5 years after a noteworthy shift in politics for African-Americans, Black History Month must be fruitful, not just reflective, to garner better times ahead.
What a difference 5 years can make.
Just 5 years ago, we sat collectively on the edge of our seats as Santonio Holmes reached with the tips of his fingers to get One for the Other Thumb.
Yet, 5 years later, it is rumored that he will be a cap casualty with the New York Jets before the start of the 2014 NFL season.
5 years ago heading into Black History Month, African-Americans had a deep sense of political optimism with hope riding at a level never reached before. Black Baby Boomers had reached the pinnacle of their respective political parties. Barack Obama had become the first African-American president in the nation’s history, affording him the de facto role as top of the Democratic Party as well. Michael Steele had endured a 6-round vote at the RNC Winter Meeting to become the first African-American head of the Republican Party. I even focused my Fox Monday Morning commentary on this unique opportunity heading into February 2009.
Yet, 5 years later, the Republicans’ relationship with Black voters is hardly any better, chronicled in part by President Obama’s near-record percentage of the Black vote again in 2012 as African-Americans voted at a higher clip than any other ethnic group nationally. For the president, the past 5 years hasn’t been any rosier, as official numbers for Black unemployment once approached 20% under his watch with unofficial numbers for Black male adults and Black youth joblessness hitting depression-era levels. From comments by Attorney General Eric Holder in February 2009 to the “take off your bedroom slippers…put on your marching shoes…” statement from the president himself as he geared up for his re-election bid – all alongside events such as the Trayvon Martin tragedy and others – this president has not bridged Black America over recent troubled waters.
With this all in the rear view mirror along with the tough roads of high unemployment, large education and economic disparities, and the New Jim Crow threatening Black youth in an ongoing fashion, now is not the time for President Obama, leading Black politicians and civil rights leaders, or the rest of America to merely reflect upon the accomplishments of those of African-American descent during the month of February.
Tangible goals that elevate the cumulative GPA of Black students across the nation by 0.5 of a grade point should be put into place by Black leaders and educators, giving us a new standard of excellence to shoot towards over the next 5-10 years. This modest goal, if accomplished, would provide America a newly-capable pool of talent that is active in the pursuit of academic prowess and life-changing innovation. Tangible goals that encourage business investment in urban areas and a rise in Black entrepreneurship over the next 5 years can shift the focus from spreading wealth in America to growing wealth across the diversity of America. This new reality would impact the abilities of fathers and mothers to maintain economic optimism and family stability for their children as we seek to overcome the lingering effects of the Great Recession.
Active cooperative measures across demographic and political lines – not just activism and protest lines – must be enacted and successful over these critical next 5 years for the sake of turning the tides of despair facing Black America during this February. It can come in the former of unlikely allies such as Ted Cruz and Sheila Jackson Lee advocating for school choice in Washington earlier this week. It came come in the form of African-American leaders working with the Marcellus Shale Coalition to broker opportunities for inner-city young people to find blue- and white-collar jobs within this booming industry. These are just examples that highlight a greater focus: America cannot afford to rest on its laurels this Black History Month if we expect to reverse the trends we are facing together. Black struggles impact all of us. A fruitful Black History Month will yield a successful America in 2014 and beyond.
So, yes – we will hear about speeches, marches, protests, and even about a Dream. However, it is vital that we are about making history throughout Black History Month, not just talk about yesteryear. With a new level of effort and focus, it’s amazing the difference 5 years can make.
Lenny McAllister is a political analyst and commentator featured on various local, national and international outlets including PCNC, CNN, and Sun News Network. He is the host of “The McAllister Minute” which appears on the American Urban Radio Network. The Pittsburgh-based pundit appears on “4802: Final Friday” on WQED and is the former host of Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister on WVON The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.