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Now Is The Time To Build The Future
11/9/2016 3:05:57 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

The foundation for the future is built upon the past. One might think that should paint a clear picture of the future. It doesn’t. At least in my mind, the future is most uncertain.

The Charleston community is engulfed in what’s being described as the trials of the century – former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager’s murder trial in the death of Walter Scott, the unarmed black man he shot as Scott ran away and Dylann Roof’s trial in the murders of nine black victims at Emanuel AME Church after a Bible study session. Both the accused are white. Their crimes manifest the worst about the realities of race in America as we face an uncertain future.

The Trice Edney News Wire service recently reported on a symposium at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University during which a panel of experts noted that the same disparaging problems of discriminatory police practices, unemployment, unequal pay, poverty and more that disproportionately affected blacks in the 1960s continues to affect them today.

Essentially they said fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and two generations later, the same racial discrimination that existed since slavery times still exist.

The Michael Slager and Dylann Roof trials facilitate media frenzy, but in my mind, they are far from representing the trials of the century. Black America has been here and done that - at least as far as the Michael Slager trial is concerned. The Dylann Roof thing is a ‘hole nuther’ ball game.

I’m hearing a lot of stuff from some members of the millennial generation who say they don’t want the reality of the past to be their future. They criticize many in leadership positions for having gone along to get along and those who have sold out altogether. I share their frustration.

Yesterday I was reminded by North Charleston S.C. House Rep. Seth Whipper that you can’t paint every leader with the same brush. It’s unfair to those like him, who are working hard to make a difference. I get that. But after 50 years of ‘equal rights’ to experience so many of the same conditions of disparity, it’s hard to make distinctions.

In the past it was easier to make such distinctions. There were shining examples of leadership – people like Mrs. Alma Latten, Mrs. Emily Smith and my big brother from another mother, Teddy Middleton. The three of them recently passed on, but they left us clear role models of leadership to follow.

Mrs. Latten was a woman small in stature, but larger than life in her efforts to make things happen for others. A teacher for 42 years, she led thousands of black children to the light of knowledge. She tirelessly devoted herself to community service. Mrs. Emily was the voice of Safety Cab Company. Over 60 years she directed many men and later many women to financial solvency as drivers for the company. She had patience with young men like me, Whaley Boyd Jr. and Howard Powell and helped us to learn not only the cab zones of the city, but also the safety zones of life. And my brother Teddy – as a brother raised on the streets and brought up in the church - was as much an inspiration in life as he was in accepting his cancerous fate. Mrs. Latten, Mrs. Emily and Teddy were three everyday people whose lives, I think, exemplified the epitome of leadership.

I’m hearing a cry from young people pleading for a better future. They see where political rhetoric and inaction has led – to a national election where the choice between the lesser of two evils almost is indistinguishable. They don’t want that for their future. I don’t blame them. But to avoid that future, they must become the leaders of the future.
America, not just black America or white America but all of America, is failing to prepare our world for their future. I think we’ve done a pretty fair job of messing America up for them. If our young want a better future, they must take their fate in their own hands. They’re doing that on the streets marching and protesting. But they also have to change the political and economic systems they so despise.

I recently asked a friend who is a politician why more of his colleagues are not grooming young people to succeed them. His response was, “you can’t make young people get involved.” He’s right. If young people are dissatisfied with the political system we have, they must change it. Protests and marches play a role, but there must be those willing to work within the system as well.

I know first hand what it is like to step out into the political arena and get your butt kicked. It’s frustrating. Some friends and I tried that 40 years ago and got our clocks cleaned!

We ran a guy against the political machine in place at the time thinking we could change the world. It didn’t happen. We got whipped so badly we just gave up. Well, 40 years later the same conditions we sought to change still exist. Folks got pushed from one place to another, but the conditions we endured then, our children and grandchildren now endure. They’re just facing those conditions in a different place. The takeaway here is that quitting is not an option.

For our young, the odds certainly must seem insurmountable, but you must engage and remain engaged. The odds of the Vietnamese besting the United States in the conflict over control of their country also seemed insurmountable, but those people remained engaged. Decades later, they now control their country.

The future of our community and our country rests with our young. Black and white together, you can create a better future, you must create a better future. The foundation for the future is built upon the past. Start building.

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