(NNPA)—No one should ever question the patriotism of African-Americans. Black soldiers, men and women, from our communities have fought heroically and valiantly in all of the wars to free and protect the United States of America.
From Crispus Attucks, the first to die in the fight against the British in Boston in March of 1770 at the outset of the American Revolutionary War, to today in Afghanistan, where African-American soldiers are sacrificing with others to protect the security and geo-political interests of America. During recent 2010 U.S. Veterans Day observances across the nation, it was another time for pause, reflection and analysis of the history of centuries-long, resolute patriotism in the African-American community against the contemporary social backdrop of lingering and growing poverty within our communities.
If you study the genealogies and histories of African-American families, you will find that in each generation during the last 240 years throughout the United States there has been an unending multitude of true stories of Black heroism, sacrifice, and outstanding contributions to ensure American freedom, democracy, and preservation of the nation. My great-great-grandfather was the The Reverend John Chavis, a scholar-educator who was a soldier from North Carolina, who along with other African-American soldiers, fought in the Revolutionary War. My father, Benjamin F. Chavis Sr, was a Sergeant Major in World War I who, along with many other Black soldiers, fought for freedom in Europe while the U.S. Army was still segregated. But my family’s story of patriotism and loyalty to America is the story of millions of African-Americans whose families have given so much of their blood, sweat, spirit, and soul to help this nation to evolve to its present state of democracy and justice.
We all should take more time and energy to make sure that our young adults and youth will always be given a better appreciation of the history of Black America and the known and unknown facts of the constructive role that African-Americans have played and continue to play in all aspects of American society. All of this brings me to the central point of this column: Given our historical and collective contributions to the building and expansion of the U.S. economy and institutions of education, science, research, technology, culture, literature, music, sports and other sectors of U.S. society including consistent outstanding military service, why is it in 2010 we find poverty lingers in our communities with devastating consequence on our youth, families, and communities?
After the mid-term elections, it appears that reactionary forces that stand for racial injustice, re-segregation, and the disproportionate incarceration of our people appear to be gaining steam and political clout in nearly every state. This is a wakeup call! We are not living in a “post-Civil Rights” America. We should be fighting for freedom, justice, and equality more today than we did 50 years ago. Freedom is still a constant struggle in the correct insight from Frederick Douglass. In order to challenge and change the lingering and terrible consequences of poverty in African-American and other communities, we have to do a better job in maintaining a constant vigilance and diligence in fighting and struggling for equal justice, including economic and environmental justice.
During the 1970s as an imprisoned member of a group of U.S. political prisoners named the Wilmington, N.C. Ten, I saw firsthand that African-American veterans of the unjust war in Vietnam were disproportionately living homeless in poverty or spending long years unjustly in American prisons. I am a fervent believer in the capacity of people in our communities to rise to whatever the challenges are today or what may come, if we have the proper education, information, and most of all the spiritual fortitude and self-determination to strive for the highest excellence in the performance of all aspects of our long struggle for freedom. Poverty starts in our consciousness, in our state of minds, and how we see ourselves and our own worth and potential as we interact with others in America and throughout the world.
The first and essential step overcoming poverty in our communities is to take a page out of own history when it came to not letting the absence of full justice and equality to be used as a social excuse to do nothing and be silent. Our history is a history of struggle, perseverance, and making great strides forward irrespective of the obstacles put in our path. Our patriotism should extend to our own self-help and uplift. Again, we spend nearly a trillion U.S. dollars annually too much as consumers and not enough as producers and traders. We have to renew a sense of dedication to rebuild and launch new Black owned businesses, revitalize our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, take greater control and direct support of the education of our children. We should reinvest to change our present condition and to ensure a better future.
(Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis is senior advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options and president of Education Online Services Corp.)