Return To: FAQ's
Go To: Project 2019 MENU
(Keynote Address: The 2009 "Project 2019 Annual Conference")
As always, it is an honor to come before you each
year to explain, to reinforce, and to bring you up-to-date on the vision of
Those of you who have attended Annual Conference Banquets in the past might remember that I usually base my presentation on one or more significant events that have occurred over the past year. And while in some years it was a difficult choice, the theme for this year’s presentation was an easy decision. And that is because the most significant event over the past year that relates to Project 2019 is, of course, the historic election of Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States.
Like the rest of black America, I was thrilled about the election of President Obama. However, I probably was not as surprised by his election as some black Americans were. If you know the message of Project 2019 – and you believe in the message of Project 2019 – then you knew that it was possible to elect a black man or a black woman president of the United States. However, I must admit that I thought that the first black president would be an older, more conservative black man with the credential of someone like Colin Powell.
In any case, for those of you on the Project 2019 e-mail mailing list, you may have already read some of my thoughts regarding the election and the presidency of Barack Obama. The title of the article that I e-mailed a few months ago was – “President Obama Is NOT Mission Accomplished For Black America.” Here are some of the highlights from that article.
On May 1, 2003 – less than six weeks after the start of the Iraq War – former president George W. Bush, landed on the air craft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, and spoke of the success of the Iraq war while standing under a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner. Six years later – having spent hundred of billions of dollars – and after thousands of Americans were killed and wounded – we now know what a big mistake that “mission accomplished banner” was.
Black Americans must not make the mistake of thinking that the nation’s first African American presidency is an occasion to hang a "mission accomplished banner.”
As President Barack Obama begins his first term, black Americans, based on all standard economic measurements and social indicators, are at or near the bottom of every socioeconomic category. And, short of divine intervention, eight years from now when President Obama completes his second term, black Americans will still be at or near the bottom of almost every social and economic category.
There is nothing that President Obama can do to change this reality. And this would be the case even if America were not in the midst of its greatest financial crisis in decades – not fighting two wars – and not heading towards a two trillion dollar federal deficit.
This is not to say that black America’s many problems cannot be overcome. It is to say that – one man – even an African American president – can not solve black America’s problems. No less was true regarding black America’s struggle for civil rights.
Dr. Martin Luther King – as a lone voice – could not have won the battle. The battle was won because Dr. King “showed us the way” – and millions of decent, hardworking black Americans did what was necessary to ensure victory.
And, now, President Obama has “shown us the way.” And it is now up to millions of decent, hardworking black Americans to do what needs to be done to reverse the consequences of four debilitating centuries of slavery and oppression.
There are three areas that black Americans – as a people – must address in order to be successful in America.
Step one: Black Americans must accept the fact that – while racism may still be “a” problem – in the twenty-first century – racism is no longer "the" problem. Black Americans must also understand that they have won the struggle for civil rights. And black Americans must come to terms with the reality that they will never receive any “meaningful” reparations for Slavery and that affirmative action – which at best benefited only a few thousand blacks – will continue to be chipped away until it is merely a footnote in history.
Step two: Black Americans must accept the harsh reality that, beginning with the arrival of the first slaves in America, blacks have always been – “by design” – the least educated racial or ethnic group in America. This is why – in the twenty-first century – blacks are, as they have always been, the least educated people in America. And it is paramount that black Americans accept the irrefutable fact that – black America will never attain social and economic equality – until black Americans reach educational parity with the rest of America.
Step three: Millions of black Americans, young and old, rich and poor, leaders and followers, must come together to change black America’s prevailing “mindset” of apathy and even negativity towards formal education and the seeking of knowledge. Black America must create a new, positive mindset – a mindset that ranges from “enthusiasm” – to “fanaticism” in regard to formal education and the pursuit of knowledge.
Clearly, black America’s shortfall in formal education is the major contributor to its lower economic status. And black America’s lower economic status is the major contributor to its many social ills. Educated, gainfully employed blacks have no need for welfare. They are less likely to engage in criminal activities or even be victims of crime. Their children are more likely to live in two parent homes. And they are less likely to be involved in gangs, hard drugs, or engage in other risky behavior.
It may be argued that education and knowledge is not “all” that is required to reverse black America’s four centuries of being an underclass in America. However, there can be no doubt that education and knowledge is the "gateway" that will lead to the solutions to all the problems that afflict black America.
Knowledge – is – power.
Rightfully so, black Americans should be proud of Barack Obama. However, black Americans must understand that his success is essentially the success of “one” black man. And, as long as black Americans – as a people – remain the least educated racial group in America, blacks will remain the people with the least amount of power and success in America.
Even as President of the United States, Barack Obama cannot fix black America. And, at the end of the day, Barack Obama’s most significant contribution to black America may be that his name was added to the roster of great Africans Americans whose lives are “proof” of what can be accomplished by black Americans who profoundly value and relentlessly pursue education and knowledge.
Now – as I pointed out a couple of minutes ago – these were some of the highlights of the article that I e-mailed to hundred of people regarding the election and the presidency of Barack Obama. And everyone who responded to this article was in agreement – or, at least, got the point of the article.
However, there was one response that caught my eye. Basically, the person suggested that “I” needed to “chill out” – as he put it, “give it a rest” – “let us (meaning black folks) just celebrate now.”
Well…, after, taking a couple of deep breaths, I responded to his e-mail – “politely” noting that, in fact, I really wanted to send out this message last Spring when Barack Obama won his first primary. But – I waited.
And, last summer, when Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee for president, I wanted to send out my message then. But – I waited.
And, last Fall, as the economy began to fall apart, and I knew that black Americans would be the first to suffer, I wanted to send out my message. But – I waited.
And ten days before the presidential election when Jennifer Hudson’s mother, her sister, and her nephew were viciously murdered by a black man, I wanted to send out my message then. But – I waited.
And, needless to say, on Wednesday, November 5, the day after Barack Obama was elected, I was dying to send out my message. But – I waited.
I waited all the rest of November, all of December, and most of January. For eleven weeks – as the economy continued to collapse and black employment rose twice as fast as the national average – I waited.
As black children all across America continued to go to bed hungry and wake up to go to schools that get the least amount of funding – I waited.
As gang violence continued and drug use increased – as black Americans, young and old, continued to be terrorized and murdered in our black neighborhoods – I waited.
In fact, I sent out my article on January 21st – the day “after” the inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States. In my mind two and a half months was “long enough” for black folks to “give it a rest” – “long enough” for black folks to “celebrate.” And to be honest with you, I think that two days – the day after the election – and the day of the inauguration – would been enough time to – “give it a rest” – and enough time to “celebrate.”
As a people, we have “way” too much work to do to be “giving it a rest.” And, as we look around at the social and economic problems that 90% of black Americans are facing, we “don’t” have a whole lot to celebrate.
But – I “do” understand. Our journey in America has been “so long” – and “so hard” – it is easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal. I am sure that this is the reason why a lot of black Americans hung a “mission accomplished banner” – celebrated – and took a rest – when Slavery ended.
And – when we successfully fought and won our struggle for civil rights, in my opinion, I think that most black Americans hung a “mission accomplished banner” – celebrated – and have been resting for the past forty years.
We need to be smarted than George W. Bush. We need to know and we need to understand that – the time to hang a “mission accomplished banner” – the time to celebrate – and the time to “maybe” take a “short rest” – will be when black Americans – as a people – reach social and economic equality in America.
We can not rest as long as the median income for black Americans is almost half the median income for the rest of America.
We can not rest as long as black unemployment is twice as high as the unemployment rate of the rest of America.
We can not rest as long as one out of every five black children is born to a teenage mother.
We can not rest as long as only one third of black children live with two parents – and more than half of all black children are raised by single black females.
We can not rest as long as more than one out of every four black women and more than one out of every three black children live well below the poverty income level.
We – can – not – rest.
And tell me this. What exactly do we have to celebrate…?
Should we be celebrating the fact that – although black Americans are only 13% of the population, - black Americans account for more about half of all new HIV and AIDS cases?
Should we be celebrating the fact that – although black Americans are only 13% of the population – almost “half” of “all” murder victims are black Americans?
Should we be celebrating the fact that – “one” out of every “nine” black men between the ages of 20 and 34 is currently locked up in America’s prisons and jails?
Should we be celebrating the fact that – although black Americans are only13% of the population – almost half of “all” Americans who are incarcerated are black Americans?
Indeed, it’s a good thing that President Obama did not have to depend on the black vote to get elected because – as a result of felony disenfranchisement laws – one and a half million black men – that’s 13% of “all” black men – have permanently lost their right to vote.
And, finally, what I “really” don’t feel like celebrating is the fact that the life expectancy of black men continues to be up to eleven years less than the life expectancy of white women, black women, and white men.
"These” are the social and economic conditions that I am talking about when you hear me say or when you read in Project 2019 literature that “black America will never attain social and economic equality – until black Americans reach educational equality with the rest of America.”
And let me say it again. I realize that education and knowledge is not “all” that is required to reverse black America’s four centuries of being at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. However, there can be no doubt that education and knowledge is the "gateway" that will lead to the solutions to all the problems that afflict black America.
And that makes all the sense in the world – because we are where we are today – because for 246 years of Slavery, it was illegal to educate black Americans – and for the 100 years of the Jim Crow era that followed Slavery, the education that was available to black Americans was hard to come by – and almost all of it was substandard. It has only been since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s that all black children have an opportunity to receive a quality education.
You know – my greatest fear is that America told us for such a long time that education is not important to us – that we are still convinced that “book leanin” is only for white folks.
And the facts speak for themselves. Black Americans are dead last in reading proficiency, math proficiency, and science proficiency. Black Americans have the highest grade school and high school dropout rates. And, based on percentages of population, white Americans earn twice as many college degrees as black Americans.
And – here’s the thing. Black Americans are not dumb. Black Americans are as “intelligent” as any other people in the world. However, “intelligence” only means having the “capacity to learn” – it does not speak to the desire to learn – or what it is that someone chooses to learn.
Think about the last time you saw black kids playing a video game. If you’re like me, you’re amazed at how they can learns all those moves – and all that other stuff – and keep track of all of it in their heads. And if you are ever listen to black kids talking about their favorite sports team or their favorite hip-hop artist, it is remarkable how much they know about them. But ask them to find Russia on a map – or who is Condoleezza Rice is – and they don’t have a clue.
And what do they say when it’s time to memorize the preamble to the Constitution of the United States – “it’s too hard…” A few minutes later, you hear them repeating “every single word” of Beyonce’s or “Fifty Cents” – excuse me – that’s “fiddy cent” – latest rap song.
For hundred of years, America has told us that formal education was not important to us – that the key to success was to “just – work – hard.” Well, for 246 years of Slavery, we worked harder than any people in the history of the world – and what did that get us…? Just more hard work.
And during the Jim Crow era, we worked hard sharecropping, we worked at auto plants, steel mills, and factories all across America. And what did that get us…? It got us laid off – when America discovered these jobs could be done in other countries where you only had to pay workers a couple of dollars an hour.
Our – children – deserve – better.
I grew up at a time when the color of your skin had everything to do with how successful you could be in America. The election of Brack Obama as President of the United States has “proven” – that the color of your skin may still matter in the 21st century – but – education and knowledge matters even more.
"Our” children – not just “your” children – but “all” black children – deserve better lives than the lives lived by their great-grandparents, their grandparents, and their parents. And the only way that this can and will happen is by black America reaching educational parity with the rest of America.
Before I close, I want to take a couple of minutes to tell you about – Carla James. Carla, who was my wife’s niece, passed away as a result of complications from Lupus this past Christmas Eve. She had four children who, at the time, were 11, 12, 13 and 16-years old. Destiny, the youngest, is now being raised by Carla’s sister, Tamicka – along with Tamicka’s husband and his daughter.
George, the 16-year old, is still struggling with making the right choices – choices that will affect the rest of his life. We ask for your prayers for all four of Carla’s kids, but especially for George.
And, finally, for those of you who do not already know, my wife, Rose, and I are now guardians to the two middle boys – Darell, age 12 and Kyle, age 13 – soon to be ages 13 and 14.
Many of you here this evening knew Carla. And if you did, you know how much she loved her boys and her little girl. And you also know that she would do anything and everything she could for her kids. Her life was not easy – being a single parent to four kids, working every day, while fighting a battle against a disease that would eventually claim her life.
For those who did “not” know Carla – and even for those who did – here is a fact about her that says a lot about who she was as a person. Carla James was the recipient of the “very first” Project 2019 Hero Award after she went back to school to earn her high school diploma.
Now, there are three reasons why I am telling you about Carla. The first is to assure everyone who knew and loved Carla that her family is doing and will continue to do anything and everything possible to ensure that her kids grow up to live happy, successful lives – just as Carla would have wanted.
The second reason that I am telling you about Carla and her kids is to assure you that “I” understand that it is not going to be an easy task for black America to reach educational parity with the rest of America. Now, don’t get me wrong, I always knew that it would be hard – but now Rose and I am reminded on a daily basis just how hard it can be.
And I thought that sitting at my computer writing and going out and talking about saving black children was hard… Well just try convincing two teenage boys that two hours of homework and studying is the “minimum” that they should be doing “every” night. And, of course, the only way to ensure that they do it is for Rose and me to sit there with them to make sure they are doing quality work.
So, if anybody out there thought that I had it easy just “talking the talk” – I want you to know that I am also – as old as I am – once again – “walking the walk.”
The third reason for telling you about Carla and her kids is that Kyle is on track to graduate from college in 2017 – Darell will graduate in 2018 – and Destiny will graduate in the year 2019.
So, I just want to let you know that if, God willing, Rose and I, Tamicka and Garry, and the rest of the family pulls this off – I intend to celebrate. I may even take a short rest.
However, let me assure you – I will not be hanging a “mission accomplished banner” – unless – or until – the percentage of black children graduating from high school and college is equal to or exceeds the percentage for the rest of America.
And we, as a people, can not hang a “mission accomplished banner” – unless – or until – all of black America reaches social and economic equality with the rest of America.
Nor can we, as a people, hang a “mission accomplished banner” – unless – or until – the day comes that we can look our parents – our grandparents – our great-grandparents – look all of our ancestors in their eyes – and say – I did all that I could – to “repay” all that “you” did – to make life better for “all” future generations of black Americans.
Charles E. Sanford
April 25, 2009
Return To: FAQ's
Go To: Project 2019 MENU