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A Power Shortage of a Different Kind

The Dearth of African American Leaders Should Stimulate Not Only Dialogue but Action

February 04, 2001|BARBARA PERKINS | Barbara Perkins, a resident of Sylmar, was founding president of the San Fernando Valley Section of the National Council of Negro Women. She is community relations director at Valley College

Californians are struggling to understand how is it that at the beginning of the new millennium, in the age of advanced technology, we face a power--energy--crisis. In circles of conversation, the blame is being placed on those elected or appointed to be the gatekeepers. It seems to many of us that these folks have been asleep at the wheel.

But there also exists today a "power" shortage of a different kind.

When I was only 8 years old, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy I. Height, Queen Mother Moore, Vernon Jordan, Joseph Lowery, Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte, Myrlie Evers, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jessie Jackson and Barbara Jordan all were household names, known, loved and respected by the community. These ordinary people were known because of the extraordinary things they were doing to uplift others. They were loved because they gave love. And they were respected for their willingness to fight for the rights of others.

For the past 1 1/2 years, I have worked as an administrator at Los Angeles Valley College. For a lot longer, I have worked with adult learners as a teacher / trainer. It disturbs me to know that for most people, it is a major challenge to name just half a dozen African American leaders who are known, loved and respected, as those were when I was a child.

Just as the power (energy) crisis has stimulated dialogue all over the state, this shortage of African American leadership should be doing the same. Far too many of us are asleep at the wheel.

I, like so many other middle-class African Americans, believed that if we studied, worked hard and contributed to society as others have, we would have all the opportunities available in a booming economy.

Well once again, it seems, the rules keep changing.

It is a fact that the struggle for equality and justifiable validation of deserving African Americans continues in almost every arena. The evidence is well-documented in the test scores of the Los Angeles Unified School District, in unemployment data, in access to affordable health care and now affordable housing. Most obvious and disturbing is the struggle for political equality. Defining the African American political agenda and involvement with critical policy decision-making leaves me, someone who tries to stay informed, at a loss for words.

It is in the best interest of all of us to keep enough seats at the table for all Californians. It is the responsibility of all of us to do what we can to make sure all voices are heard. Most important, it is the responsibility of each person who defines himself or herself as leader to make sure someone is following, not just to provide you with an audience but also to continue the work that will go on long after you.

Call the roll. Name six people in your community who you believe to be really trying to make a difference for all of us. Then reach out and help, in some small way or in a significant way.

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