Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
-- Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son”
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. convened a meeting of the family yesterday at the 11th annual Wall Street Project conference. The kinfolks included Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Florida state Sen. Tony Hill, Davey D, Janice Mathis, Marc Morial, Charles Ogletree Jr. and Charles Steele Jr.
The purpose of the gathering was to get an update on the state of black America and discuss solutions to the challenges facing black folks, including the “subprime crime crisis.”
Ogletree observed that it was “the best of times and the worst of times.” While a black, a woman and a Latino are running for president, six black teenagers face a 20-year prison sentence for a schoolyard fight. So, there has been “progress but also regress.”
Morial agreed that it “ain’t been no crystal stair” but cautioned:
We dishonor Whitney Young, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer and Mary McLeod Bethune if we suggest that we’ve made no progress. We do not have to define our position by saying that the nation has not made progress.
But that doesn’t mean black folks should allow outsiders to define their community. The gathering rejected the claim of non-kinfolks that Sen. Barack Obama’s historic victory in the Iowa caucuses means race no longer matters. There is structural inequality in the system. Rev. Jackson said:
One can be out of slavery, out of Jim Crow, have the right to vote and starve to death. We’re beyond the barbarism that hurt us and embarrassed white people. Today, we are fighting for equality. The National Urban League’s annual report, “State of Black America,” measures where we are.
And where are we? Blacks are last in wealth and business revenues but first in poverty, home foreclosures, unemployment and incarceration rates, infant mortality and life expectancy. Morial noted:
The economic disparity is the widest of all the disparities. We may want to feel good and have a sense that there is no more racism but the facts show that the disparities are real.
There is a growing divide in black America. It is a tale of two cities within. As a result of civil rights laws, affirmative action and doors being opened, we have a class of success. This growing divide between the have-some and the have-not-a-lot threatens the sense of cohesion we need around core issues of economic equality and protection of civil rights.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee underscored the importance of unity in the community:
No agenda will be accomplished if we are divided. If we follow after symbolism rather than substance…I don’t talk about race. I talk about opportunity. No movement can embrace all Americans unless all boats are lifted.
If we deny our history, we deny those dusty bodies lying in dusty soils. You cannot abandon who we are just so that you can get to where you want to go. We must not abandon who we are because of what we have achieved.
Janice Mathis captured the family’s mood:
We were enslaved as a group. Segregated as a group. Denied voting rights as a group. It’s still group time. Race still matters.