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 Yet I am convinced that the simplistic moniker of liberal vs. conservative is becoming outdated and meaningless.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.
The 2004 presidential debates were the epitome of this war of ideas. We heard articulate speeches about different approaches. A year later, people from every party understand that the art of execution is where America is failing the most. Therefore, we need a new way of talking and a new way of walking.
Finally we come to me---Harry Jackson. Who am I? I am a black Democrat, who voted for President Bush in 2004. I am a son of Africa who is attempting to bring about a moral, ethical, non-violent revolution to create a better America. I am a black minister who has a burden for the poor, yet I attended the Harvard Business program and have worked in sales and marketing in several Fortune 500 companies. Yes, my background sounds like a conundrum, an oxymoron, or even a joke.
Can it be possible that such a person exists? I am living proof that there is an army of living, breathing and, most importantly, thinking African Americans who are not tied to stereotypes. We are looking at America through the lens of an amazing new camera that filters out racial hatred, mistakes of the past and understands true social and political motives. We are mature enough to acknowledge the difference between blunders of execution in social programs and out and out racism.