End of Busing May Mean Beginning of Integration

Two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the 88th annual convention of the NAACP, the organization's president and CEO, Kweisi Mfume, announced that the NAACP will no longer support forced busing as an effective strategy for integration. Let me say two things: first, congratulations; second, it's about time.Mfume, while clearly and steadfastly committed to the philosophy and goals of integration, indicated the NAACP would abandon its endorsement of what has long proven to be an ineffective remedy for the sub-standard education routinely provided to poor African-American children. It seems that many Americans are suddenly discovering something that African-Americans have understood for some time-our country is societally polarized and in imminent danger of becoming racially Balkanized. African-Americans have, in fact, been quietly debating how to minimize the negative effects of such racism and societal polarization. Young musicians are forming their own record companies. Academicians are starting Afrocentric schools. Young athletes are bolting from high schools and colleges into professional sports. Churches are offering a more comprehensive approach to the ministry that includes attending to economic and health-care needs. In short, African-Americans and their time-honored institutions are increasingly seeing the need to become more self-reliant to survive and even prosper in an atmosphere and in an environment that is becoming more and more polarized.We already have under our belts a long history of ineffectual governmental programs and institutional handouts that tout equality and increased opportunity. So it is understandable that a recognition of the need to actively shape our own future appears to be growing across the landscape. If we are to become economically viable, if our children are to be well educated, if we are to see that all of us have decent housing and health care, if we are to contribute in more positive ways and to address the violence that seems to be devastating our communities, then we must see to it ourselves, depending on no one else. Always remember: It is not in the interests of anyone outside of our communities to see that our communities remain viable and healthy.Mfume's current stroke of vision is not new. In the 1920s and 1930s, a very vocal contingent of African-American leaders loudly proclaimed the virtues of black self-help initiatives. Marcus Garvey of the Back to Africa movement and Elijah Muhammud of the Nation of Islam were the two most visible African-Americans to represent this thinking. Yet, because of the politics of that time, their voices and views were squelched by the prevailing sentiment promoting integration in all its forms. Northern white liberals, who helped to shape and organize the NAACP in its initial days, loudly voiced a message that helped to dismantle any and all vestiges of black unity and solidarity around the concept of self-uplift. A psychic condition of dependency was being born.So thorough was the squashing of the attempts to promote "self-help" for African-Americans that it was not until the mid-1960s that these sentiments re-emerged in the body politic. During this period, not only Elijah Muhammud, but Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Stokley Carmichael, and legions of writers and scholars were pushing the envelope for African-Americans to become more responsible for their own economic, social, and political development. But because their ideas were cloaked in the rhetoric of "Black Power," many would-be leaders scurried away from the notion, including, unfortunately, the NAACP, CORE, SCLC, the National Urban League, and many other groups. In a short-sighted and misguided move, they helped to suppress these notions by labeling them "separatist," "radical," even "anti-democratic." Sadly, they were victorious. Now, more than 30 years later, the most recognized civil-rights organization in the world has finally acknowledged that we can build our own schools, in our own neighborhoods, using the money that we wasted busing children to other neighborhoods for more effective endeavors. Perhaps that sentiment can find other fertile environments in which to grow.Let Mfume's message with regard to school integration be symbolic of what many in the culture are coming so fervently to believe. It doesn't matter how the schools got in the condition they are in. It doesn't matter who's responsible for ineffective medical care that young children receive. There's no sense in whining about the lack of job opportunities strangling our communities. We are all Americans here. We must sit down together, all of us, and figure out how to extricate ourselves from these misery-laden circumstances. We must look to our mental, emotional, and physical health, for only healthy communities and individuals can contribute to the overall health of our nation. After all, how can I possibly serve the children in my neighborhood if I neglect the needs of my own child? I applaud Mr. Mfume. I pledge to reactivate my membership to the NAACP as soon as possible. And I urge you to do the same.


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