Recently two prominent individuals in our community got into a bit of a political scrap over an invitation extended to a politician not common to our community. Anyway, there was a disagreement and folks are now arguing positions, back and forth, and sowing seeds of mutual discontent. Now, I was not there, and don’t know who is right on the issue, and who was wrong, but it almost doesn’t matter. The fact of matter is, the "I know better than you" approach to leadership in our community needs to be updated. And of course community leaders should have given our out of town political guest an audience. The same audience we would offer to anyone who claims they are interested in our community – a fair one. How else are we and they going to come to an understanding of each other, of what can get done, of what they are about, and most importantly, of what they will commit to do? Even if they are lying, you have a record of it.
When solving problems is the goal, and not simply picking winners and losers, talking with folks that you may not have a natural affinity to almost always makes more sense than not.
That said, elected officials representing under-served communities in this country, particularly poor black and brown communities, have good reason to be "politicians without patience" these days. Just look at the state of black and brown and poor America, and you can understand why folks get upset and demand change. I am with them. But "change" does not necessarily mean "my way."
Frankly, I just want our people to learn to think for themselves, to further realize that they are in the driver’s seat in their respective lives, to expect more from themselves, and to demand more from those who call themselves their leaders and representatives; whether it be in community or in the world of politics.
I have often made the case that we should all be political free agents from time to time, making both Democrats and Republicans "work" for our vote. We should all remember that FedEx made the U.S. Postal Service a better 2-Day mail service carrier, almost over night. Now U.S. Postal is top notch, but they were once terrible. Just terrible. The difference maker was a little healthy competition.
Now, when I say things like this, people often wonder whether I am a Republican for some reason. Well, the answer is no. But respectfully, I have problems with both my Republican and Democratic friends, so no one should get a pass here. It is not a matter of head or heart, but head and heart. We need results in our community these days, and that is why I am down with what I call the "Get It Done Party." I just want folks to "get it done."
I remember when in 2002, Operation HOPE became the only non-profit organization to host two U.S. Presidents in one week; former President Clinton in Harlem (arguably our "first Black President" – smile), who co-taught a Banking on our Future financial literacy course with me, launching our Harlem Partnership together, and thereafter President George W. Bush in South Central Los Angeles, on the 10th anniversary of the revitalization of community following the 1992 Rodney King Riots.
Now, no one in the political establishment said a word about President Clinton and HOPE and me. But when we brought President Bush to South Los Angeles and to First A.M.E. Church, led at that time by my spiritual father Reverend Dr. Cecil "Chip" Murray, our co-host for the event, you would thought the world had come to an end. I was derided by some at the time for hosting the President, mildly threatened with reprisals, and my "real black man" credentials were no doubt called into question — but we persisted, and we moved forward. And everything worked out just fine. And when I am asked why we hosted the President of the United States, my response is simple and immediate — because he’s the PRESIDENT, that’s why.
As my friend and mentor Dr. Dorothy Height, chairwoman-emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women,and one who has played host to every President (both Republican and Democrat I might add) of the modern age in America, has said repeatedly when asked basically the same question, "well, last time I checked, it was one President at a time."
Black folk are the only race of people in America that only talks to one political party, and it doesn’t seem to me to make much sense. Latinos, Asians, Indians, and of course our white friends, all talk to everyone, particularly when it speaks to their interests, …but not us. We often get hung up on emotions, about whether we like someone or not, when in reality business, economics and interests (both private and societal in nature) run this nation. It simply makes no logical sense, but we keep doing it. Even the definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, yet expecting a different outcome.
Bottom line: we should be talking to anyone sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Period. I didn’t say love them, I said "talk to them." We can disagree without being disagreeable.
And so, my response back in 2002, in hosting President Bush in South Los Angeles, was this then and it is this now: my community is in a crisis. Black folk, my folk, are leading every negative indicator you could imagine – from poverty, to illiteracy and financial illiteracy, to lack of ownership and too much obesity, to diabetes, to high school dropouts, to black men in jail, to you name it, and I have simply had enough. That as a community we are effectively rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and increasingly the community as a whole are in no mood for political gamesmanship and selfish power plays. They want results, not rhetoric. The theoretical ship is sinking, and we are sitting around ordering martinis. This simply does not work.
At the end of the day, I don’t really care whether you are black or white, rich or poor, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. If you want to help me eradicate poverty in my community, you are my friend. And if you don’t, if all you have is talk (and both parties specialize in this), then you are just wasting my time.
We can disagree without being disagreeable. Dr. King marched with Jews, and they had a disagreement about a man named Christ, but they agreed on most everything else. Nelson Mandela did the same thing in South Africa, negotiating with the then President DeKlerk, when those in his own party were calling him a sellout for doing it. And most recently Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a friend of mine, returned to his country, stopped the genocide and brought Hutu and Tutsi together, so today you have only one people – Rwandese, and one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world too.
Quoting the words of Rodney King, "…can’t we all just get along (smile)."
John Hope Bryant