Black Americans need to move the needle on social, human progress

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By Vernon A. Williams

No matter where you are on the social or economic spectrum, it’s time for Black America as a whole to significantly move the needle. That is, create impressive and sustainable advancements throughout the nation and world. Instead, distractions are being allowed to absorb far too much energy and attention.

It is time to focus; regain momentum, thoroughly strategize and make working for change more than trite political colloquialism. The timing couldn’t be better. The nation will either become entrenched in its current quagmire or move toward higher ground in 2020. No other options.

It’s a mistake to underestimate or exaggerate progress in Black America. Some folk are doing better while many people still struggle.

TV news commentator and activist Angela Rye spoke to law students at IUPUI this week and urged African Americans to take control of their own destiny – to become the change they want to see. You’ve heard it before.

In the past year alone, I’ve sat in audiences in which similar narratives were offered by Michael Eric Dyson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Susan Taylor, Roland Martin and myriad articulators of circumstances and solutions.

Don’t get me wrong. All of them fulfill a certain need. I imagine there is someone in every audience hearing the most time-worn message for the first time. Even those constantly exposed to motivational rhetoric often are fueled by affirmations.

But we need to know that talk never moved the needle. And it never will. Consider an analogy that helps illustrate the point:

You can fill up the car with gas but it takes a key to start it. Someone can give you the key but you have to know how to drive. And even when you know how to drive, what’s the point if you don’t know your destination or have the right trip plan or road map to get there.

That’s it in a nutshell, brothers and sisters. Rhetoric and date combine with relevant, reliable information to fill our spiritual, mental and physical capacity. Our sense of direction, purpose, mission and objectives provide the key.

Collective knowledge and engagement of kindred spirits enable drive. Outcome-driven strategies provide reliable direction but only commitment to putting in necessary work will push the needle; creating measurable impact and change. There are no shortcuts – and no room for compromise.

We are at the point at which if you are not ‘for us,’ you are ‘against us.’ There is no middle ground when it comes to principle, decency, confidence, dignity, justice and opportunity. And Dr. King was right. None of us will truly be free until we are all free.

Don’t be confused by illusions of grandeur if you remain incapable of or uninterested in elevating others. Our watchword remains to lift as we rise. We can only move the needle when kingdom impact is the outgrowth of our collective humanity and efforts.

When Queen Latifah built a $14 million housing complex in the ‘hood’ of her former hometown, she moved the needle. When LeBron James started a school in Ohio and produced a Netflix biopic on Madam C.J. Walker, he moved the needle. When Chance the Rapper donated a million dollars to Chicago public schools, he moved the needle. When Jaden Smith decided to bring fresh water to Flint residents he moved the needle.

You don’t have to be rich and famous to make it happen. When you do what you can, where you can, as often as you can – you move the needle.

When you tutor or mentor students, volunteer for a food pantry or shelter, raise money for missions, participate in neighborhood watch groups, speak to or work with youth groups, deliver meals to the elderly, contribute scholarship dollars, bring laughter to pediatric wards, help save the environment, rescue animals, adopt the orphan, encourage those in despair, reach out to the homeless, offer pro-bono services – you move the needle.

People tire me with the rhetoric that we need another Martin Luther King Jr. when those trying to exert leadership in community organizations, churches, fraternities, sororities, business groups, civic clubs and non-profits coast to coast struggle to obtain entire resources necessary to perform critical work.

Moving the needle is not a choice, it is an imperative. Mounting conservatism, oppression, injustice and blatant assaults against people of color have created a hostile atmosphere. Rather than answer with hostility, we combine our heads and hearts to not merely resist but to defeat those elements.

There is no such thing as standing still. You are either moving ahead or falling behind. And if you can’t identify your distinct role or contribution, you become complicit in the suppression of Black America – whether purposefully, unwittingly or out of pure cowardice…

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