I recently had the distinct pleasure to meet three of Wiley College’s finest minds during preparation for the HBCU Oral History Program. It is not often that I come across a collective of young people who remind me of myself in regards to their raw intelligence, temperament, and a God-given servant’s heart regarding the politico-economic liberation of their people.
In the relatively few moments that we spent together, these young people harkened my mind back to a conversation that occurred more than two decades ago when one of my professors predicted that I would one day abandon the idea that “all black people would be saved. You will one day realize that the daily grind of attempting to save your people is an inefficient use of your time. They would be much better served if you went forth and used your talents to secure economic resources that could then be used to rally political power and construct independent institutions to serve our community.” Maybe it is age creeping up on me or the arrival of wisdom; however, I will be darn if I did not express the same thoughts to “the Wiley 3” during our interesting conversation.
As I paid close attention to the Wiley 3’s liberation plans for Black America, it generated a bit of sadness for me because I had heard this same script across the past three decades. In fact, I espoused the same liberation plans during my undergraduate years.
If anything, my interaction with these young people serves as an indictment of every generation of African-Americans as it definitively proves that we have all committed the same crime. The unforgivable crime that I am alluding to is a repeated failure to teach the next generation the things that we have learned regarding American racial matters and a liberation road that becomes progressively clearer as our time on this planet approaches an untimely end.
Instead of instructing and ushering our next generation of black thinkers, intellectuals, and activists forward via an intensive course of life lessons and observations, older African-Americans tend to sit back and allow our next generation of leaders to travel a rough and stony well-worn path of redundancy needlessly. In essence, our failure to mentor and guide the next generation of activists, thinkers, community organizers, and intellectuals is akin to demanding that they re-create a wheel that we have sadistically hidden.
It is the time that those of us who have dedicated their entire lives to “the liberation and salvation of the black nation” cease a ridiculous reasoning that allows for ownership of movement experiences and lessons. Hopefully, such individuals will eventually come to realize that the African-American Freedom Struggle is analogous to a 400-meter relay race with four sprinters who must be prepared to receive the baton at the appropriate moment. I am confident that you understand, the key to winning this race is both teamwork and each runner understanding their role. Unfortunately for those interested in the liberation of Black America, it appears that one of the most esteemed traditions within the African-American freedom struggle is for those currently in possession of the baton to not only refuse to prepare succeeding generations to receive the baton, but also a refusal to pass the baton at the appropriate moment. For far too many of our leaders, the leadership position that they have occupied for far too long has become their only point of relevance. Individuals such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Charlie Rangel seem to consider a peaceful transfer of power to the next generation of activists an unlikely occurrence.
Make no mistake about it, current black leaders failure to prepare the next generation of African-Americans to receive the baton dooms African-Americans to start the race again in the starter’s blocks while other races/ethnicities continue the next leg of the contest. Until our current leadership cadre understands that we must not only prepare the next generation to receive the baton but also hand it off to them once we have taught them all that we know, we have no other choice than to continue our grandest tradition of economic inefficiency and political powerlessness.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017