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Legacies (Our Black Heritage)

(Keynote Address: The 2001 "Project 2019 Annual Conference")

My remarks this evening are about "legacies." In part, I want to discuss the legacies of two men whose names may not be familiar to you. I, personally, had never heard of either man until about a month ago. The names of the two men are Michael Boyce and Mark Shriver. I'll come back to Michael and Mark. First, I want to make it clear what I mean by "legacies."

One definition of "legacy" is "money or property bequeathed to another by a will." However, we generally use the word "inheritance" when referring to money or property that is handed down to someone, especially to a relative.

Another definition of "legacy" reflects the most common usage of the word. This definition is less specific in that it does not mention "money or property." This definition of legacy is simply "something handed down from an ancestor to a descendant."

An example of this definition is the so-called "legacy admission policy" of many colleges and universities. The way it works is that if one of your parents graduated from a school, you are almost always automatically admitted to the school - even ahead of students with better grades and test scores. In fact, this legacy admission policy has long been argued by proponents of affirmative action as an example of how universities often consider factors other than grades in their admissions decisions.

Also, this same type of legacy policy applies to most college fraternities and sororities. If one of your parents were a member, then you are automatically eligible to join.

Beyond these concrete examples of legacies, we also hear people speak in terms of someone leaving a legacy of love - or even a legacy of hatred. We hear about political legacies and legacies of public service. There are legacies of racism and legacies of the Civil Rights movement.

A legacy is simply something - anything - handed down from an ancestor to a descendant. Legacies can be good. Legacies can be bad. Indeed, legacies can even be self-destructive.

Most of you have probably heard some version of the old story of the scorpion and the swan. A scorpion came upon a river that she needed to cross. Looking around, she saw a swan swimming near the shore. She convinced the swan to give her a ride across the river by reminding him that stinging him would result in both of their deaths.

Sure enough, about half way across the river, the swan felt the sting of the scorpion in his back. "Why, why, why," the swan moaned as they both sank into the river and certain death. The last words the swan heard from the scorpion was, "it is in my nature. It is what I do."

The scorpion was doomed by her uncontrollable "instinct" to sting. That instinct to sting was a legacy of the scorpion - something that had been passed down from many, many generations of her ancestors.

Now, I used the word "instinct" when I said the scorpion had an "uncontrollable instinct to sting." Let me point out one difference between legacies and instincts. Instincts are not learned. They are inborn. They are hardwired patterns of behavior. We can see one of the most obvious examples of instinctual behavior immediately after the birth of a child. We do not have to teach that child to nurse.

On the other hand, we do have to teach a child to walk and teach a child to talk. There are documented cases of children who were totally isolated from "normal" human behavior and they were not able to walk or talk when they were discovered.

On the other hand, even if we did not "actively" teach or encourage children to walk and talk - just by being in the in the "presence" of normal human behavior - most of these children would eventually learn by example - that is, by seeing everyone around them walking and talking. These are the types of legacies that we hand down to our children without even thinking about the fact that we are doing so.

Instincts and legacies are passed down from our ancestors - from one generation to the next. Instincts are hardwired into our brains - but we have a little more control when it comes to legacies. However, let me pose a question to you. If a legacy is passed down - generation, after generation, after generation - does it eventually become hardwired into the brain of some future generation? That is, if a legacy continues long enough, does that legacy become instinctual behavior?

For example: if you were to take a people - like black Americans - and enslave them for 246 years, what would be the results of that enslavement? Keep in mind that 246 years is 12, almost 12 ½ generations. That is, parents, their children, their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren, their great-great-grandchildren - let me skip ahead to the 12th generation. The 12th generations would be the (10 great) grandchildren of the original parents.

What would be the end result if every person - in each of those generations - were told - not just once, or twice, or occasionally - but essentially every day of their lives - told that they were inferior beings - told that they were less than human - told that they were just a step above apes - told that according to the laws of nature and the will of God, it was their destiny to be slaves. What would be the results when you got to that 12th generation of black Americans?

What would be the end result if every person - in each of those generations - were told - not just once, or twice, or occasionally - but every day of their lives - told that, even as adults, they were helpless children - told that they could not possible survive without the benevolence of their white master - told that they could never even hope to be successful in America on their own? What would be the results when you got to that 12th generation of black Americans?

What would be the end result if every person - in each of those generations - were told - not just once, or twice, or occasionally - but every day of their lives - told that, they had no power or authority - told that the white man's power was supreme and that they must never exercise their will or their judgement in opposition to their master's orders? What would be the results when you got to that 12th generation of black Americans?

Just by growing up as a black child and teenager in America, I learned a lot about black Americans. I then went to college and majored in history - with an emphasis on black history - and I learned even more about black Americans. I then worked in corporate America for 26 years. Needless to say, I learned a lot about white Americans, but I also learned even more about black Americans. I then began researching for the book Project 2019 and I learned still even more about black Americans. At the end of the day, I had learned a lot "about" black Americans. However, that is not to say that I "understood" black Americans.

For example, there is the so-called "welfare mentality" that exists in black America. This mentality is reflected in our believing that we need to be helped, that we need be taken care of, that somebody should be giving us something.

I knew about "welfare mentality." However, I "understood" welfare mentality when I learned that for 12 ½ generations of Slavery and for 5 generations of the Jim Crow era black Americans were handing down a legacy of depending on white America to take care of them. Of course, this is a legacy begun by and sustained by white Americans in order to perpetuate Slavery and, after Slavery, to keep black Americans "in their place."

In fact, it has been argued that black America's demand for reparations for Slavery reflect this so-called welfare mentality. Yes, we may all agree that black Americans "deserve" reparations. But, I am sure that each of us can make a very long list of what we "deserve." How many of you deserve a better job or higher pay? How many of you deserve children that listen to you and do what you tell them to do? How many of you deserve a good man or a good woman?

The real question is - in very practical terms - what are our chances of receiving reparations 136 years after Slavery ended? After all, only about 110 years ago, Americans were stealing the last few acres of the country from Native Americans. What do you think the chances are that America will give them back their land? It is about the same as the chances of George W. Bush, the Republican controlled Congress, and a conservative Supreme Court giving us reparations.

In case you haven't noticed, America is not a very "giving" country. America is - and has always been - about "taking." America took its freedom from England. America took all the land that once belonged to Native Americans. America took advantage of black Americans to build a great nation. And, today, America takes advantage of the fact that it is a super power to take just about anything it darn well wants.

And, now, for the first time in almost 400 years, black Americans are in the position that we do not have to ask America to "give" us anything. In this era of equal opportunity, black America finally has the freedom, the resources, and the opportunity to "take" what we deserve. Why are we begging for 40 acres and a mule? We should be focusing our time, our energy, and our resources on "taking" 10,000 acres and a whole pack of mules.

As I said, the welfare mentality is a legacy that was created and sustained in order to perpetuate Slavery and, after Slavery, to keep black Americans in their place. And, as long as "one single black child" believes that - some where - some how - some time down the road - America is going to "give" us something, then this legacy will continue to hold black America down.

And then there is the so-called "plantation mentality" that exists in black America. This mentality is reflected in black America's lack of national unity and, indeed, lack of unity on any large scale.

As a black American, I "knew" about our so-called "plantation mentality." However, I "understood" plantation mentality when I learned why black Americans were handing down a legacy of living in small groups - only trusting our closest friends and relatives - and being mistrustful and suspicious of anyone else - black or white - who was not a member of our inner circle.

Unlike most immigrants who came to America, Africans who were brought to America were not a homogeneous group of people. They came in small groups from a wide and diverse population. Keep in mind that Africa is a continent just as Europe is a continent. And blacks who were brought here from different part of Africa often had about as much in common as the Italians and Irishmen who came to America.

Even Africans 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, 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 blacks in the country was out of the question. During the 12½ generations of Slavery, most black Americans were born - lived their entire lives - and died on the same one plantation. They never set foot off of that plantation, or certainly not 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. A gathering of more than a few - usually five - slaves away from their master's premises was an "unlawful assembly." Slaves patrols regularly visited slave quarters and other places to ensure that there were no unlawful gatherings. A slave was legally a runaway and subject to the harshest penalties if found without a pass beyond a certain prescribed distance from his master's home.

For 246 years - 65% of the time that blacks have been in America - black unity was not just discouraged, it was illegal and punishable by law. By the time Slavery ended, black unity was truly a foreign concept to the millions of black Americans who - for the first time in their lives - were even allowed to travel a few miles up the road to see relatives they had never met.

Although black unity was not illegal during the 103 years of the Jim Crow era - and that is another 27% of our history - black unity was, at best, problematic for most black Americans. Between lack of resources - Jim Crow racism that discouraged unity - and sharecropping 18 hours a day just to keep food on the table - it is easy enough to understand how the plantation mentality continued to be passed down generation after generation after generation.

Black unity is now and has always been difficult to come by. Indeed, the best known example of a national black movement is, in truth, not a very good example. Time may have colored some of our memories, but some of us remember the Civil Rights movement for what it was. Dr. King sought to achieve the goal through peaceful protest. Malcolm wanted us to separate ourselves from the "blue-eyed devils" and to do our own thing. And the Black Panthers said that we should just "burn this mother down" and start all over.

Not only were we not all on the same train during the Civil Rights movement, we were not even on the same tracks. We just all happen to be running down the same road in the same direction screaming the same thing at the same time. What do we want? Freedom. When do you want it? Now. Some would even argue that this lack of unity contributed to the success of the movement. The way that blacks were coming from so many different directions, America had to consider that if our peaceful protest did not work, the next step might indeed be a race war in America.

Today, we have thousands upon thousands of small black owned businesses. What would be the ramification of unifying some of those small black businesses into something bigger, something more productive, something more financially stable? If we were to just combine all the corner grocery stores and liquor stores in the black neighborhoods of Chicago, we would have a very large, very powerful company.

And I often raise a few eyebrows when I bring up this subject - but, we have more small, "autonomous" churches than anybody else in America. Could more souls be saved if there was more unity within the spiritual leadership in black America? Could more be done to uplift our black communities if the entire spiritual leadership worked together towards the same "specific" goals?

If you want an example of unity, take a look at the NRA, the National Rifle Association. They only have about 3 to 4 million members and yet they contribute mightily to the fact that there are more than 200 millions guns in America. And if you are a politician, you know how difficult it is to win an election if you end up on their hit list. On the other hand, there are more than 35 millions black Americans and we can't even come together long enough to ensure that all black children receive a quality education.

For at least 65% and as much as 92% of the time most 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. For the first 18 generations of the 20 generations that blacks have been in America, our worlds have 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. With this as our legacy, is it any wonder that black Americans have a problem with national black unity? With this as our legacy, is it any wonder that black Americans tend "not" to stand together, but rather to stand apart?

The third, and final, legacy that I want to discuss is, without any doubt, the most significant of black America's legacies. It is the most significant because it is the most negative legacy that has been handed down to us. It is the most significant because, even today - in the year 2001 - it has the most debilitating affect on black Americans. And it is the most significant because it is the most insidious and the least understood legacy that black Americans must deal with. This legacy is black Americans' fear, aversion, and even disdain for education and knowledge.

One way that this mentality is reflected is by the fact that most black Americans - in the year 2001 - still believe that one of the best way to escape the "ghetto" and become successful in America is through sports and entertainment. This, of course, is a ridiculous notion. Look at the numbers. There are no more than 435 players in the NBA. 435 is also the number of members in the United House of Representatives. You have a "better" chance of getting elected to Congress - a better chance because, in addition to the 435 congressmen, there are also 100 senators in the United States Congress.

There is a total of about 70,000 professional athletes in America and about 10% - that's only about 7,000 - are black. And only about 30 or 40 of them are good enough to get the long-term contracts and to make the big bucks. On the other hand, there are more than 800,000 doctors in America and almost 1 million attorneys. Based on the numbers, the sad truth is that more people become millionaires as a result of playing the lotto than the number of people who become millionaires as a result of careers in sports and entertainment.

Again, while I knew "about" this mentality, I did not really "understand" it. Even when I learned that it, like all of our negative legacies, was begun by and sustained by white Americans to perpetuate Slavery, I still did not truly get it. With all the history that I studied in school, I still missed the point. And to be honest with you, I did not suddenly understand it and started writing "Project 2019." I was, in fact, in the middle of writing "Project 2019" when it finally hit me. I can't repeat in public what I said when the light bulb clicked on above my head. To put it politely, I said, " gee, the people who enslaved my ancestors were some very clever people. They "knew" what they were doing."

You see, it was not enough to "just" tell black Americans - generations after generation after generation - that they were helpless children and that they could not possible survive without the benevolence of their white masters. It was not enough to just tell black Americans that they were inferior beings, that they were less than human, that they were just a step above apes. It was not enough to just tell them - generation after generation after generation - that according to the laws of nature and the will of God they were put here on earth to be slaves.

"Why" was it not enough to just tell black Americans these things? It was not enough because all of these things are "lies." Therefore, it was just as important that black Americans "never" found out the truth. It was critical that blacks were made ignorant when they were put into Slavery and it was just as critical for black Americans to remain ignorant if Slavery was to endure.

How critical was it that black Americans remained ignorant? Well, not only was it illegal and a punishable offense for blacks to learn to read or write, it was illegal for any person to teach a black American to read or write. Just think about that for a moment. It was not illegal for a slave owner to beat a slave. It was not even illegal for a slave owner to beat a slave to death. And it certainly was not illegal for a slave owner to rape a slave. About the only thing that a white person could do to a slave that could get that white person into legal trouble was to educate that slave.

It is not easy to enslave a strong, proud, brave people. However, if you know what you are doing, it can be done. And, clearly, over a period of 246 years, Americans became experts at enslaving black Americans. And at the heart of this expertise was an irrefutable truth that white America clearly understood: knowledge is power - and - ignorance is weakness.

For 246 years of Slavery, 12 ½ generations of black Americans were legally forbidden to attain knowledge. And even after Slavery ended, for another 103 years of the Jim Crow era, another five generations of black Americans were denied a quality education as a result of segregated, sub-standard schools. And even this sub-standard education was hard to come by. It made little sense for a healthy 12, 14, or 16 year-old child to be sitting around in a classroom while the rest of the family was working from dawn to dusk just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

And during "all" that time, there was that little white voice whispering in the minds of black Americans, "boy, that book-learnin' goin to get your black ass in trouble." Today, there is still a little voice whispering in the minds of black Americans - except that now it is a black voice whispering.. "You think you better than us cause you got a little education." - and - "All that schoolin got you thinking that you white or something." - and - "what you tryin to prove, dog? You ain't keeping it real."

This legacy of fear, aversion, and disdain for education and knowledge was begun by and sustained by America in order to perpetuate Slavery and, after Slavery, to keep black Americans "in their place." How effective of a job did America do? Let me ask you a question. How many of you have heard the old racist joke - how do you keep a "black person" from stealing your money? Hide it in a book. Now, let me ask you this. How many of you have ever heard a white person say this?

The point is, all of our negative legacies are now "our" problem. We have to take a long hard, honest look at the people that we have become. We have to understand how and why we are the people that we are. And we have to go about making the changes that "must" be made if we are to ever be successful in America.

It will not be easy. As I said, I was in the middle of writing Project 2019 when I fully comprehended the impact of black America's legacy of fear, aversion, and disdain for education and knowledge. It was then that I realized that Project 2019 required fighting an uphill battle - so that we can cross a burning desert - in order to get to a mountain - that we then have to climb.

You see, Project 2019 is all about black self-sufficiency - doing for ourselves - rather than others doing for us. It is the opposite of welfare mentality. However, you need education and knowledge in order to understand and eliminate the welfare mentality.

Project 2019 requires black unity - the opposite of plantation mentality. But, in order to create a national black movement, you need education and knowledge to understand and eliminate the plantation mentality.

Therefore, before we can even begin the monumental task of raising the educational and knowledge level of black Americans - we must first use education and knowledge to fight our way through legacies that are natural barriers to education and knowledge. And keep in mind that we must accomplish all of this for a people who have been taught to mistrust, to not appreciate, and to even reject education and knowledge.

This is why black America's legacy of fear, aversion, and disdain for education and knowledge is the most negative and the most insidious legacy that black America has to overcome. The only good news is that once we overcome this legacy - once we truly understand and accept that knowledge is power - once we truly believe that knowledge is the answer - then we are well on our way to overcoming "all" of other negative legacies.

So, how do we do it? How do we change the negative mindset of black Americans towards education and knowledge? We do it the same way that it was done to us. White America had a goal and an objective. Their goal was to prevent black Americans from attaining knowledge with their objective being to perpetuate Slavery. Our goal is to reach educational parity with white America by the year 2019 and our objective is to achieve absolute equality in America.

All white Americans knew that in order to perpetuate Slavery, black Americans had to be kept ignorant. We must make sure that "all black Americans" know that education and knowledge are the keys to absolute equality in America. Not just your sons and your daughters, your nieces and nephews, or your grandchildren, but every black American must know the truth. If education and knowledge were not the keys, then America would not have worked so very hard to keep knowledge and education from us for 349 years.

Every day, I see black Americans on TV and hear them talking on the radio about everything from basketball to reparations to Jesse Jackson's personal problems. We need to be talking about Project 2019 - something that is guaranteed to make a difference in black America.

Unfortunately, we can not create a law that would make failing to educate a black American illegal. However, we can make bringing home anything less that A's B's on a report card a crime within our own homes. We can sit down with our children when they do their homework. We can read to them, and we can make them read to us. A good book to start with is "Project 2019."

It is not enough to just talk the talk, we must also walk the walk. We must demonstrate to them that attaining education and knowledge is not just something they must do. It is something that we truly believe in.

If we can just make obtaining education and knowledge as important to our children as basketball, rap music, and video games, then we will be well on our way towards creating a "new" legacy for black America. A legacy that we can be proud of - a legacy that will ensure that the next generation - and all future generations of black Americans - will finally reach that mountain top.

We owe no less to the millions of black Americans who lived and died in Slavery with their only hope being that their children or grandchildren would one day be free. We owe no less to the thousands of black and white Americans who fought and died so that blacks would finally have the opportunity to obtain the American dream.

This is what "we" must do. "We." I just used the word "we" about 10 times in the past 5 minutes.

A few week ago, I replied to a note that a good friend and long-time Project 2019 supporter sent to me. In my reply, I pointed out that he had used the word "we" 6 or 7 times - as in, "we need to do this" - and "we need to do that." When he replied back to me, he acknowledged that he did not really mean "we" - he meant "me." So, let me take this opportunity to make sure that you know what I mean when I say "we." The truth is, I mean "you."

I have often said, that Project 2019 does not belong to me. It does not belong to me any more than Dr. King's dream belonged to him. He said the words - he coined the phrase - but it was my dream - it was your dream - it was your grandparents' dream. It was the dream of "all" black Americans. And, "this" is the reason why this dream became a reality.

I am often asked - "exactly how do you propose to make Project 2019 a reality?" "What's your plan to ensure that Project 2019 succeeds?" Well, the most honest answer I can give is that I pretty much plan to keep on doing what I have been doing. As the scorpion said to the swan, "it is in my nature. It is what I do."

My question is: "what is in your nature? What is it that YOU do?" We all have our own talents and skill sets. And there is a myriad of very talented, very capable people here tonight. It does not matter if you are a secretary, a mechanic, an attorney, a factory worker, a school administrator, a teacher, a minister, a stay at home mom, or a corporate executive. "You" can write "your name" in the history books as the person who led the battle to save black America.

My question to you is "what are YOU going to do to ensure that Project 2019 succeeds?" If your answer is "I am going to wait on Chuck Sanford to make Project 2019 a success" then you might as well go home and wait on your reparations check to come in the mail.

In my remarks at last year's Banquet, I pointed out that black men have the lowest life expectancy in America. By the grace of God, I am here tonight to repeat that statement. And by the grace of God, I may beat the odds and be around in the year 2019. However, if I am not, Project 2019 will continue.

Project 2019 will continue because it is now a legacy. It is something that we will pass down to our descendants. And, in this case, the "we" are the tens of thousands of black Americans who have visited the Project 2019 web site, attended Project 2019 events, read the "Project 2019" book, or managed to let me corner them at a party or other social event.

Project 2019 is a legacy. And simply by knowing about Project 2019, you have become a part of that legacy. The only question is - when the year 2019 rolls around - will it be a positive legacy? Will it be something that black Americans can point to with pride - as an example of the resilience, the resourcefulness, and the strength of character of black Americans? Or will be Project 2019 be another negative legacy - another example of black America's inability to unite and overcome the centuries of oppression and injustices that have been heaped upon us.

Will Project 2019 be a positive legacy or a negative legacy? This is truly up to each and every one of you.

At the beginning of my remarks, I mentioned the names and the legacies of two people - Michael Boyce and Mark Shriver. When I read the newspaper, I clip interesting articles and throw them in a box in case I want to refer to them at a later date.

On March 12th, I clipped this article. The headline says, "Member of Kennedy clan eyes Congress. Mark Shriver, a Maryland state legislator and member of the Kennedy political family, intends to run for Congress next year… Shriver is the son of Sargent and Eunice Shriver, whose brother is Edward M. Kennedy. Her husband was President John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps director and the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1972."

Oh, well, I thought. That "is" the legacy of the Kennedy family.

A few pages later, I can across this article. The headlines says, "3 men face charges in fatal bombing. The firebomb that tore through a West Side home and killed a young boy (he was 4 years old) was hurled by gang members looking to avenge the fatal shooting of a fellow gang member." As it turns out, it was the wrong house. Michael Boyce was later charged with actually throwing the bomb.

And so it occurred to me, "this" is the legacy of the Boyce family.

I could not help but wonder how different the lives of these two men might have been if their situations had been reversed - if Mark Shriver had been raised in a family filled with negative legacies and negatives role models - and if Michael Boyce had grown up in a family filled with positive legacies and positive role models.

And I could not help but wonder what would have been the future of 4-year-old Armon Kendley if his life had not ended so tragically. Was he destined to hear about Project 2019 and become the next Martin Luther King or the next Colin Powell? Might he have become the first black president of the United States? Or was he destined for an equally important role - to be a hard working, God-fearing, black man who would have raised his children with love, dignity, and honor?

In the end, I was reminded on a couple of those historical facts that often roll around in the heads of those who study history. During Slavery, there were laws that restricted assembly and there were curfews imposed "even" on "free" black Americans. In South Carolina and other states, black seamen were arrested and held in custody while their ships were in port.

Whenever the opportunity presented itself, free black Americans were chased 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. Today, we have an expression that we use for this type of treatment of black Americans. It's called racial profiling.

So, my friends, it comes down to this. Unless we are all free, then none of us are truly free. And unless all black Americans have the chance to succeed, then none of us can truly be successful in America. Until all black Americans have absolute equality in America, then no black American has absolute equality in America.

And this "is" as it should be.

White Americans, even those of the same ethnic group, came here under differing conditions and circumstances. Many were poor, but some were rich. Some were uneducated, but others were well educated. Some came here knowing only the family they traveled with. Others were welcomed into the bosoms of their families that were already here in America.

On the other hand, almost all blacks were brought to America under the same tragic conditions and circumstances. We slaved together. We fought together. And we have died together. In the end, if black Americans are to succeed, we must succeed together or - most certainly - we will "all" fail together.

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