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National Commentary

Beyond Reparations— Where Do We Go From Here?

By John Horton

For some time now, I have been struggling with the question of “reparations…owed to African-Americans?”  Finally, I have decided to put pen to paper and express myself.  It has not been an easy task as I find myself still conflicted and somewhat torn asunder over my feelings and opinions.  But, here goes for better or worse.

First, I asked myself, should reparations be paid to African-Americans?  I think, probably so.  Then, I ask, realistically will reparations ever be paid to African-Americans?  And, I think, probably not. 

Those who favor reparations point out that descendants of enslaved African-Americans are owed monies/credit for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and for all the residual effects of slavery. 

These proponents argue that present-day gaps in education, income, health care, family stability, economic empowerment, life expectancy and criminal involvement are directly and indirectly linked to the “legacy of slavery.”  And, they want the rest of Americans, particularly European and Corporate America, to pay up.  It is further asserted that these entities have benefited and profited from the unpaid labor and suffering of enslaved African-Americans.

On the other hand, opponents of reparations believe that reparations enshrine victimhood and dishonor the contributions and legacy of our ancestors.  These opponents argue that reparations are falsely based upon the premise that all African-Americans suffer from the social and economic consequences of slavery and discrimination.

Now, to put forth the major premise of this writing.  I feel strongly that African-Americans (leaders and followers) have an outstanding opportunity to move beyond the issue of reparations by doing things for themselves, and with the help of others (government, business, philanthropy, etc.).

Basically, African- Americans need to mount a “reparations-empowerment movement” on three fronts, simultaneously:  (1) improving education excellence, especially for black children and young adults; (2) promoting business and entrepreneurial strategies to launch thousands of new economic opportunities; and (3) fostering lifestyle changes that enhance family stability and group advancement. 

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First, there is education excellence.

In short, education is the path and the key for an individual and a people. 

To ensure that education and its benefits and rewards are eagerly sought after, we must be(come) better parents, teachers, counselors, facilitators, tutors and mentors, especially for our children.  Along those lines, we need to initiate more in-home/intra-community efforts to significantly reduce truancy, dropouts, suspensions, expulsions, underachievement, and the like.

Moreover, our children need to come to school in a “teachable condition.”  This can be accomplished by parents ensuring their children/students perform three fundamental tasks:  (1) attend school on a regular basis; (2) properly behave themselves; and (3) complete class work and homework to the best of their ability.  In sum, children (and parents) need to understand an inadequate education will bring them shattered dreams, broken promises and hopeless futures.  They do have a choice!

Second, there is business and entrepreneurial promotion.  As African-Americans, we should never forget the “golden rule of economics”:  he who has the gold gets to make the rules.  That be true, too! 

Economic might almost always ensures the collateral social and political might(s).  Business and entrepreneurial enhancement will enable African-Americans to show others why they “need” us, rather than what they “owe” us.  There is a profound difference.  In essence, we must show others that we have so much to contribute, entrepreneurially and economically, that it would be unwise to ignore us.

In that regard, we need to be(come) more concerned about quality education, pay equity, economic literacy, job training, and entrepreneurial development.  Further, African-Americans need to focus more on saving, investing, venture capital, ownership and producing.  Need I mention, again, the “golden rule of economics” applies here more than ever.

Along those lines, we need to organize civic, social, business, religious, government and private entities into task forces to deal with such issues as entrepreneurial development and economic stability, especially at the grass roots level.  Most importantly, we must gather the necessary internal/external resources (leadership, strategies, monies, volunteers, etc.) to “make it happen” for those most adversely affected and who need help the most.  This time around, empowerment must “trickle down to the masses.”

Third, there is family stability and group advancement.  To attain these necessary goals, we must take a “good look at what we can do for ourselves.” 

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For example, we need to do everything within our power to rid ourselves of debilitating familial and societal deficiencies:  fatherless homes, unwed births, youth school dropout, academic underachievement, fratricide, criminal activity, substance abuse, unemployment, economic dependency, and the like.  Moreover, we need to develop a “village concept” for dealing with substantive issues that directly affect at-risk youth, dysfunctional families and impoverished communities.  Specifically, more of us need to “give back more” and “be there” for our children and villages.  In this case, our actions bespeak a million words.

Hopefully we can learn from the “reparations debate” and become a better people as a result of it.  Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if the reparations debate allowed us to acquire some of the answers for our existing human dilemmas of economic poverty, political inequity, social injustice, and the like?

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