Over the course of the last two years the issue of personal responsibility has gained currency in our community, first with the controversial crusade of entertainer Bill Cosby and then espoused by Senator Barack Obama on the campaign trail. Despite all the attention the issue has been given of late, it is hardly a new topic in the Black community. While the major media outlets treated the topic as if it were the equivalent of the tablet inscribed with the Ten Commandments, many Blacks simply nodded their heads in agreement with those who advocated we take greater responsibility for our behavior and interpersonal relationships.
This is more than just a matter of individual behavior. The Obama campaign has set a new standard by which to judge those who present themselves as leaders as well as the many organizations that claim to represent our interests. For decades we have accepted individuals who we have entrusted to represent our interest only to be disappointed by their inability to effectively advocate on our behalf. In some instances, it may have been a case of a public official simply not being capable of rising to the challenge of taking on the complexity of issues confronting Black Americans. In other instances it was just a matter of sheer negligence. Too often we have protected our elected officials as a defense mechanism against the hostilities we readily recognized in the larger society but that has cost us mightily in terms of weeding out ineffective individuals.
In a similar vein we have organizations that are failing their own stated missions. For some time now many Black organizations were paper tigers, with very little real to show despite their bravado. Many of these groups traded upon their longevity or a significant achievement from years past. Meanwhile, our community suffered as few of these groups have the capacity to tackle the many issues that continue to impede upon Black progress. As a result the most vulnerable in our community are often left to fend for themselves in the absence of a strong advocate.
One lesson that should be taken from the candidacy of President-elect Obama is the importance of organization and talent. It should be clear in this day and age that mediocrity is unacceptable. In that sense many of our organizations must recalibrate; shed their status quo orientation and retool to meet the needs of the 21st Century. This not only includes a focus on new technology but a commitment to excellence that ranges from administrative tasks to how these groups represent us in the public domain.
We all have a role to play. We encourage participation in groups such as the NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference that remain relevant or are at least attempting to be so. The same can be said for some of our elected officials who try in earnest to make our voices heard in the halls of government.
Still, there are individual leaders and organizations that need to step up and be more than just names on letterhead. It’s time we held individuals and groups to a higher standard and hold them accountable if they insist on claiming to represent us. We can no longer afford to be sentimental while we watch our community sink further and further. This means that some leaders and groups are not deserving of our support, in terms of votes, financial contributions or volunteer time. Habitually loyal, we are going to have to divest ourselves from any individuals or groups that undermine our progress.