The first anniversary of Mayor Cory Booker in office unveils an economic crisis for the City of Newark that has been long in the making. As the city struggles to pay its bills while managing a structural deficit and workers worry about their jobs, the Booker administration grapples with creating badly needed efficiencies with dwindling resources. Things could hardly be worse. But we see an opportunity amidst all the gloom. An opportunity for leaders to finally embrace the fact that government will never be able to provide all the jobs needed by residents. It’s a unique opportunity for the community and their leaders to take their fate into their own hands and mold an economic development strategy that creates entrepreneurs and jobs.
Few if any local governments can provide sufficient jobs for their residents. But as communities of people go, no community could possibly be in worse shape than African American Newark where unemployment, violent crime, drug use and disease are high and educational achievement remains stubbornly low. Not only are large numbers of people jobless, they also lack the tools/skills to get good paying jobs even if they were to become available.
As dire as this all may sound African American Newarkers are not without opportunities. An absence of jobs is not the problem it is made out to be. Jobs are, in fact, everywhere in the Black community; all of us who live here walk past them and through them everyday. A quick glance around reveals a grocery store every few blocks in many Black neighborhoods—practically none of them owned by Black merchants; practically all of them clearing thousands a day. In fact, except for the street vendors that line our downtown corridors, there is no significant merchant class in the African American community. Nearly all the businesses in our community are owned and/or operated by people of other ethnic backgrounds. Gas stations, Dry Cleaners, Laundromats, Liquor Stores, Drug Stores, and all the rest are owned and operated by people who don’t live in or contribute to the economic growth and development of the community that provides their wealth.
The Black community is dominated by outside business interests made up of members of multiple ethnic communities. None of their communities where they are a majority of the population would permit such a thing. Indeed, there is no other community that we are aware of that would allow us to dominate their business sector. So far we have been unwilling to seize the very opportunities that non-African Americans have come to our communities and seized. It is ironic that we are watching them thrive while we barely survive. This serious geographic economic imbalance must be addressed if our overall community economic condition is to improve.
Just take a walk past any thriving business in our community and count the hundreds of jobs that will be ours when we take the initiative to control our economic destiny. Our refusal to seize those business opportunities and establish the ability to provide employment for ourselves is the problem. We continue to spend far too much time focusing on someone giving us a job and not nearly enough on making a job for ourselves. Unfortunately Newark lost its manufacturing base taking a lot of jobs with it. While many are content to regurgitate this fact in defense of our current economic reality, we believe it’s long past the time to throw that crutch away. We must compete to survive.
The African American community has allowed others to set up shop and assume the responsibility to provide our basic goods and services without offering so much as a hint of competitive resistance. Worse still, our leaders have practically been silent while vital life sustaining millions are drained from our community daily. They continue to want and urge government to provide for our every need. The result of relying on such unrealistic expectations is disappointment and frustration that leads to misplaced anger and rage.
Time is quickly running out for the resurgence of a vibrant African American community. There are few credible excuses left to lean upon to explain our apparent inability to see after ourselves. Failure to stand up and do for self will lead to our virtual irrelevance. The more dependent we become, the more abandoned we will be. Politics alone will not be enough to ensure that we have sufficient power to protect the legitimate interests of our community. The level of disregard for our interests rises daily and moment-by-moment we become more powerless to defend against political and economic encroachment. It is not too late to turn things around but the window of opportunity is fast closing.
In our view, all leaders must advocate steps to rapidly bring about economic self-sufficiency. Anything less is futile. We don’t mean to imply a withdrawal from other activity or current employment thrusts but rather an increased focus on business ownership that creates jobs whose dispensation we control. We are talking about the orderly creation of wealth as a matter of basic survival.
As far as those businesses that now make up and control the economy of the Black community, thank G_D they are there. But for them there might be no service whatsoever. Our competition will not eliminate them all. If we compete well enough some of them will close down and a more healthy balance of insiders and outsiders will exist. But no one is going to give us back our community and no other community is going to allow us to take theirs. The best affirmative action is action that we take in our own behalf.
If we make the most of the thousands of opportunities that stare us in the face daily we will find many others along the way. So let’s stop deceiving people and making them comfortable in the belief that we have no responsibility for ourselves. Cory Booker, Jon Corzine, George Bush and no other political leader is our savior. And if we are unwilling to stand up and save ourselves, we deserve to perish.