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Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Tenth Anniversary Black Leadership Conference, November 12 &13
Keynote Addrress by Charles Sanford
VISION, RESOLVE, And UNITY
The subject of my address is "Elements of Social Change." There are 3 elements involved in social change. They are vision, resolve, and unity. I will discuss these elements within the context of a social change that I am attempting to accomplish. The name of the movement is "Project 2019."
The basis for Project 2019 is an irrefutable truth. It is not a popular truth. Most black Americans do not want to hear it. Black leaders and black celebrities refuse to discuss it. As a black American, I do not relish having to speak it. This irrefutable truth is that black America will never attain socioeconomic equality with white America until black Americans attain educational equivalency with white Americans.
Compared to other racial and ethnic groups, black Americans rank last in reading, math, and science proficiency. 83% of white Americans graduate from high school versus 74% of black Americans. And, as a percentage of population, white Americans earn almost twice as many college degrees as black Americans.
Although this disparity in education has always existed, the consequences are now far more detrimental to black Americans than they were 100, 50, or even 25 years ago. A formal education was not crucial in an agrarian-based or an industrial-based economy. However, in the technology-based and service-based economies of the 21st century, there will be no viable substitute for formal education and the knowledge it produces. And, unless black Americans understand and react to this fact, there will be no need to discriminate against them based on the color of their skin. De facto discrimination based on their lack of formal education will be enough to relegate black Americans to an underclass status for the foreseeable future.
Given the magnitude of the stakes that are involved, one might think that reaching educational equivalency would be at the top of black America's list of priorities. It is not. One likely reason is that institutionalized racism was black America's number one obstacle to success for more than three and a half centuries. It is therefore understandable why most black Americans believe that, in 1999, institutionalized racism is still the reason why there are not more black doctors, lawyers, engineers, and CEO's. Black Americans must understand that there has always been and there will always be racism in America. However, black Americans must also understand that, in 1999, the amount and the nature of racism in America can not prevent black Americans from becoming the most educated, the most knowledgeable, and, therefore, one of the most successful segments of the American population.
There are other reasons why reaching educational equivalency is not near the top of black America's list of priorities. Accomplishing this task will take a number of years and as much effort and personal sacrifice as the Civil Rights movement. If this were not enough, reaching educational equivalency in 15 or 20 years will not personally benefit the current generation of black Americans - those who must work, sacrifice, and inspire their children's generation to accomplish this task. And, of course, there is always the nagging suspicion that even if the next generation of black Americans is as educated as white Americans, America will simply find another way to keep black America at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.
Regardless of anything else that black Americans can or must do to improve their socioeconomic standing, educational equivalency is and will remain a prerequisite for black America attaining socioeconomic equality. Even if God were to eliminate all the racism in America, the socioeconomic standing of black Americans would not improve significantly if they remained the least educated people in America. Black America must be made to understand that ignorance is weakness and black America must be convinced to embrace the aphorism "knowledge is power." It always has been and it always will be.
Regardless of any real or imagined difficulties or negatives, attaining educational equivalency is the most logical and the most positive action that black Americans can take as we begin the 21st century. There has never been a more appropriate time for Project 2019. And we must not let this time and opportunity slip away from us.
Black America can accomplish this monumental endeavor. Black America only needs the vision, the resolve, and the unity.
Many people believe that Project 2019 provides the vision that will lead to educational equivalency for black Americans and therefore socioeconomic equality for black America. Obviously, the notion of socioeconomic success through formal education is not a new concept. The vision of Project 2019 is the framework that has been devised to accomplish the task.
Number 1: Project 2019 defines and states the problem as a simple, concise, easily understood fact. "Black America will never attain socioeconomic equality with white America until black Americans attain educational equivalency with white Americans." This is not to say that educational equivalency is the "only" requirement for socioeconomic equality. However, I would argue that it is the most important. I would also point out that it is the only requirement that black America can do for itself - starting today. It is the only requirement to which all black Americans can contribute. And it is the only requirement that, once accomplished, is guaranteed to improve the socioeconomic status of black America.
Number 2: Project 2019 has a simple, concise, easily understood major goal. It is "to increase the level of formal education attained by black Americans to the same level of formal education attained by white Americans." If white Americans have the education and the knowledge to run major corporations, black Americans should have the education and knowledge to run major corporations. If white Americans have the education and knowledge to build bridges and nuclear power plants, black Americans should have the education and knowledge to build bridges and nuclear power plants. If white Americans have the education and knowledge to develop Viagra as a cure for impotence, black Americans should have the education and knowledge to develop a cure for sickle cell desease.
Number 3: Project 2019 has a simple, concise, easily understood measurement to track the success of the movement. "Project 2019 will be measured based on the percentage of black Americans who earn college degrees versus the percentage of white Americans who earn college degrees." The measurement of the success of Project 2019 is limited to formal education attained, specifically higher education. Project 2019 does not directly address entrepreneurship or trade or vocational training. This is not because the value of such efforts are not recognized or equally regarded. They are not addressed because a focused, laser approach is necessary to make significant gains in any of these areas. Even so, a major success in any one of these areas would make it easier for black America to achieve success in each of the other areas.
Number 4: Finally, Project 2019 has a specific end date. "The completion date for Project 2019 is the year 2019 - the 400th anniversary of the beginning of Slavery in America."
While this framework as applied to an attempted social change may be visionary, the principles are certainly not unique. It is how we all operate in business, in school, and in our personal lives.
If one's boss simply asked for "a report on widgets," what would be the result? At some point, the boss would get a report saying something about widgets. Of course, an effective manager would be much more detailed. He or she would request a report on widget for a specific purpose and containing specific elements. And, most importantly, the manager would tell you that he wants it on his or her desk by 9:00 on Tuesday morning.
I certainly do not have to remind you of the great lengths that your professors and instructors go to make it crystal clear exactly what they expect when they assign papers and other work. And, of course, no assignment is ever given that does not have a specific due date.
And then there are our personal lives. I am sure you know the results of letting your love interest "guess" what it is that you want. In fact, even when you spell it out in great detail, he still usually gets it all wrong.
The second requirement for social change is "resolve." The resolve of those who are attempting to change society depends on the vision and the message of the movement even more so than the conditions that are to be changed. People will endure the most horrific conditions without protest if they believe there is nothing that can be done. But give the people hope and they will dedicate their time, their energy, their money, and even their lives to the cause.
I believe that Project 2019 can generate this level of resolve
because Project 2019 is the only program, project, or strategy that addresses
all the worse problems of black America at their core. Project 2019 is the only
program, project, or strategy that assigns the task of saving black America
exclusively to black Americans, the only people who can save black America.
And, finally, Project 2019 is the only program, project, or strategy that, when
successfully completed, will inaugurate the beginning of a new, more positive
legacy for black America.
I personally, am resolved to the successful completion of Project 2019. In addition, there are already thousands of proponents of Project 2019 who are willing and able to work for the cause. With your help, that number can be increased to tens of thousands. And I am convinced that as the message of Project 2019 is spread, millions of black Americans will resolve to reach educational equivalency by the year 2019 - by any means necessary.
This brings us to "unity," the third requirement for social change. And it is black unity, or the "lack of black unity" that troubles me the most.
In order to understand black unity, I must subject you to a brief history lesson. However, before any of you decide that this is as good as any time to go to the rest room, let me repeat that the lesson will be brief. I clearly understand how most people feel about history because I majored in history.
Interestingly enough, I then spent the next 25 years in data processing, as they called it back then. And, as an aside, yes, I am responsible for a lot of those so-called Y2K bugs that will bring ruination to the world in about 49 days. However, for the record, they are not "bugs." We knew exactly what we were doing. The situation was that the biggest computer that we had way back then had less memory and computing power than a very cheap PC has today. And, more importantly, we never dreamed that the systems we were designing and programming would last for the next 10, 20, and even 30 years. I guess it just goes to show you the quality of the work we were doing in the 70's and 80's. Now some of you may be thinking that this really is ancient history but it is not the history lesson I promised you.
In my opinion, most black Americans do not have enough knowledge of history to appreciate the general lessons that are to be learned from history. Even worse, they do not have enough knowledge of their own history to understand where they come from and what they have become. Of course, the same is true for most white Americans. The general consensus is that history is dry and boring and the least number of history classes that are required, the better.
For white Americans, this is an unfortunate attitude. For black Americans, it is a detrimental attitude. The difference is that white America's history is presented as glory-filled, positive affirmations of the many successes of white Americans. Unfortunately, black Americans must rummage through whitewashed white history and whitewashed or half-told black history in order to find the glory-filled, positive affirmations of the many successes of black Americans.
Black America's history goes a long way toward "explaining" black Americans of today? In 1619, 380 years ago, Slavery began in what would become the United States of America. For 246 of those 380 years, black Americans lived in Slavery. 103 years consisted of the Jim Crow era. And it has been only the last 30 years that black Americans have lived in what Project 2019 calls the "Equal Opportunity era." Broken down by percentages, black Americans have spent 65% of their American tour in Slavery, 27% subjected to Jim Crow racism, and 8% playing on a level playing field.
Based on these percentages, if black America's history were personified as an individual twenty-three year old black man, it would be comparable to him having spent the first fifteen years of his life continuously being physically, mentally, and sexually abused. For the next six years, until the age of twenty-one, he would have been unloved and unsupported as he moved in and out of foster homes and halfway houses. In his twenty-second and twenty-third years, he would be on his own. He would have very little education and few marketable skills. However, his greatest problem would be the tragic, trauma-filled life he had led. Without a great deal of understanding and meaningful counseling, his life would be difficult, if not impossible, to repair.
In total, ninety-two percent of the time that blacks have
been in America they have lived in slavery or under conditions only a level
above slavery. Clearly, the reality of these numbers is that slavery and oppression
define black America. Black Americans must understand and acknowledge that,
even in 1999, slavery and oppression "explain" black Americans as
There will always be black Americans who will argue that a better approach is to simply let go of the past and move forward into the new Equal Opportunity era. Undoubtedly, a similar argument was made to the many Jewish survivors of their Holocaust who refused to have the identification numbers tattooed on their arms removed. Admittedly, it may be easier to forget or less painful to learn to ignore trauma suffered in the past. But can black Americans afford to take this approach? Is it possible for black Americans to get to where they need to be if they do not even know where they have been?
There will also be black Americans who will be uncomfortable, if not offended, by the notion that black America needs to be "examined and explained." Their point of view might be justified if the only intent was to look for negatives about black Americans or the only expectation was to find things that are wrong with black America. There are, in fact, many more positive aspects than negative aspects about black America and black Americans. The most obvious and most dramatic is that black America has survived as a people through such a long and precarious history. In any case, any self-assessment is pointless if it is not thorough or brutally honest. And any self-assessment of black America is certainly of little or no value if it is not expressly for the purpose of making a better future for black Americans.
Finally, it should be obvious that any explanation of black America should be by black Americans, for black Americans. Black America has no reason and certainly no obligation to explain itself to white America. Besides, given the fact that racism and oppression defines and explains much of the history of white America, white Americans clearly have their own corresponding issues that they should be busy examining. In any case, at this point, it is not important what white America thinks of black America. It is only important what black America thinks of itself.
Okay, that is enough of a history lesson for now, or more to the point, the reason why black Americans need to invest the time and effort required to learn the history of black America. The point will be made even more obvious as we continue on with the subject of "black unity."
I suspect that most of you received, applied for, or at least, were eligible for some type of major or minor scholarship when you first began your college careers. There are thousands of companies and organization that provide scholarship money specifically to black Americans. Hundreds of black athletes and celebrities have their own scholarship fund. A number of private citizens have scholarship funds in honor of deceased loved ones. And almost all black churches have some type of education ministry that give college-bound high school graduates $100, $200, $500, or whatever they can afford.
When I first introduced Project 2019, it occurred to me that there would be a line wrapped around the block with these scholarships administrators asking if they could associate the name "Project 2019" with their scholarships. It made sense to me. To begin with, it was free. But, of course, more importantly, associating the Project 2019 movement with individual scholarships would add a national black theme to each scholarship. It would send a clear signal to the recipients that they were not operating in a vacuum. It would make them realize that they were a part of larger cause. And it would be an obvious reminder that when they had finished their education, they had an obligation to continue and further the goals of Project 2019.
Needless to say, there are no lines of administrators attempting to associate Project 2019 with their scholarships. Indeed, when I have presented my idea of making their scholarships a part of a national black movement, I have been met with doubt and suspicion. My first reaction to this was bewilderment. And it also occurred to me that the scholarship administrators selfishly believed that being associated with Project 2019 would somehow detract from their company, their organization, or the memory of their loved ones.
On the other hand, I was also forced to consider the possibility that their reticence was more about the message of Project 2019 and less about the lack of black unity. But, then, I started thinking about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's. If there were ever an instance of black unity, this was certainly it. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that some of my memories were colored by time and the ultimate success of the movement.
There were, in fact, many opinions within black America regarding how the Civil Rights movement should be pursued. Some black Americans believe in Dr. King's non-violence approach. However, some black Americans were thoroughly convinced that the only way to proceed was to destroy the blue-eyed devils and all their racist institutions. And, indeed, there were many black Americans who thought that the thing to do was to leave well enough alone - that blacks were doing okay and in a matter of time we would do better. I, like many black Americans, was all over the place. I attended a few peaceful rallies, I attended a couple of Black Panther meetings on campus, and there were times I sat in the student union playing cards while others were out marching and protesting.
In retrospect, even in the black community, Dr. King was not always the popular, beloved leader that he now is in death. Some black Americans regarded King as some black Americans now regard Jesse Jackson: as a camera-seeking opportunist doing almost as much harm as good. And if anyone had tried to convince me back in 1965 that Malcolm X's picture would be on a United States postal stamp, I would have assumed they were on a bad acid trip.
Based on my personal reflections, the Civil Rights movement was not a unified national black movement. All black Americans were not on the same train, and in fact, they were not even on the same tracks. I now believe that the movement was successful simply because everyone was going 100 miles an hour in exactly the same direction. Regardless of what anyone thought was the best to achieve success, the battle cry was the same. "What do you want? Freedom! When do you want it? Now!"
In fact, if you want to understand the issues regarding black unity, you have to go all the way back to the beginning of black America's history. Unlike the English, Irish, Germans and other nationalities that came to America in waves, the blacks who were brought to America were not a homogeneous group of people. They came in small groups from a wide and diverse population. Even those from the same tribe or geographical area, once they got to America, it was more likely than not that they would be separated. This, of course, even included fathers, mothers, children, and other members of the family unit who were sold and shipped off to different plantations.
Needless to say, once within the bounds of slavery, the idea of some type of national unity with the millions of other black in the country was out of the question. During the 246 years of Slavery, most black Americans were born, lived their entire lives, and died on the same one plantation. They never set foot off of the plantation, or certainly out of the county, in which they were born.
It was not a matter of going up the road to hang with your "homies." A slave was not to be "at large" without a pass, which he must show to any white man who asked to see it. Slaves were not to practice medicine or to administer medicine to whites. "A slave under the pretence of practicing medicine," warned a Tennessee judge, "might convey intelligence from one plantation to another, and thus enable the slaves to act in concert." A gathering of more than a few (usually five) slaves away from their master's premises was an "unlawful assembly" if unattended by a white person. Farms and plantations employing slaves were to be under the supervision of resident white men and never left under the sole direction of slave foremen.
A system of slave patrols, often loosely connected with the state militia, existed in every slave state. Their purpose was "to visit all negro quarters and other places suspected of having therein unlawful assemblies and to arrest such slaves as may stroll from one plantation to another without permission." A slave was legally a runaway and subject to the harshest penalties if found without a pass beyond a certain prescribed distance from home.
Many of these same types of restrictions also applied to black Americans who were not slaves. In many states, assembly was restricted and curfews imposed on free black Americans. In South Carolina and other states, black seamen were arrested and held in custody while their vessels were in port. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, free black Americans were moved out of slave states. And, in some slave states, if free black Americans left, they were prohibited by law from returning. Free black Americans could make contracts and own property but they were always at the mercy of white Americans who sought to deprive them of their property as well as their freedom. Black Americans were presumed to be slaves and the burden was on them to prove that they were free.
During this same 246 year period, white Americans had a very global existence. They were establishing a national constitution and state constitutions and laws. Millions were engaged in national debates, electing national politicians, and, such as it existed at the time, were a part of the world economy. White Americans were crossing the Allegheny Mountains, settling the prairies, looking for gold on the plains, and exploring the great Northwest. And, while all white Americans were not off blazing new trails, all white Americans, on a national level, had access to the information and the excitement of the events and the happenings in the country. Such has been the history of white Americans for the past four centuries.
By comparison, for 246 years, 65% of the time blacks have been in America, black unity was not just discouraged, it was illegal and punishable by law. Although black unity was not illegal during the 103 of the Jim Crow era, and that is another 27% of our history, it was, at best, problematic. National black unity was certainly a foreign concept to the millions of black Americans who, for the first time in their lives, could even travel a few miles to see relatives they had never met. Between the lack of resources and the racism that discouraged it, it is easy enough to understand why it took so many years for any semblance of a national civil rights movement to develop.
For at least 65% and as much as 92% of the time blacks have been in America, they have been relegated to small, local groups of a dozen or a few dozen people for all of their lives. Their world consisted of little more than a few acres or, at best, a few square miles. There were no newspapers, no books, no radio, no television, and no AOL chat rooms. Is it any wonder that black Americans may have a problem with national black unity? After all, they were engineered to not stand together, but rather to stand apart.
We have all heard the old adage, "united we stand, divided we fall." Well, the reason why it is an old adage is because it has been and will always be true. Black Americans must heed these words and begin to stand together. Considering our history, it may not be easy. But the first step is to know our history so that we will understand the obstacles that stand in the path of our ultimate success.
You can learn a lot about black America today based on its history. In fact, I would make the argument that it is impossible to understand black Americans in 1999 without an understanding of black Americans in 1899, 1799, or 1699. That is, if we can understand obstacles to black unity in 1999 based on what happened to black Americans in the past, then there are a great number of other questions we should be asking and to which we should be seeking answers. For example:
· Is it possible to inflict damage on the psyche of
a people as a result of more than three and a half centuries of slavery and
· Are there psychological ramifications that black Americans must deal with as a result of sixteen consecutive generations being told that they are "animals" and that their only value is in doing physical labor?
· Did three hundred and forty-nine years of black Americans being told that they are "helpless children" and "the white man's burden" create a welfare mentality in black America?
· Are there physiological consequences for black Americans as a result of two and a half centuries of "slave breeding," "slave food," backbreaking labor, and habitual physical abuse?
These are only a few of the questions that should be asked as part of dozens of issues that need to be explored. Of course, all of the answers will be opened to debate and, more times than not, consensus will be unlikely. Fortunately, consensus is not the objective. Black Americans getting a better perspective of who they are by virtue of knowing where they come from is the important part of the process. And it is only as a result of the entire process of honest assessment and informed acceptance that black America will be able to move forward with pride, dignity, and confidence.
I will close by stating one of the major tenets of Project 2019. Knowledge is power. This has always been true and it always will be true. Black America has a myriad of problems and none of them have obvious or easy solutions. So, where do we begin the process of fixing black America? Would you like a hint? Knowledge is power.
After almost four centuries of racism and oppression, black Americans have the opportunity and the means to begin a new chapter in their history. By reaching educational equality by the year 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of Slavery in America, black Americans can create a legacy that will last for the next four centuries. Black Americans can and will succeed in America. Black America only needs the vision, the resolve, and the unity.
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