PROJECT 2019

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"It's Time For A Revolution"

(Keynote Address: The 2006"Project 2019 Annual Conference")

If you have attended some or all of the previous Annual Conference Banquets, you may recall that my remarks are usually inspired by some event that occurred during the weeks leading up to the Banquet. Sadly, it is often a senseless, tragic event that has happened to some innocent black person or black family that did not deserve such a fate.

I hope and trust that you know that I do not choose unhappy news because I want to. I do it because I believe that we must find a way to understand how broken black America is and what we must do it fix it.

For these reasons, my remarks this evening are inspired by the senseless shooting deaths of Starkesia Reed and Siretha White last month in the Englewood neighborhood. As you know these were two beautiful, precious little girls with their entire lives ahead of them, killed by young black men for stupid, senseless reasons.

As the stories of these two little girls unfolded, I had two reactions. One reaction was a great sense of pain and a great sense of loss. I, in fact, did not know either of these girls or their families, but I know “of them.” Their stories are the stories of thousands of black families all across the country and, but for the grace of God, could be the story of my family or yours.

I have four sisters who were the ages of Starkesia and Siretha when we grew up on the West Side of Chicago. I have a daughter who was Starkesia’s and Siretha’s age when she would visit her cousins on the South Side. And I have an amazing wife who was Starkesia’s and Siretha’s age as she grew up, along with her three sisters, in the same Englewood neighborhood. And because each black American here this evening can tell a similar tale, I am sure that each of you experienced the same sense of loss and pain.

Again, this was my first reaction. My second reaction – and I can only hope that each of you also shared this reaction – my second reaction was that it is time for a “revolution.” And to be more specific, it is time for a “civil war.” It is time for decent, hardworking, caring, black Americans to stand up and shout – “enough is enough and we are NOT going to take it anymore.”

Now, I know you have heard these exact words before – or similar statements – from our community leaders, our political leaders, and our church leaders. And what has been the end result…? We hold a couple of rallies, we march through a neighborhood for a couple of days, we have a trade-in-your-guns program for a gift certificate – and a few weeks later, it is back to business as usual.

But, there is a reason why things always seem to work out this way. We, as black Americans, are a family. For 246 years, we suffered through Slavery together. For the 103 years of the Jim Crow era, we were second-class citizens together. And for the last 30 plus years we have, as a family, wrestled with the vestiges of racism that still exist after our victorious fight for civil rights.

Indeed during our 387-year history in America, it has always been “them” versus “us.” And, as is the case with most families, we often do not have the heart – nor do we have the stomach – to do what we need to do to fix those family members who are destroying our family. Well, it is time for a revolution. It is time for a civil war.

Let me make it clear what I mean by a civil war. In my opinion, what is happening or might happen in Iraq is not a true civil war. There are Shite Moslems, Sunni Moslems, and Kurds fighting in a country whose boundary were defined and drawn by Britain after World War I.

When you hear of civil wars in Africa, again, it is usually the result of diverse tribes or people who were lumped together as a nation by Europeans when they colonized the African continent. They simply claimed the land from “those mountains to that river” in the name of their king. It did not matter to them if one half of one tribe was inside those boundaries and the other half was outside the boundaries – and if one half of another tribe was inside those boundaries and the other half was outside.

On the other hand, one of the best examples of a civil war was the American Civil War. This was truly a case, both figuratively and literally, of brothers fighting against brothers. There were thousands of men who had lived in the South who went to fight for the North and thousands who lived in the North who went to fight for the South. They all looked alike, spoke the same language, and shared the same religions. What set them apart and what caused them to engage in such a bloody civil war was, of course, Slavery.

And I do not use the words “bloody civil war” casually. If you total up all the Americans casualties in all the wars that we have fought, the total is still less than the number of Americans casualties in the four years of the American Civil War. And it is worth noting that the population of America during the Civil War was less than half of what it was when America fought in World War I and World War II.

Now a cynic might say that Americans are so violent, so lethal, so good at killing that such huge casualties make sense when Americans are on both sides of the battlefield. However, the point of this information is to make it clear how committed these Americans were to their principles. Both sides saw the war as a matter of survival.

Some did it to save the Union – and some did it to establish a separate country. The fact is, the Civil War did not have to be fought. That is, the so-called Slave-States, the states where Slavery was legal, simply wanted to withdraw from the Union. Indeed, the Civil War was not called a civil war in the South. It was called the “War for Southern Independence.”

Fortunately, for black Americans, enough white Americans believe that Slavery was wrong and believed as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated in paraphrasing the words of Jesus Christ: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”

And I offer this same message to you in regards to black America in the year 2006: a house divided against itself cannot stand.

So, what is the division within black America…? As I said, in regards to the American Civil War, the division was ultimately about Slavery. Well, in black America today, the division is all about the “results” of Slavery. It is all about the people we have become. It is all about the people that we are.

For those of you who would like to forget about Slavery, who don’t understand what Slavery has to do with “anything” in the year 2006, you should know the following. Just as a person is a continuum that cannot be separated on any given day from his or her past – a people, specifically black Americans, are a continuum that cannot be separated from our history during any given year of that history.

You, who are here this evening, are the end results of who you were when you were born, who you were when you were 5 years old, who you were when you were 15 years old, who you were when you were 30 years old, and so forth. And for those of you who have not yet reached the age that some of us are, rest assured, that no matter how old you get, the person that you will be, will be the end result of all that you were prior to this evening and all that you are after this evening.

My life is a continuum. Your life is a continuum. And we, as a people, are a continuum.

Let me try to put this into perspective. For example, a 22 year-old gang-banger commits a stupid, senseless act of violence and we wonder how could anyone do something so stupid, so reckless, and so hurtful?

Would it be easier to answer the question if we learned that he was taken from his parents at birth and that for the first 14 years of his life he was denied an education, and that he was physically, emotionally, or sexually abused everyday of his life. Then, at the age of 15, he ran away and lived wherever he could, doing whatever he had to do just to survive from one day to the next. And, therefore, it had only been during the last year or two, that as an adult, he had the opportunity to turn his life around from the violence and poverty that he had always known.

Of course, knowing such information does not justify or excuse the behavior of this 22 year-old gang-banger because we are ultimately responsible and accountable for all of our deeds and acts. But, at least, we would have a better understanding of “why” this gang-banger behaves as he does.

Now, have you ever wondered why black Americans, as a people, act as they do? The exact lament that you might have heard is: “what in the hell is wrong with black folks today…?”

Would it help to answer that question if you knew that the history of black Americans, as a people, exactly mirrors the past of the young gang-banger that I just described?

I said that during his first 14 years – that’s 64% of his 21 years of life – he was taken from his parents, he was denied an education, and he was physically, emotionally, or sexually abused every day of his life. Well, that is just what happened to blacks during 246 years of Slavery – which is also the first 64% of the time that blacks have been in America.

I said that during his teen years – which was 27% of his 22 years of life – he lived wherever he could, doing whatever he had to do just to survive. Well, living as second-class citizens, struggling just to get by is exactly what happened to blacks during the 103 years of the Jim Crow era – which is also 27% of the time that blacks have been in America.

In the case of the 22 year-old gang-banger, it was only the last year or two of his life that he, as an adult, was truly free to begin to try to understand, to accept, and to begin to try to fix his broken life. This is also the case for black Americans. It has only been during the last 37 years – since the success of the Civil Rights Movement – that black America has been truly free to begin to try to understand, to accept, and to try to fix itself.

And for black America to fix itself, there are so many lessons we must learn.

For black America to fix itself, there are so many things we must understand.

For black America to fix itself, there are so many things we must accept.

And for black America to fix itself, there are so many things we must do.

The first lesson and the most important lesson that we must learn is that “knowledge is power.”

White America has always clearly understood and wholeheartedly believed this truism. It is the reason why it was illegal to educate black Americans during 246 years of Slavery. And it is the reason why black Americans were limited to separate, substandard education during the 103 years of the Jim Crow era.

As a result, black Americans are now, as they have always been, the least educated and the least knowledgeable racial group in America. And it is this lack of education and knowledge that has had the most debilitating effect on the social and economic condition of black America in the past and it is now our biggest problem in the 21st century.

Knowledge is power. And as long as black Americans remain the least educated and the least knowledgeable racial group in America, we will remain the people with least amount of power in America.

And while acknowledging that a formal education is not the be all to end all, I am absolutely convinced that “education and knowledge is the ‘gateway’ that will lead to the solutions to ‘all’ the problem that afflict black America.”

In addition to all the lessons that we must learn, in order for black America to save itself, there are so many things that we need to understand.

One of the first and most important things that we must understand is that we are not the people the people that we might have become. We are not the people that we could be. And, hopefully, we are not the people that we will eventually become. In 2006, we are the people that white America “raised” us to be.

Here is how Harriet Tubman explained it. As you know, Harriet Tubman 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 slave to freedom. Here is what she said: “If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I would have freed – thousands more.”

And what Harriet Tubman said about “mental Slavery” is still true to this day. Many black Americans do not understand that – who and what they are and how they behave is exactly what black Americans were told to be and how to behave by white racist America for the past four centuries.

If some black Americans act like soulless animals, it is because we were told by white racist America for the first 90% of our history that we were animals, beasts of burden, just a step up above apes.

If some black Americans have a plantation mentality, it is because it was drummed into our heads for the first 90% of our history that we should not trust other blacks and that we should only be concerned about “me and mine.”

If some black Americans have a welfare mentality, it is because we were brainwashed during the first 90% of our history into believing that we were helpless children and that we could not survive without the benevolence and the help of white America.

And for all of those black American who have disrespect for, aversion to, and even fear of education and knowledge, it is because for the first 90% of our history we were engineered to believe that education was for white folks and not for black folks. And all of this was reinforced by laws that made educating black Americans illegal during 246 years of Slavery and then by Jim Crow laws that made it almost impossible for black Americans to get a quality education for another 103 years.

In addition to all the lessons that we must learn and all the things that we must understand, for black America to save itself, there are also many things we that we need to accept.

One of the first and most important things thing that black America must accept is that black America “needs” to be saved. We can no longer gloss over problems or try to put a positive spin on things. The facts, the figures, the statistics speak for themselves. We are the least educated. We have the least amount of political power. We have the least amount of economic power. We are at or near the bottom of all social and economic indicators and measurements.

Black America must accept that only black America will save black America – because, in fact, only black America can save black America.

As I noted earlier, regardless of the circumstances, an individual must be responsible and accountable for his or her actions. The same is also true for a people. Therefore, while all of our problems that exist today are clearly the results of almost four centuries of Slavery and oppression, if history has taught us nothing else, it should have taught us that these problems will not be fixed – unless and until “we” fix them.

In addition to all the lessons that we must learn, all the things that we must understand, and all things that we need to accept about ourselves. In order for black America to save itself, there are so many things that we must do.

And the most important thing that we must do – which brings me back to the theme of this presentation – we must start a revolution. And that revolution must be in the form of a civil war.

But, let me warn you that this struggle that “we” call the Project 2019 Movement will not be an easy one to fight or an easy fight to win. Indeed, comparatively speaking, the Civil Rights Movement was an easier struggle in a number of ways.

In the Civil Rights Movement, the enemy – white racist America – was easy to identify and easy to hate. In the case of the Project 2019 Movement, the enemy is not easy to hate because the enemy looks just like us. Indeed, the enemies of Project 2019 are our neighbors, our friends, and even our own family members.

Yes, we get mad when two black men gun down two innocent young girls. But, had it been two white men who came to Englewood and did this, we would not just be getting mad, we would be getting even. Chicago might still be on fire. We would be demanding that the Federal Department of Justice come in and investigate the whole damn city, from Mayor Daley on down. And you know that I’m right.

Another difference between the Civil Rights Movement and the Project 2019 Movement is that a large part of the solution for winning civil rights simply involved the passage and the enforcement of laws ensuring our civil rights.

On the other hand, the success of the Project 2019 Movement does not require or depend on the passage of any new legislation.

No law can dispel the lie – that we have obviously bought into – that our only value in America revolves around physical activities – whether it’s picking cotton, dunking a basketball or singing and dancing. No law can make black Americans realize the value and the power of their intellectual pursuits.

And no law can change or eliminate the negative mindset that has been engineered into black Americans regarding education and knowledge. No law can be passed to make a black child turn off the TV set, put down a video game, and to pick up a book.

No law can be passed that will require black Americans to overcome four centuries of disunity and to come together as a people as other racial and ethnic groups have done so successfully. And it is this unity that is required for a movement that will determine if Project 2019 will succeed or if Project 2019 will fail.

As you probably know by now, one of the tenets of the Project 2019 Movement is that “Only black America can save black America.” Let me be a little more specific. Only those black Americans who “understand” what we are discussing here this evening can save black America. Only those black Americans who “care” about what we are discussing here this evening can save black America. And only those black Americans who are willing to stand up to those black Americans who don’t understand or who don’t care and tell them – you are the enemy of our people – these are the black Americans who will save black America.

In closing, let me remind you, as I have in the past, that I view my most important role in the Project 2019 Movement as being the messenger. And, therefore, let me assure you that if Project 2019 succeeds, it will not be because of this one single black man you see standing before you this evening – who may or may not even be around in the year 2019. It will be because of “you” and “your” efforts. And, sad to say, if Project 2019 fails, it will be because “you” did not judge it worthy of “your” time and efforts to make it succeed.

For some of you, this is the first time you have heard the message of Project 2019 and for others you have heard the message dozens of times. And, it all comes down to whether you “truly” understand and “truly” believe the message and whether you “truly” care. And I can tell the difference.

Before this evening is over, some of you will shake my hand and say: “I think that what “you” are doing is really great. Keep up the good work.” And let me assure you that I really do appreciate such words of encouragement.

However, if you truly understand, truly believe, and truly care about the message of Project 2019, what you will say is something along the lines of: “I” believe that we need to do this – and “I” think that we can do this – and this is what “I” am going to do to help make it happen. At a minimum, you will take one of these envelopes and donate a few dollars to help the movement along.

I will end my remarks as I often do by reminding you, that if it is in the Almighty Creator’s plan, in 13 years, the year 2019 will arrive. And, if it is also in the Almighty Creator’s plan, then all, some, or most of us will still be here. But, even if we are not, there will be a lot of black folks that we know and love who will be here – and millions of other black folks who we don’t know but should still love, who will be here in the year 2019 and beyond.

In any case, let it be known that there are two possible scenarios waiting for the millions of black Americans who “will” wake up on January 1st in the year 2019.

One possibility is that the year 2019 will be a year of black American agonizing over our 400 years of enslavement and oppression. A year of being reminded that we have the least amount of political power – a year of being reminded that we have the least amount of financial power – a year of being reminded of all of our social ills – the disproportionate number of black men in prison – our high teenage pregnancy rate – gangs, drugs, black on black crime – and the fact that black men still die sooner than women and white men.

But, there is the second possibility – and this is the reason why we are here this evening. That possibility is that on that January morning in the year 2019, it will be the beginning of a year of “celebrating” one of the greatest victories in the 400-year history of black America.

A victory that will prove, yet again, the resilience, the resourcefulness, the strength of character, and the pride of black America.

A victory that will begin to pay the incredible debt that we owe to our parents and grandparents and all past generations of black Americans.

And, finally, a victory that will prepare the way for a brighter future for our children, our grandchildren and all future generations of black Americans.


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