Over the past three years, we have witnessed the ascendance of a black man to the highest office in a country where black people were once property, where we were defined in the Constitution as three-fifths a human being, in a country of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. He is a President in a nation where black suffering is still not only legislated, but tolerated and sometimes encouraged.
This means a lot for the future of the
. Particularly, it means a lot for the future of white Americans and for the first time in the history of American racial reconciliation, they seem recognize that. To be honest, they seem terrified by it. Not surprising, however, is how woefully unprepared leadership within the black community seems to seize the moment. Leaders of today are at the wall of United States and poised for the Promised Land but the proverbial walls will not come tumbling down without the faith and courage of a few good men. Where are they? Who represents the "Joshua generation" and what must be done? Jericho
|Vendors hawk wares on King Day 2009 in DC.|
The day before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in
, he delivered a soul-stirring speech. Written in support of the city’s striking sanitation workers, toward the end, it took a turn into the prophetic. He said, “We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop.” This is of course his famous allusion to the Biblical story of Moses leading the Israelites out of bondage in Memphis . Dr. King was of the Moses generation, the folks who fought hard toward a winnable peace but who will never live its manifestation. King saw the Promised Land. Others have been allowed to see the election of a Black President but we have leaned too hard on the old guard, on the Moses Generation for their vision and courage. Egypt
The freedom fighters of the Civil-Rights era and those who came before cannot chart a new course for tomorrow. Just as the Hebrews of old needed leadership beyond Moses, so does a struggling Black community today. Speaking in
Candidate Obama said, “I’m here because somebody marched. I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants…We're going to leave it to the Joshua generation to make sure it happens.”John Lewis, still wearing the scars of his commitment said after the president's inauguration, “Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma, Alabama .” But what does that mean exactly for the millions of Black Americans who now navigate dealing with Brother President? Selma
Gov. Deval Patrick, Rep. Arthur Davis, and Newark
Mayor Corey Booker represent new political leadership.
The truth is Barack Obama's election was a goal of the Civil Rights Movement, not its resolution. The President and other Black elected officials will not be as Joshua was for the Israelites. As a leader elected by a diverse constituency, he is in the tradition of negotiation. Like Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson, he is called to hold a nation together that sometimes needs to be pulled apart.
Barack Obama is no stranger to the flaws in the American character that effect the lives of Black Americas. There they were in the shouts of Joe Wilson, in Hillary Clinton’s “conceding her loss,” the arrest of an esteemed Harvard professor on his front porch, the Vice President’s compliment of Obama’s speech and hygiene. Every cartoon of Obama as a bullet-ridden chimp, his wife as a gun-toting militant carries within the sting of a much larger injury and for it, the President has been able to provide little to no tangible leadership. For a problem that he knows more intimately than any other President, he is paralyzed in the vice of American racial politics.
Barack Obama cannot speak Truth to Power because he is Power.
At the end of his life, Dr. King was working toward expanding the promise that is
to its poor citizens through the Poor People's Campaign. His eyes were fixed on the Promised Land of economic and political freedom. He began addressing the issues that still trouble the waters of our imperfect union. He was pointing a way forward for the Joshua generation. There are few advocates within the Black community – individuals and organization with the vision and nuance of a modern political age - and I do not begrudge the President for not being among them. The mantle of advocacy on the behalf of Black Americans is not his to shoulder. America
The advocates of today must recognize, as the Moses generation exemplified, that “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God.” If character is like a tree and reputation a shadow, the Black community will need men to move out of the comfort the shadows provided by the Moseses to become branches, extending their efforts onward. The path of progress takes great character and through individual acts of humanity, the chasm that we must cross has been made smaller.
It is incumbent upon the Joshua generation to bridge the gap that remains by going where there is injustice and eradicating it, whether the President is leading the way or more likely if he is not.