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(Keynote Address: The 2008"Project 2019 Annual Conference")
To bring everyone up-to-date, over the past few months, I have been working very hard to complete a revised edition of my book, “Project 2019: Socioeconomic Equality Through Formal Education.” I am also considering changing the title to “Project 2019: Black America’s Journey From Ignorance To Enlightenment.” Feel free to let me know what you think.
In any case, the book “Project 2019” was first published in 1999 – and it had been a few years since I read it from beginning to end. As I updated it, and I say this with all due modesty, I came to the conclusion that it is a good book. It is interesting and informative – and I was impressed with the arguments that I made and how I went about validating them.
Indeed, it occurred to me that, based on the thousands of books that I have sold, sold at a discount, and given away, a lot more people should be doing a lot more to ensure the success of Project 2019. But, then, I remembered why I wrote the book – because way too many black folks just don’t read.
Believe it or not, I have offered a dozen kids as much as $25 to read the book and prove that they read it by doing a book report or sitting down and discussing the book with me. Guess what? Only a couple have taken me up on my offer.
And I will not embarrass anyone here this evening by asking for a show of hands of those who have read my book from cover to cover. However, I did do an informal survey and discovered that some of my best friends, some of my relatives, and even some of the biggest supporters of Project 2019 have not read the entire book.
You might think that it is because the book is dull or boring – but that is not the feedback that I have received from those who have read it. There are dozens of comments that are posted on the Project 2019 Web site from people I have never met who have said very positive things about the book.
In fact, just a week ago, I posted a comment that I received from Dr. Rodney Johnson, the principle of a high school in Houston, Texas. He said he bought a copy of my book 4 years ago – and since then he has been promoting the message of Project 2019 and he promised to continue to do so.
Now, for those of you who have been to previous Banquets, you know that I sometimes ask you to do something to support Project 2019 in the coming year. Well, your assignment over the next 12 months is to read Project 2019 – cover to cover.
And before you start complaining about homework, you have a whole year – it’s only one book – it’s not that long – the print is really big – and, although there are no pictures, there are lots of charts and graphs. So, at the Banquet next year, when I ask – who has read my book, I expect everyone here this evening to raise their hand.
The revised edition of my book will be available in about a month. And if you are serious about your assignment, I will not have to chase you down – you will contact me. And if you bought a copy of the original version of the book, I will even sell you a copy of the revised edition at half-price.
In the mean time, to whet your appetite, I have printed-off and distributed to you one updated chapter of the revised book. It is Issue number 12, entitled, “Black America Must Accept That It Needs To Be Saved.”
You should keep this document handy. It will help to explain why 8 Chicagoans were killed and 30 were wounded in shootings last weekend – just because it was the first warm weekend of the year. And it will help to explain why 5 more young black Chicagoans were murdered just 3 days ago.
And the next time you hear about another Chicago Public School student being shot, looking at this document may help you to understand why another “Stop the Violence” march is not going to prevent the next child from being shot.
For the record, there are 300 million people in America and as many as 300 million guns. Therefore, even if they stop making guns today – which, let me assure you, is not going to happen – we already have enough guns in America to keep killing our children for the next couple hundred years.
And if you think that you and your family are safe because you are not caught up in “all that mess” that happening in the streets, just remember the name, Maggie Browder. She is the 70 year-old grandmother who went to answer her doorbell one morning about a month ago – and was shot to death.
Of course, if you are lucky enough to find a good man – or a good woman – get married – work hard – and move to a nice, quiet suburb, you may avoid some of the dangers. But you will need some of that luck if you come back to the old neighborhood to go to church, to shop, or to visit your relatives and friends who still live in the city.
And speaking of finding a good black man… good luck with that little chore. At this exact moment, 1 out of every 99 men in American is in prison or in jail.
And for as bad as that may be – at this exact moment – 1 out of every 15 black men in America is in prison or in jail.
What could be worse…? Well, at this exact moment, 1 out of every 9 black men between the ages of 20 to 34 is currently in prison or jail.
And then there is Alton Logan. He is the black man who was released last week after spending 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. And we can be mad at the lawyers who knew that he was innocent but said nothing because of attorney / client privilege.
But do not lose sight of the fact that it was a black man – who not only killed one innocent black man but also caused another innocent black man to spend half of half of his life behind bars.
And none of this cruelty – this pain – this suffering – this stupidity – and this craziness is ever going to stop – not until black America’s social and economic condition has changed.
And just marching is not going to change black America’s social and economic condition.
Just getting a handful of the millions of guns off our streets is not going to change black America’s social and economic condition.
Symbolically burying the “N” word is not going to change black America’s social and economic condition.
And I don’t want to cross any lines, but “just” praying is not going to change black America’s social and economic condition.
There is only one way to change black America’s social and economic condition – and that is as a result of education and knowledge.
Let me pause here for a moment – to make an announcement. I want to inform you all that I am “not” Bill Cosby. I presume everyone here this evening knows that I am not the illustrious Dr. William H. Cosby, Jr. – but, for the record, I am not Bill Cosby.
The reason for this disclaimer is that, over that past couple of years, a number of people have said things like, “you sound like Bill Cosby” – or – “that’s the same thing that Bill Cosby is saying” – or – “you and Bill Cosby are really hard on black folks.”
Some or all of this may be true, but there are fundamental differences between Bill Cosby’s message and the message of Project 2019 – which I will address in a moment.
But, with all due respect to Mr. Cosby, he is saying the “same things” that my mother has been saying to her family –and anyone else who will listen – for the last 60-some years. And if you think that Bill Cosby is hard on black folks, then you don’t know my mother, Lucinda Acker.
Again, with all due respect, the main reason why Bill Cosby’s message is newsworthy is because – he “is” Bill Cosby. The fact is, all of you here this evening have heard Bill Cosby’s message from your parents or grandparents – or have delivered Bill Cosby’s message to your children or grandchildren.
Once again, I say this with all due respect to “Dr.” Cosby. It is not my intention to downplay his message or the relevance of him delivering it. Nor would I ever presume to speak for him. And you can tell me if I am wrong, but this is what I think I have heard him say:
Black folks – stop being stupid. Or maybe it’s – black folks act like you got some sense. I think “stop being stupid” is how my mother puts it.
I also hear Bill Cosby saying that black folks need to stay in school – stay out of gangs – stay off of drugs – work hard – take care of your family – and make something out of your life.
I hear Bill Cosby saying that black Americans “can” do better – and that black Americans “should” do better.
But, again, this is the message of every black leader in America – as well as the mission of every black organization in America.
But, as I said a couple of minutes ago, there are fundamental differences between what Bill Cosby and everyone else is saying – and the message of Project 2019 – and I will point out these differences as I briefly answer the question – “what is Project 2019.”
However, before I do, I am going to give you about a 30 seconds overview of black history. This is something that you should know – and even commit to memory.
I am limiting this to 30 seconds because most people mistakenly think that history is boring – and also because you can not talk about black history without mentioning Slavery. And many black people, especially young black people, are uncomfortable or even embarrassed by any discussion of our Slavery past.
I, obviously, am not ashamed of any part of my history. If there is anyone who should be ashamed, it is those who enslaved my ancestors. We should blame the perpetrators – we should not be blaming the victims.
What you should know and should remember is that Project 2019 divides black America’s history into 3 eras.
The first era is the Slavery era. It spanned 246 years – from 1619 to 1865. The Slavery era accounts for 64% -- two thirds – of black America’s history.
The second era is the Jim Crow era. It lasted for 103 years – from 1866 to 1968. It accounts for another 26% of black America’s history.
And there is the current era – that Project 2019 calls the Equal Opportunity era. It began in 1969 – the year after Martin Luther King’s death. This era accounts for “only” 10% of black America’s history.
You should know this and remember it because this perspective goes a long way towards explaining “where” black Americans came from – “who” we are – and “why” we are the people that we are today.
Also, before I answer the question, “what is Project 2019,” you need to know and understand the reasons and the rationales for Project 2019.
You will see them on the Project 2019 Web site, on Project 2019 hats and t-shirts, you will hear them on the Project 2019 Internet radio station, and they are recurring themes in the Project 2019 book.
These reasons and rationales are 5 of the basic tenets of Project 2019. Therefore, if you do not agree with them, then you will not appreciate the need for Project 2019. However, if you do agree with them, then you owe it to yourself – to all those black folks who came before you – and all those who will follow you – to do everything in your power to make Project 2019 a success.
Number 1: “Knowledge is power” – and, conversely, ignorance is weakness.
Number 2: Because knowledge “is” power – “As long black Americans remain the least educated and the least knowledgeable people in America, blacks will remain the people with the least amount of power in America.”
It is a fact – black Americans have “always” been the least educated and the least knowledgeable racial group in America – and – they have always been the people with the least amount of power in America.
Reason number 3 for Project 2019: Education and knowledge is the “gateway” that will lead to the solutions to “all” the problem that afflict black America.
You can talk about stopping the violence – getting drugs off our streets – teenage pregnancies – economic empowerment – political empowerment – or any other kind of empowerment.
But let me assure you that none of it “can” or “will” be achieved by an under-educated and unenlightened people. Education and knowledge is the “prerequisite” for success in any of these endeavors.
Reason number 4: “Black America will “never” attain social and economic equality in America “until” black Americans reach educational parity in America.”
Of course, there are exceptions : Oprah Winfrey, for example, and hundreds of thousands of other black Americans are doing just fine. But, even during Slavery, 5, 6, 7 percent of black Americans were not slaves. Note that I did not say that they were “free” – no black American was truly free when 95% of all black Americans were still enslaved.
And that dynamic is still true today. As a people – as a whole – black America will “never” attain social and economic equality in America “until” black America, as a people, reach educational parity in America.
And, finally, reason number 5 for Project 2019: “Only” black America “can” save black America. That is : “save” black America from “another 400 years” of being the “least” socially and economically successful people in America.
So, why can “only black America can save black America?” Well, first and foremost, because, at the end of the day, only black America “will” save black America.
Blacks have been in America for going on 400 years. And, for the first 350 years, we were enslaved and then oppressed. Now, in the last 40 years, we have been given “equal opportunity” – a chance to play on a supposedly “level playing field.”
What makes anyone think we are going to get anything more than that…?
In the minds of most Americans, blacks don’t need Affirmative Action. Blacks are in Congress – they have served on the Supreme Courts – they have served as Secretary of State – and, by this time next year, we may very well have a black president of the United States.
As for Reparations…? When pigs fly. In the minds of most Americans, if black folks want reparations, they better go talk to Oprah. She’s got more money than 99.99% of all white Americans. And, considering budget deficits, she is in much better financial shape than the federal government.
In the minds of most Americans – today – America works. And if you are not getting your piece of the pie, it is because “you” are not working hard – or – not working “hard enough.”
The second reason why “only black America can save black America” is because…, well…, only black America “can” save black America.
The most up-to-date textbooks in America are not going to read themselves to our children. And the best teachers in America are not going to come to our homes, turn off the TV sets and video games, and make our children do their homework.
Only black Americans can fuel the engine of change. And only black Americans can and will do the hard work and make the sacrifices that are necessary to save black America.
Rest assured, that if and when black America is saved, it “will”
be saved by black Americans.
And now that you know the reasons and rationales for Project 2019, it is easy to answer the question – exactly what is Project 2019?
Project 2019 is national movement – by black Americans – with a major goal of reaching educational parity with the rest of America – by the year 2019.
Now, there are 3 elements in this statement that make Project 2019 unique and sets it apart from other organizations and what everyone else is saying.
(1) Project 2019 is designed to be a “national movement.”
(2) The goal is “educational parity.” And…
(3) This goal is to be accomplished by the year “2019.”
Let me first address the year 2019.
The significance of the year 2019 is that it will be the 400th anniversary of the beginning of Slavery in what would become the United States of America.
In 1619, the first 20 slaves were brought to Jamestown. Note that the year 1619 was only 12 years after the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America. And the year 1619 was one year “before” the arrival of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
But beyond the significance of this anniversary, there is a very good reason for this 2019 “due date.” And this makes Project 2019 unique. Unlike many organizations, we do not say that we will overcome “some day.” Project 2019 goes on record saying that we will accomplish the most important and prerequisite step for attaining social and economic equality – by reaching educational parity by the year 2019.
I spent 26 years in corporate America. And I, like most of you, based on your own experiences – know that if you do not say exactly “when” something will be done, there is an excellent chance that it will never be done. And, also, “I” am one who is convinced that – if you believe it – you can achieve it.
The second element of the definition of Project 2019 is attaining “educational parity.”
You may know this as “closing the education gap” – or as “no child left behind” – as well as any number of other ambiguous, meaningless terms and phrases. And this is also what makes Project 2019 unique. Project 2019 has a specific measurement as to what it is trying to achieve.
Project 2019’s measurement of educational parity is based on the percentage of black Americans who earn college degrees being “equal” to the percentage of the rest of Americans who earn college degrees.
Specifically, in the year 2006, 18% of black Americans earned college degrees as compared to 28% of all Americans who earned college degrees. Based on Project 2019’s definition, when these two percentages are “equal,” then black America will have reached educational parity.
Now, using college degrees as a measurement may seem somewhat arbitrary – but then, so is any other possible measurement. And, clearly, in the technology based global economy of the 21st century, a Bachelor’s degree is quickly becoming the minimum requirement for a reasonable chance of having a sustainable, economically rewarding career.
And if you have any doubt as to the economic value of higher education, simply take a look at the income for Americans based on educational level attained.
The average yearly income is $29,000 for a high school graduate – and $54,000 for a college graduate. And if you subtract the difference between these two figures and multiply it by a 40 year career – you will see that the average college graduates earns at least a million dollars more than the average high school graduate.
And if you still have doubts regarding the economic value of education – or – if you still think that “the” problem is racism – just take a look at the numbers:
18% of all black Americans over the age of 25 have a college degree – and – the median income for black families is $35,000 a year.
28% of white Americans have a college degree – and – the median income for white families is $59,000 a year,
And, then, there are the Asian-Americans, the “other” racial minority in America. 50% – that’s one out of every 2 – Asian-Americans over the age of 25 – has at least one college degree – and the median income for Asian-American families is almost $69,000 a year.
Yes, in the past, racism was “the” problem – and past racism is clearly the reason why we are so far behind now. And, yes, there is still racism in America today – but racism is no longer what’s holding us back. If it is “not” education and knowledge that is holding us back, how else can you explain the success of Asian-Americans in the 21st century.
The third unique element in the definition of Project 2019 is that “it must be a movement.”
Let me point out that most major social changes have an evolutionary component and a revolutionary component.
In the case of Slavery – from the beginning and for more than two centuries – there were Americans who knew that Slavery was wrong and they fought and died to end it. But – it took the “revolution” of the American Civil war to finally end Slavery.
In the case of Black America’s struggle for civil rights, the evolutionary phase lasted for more than a 100 years – during which time people fought and died for civil rights. But – it took the “revolution” of millions of black Americans coming together as part of the Civil Rights Movement to accomplish the goal.
Now, most assuredly, if the American Civil War had not occurred, Slavery would have eventually been abolished in America. It may have taken another 50 or maybe 100 years – but it would have ended – just as, in fact, it was abolished in the rest of the world.
And, if the Civil Rights Movement had never happened, eventually black Americans would have obtained civil rights – it just may have taken another 50 or maybe 100 years.
And, now, Black America is in the evolutionary phase of their “third” great struggle – to reach social and economic equality. And, truth be told, if we continue on the path that we are now on, in another 100 or 200 years black America will probably reach social and economic equality.
But “why” in the world would we choose to wait for things to get better…? After 400 years, we ought to be tired of waiting. We need a revolution – right now. And I submit to you that Project 2019 can be that revolution.
Admittedly, accomplishing the goals of Project 2019 will not be easy. In order to perpetuate Slavery – and – to keep black Americans “in their place” during the Jim Crow era – it was necessary to make black Americans ignorant and to keep knowledge away from them.
This is why it was illegal to educate black Americans during the Slavery era and why black Americans received separate, substandard education during the Jim Crow era.
But, it goes even further than just keeping knowledge away from black Americans. For almost 400 years, black Americans have been “socially engineered” – to become the people that we are today.
Black Americans have been socially engineered to believe that formal education is a “white thang” – that by going to school and getting good grades, “you ain’t keeping it real.”
At the same time, black Americans have been socially engineered to believe that that we are “physical” beings – and “not” intellectual beings. This is why some black youths will play basketball outside in the dead of winter – but won’t read a book if their lives depended on it. And this is why most young black Americans believe that Beyonce Knowles and LeBron James “represent” black folks – and Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are just a couple of Uncle Toms.
And, for the record, black Americans have also been socially engineered to not trust each other – to avoid unity – and to depend on the benevolence of the white man for our salvation.
So, given these challenges, how do we fix a people who were “purposely” broken – and for centuries, every effort was made to keep them broken?
The good news is that black America “can” be fixed. The bad news is that almost 400 years of damage is “not” going to be repaired overnight. I knew that this was the case in 1998 when I first announced Project 2019.
At that time, the year 2019 was 21 years away. And if every black child born in the year 1998 had been raised with the message and the spirit of Project 2019, we would be well on our way towards a better black America.
Again, the good news is that black America “can” be fixed. But Project 2019 needs – not just your help—Project 2019 needs your leadership. Without you “leading” the movement – the cruelty – the pain – the suffering – the stupidity – and the craziness will never end.
So where do “you” begin? First and foremost, of course, it’s all about knowledge. “Knowledge is power.” And to begin with, every black American alive today needs to at least “know” about Project 2019.
You should make it your goal to tell at least 50 people over the next year about Project 2019 – that’s only one person per week. And let me know if you need some Project 2019 literature.
Secondly, it’s about “mindset.” And, given all that black America has been through – and all that black America has overcome – “I” am absolutely convinced that if black America, as a people, make up their collective minds to do something, we “can” and we “will” succeed.
And I submit to you that black America is already doing most of what it needs to do make Project 2019 a reality. There are literally hundreds of thousands of black tutoring programs – mentoring program – training programs – black churches education ministries – black scholarship funds – “all across America.”
Can you imagine the “power” of just attaching or associating the name Project 2019 to all of these efforts?
Can you imagine black youths walking around in Project 2019 t-shirts – instead of wearing gang colors – or spending $100 on sport jerseys so that athletes and their white sponsors can “pimp their rides?”
Can you imagine how “uplifting” it would be for black children – all across America – who are not lucky enough to have positive role models in their lives – to be able to look around and see that “they are not alone” in their desire to succeed…?
Can you imagine it…? I can.
All we have to do is to overcome all the negative stereotypes that have been imposed upon us for so long that we have come to believe them ourselves.
We must find a way to trust each other. We must find a way to unify as a people. And we must stop waiting on the benevolence of others to save us – and find a way to save ourselves. And with all my heart, I believe that Project 2019 “is the answer.”
In closing, let me assure you that the year 2019 will be “a watershed moment in black history.” And, if we do nothing, it will be a year of sorrow and regret – a year of bemoaning 400 years of Slavery and oppression.
But with “your” leadership, the year 2019 can be a year of celebrating – celebrating the resilience, the resourcefulness, the strength of character, and the pride of black America.
And finally, on the subject of black history, we can not afford to limit our study of black history to a one-month event in February of each year.
Without knowledge of black history, it is impossible to know where we came from and “why” we are the people that we are today.
Without knowledge of black history, it is impossible to appreciate the contributions – and, more importantly, the sacrifices – of those who came before us.
And without knowledge of black history, it is impossible to envision how far we can go in the future. And that is what Project 2019 is all about – “making black history.”
And “we” “can” make black history – by creating a better future for our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren, and “all” future generations of black Americans.
We “can” create a new legacy – a positive legacy – a “powerful” legacy for black America – a legacy that will last for the “next 400 years.”
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