At a town hall hosted by national radio host Bev Smith Friday night, civil rights leaders and scholars delivered a stinging indictment of the black community and urged African Americans to stop waiting for salvation through integration and to start building their own institutions.
The panel, titled "The Disappearing Black Community and How We Get It Back," took place in the auditorium of the August Wilson Center in front of an audience of about 350 people, but was broadcast to listeners throughout the country.
The program was meant to be a frank discussion of the state of black communities in the United States. Panelists, who delivered their messages with the fervor of pastors in the pulpit, drew frequent choruses of applause and affirmations from the crowd.
"We have been playing around with the truth," said Ms. Smith. "It's time for the truth."
The panel delivered a grim assessment of black communities, saying that they were not self-reliant, lacked "soul" and are in the midst of a "cultural crisis."
"We don't have black communities in America," said author Claude Anderson, who lamented the dearth of black-owned businesses and banking institutions. "We have neighborhoods. A neighborhood is a place where you eat and go to sleep."
And, said Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, black people have failed to mobilize politically.
"If 90 percent of black people voted, it would shake America to its core," he said.
The panelists acknowledged the role of oppression in the history of black America -- from Jim Crow to more subtle forms of discrimination today, dubbed "James Crow Jr. Esq," by the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr.
But, said the Rev. Yearwood and other panelists, the ascension of black politicians and black professionals has done little to lift the community because some have abandoned it.
"Seniors are running away from the responsibility of holding down our communities," said Jane Smith, president of Spelman College, who said that intergenerational mentoring is essential to rebuilding the black community.
The panelists also said that the black community needs to stop pinning failures on the breakdown of the family, and cited a laundry list of successful black figures, including Frederick Douglass and President Barack Obama, who grew up without fathers.
"We didn't have those excuses," said Ms. Smith.
Over and over again, the panelists stressed self-reliance in the black community and cautioned against the promises of integration.
Dr. Anderson called integration "very much like going to the airport," where you are asked to "take off your watch, your ring, your belt." Assimilation, he said, strips you of the things you value.
"Integration ... is the access to what other people own and control," he said.
And Dr. Daniels drove home the importance of building up black-owned enterprise to build up the black community.
"Once we won the struggle to get on the bus, we should have bought the bus line," he said.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.