By Barney Blakeney
When I was a kid – all those years ago – we used a phrase, “making friends”, that referred to building relationships. Making friends was serious business. It meant you had a bond, you cared about your friend, would support and defend your friend. People don’t make friends anymore. They develop alliances and have acquaintances. That’s okay because as the old folks would tell us, everyone ain’t gonna be your friend.
I thought of making friends the other day as I read the news story about folks at South Carolina State University who protested Gov. Henry McMaster being chosen to give the graduation speech. It struck me as odd. SCSU President James Clark addressed the protest noting the imperiled institution has to develop some diverse relationships. Yuh think???
Republicans in the state’s legislature almost shut down the institution a couple of years ago and well may be on their way to continuing that process now! I‘d think the last thing you’d want to do is tick off the titular head of the legislature. Never mind that the guy is the governor! I don’t get the logic of protesting the governor making the graduation speech at a state supported school. That might be cool if SCSU had an alternative funding source, but you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
For years my old publisher, Jim French, was incensed that the legislature never would name International Longshoremen Association Local 1422 President Kenny Riley to the S.C. State Port Authority board. Jim, who by the way is at home these days resting as his grandsons man the day-to-day tasks of the newspaper’s operations, incessantly prodded me to write the story. I never did. McMaster hasn’t chosen Riley for the authority either. I think Riley masterfully has forged alliances and acquaintances which alternatively benefit his constituents.
When it comes to making friends, you must be careful. “Be careful who your friends are”, my mom used to caution. Her admonition reminds me that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. There are those who see Republicans as enemies. Personally, I think that’s a mistake, but for the sake of argument, even if it were true, that means we should keep them close. I think it makes good sense to build relationships with your adversaries. In that respect, I don’t understand why more Black folks aren’t building relationships with the municipal administrations in Charleston and North Charleston.
On that note, I can’t figure why we aren’t building more relationships with some of the people who do business in our communities. It’s easy to tear stuff down; building something up is more difficult and can be more rewarding. Some in the Black community righteously are pitted against business owners who exploit our weaknesses. Well, the first thing is we have to strengthen our weaknesses, but in the meantime, maybe we should be building some relationships with those folks. We receive not because we ask not. Why should I do business with those who won’t reciprocate the favor? Trust me, the rice ain’t that good and we can buy beer and cigarettes anywhere.
I’m old enough to remember when the United States was adversaries with dang near every nation that wasn’t located in the northern hemisphere. Today the Japanese, Chinese and other foreign investors own everything in Black communities from the neighborhood convenience stores to the local motels. On the other side of the equation, there are Burger King restaurants in Beijing. What’s it called – quid pro quo, tit for tat? What part are we missing?
It bothers me that few from our communities are employed at the neighborhood Chinese restaurant or convenience store. But as North Charleston Branch NAACP President Ed Bryant noted, other merchants also fail to reinvest in us. His counterpart at the Charleston Branch NAACP, Dot Scott, lamented it’s taken so long for Black residents to mount an impassioned challenge the economic dynamics that shape the retail economy of our communities and that the challenge comes after the video recorded assault of a resident. National Action Network coordinator Elder James Johnson said bringing that challenge to fruition won’t be easy, but the organization’s committed to that goal. Lofty goal I’d say when folks collectively have worked neither to build friendships nor alliances on the front end. The late John All, one of the best editors I’ve ever known, said it’s easier to start from scratch than to start over. That’s where building alliances, if not friendships, become so important.
Last week as part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Small Business Week activities, the City of Charleston held several events. Mayor John Tecklenburg invited small business owners and their advocates to a round table discussion to talk about their strengths, challenges and opportunities for the city to help facilitate their success. Now, I’ve heard Black business people over the years say such events seldom yield any business activity for them. But two things come to my mind – you’ve got to be in it to win it and somebody’s got to be at the table.
I think the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative is another of those opportunities. The five-year-old initiative brings business people together with schools to focus on educational outcomes. I was introduced to the concept when the former public relations woman came to the paper. I’ve always had some skepticism about the initiative. First thing I questioned was why those folks all of a sudden were so gung-ho about preparing our kids for jobs. Okay, so that was pretty much a no-brainer – the economic incentive is obvious. I also asked myself why those folks were coming to the Black Press. We’d been ignored in the past. Then it dawned on me – I was asking stupid questions – take the opportunity and run, dummy, I said to myself!
I’ve always thought that the racism and prejudice that prevented people from developing relationships which benefit the participants was illogical and that the barriers we put up which prevent our collective progress are counterproductive. It really doesn’t matter where the help comes from as long as you get the help! If that help comes in the form of the Meeting Street Academy at Brentwood, the proposed Pathways In Education school for at-risk teens or a commencement speech by Gov. McMaster, so be it. But I think it may be to everyone’s advantage to get together and build some alliances even if we don’t make friends.