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By Barney Blakeney

As the June 9 Democratic primary elections loom in the shadow of South Carolina’s reopening of businesses amid continuing escalation of the coronavirus pandemic which affects Blacks at disproportionately higher rates than others, the African American community has much to consider.

Assertive, foresighted and progressive political leadership among Black elected officials has been wanton in the past, and now, Black folks must decide who to elect as we’re faced with some of the gravest challenges of our generation. Nevermind what white folks do – although they’re facing some serious challenges in leadership as well – Black folks must realize where we go from here will pivot on decisions we make now. The upcoming primary and general elections are not popularity contests. Effective, visionary leadership is more crucial now more than ever as our society enters a ‘new normal’.

I keep thinking about something I learned back in the 1960s in reference to Black folks’ election choices – we always are left with a choice between the lesser of the evils. From the white House to Wadmalaw Island, Black folks must elect representation from among candidates already chosen by someone else – pop ups, sellouts, wannabe Boss Hogs – people we don’t know and can’t trust. Why? Because we fail to groom our own leadership.

The pandemic is enough reason to make Black folks look ahead, but there are so many more reasons for us to be extremely mindful of how we make decisions over the next few months. The pandemic eventually will end, but the choices we make now, like the pandemic, will have effects easily lasting over the next two decades. The people we elect to office over the next few months will determine political redistricting. They will determine who will get to vote where and for whom.

The coronavirus again has emphasized the widespread health disparities that exist in our society. By now, no one should be surprised that Black folks are dying at higher rates than everybody else because we have less access to quality healthcare in one of the world’s most advanced nations.

It’s beyond frustrating. It’s infuriating! I watched my mother make choices between paying for her healthcare and caring for our family because she couldn’t afford both. And today, I must make similar choices! It’s a bit.. needing healthcare and not choosing it because it’s unaffordable – knowing that the consequences will be dire – all that after working hard your whole life!

Some people keep asking me why some Black folks seem so uncaring about the consequences of ignoring social distancing in the face of the coronavirus. Those people face imminent death every day just living in an unjust inequitable American society. Death from corona ain’t no big deal when a Black security guard can get shot in the head asking someone to stick to the guidelines.

South Carolina closed its schools to protect its children. But for many Black children, closing the schools meant closing the kitchen. Some of our kids only get nutritious meals at school. I’m reminded of the story I heard about a kid at one elementary school who was seen lingering around the building long after school let out. The teacher surmised the kid didn’t WANT to go home. School was that kid’s safe haven.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What about the academic achievement gap many Black kids suffer. If Black kids aren’t getting enough while they’re in school, what are they getting now that schools are closed? As we purport to protect our children from corona, how will we protect them from the raptures of an inadequate education in the world of the future – a world where knowledge of science and technology will be prerequisite?

Fundamental change – that’s what I hear people say about what to expect as a result of corona. I think that’s right. We can expect the way we do things to fundamentally change from here on out. What we do now will determine how things will change. My concern is will we take this opportunity to get it right.

These challenging times offer an opportunity to follow Spike Lee’s advice to ‘do the right thing’! This year’s political elections represent one of the first opportunities. Black voters, white voters, all voters need to be thinking about our collective future and that of our children. Fundamental change? We must change fundamentally. We cannot continue to do as we have done in the past.

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