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(Keynote Address: The 2004 "Project 2019 Annual Conference")
In preparing my remarks for this evening, I took a look at the presentations that I gave at the Annual Conference Banquets for the last 4 years. And after seeing exactly what and how much I have already said about Project 2019, I decided that it was time for a quick review.
So, the subject for this evening is a review of (a) "what you should know about Project 2019," (b) "why you should care about Project 2019," and (c) "what you should do about Project 2019." And I suggest that you pay close attention because there will be a test - which I will tell you more about in a few minutes.
I will begin with 5 of the most important facts about Project 2019.
Fact number 1 is a statement that defines Project 2019. "Project 2019 is a national movement by black Americans - to reach "educational parity" with the rest of America - by the year 2019. The significance of the year 2019 is that it will be the 400th anniversary of the beginning of Slavery in America."
Now, this definition is pretty self-explanatory - and it is as specific a definition as you will find for any organization that you are likely to encounter. Unlike other organizations, not only do we tell you exactly what we are trying to do, we tell you exactly how long we think it should take to do it.
The only part of this definition that may require additional explanation is the phrase "educational parity."
The Project 2019 measurement of "educational parity" is based on college degrees earned. Currently, 17% of black Americans earn college degrees - more than 27% of white Americans earn college degrees - and more than 47% of Asian-Americans earn college degrees.
Let me give you those numbers again. More than 47% (that's almost half) of all Asian-Americans earn college degrees. More than 27% (that's heading toward one third) of white Americans earn college degrees. And only 17% of black Americans earn college degrees. Remember these percentages the next time you hear someone complaining about racism, the lack of jobs, or just sitting around trying to "figure out" what wrong with black America.
The goal of Project 2019 is, by the year 2019, to have the same percentage of black Americans receiving college degrees as the rest of America. Until this happens, how can we possible expect to compete with the rest of America? And let me assure you that we won't do it by playing basketball and trying to become gansta rappers. The numbers speak for themselves. There are only about 70,000 professional athletes in America and only about 7,000 (that's 10%) are black. On the other hand, there are more than 800,000 doctors in America and almost 1 million attorneys.
The second fact that you should know about Project 2019 is that it is NOT black America's fault that we are TODAY the least educated and the least knowledgeable racial group in America. We were made the least educated and least knowledgeable when we were brought to America beginning in 1619 - that is the year before the Mayflower brought the Pilgrims to America - and we were deliberately kept the least educated people in America for almost all of our 400 year history.
And it was done for a very specific reason. The ONLY way that blacks could have been kept in Slavery for 246 years was to keep slaves as uneducated and as unenlightened as possible. That is why it was perfectly legal to rape a slave, to work a slave to death, or to even beat a slave to death - BUT - it was illegal to give a slave a gun - OR - to teach a slave to read or write.
And, the only way that blacks could have been kept "in their place" for the 103 year Jim Crow era that began after the Civil War and was ended by the Civil Rights movement, was to keep black Americans as uneducated and as unenlightened as possible. It is the reason why the only education we could get was separate and substandard.
And we have to give the devil his due. During 246 years of Slavery, white America declared that black Americans had no value except for their physical abilities. Not only did they say it, but for 12 successive generations, they demanded that black Americans accept as fact that they had no intellectual aptitude.
The question that we must answer is this: did black Americans also come to measure their own worth based primarily - or solely - on their physical abilities? And, even today, is the mindset of black Americans that, in order to be successful in America, you are better off using physical abilities rather than intellectual aptitude?
If you want the answer to these questions, the next time you are around a group of 8, 9, 10 year-old black kids, ask them what they want to do when they grow up. See how many say they want to be the next Lebron James or the next Beyonce Knowles.
As I said, the second fact was that "it is NOT black America's fault that we are TODAY the least educated and the least knowledgeable racial group in America." However, the third fact that you should know is this: It "IS" black America's fault if we remain the least educated and the least knowledgeable people in America for even one more generation.
Yes, it is true that in the past white racist America did all that it could to prevent black Americans from obtaining education and knowledge. However, today, there is NOTHING that white America can do to prevent blacks from obtaining education and knowledge. But, even more to the point, there is absolutely nothing that a white American can do to MAKE a black child sit down, turn off the TV, and to do his homework. And there is absolutely nothing that a white American can do to make a black parent sit down and read with his child - after he has done his home work. This is why one of the basic tenets of Project 2019 is : Only black America can save black America.
The fourth fact that you should know about Project 2019 is that "education and knowledge is the gateway that will lead to the solutions to all the problems that afflict black America."
Note that the operative word is "gateway." This is to say that education and knowledge is not, in itself, the be all to end all - for all of black America's economic and social problems. However, education and knowledge is the prerequisite first step for solving these problems.
If we were better educated as a people, our economic condition would be better. We talk about all of young black men being in prison. Well, let me assure you that you won't find very many black college graduates or even high school graduates in prison. If we raise our children to value education and knowledge, they won't join gangs - they will go to college and they will join fraternities and sororities.
The fifth and final fact that you should know about Project 2019 is that - "knowledge is power" - "and education is power." And as long as black Americans remain the least educated and the least knowledgeable people in America, black Americans will remain the people with the least amount of power in America.
Now that you have some of the most important facts about Project 2019, the next point is why you should CARE about Project 2019. But, before we discuss why YOU should care, let tell you why many black Americans do NOT care about Project 2019. And, there are two large groups.
The first group consists of black Americans who do not care about Project 2019 because they do not understand the power of education and the power of knowledge. They have not been able to overcome the lies that black Americans were told for 3 1/2 centuries - that book learning is for white folks - and that education is of little or no value to black Americans.
They believe that getting a good education means that you are trying to be white - or as their kids might say - you ain't keeping it real. Their kids have been raised to believe that if you are getting all A's and B's in school, then you must be a punk - and that if you want to be a REAL man, then you need to join the football team or be the star player on the basketball team.
One of my favorite quotes over the last couple of years is by Harriet Tubman. As you know, she was one of the leaders of the Underground Railroad. And after she escaped to the North, she made 19 trips back to the South to lead other slaves to freedom. Here is what she had to say:
"If I could have convinced more slaves that they WERE slaves, I would have freed - thousands more."
And what Harriet Tubman said is still true to this day. Many black Americans truly do not understand that - who they are and what they are is EXACTLY what black Americans were told to be by white racist America 50, 100, or 200 years ago.
The second group that does not care about Project 2019 consists of black Americans that - DO - understand the power of education and the power of knowledge - BUT - only as it applies to THEM. It is what is known as a "plantation mentality." Hear is what you might hear them say:
"My only concern is "me and mine." I worked hard, damn hard, to get where I am in life - and if those other Negroes are too ignorant or too lazy to do what I did, then it's on them, not on me."
Now, you want to know what the real shame is about these two groups of black folks who do not care about Project 2019 ? It is the people who DO NOT understand the power of education and knowledge who are calling those in the second group a bunch of sell-outs and Uncle Toms. And it is the people who DO understand the power of education and knowledge - as it applies to "them and theirs" - who are calling those in the first group unmotivated and lazy.
I suppose that I could have been a member of the "me and mine are doing just fine" group. After all, all my siblings have had successful careers. My brother has two college degrees - one of my sisters is a Ph.D. - and another sister is always taking classes still trying to complete her degree - and she is almost as old as I am.
All of my nieces and nephews have successful careers. 7 of them have, or will have within the next couple of years, at least one college degree. My son has a degree and last year my daughter received her doctorate in psychology.
Having said this, let me confess that I always feel just a little uncomfortable when I discuss my family's academic achievements - or the academic achievements of my wife's family - or the academic achievements of my friends' families.
I would like to believe that it is simply because I am, essentially, a modest person. But, I have also wondered at times if it is because even "I" halfway buy into that big lie - that educational accomplishments are something to be ashamed of - or, at least, not something to be "broadcast" to a room full of black folks.
In any case, rest assured that I do not tell the story of my family in order to brag or boast. First of all, I am wise enough to understand that, it was by the grace of God, that I was born the son of an amazing black woman, my mother Lucinda Acker.
She was born and raised in the South in the middle of the Jim Crow era and, like so many others, she had very little opportunity to get an education herself. And yet, all of my successes, all of my siblings successes, all the successes of my nieces and nephews, and all of the future successes of my grandnieces and grandnephews - they are all the results of my mother's making sure that we understood the power of education and the power of knowledge.
And, even so, I do not tell you this to just give honor to my mother - although she deserves every bit of honor that she gets. I tell you this story to make a point. We grew up in the heart of the West Side of Chicago. We went to the same run down, inter-city schools as everyone else. But because our focus was on education and knowledge, we all did just fine.
The point is that if you truly, truly want to learn - you will find a way to overcome any and all obstacles that may stand in your way. 200 years ago, there were slaves who managed to learn to read and write. Today, you can go to any library or just turn on a computer and sign on to the Internet. It is ALL about your mindset - and we desperately need to change black America's mindset regarding education and knowledge.
So, once again, why should you care about Project 2019? My original plan was to TELL YOU why you should care about Project 2019. But, at some point, I realize that only you can answer this question for yourself. However, I may be able to help you answer it by telling why "I" care about Project 2019.
I care about Project 2019 because of the past.
As a student of history, I think I know (better than most people) what it was like to be a black American in the year 1704, 1804, 1904, as well as, 2004. And I thank God that I am a black man born in the 20th century and not a black man born in the 17th, 18th, or 19th century.
Being a student of history - I understand the abject cruelty, the suffering, the degradation, and the hopelessness of those who came before me - AND I JUST CAN'T LET IT GO. I have imagined what it was like to work from dawn to dusk under a hot Georgia sun - to fall asleep in a dark, dank slave cabin - knowing that no matter how hard you worked, no matter how hard you tried, your life would be just as miserable tomorrow as it was today - and the next day, and the next day, and the next day - for the rest of your unhappy, tortured life.
As a student of history, I have a sense of the incredible price that was paid by millions and millions of black Americans so that I could stand here and speak to you this evening - eat a nice dinner - and not have to get up at dawn to chop wood or pick cotton until the sun goes down. We owe SO, SO very much to our ancestors. To not take advantage of the opportunities that were created as a result of their blood, their sweat, and their tears is almost too disrespectful and too shameful to comprehend.
And, in addition to caring about Project 2019 because of the past, I also care about Project 2019 because of the present.
And is this regard, perhaps my motives are somewhat selfish. I am a black man in America. I have a black son and a young black stepson who I do not want to be racially profiled or accidentally shot by a nervous cop who is used to dealing with armed black gang-bangers and drug dealers. And I have a black mother, a black daughter, and a black wife who I worry about whenever they visit certain black neighborhoods.
I want all of my black friends, family members, and loved ones to be safe, happy, and successful. And one thing I know that would contribute to that happening would be if we double the number of young black men in college. To begin with, it would mean a couple of million less young black men hanging out on street corners, working dead-end job, or ending up in prison.
And, finally, I care about Project 2019 because of the future.
I care about the future of black America. Again, being a student of history, I have a sense of the ebb and the flow and the passage of time. I have a good understanding of the past events that have brought us to this point and a good idea of where we might go in the future. And as a student of history, I realize that if humanity survives another 100, 200, or 300 years, other students of history will look back at what we did - or failed to do - and judge what we did and how it impacts their lives in the present.
Today, we can look back just 50 years and we can ask the question - where would we be if those brave, caring black Americans did not have the strength and the courage to initiate, to fight, and to win the struggle for Civil Rights? What kind of world would we live in today? Would we even be allowed to come in through the front door of the East Bank Club? Do we owe any less to the black Americans who will look back in 50 years at what we did in our life time ?
And, yes. Some of those who will be looking back in 50 years will be our granddaughters, our great-grandsons, our grandnieces and nephews, or some distant cousins. But, that is not the point. Because what we are attempting to accomplish is not about "me and mine" or "you and yours." It is so much bigger. Project 2019 is about all black Americans - this generation, the next generation, and all future generations of black Americans.
I have given you some of the most important facts about Project 2019 and I have told you why I care about Project 2019 and I will leave it up to you decide why you should care about Project 2019. The third and final part of my review is: "what you should do about Project 2019."
I won't go through the long list of suggestions that are already on the Project 2019 Web site or the suggestion that are in my book. Also, there is a handout, "How You Can Help The Movement" that you can pick up before you leave.
However, I do want to mention a couple of things on this subject. First I want to again thank you for coming out once again to support Project 2019. This is the 5th time we have done this and there are some of you who have attended at least 3, some who have attended 4 and some who have attended all 5 Banquets. I truly do appreciate your participation. If you have done nothing else to support Project 2019, at this point, you have done more than the vast majority of black Americans.
I would also like to thank those of you who have contributed even more to the cause. Can I have a show of hands for all those who have contributed at least $10,000 to the Project 2019 movement ?
Mileka (Aljuwani) , you can raise your hand. If we add your time, your energy, and your services rendered to the money you have contributed, you are well above that figure.
And Rose you can raise both of your hands two or three times. I want all of you to know that I am just the spokesman for Project 2019. The real power behind the movement is my wife, Rose. Were it not for her patience, her understanding, her faith, her love, and, yes, her money because I have not earned a dime in years, you might not be sitting here this evening.
And, for the record, within the next couple of weeks, we should be receiving our Not For Profit tax-exemption notification from the IRS. So, for those who WOULD like to donate $10,000 to the cause, you will be able to deduct it as a charitable contribution when you file your taxes.
My final comment regarding what you should do about Project 2019 is this: Because there is so much work to be done and such a wide variety of tasks to be performed, there is an almost unlimited number of ways that you can contribute. You should ask yourself - based on your strengths, your resources, your connections, your personal preferences, etc. - "what can I do to help the movement?" In other words, give it some thought and let's sit down and talk. I am positive that we can work something out that will help the movement without totally disrupting your life.
I will end my remarks this evening by continuing a tradition that I started during a presentation 2 or 3 years ago. That is, to tell you something about me that I don't think that you know - and to you something that I think that I know about you. I will begin with you.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were discussing, or should I say complaining about, George W. Bush. And he made some comments about how unfair it was that Bush and the Republicans were cutting taxes for the rich and how they need to pay their fair share. And since I had a pretty good idea of how much he and his wife earned per year, I reminded him that, based on what I knew, their income was in the top 10% of all incomes in America. He smiled, shook his head, and then he said, "yeah , you go George."
The point is that we are so caught up in our daily struggles, problems, and dramas that we often do not realize just how good we have it. And, perhaps even more importantly, we also do not realize how good we are at what we do.
Let me assure you that for many reasons, including you being here this evening, you are the cream of the crop. And I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that if through some act of God, you were given power over all black Americans, black America would be fixed real fast.
(By the way, this is one of my mother's favorite fantasies - to have absolute power over all black folks - everywhere. Yeah, she would straighten them out real fast , either that or she would be in jail for mass murder )
But, seriously, the point is that if you are waiting for white America to save black America, we will be waiting another 400 years. And if you are waiting on some other black Americans to save black America, we may be waiting another 800 years. You need to understand that if black America is to be redeemed, it will be redeemed by you. If black America is to be uplifted, it will be uplifted by you. And if black America is to be saved, it will be saved by you.
And, finally, I will tell you something about me that you may not know.
It is this: I truly believe every word that I have spoken here this evening. I truly believe in black America. And I truly believe in each and every one of you. I truly believe that we can make a difference - not only in the lives of black Americans of this generation - but in the lives of all future generations of black Americans. And we need to keep reminding ourselves - if we don't do it, then who will ?
In closing, you might remember that I said at the beginning of my remarks that there would be a test. Well, it is a take-home test. If you believe that what we are attempting to accomplish is worthy, I would like for you, AT A MINIMUM, to come back again next year - and this time bring at least one other person with you. You have a whole year to work on this, so don't wait until the last minute - you know how we can be sometimes.
I have faith that all of you will pass this test. And I have faith that many of you will go well beyond this little test and truly make a difference in the Project 2019 movement in the coming months and years.
So, let me say it again. If black America is to be redeemed, it will be redeemed by you. If black America is to be uplifted, it will be uplifted by you. And if black America is to be saved, it will be saved by you.
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