By Ron Walters
During the Thanksgiving holidays, I listened to an interview of Bruce Gordon, the new head of the NAACP, with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN’s “Questions and Answers” programs. It was an interesting and mostly about Mr. Gordon’s life and his perspective on the work of the NAACP.
One thing struck me: The budget of the organization is now $24 million a year. So, one of Mr. Gordon’s objectives is to raise enough money to endow parts of the organization. To me, that should be an easy task, but I want to call attention here to the contradiction between the vastness of our expectations of such organizations and the lack our measuring up to the funding necessary to meet them.
Why do I say that? Well let’s see: Forward Lattrell Sprewell was mad at the Knicks because he did not make the average salary of $5 million per year; wide receiver Terrell Owens dissed the Philadelphia Eagles because his $46 million 10-year contract was not enough; Halle Berry and Denzel Washington now are able to demand $7 to $10 million per movie; we have scores of Black millionaires in significant corporate jobs beginning with the CEO of Time Warner Corp.; the budget of Howard University, a Black organization, is now more than $500 million per year; and Oprah Winfrey and Bob Johnson (and his ex-wife, Sheila) are Black billionaires. In fact, I could put together 100 Black people with disposable incomes of $1 million per year, an amount that would triple the NAACP budget, but just one of the billionaires could endow the entire organization.
My point is that there is something wrong with our commitment to achieving social justice that affects our integrity when our fighting organizations have among the lowest budgets in the Black community. Why shouldn’t the NAACP national budget be at least $50-100 million per year? Our people have benefited from the legal genius that fought to provide for integrated education in both K-12 and White colleges and universities, so that the Black middle class could go through and take advantage of the opportunities that now yield them untold riches.
The courage of many overcame barriers to home ownership, business ownership, access to political power, and leveraged these assets to become players in the corporate world, managing billions of other people’s money, but very often deciding not to give back to Blacks.
In a substantial way, we have become comfortable with that decision and settled for the chump change that is doled out by Black surrogates of major corporations who give just enough to get our organizations through a given annual conference with the sponsorship of receptions, the purchase of booth spaces and modest contributions to the overall causes.
The pain is that this kind of funding is not consistent with our clout within the Democratic Party, or with our clout in the consumer market for autos, CDs, DVDs, sneakers, movies or other things. In short, we forgo the millions upon millions of dollars that our causes deserve and accept that which settles everybody’s conscience and avoids confrontation. It’s a cozy relationship, but ultimately lacking in integrity, honesty and substance.
So, let me ask again: Why are our fighting organizations the least well off? Politically, it could be because their mandate is to speak truth to power. But the nature of the truth is gentile enough to keep the chump change coming. This is not a White problem, because the leadership of American corporations has followed the path of least resistance with Black leaders for a long time. It is a problem that exists with our leadership not driving a hard enough line with either Whites or Blacks, in revealing the scope of resources such as: staff, research, press, facilities, publication, mobilization, etc. necessary to be effective in an era dominated by conservatism, and by the lack of Black social movement.
Here, they could learn from the brash youth who run part of the hip hop universe who have the guts to demand money for their art and to throw down if they do not get it.
I do not mean to elevate the hip hoppers too high however, because they are, in some ways, worse than the Black middle class–raising billions of serious cash and not knowing or caring how to positively impact the quality of life for most Black people. To see the massive economic resources wasted in the rapper’s world of mindless materialism and the lack of a strategic direction for mass development is to see the missing element in the resources for our grassroots social and political struggle and the seeds of new Black controlled corporate empires.
As Mr. Gordon takes over the reigns of the NAACP, he joins the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Rainbow Coalition, and other fighting organizations–our spear-carriers–who have little firepower at the end of the day, but great expectations from Black America. Something is wrong with this picture that only a dose of real commitment, vision and put-up or shut-up can change.
(Ron Walters is the director of the African American Leadership Institute. He is also an author and professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland-College Park.)