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By Barney Blakeney

Set a goal, keep your eyes on the prize and work toward it. That’s what you have to do.

I was sittin’ here trying to figure out what the heck I’m gon write about this week. I had an idea in mind, but things didn’t go my way – one thing didn’t pan out and the other thing got bent in another direction. So here I am at the final hour trying to figure out what I’m gon do. But the goal is to write a column. I kept my eye on the objective and continued to work toward it. Then it happened!  As the song says, “You gotta take what you got to get what you want sometimes, ya’ll. Gimme the bridge now, gimme the bridge now! I feel like bustin’ loose!”

I had on my mind writing about young people and activism. For the past lil while I’ve been thinking us old geezers really need to get a grip. The cycle of life dictates you get older and you die – no one lives forever. That’s the way it is, and perhaps, the way it should be. We talk about how much we love our children, but don’t plan for the future – the place and time in which they will live. We selfishly insure that our lives are comfortable, but don’t work toward their comfort.

Yeah, we give it a lot of lip service, talking about how much we do to make things better for our loved ones. And some of us actually fake the funk doing stuff that looks like we’re pushing the needle forward either knowing full well or deluding ourselves to think that we’re accomplishing something. Rev. Nelson Rivers said something recently that’s stuck with me – we must assess our work to insure we’re producing the desired result.

So I asked myself when it comes to activism, are we engaging our young people in ways that help them create the world they want to live in after we’re gone. I only can see so much. I looked at our civil rights organizations and asked if they are engaging young people so they continue what obviously is a perpetual struggle for equal rights and opportunities. Some do, some don’t. I looked at our businesses, asked the same question and got the same answer – some do and some don’t. Looked at our social organizations and asked that question getting the same answer, some do and some don’t.

So what do we get from that hit and miss strategy of inconsistency? The same thing we already have – inadequate civil rights, businesses and social opportunities.

I guess it’s hard teaching young people to become activists. Maybe that’s why our elders didn’t worry so much about it; they just did the darn thing. “Don’t do as I do. Do as I SAY!” they demanded. I talked to a young sister who thinks my generation didn’t always provide that kind of role model for them. They often didn’t see the kind of leadership in us that we saw in our elders, she said. We got too comfortable with stuff and thought that was the end game, she believes. We sought stuff and forgot about substance.

This week a local civil rights organization led a protest of public education at a Charleston school board meeting – classic direct action move. It’s been effective in the past and can be effective today. But I’m wondering if it will be. Racist oppressors have proven methods of getting around direct action. They either confront it with overwhelming force or wait for the passion to subside then develop alternatives that appease the discontented. In the end they pretty much maintain the status quo.

This publication and the daily newspaper publishers are working on a story about the effort to integrate public eating establishments in the 1960s. The millennials of that time conducted direct action sit-ins at segregated eating establishments, ultimately succeeding in integrating them. The lunch counters of today still are integrated, but most eating establishments still are very much segregated. And sadly, the few Blacks who are allowed to eat at those exclusive places feel so privileged, they ignore the segregation. Again, we place more value on stuff than substance.

My concern about the public education protests is that it may fail to produce the desired results. First of all, you can bet them folks are figuring how to end the disruptive activism of that direct action. If they have to put cops at the front door they’ll do that – it may not be legal, but they’ll do it! Or maybe they’ll go after the ring leaders. That usually shuts Black folks down!

We lost 50 years of civil rights activism because they cut off the heads of our two-headed snake – Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Whatever they decide, those folks will come to shut down the protest. I’m concerned our leadership may not have a plan beyond knee-jerk reactions. What’s the plan B? And why do Black folks expect white folks to education their children anyway? That’s never happened. In fact, they made a law against educating Black children! In the history of America white folks never have educated Black kids! We always had our own schools.

Demanding a quality education for all children is the right thing to do. White folks need to get a clue because their kids don’t get a quality education either. We’re all paying taxes to give big business tax incentives to locate in our community – businesses which import their workforce from other communities. That ain’t Black or white. That’s business! And the white kids at segregated specialty schools are part of that business as well. They’re being kept just as dumb! They also are not getting the quality education that prepares them for the multicultural world of the future in which they will live.

Where do we go from here? We set a goal of producing the best possible world for our children and grandchildren, keep our eyes on that prize and work toward it. It’s hard, uncomfortable work, but they’re worth it.

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle. 

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