Black Leadership Is Ripe for Reform

FOR John Jacobs, Jesse Jackson, William Gibson, and other national spokespersons for the African-American community, the burden of leadership is starting to outweigh the perks.

During the Republican administrations, these self-appointed spokespersons didn't hesitate to discredit GOP public policy initiatives. But now that the Democrats are in control, these critics turn a blind eye to recent White House moves that could be damaging to the black community.

As President-elect, Bill Clinton stated his intention to appoint a Cabinet that looks like America. He delivered: more women, African-Americans and Hispanics are in President Clinton's Cabinet than in all previous administrations.

But does reality live up to appearances? Sadly, no. The administration apparently values the appearance of minority participation over minority input into policy formation.

While pains are taken to trumpet the appointment of African-Americans Hazel O'Leary, Mike Espy, and Jesse Brown to the Cabinet, the White House has undercut their political clout by limiting their selection of key aides. This is key to judging Clinton's sincerity, for it spells the difference between an effective policymaker and a disconnected figurehead.

Some moves made by Clinton showing small regard for the black community:

* The handling of the issue of gay rights highlights the growing schism between the official African-American "leadership" in Washington and the grassroots of the community. How can the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) possibly reconcile its de facto endorsement of the gay rights agenda with the thousands of local ministers and churches that constitute the heart of communities from Harlem to East L. A.? It can't, for it was only an elite group of NAACP insiders that endo rsed the April 25 march by the Washington gay community.

* The Census Bureau reports that in 1987 there were 424,165 black-owned businesses in America. That's 38 percent more than in 1980. Yet as the administration advocates proposals that will jeopardize these businesses, and in some cases force layoffs, Washington's African-American political operatives have either endorsed the move, or quietly walked away from it. The administration is left free to chip away at the African-American community's self-reliance through a massive $295 billion tax hike and job-ki lling new regulations.

* The traditional "leaders" of the African-American community also don't seem to mind the administration's bungling of the drug issue. While thousands of young African-Americans - some of whom participate in the lethal trade, and others who are only innocent bystanders - are murdered every year, Clinton's virtual abolition of the Office of Drug Control Policy, and his refusal to name a Drug Czar, has been flatly ignored. There has been no open disapproval from the Congressional Black Caucus, despite the fact that the black community shoulders a massive proportion of the immense human cost of America's drug crisis.

BLACK leaders should be careful, for history may not be kind when the true impact of the Clinton administration is realized. African-Americans must develop a meaningful political agenda that avoids guilt by association. This means addressing the real problems facing the entire black community, not just the two percent represented by the Urban League, NAACP, and the Rainbow Coalition. African-Americans must focus on implementing real solutions that work, not supporting government solutions that don't.

Education is key to ending poverty. Yet meaningful education reform such as parental choice is being stifled by special interests. We African-Americans must have the courage to challenge these interests. While the number of blacks who have completed four or more years of college increased from 8 percent in 1980 to 15 percent in 1990, we must do better.

As America watched the violent aftermath of the Los Angeles police officers' acquittal last year, it reminded many of an undisputed part of human nature: people don't burn their own property. We must overcome the bureaucratic and political forces that so often derail efforts to revitalize urban business districts.

No one can deter violence in our own community like we can. As a junior high student in New York during the 1960s riots, I clearly remember the comprehensive plan employed by black leaders to teach young people that rioting is wrong and damages our community.

Back then, teenagers were given anti-rioting T-shirts. They were shown photographs of a black grandmother holding a crying black baby in front of a burned-out home to teach the human cost of rioting. By any means necessary we must avert the destruction of our neighborhoods.

We African-Americans cannot accomplish all this if the top priority of our leadership remains the promotion of annual conventions, self-glorification, and trading our strength away to special interest groups. It's time to get to work.

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