by Marilyn Kai Jewett

A few weeks ago as I sat in Freedom Theatre listening to the gubernatorial candidates at the Black Clergy of Philadelphia’s Candidate’s Forum, I sighed and thought, “Here we go again!” Each election cycle, a slew of candidates we’ve never seen before—Black and White—come to African-American communities asking for our votes. They come to forums, take the customary romp through selected neighborhoods shaking hands and posing for photo ops. They even go to Sunday worship services seeking votes.

One thing that irks the hell out of me is that these candidates rarely come to our communities and speak directly to African-American concerns. Sitting in the Freedom Theatre gubernatorial forum it was apparent that neither candidate was prepared to speak on issues important to our community. They gave their general campaign spiel with little thought as to what they could do specifically to affect positive change in our communities. They had no real plan on how to make the education system more equal and responsive to the needs of African-American children. There was no real plan on how to bring jobs and job training to African-American communities.

There was no plan on how to level the playing field for Black businesses seeking state contracts other than appointing a token in their cabinet for “diversity.” What made it so bad is that there was information out there. State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Pittsburgh, spearheaded a study and made recommendations on how state government could ensure “minority” businesses share the wealth of state contracts. All they had to do was go to Wheatley’s website and read it! In 2002, then Auditor General Robert Casey convened the Pennsylvania Statewide MBE/WBE Taskforce to develop a fair solution to this continuing dilemma. Minority business owners from throughout the state went to Harrisburg quarterly for over a year and participated in intense working sessions researching best practices, rewriting the law and developing a solution to the problem of fraud in the Department of General Services in regards to contracting. I was a member of that taskforce. We worked hard on that initiative only to have it slapped down by newly elected Governor Rendell. Last year, I produced the “Sharing the Wealth Technology Conference” in Harrisburg in an effort to help minority businesses access state technology contracts. The problem of African-American exclusion persists.

As a veteran consultant of several judicial, state and city campaigns, I make sure my candidates are prepared to speak directly to the community with whom we are meeting. When we meet with other ethnic groups they have a group agenda and want to know what you’re going to support on their agenda and what you’re going to do for them in order to get their support. Not so with the African-American community. There is no group agenda, only personal ones. We allow candidates to come to us with vague, general promises and wonder why we get disrespected and forgotten after the election. That’s our fault.

In a few months we’ll be embarking on another round of campaigning for the May primary. I have a few requests. To the candidates and their campaign staff: Don’t come to African-American communities seeking votes unless you’re prepared to speak directly to our issues and armed with real solutions. Do your homework before you engage us. Don’t just show up at election time. Stop insulting our intelligence. This pertains to all candidates—African-American as well.

To African-American communities: Get a group agenda! We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can update the agenda crafted at the 1972 Black Political Convention. Everything in it is still needed—better education, community economic development and healthcare. Keep in mind this should be done by the community not politicians.

Don’t support any candidate, including African-American, that doesn’t support something on the agenda. Do your own research on the candidates. Stop waiting for someone to tell you how to vote. Go the forums. Read! Google their names and read everything on their websites. Go to the campaign offices and meet them.

Stop allowing people to come to your communities pimping you for a vote! Understand that voting is just the first step. After you vote you must keep abreast of the issues and tell the politicians how you want them to proceed. They work for you, not the other way around. Go to their offices and meet with them, call them on the phone and send them an e-mail when they do something you don’t like. If they still ignore you, vote them out! It’s your government—claim it! Politics affects every part of our lives from birth to death. It’s too important to dismiss. If you really want change, become a change agent in your community. Look in the mirror—that’s the leader you’ve been seeking. We’ve got work to do brothers and sisters. Get busy!

(Marilyn Kai Jewett is a Philadelphia area marketing communications/political consultant and journalist who is a former media relations manager for the PA House Legislative Information Office.)

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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