Eighteen months ago, I went on national television to discuss black America’s biggest problems with ten noted civil rights leaders. Thanks to the diligent coordination of the host, Tavis Smiley, The State of the Black Union 2006 was a stellar success.
For weeks after the event, people talked about it so much that I asked myself, “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 is that the average black American believes that fundamental changes in our nation are possible. Many feel that America can be the greatest nation in the world by making just a few minor adjustments. So we listen to conversations, discuss problems, and pray that something can be changed which will help us move into a new dimension.
As a result of the broadcast, I initiated a dialogue with people of goodwill around the nation --- black and white. I’m convinced that we can achieve a practical, common ground in order to solve many of our nation’s most pressing problems. My solution involves a unique blend of conservative thinking and common sense.
I am a “black conservative” --- which sounds like a strange twist of words to the average American. I believe the simplistic monikers of “liberal” or “conservative” are outdated and meaningless.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 sides have fallen into the trap of political name-calling. In this 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 actually create solid programs, policies, and problem resolutions that change lives.
The 2006 campaign debates were the epitome of this war of ideas. We heard articulate speeches about different approaches. Most Americans were tired of business-as-usual. A year later, people from every party understand that the art of implementation is where America is failing the most. Therefore, we need a new way of talking and a new way of walking.America stands at a crossroads in terms of thought and political ideology. Today is when the conservative movement can win many converts from the black community. To accomplish this, conservatives must understand the real concerns of the average African American. Let me explain how I arrived at this conclusion.
Six months before the last presidential election I finished writing the book High Impact African-American Churches with noted researcher Dr. George Barna. As we compiled our research, I met an enormous number of African-American pastors who thought like conservatives, not liberals. Unfortunately in most cases, their voting records did not line up with their values.
This new breed of black leaders were out-of-the-box, entrepreneurial thinkers who were very serious about changing the face of their community in practical, tangible ways. Further, they were not locked into supporting the Democratic Party. These new black church leaders still preach the old-fashioned, cornbread-and-beans encouraging messages so famous in the black community, yet they do their research and business planning with a laptop. This group was savvy enough to know that tax-and-spend policies directed at the poor have helped break down the black family structure.
Our research also told us that the white church in America still grapples over the Church’s role in politics. Conversely, black church membership wants their religious leaders to speak out on social issues. As a result, the political views of the majority of blacks have been shaped by ministers such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and others. To date, many outstanding black conservative voices have spoken from an academic, journalistic, or business sphere of influence. The message has not stuck. Conservatives need to reach and transform black clergy who have a legitimate base of authority in the local community.
America needs a new dream. This is exactly what liberal candidates such as Barack Obama and John Edwards are attempting to articulate. Unfortunately for the nation, their core values are often at odds with their idealism. If the conservative movement can draft a strong, visionary leader with courage and charisma, we can bridge the racial divide, the education gap, the class divide, and the digital divide. Strong visionary leadership will also be the only way to martial our resources to battle radical Islam, terrorism, and global poverty.
The time is ripe for change but who will lead? Is there a values-centered leader whom we can support? The title of a fantastic new book by Alan Deutschman summarizes the political dilemma of many Americans: Change or Die. The change we need involves tearing down old walls, making new friends, creating new alliances, and attempting new approaches. If we change ourselves, America may give us another opportunity to change our world.