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The problem with the black community

    The black community faces numerous problems. Black-on-black violence, white-on-black violence, failing inner-city schools, police brutality, racial profiling, poverty, disproportionately high incarceration rates, the breakdown of families, the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and a host of other issues that can be traced back to structural racism and the lingering effects of slavery and segregation.

    But perhaps the biggest problem in the black community is our failure to develop an effective plan and strategy to deal with these problems.

    Fifty years ago the most well-known figures and artists were also activists. Our leaders actually led us somewhere. We had clear goals and clear plans to achieve them. We had people who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good. And we made progress.

    Now we have “leaders” who give speeches at important events, we have grand ceremonies like the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we have our own publications, we have writers with large followings, we have prominent artists who set global trends.

    But our “leaders” are not leading us anywhere, our grand ceremonies are little more than symbolic gestures, and more often than not our most prominent artists, writers and public figures use their platform to build their brand and sell product, not to engage in activism or act on behalf of the community. Superstars with millions of fans and immeasurable influence typically stay silent about serious problems or simply  become part of the problem themselves.

    And our issues remain unsolved.

    What are we demanding of the powers that be?

    As Frederick Douglass told us, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” But what, exactly, are we demanding of the powers that be?

    Many of us complain and call out racism. We vent on social media. Sometimes we even take brief stands like the wave of protests after George Zimmerman’s acquittal. But ultimately, we are not united, coordinated or dedicated to changing conditions on a large scale. We are just upset, stuck in an ongoing cycle of rage and apathy that accomplishes little. While our complaints are certainly valid, complaints don’t change conditions. Goals, plans, strategies, tireless work, self-sacrifice and specific demands do.

    So we have to do more than get upset. We have to get organized.

    Time for a national movement

    There are many people doing good work in small groups. But we need a national movement to unite these groups, identify problems and implement solutions across the country to make a real difference.

    We need to replace our ineffective figureheads with real leaders who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause. We need a clear plan of action, not a vague set of complaints. We need to take back hip hop and use it for the original premise it was built on—calling attention to social issues and changing conditions. We need our artists and writers to dedicate more of their time, energy and talent to addressing the ills that plague our community.

    We are a people with unlimited power, so much so that after hundreds of years of oppression we’ve still risen to the top of virtually every field. We have to use that collective power to combat the problems we collectively face.

    Granted, the climate today is vastly different than it was 50 years ago. Current issues are far more subtle, complex and covert than the glaring inequality of segregation. And there’s a cavalcade of right-wing simpletons busy trying to convince us our problems don’t exist to ensure that we never solve them. But the problems are quite real, and though more subtle, they’re just as serious as they were decades ago.

    When violence in Chicago claims more lives than overseas wars, when incarceration rates of black males soar, when unarmed blacks like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis are killed because of an imaginary perception of danger and their killers are somehow NOT convicted of murder, when inner-city schools are failing and ensure that cycles of poverty will remain in place, when structural racism impacts our lives from the sidewalk to the office to the courtroom, we are facing a crisis with no immediate end in sight.

    The Civil Rights Movement was the beginning, not the end

    It’s as if our “home” was on fire and the Civil Rights Movement put the fire out. And then we disbanded as if our work was done without repairing the damage and rebuilding the structure. Our work is not done. The Civil Rights Movement dealt with legislative barriers. Now we need a follow-up to deal with social, psychological and structural ones.

    We’ll need a name for the new movement. New Civil Rights Movement is taken, and so is Demand Justice. But there are plenty of other possibilities to explore. And anyway, the initial details are not as important as the desire and determination to move, to engage in revolution—or evolution—as the case may be. I know I’m not the only one who’s fed up and ready to do something effective instead of sitting around watching injustice and ignorance prevail.

    This is not about blame. It is about responsibility. It is about acknowledging our collective power and realizing that we can and must do more to solve our collective plight. Because if we don’t take responsibility for solving the problems we face, who will?

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    Lauren Carter is a writer, editor and creative consultant based in Boston. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and check out her blog at www.bylaurencarter.com. For more information about her writing, editing or consulting services, email her at [email protected].