Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Within Arms Reach

Community leaders have not used their enormous capacity effectively to benefit Newark residents. We suspect this is so at least partly because there is no practical or efficient mechanism for collectivizing the will of the community. Unlike the business sector of the city that is made up of focused corporations that often share an agenda, residents are spottily and not cohesively represented. Community based organizations and non-profits are rarely coordinated in their efforts and are often likely to be competing for scarce resources that pit them against one another.

The corporate community is structured for growth and development. It is always in their plan to leverage their resources—political and economic— and take advantage of existing opportunity. PTA’s, Block Associations and the like are usually found scrambling to cope. We are generally unable to sufficiently compete for hard resources or attention. We are generally preoccupied with survival, and growth is rarely an option.

It is no wonder that Newark’s business community so thoroughly dominates Newark’s direction and development. The people have little to say about where our town is headed because we have no ability to leverage our way to the rooms and tables where those discussions are being held. It is wrong for an entire community to be voiceless in how our future will be configured. It is worse for those who have control to disregard us. And it is foolhardy for elected officials to underwrite their own demise. Yet all this is happening at a blinding pace right before our eyes.

As business leaders surge forward with their agendas, we believe they prefer not to be hampered by requirements to deal with less learned neighborhood folk. They don’t want their plans complicated or impeded by mundane considerations of the poor and unsophisticated. They want what they want when they want it. They have capital—which is power.

But public officials can trump—or at least balance—corporate power because the Mayor and Council grant the very permission without which many things simply cannot get done. So one has to wonder why the power that comes with granting permission does not work in favor of residents? Who negotiates for the immediate and long-term interests of Newark residents? We suspect a better job can be done, but it might require a body of citizens organizing themselves to inform politicians of points of view from sources other than the corporate community in pursuit of their own agendas.

Crime and violence in Newark will not likely be significantly reduced or eliminated unless their close relationship to economics is understood and addressed. Ignoring that tie will continue to send us looking in the wrong direction for answers. Frustrated leaders will pursue strategies of gentrification in place of solving tough nagging problems.

We feel comfortable and superior reminding socially destructive youth and other dysfunctional citizens that our ancestors fought and died for them to have the opportunities that they reject while immigrants grab and take advantage of them. But we ignore the fact that we are preaching to an abandoned, uneducated demographic often filled with hopelessness. Sometimes, the only thing they have in common with the rest of us is their need to make money to survive. And they, like most people, will do whatever they can within their power and understanding not to suffer or perish. Their standards are situation specific and highly flexible. Political and business leaders must adjust to this reality and sort out how to share information and wealth.

There is also a critical role for the well-educated minority community that has largely abandoned under-advantaged inner city sufferers and escaped to nearby rim towns and suburbs. This group can use its broad intellectual capacity to plan and conceptualize alongside conscious Newarkers to ensure that there is a focused approach on the table to balance lopsided business community agendas. We believe that our ancestors also struggled and died for the most talented of us to come by our opportunities with a hope and belief that we would lift the less fortunate among us.

Bureaucrats working night and day on fattening their resum├ęs in preparation for their next career move are not the best advocates for advancing the economic interests of Newark residents. We are calling for a new compact not defined by race or geography but by true concern, humanism and equity. The capability to turn Newark around without once again abandoning the legitimate aspirations of her residents is within arms reach. Whether or not leaders can escape the ego personal imperatives to reach for a higher purpose remains to be seen.

Letting go of the worst of the past and reaching for the future with whomever will reach with us is the answer. But there must be consequences for those who betray us or our efforts over the long-term will lack credibility. Dishonorable behavior must never be rewarded.

Political leaders could benefit greatly by committing to building fair, substantive partnerships with business leaders, community leaders and talented professionals within the greater Newark region. It would send a strong signal to the people of Newark. It’s our best chance to realize a future that respects our city, its people and its history.

August 29, 2007

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Freedom Tax

Many in the African American community feel that one main reason that we cannot set up and successfully operate neighborhood business establishments is that we have to pay more for everything. In the hood, it is widely believed that Black businesses don’t receive the same low wholesale prices as non-Black businesses. This is thought to account for Black business establishments having to charge customers higher prices than non-Black competitors do. We have no personal knowledge that any of this is true but we intend to test the theory. We must investigate and document whether or not this is real or whether higher prices result from poor business and management practices. If it turns out that unfair or biased pricing practices are routinely levied against Black business establishments, everyone involved should face legal sanctions and the community should consider boycotts as a response. Where, on the other hand, we discover pricing practices to be fair and poor management is the problem, help and training can be provided.

If, after careful review, we uncover an unfair system that forces Black business establishments to pay more and therefore charge more, we must develop more effective strategies for creating and growing our merchant class. In any event, we must be aggressively absolute about their success and patronize them as exclusively as possible. We also have to encourage everyone we know to do the same. What about the higher prices? We say pay them. Consider it a cultural tax or a freedom tax. The few pennies difference should be viewed as the cost of independence and self-sufficiency. We should pay it gladly—but not without demanding quality service. We can never accept less than prompt, polite, quality service. We must never tolerate any degree of rudeness or abuse, especially if we are agreeing to pay more. Establishing and promoting a climate that supports paying the freedom tax begins to redefine and solidify our commitment to “Us For Once.” If we adopt this approach, we will ensure the success of our merchant class by establishing a loyal consumer base and acceptable customer service standards. Those who mistreat and take customers for granted will wind up where they belong…out of business.

We do know that many businesses don’t have sufficient capital to place orders large enough to deal directly with manufacturers or producers. They have to go through brokers, jobbers and middlemen to buy the supplies and products they need to operate their businesses. It stands to reason that they might need to charge their customers a few cents more to make a fair profit. This is the perfect example of how and why the freedom tax might be levied. Our response should be supportive. PAY THE TAX!

What the community must understand and accept is the importance of owning and operating businesses in their own neighborhoods. The importance of being able to offer neighborhood children part-time jobs that provide them a little honest spending money and help to develop good work habits. It is in our interest to give our children a respect for work and business at an early age. Without these things they are less well equipped for the world of work that they must inevitably face. Our children must learn and believe early in their lives that they can own and control businesses and companies. If it is what they see and experience every day, they will know it’s true. EXPOSURE is half the battle. Exposure breeds awareness and belief. It is easier for any person to see himself or herself in the role of boss if they have routinely seen others like themselves in that role.

Recognizing and paying the freedom tax is essential as a support mechanism to assist the viability of Black business establishments in the short term. It is as important as a small business loan or affirmative action. Indeed, it is an affirmative action that we, as a community, can take to support our own. If we incorporate and support the freedom tax concept in our approach to Black merchant class economics, surely there will be those who exploit us. We believe such exploitation will be relatively minor and short lived. In the Black community there is a widely accepted practice of hustling and getting over on one another. This is the larceny tax that we must all work hard to repeal. As the community sees businesses that we own open and thrive, we will develop the unity to stamp out even the law-abiding criminals. It all starts with the freedom tax.

August 21, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Us For Once

The African American communities in Newark are slowly being pushed aside and moved out. It is only a matter of time before we are as politically irrelevant as we are economically irrelevant. And this is largely due to our own failures.

Over the past 37 years we have clearly demonstrated our inability to see after our neighborhoods, schools and economic interests. Many of our intellectuals and accomplished professionals have abandoned the city and we have become wards of those who spend kindly of their largesse on our behalf. This pitiful self-imposed reality is the face that we present to the world and is the main reason that we are treated with disdain and disrespect by others and increasingly by our own.

The recent deaths of three young Newarkers has led to many expressions of grief and support. There are even expanded calls for unity to guard against recurring violence. None can doubt that these expressions are genuine and heartfelt. But what are they likely to mean in the long run? And what expressions have we reserved for all of our other young people who have been killed, maimed and forgotten? What unactionable rhetoric shall we spout in their honor? As has become common, even in the face of horrific circumstances we demonstrate ourselves to be fundamentally impotent. We are slow to take definitive action on our own behalf while others step forward and do for us. Doing for self quietly slips off the option table. Just one more reason for disdain and disrespect.

Prudential Insurance Company and others have stepped forward to offer support in the wake of the recent Newark slaughters. They are to be commended. They are exhibiting the finest elements of human behavior. But we must ask ourselves what will be the sustainable contribution of the Black community that speaks to this and all instances where Black youth are killed or maimed either physically or psychologically? How we answer this question could well define our future as a community and a people. The whole world is waiting for us to behave responsibly as a community. Our community needs self-support sustainability in addition to the welcomed “emotional reactionary giving” now taking place. It would provide a much-needed signal of care and concern as an important building block for self-sufficiency.

Much violent and dysfunctional behavior by Black youth is directly attributable to the irresponsible behavior of Black adults. When you consider that we have provided virtually no institutions or mechanisms for the advancement or protection of our children, it is not difficult to understand their hostility towards us. Our children are at war with themselves, our very survival and us. They are more inclined to destroy us than protect us. And even a regard for something as simple as keeping our own community clean for reasons of good health is not evident in their attitudes and behavior. How did this happen?

A close examination reveals that someone other than us provides nearly all goods, services or support that our children require for their advancement or survival. In a sense we are neither their parents nor protectors—the system is. We have let their schools fail, provided no jobs for them, taught them nothing of business, left them unprotected against violence and exploitation and are unable to respond in their favor when they face dire emergencies. Far too many of them are on their own. Why should they care anything about our safety or us? It seems to us that their lashing out and even a degree of their violence, though unacceptable, is certainly understandable. Black adults must change our behavior if we expect Black youth the change theirs. We must become the life models and protectors that our children deserve and have a right to expect. Where do we start?

Make every child safe going to and from school. If we want to convey the idea that school is important and we want children to treat school with respect and show up ready to learn and quit disruptive behavior, we must first guarantee them safe passage. Doing so would demonstrate that schools have priority status in the community. Community members, men in particular, must assist in this effort. This cannot be done by police and is rightfully the job of parents and surrogates willing to take responsibility for children who are without reliable parenting. We must sacrifice time to show up at and in the vicinity of schools to watch over our kids so they understand how much we love them and demand their safety. They will reward the entire community with better behavior if they have this kind of support. Giving them safe passage to and from school will also deny gang members recruitment opportunities. By putting ourselves on the line for our kids we will take many of them out of play for those working overtime to exploit them.

Matching contributions of corporations and philanthropists does not always require money. And we will never have their respect so long as we allow ourselves to be their wards.

Let’s accept responsibility for our youth. They are our children. This is our community. We should assume our duty with pride, joy and enthusiasm. All civilized people understand that their survival is directly related to how well they treat and guard their assets. And what asset can have more value than our children? Every day we are reaping and witnessing the results of their ill treatment at our hands. Instead of taking control of the situation, some of us condemn “the system” for whatever is wrong in our community. We submit that it is precisely the lack of “a system of our own” that leaves us wanting, lacking and begging. So let’s start with our children. Not only is it right, it is the issue over which we are likely to have the least amount of disagreement.

In nearly every area someone else is doing more for us than we are doing for ourselves. We should feel ashamed and embarrassed. The most talented among us should be eager with rage to acquit us all in better stead. No intelligent or respected people have ever left their development and future entirely in the hands of others. Our future is not now in our hands but it could and should be—bright or bleak, the choice is ours. If we want to survive and thrive in a city soaked with our blood, sweat and suffering we must now offer each other our unselfish cooperative work. If we want to matter and preserve a substantial future in Newark for our children and ourselves, we must aggressively turn to “Us For Once” and get up off our knees. It’s just that simple.

August 15, 2007

Get Involved

Keeping residents safe must be a top priority for any civilized community of people. But it is important to understand that getting violent crime under control requires activity on many different fronts at the same time. Social and economic issues have contributed to a deeply ingrained drug and gun driven street culture that has begun to take residents hostage. No community that seeks to be great can accept such a reality. It will take a robust, comprehensive, multifaceted approach to change the drug and gun bred culture that fuels senseless street violence.

Out of control children roam and control many of our neighborhoods while adults stand by helplessly wringing our hands. If there ever was a time for the sober members of our community to put aside petty quarrels and lock arms in a fight for survival now is that time. We may choose to deny it, but the lessons of discord that we are now reaping were, in large part, sown by our own incompetence, bad behavior and neglect of our children.

Gathering a community consensus on how the people must/should approach violent crime will require a coalescence of thought and action. In order to achieve this, Newark’s community leadership will be required to demonstrate a new level of maturity and willingness to work together. If we fail, we can chalk it all up and consign our future to subservience.

Law enforcement agencies are set to use more force. Indeed, Essex County Sheriff Fontura is openly discussing suspending civil liberties. And soon, we fear, a majority of citizens will support that view. Left unattended, we can envision a day when residents are urging cops to take whatever measures necessary, no matter how violent or abusive, to shut down violent criminals. Even now, many are willing to sacrifice a measure of liberty to receive a measure of security. We believe this would be a step backward from which we might never recover. What’s needed right now is a citizen rebellion against violent crime and criminals. We must have a community plan supported by a consensus. Otherwise, individuals will resort to any and all methods to secure their safety and protect their interests.

As quickly as we identify aspects of community life that nourish an environment of crime, strategies to counter their impact must be designed and implemented. A community mechanism with this purpose has to be established. Citizens usually rely upon law enforcement to keep us safe. But even the round-the-clock hard work and unsung successes of nameless police officers have not yet provided a permanent solution. The violence that rocked Newark over the past week makes it clear that real relief from urban terror is likely to remain beyond our reach until more elements of our community become completely outraged and thoroughly engaged.

Reducing and eradicating violent crime requires a process and network of partnerships among government agencies, citizen groups and individuals dedicated to an uncompromising view of personal safety. While police must form the backbone of any crime fighting collaboration, they cannot succeed alone. Residents must step up and shed the fear that criminals have imposed on an entire community. We must become active in the defense of our communities and ourselves.

It is pointless to quibble over how much progress is being made when the fear and violence index is as high as it now is. Let’s concede that progress is being made. But it is hardly enough. Considerable work still remains to unravel years of neglect and broken systems and will not be easy. Even so, it must be tackled with unbridled energy, passion and discipline. Improving statistics notwithstanding our humanity instructs us that even a single death prompted by a malicious act must never be acceptable or tolerated. While the Booker administration seeks to stabilize the periodic surges in violent crime, the results to date are confounding. Compared to last year, shootings are down but murders are constant. It is reasonable to argue that consistency of action and purpose must be maintained long enough to allow the current law enforcement strategies to firmly take hold. It is entirely reasonable that more time is needed.

There is no way for residents to be patient with violent crime, yet those charged with day-to-day crime fighting responsibility must demonstrate patience in the implementation of complex strategies to combat it. To do otherwise would likely spawn an erratic reaction to every act of violence. An effective blow against crime, though, must include an attack on unemployment, poor schools, inadequate housing and hopelessness.

We expect government to provide effective leadership in reducing lawless violence. We also urge the community to immediately quit the sidelines and join the struggle to renew the spirit of our city by declaring through bold action that safety and an improved quality of life are the rightful demand of all Newarkers.

Our city is truly at a crossroads, there is little room for compromise and the road to improvement will be rocky—and in this moment, no truly concerned citizen can afford to stand aside. Get involved.

August 8, 2007