During the last 12 months, much has been said about the role of the African-American community in American politics. As a swing group that has historically voted as a unit, blacks have had a disproportionate influence on national politics throughout most of the 20th century. In the new millennium, however, the role of African Americans is still being defined.
Democrats and Republicans alike often sound “preachy” in their discussions with blacks. Hypothetical solutions and “if I were you” speeches lost their luster years ago. Republicans often argue that the most severe problems with black America arise out of the brokenness of its families and its internal drift for a moral foundation or historic Christian values.
While these statements are true, just saying “Cosby is right” will not reverse trends that have been accelerated by wrong-headed policies of the past. Further, noting that a lack of personal responsibility is at the core of the black community applauds keeping blacks from any socio-economic strata.
Conversely, Democrats seem to hide behind the concept that institutional racism (a term coined in the ‘70s), along with societal ills, conspire against black achievement. They would add that lynching, hate crimes and racially based judicial “double standards” have turned the American dream into a vivid, deeply wrenching nightmare for many blacks. Blacks nod knowingly as such statements are made, while gazing in painful despair at the lack of follow-through from the Democratic party.
Monday, July 25 was a watershed moment for me. I met with the president of the United States in a small meeting with other leading African-American community activists and religious leaders. The efforts listed below will have a strong appeal to the “New Black Church” that is emerging in America.
This new black church has a disproportionate number of megachurches that are doing very meaningful work in their communities and around the world.
They long to see the evangelical social agenda expanded to include social justice, not simply to focus on it alone. President Bush’s brilliant phrase “compassionate conservatism” still resonates in the hearts and minds of black leaders. In fact, many Texans believe that Mr. Bush actually picked up the mantra of the faith-based initiative from Dr. Tony Evans, a prominent black preacher from Dallas.
The focus of the meeting with Mr. Bush had five major emphases:
First, Medicare drug benefit: The president mentioned the Medicare drug prescription benefit which will help 42 million Americans. This kind of practical action sits well with concerned black leaders because their constituents are disproportionately affected by the inequities in the health care system. Recent polls have shown that the black community has become skeptical of the president’s social security reform. I am convinced that part of this concern has been anchored in the fear of change and awareness that the health care is a pressing need for those at or above the poverty line.
Second, corporate funds for faith based groups: The president announced a White House summit which will be held in March of 2006 to discuss removing barriers which prevent faith-based organizations from receiving corporate and foundations funds. This summit has the potential of allowing the black community’s most adept social entrepreneurs access to income streams that can multiply their effectiveness in the community.
Third, compassionate work in Africa: The president’s ideas about Africa are very refreshing. In the past, blacks have had the distinct impression that any crisis in Europe had weight. Africa’s dilemmas, however, was never deemed urgent enough to address. Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are changing that perception in the following ways:
The attack on malaria: The President has taken the lead with the G8 summit members to propose investment of $1.2 billion on a major malaria prevention and treatment program that should reduce malaria deaths by 50 percent over the next five years.
The HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa: It was especially impressive that Ambassador Tobias was in the meeting. Two hundred and thirty thousand Africans are now receiving these anti-retroviral drugs. These folks are experiencing something called the “Lazarus effect.” As the medicines begin to improve the quality of life of these infected persons, their family, friends and neighbors take the report of this medical “resurrection” to their community.
The Sudan conflict: Miss Rice reported on her most recent trip to the Sudan. I was especially impressed with her genuine concern about the treatment of Sudanesewomen.Shealso mentioned the Chinese have been protective of the Sudanese in the U.N. Security Council meetings because of their dependence of various Africa states for raw materials and resources.
If President Bush continues to move with boldness into areas like these, he will attract greater and greater support for himself and the Republican party from the African-American community.
Bishop Harry Jackson is senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in College Park. He is also chairman of High-Impact Leadership Coalition, which drafted the Black Contract with America on Moral Values.