Monday, August 30, 2010

African-American Leadership – Or The Lack Thereof – In Memphis 2010

African-American Leadership – Or The Lack Thereof – In Memphis 2010

Tony Nichelson

The situation is critical. Our hometown is facing a leadership crisis that could stifle the growth and development of children and citizens for another decade or two.

Memphis was once a national leader in commerce – during the era of King Cotton. Memphis was named “The Nation’s Cleanest City” five times. The place we call home was clearly recognized in the 1960s as an entertainment leader, with world-class personalities who led the music industry and set trends that helped shape American culture to this very day. Memphis produced its share of national leaders in civil rights, including Maxine Smith, Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, Russell Sugarman and others who were connected to the larger movement and its principal strategists. The Sanitation Worker’s Strike of 1968 is as significant as any Civil Rights battles fought in Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, Little Rock, Macomb and other places where it really counted.

Even on a local level, there were street activists in the 1960’s who led demonstrations and protests against police brutality, educational deficiencies, and destructive economic practices in neighborhoods. My friend and mentor, Minister Suhkara Yaweh, aka Lance “Sweet Willie Wine” Watson, is a brilliant man who shared a higher level of wisdom with not only me, but also with hundreds of other young men in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Teddy Withers was a strong, visionary leader, and we have produced few men like him since his untimely passing 16 years ago.

One of the strongest political leaders ever was Harold Ford Sr., who created an entourage that dominated local politics from the mid-1970s through the middle of this decade, followed by his talented son, Harold Ford Jr. (who surveyed the local landscape, and high-tailed it to New York where the level of competition and leadership was measurably different from Memphis). The political hangers-on to the Ford coattails appeared to be leaders, but existed in name only. Citizens rarely saw these representatives, councilmen, commissioners, and bureaucrats in public, and there was nothing notable that many of these so-called leaders did before the “Tennessee Waltz” fiasco ensnared some of them, and neutered the rest. We can honestly say most of the “Ford entourage” was self-serving, and did little to cultivate or mentor young leaders, especially the kind that we so desperately need today… (not that self-serving politicians would really make good Mentors).

Most citizens can not even name their local representatives, and as you read this commentary, I challenge you to name five real leaders within the African-American community in Memphis, in the areas of education, economics or culture. Not “employees”… Leaders! People who give little or no regard about the next election cycle or photo-op, but simply want to do what’s right.

Even the faith community in this town resembles a cloud, with a few big “thunderstorm pastors” who tend to make strategic appearances. These preachers, or many like them, were relied upon during the Civil Rights Movement to provide meeting rooms, money, safe havens, and consistent leadership to combat a crisis that seems small now, compared to the educational and moral deficiencies faced by today’s students. Most preachers today tend to support “safe” issues, and rarely confront authority or challenge public opinion. Many of them will address AIDS awareness, but not Domestic Violence. They raise money for an African village we never heard of, but not for the residents of apartment buildings being run by slumlords. A few preachers do good work behind the scenes, without fanfare, but the “big boys” typically are unapproachable, and rarely tackle illiteracy in families, juvenile delinquency (Gangs), or attendance & dropout rates in secondary schools.

Where are the fathers of our violent and misguided students – boys and girls? Where were the “leaders” when millions of dollars were capriciously cut from schools before the start of a new academic year in 2008? Where have the so-called African-American leaders been on the issue of Bass Pro, or the closing of local community centers, or other recreational resources for our children? Where are the local community advocates for education, who should have stepped into the breech of the confusing and costly legal battle over school funding?

In the opinion of this writer, African-American leadership in Memphis can be characterized as detached, inept, overly-cautious, weak, frustrated, compromised and exhausted. Even the Democratic Party establishment here is in disarray, facing the bitter reality that, in a city boasting an African-American majority, Republicans swept the last local election, with the exception of Congressman Steve Cohen, a friend and dedicated supporter of young people in this community.

Now is the time for any men with balls to stand up, and for women with smarts and savvy to step forward, and do the right things for Memphis’ children; not sixty and seventy-year-old recycled politicians, but new, assertive, smart, talented, well-trained and courageous young citizens who don’t care whether they ever get elected or not. We need Leaders in homes, in schools, at City Hall, on street-corners, and in churches. We all need to think more like leaders, and not celebrities. Do your part for the right reasons, and people will remember what you did. Anything less, and history will expose your ambition to serve only yourself.

(Anthony Nichelson is program director for the Citadel Radio Group and founder of the 110 Institute.

More Anthony Nichelson On W.E. A.L.L. B.E.:

***W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio Special***
Beyond The Mask: Uncovering The Truth About Domestic Violence 
Mid-South Men's Forum Preview Show:

Differences Aside, New ‘Men’s Forum’ Ready To Tackle Solutions:

April 13, 2008~The State Of Black America Part One*

April 20, 2008~The State Of Black America Part Two

April 27, 2008~The State Of Black America Part Three

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special: Yes He Did...So Now What??? Defining The Obama Presidency...

No comments: