By Barney Blakeney
SOS. Okay, I’ve got a bad case of SOS – stuck on stupid. Everywhere I turn there’s something to remind me that our community needs quality leadership. I’ve been stuck on that for a while now.
A couple of weeks ago my friend former Charleston County School District media specialist Jason Sakron asked me sit down for a conversation. Turns out Jason’s running for Charleston City Council to represent my old peninsula Dist. 3 neighborhood. My good friend James Lewis currently represents the district. Lewis has done a credible job since first being elected to the seat in 1995. Lewis said he’ll seek another term.
Next year Lewis will have served 20 years in the position. The district that runs from Huger Street north to Mount Pleasant Street has changed a lot over the past 20 years – in a word, gentrification. How will it change over the next 20 years? That largely will depend on the district’s representative leadership. A determining factor will be municipal redistricting which is slated for 2020. Lewis’ Dist. 3 currently still is slightly majority Black. That will change, but not by the next election.
In a lot of ways the Charleston Dist. 3 representation is one example of the changes facing Black communities across the Metro area. Gentrification will change racial demographics in a lot of communities. Changing communities is not an activity in which the inhabitants can just sit back and watch happen. A lot of stuff still is decided along racial lines.
For most people choosing leaders is about relationships. That can work when the relationships are carefully developed. I think the challenge our community faces is whether we can overcome our racial prejudices to develop representation that moves us forward progressively. A lot of times we want to do what we’ve always done only because that’s what we’ve always done – got nothing to do with what’s in our best interest. That’s seldom a good thing.
During a recent conversation with one of my neighbors, she dismissed the future that is on our horizon saying, “This is our home. We’re not going anywhere.” Tell that to the residents of Gadsden Green housing complex on the Westside. The area is slated for $1 billion in redevelopment over the next 15 years. Can you spell Ansonborough Homes projects?
So what happens when people without effective leadership become absorbed by customary behavior? I today thought about the Tom Joyner Morning Show commentator Shaun King and looked him up on BlackAmericaWeb.com. I saw a piece he’d written about Blacks and Democrats. “…they habitually overpromise and under deliver,” he said. When it comes to political leadership, Black folks religiously look to the Democratic Party. King thinks that’s not such a good thing. But, he adds, “I am particularly excited about some of courageous new voices in the House right now. Right away I am thinking of course of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Ro Khanna, Rashida Tlaib, and others.”
I think bold new leadership is in the future for Black people, but we must embrace it. There are some young people willing to enter the fray at many different levels – politically, economically, religiously – we shouldn’t resist them just because we’re comfortable with the status quo. For the past 40 years Black people have wandered in the wilderness because our generation has lost its vision of the Promised Land.
Shaun King’s words come to my mind when I think of our current political leadership – people who consistently say they spend more time fighting bad legislation than enacting progressive legislation. Of the bold new upstarts King said, “They are different. First and foremost, they were each voted in to Congress because the voters in their districts expected them to be different, to be bold, to speak truth to power. And they’ve each done that right out of the gate … They challenge injustice. They don’t hold their tongues. They propose brilliant, bold, substantive solutions to problems. They all have two feet on the ground, and are fully connected to everyday people, but also are imaginative dreamers who refuse to accept the status quo. They have big ideas, big visions, but also explain how they’ll be paid for and what implementation looks like.”
Some might be intimidated by that kind of leadership, but I saw it happen over the past two years in one of the most unlikely places. In 2017 Charleston County Republicans initiated an unprecedented move that could change the local political landscape and usher in a new reality. The county’s Republicans elected two African Americans – Maurice Washington as first vice chair and Nicole Claibourn as third vice chair – to its executive committee. Chairman Larry Kobrovsky said Claibourn’s and Washington’s elections represented a profound change. Among Kobrovsky’s accomplishments as chairman was initiating the annual Black History Month banquet, with headliners Alveda King and Senator Tim Scott.
Last week the Republicans demonstrated it apparently wants to continue that change. According to John Steinberger’s article in Lowcountry Source, “Former State Senator John Kuhn was elected Chairman of the Charleston County Republican Party Thursday at Orange Grove Charter School in West Ashley. The 348 convention delegates chose attorney Kuhn.”
I recently saw a PBS interview with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. whose documentary film about Reconstruction will air this month. The Reconstruction era was the period from 1863 to 1877 which ended the remnants of Confederate secession and ended slavery making the newly-freed slaves citizens with civil rights guaranteed by three new Constitutional amendments. At the beginning of 1867, no African American in the South held political office, but within three or four years about 15 percent of the officeholders in the South were black—a larger proportion than in 1990. Most of those offices were at the local level. All that ended with Jim Crow.
A lot of people consider the modern Civil Rights Movement a new Reconstruction. Asked why his film is important now, Gates said today’s socio-political landscape mirrors what happened after Reconstruction – Jim Crow! He implied we may be entering a new era of Jim Crow. His film is important because it represents a refresher course in that history. And at this time in history, so is the need for effective Black leadership.