will mark 400 years since the first slaves landed in Jamestown, Va. By the time of that milestone, Barack Obama would have completed eight years as the first African-American president of the United States, having left office in January 2017.
I mentioned these milestones to make my point: that the next four years will be the most important years in the history of African Americans and maybe of America. Because we live in a nation of merchants and marketers, where snap analyses are common, there is no doubt in my mind that a large section of America will declare black America a post-racial failure if we don’t take advantage of the next four years.
This is not about what the president is going to do for African Americans as much as what we are going to do for ourselves. The rally to save the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP) is a case in point. It would be easy to say that the CAMP director and board are the only culprits here (see previous column, in the Nov. 7 issue), but this was also an abysmal failure of our leadership in the African-American community.
We failed in our oversight of this agency, and it’s time we took a broader look at other areas that also must be improved — soon.
We must move from a reactive position in America — where we react to racism, a shooting or any number of issues — to a proactive posture where we organize for our future and create the 10-to 20-year plans for our communities. It’s difficult when your entire community infrastructure is designed to react to the world outside our community, rather than organize the people within our community. But that is our dilemma.
We don’t meet when we are not mad at somebody or getting ready to protest some injustice. If we are not attacked, we don’t react, and that reality is understood by foes and friends alike. We should know by now that we cannot plan rationally when we are mad or fearful.
Good for all
As we move through the next four years, we also must do a better job of explaining to other Americans why our efforts to organize ourselves is also in their best interest.
A stronger black business community, lower unemployment and more high school graduates will make a major impact on the safety of all of our communities. If you continue to create communities of under-educated, under-skilled and unemployed young and middle-age people, you have created a prescription for chaos that will impact a block near you.
That is why I so strongly support the Martin Luther King County Institute’s goal of building Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community in Martin Luther King County. It is a proactive move to build the community we would like to see, rather than just react to the community that is growing up around us without our input.
As our population density increases and we are forced to put a lot more people in smaller spaces, how we share that limited space will mean everything. This process will force every racial and religious group to upgrade their method of communicating with each other and everyone else around them.
That is why every racial group has agencies like CAMP that serves everyone but also serves as a key organizational component for a specific racial or religious group. The battle for this agency is part of a larger battle to build the social, economic and political mechanisms to integrate African Americans into the larger social fabric of America.
It is important that we get this job well under way before 2017 because the reelection of Barack Obama has cemented our role within the broader American political structure, and we must do a similar job to make ourselves an integral part of the economic structure.
So as you watch the battle over this agency’s role evolve, rest assured it is important to you and everyone else in Seattle. The African-American community is retrenching and reorganizing, and the end result will be a stronger African-American community, Seattle, Martin Luther King Jr. County and state of Washington.
When we arrive at our 400-year anniversary in 2019, it will be a celebration of how far we have come, as well as recognition of how far we still have to go.
CHARLIE JAMES has been an African-American-community activist for more than 35 years. He is co-founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. County Institute (mlkci.org).To comment on this column, write to