James Clingman
James Clingman

It is with deep sadness that I resign from the position of Black Activist, emphasis on the “act” part. Next week’s column will be my final one. Why? While I have been running hard to escape the final clutches of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, it has gained on me to the point of my being virtually helpless on a physical level. My resignation is by no means an indication of giving up; rather it is simply the reality that I face now when it comes to continuing the job I chose to do many years ago: Servant Leader to Black people.

The compensation has not been great — no 401(k) for me or my family to rely on — but I accepted that. The status has not been high, but I have never sought fame. The work required long hours and brought with it stress, disappointments, fits and starts, time away from my wife and daughter, and the constant often quixotic task of going against the status quo, which made some folks very angry.

However, my reward has come in the form of meeting and knowing so many conscious and conscientious people from Seattle to Miami, from San Diego to Boston and abroad. My reward came in the strength and rejuvenation I felt when I got my “booster shot” of consciousness and commitment from those same people, too numerous to name.

During this sojourn, my reward has been seeing the young folks I taught in high schools and colleges having moved on to higher achievements. I remember during a Marcus Garvey celebration in Chicago someone saying, “The children are not ‘our’ future; we are their future.”

That’s so true, and I am buoyed by the fact that many of our seasoned folks are working to guide our youth and helping build a strong foundation for them so they, in turn, can be the future for those that follow.

Often frustrated by those among us who only talk about what “we need” and/or offer solutions but never lead the way to execute those solutions, I have come to see the futility in much of the leadership (I call it “Pleadership”) we choose to follow. Rhetoric, elocution and extensive vocabulary do not necessarily reflect true leadership; organized direct action that is intentional, sacrificial, and sustained, are what Black folks need to empower ourselves.

Carter G. Woodson, under the heading “Service Rather Than Leadership,” wrote, “Under leadership we have come into the ghetto; by service within the ranks we may work our way out of it … under leadership we have been constrained to do the biddings of others … under leadership we have become poverty-stricken … under leadership we have been made to despise our own possibilities and to develop into parasites.” I say, “Be careful who you choose as leaders; you may have to follow them one day.”

Now I would never suggest you do anything that I have not been willing to do or have not already done, so I will offer some personal retirement reflections on some of my actions relative to the many words I have written and spoken over the years.

When I said we needed a Black Chamber of Commerce in Cincinnati, I went to work to start one in 1996. When I said our children were not being educated on financial literacy and entrepreneurship, I started an entrepreneurship high school. When I complained that we had no collective equity fund, I worked with others to start one at a Black Credit Union. When I saw the need for a nationwide charitable group to fund our schools, museums, and other causes, I started the Blackonomics Million Dollar Club, and collectively we funded 20 Black organizations. And when I saw the “need” for a local self-help fund for our people I started one with my own initial contribution.

Black folks need an organized, dedicated, critical mass of the conscientiously conscious to achieve economic empowerment and the power (not influence) to direct public policy toward benefiting us for a change. Having been on that road for many years, my final stop is THE One Million (www.iamoneofthemillion.com). I will devote my remaining energy to the framework and mission of that movement.

Finally, DO SOMETHING to change the “we need” to “we did.” We have answered the “What?” question — many times over. Some have answered it by asking another question, “So what?” My question is, “Now what?” Stop the nonsense, Black folks; as Red said in “Shawshank Redemption,” we can “get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.” As Moses told his people, “Choose life!”

After 25 years of writing weekly articles on economic empowerment, five books on that subject, countless speeches and classroom hours, I am now prepared to resign by offering these simple instructions: If you see the “need,” then be willing to do the work, and don’t try to be a legend, build a legacy instead.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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