tepid actions conveyed a deep sense of concern and affection for both the candidate and the nation. Imagine that, Louis Farrakhan the patriot.

So what now? Will these leaders, Jackson, Sharpton and Farrakhan who stepped out of character for the good of the many be kept out of the new political picture? Will they be treated as outcasts to satisfy the lingering blood lust of hate mongers? Or will there be a path back to the family table for those who make huge contributions though not universally unendorsed. These leaders have followers and supporters who are every bit as, or more, humanistic and American as the self proclaimed stewards of piety who denounce them. These hypocrites should certainly not have the last word.

Answers to these questions will resound. Opening wide the doors of full participation to views other than one’s own are at the core of democracy seated right next to “Mr. Freedom of Religion.” A stern pronouncement that all of our freedoms are in tact and robustly protected by our government is one of the many changes we need now.

Mischievously, we are all left to wonder if Jesse, Al and Louis had executed the ultimate level of discipline and unity. Just imagine that after the dust ups of Wright and Flager they all got together and entered a pact of “Silence Until Victory.” Wow! Nah! Maybe?

November 16, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Muslim In America

It is a fascinating time to be Muslim in America. Making sure we do everything to keep our cool in the midst of not so subtle attacks on our faith and us. The emergence of Barack Obama in the high profile game of presidential politics has raised the stakes in the open expression of Islamophobia. Muslim haters who have long operated in the shadows have burst into the sunlight to link arms with the likes of Limbaugh and his minions. The thought of losing the White House to other than a White man is driving extremist Republicans crazy.

In 2008 the vaunted Republican political machine finds itself adrift without a coherent plan to capture the presidency. Absent a strategy, they have opted for a poorly conceived tactical battle rooted in fear mongering and divisiveness. And while their overall success seems dubious, they’ve achieved small thrusts forward when linking Obama to Muslims and terror. Unfortunately there are enough eager acolytes—Democrat and Republican—to make mischief for Obama by distorting the religion issue.

So here’s how it works: “Obama pals around with terrorists” —remember that? “Obama is a Muslim” —of course we remember that. “The greatest threat to our security is radical Islam” —we can never forget that. And the all-encompassing “Theorem of anti-terrorist rectitude”: Arab=Muslim=Terrorist. These well-sequenced mantras have been woven into an anti-intellectual fabric designed to shield ignorance against rational thought. As the adherents of Islamophobia contemplate the vortex to emerge from the “axis of evil” as God struggles mightly against satan, they never stray far from their security blankets. Again and yet again they recite their mantras. So certain are they. It is an inexplicable stupidity that holds just enough public sway to be very dangerous.

Many Americans of all political persuasions are suspicious of Muslims and antithetical towards Islam. The nature of world interconnectedness, however, beckons them to reality. Whether or not they respond depends on their willingness to accept the vulnerability of their own misunderstandings.

It is a poetic irony that the person who most boldly faced down the anti-Muslim crowd is General Colin Powell, a Black Republican Christian. He alone constructed an inescapable box around an anti-everything-else zealot Christian orthodoxy by proclaiming the right, and indeed hopes, that Muslim—and thus other— children will lay claim to the American presidency in their dreams. It was as though through his legitimated eyes and with his entitled throat he came face to face with each of them and said, “Yes You Can.” And in that moment of supreme humanity and ultra rationality, Powell endorsed Barack Obama.

George Bush has waged a war on Muslims and many Americans have enlisted as sympathizers. This war has been so vile and pervasive that Muslims all over America have been somewhat muted in their support for Barack Obama believing that a public outpouring might somehow hamper his quest for the presidency. How sad. But the end is near.

John McCain has attempted to take up the Bush banner against Terrorists/Muslims/Arabs. After thoroughly stoking the “Obama is cozy with terrorists” issue and firing up his supporters against William Ayres/Terrorists/Obama, one supporter told McCain that she feared Obama because he (Obama) was an Arab. McCain demurred, but the floodgates had already been broken open and it was clear to all of us in that moment the toxic entanglement of race and religion that impacts Arab Muslims could have profound consequences for international relations post November 4, 2008. Arab Muslims that I know are almost universally united in the belief that America has been waging war on Islam in the Middle East. And I suspect that notion is not lost on the Arab street. The election of John McBush might well concretize that notion to our detriment.

African American Muslims are uniquely suited to counter excessive anti-Muslim ravings. After all, we have survived both slavery and Jim Crow. For us the most rabid Islamophobia emanates from our own people, mostly Christian, though they have never accused us of being unpatriotic or terrorists. Having been prepared and instructed by history, it is natural for me to reject racist intimidation and, as well, religious intimidation. So as loudly and clearly as possible I exhort, Muslims are here to stay and Barack Obama for President. Insha Allah.

October 23, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

But this is Newark

When schools open this fall, Newark will have a new Superintendent at the helm. Dr. Clifford Janey will take over for retiring Marion Bolden as head of the state’s largest public school district. Janey seems highly capable but will be tested early. He will need all of our support and he will need to craft working relationships within Newark’s many varied constituencies and interest centers.

Janey emerged the winner in a contest that began with the review of 26 candidates and winnowed down to three finalists, Clifford Janey, Donnie Evans and Ross Danis, for the superintendent post. Janey and Evans are both Black and Danis is White. In an informal ranking, the overwhelming majority of the Superintendent Search Committee had Janey at the top of their list followed by Evans and then Danis. Furthermore Janey was accorded top candidate status by a majority if not all of the members of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board. None of this was secret and clearly found its way to the ears of the Governor. Against this background, it seems reasonable that Janey won the superintendency. While the Governor certainly had the final call, he was not operating without practical constraint. And it would have been virtually impossible for the near inevitability of the Janey selection to fall outside Cory Booker’s intellectual grasp. And while Booker had an opportunity to meet with each finalist, he took no position in favor of any candidate.

But this is Newark. And already folks are jockeying to shape the new superintendent’s perceptions and reality in an effort to favorably position themselves on Dr. Janey’s radar. His, after all, is a powerful position with a large budget. Access is key to power players. And what better way to gain or deny access than to manipulate perceptions.

So it is no wonder that someone planted a story in the “Auditor” section of the Star Ledger last Sunday designed to diminish and sour any influence that Newark Mayor Cory Booker would have with Superintendent Janey. By suggesting publicly that Booker was against Janey, and with a bold stroke aimed at demeaning Booker’s role and point of view in the superintendent selection process, detractors hoped to tarnish the mayor’s reputation on several fronts. It is a flawed strategy destined to fail simply because it does not square with the facts. But this great lie has taken root in some quarters and its masters are doing everything they can to make it viral. We can only hope the truth will provide sufficient inoculation.

The idea of the story was to feed an ongoing strategy to isolate Booker. By pitting him in a struggle with Governor Corzine over the selection of Janey as superintendent, Booker was to be portrayed as against the best interests of Newark school children. It also sought to fan contention between Mayor Booker and Steve Adubato, with whom Booker has had a series of recent dust-ups. Adubato is quoted in the Ledger piece as making a statement that has not been verified and is not likely to be verifiable. Nonetheless, the planted Booker/Corzine/anti-Janey feud story is being peddled all over town and Steve Adubato is now being blamed for it.

According to the story, Booker favored Ross Danis for the job. Steve is quoted as saying of the mayor, “Everybody knows he was with Danis….I don’t think it’s right to have a position and keep it a secret.” Now analyze Steve’s comment. It states a falsehood, accuses the mayor of wrongful behavior and condemns him for harboring a secret. This is pretty powerful stuff. And were it accurate, it might be damning. But it’s just dead wrong.

Put the question of Steve aside for the moment. He did not generate this story. His comments merely capitalized on its existence. There was support for Dr. Danis on the search committee. There was also the idea that Danis could be manipulated to emerge as the ultimate choice while his principal supporters remained hidden. Once it was publicized that Danis was the number three preference of the search committee, this became more complicated. The only possibility of success required making Booker responsible for Danis. That way you get Danis and slam Booker at the same time—hence the “Booker supports Danis” rumors. It was just another “thought-to-be-clever” move among many that surfaced over the selection process.

The “Booker supports Danis” story was circulated for about 3 weeks and generated serious concern in the Governor’s circle. They were assured early on that the assertion lacked credibility. And they were satisfied with those assurances.

But as we know, these things are rarely as simple as they seem. Once mischief-makers had created an opening for destabilization they were emboldened. Their motivation is always “Wedge Driving.” They had a very simple two-step plan: (1) Make the public believe that Booker is for the “White” guy even though he was ranked at the bottom, hopefully driving a wedge between Booker and both the Black and Latino communities; and (2) Signal to Janey that Booker is against his appointment thereby undermining their essential alliance and its unique potential for substantive positive change.

These carefully crafted machinations are, unfortunately, the palliative dispensed by proper people seeking to maintain the status quo. They and their kind are at work all the time. They need the maintenance of a victim class to exist. Strong, independent leadership is not in their interest. The constant manufacture of distraction is a clear strategy to further dependency. We must maintain a proper focus on the goal of creating productive schools with liberating curriculum. Getting caught up in a manufactured Corzine/Booker/Adubato/Janey drama is succumbing to a trick. We have real adversaries and obstacles—and not each other. Sometimes we mistakenly focus on the foil instead of the fault. We are less concerned with what Corzine or Adubato do than what we fail to do. We know the culprits that own this divisive moment and in time so will you.

June 17, 2008

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Pace of Change

Now that the Democratic Party Primary Elections are over, the real work to create and realize a Barack Obama presidency begins. Many people think that the issue of race will be major over the course of the campaign. We are not naïve but we think it will play far less a role than generation. The real change that is pushing at the fabric of America is generational change. The world is changing; it is getting younger, smarter and more interconnected. Globalization is not just economic; it is social and cultural as well.

The message of the Obama presidential nomination is a message essentially from younger people that the old paradigms are crumbling. Race driven behavior must ultimately give way to thought driven behavior. But the transition won’t be easy. Many of us have grown a wee bit too comfortable in our racial silos and believe the cocoon-like comfort they provide offers our best opportunity to survive and thrive. This widespread belief makes itself manifest in our daily cultural, social and political processes.

An Obama presidency threatens many old norms about race that are predominantly held by the generation preceding him. “Old people with old ideas” are sometimes reluctant to make the arrival of a new generation of leadership anything but a painful breach birth. This generational rift highlights a worrisome contradiction in the African American political community. On the one hand we are uniquely proud of what Senator Obama has accomplished and readily take ownership of his nomination. On the other hand we are fiercely resisting the emergence of young Black and Latino leaders in our midst. This kind of duplicity will always play itself out as increased powerlessness.

Just a week ago there was a struggle over who would be Chairman of the Essex County Democratic Party. The choices were clearly generational. Though feigning otherwise, most in the older generation were unwilling to consider hoisting the younger aspirants to leadership. Among us older African Americans considering a “change” in leadership, there was a clear, though unspoken, lack of confidence in the young folks, even though they were smart, experienced, well trained and well connected. The old folks supported themselves and each other. And despite much fiery rhetoric about systemic and institutional change, in the end the entire hubbub turned out to be about one job for one person. Our community is in the grips of an intellectually dishonest, ruthless, selfish group of politicians. Their political craft is incestuous.

It appears that we will be required to abide this abnormalism for a time yet, but the days of feeding on the futures of our young are nearing an end. It is sheer hypocrisy to be an ardent advocate for Barack Obama on the national scene and virulently against nearly all of his generation in our local community. It raises too many questions that beg for unavailable rational answers.

So here it is. More so than not, young White people are making the Obama phenomenon possible. They have decided to boldly step around stereotypicalism and embrace Barack. And they did so quicker and in larger numbers than did Blacks. And they continue to do so unabashedly and with great enthusiasm at the same moment that we are gobbling up the aspirations of our young. No one can deny the large critical support base that Black Americans provide Obama, but it was, at first, gingerly offered and late coming as though awaiting permission or fearing retribution—but better late than never. Again, it was the older Black generation that expressed the most reluctance and showed the least confidence in this young Black man. And while this truth might not be well received, were it not for the press of young White supporters, there would be no Democratic Nominee Barack Obama. Remember Iowa?

As President Obama reaches around the world to hammer out a reality that measures up to the change of his vision, it will require tough decisions. In Obama's words, “the work of change will be hard.” And we are doing little to prepare our youth to be partners in that work. They won’t get to the table just because they are Black. They will need the experience and track records that only we might care to give them. And we should not complain if they are passed over when we ourselves pass them over each and every day. Obama is on the fast track being propelled by a lot of well meaning Americans, a critical mass of which are young agents of change. Like it or not it is a generation coming of age. A generation bursting out of White America looking to “remake the world.” If political leadership in Black communities holds onto the reigns of opportunity too tightly for too long we will surely choke off opportunities for our youth.

In Newark we cannot remember a generational transfer of power in the African American community that did not leave a liberal pool of political blood on the floor. The “Power concedes nothing without demand” school of thought is taken to extremes with us. We routinely ostracize our babies or condemn them to political death. We have seen two African American mayors come and go without creating a single self-sustaining institution upon which their political progeny could build. Rather, the model that we’ve seen replicated is one of “perceived familial entitlement.” It has not served us well.

The generational struggle in Black and White communities will, no doubt, surge to the fore in the fall Obama presidential campaign. If we are not adequately prepared to fend off its worst consequences, unanticipated possibilities that have befallen us might never be realized. The challenge immediately before us is to open up and embrace a new “politics of inclusion,” beginning in our own community.

Young White people are working hard to throw off their fear and plunge into the future and define change with their behavior. And increasingly they have the support of their elders. What are we waiting for? Let’s stop holding our youth back. It’s time to push them into the pool.

June 4, 2008