Op-ed submission by Project 21
If something is good and it is enjoyable, it’s not surprising that people want it to last forever. We want the goodness to be unceasing. We want it to be sustained. But the sad fact is that nothing lasts forever. Even the cosmos is subject to the vagaries of time and will one day cease to exist.
Within black America, despite the hardships we have faced, there have been many favorable developments that have benefited our people. They should continue. Unfortunately, many appear to be unsustainable.
Consider the example of the black family. Formerly the bedrock of our community, the black family is now failing. Around 70 percent of black children are currently being born out of wedlock, and the availability of marrying-age black males is restricted by a very high, albeit declining, incarceration rate.
Several of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which many charge with maintaining a tradition of scholarly excellence in our community, are slowly but steadily falling by the wayside. Schools that were once virtually the only choice for black higher education are now failing to receive broad economic support because, in part, they become enmeshed in non-educational issues, reflect poor management and often produce graduates who exhibit sub-par academic achievement.
The rapid pace and major accomplishments of the Martin Luther King-era civil rights movement left the establishment black special interest groups with a hard act to follow and few critical hurdles to overcome. Today’s civil rights lobby is largely a “go along to get along” movement that often focuses on the wrong issues.
When presented with the declining black family, subpar educational achievement and a lack of progress on key economic issues, today’s self-professed black leaders seem quite ineffective in comparison with the greatness of their predecessors.
Even effective past efforts by the Nation of Islam to make black America more productive and independent are not being replicated today. Given Minister Louis Farrakhan’s current advanced age and declining health, we must wonder whether that movement will be sustained beyond his passing.
Conversely, there is an important institution that remains sustained, in form if not in substance. That institution is the black church. Why has the black church been sustained, and generally what are the keys to sustainability?
For institutions, organizations and movements that want to last, they must, at their core, contain the materials and the chemistry that it takes to be sustainable. Like kernels that always produce stalks of corn and create the kernels that grow yet more corn in the future, these institutions, organizations and movements must include what is essentially a genetic code that ensures their sustainability.
Sustainable entities must embody long-range plans with provisions for course corrections (consider the U.S. Constitution), systematic processes for leadership succession (consider the Catholic Church) and flexibility to evolve (consider creation itself).
Probably the most important key to sustainability for black American institutions, organizations and movements is a willingness on our part to work diligently and selflessly to make them successful. The reason that kernel of corn is successful in producing more corn is because earth, water, air and sun are always there to do their parts. Likewise, we must be committed to serving as the equivalent of the earth, water, air and sun to ensure that our institutions, organizations and movements are sustained.
While all good things inevitability come to an end, they do not have to suffer a premature demise. With work and care, good things can be sustainable for quite some time. As a result, we can avoid the hazardous stops and starts to our efforts to preserve ourselves as a people and as a community within the larger American nation.
B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. You can visit his website at http://www.blackeconomics.org