The Black American Movement from Freedom to Leadership & Prosperity
What if someone were to tell you Moses is alive in the 21st century? And also… she’s Black?
Indeed, Moses is a group of Black women and men marching Black America out of Egypt. You might dismiss as rhetoric the insinuation that Blacks are a “chosen people”. Besides, Egypt is on the other side of the world!
If you are Black and reading this, at least part of you might experience a hint of excitement. This is because a century and a half post-slavery, confronting Anti-Black sentiment and a skewed belief about Blacks represent Egypt being outpaced and a Red Sea being crossed. What Moses provided to bring the Ancient Jews out of 400 years of oppression was a powerfully aspirational collective identity. Similarly, with August 2019 marking 400 years since the first 20 Africans were recorded in America, there is a rising movement to redefine and empower the African American community.
It’s called “asset framing”—defining people not by their needs or challenges but by their strengths and aspirations. To commemorate 400 years of history, Trabian Shorters, CEO of BMe (an award-winning fellowship network of innovators, leaders, and champions who invest in aspiring communities) has organized a national Vanguard of Black men and (as a sweet addition to the program) women who are leading organizations like Focus: HOPE to launch a campaign for “the Next Narrative of Black America”.
All that’s remarkable about the Black community is in plain view, but to recognize it, people are retraining themselves to look beyond what’s presented by media, textbooks and even the nonprofit community. We are each painfully aware of the demeaning and mischaracterizing but all-too-common go-to stats: Black people graduate high school at lower rates, go to prison at higher rates, and are disproportionately poor and “at-risk”. While this country must remedy the systemic disparities experienced within Black America as a result of racism, Black Americans with the help of this new campaign are leaning into a more powerful and more accurate sense of self.
In spite of structural racism, the Black community is realizing more and more its position as a forerunner in the most critical areas of productivity. For instance, Blacks are exceptionally patriotic, serving at significantly high rates in the U.S. armed forces; Black women earn college degrees at the highest rate in the country; more than 1 in 5 Black men have made it to the top third of the county’s income distribution; Black men are the most actively involved fathers in the nation and the Black community generously gives a higher percentage of its income to charitable causes than any other group. This means on top of the contributions to culture and society made by so-called exceptional Black superstars, entrepreneurs, politicians and athletes, Blacks are in fact leading the nation at a population scale.
It is important for organizations like Focus: HOPE to point this out since nonprofits notoriously perpetuate devastating counter-narratives. But Shorters writes “you can’t lift people up by putting them down”. He points out that in fact, “cognitive science and longitudinal studies strongly suggest… consistently defining people in denigrating terms is one way that racist narratives become institutionalized and part of the culture”. Instead, some nonprofits are proving that talking about people according to their aspirations rather than their challenges both positions them for success and raises more money.
Arts and media are shifting as well. The Black woman is being publically recognized for her leadership in American advancement. Movies like Get Out (pushing Blacks toward full consciousness) and Black Panther (which suggests the time is now for Blacks to unveil the secrets for universal liberation which exist beneath the false narrative of deficit) serve as clarion calls for general Black leadership.
This was precisely the genius of the Jewish Exodus. Through a coordinated campaign, Moses and his band of heroes and heroines were successful in promoting a new narrative that fostered the courage for codifying a future existence. It gave birth to a set of values that ultimately helped to shape the Agrarian and Industrial Ages. As the world moves deeper into the Digital Era, the Black Struggle for prosperity will undoubtedly inform the way life is imagined and decisions are made in American society.
The selfless and effective methods by which Blacks have brought about change in this country from the time the first few arrived enslaved 4 centuries ago are undeniable. America should, therefore, tune in to whatever form of blessed rod or vibranium the Black community brings about at the emergence of this 400th year of documented American history. From workers’ movements to LGBTQIA+ and women’s struggles, the vanguards of social movements in America have always been largely comprised of Black people. And while to be sure, there remains work to be done for achieving full equity for Blacks in the United States, we should keep in mind when we look past the incomplete and misleading narratives about brokenness to see the Black community within the context of its progress, aspirations, and possibilities, it’s evident the true story of Black America is only beginning and that it is creating a new future not only for itself but also for the world around it. And what’s more, Black women and men are steering the movement together.
Jasahn M. Larsosa is Director of Advocacy, Equity & Community Empowerment, serving under Portia Roberson, the newly appointed CEO of Focus: HOPE. The insights in this analysis are part of an ongoing education series launched on MLK Day at Focus: HOPE. Look for more analysis with further insights on disrupting racism from Mr. Larsosa.