By Fritz-Earle McLymont
I started to watch the MSNBC special, “The Black Agenda—A Stronger America,” on Sunday, April 10, with great expectation. I had written down two items I would look for in the two-hour long conversation: Business/Entrepreneurship and Global Affairs. They reflected my agenda and personal interests as a Black “African” man living in America.
Halfway through the first half-hour segment, which assembled erudite Black professionals from academia, media and social/civil organizations, I began to wonder if I was in for one of those sessions that many of us in the 1960s labeled “paralysis of analysis.” In the segment, only Marc Morial of the Urban League used the word “business,” which he did once—not in the context of business as part of the Black agenda, but in a passing reference. For the entire half hour, I was forced to listen to educated Back persons react to every conceivable ill experienced by the Black people in the United States at the hand of the “establishment.” I asked myself, “Where is the vision?”
By the second half-hour segment, I realized I was being treated to another American theater: a passionate white liberal leading and orchestrating a Black agenda for the benefit of the liberal establishment. (For the record, I was a strong supporter of the Nixon Administration’s initiative supporting small and Black-owned businesses, which cast me outside what I call “the liberal feel good club.”) In this segment, someone mentioned strategies that must include alliances with Hispanics and Asians, who together account for 30 percent of the U.S. population. Bear in mind that the entire U.S. population represents less than 5 percent of the world’s total population.
I perked up, expecting to hear the elements and benefits of these alliance strategies, such as the potential of the three ethnic groups to interact commercially with their counterparts overseas, counterparts who, collectively, represent the bulk of the world’s population and the fastest growing economies. From 2002 to 2007, the number of America’s minority owned non-farm businesses jumped 46 percent to 5.8 million, with total receipts of $1 trillion. Asian-American firms alone grew 41 percent to 1.5 million; Hispanic firms grew 44 percent to 2.3 million; and Black-owned firms grew by 60.5 percent to 1.9 million.
What an awesome force could be unleashed when these eight million minority entrepreneurs, armed with cultural and language connections, engage fellow entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia and Latin America, enhancing U.S. investment in and trade with these regions, leading to a “stronger America.”
To my great dismay, not once did I hear reference to business, entrepreneurship, or global affairs during the first half of MSNBC’s exploration of the “Black Agenda.” Instead, I was subjected to a disgraceful display of babbling Black voices, including a screaming match between Princeton University professor Cornel West and community activist Rev. Al Sharpton reminiscent of the worst behavior seen in a parliamentary debate in Jamaica. Orchestrator Ed Shultz seemed pleased with this particular bit of theatrics.
Enter the second hour and Big Ed is now fired up about education versus incarceration. My level of disgust is increasing as I hear more analyses of the poor condition of Blacks in the education system, the viciousness of the justice system, and the lack of sensitivity on the part of government. As the discussion veered into what works and what has not worked, and the need to substitute trust for combativeness, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, highlighted models that are working in other countries, but made absolutely no mention of the fact that African immigrants academically outperform every other ethnic group, including whites, in U.S. schools, and that lessons can be learned from the reasons why this is so.
Late into the second hour, Pastor Byron Williams of Oakland, Calif., brought up, twice, the need for investment in small businesses, but no one saw fit to pursue that point. The preoccupation with jobs as if it were the ultimate solution to Black America’s “problems” seemed pathetic in light of an economic crisis that has shot Black unemployment into the double digits—above 20 percent in union-busting Wisconsin—with no dignified letup in sight. At the same time, imbued with the desire to generate their own wealth, an increasing number of Blacks are starting businesses. These are enterprises with the potential to provide jobs and enhance the economies of their respective communities. Small businesses currently account for 49.6 percent of U.S. private-sector jobs.
I do not know how many of the talking heads I saw on MSNBC provide meaningful jobs for Black folks, or find ways to increase Black employment in their respective organizations. It was shortsighted not to have included entrepreneurs in the Black Agenda panels. Entrepreneurs, who have the responsibility of employing Black folks, could have addressed an agenda that is in tune with the vision of men like Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington—a vision rooted in self sufficiency and productivity, which is needed to build a stronger America.
With Black businesses growing at more than triple the national rate, with receipts for such businesses increasing by 55.1 percent between 2002 and 2007 to $137.5 billion, and with our brothers and sisters in Africa ratcheting up GDP growth of more than twice the rate of the U.S. and Europe, it is high time we began a dialogue on the Black economic agenda.
If we continue to be distracted by platitudes and useless analyses while the rest of the world is beckoning us, as African in the Diaspora, to become engaged in correcting the imbalances and inequities created by race and power, future generations of Black Americans will pay a heavy price. In a discussion at the kickoff of this year’s New York African Film Festival, entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte advised the predominantly Black audience that anyone who is not getting involved in what is happening in Africa today “should be charged with crimes against humanity.” I thoroughly endorse his position. Even if I have to be a one-man army, I for one will continue my Black Agenda of “creating global entrepreneurs and business leaders.”
Fritz-Earle Mc Lymont is a New York City-based entrepreneur who is actively involved in Africa, and managing director of NMBC Global, the international arm of the National Minority Business Council, Inc. He may be contacted at Fmclymont1@nmbc.org