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Learning From James Campbell
1/8/2014 5:00:54 PM

By Barney Blakeney

Recently I was mesmerized by an interview I had with James Campbell. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as intelligent as Mr. Campbell - and I know some smart people!

Our interview was about assistance for low wage workers. As a follow-up to the story about low wage workers in the fast food industry, I wanted to ask some labor people how average consumers can assist those workers in their effort to get higher wages.

I figure as long as consumers continue to spend money in the industry there would be no incentive for employers to increase low wages. Like many of us, I love my burgers. No way I’m givin’ ‘em up. But I know what it is to be underpaid - as most of us are. Not only can you not afford the stuff you want, you can’t afford the stuff you need!

So I wanted to write a story that offered folks like me some idea of what we realistically can do, since givin’ up the burgers is not going to happen.

I thought an interview with Mr. Campbell might head me in the right direction. I bit off more than I could chew. Folks, James Campbell is a man ahead of his time.

I often anguish over the fact that many of the people we consider leaders in our community lack vision. Most of the people we rely on to make decisions that affect our daily lives haven’t got a clue about leading anybody anywhere. Heck, they don’t know where they’re going.

I see how folks in other ethnic communities study and plan decades in advance, how their leaders see not just the present potential, but future potential and guide their communitiees into positions to take advantage of the potential. I’m dismayed that too many of our chosen leaders usually can’t see beyond their noses.

Not so James Campbell. When I asked Mr. Campbell what do we do to turn things around for low wage workers he responded there’s no simple answer. In his explanation, he tried to help me understand that the issue of low wages is more complex than merely increasing wages.

The late John F. Kennedy said, “Some folks see things as they are and ask why, I see things as they can be and ask why not.” That kind of sums up what I got from my conversation with Mr. Campbell. To address low wages, we mustn’t look at what is, but look to what can be.

How is it that those who work the most to produce stuff receive the least benefit from the stuff they produce? Mr. Campbell said that’s because the system is corrupted and broken. In our neo-colonial economic system the aristocracy still hold the reigns of power.

Some time ago I talked to someone who said if I were to look back at the names of those who held political power in South Carolina 200 years ago, I’d see many of the same names of the poeple who hold political power in South Carolina today.

Mr. Campbell said he experienced the same thing recently. The descendants of plantation owners who controlled the local economy generations ago remain the economically powerful today he realized while at a dinner party.

Okay, where am I going with this? When it comes to money and power, we first must realize the two are not necessarily synonymous. If they were, basketball and football players would be among the most powerful people in our society.

I think that’s where leadership comes in. We choose leaders who perpetuate the status quo. And it ain’t about Black and white because white folks are catching just as much hell as Black folks. They’re a little higher up the ladder, but they’re catching hell just the same.

Most of the people we elevate to leadership positions are all about leading us in circles. They take their 30 pieces of silver for selling us out to the one percent that controls all the wealth. We continue to uplift poeple who carry the man’s water when we can’t get a drink and they only get a sip themselves.

We’ve got spiritual, politicial and economic leaders who can’t find their own way around the wagon. I say, in 2014 we begin to look among ourselves to identify those among us with true vision and leadership skills.

We’re 14 years into the new millenium. Our community isn’t inching along, we’re stagnated. We’ve got to move beyond the old relationships and alligances that has stifled our community’s economic growth. There are some talented people in our community. We must identify, elevate and support them.

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