Strategy Isn’t Why Black Communities Aren’t Changing 50 Years After King, Fear Is.

He said King was a man who wanted change, “but a lot of our people was afraid of change.”

For whatever reason God has allowed me to sit in the room and meet with the previous U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, I’ve met with United States Senators, members of congress, top leaders from the governors office, mayor’s, state legislators, council members, top business executives, and national activist. All people who for better or worse are working to change the world. Having had the ability to meet with these people, discuss the hard issues from policing, to taxing, to economic justice, I have found that we are the most strategic people in the world. Yet, in Baton Rouge — and far too many other places, strategy isn’t changing the harsh realities many people are facing in America. 

I use my experiences as the window through which I address this issues. I’ve been at the “TABLE” in my city. I had the honor of working on a plan to bring millions of dollars in investment into my community. The North Baton Rouge Blue Ribbon Commission will never get the credit for leading the charge that got north Baton Rouge an emergency room, but we did that. Our partner and plan was not selected, but as a result of our advocacy Our Lady of the Lake who previously refused to even consider an ER in NBR got millions from the state to open and build the ER that is now serving NBR. The commission also led the fight to keep the Baton Rouge zoo in north Baton Rouge. An investment of over $100 million dollars, that is now staying in north Baton Rouge. Our approach to advocacy was criticized as divisive, yet it was the first time a plan to move an investment out of the northern portion of the parish was stopped. I said  all of this to say, I’ve been at the table for successful and unsuccessful strategy sessions. 

I’ve talked to presidents of banks, and the owners of organizations worth hundreds of millions of dollars. How I got in most of the rooms I’ve been in, is simply me staying in my lane and fighting for what I believe is right. Yet I consistently tell my close friends, I’m tired of meetings. I’m tired of sitting and planning and “strategizing” because it isn’t turning into results for my community. 

The same is true I’m sure for advocates around the country. I understand change is slow. I understand things take time. I understand Rome wasn’t built overnight. I also understand that we use those lines far too often to excuse ourselves from getting the life changing transformative work of progress done for the people we serve and advocate for. 

Why? Because we spend so much time on strategy failing to realize that the people we are strategizing for need us to… Get. Shit. Done. 

I don’t know a nicer way to say that. I lie. I do know a nicer way to say that. Nice isn’t working. Neither is our “strategy” of going along to get along. 

For decades… Nah, for centuries black leaders and progressives have always put strategy ahead of the people’s pain. Most often this is because the people leading the “strategy” aren’t the ones suffering the most from what comes across as a lack of urgency. We hate to admit it, but a large part of Dr. King’s strategy was upsetting to white people. He went around the country, and troubled the water. Yes, he pushed for policy change, like myself and others — but he was one of the original “outside agitators.” He was always as Rep. John Lewis put it, making, “Good Trouble.” 

I was reading an old clipping from the Chicago Defender,  about a trip Dr. King made to Chicago to advocate against inequity in housing policies in the city.  I want to share a little of that story with you, because it helps illustrate that our most effective leaders are usually seen as trouble makers, mainly because of who is telling the story. The defender said, “But it wasn’t just racist demonstrators who didn’t want the Nobel Peace Prize-winning King in the city. Some in Chicago’s Black community were opposed to his presence here, too. The mere talk of the southern Baptist preacher coming to Chicago struck a negative chord with some Black leaders in the faith, political and social communities.” 

Alvin Boutte Sr. was part of the small contingent of Black businessmen, along with the late Cirilo McSween and others, who gave King money and drew the ire of their respective communities. Boutte said Black businesses not tied in with Daley supported King in Chicago, even if their neighbors didn’t. “We invited King and his staff to come to our house and have lunch,” he said. “Some of our neighbors resented what we did. They didn’t like the idea that we’d invited him to our neighborhood. … I guess they thought he was a trouble maker.” He said King was a man who wanted change, “but a lot of our people was afraid of change.” 

Truth is, today that is the same problem. We are too afraid to step out and do something that will upset the establishment, when in truth — it is the blueprint of the movement  to upset the establishment. There are some easy wins, but the things we are fighting for don’t come as easy victories. 

We thought having more education would change our communities, black people are as educated now as we’ve ever been. We thought having a black mayor in Baton Rouge would help us change our communities, we are on our second black mayor and north Baton Rouge and almost all of Old South Baton Rouge,  both black areas are still the same. We thought having state legislators, and black business owners, and more black people in key leadership positions would change things, but our communities are still the same. 

Why? Because the strategy of go along to get along, DOES NOT WORK. If we set our pace to align with those who oppose progress and their willingness to change, we will let more people die, before change comes to their communities. We need to be willing to get dirty, and take hits in the media, and be unpopular. Dr. King did it. Malcolm X did it. John Lewis did and does it. Shaun King does it. Tamika Mallory does it. 

We must get serious about equity and progress. People are suffering while we meet. People are paying taxes to a government that kills them and gets away with it, while we meet. Some of us, live in nice middle class neighborhoods, and show up to do the work of change for a living. And yes, some of us, are in the trenches seeing the suffering of the people. 

Strategy is important, and I believe we must go into every situation with a plan. I’m all for the plan, but if it’s rooted in fear of the opinions of people who will never support progress and change, it’s a failing plan from start. 

We must be willing to stand on the truth, and proclaim it even when it’s uncomfortable. Too many of us, want a sexy revolution. That only happens in movies. This change we seek means we will at least for a period have to do what is unpopular, until people can see what it produces. 

If our current strategy was working, our communities wouldn’t look how they look. People would not still be getting killed by the police with little or no consequences. If our current approach was working, the income gap would be decreasing instead of staying the same or growing. 

Too many of us want to plant a garden of progress, but we are afraid of the dirt. If the only strategy you have is a clean fight, we will never win the war we are in for the soul of this nation. We don’t lack strategy, we lack the courage to fight like hell until change comes. Most of us want people to like us, and don’t deal well with opposition. We are too afraid of what we will lose, that we can’t see the benefits of what we will gain. They call you crazy, until it works. 

If a few more of us, get in the game, I promise there is enough strategy for victory, if we are willing to FIGHT. 

The spoils are worth the battle. 

We always want the Dr. King that met with presidents and won a Nobel Peace prize, we don’t want the Dr. King that organized demonstrations and wrote a letter to white leaders from a Birmingham jail. Our strategy must be well thought out, but we must also be willing to sacrifice popularity if we are to actually produce the type of revolutionary change those before us did. 

#KeepPushing #LetsBuild