Last February I had the chance of a life time to discuss Black America’s biggest problems with ten noted civil rights leaders --- Al Sharpton, Cornell West, Harry Belafonte, Louis Farrakhan, myself, and five others. Since this was my second appearance in this forum, I felt confident that a meaningful dialogue could happen. After all, we didn’t need an intellectual’s version of the Jerry Springer Show – all drama and no substance. The all-day event was called “The State of the Black Union 2006.” Thanks to the diligent planning and coordination of the host, Tavis Smiley, the discussion was a stellar success.
For weeks after the event, everywhere I went people remarked on the program and added their “two cents” to the discussion. In fact, it was talked about so much that I asked myself the question, “Why do black Americans even want to talk about social problems and race in America anymore? Shouldn’t we be disgusted with unaccountable leaders and their endless rhetoric and moral hypocrisy?”
Perhaps the answer to these questions is that the average black American feels that fundamental changes in our nation are possible. In fact, many of us feel that America can truly walk out its calling to be the greatest nation in the world by making just a few minor adjustments. So we listen to conversations, discuss problems, and pray with an expectation that something can be changed which will help us move into a new dimension.
As a result of the broadcast, I decided to initiate a dialogue with people of good will around the nation---both black and white. I’m convinced that there is practical, common ground that we can achieve in order to solve many of our nation’s most pressing problems. My solution involved a unique blend of conservative thinking and common sense.
The term “black conservative” sounds like a strange twist of words to the average American. There are certainly quite a few of them in America; they are not an endangered species! In fact, I am one of them. Yet I am convinced that the simplistic moniker of liberal vs. conservative is becoming outdated and meaningless. These terms describe ideologies, concepts and worldviews which are not often backed up by clear, consistent action. Instead of making ourselves accountable to change specific problems, both liberal and conservative, both sides have fallen into the trap of political name-calling. In the current name-blame atmosphere, intelligent people critique intellectual approaches instead of assessing practical output and results. The current test for the black community will be which political ideology will be used to create solid programs, policies, and problem resolutions that change lives.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.