Each February there are celebrations, assignments, contests and even deals and promotions as Black History Month comes in. And while we look back at historical figures, enjoy recitations of speeches and dressing up to act out historic events and personalities, perhaps in 2015, this month can be devoted to looking forward. It’s time we not only examine the accomplishments of the past but also seek to write a bright future.
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The harsh reality of Black existence, whether unemployment, deaths from cancer, AIDS, suicide or gunfire, poverty, homelessness or hunger, demands that we use every available moment to meet these challenges head on. It was the meeting of challenges that made the venerable ones we remember worthy of remembrance. And the purpose of Negro History Week, as envisioned by Carter G. Woodson, was clear. “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,” he warned.
Dr. Woodson, born in 1875, founded Negro History Week in February 1926. He chose the second week of February in honor of two men who had influenced the lives of Blacks in America, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. A historian as well as a writer and journalist, he founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Among the first to study Black history, he also founded the Journal of Negro History in 1916 and is recognized as the father of Black historical studies.
Let’s look to the father of Black History observances for some wisdom: “They still have some money, and they have needs to supply. They must begin immediately to pool their earnings and organize industries to participate in supplying social and economic demands.”
In the 20th century Dr. Woodson recognized the need for Black economic endeavors and entrepreneurship as part of the solution to the problem of Negro suffering and degradation. It is time we took hold of that idea.
Columnist James Clingman once called for “Reclaiming Black Dollars during Black History Month.” “There was a time in this nation when Black people did all the things we are discussing today pertaining to economic empowerment, business development, and business support,” he wrote in a column in 2013.
“So why the emphasis on reclaiming what we had prior to the mid-1960’s? Just take a look at the latest projections of Black income in this country—$1 trillion annually! Is that enough reason to get back to basic economic empowerment via the dollars that make their way through our pockets and purses? Although it is called Black buying ‘power’ we must understand that it is only power for those with whom we spend it. Thus, we must get back to spending more of our dollars with our own businesses, just as other groups shamelessly and unapologetically do every day,” he continued.
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“Whenever this topic comes up Black folks seem to have some uneasiness about it. Some of us think it won’t go over well with other groups, that they will think we are being unfair and discriminatory. I have never heard the brothers and sisters from India called unfair because they set up and support their grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and anything else they may need. Nor have I ever heard anyone accuse the Chinese people of discriminating by carving out China Towns in major cities, eating at their own restaurants and hiring their own family members and others who look like them,” added Mr. Clingman, a longtime advocate for Black business development and pooling of Black resources.
In recent years, reports and studies about wealth, income and housing have shown reasons for grave concern. A State of the Dream study by United for a Fair Economy pointed out that between 2007 and 2010:
• Black families lost 27.1 percent of their average net worth
• Black families had a higher debt burden
• Black families had slightly more than $17,000 in retirement accounts compared to $109,000 for the average White family
• The average net worth of Blacks was $97,995 compared to $629,736 for Whites
Yet Blacks are a large and growing economic power in the U.S. and that will increase over the next several decades as the population increases, according to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. Blacks currently make up 13.1 percent of the U.S. population.
“This proportion is expected to increase from 13.23 percent in 2015 to 14.71 percent in 2060; in case of African Americans with one race or in combination with other races, the proportion is projected to increase from 14.39 percent to 18.41 percent during the same time frame,” the group noted.
Seeing the continued challenges and potential opportunity, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam reintroduced Muhammad’s Economic Blueprint in 2013 as way to combat poverty and want in the Black community. The plan calls for 16 million Black wage earners to donate 35 cents per week, $18.20 per year to economicblueprint.org. The monies donated will be used to purchase land and create jobs and industry. The Nation of Islam’s “do for self” program and history of teaching Blacks to not look to the U.S. government for jobs is an example of why the program is a practical and viable solution for Black America in 2015 and beyond.
We should study history all year round—but this year, let’s declare and begin to assert some economic independence.