By Barney Blakeney
I figured this week I’d write about the need for organized strategies in the continuing struggle for Black folks’ equality in our community. I know a lot of stuff happens behind the scenes that most, myself included, are not aware of. But it seems abundantly clear there’s not a whole lot of collaborative strategic planning going on among the various civil rights, economic, religious or social organizations in the Black community. We’re operating in all these different silos – every group is doing their own thing – in some cases even competing against each other!
As I contemplated how I’d approach the subject, I thought perhaps one reason my people too often fail to strategize collaboratively is because everybody’s got their own beliefs that too often prevents us from coming to some consensus.
For example the recent debate over how Black women should dress in public. Recently I heard about a Houston, Texas school principal who mandated parents of students at her school dress a certain way or they wouldn’t be allowed in the school. I heard all kinds of arguments. Some made sense to me, others didn’t. Then I went to Wendy’s and saw a young woman in pajama pants, a tank top, thong flip flop shoes and a scarf wrapped around her head at the counter. Sunday I went to the Family Dollar store and a young woman walks in wearing a skimpy two-piece bikini beneath a knitted shawl.
I asked myself how can Black folks develop collaborative strategies about serious issues such as economic development, public education, police reform or prison reform when we can’t even figure out what’s appropriate public attire?
I watched my favorite Sunday TV show when I cut hookey from church, Carolina Business Review. Featured were a guy from an upstate health business and two women chamber of commerce executives, one each from Union County, N.C. and Kershaw County, S.C., who discussed how they work together to develop business strategies that mutually benefit their different communities and business interests. And here we are where the leadership of Black civil rights organizations in Charleston and North Charleston don’t even talk to each other.
I asked Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce founder Marilyn Hemmingway her thoughts. She said one dynamic that may prohibit collaborative strategizing among Black entities is a propensity to be reactive rather than proactive. Some things we know will happen – in business and civil rights – and we know what we need to do to impact those predictable occurrences. But we fail to prepare and consistently engage in ongoing activities that produce a more positive result for our community, she said. We react through protests and press conferences, “But what happens after that?”, she asked.
Noting the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce’s monthly networking meetings held in Georgetown, Hemmingway said consistent small steps are part of strategies that build the capacity to engage and impact the issues confronting the Black community. “We no longer can do individual actions or events and expect resolution to those issues,” she said.
I’ve had a couple of conversations with retired education administrator Luther Seabrook who pointed out two things among many – Black folks fail to create strategies to sustain their efforts and Black folks continually lament what white folks are doing to them. Seabrook pointed to the highly successful ‘jail, no bail’ strategy implemented by students of Friendship Junior College in the early 1960s that became a national model for student protests.
In recent weeks some Black folks have confronted local school officials about disparities that have existed in Charleston County School District for decades. Heck, there NEVER has been parity between Black and white students in Charleston schools! Folks are talking about the closure of Garrett Academy of Technology. Them people told us years ago they would close that school, but beyond Jesse Williams’ voice, I heard very little about it since it became a hot button issue back then. There was no continuity – except from Williams – or a collaborative strategy to upset school district plans to eventually close the school so plainly outlined when they appeased loud-mouthed attention-seekers with a so obvious delay tactic.
I’ve talked to several others about the subject of strategizing in the Black community. One guy said our failure to develop collaborative strategies is due in no small part to self-serving leadership – a lot of people get paid. One source said we’ve got ‘leaders who openly go to various entities and ask for money. The source called two guys’ names specifically saying, “I know those guys are getting money!”
I know this one elected official who often tells me, “Barney, I know you’re getting paid to spin stories.” This is the same guy who is documented negotiating tens of thousands of dollars to pander his influence as a ‘political consultant’, persuading trusting voters among his constituency to vote for whoever pays him. To that guy I say I should get more money. I’m so broke, I had to cut back on my stipend to my niece who’s going for her master degree at USC.
But who gets paid, for me, isn’t as important as developing strategies for our community. I think when we develop effective strategies, we all get paid. And more importantly, the payoff to future generations of black folks is increased. As Hemmingway said, we need consistent, determined small steps made strategically to effect the change we desire.