Fifty years ago today, July 2nd 1964, then President Lyndon Johnson signed into law one of the most important pieces of legislation ever signed. It was the Civil Rights Act.
It is truly astounding it took 190 years AFTER this sentence was penned to actually live to the creed.
. . . these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
None the less, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forced the south and all other states to eradicate all systemic laws or policies that discriminated based on race, color or creed.
Today truly marks a historic day, particularly for black americans, as Jim Crow was a lasting and painful legacy of this countries slave days.
K, so where am I going with this. It’s a great day. Yup, I got it. So what about it.
K, here’s where I’m going. Fifty years is a long ass time. That’s two generations and unfortunately we (the black community) have not truly capitalized on the opportunity afforded us by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and . . . hold on folks . . . it’s our own fault.
Yup, I said it. This powerful act freed us from institutional racism and gave us the ability to pursue happiness. It gave us the ability to predetermine our own lives and we’ve dropped the ball. We have not taken full advantage of this act and we have no one to blame but ourselves and NO we can no longer blame racism. It’s time we take ownership for our plight and do something about it.
Before 1964 our goal, our mission was equality and that’s the mission we should have had. Leveling the playing field and eradicating institutional racism was absolutely paramount and we needed leaders who would take us on that journey. Fearless leaders who would risk everything to push that door open and walk in. We found those leaders in Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshal, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Andrew Young, Reverend Jessie Jackson and more. These men and women lead through sacrifice and courage to beat down the doors of oppression and free the black community from the horrific legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Institutions like the NAACP and the Urban League coalesced around the fight for freedom and gave us a voice. We owe our entire existence today to these brave souls and institutions.
But . . .
A good friend of mine shared with me once something her mother had told her a long time ago. She said,
“Honey, marching, breaking down barriers and fighting for civil rights was our battle and we succeeded. It’s time for this generation to find it’s own battle. Ours was won.”
My friends mother is right. The civil right battle has been won and we owe those who won it tremendous gratitude, but we’re losing the equality war today and it’s our own fault. We haven’t found this generation’s battle. We’re still fighting our parents fight. We’re still focusing on the system and that’s the wrong fight.
The battle cries of the 50’s and 60’s demanding equality can no longer the battle cries for today. Is there still racism? Yes. Are there still inequities? Yes. But they pale in comparison to 1964 and we needed to recognize the change and change with it.
Focusing on the system was what was needed 50 years ago, maybe even 25 years ago, but it IS not what we need today. It’s time we stop looking out, at the establishment, looking for signs of racism, discrimination and inequality. It’s time we start looking inward at how we are capitalizing on the opportunities afforded us 50 years ago, because the sad truth is we haven’t held ourselves accountable enough and we are losing because of it.
How are we losing because of it? Here are a few stats to consider:
- 67% of births in the black community are to unwed mothers
- Only 21% of us have a bachelors degree
- Only 68% of us graduate from high school
- We make up 38% of the prison population, while only making up 13% of the U.S. Population
- .05% is the percentage of all U.S earnings that come from black owned companies.
In spite of the tremendous gains we’ve made over the past 50 years, I argue we haven’t scratched the surface. We’re leaving money on the table and it’s time we stop.
We need new measurements of success. Rather than focus on external issues and changing laws, I suggest it’s time we hold ourselves accountable. It’s time for leadership to stop challenging the country and the system for change, but rather start challenging ourselves for change.
My dad used to say to me,
Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and focus on yourself.
As much as I hated him saying that when I was a kid, he was right. I can’t make a man stop calling me a nigger, but I can be sure the man he’s calling a nigger has a college degree, never been incarcerated, doesn’t use drugs, makes 6 figures, isn’t racist himself, gives back, is a great father, and treats his partner with respect etc.. And that’s what we need to start focusing on now. Our new fight is to start focusing on us.
Maybe it’s because I’m in sales, but I say we start focusing on the numbers. Our new fight is to fight the numbers, the numbers that keep us down and keep us from capitalizing on all the gains afforded us by the previous generations. It’s not the system any longer, it’s us. We are this generations fight! We need to fight to improve the numbers above. We need leaders to challenge us in our efforts to reduce the percentage of kids born to unwed mothers. NO MORE BABY MAMMA’s! We need our churches to hold us accountable for raising our children’s high school graduation rates. Kids from different schools and neighborhoods shouldn’t be wearing their area code on their clothing but rather their schools graduation rates. We need to make graduation rates a thing of pride. We need more organizations who spend their time making sure all of us who are graduating are going to college and staying there. We need more mom’s and dad’s who expect their children to go to college and graduate. We need to develop a “cult of intellectualism” in our communities. No racist or racism can keep us from embracing learning, if that’s what we chose to embrace. We need to eradicate any vestige of the gangster lifestyle. We need to eradicate any sense of prominence or “cred” for incarceration. Racism never made going to prison cool, we own that.
We need to commit to these improving these numbers and make them public every year. No one should ever NOT know what they are. We should track them, celebrate them and hold us accountable to making them. The numbers are our new fight.
We have a new fight and it’s right in front of us. It’s time the old guard stepped aside and a new guard rise up. It’s time we stop focusing on institutional change and time we start focusing on our own destructive behavior. It’s time we don’t let the outside world keep us from reaching our potential. It’s time we stop giving our power away. Anytime we’re focused on what others our doing to us, we aren’t focused on what we are doing to ourselves.
It’s time we pick a battle with ourselves. That battle;
- reduce the percentage of unwed mothers from 67% to less than 50%
- Increase the number of bachelor degrees by over 50% to 30%
- Increase the high school graduation rate to 73% which is higher than the national average
- Reduce our percentage of the prison population by 1/2 to 18%
- Increase the number of black owned businesses by 50% to 10% of all business in U.S.
- Do all of this in the next 10 years
Over the next 10 years if we redirect our efforts from outward facing efforts to inward facing efforts like these, things would change drastically. If our focus is on our own choices and behaviors rather than others, we would capitalize on all the Civil Rights Act was meant to do.
It’s time to create a goal of one. Where each “one” of us is asking, am I getting us closer to the goal or am I moving us further away. We need to create a culture where no one wants to be the “one.” The one girl or guy who kept us from meeting our unwed mother goal, the one person who doesn’t graduate and causes us to miss our graduation goal, the one parent who’s kid doesn’t get into college, the one girl who get’s incarcerated. We need a culture where the social pressure is squarely targeted at making these goals. We need a culture where no one wants to be the “one.” The one person who is keeping us from attaining the dream.
The days of attacking the system for change are over. We need new goals. We need a new vision. We need action from within. We need to rally around a cause that is about us, for us.
It’s time to stop focusing on our surroundings and blaming the system, whites or environments. Although not perfect, we have plenty to work with. They are not the reason we can’t. They are why we haven’t and we have the power to change things. It’s time we embrace our strength and pride to grow from within. It’s time we shift our attention to improving our standing by improving ourselves. It’s time each one of us makes a commitment, that regardless of the challenges big or small, we choose a course that will better our own unique situation and through each one us we improve the whole.
The Civil Rights Act was not designed to do the work for us, it was simply to remove the barriers. We must make the journey and the time has come to start running. We’ve walked long enough.
(*1) U.S. Census Bureau 2013 (http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acs-21.pdf)
(*2) U.S. Census Bureau 2013 (http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/voting/cb13-84.html)
(*3)U.S. Department of Justice 2010 (http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pim09st.pdf)
(*4)U.S. Census Bureau 2011 (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/business_ownership/cb11-24.html)
(*5)Center for Economic and Policy Research 2014 study (http://www.cepr.net/documents/black-coll-grads-2014-05.pdf)
(*6)Department of Education 2013 Digest of Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/
(*7) GradNation report 2014 (http://gradnation.org/sites/default/files/17548_BGN_Report_FinalFULL_5.2.14.pdf)
(*8) Department of Education 2013 Digest of Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/