There is a nice mixture of wisdom and hope in the black American saying that whatever goes around comes around. It's a little like the return of bread cast upon the waters, the echoes and reechoes of doing something good. This week an idea that started going around in 1971 has come around in a full-blown outline for black Americans to join in a resurgence of self-help. It recognizes Washington's flagging efforts on minority concerns and seeks to fill the vacuum. Its distinguished shapers well know the old line about telling people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they have no boots. But they also know of the political, economic, and moral strengths in the black community that can be multiplied through concerted action.
''It's not the man, it's the plan; it's not the rap, it's the map,'' said actor Ossie Davis in the 1971 speech whose exhortations for a black plan of action have never been forgotten. Now the plan is here - the Black Leadership Family Plan for the Unity, Survival, and Progress of Black People. A broad-based ''family'' of black leaders developed it, according to the Congressional Black Caucus. By their sound reasoning, even if the government were enthusiastically doing its best for them, blacks must help themselves.
By staying in close communication for one thing. The plan proposes an ''activating'' information network to keep blacks in touch with issues and opportunities the general media often neglect. It identifies 110 congressional districts in which blacks constitute at least 15 percent of the population. It notes that in close elections the black vote can hold the key. The need is for black voters to use the power they have. So ''register and vote'' is a tenet of the plan, as is holding officials accountable in office when they have been elected with black support.
Seek excellence in education. Oppose crime. Protect the elderly and the young. Patronize black businesses and banks. Support the black family. Contribute funds to black needs under the spur of monthly campaigns on different subjects and organizations - colleges, health, legal defense. These are among other calls to black citizens.
It is disappointing in a sense that any segment of American society has to think of itself separately in this way, to unite for helping its own in the midst of a nation struggling for a general unity. But members of other ethnic groups in America's marvelous diversity have found progress through strengthening their own communities without turning away from the challenges and opportunities of society at large. The self-propelled progress of any group holds the promise of reducing divisiveness through reducing disparities that can cause friction.
The achievement of black Americans in the midst of their history of discrimination and disadvantage is already impressive testimony to self-propulsion. Their leaders' call for more of it now, in a massive joint effort, is understandable in view of the repeated setbacks for civil rights and social programs in the United States these days. Certainly all the black clout available needs to be enlisted against moves like the latest one: the Senate's new antibusing amendment, which would invade the authority of the courts and the Justice Department in their task of enforcing desegregation law in the schools.
Looking at the resilience of black Americans even through the slavery years, anyone would expect their overcoming of today's problems. Following through on the new plan would be encouraging corroboration of that expectation.