When one considers the manner that U.S. Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-Detroit) political career that extends beyond fifty-years ended, feelings of sadness and disappointment naturally arise within Black America. The alluded to feelings are in many ways applause for the phenomenal work that Conyers performed during his time as a U.S. Congressman in what could be appropriately termed a lily-white Congress. If nothing else, Conyers must be applauded for his willingness to “speak truth to power” in one of the least racially representative locations known to humanity.
Despite what can only be termed a risqué cloud of sexually based accusations surrounding Conyers’ resignation, anyone familiar with his congressional work is aware that it was Representative Conyers that championed civil rights and social justice like none other. When other members of the Congressional Black Caucus displayed a lack of courage in regards to contentious racial matters, it was Conyers that Black America could count on to resist political attacks from white opponents regarding matters such as unfair mandatory sentencing guidelines that threatened to put black men, women, and children behind bars for lengthy prison sentences. For many, there was much comfort found in knowing that Representative Conyers was on the job 24/7.
There is no doubt that it is Conyers public greatness that makes his fall even more difficult to accept for politically astute African-Americans. However, this situation is yet another reminder for Black America that it is a risky prospect to put all of one’s faith in our political or religious leaders as if they are some type of deity sent to save us from an angry white horde determined to end our existence. I take no pride in saying that we have seen this theatrical tragedy before and most likely will see it again.
When one considers the list of well-known black politicians (Jesse Jackson, Ray Nagin, Jesse Jackson Jr., Kwame Kilpatrick, Marion Berry) who have suffered an all too public and disgraceful fall from grace, it reminds us of something that we already knew, the charisma that seemingly drips from these men in no way cancels the reality that they never ceased to be highly flawed mortal beings. If nothing else, each of their falls from grace should cause African-American activists to re-evaluate the charismatic centralized leadership construct that we have applied to our peculiar plight in America. History has once again proven that the idea of Black America being successfully guided around the tripwires and snares that have curtailed our freedom since the settling of the Jamestown colony is a foolhardy perspective that invariably ends in copious amounts of disappointment.
Conyers fall from grace returns Black America to an all too familiar position of Where Do We Go From Here? Even a cursory examination of African-American history proves that the charismatic centralized leadership model invariably ends in failure and disappointment for all adherents. Most disappointing of all is that not even an easily accessible historical record has caused black activists to abandon figures such as John Conyers, Umar Johnson, Kwame Kilpatrick, or Jesse Jackson.
In many ways, it appears that Civil Rights organizer Ella Baker was correct in her warnings regarding the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the centralized leadership model that plagued the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Baker not only questioned what would become of SCLC if Dr. King were killed but also offered an alternative decentralized leadership structure that would allow an organization/movement to continue in the wake of a charismatic leader being removed for whatever reason.
If it can be said that politics begin locally, it can also be said that the heaviest portions of racial uplift must occur at the most local of levels; that being, in the realm of personal responsibility. If Conyers fall from grace teaches us nothing else, I pray that it impresses on individuals within our community that it is they, not John Conyers, Umar Johnson, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson, Louis Farrakhan, or any other national-level political spokesperson who is ultimately responsible for their plight. The time has come for African-Americans on an individual basis to seize the time and take control of their own fortunes and realize that if the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, our community needs them to dedicate themselves to not being that weakest link in regards to education, political acumen, social graces, and entrepreneurial/economic/business endeavors. We can not afford inefficiency in any shape, form, or fashion. One thing is for certain, John Conyers fall from grace definitively proves once again that even notable political figures have their hands full managing their own lives and therefore little time to help you with your unique issues; that job is yours.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017