Anyone Can Lead

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If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. —John Quincy Adams

You have to be living under a rock not to know that the U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear two landmark cases on the legality of same-sex marriage. 

No matter how the Justices rule, this will be a turning point in U.S. history.

I of course have a preferred outcome, but so does everyone.

If I am to generalize, most people see this either as a justice matter or a protection issue. For me, it is about equality, but also about leadership.

What is the vision of America that we are casting?

Mind you, leadership is on my mind because in the last six months I have learned a lot about the suffering bad leadership can create.

This last week was particularly heinous, so I spent the weekend watching movies with a friend. Among the evening line-up was Ratatouille.

Here is the story. A rat named Remy wants to become a chef. He chases his dream inspired by his passion for food and encouragement from his mentor, Chef Gusteau, who’s mantra is that “anyone can cook.”

Before you start getting too concerned about why I am mentioning a rat, cooking and same-sex marriage in the same post, know this. After my harrowing experience with someone who exhibited few of the best traits for leaders, I have had to ask myself, do I really believe that anyone can lead? And what are the larger implications of leadership in people’s day-to-day lives?

This is what I’ve come up with so far.

Lesson 1

My first lesson comes from the other movie we watched – A Knight’s Tale. William Thatcher wants to be a knight, but knighthood is only for people of noble birth. He is consumed with “changing his stars” so that despite his peasant linage, he can distinguish himself as a knight.

In both movies, the main protagonists have aspirations for themselves that seem insurmountable, given the constraints.

The take-away? Leaders have to be just a little crazy. Not totally nuts, but crazy enough to hear beyond what society says and speak back.

They also have to be internally motivated and be able to encourage themselves, because blazing trails means you don’t get a roadmap.

Most people talk about this in terms of vision. All I am saying is that you have to know where you are working to go, even if no one else gets it.

Lesson 2

You have to be able to adjust–publicly. Just listen to Hillary Clinton here and then here. If you also haven’t heard she has completely changed her stance—from being against same-sex marriage to endorsing it.

Granted, she may have had this personal view all along and felt that it would not be “politically expedient” to support same-sex marriage at the time. Being a leader is always a delicate dance between your personal and public self. Not just the projections of the image, but the ramifications of not heeding the balance.

Let me be clear, by ‘adjust,’ I do not mean follow the polling data and change with the wind. What I mean, is be willing to change positions when you gather new insights and understandings.

This takes humility. As I get older, I become ever less expectant that people will look at the fallacies of their own arguments or the merits of their opponents.  People respect people who do.

Lesson 3

You have to have integrity. I mean integrity as in character and ethics, and not betraying the public trust like Jesse Jackson, Jr. But more than that, I am talking about having a core.

What is your dominant framework? 50 years from now, what will people be able to see is still true about your values?

Part of Hillary’s core is women’s rights. It is interwoven into everything she has ever pursued–through Wellesley, Yale, Arkansas, the White House, Senate and the State Department.

Lesson 4

You have to care.

Martin Luther King. Jr. is famous for saying that: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

I agree that a service attitude is a critical ingredient for effective leadership. A leader who is so fixated on their position that they cannot see the people, is a travesty.

Lesson 5

Leaders have to know how to troubleshoot. They have to be able to see solutions and opportunity, where everyone else sees problems and perhaps even despair.

Here’s the catch. Most times the solutions are simple; the politics are complicated.

Take for example new evidence about what we can be doing to send low-income students to college. Will this happen? It depends. There are a lot of competing interests afoot. For every status quo, there are people who are empowered and those who are dis-empowered by it. Wrestling power away from people, even for the noblest of pursuits is always a tricky endeavor.

As this recent WashPost noted: 

“Maybe America’s accelerated “evolution” on gay marriage proves that the ultimate taboo in our society is redistribution. As Martin Luther King Jr. learned near the end, securing legal equality turned out to be the easy part. Nobody had to write a check. Equal opportunity and economic justice are entirely different matters, requiring a nation to take even bigger leaps of empathy and imagination.”

Lesson 6

You have to be multifaceted.

Different styles of leadership are needed for varying circumstance and periods of time. You need to have new innovative ideas, but you also need to have a historically grounded perspective.One must see everything in real time, in a larger context of patterns of societal change.

This can come from the same leader or from a leader who is wise enough to seek counsel from other leadership.

Lesson 7

There is a difference between leadership and being the leader—good leaders know this.

There will be many times when you are not the leader ‘per say,’ but you have to be prepared to display characteristics of leadership. You also have to appreciate the added value that people bring.

Part of this is understanding delegation, but it’s also about appreciating institutions. At the end of the day, yes, the 16 year-old boy from the UK who sold his phone app for millions is amazing.

Yet, where would he be without mechanisms for acquiring the capital and the patents to support his ideas? What if he didn’t have access to the book on reading computer code that opened this door to unexpected success?

Bottom Line?

So, maybe it’s indisputable there are certain qualities and behavioral traits that most leaders exhibit. These traits are not something that everyone possesses, but are something that people can aspire to learn.

In the end, I do think anyone can lead, but few would make that choice. Leadership takes risks not everyone is willing to shoulder.

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Forgive and Forget?

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. – Paul Boose

My mom’s best friend died this week. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. But peacefully in her sleep.

In such emotionally wrenching times, I personally turn to faith – my enduring belief in a benevolent God who wants “goodness and mercy to follow me all the days of life.”

But I also understand that there are others who cope, without counting on a higher power to help see them through. 

Still, there is nothing like the absolutism of death to make one think about their relationships with people who are still alive.

Human relationships are complicated at best.

I’m willing to assume that there isn’t a human being in the world who hasn’t been hurt by someone; or hurt someone themselves.

We’re all fallible.

Just as to live one faces the inevitably of death; to live among other people, one faces the inevitability of being disappointed, hurt and sometimes betrayed.

The ‘scale’ of these acts varies.

But each one leaves residual emotions of confusion, dismay, disbelief and often blinding rage.

What are means of not just coping with these emotions, but transcending them?

I thought about this a lot when I heard about the Newtown school shooting and even a few years back when Connecticut was home to another brutal slaying that left a man’s wife and two children dead.

According to one thoughtful report: “Words alone cannot contain the horror of violence, the cruelty of sadistic torture, the pain of bullets entering flesh, the burning of white phosphorous on a child’s skin, the sight of a beloved spouse splattered against a wall, the loneliness of a young teenager in prison, the fear of a trafficked woman in a cage…”

Yet, even as I acknowledge the searing pain of these experiences, I don’t want to place physical violence as the center of everyone’s conceptualization of harm.

There are many people who suffer palpable, although perhaps not visible, scars from physiological, emotional and spiritual assaults.

One of the best analogies I know of comes from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (one of the best books ever). He compares relationships to bank accounts.

Every affirming and enjoyable act adds to the account; every hurtful thing deducts. When there has been a lot of “trust” currency built up overtime, it’s easier to withstand misunderstandings and outright disappointments when they occur. While other relationships, especially those with a zero balance to begin with, go into the red and can leave you feeling emotionally bankrupt. Spent. 

This analogy is useful, but it doesn’t explain why forgiving someone who hurt you is so extraordinarily difficult.

What do you do with the simmering resentment? The grief? The unanswered questions: “How did this happen to me?” “How could they do this to me?” And the one I obsess over most “why?”

The truth is while understanding can be a pathway to forgiveness, the answer to these questions alone rarely allows someone to reconcile with what happened.

These emotions are alive. Analyzing them won’t make them subside, and ignoring them won’t make them any less real.

As long as you haven’t “forgiven and forgotten” there is a part of you that is forever suspended in that emotional reality of pain – that moment when you felt like you’d been sucker punched to the gut.

In reality, although these are emotions we want to overcome, I also think we desire to hold on to them.

It’s not just because we don’t know what to do with these feelings, but because as long as we hold on to it, then our feelings are justified; our pain, the same pain we want to go away, is valid and real.

We want people to care that we’re hurting, and especially the person or persons who caused our suffering.

In most cases, it is an exercise in futility waiting for this to happen.

This absolution may not come.

Ever.

Just ask Essie, the biological daughter of Strom Thurmond, an infamous segregationist who never claimed her, because she was conceived with a black woman.

Back to the bank account analogy, it is relevant when there was a history (at some point) of trust between people.

But what about when there is no trust and thus there aren’t obvious pathways for the sort of communication and genuine apologies that can resolve issues and balm wounds?

These are the sort of sticky questions, I grapple with constantly as a peace practitioner, because then the grievances and grief stem not only from interpersonal, but societal betrayal.

We have to remember that witnessing harm be-fall those you care about, or living with the day-to-day impact of their traumas is also distressing. Experience near and experience far, are both still experiences.

This reverberating ‘contagion’ effect is magnified in post-conflict settings.

In fact, when you talk about “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” most people immediately imagine South Africa or Rwanda where the immediacy of the need for people to move past “wrongs” is obvious.

Part of this suffering was about the huge power asymmetry. In most conflict settings it isn’t just people and groups who have to be accountable for wrong-doing, but also institutions. Which makes redress difficult, becasue it’s hard to pinpoint who is responsible.

There are not only emotional and physical legacies, but material ones as well that have to be addressed.

That’s right, sometimes reconciliation takes justice.

But fundamentally, reconciliation and forgiveness ALWAYS takes grace.

One way to forgive is to acknowledge that you suffered, that the person who did it was wrong, find peace that you may never understand why, and being willing even if they don’t ‘deserve it’ not to allow what happened to diminish what is best in you.

As Catherine Ponder noted: “When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

At a collective or societal level, it is knowing that even when the grievances are more than justified, a myopic focus on the struggles of the past can thwart progress.

In short, there is a real danger that we can become slaves to our own narrative of victim-hood.

This is critical, because I believe that the people who tend to cause the most harm in the world are greedy people and “broken” people, whether they run your household, school, company or country. Their emotional lives are ‘overdrawn’ their spirits wallowing consciously or unconsciously in past anguish.

We want the person who hurt us to change and we may certainly deserve better treatment from them, but it may not be what they are able to give.

People who have ‘emotional capital’ act more like philanthropist and build people up.

This isn’t to say at all that emotionally ‘healthy’ people don’t hurt people, but they often have the ability to take corrective measures to minimize the damage. They’ll own their mistakes and be patient with the wrongdoings of others.

Still, forgiving those who you harmed, or those who harmed you is still a rare thing.

That’s why it tends to be breaking news when XX  forgives YY person for murdering ZZ loved one, like this mom who forgave her son’s killer. Just try Google; you’d be surprised by the number of articles dedicated to people who forgive those who killed a loved one– still considered by many as the ultimate transgression.

So it’s rare, but possible.

Like Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Life is Not a Closet

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 For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on earth.” – President Barack H. Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Address

Depending on how you look at things –Monday, January 21, 2013 was MLK Day, the inauguration of the second term of President Obama, or the United States of America’s 57th Inaugural Ceremony.

There are a million more ways to classify that day in history.

For you, the national significance of it could have been overlaid with personal celebrations –birthdays and wedding anniversaries–or marked my tragedy – like the anniversary of the loss of a loved one.

Most people had their attention on the National Mall and watched as President Obama delivered an inaugural address rich with rhetorical imagery. 

The speech was heavily focused on the domestic agenda and was met with different opinions from liberals, which I’ll use as a tangential  stand-in for Democrats, and Republican audiences.

Then there was the international audience, who have their own varied responses to his speech and his second term in general. 

I cannot fathom what it feels like for each word I utter to embody whether someone feels included or excluded from the vision cast for my country. But so it was. And such is the task that he faces.

Like it or not, he represents “the people,” even as he is Commander and Chief of the state.

We know that the state is just an apparatus, albeit a powerful one, that “sorts” out ins and outs of the institutions that shape the lives of people.

Now, the problem is, tinkering with the apparatus so that it suits the whims of the millions of individuals who want a million and one different things.

We don’t have to look at the responses to his inaugural address to know that this is not an easy feat.

Did you notice but the varied reactions to other pivotal events this week: the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the US Defense Secretary’s announcement that the Pentagon is lifting its ban on women serving in combat? Even cartoon artist don’t agree.

The United States of America laid out in President Obama’s speech is either finally ‘on its way’ or doomed.

In my opinion this gap in perception isn’t so much that people have vastly different values.

Forgive me for being overly optimistic, but I believe that Americans of all stripes more or less hold the same values – fairness, opportunity, hard work, and optimism etc.

Don’t believe it? Live overseas for a while and no matter your political leanings, you’ll quickly realize the American dye has been cast upon you.

It’s not that any “pro-life” person I’ve met doesn’t believe the life of the mother matters, or any “pro-choice” person I’ve ever met believes that a fetus/baby’s life is inconsequential. Rather, it is how those values get “sorted and pipelined” into political positions that varies – drastically.

I really thought about this when I saw a graphic my friend got from Pinterest. I haven’t really gotten into the “pinning” craze, but I really appreciated this concept map.

It tries to help people decide how to face their closet and sort what should stay and what should go. The key point is everyone is starting from the exact same place of motivation: “editing their wardrobe.”

And while, I could ruminate on the economic privilege one has to have to have a closet expansive enough to have these concerns, I won’t.

What I am more fascinated by is the type of “sorting” that goes on in the American political system, where some ideas are embraced and championed, and others are cast aside like the most epically ugly bridesmaid dress of all time—ever see 27 Dresses?

Think of the US state as the closet and people’s ideas as the clothes.

Some of the “sorting” is historical and evolves overtime – like with domestic violence. Other sorting of these perceptions occurs based on background, experiences, which has educational, socio-economic and geographic dimensions as well.

Like I was saying in my earlier post, The Problem with Problems ‘ish’ has to get prioritized and it’s usually the influential who decide what makes it to the top of the list.

The point is that I don’t want us to consider the matter of values so much as an existential question, nor the political hype of derision, but to see it in terms of process.

At the end of the day, democracy is a process, a people’s process.

While, I will never discount what happens in the hallowed halls of the Capital and White House, nor in the corridors of Harvard and Yale, I also cannot ignore how the quest to fulfill the truth that we are all created equal:

…guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. – President Barack H. Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Address

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The Problem with Problems

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We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein

Like many of you I am in mourning over the shooting of elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut. I am also incensed, because this problem of mass shootings really isn’t random or new.

Most problems don’t just appear out of thin air.

Think about it, how do you even know that a problem is a problem in the first place?

Today, most people learn about the problems affecting society when they are highlighted on the news, YouTube or other media sources.

When I was younger, I used to think that what the news simply reported on was what was ‘happening.’ Several media politics courses and advocacy experiences later, I understand how the media is not only subject to the ‘hand’ of consumer interests, but also to the whims of savvy folks who want to push an agenda forward. This affects not only what gets reported, but how it’s reported. This is called ‘framing.’

I’ll never forget when I was in a Political Science course during undergrad. We were talking about the Clinton Administration and the professor asked how many of us had heard of Monica Lewinsky during the 90’s. All of us raised our hands. Then she asked how many of us had heard of the Mujahideen? Only one person stretched up their hands this time, even though “the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton held direct talks with the group.”

Fast forward a few decades and the United States is at war with the Taliban, who rose to power in response to the Mujahideen, and now everyone knows they exist.

Thus, the media filter and ‘frame’ is important because social problems have to be recognized as a problem.

Take for instance, the fiscal cliff. This matter has been discussed endlessly in mainstream print and television news sources. I am pretty sure everyone has heard of it, but I am skeptical that many people understand why it’s a problem or the implications of the decision that Congress has to make.

This is the third challenge, problems need not only to be highlighted and then recognized, but understood. Yet, most media outlets rarely (if ever) provide enough contextual information to help people understand the issue being discussed.

Let’s take drugs for example. If you were young and impressionable in the 80’s and 90’s, I am sure you’ll recall this public service announcement (PSA)- cue the frying pan

This particular PSA was brought to you by The Partnership for a Drug Free America. You may remember that detail, but have you ever asked yourself who decided to invest funds to shape young people’s attitudes about drugs? Where did the political will come from? What about the money?

In short, why was this issue prioritized as a problem worth addressing?

Famed rapper Tupac Shakur said, “Instead of war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.” Could you imagine where we might be as a nation if we’d prioritized poverty as the most pressing social issue of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, when industrial work was disappearing in our cities?

I just finished reading, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by legal scholar Michelle Alexander. In the book, Ms. Alexander argues that Reagan’s War on Drugs led to funding for things like The Partnership for a Drug Free America, and also intentionally targeted black and brown men and framed them as criminals.

I’ll leave it for you to decide if you agree with her that mass incarceration accounts for a new system of racialized control. Whether you disagree or agree with her hypothesis, it would a shame to ignore the compelling factual information that she provides about the legal barriers that incarcerated individuals face.

I personally had no idea that ex-offenders were barred from holding some professional licenses, jury service, voting, access to public assistance, federal funding for higher education, or had to pay so many fees after their prison or probationary sentences were over.

It’s also hard for me to believe that at one point and time people didn’t know that smoking and even second hand smoke cause negative health outcomes. But then again before Louis Pasteur proved that germs exist, people used to think that diseases came from curses, evil spirits and in some cases, bad blood, literally and would use leeches to “bleed” people to cure them of their ailments.

Hence we have the fifth problem with problems, they have to be attributed.

This is key, because how we define the cause of the problem will shape our responses to it.

Fortunately, each subsequent generation becomes the beneficiary of cumulative knowledge. Today, we know that the world isn’t flat and that seat belts can save lives.

This is great! But all of this access to information doesn’t always translate into thoughtful analysis and reflection about our society, past and present. For example, there is a growing argument that even if drugs are a problem we should be worried about, there may be better alternatives for addressing the issue than locking people up.

So, here is the main problem with problems: the world that we know is enormously impacted by social, political and economic policies that were set decades ago. The lived reality in which we all exist is crafted by people!

In some instances it’s ‘the masses’ who highlight, prioritize and determine solutions for problems. This is how we ended up with anti-drunk driving laws, integrated public schools, wheel chair on-ramps on US sidewalks and the United Nations.

Despite these prominent examples, more often than not, it isn’t ‘the people’ who set this agenda. It is well-connected actors who wield their influence to further their own narrow interests (ahem, case in point the gun control lobby).

Most people aren’t aware of the shifting agendas, let alone thinking about the potential impact of these shifts.

And that is problematic.

‘Black is Back’ – White Angst and Black Anxiety after the 2012 Elections

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Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come. – President Barack Obama

Even as part of the nation heartily embraces President Barack Obama’s second term, there are many who are bitterly disappointed that Mitt Romney lost.

It’s understandable.

Personally, I am heartened by the idea of ‘four more years’ and the progress that I hope it will bring to our nation.

I am also secretly (well, not so secretly now) gleeful that yet another generation of young black males will grow up with President Obama in the White House as a reminder of what they can achieve.

Yet, even as the confetti falls, and the whoops go up, it is important to point out that these same young black men will come of age in a United States of America full of disheartening statistics about their welfare and future.

“… 37 percent of black children, are poor (compared with 10 percent of whites and 13 percent of white children)…more than 900,000 black men are in prison [that is more than seven times over their white peers]; blacks experienced a sharper drop in income since 2007 than any other racial group; black household wealth, which had been disproportionately concentrated in housing, has hit its lowest level in decades…”

Black young men are more likely than any other group in the US to be a victim of violent crime, including homicide at the hands of a neighbor, foe or even those sworn to serve and protect them.

This is searing, because the contemporary danger of ‘red asphalt.’ The street corners colored from bleeding bodies, overlaps with most African American’s historical memory of black men’s brutalized bodies at whipping posts and dangling from trees.

Thus, it has become engrained in the collective consciousness of black society that we have to defend our black men and boys. They have to be buttressed in the face of these acts of violence, systemic discrimination and the sheer psychological weight of America’s hostility towards their black male bodies.

Even as I say this, I have to admit that many of the conversations about “saving the black man” are stained with strands of patriarchal thought.

It often implicitly assumes that once things are alright with our men and boys, then our people will be okay.

It also makes the lives of black males and their suffering more important than the lives, suffering and contributions of black women, which Melissa Harris Perry noted in her book, Sister Citizen: Shame Stereotypes and Black Women in America.

Still, I recognize that black males of all ages are uniquely perceived as a threat. They provoke alarm in the larger American psyche in a way that African American women do not.

Having an almost three-year old nephew on the cusp of his first forays into the US educational system has heightened my sensitivity to the minefield of antipathy that he will face.

According to a recent study, Challenge the Status Quo: Academic Success among School-age African-American Males, black boys are overrepresented in the number of students being suspended and expelled. Yet, they are underrepresented in honors placement courses.

The report goes on to point out systemic ways that black young men are prevented from attaining advanced degrees. A disturbingly high percentage of them are being educated inside special education classrooms.

Their neighborhood schools are least likely to offer the subjects required for admission at competitive colleges. They are most likely to have inexperienced teachers, often who lack the proper teaching credentials, educating them.

These educational shortfalls are especially chilling when one considers the ample evidence of how low school achievement is correlated with 1 in 3 black males’ interactions with the justice system – i.e. the cradle to prison pipeline.

The proof of this malady is in the anxiety of anyone raising a black boy.

They are keenly aware that there is not any degree of politeness or ‘respectability’ they can rear them with that can avail them of these odds.

The vulnerability of all ‘echelons’ of black manhood was made crystal clear when renowned Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested after being suspected of breaking into his own home!

Even if President Obama had a son, he’d look like the now infamously deceased Trayvon Martin.

These questions about the lives, perceptions and constraints of black manhood in America are not only important for black men and the black community.

It is a national issue.

While most Americans do not have any outward biases, or a desire to discriminate, the fundamental problem is that ‘intent’ is irrelevant.

Many of our contemporary policies and historical legacies have had a racially disparate impact that continues to perpetuate de facto and de jure racism.

Have you ever seen Chris Rock’s satirical film Head of State?

It predates the time President’s Obama, and tells the story of a black alderman who is catapulted to the highest office in the land. One of my favorite scenes is on Election Day. Chris Rock’s opponent realizes that he is on the verge of losing and leaks this information to the press to help him gain a competitive edge. Right on cue, whites in California make a mad dash to the polls to prevent a black man from elected.

The scene is hilarious because of the over the top depiction of white angst about black leadership.

It was dramatized in the film, but it has been pertinent and palpable while President Obama has been in office.

And now that ‘black is back’ in the White House, we’ve seen how protests about his reelection, were acutely racially tinged, even if they were based on concerns about his policies.

We also have a lot of work to do to unpack what it means that Obama’s re-election was wrought by a diverse coalition of Hispanics, Asian American, African Americans, women, youth and people at the intersection of these identity groups.

This has shown that it is definitely possible that in 2016 we may elect another person of color, or a woman to the presidency.

What then? Will be ready as a country? What progress will we have made? And what will it all mean for ultimately allaying the roots of black anxiety and white angst???

Millennials – Blurring the line between Self and Other

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[The] Economy is the method by which we prepare today to afford the improvements of tomorrow. – Calvin Coolidge

One of my friends said, in this day in age ”it’s not about who you know, but about who knows you.”

This was a very astute observation.

It encapsulates the changing nature of the US market place.

The US has shifted from the industrial age to the information age, or from manufacturing to becoming a service-based economy.

Many are concerned about what this transition means for traditional gender roles at the household level and the overall employ-ability of men.

Some of this angst is just an inherent part of creative destruction. I think that time will reveal how people, workplaces and households will adapt.

We all know that at some point in US history, college educated people and non-college educated people alike, hoped to land a position with a reputable company. They planned to be rewarded for their loyalty, work their way up the ladder, then retire with thanks for their many years of service.

For millennials like myself, this is a quaint idea.

We do lattices, not ladders.

We believe in loyalty, but we know that the chances of us getting a pension, or even health care insurance is far from guaranteed. We expect to work for multiple employers in our lifetime and we’re focusing on meaningful work, flexibility and gaining skills that are more portable.

This is as much as key to our survival as it is a professional growth strategy.

This lattice mentality means that millennials aren’t afraid to move on from a work environment that they do not feel is a good fit. We’re also willing to cross sectors and try our hands at things which we find interesting.

It also means that more and more, millennials are seeking a competitive edge by getting our names out there –on blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, websites, Instagram and the like.

This is what my friend was alluding to when she said it matters, “who knows you.”

The major question that I have, is what does it mean if instead of creating brands, like Henry Ford or Mark Zuckerberg, we’re becoming brands, like Martha Stewart?

Is this blending of our personal and professional lives and the increased opaqueness of where one ends and the other starts, a sign of progress? Or is the personal privacy we trade in for professional success an Orwellian trend that we should worry about?

Redefining America’s Greatness

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To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them. Charles de Montesquieu

The rhetoric of the on-going campaigns underscores the unwritten rule that to be elected President of the US you have to endorse “American Exceptionalism.”

If you’re not a student of IR or Poli Sci you may be wondering what that is.

US Exceptionalism is the prevailing belief that we’re the single greatest nation–past or present–and that our country was endowed by God to lead the free world.

That is right, the US was ‘called’ to forever more be a shining beacon of leadership and morality for the other 192 countries recognized as members’ states of the United Nations (as of 2011).

To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with having a healthy national-esteem. There’s also nothing wrong with recognizing and celebrating our achievements.

And yet, US Exceptionalism borders on being a pathology.

It is killing us.

Instead of looking for the best medical specialists possible to help us to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment for our maladies, we’re in denial that we’re ill, even though the symptoms are there.

If you’ve seen the viral clip from HBO’s The Newsroom, you’ll know that there are many reasons why US Exceptionalism is a myth.

While the series is being tongue in cheek, several of the statistics as well as the overall point is salient.

If you look at all the major measurements of ‘success’ and well-being, the United States is increasingly slipping behind.

Don’t believe me? Let’s review the facts.

Peace and Development
One commonly held explanation for our greatness is that we’re ‘developed.’

Yet, according to the CIA World Fact Book that tracks instances of maternal mortality, a leading measure of a country’s service delivery, the US is ranked 136 out of the 183 countries assessed.

There are over 47 countries that do a better job of making sure pregnant women don’t die giving birth, including Hungary, Puerto Rico, Bahrain, Turkey, Luxembourg, Croatia, and South Korea who are ranked directly above us.

It’s not just on maternal health that we’re bad off; we’re ranked 4th in Human Development according to the 2011 Human Development Report. This report is synonymous with measures of a country’s overall quality of life.

We’re 88th of 158 countries, according to the 2012 Global Peace Index (GPI). The GPI measures a country’s level of peacefulness and tests a range of potential “drivers” or determinants of peace—including levels of democracy and transparency, education and material well-being.

Measuring peace may sound hooky to you, but it’s serious research and draws upon the latest available figures from a wide range of respected sources, including the International Institute of Strategic Studies, The World Bank, various UN entities, Peace Institutes and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Justice
How about justice?

The United States ranks number one in the world for the number of people incarcerated per capita and our level of incarcerations is only increasing.

All you have to do is look at the work of the Innocence Project to know that the American justice system is flawed.

We’re not just in dire straits at home.

We’ve also staunchly refused to sign the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC is the FIRST permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

Our refusal to ‘play ball’ flouts the rules created to prevent the most egregious crimes–genocide and systematic rape being prominent examples.

Still, there are those, like the Heritage Foundation, that argue that the US shouldn’t join the ICC because of the potential constraints it would pose on US interests and/or our national sovereignty.

Yes, national sovereignty is important, but so is setting common norms.

You can think of the international community as being the school yard playground and all the countries in the world as your fellow students. The ICC is like the teacher. If Timmy throws a rock at you and so does Justin, would you want Timmy to be held exempt?

Even the Good Book says: “Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:19)

Similarly, there are those who argue that we shouldn’t beholden to the same standards as other ‘students’ because we’re such a force for good in the world.

But it’s absurd and grossly historically inaccurate to suggest that the United States has never been wrong or wronged anyone–whether internally or internationally. Checks and balances are important.

Our founding fathers knew this.

A final rational is that by not joining the ICC, it allows us to be ‘neutral.’

It’s worth quoting Bishop Desmond Tutu to address this claim: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Education
Let’s talk about education. Public Schools are our thing! We know that it takes an educated population for democracies to work and economies to thrive. And yet, we keep moving down in international rankings!

American students scored 23rd in math and 31st in science when compared with 65 other top industrial countries.

Instead of learning from our peers, the ethos of Exceptionalism encourages us to ignore the accomplishments of the 22 countries that are beating us out.

The Challenges Exceptionalism Creates
America’s Exceptionalism is our Achilles’ heel.

If you’ve ever read Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life or Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, you’d know that timely adaptation is KEY to success.

Yet, the world around us is changing around us, but we’re not paying attention, because we’re too busy singing our own praises to adapt, anticipate further changes and plan accordingly.

Our success and security in the next fifty years will require unprecedented levels of cooperation: stalwart intelligence gathering, development and greater inclusion of the marginalized in decision-making nationally and internationally.

That is why I took great exception to Condoleeza Rice’s recent assertion that the United States “cannot lead from behind.”

Here is the only line from Condoleezza Rice’s RNC Convention speech that I feel is accurate: “Today, today, when I can look at your zip code and I can tell whether you’re going to get a good education, can I honestly say it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going? The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are.”

The Economy
Her comments reflect another disconcerting trend that is affecting our economy, which is struggling to pick-up momentum.

The World Economic Forum’s 2012- 2013 Global Competitiveness Report, which has studied and benchmarked the many factors underpinning national competitiveness, ranks the US economy 7th out of 144 economies.

Yes, you can cite the recession, or blame Bush and Obama, but how did the recession begin? There is a sequence of factors at work here that Why Nation Fails aptly explains. The book is written by two leading economic professors, one from Harvard and one from MIT.

It argues that for countries to grow economically they have to have strong institutions. You may be thinking, “but we have those here!”

We do, but the catch is these institutions need to be INCLUSIVE not extractive. Inclusive institutions help level the playing field. Extractive institutions forsake the public good to appease and increase the concentrated interests of the wealthy and influential.

Sound familiar?

As one of the authors’ states: “‘The real problem is that economic inequality, when it becomes this large, translates into political inequality.’ When one person can write a check to finance your whole campaign, how inclusive will you be as an elected official to listen to competing voices?”

I’m Not Just Complaining, I Have Ideas
So you see, our problems are interrelated, but so are our solutions.

If you know me you’ll know that I think Stephen R. Covey is a genius.

One of the things that he says is that: “Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values—carefully thought about, selected, and internalized values.”

His quote holds true for people and countries.

I believe that truth is a fractal. It applies at all scales — for individuals, communities, countries and the world.

So how do we redefine what truly makes the US great?

There are those who say it’s our diversity, or our military might, but if you ask people overseas what they admire most about our country, you’ll hear things like our Declaration of Independence, our Civil Rights Movement, Steve Jobs and all things Apple, and of course all things Hollywood and Disney.

What these things all have in common are the true drivers of our excellence: innovation and inspiration.

So, it’s not that America can ‘make’ things, as has been the common refrain during the election cycle, but that we ‘CREATE’ things.

These are hallmarks of the American opportunity, which makes us tough to beat.

So, how do we steer ourselves back on course?

Our remedy lays in a little dose of reality, and a heavy bitter pill of humility. We need to read the writing on the wall – our society, our economy, our self-conception is unwell.

Redefining our greatness will mean renewing our commitment to creating the systemic conditions for everyone to succeed—so more and more people can participate in our success story.

That’s not exceptional, it’s laudable.

20 Things to Make the World More Peaceful…

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I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

If YOU ruled the world, what is ONE thing you would do to make the world more PEACEFUL?

I posed this question on Facebook recently, hoping for an onslaught of responses.

I got 3 comments from among my 1, 105 Facebook friends. This was not quite the level of participation I was hoping to receive.

Peace is something that we all need and most of us want, so, why is it so elusive?

I think that peace gets lost amongst all the other needs that people have.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, all human beings have needs that are related to: the physiological (those without which the human body would cease to function), safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

As a peacebuilder, I have been taught that considering these needs is important, because unmet needs is one of the root causes of conflict and violence.

Still, there are other salient causes of conflict and violence, like fear, greed and jingoism.

I feel that this phenomenology tends to be less about ‘needs’ and more about fear. Leaders manipulate people’s fears to inflame to gain and maintain influence, and people succumb to others’ agendas to protect their perceived interests.

So then my question becomes, even in the face of fear and greed, what can be done to make the world more peaceful?

The first thing I would say is that peace takes action. I’ll quote two Noble Peace Laureates.

Jody Williams stated:”emotion without action is irrelevant.”

Nelson Mandela has said “Vision without action is merely a dream, action without vision is merely passing time, but action with vision can change the world.”

They’re both right.

Peacemaking, peacebuilding, or peace mongering if you will, also takes conviction.

So what else does it take to make sustainable peace happen? Here’s my list…

The Top 20 Things Needed to Make the World More Peaceful

Personal Level
1) Increased Knowledge of Self. How do your actions intentionally and unintentionally affect others? People who are more self-aware and self-reflective are much more likely to be empathetic. If there is anything that the world needs more of it is empathy.

2) Increased Knowledge of History. The politics around national narratives can be very divisive. Minorities’ and the underclasses’ contributions and oppression in society are often omitted or minimally reported. This creates a disadvantage for the entire population because it prevents an understanding of how the world around them came to be.

3) Increased Skills in Communication and Mediation. Conflicts are going to happen, because people are going to disagree. That’s fine. What we need is more people who have the skills to work through their conflicts non-violently. Hint:Everyone on earth should know how to use an “I Message.”

4) Increased Creativity and Analysis. For peace to reign, you have to have more people who have the imagination to see past how the world is to envision how it might be. You also need more people to mull over the facts and see if they add up. If they don’t, and you haven’t given it much thought, you can end up supporting policies or practices that leave others short.

5) Increased Attitude of Service. The world needs more people who understand that it ‘isn’t all about them’ and are willing to try to make the world a better place for others. Gandhi, once said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” I agree.

Local Level/State Level
6) Elimination of Bondage. There are many people who still toil solely for someone else’s benefit. This modern day slavery is commonly known as Human Trafficking. Malcolm X notably has said “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” It’s true talk.

7) Increased Access to Self-determination and Elimination of Oppressive Systems & Structures. There are still many people who because of their sex, national origin, ethnicity or family of birth face futures with limited opportunity. There are people who because of there gender identity or attraction to the same sex cannot live their lives openly. This creates despair and hopelessness. You cannot underestimate the importance of one’s right to self-define their personhood and life path.

8) Decreased Unemployment and the Elimination of Economic Exploitation.
Millions of people are paid only nominally, and it is insufficient for them to keep food on the table for themselves or their families. There are countless more who would do anything to have a job and the funds and esteem that come with them, but they face stagnant and/or corrupt economies. This creates large groups of people who are vulnerable to having their disenchantment channeled into other brewing hostilities, when they could be adding productive energy to their local economy.

9) Reduction of Hunger and Thirst. Despite the increasing amounts of food aid being distributed worldwide many people are still food insecure and do not have access to clean drinking water. Hungry bellies create a lot of temptation to be recruited into groups that have nefarious aims.

10) Increased Access to Healthcare. People need treatment when they are ill, no matter what form of health care provision they may seek. It could be an indigenous person of South America who needs access to their scared medicinal plants and are blocked by a multinational corporation, or a homeless man on the streets of North America who wants to enter a hospital, but lacks the funds. It takes healthy people to build communities.

11) Increased Literacy Levels. People who are literate are better placed to make informed decisions, advocate for their rights and not give undue credence to rumors and propaganda.

12) Increased Access to Mechanisms for Justice. You’ve heard people say ‘no justice, no peace.’ There is a lot of truth in that chant. People who feel aggrieved or have faced wrongs, but do not have access to mechanisms for justice e.g. with the police, the local courts, or their traditional justice practices are much more likely to lash out in the name of “avenging” wrongs.

13) Increased Access to Balanced Media. Our media needs to be improved. First, reporting should be more balanced. Strong and clear analysis that presents arguments from across the social spectrum can help with local and national dialogue. Second, media linked to entertainment that dehumanizes people needs to be drastically curtailed. This includes overly-sexualized portrayals of women, overly-simplified and stereotypical depictions of Arabs, Africans, Asians, Latinos and people who identify as LGBTQ.

14) Increased Access to Decision-Making. In many places, people feel that they have no control over the decisions that impact them. It’s important that people are included in decision-making because it makes people more accountable for what’s happening in their communities, rather than blaming it on an external actor.

15) Increased Women’s Empowerment. Women and girls disproportionately suffer from a lack of access to healthcare, literacy, decision-making, mechanisms for justice, employment and self-determination. They also have difficulty getting access to banks and claiming property and inheritances. All of these personal affronts towards women stymies national progress.

16) Reformed Notions of Masculinity. Gender as it relates to men and masculinity is often overlooked. There isn’t anything wrong with men being empowered. The problem is that these traits usually are only recognized in relation to lording their strength over others. Additionally, traditional notions of masculinity (worldwide, I dare say) do not create enough social space for men who are disappointed, hurt, mourning, or depressed. Anger is usually the only acceptable outlet for venting frustrations, which feeds into justifications for violence.

International Level
17) Better Mechanisms for International Intervention. When all else has failed and communities and countries have collapsed into violence there is a need to for a stronger and clearer mandate for the international community to intervene.

18) Better Mechanisms for Absorbing the Displaced. The number of conflicts that have been exacerbated by an influx of refugees or Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) cannot be underestimated. Refugee camps are increasingly turning into people’s permanent homes and resettlement remains a major issue. People have a right to be rooted in a community, whether it is their old one, or a new one. We need better mechanisms for facilitating these transitions.

19) Dramatic Reduction in the Number of Small Arms. It’s tempting to use arms when they are around; much less temptation when they are not. The use of arms almost always exacerbates conflict because small arms kill people and the death of loved ones justifies cycles of violence and revenge.

20) Better International Aid Strategies. Individuals, social groups, foundations, companies and governments all give money to alleviate the suffering of others. Aid could succeed more if there was greater coordination among donors to strengthen synergy and eliminate duplicate efforts. Donors also need to trust the communities they’re trying to improve. Beneficiaries should not only be consulted, but set the agenda for how they want to be ‘helped.’

Concluding Thoughts
You can argue that I should have addressed better care for the mentally ill, environmental issues, or the growing digital divide. These are all important issues that could have been added to the list.

Remember, I did start by asking: If YOU ruled the world, what is ONE thing you would do to make the world more PEACEFUL?

This is just what I think needs to be done.

I also won’t argue with you that this list does read a bit like the Millennium Development Goals.

In my defense, knowledge is rarely original, but the way that it is clustered and transmitted can be.

If I succeeded, even for a moment, in making you think more about your role as a peacemaker, than this post was well worth it.

The World According to Passports

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In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers. -Herman Melville

The 2012 Olympic Games have just ended. Who doesn’t love watching athletic people do inspiring things?

While the Games are certainly about the athletes, they are also about national pride and they symbolize international cooperation.

The Olympic Games and the worldwide camaraderie they bring, with a few notable exceptions, made me think about what international relationships between states are like day-to-day.

This post isn’t about diplomacy, multi-lateral bodies, or even immigration.

It seeks to explore the politics of passports—the conduit of international travel for leisure, work, and cooperation.

Getting the Passport (National-Level Politics)
To travel internationally, one has to first be recognized as a legal resident of their own country or another host country.

In the United States, we commonly perceive ‘undocumented people’ as those who willfully avoid citizenship, permanent residency or even a visa, to avoid paying taxes etc.

The truth is most undocumented people around the world (and yes, even some in the US) are undocumented for less pernicious reasons, many beyond their control.

• Some are born into communities or countries that have not historically issued birth certificates or other identity documents.
• Some people can prove their birth, but may not be considered a legitimate resident due to their ancestry, political affiliation, or ethnicity.
• Some people have their identity paperwork confiscated, destroyed or misplaced when they flee persecution, natural disasters, or war.
• Some people are born into territories that are not part of an internationally recognized state.
• Some people have may have legally (or illegally) immigrated into a host country, and their legal status is in limbo.
• Some people simply cannot afford to pay the fees and/or bribes required to secure identity documents.

Any one of these reasons would make it difficult for a person to prove the citizenship or residency needed to obtain a passport.

Thus, one of my primary grievances about passports and other national identity documents is that they are very black and white, while many people’s lives are often lived in shades of grey.

Getting the Visa (Politics at the Inter-State Level)
Let’s say you’re fortunate enough to have the paperwork needed for a passport and your passport is issued to you by your home, or host country. Congratulations.

The challenge now is that you need permission to travel from Country A to Country B.

The rules for getting into Country B will vary depending on which country, Country A is. Some of these rules are based on:

1) Historical precedent (have the two countries normally been allies or foes?);
2) Reciprocity (i.e. you have rules favorable to me and I’ll have rules favorable to you); and
3) A deeper reflection of geopolitical politics (is Country A perceived to be powerful in the international arena?).

Which visa rules apply to you is all determined by those factors.

The ‘sorting’ begins at the application level.

First, are you required to apply for a visa? If you must apply for a visa, what sort of documentation is required? Is it just the application and a few passport photos, or do you have also have to provide bank statements, invitation letters and other supporting documents? How much does a visa cost? Is it cheap or expensive? Finally, how long does it take for them to process your application?

Did you know that if you hold a passport from the United States, you can visit the United Kingdom for up to six months without the hassle of a visa.

By comparison, if you held a passport from Ghana (even if you currently lived in the United States) you would have to obtain a visa to visit the United Kingdom.

Hence, my second major grievance is that because the requirements for visas can be too stringent or arbitrarily applied, they often prevent or encumber travel that is for perfectly legitimate reasons.

Getting into the Country (Inter-State Politics Again)
Clearing the hurdle of the one’s passport and visa paperwork is only part of the battle.

What happens when you arrive in Country B? Is your passport automatically stamped by an immigration officer? Are you asked a few questions and then your passport is stamped? Are you interrogated? Taken to a separate line or room to answer questions about your intentions? Are you even allowed in the country?

For the sake of security, yes, it is critical that countries are able to keep tabs on who is entering their country. This is why we have international terrorists watch lists, which by the way, Nelson Mandela used to be on.

However, my third grievance with passport politics is the level of aggravation some people are subjected to is unfair, especially, since others are essentially given a free pass.This sort of ‘nationality profiling’ rarely has to do with the traveler’s personal character, background or occupation. Far too often it is per-determined by the origin of their passport.

How the Politics of Passports have Hurt People’s Lives
Real Life Stories
Imagine…
• You work for an international non-governmental organization. You’re being sent overseas to provide support to one of the country offices. In transit, you’re stopped from going through a foreign airport on the way to your final destination. You have to be re-routed and lose an extra day traveling. You end up missing an important kick-off meeting that you were supposed to attend.
• You’re an American citizen who is marrying someone who is not. You’ve applied for visas for your fiance’s family to come and participate in the wedding festivities. None of them are allowed into the country, not their siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, nor their cousins. After intense lobbying and involving a few political big wigs, only his mother is allowed to attend.
• You’ve been appointed president of your local chapter of a service organization. You are naturally expected to attend the international conference on behalf of your region. You and the rest of your executive team head out. You arrive in the country where the conference is being held only to discover that you’re not allowed into the country. Your colleagues, who hold a different passport than you are allowed to stay, while you head home.

Hence, we have the crux of my issue with passport politics; they become the story of people’s lives.

The State of Black America

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If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. – Carter G. Woodson

I saw this coming for a long time, we African Americans are finding ourselves at an interesting juncture in history. We’re proud of our progress, but uncertain about our gains and our collective future.

Some of these questions are functions for demographics: African Americans are no longer the largest minority group in the country– non-whites of Hispanic origin are.

But the changes are deeper than demographics.

Our media is no longer black owned. Most contemporary black media is more for capitalistic profit than anything else. When I was growing up, our family always had copies of Ebony and Jet, and later Essence. I pored over these magazines, reading about Black America’s celebrities, but also about our intelligentsia and pressing issues facing our community. The 2012 version of my beloved magazines rarely focuses on such substantive issues.

We have a black president. Lots of people have pointed out the significance of Barack Obama rising to the most powerful position in the United States’ Government. It is an unprecedented accomplishment, but it is also part of a larger trend. He, like Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and others are taking black leadership to influential positions of power beyond so called ‘black seats.’ This is how historically we’ve gotten elected to congress: a candidate is elected from a predominately black area and beholden to a nearly all-black constituency, e.g. Shirley Chisholm, who helped found the Congressional Black Caucus.

The challenge is that President Obama’s role is to represent the needs of a broad base of constituents, not just African Americans and its stirring up a great deal of controversy surrounding the attention given to black issues.

Our long stand institutions and organizations are in decline. The black family is one of the key institutions that is in decline. While the numbers are hard to come by, or to measure against historical data, there is a troubling number of children growing up without a stable community of loving influence due to reasons of incarceration, early and unexpected pregnancies, addictions, and home removals.

People are also questioning the future of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), many of which have sadly closed shop or lost their accreditation in recent years.

It is not only our families and our schools, people are also publicly questioning the role of other black institutions, including the black church. To be fair, not all African Americans are Christians, nor must they be, but there is a rich history there that is being threatened by contemporary preachers. Some seem more concerned about gaining riches and influence than tending to their flocks; and others seem to be promoting intolerance (and homophobia) more than righteousness.

Our organizations are struggling. Even though the NAACP is fighting to address the new Voter ID laws that threaten to disenfranchise us once again, there aren’t many prominent grassroots movements on the national scene connected to any mainstream black organizations. With the exception of the black sororities and fraternities membership levels are low—for the Urban League, the NAACP, and definitely the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This is not just a function of numbers. It’s also about their relevancy to contemporary challenges.

We lack influential leaders with legitimacy. Without strong institutions, we have less and less leaders who are widely seen as legitimate within the community. I have long bemoaned the dearth of African American leadership, or cringed at those representing us. While I appreciate their contributions in the past, I am largely unimpressed that some of the same folks are still carrying the mantle today, e.g. Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakan and Jesse Jackson, because we need visionary leaders who will tackle contemporary problems. PS Did anyone else notice that these are all men? Where is our next Mary Church Terrell or Dorothy Height?

There is a widely circulating myth that racism no longer exists. Despite the media hype around a ‘post-racial’ America, I think most African Americans agree with me that racism is still alive and well. Trayvon Martin and other similar incidents of violence and marginalization simply bring this to the fore.

So, where are we? Where are we going? How do we advocate to get ourselves there?

Here are a few of my suggestions:

1. Our history must be preserved and promulgated. Serena Williams recently claimed her fifth title in Wimbledon, but every black child should know that before there was Venus and Serena, there was Althea Gibson. These stories are important for creating a sense of self-worth and hope among youth. It can also help them realize that their are many career paths where they can attain success beyond the entertainment industry and professional sports.

We also should be making a more concerted effort to preserve African American heritage: excavating sites, capturing oral histories and turning places like Idlewild into national historical sites, or supporting archives that keep their history alive.

2. We need to focus on the family. Not that I am one to be quoting James Dobson, but it’s true. As African Americans, we also know that there are many models of healthy families, including inter-generational and other communal models, that don’t involve 2 parents and 2.5 kids. We should be at the forefront of hosting thoughtful symposiums on assisted reproductive options and adoption, etc.

From a more traditional standpoint, black social institutions should come also together more to create avenues to introduce young singles to one another, provide mentoring for young couples and offer skillbuilding on what it means to be a loving mate.

3. Black Space must be created. There must be other platforms, beyond theroot.com for black people to discuss and learn more about the challenges facing our community, locally and globally. This should take the form of both fiction and non-fiction (remember how much you learned from watching Living Single and A Different World?) Our media already has two examples for our future that should be replicated widely: the Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (ABG) and Melissa Harris Perry (MHP) a MSNBC commentator. ABG bypasses the conventional pitfalls of Hollywood and uses YouTube to deliver a product that is relevant and widely accessible. MHP offers a refreshingly nuanced and witty analysis of issues, in a way that has a clear intersectional lens.

4. Financial capital must be built. First, black people should be encouraging black entrepreneurship and supporting black-owned businesses. We need more Madame C.J. Walkers. These businesses in turn should be supporting the black community, supporting after-school programs, offering scholarships to trade schools and colleges. Second, black people need to boost our financial literacy; we should become savvy about our investments and saving vehicles.

We should stop allowing predatory lenders into our low-income communities. Our institutions should help by providing an alternative to these establishments, and offer low-interest micro-loans to cash-strapped families.

We must also learn the difference between being rich and being wealthy. Our insistence upon always looking ‘put together,’ having ‘swag’ and ‘stuntin’ is preventing us from storing wealth up for the next generation. Believe me, I believe in looking nice, but why do some two year olds have five or six pairs of Jordan’s, but not a college savings account? It’s about getting our priorities in order.

5. We need to be proactive about addressing our problems. HBCUs should be doing ground-breaking research on how to address diabetes, HIV/AIDs, hypertension, and sickle cell anemia. Our universities should also be designing a curriculum that is conducive to single parents and working adults. They should be collaborating with businesses and non-profits to create innovative job-trainings programs that helps lift the working poor out of poverty, like this program in Austin, Texas. Pastors and churches should be involved in addressing not only the spiritual needs of its congregants, but also working to address larger community issues in tandem with our other institutions.

6. We have to be honest with ourselves about our situation. A) We need to exercise more and eat healthier food.

B) We need to stop blaming our low-incomes for our malaise. Historical fact: black people in America have always been poor and while it does create additional challenges worth noting, this has not prevented us from raising generation after generation of notable leaders. Poverty has nothing to do with the innate ability we’re all endowed with. The difference is that families used to insist upon excellence from their kids and communities used to hold people to a higher standard, and now we just shake our heads and go: “tsk tsk tsk that child has no home training.”

C) We have to confess that by and large we’ve been apathetic lately and failed to keep our ‘eyes on the prize.’ The purpose of the Civil Rights Movement was never merely about access to white drinking fountains or country clubs, as it was about demolishing African Americans political and economic marginalization in the country. From this frame of reference, the Black Power Movement was building upon this quest, seeking the right for us to define ourselves and hold ourselves responsible for our own social uplift. They tried to create our own schools, rather than legislate for someone else to fix it. The Hip Hop Movement, in my opinion, brought attention to these and other social blights (police brutality and unjust incarcerations etc.), but without articulating a way forward. These challenges are persistent today.

7. We have to embrace change.Our HBCUs should be preserved, but also challenged to adapt. Historically, they created the medical schools and law schools that educated most of our doctors, dentists and lawyers. However, all indications show that most of the leading careers in the near future will be in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), so why aren’t more HBCU’s bolstering their engineering programs and encouraging innovation in science and mathematics, like Spelman has done?

Our universities should also be creating programs that are geared towards addressing our pressing social issues and global needs like green energy, as well as environmental racism. I, for one, would also love to see more HBCU’s with International Relations undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

8. We must look after our own. The downside of integration is that blacks from all socioeconomic backgrounds are not in regular contact with each other anymore. Following on the wisdom of bell hooks and Michael Eric Dyson, I will not make the classist argument that the ‘low income’ needs the ‘upper class,’ but rather that we need each other.

Carter G. Woodson was clear in his book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, that well-educated blacks have unfortunately often turned their backs on their people. As he stated: “At that time men went off to school to prepare themselves for the uplift of a downtrodden people. In our time too many Negroes go to school to memorize certain facts to pass examinations for jobs. After they obtain these positions they pay little attention to humanity.”

So this gap is persistent, but it’s also growing and becoming more endemic as African Americans deal not only with a low-income class, but with a growing ‘underclass’ of people, as William Julius Wilson’s research has shown.

9. We have to stop creating further schisms within our community. We need to accept one another and stop assaulting people based on their complexion, hair type and assessments of who is ‘ really black’ and not an ‘oreo’. Along those same lines, we need to end the contemporary phenomenon of ‘ghetto-centricity,’ where the ‘hood’ is posited as the only place of authentic African American experience.

10. We need to focus more attention on addressing white-privilege. Our challenges isn’t just racism, it is the global valuing of Euro-centric knowledge and experiences and norms over all others that has to be addressed. More black scholars should be contributing to critical race studies and expanding ideas about white privilege.

This should not merely be an academic exercise. Scholars should be collaborating with our social organizations to find out how we can educate all US citizens from a very early age about systemic/structural/ institutional racism.

The point is African Americans have come a mighty long way, but we still have further to go.

Let us march on till victory is won.