By Barney Blakeney
As we close in on another local government election, economic development has been a common thread through all the interviews I’ve had. No matter where you live in the Metropolitan Charleston area, economic growth and development is an ever present, in your face reality. As Stevie Wonder said in his song ‘Livin’ for the City’ – “Skyscrapers and everything!” Construction is everywhere and new businesses abound.
In many of those conversations I hear remarks about the proliferation of economic development occurring and how Black folks must become a part of it, how if elected the candidate will make that a reality. They say a vote for them will insure Black folks become partners in the growth and development represented by the tens of billions of dollars being invested in the local economy. Rubbish, I say. Pure rubbish.
The unprecedented growth and economic development occurring in the Metro Charleston area didn’t begin last night after a few people got elected to public office in one election or another. It’s the result of years of planning, evolution and continuity. Charleston didn’t become the cosmopolitan jewel it is today because John Tecklenburg was elected four years ago. North Charleston didn’t become the state’s fastest growing municipality because Keith Summey took office 20 years ago and Summerville didn’t triple in size and affluence because Wiley Johnson succeeded Bill Collins.
What those communities are today is evidence of long term strategies played out over decades. Tecklenburg followed Joe Riley’s 40-year reign in Charleston, Summey followed John Bourne’s 19 years as North Charleston’s first mayor and Wiley rides on the shoulder of 39-year Summerville mayor Berlin G. Myers. Things don’t just happen overnight, but some would tell you economic development in the Black community will happen by osmosis simply through the act of electing some slick talking political wannabe.
As I was graduating high school back in 1971 the talk of the town was Trident 2000, a strategic plan for the development of the Tri-County area over the next 30 years. I was a kid trying to get out of high school. Economic and political strategy wasn’t part of my routine conversation.
My vision pretty much was limited to going to college and coming out to work as a writer. I was absorbed by the Black Power Movement, but had no clue that meant organized strategic struggle. I envisioned change, but didn’t understand that change only would come by taking methodically organized strategic steps. That realization came after I left college and jumped into the deep end of this pool called life.
I got a crash course in staying afloat when I started writing for The Charleston Chronicle. A lot of people came through the paper in those days. I was brash – like a lot of young guns I see today. I thought I knew it all. I figured old guys like Herbert U. Fielding, ‘Big’ John Chisolm, Caleb Harper, J. Arthur Brown and Roscoe Mitchell moved too slow. It took me a long time to learn that those guys understood and employed the values of vision, planning, strategy and patience. They organized the Charleston Business and Professional Association and Esau Jenkins organized the Progressive Club to do those things.
My generation, in those days, perhaps was the most formally educated among Black folks in the history of our time in this country. The two generations that have come behind mine, perhaps are even better educated. But I don’t see the economic or political infrastructure that was present in past generations. I see a new generation of young Blacks telling us that some singular election will change the socio-economic course of the Black community.
I heard someone the other day say these young Black folks ain’t taking what we took. Yes they will. They won’t have a choice. Unless you’re in a position of power to determine your fate, others will make that determination. Talk is cheap, but the reality is this growth and development is happening all around us and we ain’t in it at any appreciable level.
Now before you get your drawers in a bunch, I ain’t saying we can’t put ourselves in positions of power. I’m saying that takes planning and strategy. This younger generation of Black folks has the tools, though sometime I wonder if they know how to use them. Perhaps that’s where my generation needs to help. They can’t learn if we don’t give them the opportunity to develop the skills. We sit in a spot til our butts rub raw, fail to groom them, and then wonder why we’re losing ground.
My generation must connect with the young ones. At some point we must talk to each other about what we want and how we’re going to get it. This election won’t resolve all our issues. But it could be a start to that process.