Boston had Paul Revere to announce to the world that "the British were coming," the civil war period had President Abraham Lincoln to marshal the vision, and the courage, to call for an end to slavery in America, and the vision for this new America had a leader in one Frederick Douglass, who lived right here in Anacostia, who amongst other things called for a new relationship with America's newly freed black men and women. The short but revolutionary period of Reconstruction that followed in America benefited from the likes of Booker T. Washington and W.E. B. Du Bois, along with several prominent blacks elected to the U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress and other important federal and state posts such as Lt. Governor during that period. Truth in fact, blacks in Texas actually led the Republican Party during the height of Reconstruction in America. Over time the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have changed, in both good and bad ways, but the call for freedom, independence and social and economic justice remains firmly implanted in the hearts, minds and spirits of God's children. The fundamental call for real and sustainable progress in America still rings true, more than 100 years later.
Later in America's history the civil rights movement benefited from the bold vision, passion, and selflessness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ambassador Andrew Young and Dr. Dorothy Height, amongst others, who chose to sound the trumpets of change throughout the south; and soon thereafter the “false legal” barricades to progress for blacks in the south fell, and important legislative victories for all of America rose in their place. Yes, the civil rights movement, or what I and many others more appropriately call the “second American Revolution,” created literally thousands of bright and ambitious newly elected officials serving at the local, state and federal level. Once again, black elected officials provided substantive and undeniable leadership to yet another political party in America - the Democratic Party, with Black America helping to literally elect more than one U.S. President to the highest office in the land.
This said, in 2006 we are faced with this fact: black America is the only race of people in the world today, save the Irish (who I might add produced a U.S. President), that created a political power base before they created an economic one. It is a significant point, particularly when you look at the state of economic affairs of the African-American community today. And so yes, we need our public office officers for sure, but they (public office holders) need stakeholders to support them in making their make-sense legislative agenda real. Quoting Ambassador Andrew Young, "in the civil rights movement, we succeeded in integrating the lunch counter, but not the dollar. If Dr. King was alive today, this would be the work he would be doing." Today we need to teach poor people in America of all races about capitalism and the free enterprise system, what it all means, and how to make it work for them. That is part of the calling of a new “silver rights” movement. But this is not a new calling, nor vision, for the African-American community; it was the Reverend Leon Sullivan of Philadelphia, the first black member of a corporate board of directors (General Motors) in America, who founded Opportunity Investment Corporation (OIC) which is now operating throughout the United States and internationally, and who served as an initial inspiration for Dr. King's Operation Breadbasket in Chicago. Reverend Sullivan then took his bold vision to the African continent where he founded the Sullivan Principles which provided a framework for the private sector seeking to do business in then aparthied era South Africa. Many in Africa to this day refer to the late Reverend Sullivan as the “Martin King of Africa.”
Yes, today we have a new social compact of sorts in the making; of the poor, the under-served, the rural, the urban, and the low-wealth in America – and all races, all fighting the same battle for freedom, independence and social and economic justice. This said, by necessity we must now use different tools, strategies and approaches to achieve solutions and victories in 21st century America.
Just as civil rights was waged in the streets of America, the new call for a powerful "silver rights" movement will be waged and won in the suites of America; from the corporate boardroom to government offices, to the classroom of our children - the real leaders of and for our future. John Hope Bryant
And it will be not so much protest based, although some protesting of some might indeed be needed from time to time, as partnership based. The issues in the silver rights era will be that of changing one's perspective, not their policies. Of real and measurable progress and not just passionate and powerful preaching - although we could still use some of that too. Where the civil rights movement was principally about race and the color line, silver rights will be principally about issues of class and poverty. And as civil rights leaders needed partners and coalitions, new era silver rights leaders will need the same, starting with a powerful and empowering partnership with civil rights movement leaders themselves. And that is why in addition to leaders from government, on a bi-partisan basis, and the private sector, community and faith represented here at the Anacostia Economic Summit, we have our distinguished and respected friends from the Urban League, Black Leadership Forum and the NAACP here too. We are all in this together. Everyone is important, for it is not civil rights or silver rights, nor even civil rights and silver rights, but without civil rights there can be no silver rights. We are all in this together.
Silver rights is about "the last piece of unfinished business in America," or eradicating poverty as we know it. Poverty shown to the world over, through the eyes of Katrina. Even Dr. King's Poor People's Campaign of 1968, inspired by Marian Wright Edelman, could not do that. The image of the Katrina victim who could not receive their $2,000 in FEMA funding because they did not have a bank account to wire it too. More than 50 million Americans today have no bank account, in this the richest country in the world. Surely we can do better than that.
Silver rights is also about a new approach; one focused more on the poverty of spirit than the poverty of pocket.
Silver rights assumes, and I have said, that “there is a difference between being broke and being poor. Being broke is a temporary economic condition while being poor is a disabling frame of mind and a depressed condition of one's spirit, and we must vow to never, ever, ever be poor again."
Silver rights also assum es that the major changes seemingly overtaking Anacostia of late, and Harlem before it, was more about capitalism than racism. That just as Harlem was ultimately seen by those with vision, money, financial savvy and no place else to expand to or to live, as "upper Manhattan," Anacostia with the announcement of its stadium and associated development has been "discovered" to be 10 minutes from jobs on Capitol Hill, for many individuals accustomed to driving 45 minutes to get home. Almost amusing if not concerning, with this discovery individuals have also "discovered" the beautiful and valuable Anacostia riverfront. Yes, changes are coming. But what do all of these things mean, and what do they portend for the fine people who call this community home, or who want too? What about all the other Anacostia's across America, from Detroit, to the South Side of Chicago to South and East Los Angeles and beyond? The answer does not have to be negative, and capitalism does not have to be the community's adversary.
The fact of the matter is that capitalism is in many ways, America; a democracy rooted in capitalism. We simply need to figure out how to make it work for us. Repeating something Israel's leader Shimon Peres told me recently, "…even if you want to distribute money like a socialist, you must first collect money like a capitalist." Enough said.
At the Anacostia Economic Summit we must be committed to figuring out what we are for, and not just what we are against. At the Anacostia Economic Summit we must be committed to showing people that you can lend, invest and live in Anacostia, and the good people who call this place home, at the end of the day, don’t want a hand out, but simply a meaningful hand up.
At the Anacostia Economic Summit we must make a powerful call for a District-wide push for a massive youth and adult financial literacy education campaign; so that adults don’t make any more detrimental financial and economic decisions, and youth make good ones. That the real problem is “it is what we don’t know that we don’t know that is killing us,” not that we don’t want to know. You have to savvy to survive poor in America. Just imagine what people could do with the knowledge, tools, skills and access to change their lives. When you know better, you tend to do better.
At the Anacostia Economic Summit we must make a generational commitment to “education as the ultimate poverty eradication tool.” At the Anacostia Economic Summit we will hold up models and best practices for empowerment; of leaders from government, community and the private sector working in partnership and collaboration to get things done. At the Anacostia Economic Summit delegates will leave the partisan politics of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party at the door, and embrace a vision around a “Get It Done Party,” when it comes to the revitalization of Anacostia and all the Anacostia communities like it around the country.
At the Anacostia Economic Summit we will commit to modeling results and the power of conversion; of converting a check cashing customer into a banking customer. Converting a renter into a homeowner. Converting a small business dreamer into a small business owner. Converting a minimum wage worker into a living wage worker with new job skills. Converting the uneducated into the financially literate. Moving people up and out of poverty, and from the poverty rolls to the payrolls.
Finally, in “delivering” the likes of U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, Ambassador Andrew Young, Dr. Dorothy Height, Jack Kemp and a host of other luminaries from government, community and the private sector, we offer to this and other communities the dignity and respect they so much deserve. This is the “silver rights” movement in action.
And so, at the end of the day, the Anacostia Economic Summit is not only an opportunity for leaders who care about what happens right here in Anacostia, as well as all the other Anacostia-like communities around the country, it is the staging ground for the launch of a powerful, new “silver rights movement.” A new movement which is as focused on freeing and enriching our people’s spirit, as it is growing our net worth, or advancing economic standing and opportunity. Together we can make a difference – starting right here in Anacostia.
Onward, with HOPE