As luck would have it, I was multitasking while researching this Black History Month column. While I scanned www.blackhistorydaily.com for appropriate quotations from some noted African-American, I jumped over to Yahoo! and stumbled across the perfect quote in the obituary of Pete Seeger (folksinger, activist and noted Caucasian).
After an Occupy Wall Street march, Seeger had told the Associated Press, “Be wary of great leaders. Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”
That decentralized approach struck home. Sadly, many high-profile civil rights leaders are glorified ambulance chasers -- grandstanding demagogues desperately clinging to fame, power and money, caring more for the gravy train than the freedom train.
Many, many leaders are needed to keep Black History Month from being just past accomplishments preserved in amber. It needs to be a living thing.
Toward that end, those “thousand points of light” leaders are vital. Selfless doctors, educators, ministers, celebrities, councilmen, laborers and kindly grandmothers down the hall must pitch in to serve as inspirations, financial backers, role models, guidance counselors, shoulders to cry on...
Those small leaders realize that they stand on the shoulders of giants. But they realize they must stand on those shoulders in order to reach higher and nobler things, not just to get a better view of the history parade.
Giants? Leaders must not be afraid to paint historical black figures as human beings who made mistakes and rose above them. If the historical figures are rendered godlike, future generations will be intimidated -- thinking they could never be that courageous or that creative or that self-sacrificing.
Leaders must give youngsters a more sharply defined understanding of “success.” If youngsters see success only as dollar signs, naturally they will gravitate toward drug dealing, pimping or other bling-producing endeavors instead of seeing the value of a job well done, a hard-won education or a good deed paid forward.
Leaders must help the younger generation learn a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, for women, the elderly, other races, the less fortunate and themselves.
Leaders must be swift to respond to every actual case of job discrimination, voter suppression or racial violence. But if they display a hair-trigger for exploiting innocent situations, they will return blacks to the era of “boy” by becoming “the boy who cried wolf.”
Leaders —without carrying a chip on their shoulders — must brainstorm ways to keep awareness of the Black Experience from being confined to February. Black accomplishments and dreams should be worked into school curricula, anniversary celebrations and conversation throughout the year.
Leaders must celebrate diversity and limitless horizons. If a black youth shows an aptitude for athletics or entertainment, don’t stand in his or her way. But perhaps a book, microscope or carpenter’s tools would be as appreciated as a basketball.
Leaders can help future generations refrain from “settling,” whether in terms of making a life-long career of an entry-level job, grabbing the first potential mate who comes along or embracing the most silver-tongued politician.
Leaders must guard against ostracizing anyone for “acting white” (whatever that means). A doctrinaire approach to what it means to be black will only drive talented people away or resign them to an embittered existence of conformity (e.g. “knowing their place”).
Viva Black History Month. Welcome, Black Future Month.
Contact Danny at firstname.lastname@example.org.