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Back to the Future: The Development Revolution

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By Hugh B. Price
President
National Urban League


April 11th marks my last day at the helm of the National Urban League. It’s been an exhilarating nine-year run. So this is my final “To Be Equal” column.

It seems like light years ago now, but the fact is that barely more than 24 months ago the world euphorically greeted the dawn of the new millennium. The U.S. economy was strong, unemployment was low, and the stock market was soaring. With the Cold War over, former Communist countries were clamoring to join NATO. Ensuing events, however, dramatically demonstrated that little in life is constant, much less guaranteed. National economies and Wall Street swing from boom to bust. Conservative U.S. presidents succeed centrist ones.

Federal tax cuts can tilt heavily toward the wealthy, while program cuts target working people and the poor, even the middle class. Crippling government deficits can evaporate only to reappear, driving up state and local taxes while destabilizing such vital domestic programs as K-12 education reform, affordable higher education and accessible healthcare.

We can wring our hands and moan, “Woe is us.” Or we can confront these inevitable vicissitudes by forging a new movement to make certain we reach the economic mainstream—and remain there—whatever ideology prevails inside the Washington Beltway.

The revolution I’m thinking of is what my colleague T. Willard Fair of the Urban League of Greater Miami calls the development revolution.This follows the two seismic revolutions in the history of African Americans. First was the Freedom Revolution of the 19th century, during which we cast aside the physical and psychological shackles of slavery that had rendered us someone else’s property.

The second was the Equality Revolution of the 20th century, whose goal was to secure equal status under the law and eliminate government-sanctioned segregation in public schools and higher education, public accommodations and the voting booth. Racial discrimination is no longer allowed by law; but the work of the Equality Revolution continues in many walks of American life.

We can’t for a moment relax the pressure on government and the private sector to ensure justice, equality and opportunity for all. But we must also mount a third great movement—the Development Revolution. Its motivating spirit isn’t to just survive as a people. It’s to thrive by eradicating the economic gaps that separate far-too-many African Americans from the American mainstream.

As I see it, there are four key components to this 21st century revolution: spiritual development, educational development, economic development and political development. The foundation for the Development Revolution is our spirit—the deep-rooted values and aspirations in our hearts and heads that shape our dreams and steer us in a positive direction. It’s this spirit we must call upon to, while respecting individual privacy, combat the personal conduct among some African Americans that spreads poverty and poison, narcissism and despair, and even death, in our community.

The Development Revolution requires that we instill a collective sense of personal responsibility for the success and the safety of our spouses, our partners, our loved ones and our children, who equal our destiny. Educational development is vital because in the 21st century world academic failure simply isn’t an option. Yet national statistics show that as recently as 2000, nearly two-thirds of Black youngsters in the fourth grade can barely read.

Thus, parents and caregivers, pastors and civic leaders must make sure—no excuses! —our children achieve in school so they are well prepared to succeed in life.
Economic development is crucial because economic self-reliance and power are the endgame in a capitalist economy. That means, among other things, buying homes and accumulating nest eggs, and creating and acquiring Black-owned businesses that generate livelihoods and wealth, political clout and philanthropy—and not just large firms; but also the smaller shops and franchises that are part of the infrastructure of any economically viable community.

The fourth component of the revolution this time is political development. No longer should Black folk allow one major political party to take us for granted and the other to write us off. At roughly 12 percent of the U.S. population, we exceed the margin in most elections. So we have political clout aplenty, provided we actually vote. In the eyes of today’s calculating politicians and their pollsters, we forfeit our right to bellyache if we don’t fill out that ballot come election time.

To be sure, the Development Revolution I envision consists of objectives and strategies to fulfill them. But it’s much more than that. Above all else, it’s a state of mind.
In the late 1960s, I wrote a column for a weekly newspaper, called The Crow, which was published by an organization I headed at the time—the Black Coalition of New Haven in Connecticut.

It strikes me as fitting and timely even to this day to close out my final “To Be Equal” column with the question posed in the title of my column for The Crow.
When it comes to waging the Development Revolution, “Are We Ready?”

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