I rarely write about black issues because I believe few issues are purely black. As Philadelphians, our fates are intertwined no matter where we live, how we look or what we do.
But on this, the first day of black history month, I wonder if Philadelphia’s black community — a community that’s represented at the highest levels of our city and nation — will come together to address the realities that exist at the lowest levels.
As a community, we talk often, assembling panels of top professionals, religious leaders and intellectuals to solve issues like crime and violence with an hour of witty back-and-forth.
I’ve been on both sides of those discussions — seated at the table with my fellow black leaders, and seated in the audience listening intently. Such discussions are often productive. More often, I’m afraid, they are not.
So many issues to address
With 23 percent of our country’s African American community living in poverty, with black neighborhoods in cities like Philadelphia feeling the brunt of the economic downturn, with young black men shooting each other at an alarming rate and with the public-education system in survival mode, the black community is dealing with myriad issues.
That experience is not universal. There is a flipside to the black experience, one that’s evident when we come together to discuss the issues that plague us.
If nearly a quarter of us live in poverty, three quarters of us do not.
If the successful among us sit on panels, then some of us have experienced success.
If followers prop up leaders, there must be someone out front.
But history has its place, and in today’s Philadelphia, history is now.
On this, the first day of black history month, we can’t afford to spend too much time looking back at the accomplishments of the past. We have too much to do right now.
Though many in Philadelphia’s black community have experienced a measure of success, we have, for far too long, left too many behind.
Yes, there are those among us who volunteer to help others through schools, social programs or religious institutions, but when we continue to see a digital divide and low academic performance in lower-income black communities, it’s not enough.
Yes, there are those among us who work diligently to protect our families from the creeping scourge of crime, but when there are funerals every week for young black men killed by other young black men, it’s not enough.
This Black History Month, as we construct panels and discussion groups around the issues that affect the black community, I hope we’ll do things differently.
As we’re celebrating the victories of the past, I hope we’ll do things differently. As we laud the achievements of our leaders, I hope we’ll do things differently.
Reaching out, coming together
If there are panels around the issue of young black men killing each other, I want to hear from young black men, not just psychologists.
If there are discussions around the issue of teen pregnancy, I want to hear from teenage moms, in addition to obstetricians.
If there are forums on the link between the digital divide and unemployment, I want to hear from people without computer access, and not just technology professionals.
In other words, I want us to come together as one community and address our problems. There can’t be a discussion when those who are being discussed are absent. Solutions can’t work when they don’t include the very people who need them. There can’t be healing if the wounds aren’t properly treated.
This Black History Month, I’d like us to work as one to heal our community.
If we do that just this once, we’ll truly be making history.