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Bi-Lo Closure An Indictment Of Black Leadership
9/14/2016 12:52:11 PM

By Barney Blakeney

Over the past week or so I’ve heard so much about the impending closure of the Bi-Lo grocery store at 445 Meeting St. in downtown Charleston that I’m sick of it!

I’m getting older and less tolerant of stuff I consider unnecessary foolishness. I mean, I fool around as much as anybody. For most of my developing years I was criticized as being too playful, never taking stuff seriously enough. I was voted most humorous among my high school senior class members. But life threw me some curves. I learned to stand squarely at the plate and do my best to knock the ball out of the park.

Nowadays I’m criticized for taking things too seriously.

I get frustrated when I see unnecessary stuff coming at me. It’s hard enough to play this game called life successfully without having to deflect stuff that doesn’t forward progress. So I get impatient with a whole lot of conversations about the closing of the Bi-Lo grocery store. That’s a done deal, ya’ll. The issue is how do we move forward.

Let me say first, I understand and feel compassion for all those whose lives will be critically affected by the store’s closure. I know firsthand what it is to have to walk two miles to a grocery store having trekked many days in the sun from Bexley Street in North Charleston to the former Winn-Dixie at what used to be Shipwatch Square.

I was younger and the buses ran so infrequently, it was easier for me to walk to the store - down Spruill to McMillan, over to Rivers and back carrying my groceries. I wouldn’t do that now. At my age and physical condition today, I’d wait on a bus no matter how long it took or catch a ride - which means I’d have to pay somebody. I understand the impact closing the grocery store will have on a lot of folks.

But I’m frustrated by the bullcrap we’re hearing from our elected officials. I’m sick of conversations from people either elected, appointed or allowed to make policy for our community talking about how it’s such a travesty to close the store. Let me be more specific. I don’t want to hear black community leaders - elected, appointed or allowed - handing me that bullcrap conversation.

It ticks me off that some gutless, visionless, selfish, pseudo-public servants have the audacity to come to black folks with this after the fact conversation about the store’s closure. First of all, ain’t a damn thing any of them can do about the store’s closure. That’s a business decision being made by those who own that property. Nobody can tell those folks what to do with their property.

Should those businesses be mitigating the affect of their decisions on the community? You damn skippy! But they won’t, they never have and they never will. My issue is our community ‘leaders’ did not lead us to a place where we would be prepared for this eventuality. Instead of being visionary, our leaders are reactionary. And we continue to trust those fools to serve on behalf of our best interests!

The reality of this situation is so varied and complicated, there’s no way I can go into all that’s involved in this space. Besides, I ain’t that smart. But I am smart enough to know that the development that’s driving the decision to close that grocery store has been evolving more than 15 years. We watched, and continue to watch, that development take place. How can we seriously consider outrage from pseudo-public servants, again whether elected, appointed or allowed?

As I said earlier in this piece, I’m personally familiar with the food desert that developed in North Charleston’s southern district. I know how ineffective leadership can lead to the vulnerability of an entire community. Why has the black community not learned from such lessons?

Because of ineffective leadership that condition of vulnerability in North Charleston has existed 20 years and will continue maybe another five or more. The same ineffective black community leaders have been in place all that time. They are the same black community leaders now offering us empty rhetoric in downtown Charleston. Despite shuttle buses and all that other nonsense, nothing about the closure of that grocery store will change. What about this don’t black folks understand?

What must change is how black folks elect, appoint and allow leadership. It’s not enough that those we recognize as our community leaders are our friends or family members, they also must be capable of fulfilling their responsibilities. We must demand accountability from our leadership or forever beg concessions from others.

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