NAACP National Convention needs to focus on poor blacks

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I was reading a piece in the Detroit News this morning which strongly suggested that the NAACP is in need of a more modern direction, that it needs to be more relevant to the needs of black folk in today’s America, not still trying to resurrect the battles of yesteryear. This, no doubt, will be the primary subject of discussion at the upcoming NAACP National Convention which is coming to Detroit July 7-12.

This is just my two cents, but I figure what the NAACP needs to be focused on right now today is bridging the gap between middle-class black folk and those crowded at the bottom of the economic ladder who are fighting tooth and nail just to catch a glimpse of the way out. I’m not talking just about the poor, either, but those members of the lower-middle class who are feeling their hardworking lives and dreams being sucked right out of their bones like soda pop through a straw. Not firmly enough entrenched in the middle class to have staying power,  but not poor enough to qualify for poor folk programs, this group is getting economically slaughtered, and I have a bit of personal experience with this issue.

As for the poor folk, they are still locked in place in a hellhole existence that the civil rights movement never really took care of. They were poor before the civil rights movement and they are poor now. Integration hasn’t done a damned thing for these folks, to be honest, and the ability to vote hasn’t provided them much of a choice except to choose between who is most likely to ignore them the worst. Of all the doors that were opened by the civil rights movement, most of those doors opened widest for the middle class and up. Those who had the economic and educational means to take advantage of the new opportunities were able to capitalize in a big way.

But the poor? The overwhelming majority were left behind with:

  • A public school system that in many ways has only gotten worse since segregation ended (due to white flight and wealthy black flight which left poor areas with a wiped-out tax base)
  • Few options for decent affordable health care
  • Few options for affordable decent housing
  • Few options for just about anything else that makes life bearable

Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but if Detroit doesn’t do something about getting a major food chain to replace the recent disappearance of Farmer Jack’s, leaving us now as the only major metropolitan city in the nation with no chain food stores, then dead horses may soon be the meat of choice around here, provided we have enough energy to catch the mounted police.

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I bet it got your attention, right? But here’s the thing; Detroit is the perfect place for the NAACP to redefine its mission because Detroit represents everything that the re-tooled NAACP’s mission should be about. You name a problem black folks are facing in America and Detroit is a posterchild for that problem.

In addition to the lack of convenient access to quality food, and in addition to the problems listed above, are the more complex problems at the root of some of these issues. Just as an example, let’s take why it’s been so hard to convince major food chains to stay in the city – or to lure others to take the place of those that leave. One of the biggest problems is the high turnover rate of employees. It’s hard just to find folks who will stay on the job, or who know how to act once they’re on the job. Might as well call it like it is. And just so we’re clear, I’ve heard this view expressed by owners of black-owned businesses, so it’s not just white folks who are frustrated.

The problem isn’t that black folks don’t want to work. The problem is that the extensive interwoven net of problems in which poor folks – especially black poor folks – have been caught for generations has been ignored for so long, and now the results of that neglect is becoming apparent. Without adequate education, without adequate job training to prepare workers for the new economy, without a safe living environment, without health care, without transportation….

Without. Without. Without.

Exactly what the hell do we expect poor people to do? Oh. That’s right. Pull themselves up by their bootstraps. So who’s in charge of manufacturing those bootstraps?

I suspect that’s where the NAACP should come in handy…

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~ by Keith A. Owens on July 5, 2007.

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