Tonight I attended the 80th celebration of a living legend - Maya Angelou. The event was performance oriented and was held at the prestigious Atlanta Woodruff Art Center in Midtown Atlanta. In the audience I saw a majority African-American crowd with a strong showing of White folks all present to pay tribute to Ms. Angelou. It was a night of performance art and it was an enjoyable experience.
As for me, however, I am not one to simply take in "entertainment" for the sake of pure entertainment. Instead I am taking constant samples regarding where we as a society and as a race stand today with respect to where we came from. To be clear it would be absurd to think that we would get through the night without certain references to "slavery" and "oppression" as experienced by Black folks. So much of what Ms. Angelou is about deals with such topics. I can honestly say, however, that they did not milk the subject for all its worth. Any such references were cast in the concept of us as a strong people who can over come any adversity.
Staying true to my form in my mission to better understand what my people are beholden to as a means of understanding how we might change and thus have a different outcome in the future - my mind was racing as I was taking in all of the stimulus that this night was projected toward me.
* A row of fancy limousines parked outside
* A red carpet welcoming Ms. Angelou into the building
* Paparazzi pushing to get a picture of her and some of the other celebrities who were in the house
* The event housed in the place where the prestigious Atlanta Ballet does their thing - absent any "Marion Anderson" type dust up that disrespected Black folks
All of this for starters. This post is not about "hateration" it IS an attempt to paint a picture of where many of us stand today having overcome that which is still put out there as a generalized barrier for all Black folks when nothing is further from the truth.
The program for the evening hits closer to the point that I am attempting to make. As I browse through the pages I see preacher/politician/activist/business man Andrew Young. After all the event was a benefit for the "Andrew & Walter Young Family YMCA" in Southwest Atlanta.
The next section is key - the political section. Therein contains greetings from the Black US Representative of the GA 5th district John Lewis. Next there is the Mayor of the City of Atlanta Shirley Franklin, who was on stage in person to present a tribute to Ms. Angelou. Next you have Atlanta City Council member Jim Maddox who's district the "Y" resides in. Finally there is Fulton County Chairman John H Eaves. All of these people are African-Americans. All are Democrats. Indeed this "makes us proud" - the campaign motto of one Shirley Franklin. Indeed it is nice to have an "allied mayor" to stand on stage and present Ms. Angelou with a point of recognition for her advocacy and works. Indeed - it is unlikely that the Republican Governor of the state was invited to such an affair.
As I connect all of this together, however, I must ask the tough question: When does the decades long struggle to get 'your people' into power as a precondition for progress transform into an acknowledgment of their power and a demand for delivery of that which was promised? Surely there is talk that Shirley Franklin might be the last Black mayor of Atlanta and the great loss that this would be for the Black community. In all honestly this does not seem likely per the line up of contender. But in reality how does this really translate into actual benefit for the Black community other than a point of pride that we can point to?
Next in the program there is the corporate sponsorship section. The standard Atlanta area firms are represented - Coca Cola Company, Delta Air Lines and Wal-Mart. (if the new found dismay with Tavis Smiley is sound - Wal-Mart is trying to purchase their way into the favor of Black folks).
With this point I must make reference to a statement that Ms. Angelou made which I felt was accurate but also cherry picking on the entire picture.
In her closing remarks as was seated on the stage and talking about various aspects of her life and her ideology. Indeed she is pushing "love for all", equality and "non-judgmentalism". Clearly there is a certain amount of moral high ground that she can claim in pursing all of these.
She then expounded on her view of "CHARITY". In her definition charity is the acknowledgment that you have more than someone else and that you voluntary give to another who is in need.
Sounds good so far. Then Ms. Angelou commented about CORPORATIONS.
She made the distinction between CHARITY that is from the heart and CORPORATE PHILANTHROPY which she said is done because of the TAX ADVANTAGES that are provided.
To this the crowd responded with a thunderous applause.
I chose to take all of this in and play the rationality of this statement back in my mind to which I agreed but I also believed that she did not tell the entire story.
If indeed CORPORATE PHILANTHROPY should not be mistaken for CHARITY...........then so is the case with her array of Progressive politicians who seek to use GOVERNMENT TAX POLICY to induce the wealthy to pay into the government treasury so that they can then craft policies that direct BENEFIT AND ENTITLEMENT TO THE NEEDY.
Let's be clear. I did not expect Ms. Angelou to round out her critique of the motivations of the establishment. It's just not going to happen. I would have liked clarity on this particular point. The bottom line is that society change in the area of income redistribution is no more a "charitable event" than is the capitalistic corporation writing a check and then deducting it from their tax bill.
The fact is that many of these same corporations that sponsored the evening are indeed both helping to fund the YMCA and providing demanded services to the Black community at the level of quality that we expect.
As the evening closed I was reminded of the 'post-Slavery' time that we are currently living in. As my wife and I departed the event there was Tyler Perry making a quick exit of the premises through a special access door that allowed him to talk to a woman who was seeking to do business with him but to jump into his custom Bentley limousine and whisk away without getting stuck in the traffic from the large crowd that was about to exit.
In summary - we as a people are in a transition period. Though the "slavery's oppression" narrative remains a popular one and a sure way to get Black folks riled up, as Rev Jeremiah Wright has recently tapped into the world of 2008 is calling for a new set of messages to come in and supplant those of the past which don't quite fit any longer. Those who continue to cherry pick and focus on the remnants of this past are doing so for short term "Amen's" but are doing little in the way of long term development for a future that is ominously staring us in the face because our general lack of preparation for the associated challenges.
As it stands now the "circle" as pictured above is a rather incestuous bunch as they protect each other from criticism and propagate a certain message into the Black community. We have Entertainers promoting Politicians who promote Black Business Men who promote Preachers who promote Black Media Personalities who promote Entertainers. My goal is not to derail any of them. My goal is to agitate them while they are in their zone of comfort so that they might more closely align their actions and priorities with the real needs of our people. Having such elective offices, money and power as they have today there literally is no excuse for some of the conditions that are faced by many today.
On the one hand I like Ms. Angelou's content. Indeed we need to be inspirational and positive as much as we can be. As well there is and will always be a certain about of injustice in our world and the need for advocacy in support of a certain issue that needs to change. HOWEVER - as an observer of and critic of some of the thoughts, actions and recriminations done by Black folks - it is clear to me that when YOU NOW sit in "the seat of POWER" a differentiated set of actions must be initiated BUT the set of expectations held by the masses must not and never change because their allies are in place now. We cannot have favored people put into power to "advocate for us" only to lead us to focus OUTWARD toward a larger adversary when it is the case that when this adversary had that very same seat we demanded quality schools, safer streets and more jobs from him but now we have no such strong demands for the current occupant.
If we could craft a set of poems that shift from "the Struggle" over to "the alignment of our vision forward now that we are in the clearing" this would be grand.