I recently appeared on a television panel on an African-American themed network where the topic of conversation was “Black leadership after Ferguson.” The narrative of the panel by my two other colleagues on the panel was about how “we need to turn this conversation into a movement, and that enough is enough.” My response to them was that this was the same theme and conversation the Black community has been having for the past 30 years. After every tragic incident within the Black community, the outcome was always the same: outrage over the incident, mass protests, coupled with press conferences and the promise of never again.
We saw the outrage and the promise of never again after Rodney King. We saw the outrage and heard the promise after Ennis Cosby. We saw the outrage and heard the promise after the Rutgers University women’s basketball team comments, and we saw and heard the outrage, along with the promise after Trayvon Martin. And here we are again, at the intersection of the promises and outrage after Michael Brown.
Now that Mr. Brown has been laid to rest, a new generation of civil rights leaders, mainly among the Generation X and millennial sector are asking, “Why do we have to wait for another incident and another broken promise for outrage to stir up again?” When the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. arrived in Ferguson last week, many young African Americans questioned his relevance, and his motives, not behind his back, put to his face. They have grown tired of the status quo and have become impatient with the elders within the community who promise substance, but deliver empty results. In other words, many African Americans who are a part of the new generation of leaders have embraced the, “fierce urgency of now.”
So what is the next step? How can this recent tragic event be turned into something different than the other horrific racial incidents? For one, the power of social media has turned everyday citizens into local community leaders with a platform to not only documents wrongs, but to broadcast them and give them context to millions in a matter of seconds. Secondly, these citizen leaders are now empowered to mobilize people more because they have seen through their small wins, that they are winning the battle legislatively, politically and socially through voter petition drives, fundraising and organizational support.
The challenge now is for the passion and the mobilization not to end this week or next, but to stoke the fires of justice through constant two-way communication. In other words, the data that has been collected through the marchers — they’re not protestors — needs to be cultivated through constant communication about political and legislative issues that affect the community as a whole. You have to keep the fire going, and the only way to do that is through continuous communication with the community, not just when there is a crisis or horrific event.
Political campaigns do this all the time. It’s called donor maintenance. Can we, as a community do the same with our brothers and sisters? To me, it’s called just permanent interests.
Robert Traynham is a political veteran and communications expert, adviser, consultant, as well as analyst and contributor to cable TV, radio and print media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @roberttraynham