Throughout my career I have continuously advocated personal responsibility as the only way for many American Blacks to rise from the depths of despair to realize that every opportunity in America is their opportunity. While I have not turned away from this fundamental belief, Katrina has caused me to reflect on this nation's history of racism, and put in proper perspective its impact on their lives today. The immoral act of human slavery and years of systemic racism has helped to create a cycle of poverty in this community that many have been unable to escape. Sadly for a period in their history, they were denied education in the U.S., including reading and writing. Post slavery, many Blacks, especially those in the south, were still denied basic rights until arguably the late 60's. Today many Blacks unbelievably are still caught in this cycle that began over 400 years ago. Uneducated, they are unable to find work that is adequate to support a family and are subsequently unable to send their children to better schools than the ones funded by their minimal tax dollars, meaning the child receives the same sub-par education the parent did and the cycle of poverty is unbroken.
While past injustices still unfortunately negatively impact the mindset of American Blacks today, the truth remains that this viscous cycle can only be broken by the very people trapped inside. There are many who argue that the government should still play a significant role in moving Blacks ahead in life, and believe that anyone who argues against such policies are racist or self haters. To these critics I point to the large number of government programs that have failed Blacks over the past forty years. While centuries of government sponsored discrimination have hindered the progress of blacks, handouts are not the remedy. Moreover, it is not racist and insensitive to say that Blacks must pick themselves up by the bootstraps, but it is insane to ignore the legacy of slavery and de jure segregation.
The glass ceiling has been lifted, meaning the only impediments to the success of many Blacks are Blacks themselves. Instead of government programs we need more Black mentors like Dr. Cosby to go into cities across the nation and work to break the destructive cycle of poverty. Just as she forced us to rebuild New Orleans, Katrina has forced us to open our eyes to the desperate state of many Blacks in America, thereby giving us an opportunity to rebuild the lives of people whose success and progress is inextricably linked to the history of this nation, both past and present.