Tags: Reparations


Wednesday, 11 February 2004 12:00 AM

Slavery in this country was ended nearly 200 years ago, yet this movement presses on with its case. They seek to force companies to reveal any history of their reliance on slave labor. This movement wants companies with that shameful foundation to set up trusts for the black community. The use and administration of those funds is unclear.

One adverse court decision is unlikely to stop the movement. It is important to note, however, that there are many black Americans who harbor concern about the reparations movement. Syndicated columnist Clarence Page has expressed bewilderment at the emphasis placed on reparations. "They keep us black Americans focused too narrowly on what white people need to do to save black Americans instead of what we black Americans should be doing to save ourselves."

The republication of Dr. John Sibley Butler's Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans: A Reconsideration of Race and Economics (State University of New York Press / April 2004) is coming at a fortuitous time. Butler is professor of sociology and management at the University of Texas at Austin and his writing recognizes the impact of segregation that black Americans experienced. He also finds positive lessons that can be gained from the experience that are still timely today.

It is well worth remembering the strong tradition of entrepreneurship among black Americans at that time. Butler quotes Bob Woodson, Founder and President of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise: [Black America's] historical zest for free-enterprise, self-assertion, and open debate within its own ranks is a peculiarly American story of trial, tribulation, and triumph.

In the past, the black community had to rely on its own resources to survive…. Black American would eventually become derailed, however, but not before the evidence was in that slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, and race-baiting politicians could not kill the community's collective will and determination to leap over barriers to accomplish its goals.

Seemingly, the more restrictive the political, social, and economic barriers, the more determined black America became in its resolve to overcome them. And progress, for the most part, came about because it took matters into its own hands.

There are many leaders who, by the examples of their lives and work, can inspire us all.

Dr. Butler discusses Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore who was born in North Carolina during the Civil War. Dr. Moore excelled in his medical studies and set up practice in Durham. What makes Dr. Moore’s life memorable was his service to the community. He not only played a leading role in founding a hospital to train black nurses and doctors, he also helped to establish a library in his church. Because he wanted to make sure people from other denominations within the black community had access to the library, he worked to establish a community library as well.

That list alone would be a full life of service for many people, but Dr. Moore also wanted to improve education by personally paying the salary of a State Public Inspector for schools serving black North Carolinians. The Inspector visited the schools, and then issued a report with recommendations. The successful program was later taken over by the state.

Butler writes, "Dr. Moore was steeped in the tradition of self-help among African-Americans and was also exemplary of the true middle class of the Old South." In this post-segregation era, it is clear that the philanthropic impulses of Dr. Moore is part of the history the city and the state - as a whole; black as well as white.

Fortunately, the philanthropic impulse demonstrated by Dr. Moore is not dead. Right here in D.C. there are community leaders whose actions and true concern are helping to better young lives and improve the community.

Tom Lewis, the son of a sawmill worker and a cotton picker, was the sixth of 15 children. He had to drop out of school. Through hard work and perseverance, he eventually became a policeman in Washington, D.C. Later, he received a college degree from American University. For many years, he was "Officer Friendly" working to build trust for the department among young school age children. He saw plenty of kids who needed better care and more attention from their parents. Kids actually asked him to be their "daddy."

After working in social services, Mr. Lewis set up The Fishing School, a faith-based program, in one of Washington, D.C.'s toughest neighborhoods to serve as a family center. A man who lives his faith, Tom Lewis, for many years, did not draw a salary from The Fishing School whose guiding principle is based on the saying "If you give a man a fish, you'll feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will feed himself for a lifetime." A second center was opened in 1988.

Kids at the two Fishing Schools receive spiritual inspiration, academic tutoring, and computer classes. The academic program has been strengthened in recent years as the success of the program has attracted more financial support. Parents and guardians are involved. A modest tuition is charged thereby increasing the family's stake in participation.

Curtis Watkins has done a 180-degree turnaround. Once a self-described "negative element in the community", the young Watkins now proclaims to be a spiritual person whom God has told to do better things. Initially, he became a purchasing manager at the National Association of Realtors. He never forgot his early days in a tough housing project called East Capitol Dwellings in northeast Washington, D.C. Mr. Watkins went on to found the East Capitol Center for Change helping the "diamonds in the rough". These are people who have the right values, but are hindered by harsh neighborhood conditions. He and his organization are highly thought of by his former employer. Part of the support for the East Capitol Center for Change comes from National Association of Realtors.

Mr. Watkins is working to ensure the area youth receive the necessary instruction in academics and computer skills necessary to succeed. Other helpful and inventive ideas to help kids get ahead, such as an investment club, are included. However, it's not easy. He describes the many young men who need to learn basic planning, decision-making and life management skills.

There are people of all colors who get plenty of attention for their talk but do little to solve their problems. There are people of every race and creed who prefer to look backward rather than forward. These people fail to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities that exist for constructive change.

Tom Lewis, Curtis Watkins and many unsung heroes are exactly the opposite. They are busy grappling with real problems. Their examples of working on the grassroots level are well worth noticing. In an era when the doors of opportunity are wide open for all Americans willing to do what is necessary to walk through, these leaders are helping others walk through too by showing them how to walk on their own. Their belief in service to the community is an example to us all.


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Slavery in this country was ended nearly 200 years ago, yet this movement presses on with its case.They seek to force companies to reveal any history of their reliance on slave labor. This movement wants companies with that shameful foundation to set up trusts for the black...
Wednesday, 11 February 2004 12:00 AM
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