Monday, October 26, 2009

Needed: African-American Think Tank

by Dr. Leon D. Caldwell

Our children are suffering because of our disorganization. Black economic power and potential are waning. Chronic diseases, risky health behaviors, and systems required health issues are shortening our lives. We are generally unprepared to participate in technological advances and opportunities. The disparities in education between our children and that of the world are becoming increasingly apparent.

This community like so many others around the country has gotten skillful at demonizing children, scapegoating schools, and excusing content-less policymakers. The reality is, as Minister (Louis) Farrakhan suggested in his address during the World Day of Atonement, that we have offered up our children in the pursuit of prosperity prophecy. Our failure to think through a plan to insure them a future better than our present should be considered the greatest act of national sui-genocide.

Several will argue that the city’s history of racism, economic exploitation, and cultural oppression are responsible for the condition of black communities in Memphis. While we cannot fully dismiss these explanations, we must move beyond them and develop strategies to address these challenges. I dare suggest that there is benefit to a privileged few, regardless of the ethnic hue, in “suffering as usual” practices of this county.

While many will shout amen or nod in agreement, not many are willing to engage in the collective work. This work is a process that requires coalition-building, thinking together, collective planning, and mobilizing for the future of our children and this city. Our paralysis based in sectarian self interests, greed, turfism, individualism, and insecurity must end. Blood, wasted lives, and untapped potential of thousands of young people has happened on our shift. Without investing in a “serious” comprehensive strategic plan developed by the community we will continue to sacrifice our most precious resource for the future – our children.

Here is my solution by way of an invitation: join the Think Tank for African American Progress. This is not a new organization but a collection of the organizations that are already doing great individual work but want to change the paradigm for working together. The Think Tank is a national convening of community activists, practitioners, policy makers, researchers, and scholars dedicated to developing solutions and strategic plans to implement them to address specific issues on education/youth development, health, economic and community development, and technology.

“What is the future for Black Boys?” was this year’s theme. The Think Tank works to develop solutions and strategies for the issues facing black communities. Over the next months, we will be holding community meetings intended to help us end the organizational silos. We invite you to participate in the solutions. In January 2010, we will release the 2009 Think Tank for African American Progress Solutions Briefs outlining specific programmatic and policy solutions for many of the issues challenging young black boys in Memphis. Simultaneously, we are planning and fundraising for the “What is the Future for Black Girls?” – which will be held in October 2010. Our goal is to provide the policymakers and activists with an inclusive strategic plan generated by the black community.

A community serious about its children must plan for their future. The Think Tank is the process for the community planning and mobilizing beyond organizational silos. Our intention is to move beyond the rhetoric and restatements of problems toward community level strategic planning and action. We invite those organizations that want to participate in a new collective and inclusive strategy to improving the life outcomes of children in this community to join us. Memphis and Shelby County will reap what it sows.

Will we work the ground until it is fertile or continue to harvest from its soils polluted with inaction.

Dr. Leon D. Caldwell said the Think Tank is “an innovative way to strategically think about how we act in our community, employing the best of our resources and all of our resources. . .” (Photo by Wiley Henry)

(Dr. Leon D. Caldwell is the President and Executive Director of the Think Tank for African American Progress, the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Youth Development, lead evaluator of the JustCare Family Network, and Research Associate Professor of Psychology at Rhodes College. He can be reached at

See Also...

Saving Black Boys...Raising Black Men

A W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special

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