One of the best things about being an African-American Studies Professor working at a Historically Black University (HBCU) is the opportunity to witness the sheer brilliance that so many of our young people possess. Although much of that raw intelligence is dormant, the most important thing is its presence. I am certain that it is during this process of politicization that I am more potent as an educator.
One of the consequences of my focusing a significant portion of my studies upon sixties-radicalism is that I have a thorough understanding of the critical role that HBCU students played in the development and maturation of movement strategies, tactics, and goals. One can only lament what would the struggle for black liberation have been without the names of African-American student leaders such as Diane Nash, John Lewis, Stokely Carmichael, Huey P. Newton, and Bobby Seale.
Unfortunately for the sake of black liberation, it appears that an old guard Civil Rights leadership forged during sixties radicalism has forgotten the path that they traveled to positions that they have held for far too long. Contemporary black leaders failure to maintain the pipeline of African-American students entrance into the struggle for racial equality has slowed, if not entirely stopped this process. The primary consequence of such action has been the siphoning off of African-American collegians potential political contributions by a host of other movements whose agendas have little to do with the fight for racial equality. One needs to look no further than the relatively recent women’s marches that a host of African-American women participated in under a banner that paid scant if any, attention to the peculiar issues facing black women. The struggle for racial equality has never had the luxury of being headed by a politically inefficient leadership cadre that allows others to siphon off vital activist energies needed to raise the African-American community out of a multi-generational politico-economic marginality that has no end in sight.
Considering the above matters, I am confident that you can understand how pleased I was to learn that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) had launched an outreach effort called “CBC on the Yard” that is to occur on HBCU campuses throughout the nation. A recent press release stated that “The goal of the tour is to listen, involve, and mobilize students to effect change in their communities and to get their thoughts on the direction of the country and issues that affect their lives.” The alluded to outreach efforts are focusing upon three of the traditional avenues of black uplift; voter participation, the civil rights movement, and financial literacy. Such efforts are a most encouraging sign.
In many ways, this move by the CBC to engage African-American collegians is akin to an admission that many members of this congressional entity have forgotten both the path that they have traveled and the lessons of an energetic Civil Rights Movement. According to CBC Chair, Cedric Richmond (D-La) “We often think that young people have a lot to learn from us, but we also have a lot to learn from them, especially now when they’re the folks launching and leading Black Lives Matter and other grassroots movements. If we’re going to create a more perfect union for Black families, we have to listen, involve, and mobilize young, Black leaders, and ground zero for many of them is an HBCU.”
There is little room to debate Richmond’s contention of HBCU’s being “ground zero” for the cultivation of the next generation of African-American politico-economic leaders, however, it remains to be seen if the much-needed intergenerational discussions are accompanied by a necessary relinquishing of leadership positions by an old-guard leadership cadre that considers themselves fixtures in the fight for racial equality.
Make no mistake about it, the voices of the newest generation of African-American activists have arrived via social media outlets that old-guard Civil Rights leaders and organizations have no control over. It has been the unfettered access provided by social media that has provided this latest generation of potential black leaders an efficient means of avoiding the principal obstacle to the rise of new leadership within the black community, black leaders whose old ideas and strategies expired long ago.
One thing is sure; there is a desperate need for innovative thought as old stratagems and tactics of yesteryear have failed to mobilize the masses of black folk within racial equality struggles. Although I am certain that they will never address this matter, the only real issue blocking the ascension of a young cadre of black leadership is the gracious exit of an aged Civil Rights Leadership; if I had to venture a guess, I would say that old-guar Civil Rights leaders will do what they have always done and held on for dear life to their ‘positions of importance’ as it is their only point of relevancy in an ever-changing society that they are too old to keep up with.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III