Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Now is the time

The need for the emergence of new forms of black civic leadership in Cleveland has been demonstrated yet again by the continuing implosion of the local NAACP chapter.

In a show of staggering incompetence, fueled by the illusory pursuit of “little p” personal power and the continued abandonment of principle, the reigning potentates failed to follow their own rules in conducting the biannual election of officers, forcing the national office to call a time out.

Many people ask, with good reason, why this desiccated mess of a once powerful civil rights organization is worthy of any note when decade after decade it has engaged in self-dealing, credibility-destroying ways to render itself irrelevant?

Clearly, the Cleveland NAACP no longer resembles the mid-20th century juggernaut that had 10,000 dues-paying members. Still, it stands in the gap, like an abandoned fort, between the tens of thousands of ordinary black people just trying to get through the month, the week, and sometimes the day, and those whose control of institutions — state offices, the legislature, the public safety and criminal justice systems, the schools and workplaces — allow them to ignore and devalue black life.

The poster event for black impotence is the impunity with which more than 100 Cleveland police officers disregarded departmental rules and procedures to chase two people across town at high speeds and when the prey was cornered, 13 police fired 137 bullets into one car, killing its two unarmed occupants.

The community response to this outrageous police misconduct has been muted. To some extent this can be attributed to the fact that Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson has adopted his usual calm stance. But we are approaching the second anniversary of “The Chase” and who in our community is monitoring the monitors in the Jackson administration?

The lack of effective organizational leadership is manifest in other areas as well. We may be at a moment when self-interest on the part of general contractors, property owners, and labor unions offer opportunities for real gains for black contractors, laborers, and neighborhoods. Some black business and leaders — Dominic Ozanne, for one, but there are others, including Natoya Walker-Minor of the Jackson administration — have helped drive a process where sizable business projects can be impacted by the views and wishes of area residents. But there is too often no community organization ready to sit down with affected parties to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement even when the framework is already in place.

This is not to say that there are no effective black organizations or agencies here. There are scores, including the Black Professionals Association Charitable Foundation; Delta Sigma Theta; Sigma Pi Phi [the Boule]; Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc.; to name but a few. But there is not one with the portfolio, the history, or the name to eclipse the NAACP.

If the NAACP were a public school, it would be ripe for reconstitution. Throw out all the officers and start anew. Try and keep the executive director, Sheila Wright. She is bright, passionate, innovative, and young. But she hasn’t been paid in five months, and we know what happens to romance when there is no finance.

Cleveland’s establishment has coasted on the inclusion tip for a very long time. One might say that coasting parallels the weakness of the local NAACP. The old boy network that runs this community needs to be broken up before it consigns us to eternal mediocrity. Black Cleveland needs to be in the vanguard of the modernization of our political, economic and social structures. That process has to begin at home, and it ought to begin with a thorough housecleaning at the NAACP.