Economic Justice is the New Civil Rights Movement
The generations of today and tomorrow have a debt that we owe them and those that came before them. The only way to repay that debt is to continue the struggle for Civil and Human Rights. The UN defines Human Rights not only in terms describing the criminality of physical violence, but also in socio- economic terms that measure educational advancements, infant mortality rates, and unemployment rates. If we were to look at the current condition of African- Americans here in Charleston, our state, and nation we see based on the comparatively high dropout rate, comparatively high infant mortality rates, and comparatively high unemployment rates that the struggle for Civil and Human Rights in this great nation of ours continues.
The Civil and Human Rights Struggle of the 50s and 60s was a part of a World Wide movement that had specific aims and specific accomplishments. In Africa, the movement’s aims was political independence. They accomplished establishing independent and sovereign African nations. In America, the movement’s aims was the unabridged access to the American dream through education and participation in the political process. The movement accomplished passage of important Federal legislation in the form of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
The movement made it possible so that today we have experts in every major field of human endeavor: finance, politics, entertainment, or science. The movement made it possible so that we as a community could produce the millionaires, Black elected officials, and scores of Black professionals. So if we have a debt to pay, and our payment is to be the continuation of the struggle for Civil and Human Rights- what shall this generation of Freedom fighters aim for, and what shall be our accomplishments.
I submit to you that the next level for our movement is in the area of Economic Development, and that Black entrepreneurs, politicians, and professionals must play a critical role in the planning, organizing, and implementation stages. The aim for this next level of the movement is the creation of institutions and programs that create wealth in our community in the form of investments, real estate development, business development, and strategic planning centered around capitalizing on the economic opportunities that exist for African- Americans.
The great accomplishment of our generation should be the establishment of economic engines powerful enough to sustain our community independently through job creation, and business creation. How do we move about accomplishing these aims? We do so by looking at the community around you, and identifying the economic engines sustaining it. Here in Charleston there are five economic engines sustaining the local economy. These engines are 1) The Tourism Industry at $6 Billion Dollars 2) The Maritime Industry at $23 Billion Dollars 3) The Real Estate and Construction Industry at $5 Billion Dollars, 4) The Medical Industrial Complex at $3 Billion Dollars, and 5) The Military Industrial Complex at $3 Billion Dollars. Our aim in the African- American community is to tap into these industries through investment, development of new businesses, and the planning and implementation of economic development initiatives designed to bring those dollars into underserved communities.
Here in Charleston we have a unique opportunity to accomplish the aim of tapping into the 5 economic engines driving the local economy due to the favorable political environment we find ourselves in. Nowhere else in our State is there such a concentration of Black Political Power as represented by elected leadership. In state government, Charleston black communities have seven state elected officials to represent our local interests. Two State Senators, and Five State Representatives. In local government, the Charleston region is in the grips of Black Political Power- even if we fail to use it. I give you the City of Charleston, The City of North Charleston, and the County of Charleston where the elected African- American votes represents the balance of power. The City of Charleston and the City of North Charleston are ran by administrations that could not move its agenda forward without the votes of the Black representatives. Until as recent as last week, we held the chairmanship of County Council because, again, we represent the balance of power and the agenda could not move without our consent. The votes of African- American elected officials in our Charleston region are considerable leverage we could use to advance the cause of economic development within our community.
We use this political leverage to create opportunities within the five economic engines. Within the Tourism Industry we could use this political power to increase allocations to the African- American niche of the tourism industry through accommodation grant funding, or through small business incentive programming. We could push state and local governments to fund a study measuring the economic impact of this niche to serve as the basis of any planning initiatives designed to grow this niche. Finally we could use this leverage to make the mainstream interests within the industry buy- in to the development and growth of the African- American niche.
Within the Maritime Industry we can use our political leverage to push for South Carolina Port Authority sponsored initiatives that promote the development of new minority owned firms that cater to the maritime industry through importing, exporting, or as suppliers to the plethora of companies currently doing business with the SCPA. We can also use our political power to force the issues of jobs at the scheduled new port at the Naval Base which is surrounded by African- American communities. We can use our leverage to insure that African- Americans are a part of the revitalization of the current Port Authority property downtown when they move its operation to North Charleston. There will be new developments, both commercial and residential, taking its place, and the time is now to begin planning what we want, and how will we finance it.
The Real Estate and Construction Industry has a number of opportunities that we can take advantage of to move our economic agenda forward. Local Black Political Power in the form of State Senator Robert Ford, and State Representative Wendell Gilliard was able to secure a 24% minority participation goal from Boeing in the construction of their plant. They not only met the goal the surpassed it. The same can be said in the City of Charleston, as Black Political Power in the form of its African- American Councilmembers demanded a 20% MBE goal on its Gymnasium project in downtown, and 30% on the New Gaillard Center. They too met, and surpassed their goals. Recently, Black Political Power in the form of Councilman Henry Darby, and Teddy Pryor demanded an increase in county spending with MBE firms, and the County responded with an not an increase but the development of a new department to focus solely on this issue. There are a number of upcoming projects $2.3 Billion Dollar SCPA port construction project, the Billion dollar Horizon project, and the Cooper River Bridge site. We can use to these projects to inject much needed capital in our communities by contracting with existing and new construction firms, and living wage labor. We can use this leverage also to negotiate Community Benefit Agreements between private sector developers building projects that threaten to exacerbate the rate of gentrification and the loss of diversity in our city. The time is now to begin planning a strategy to secure these and other opportunities arising over the next 5 years.
The medical and military industrial complexes also provide the opportunity to advance our economic agenda- the primary aim of our struggle for Human and Civil Rights. The medical industry here in Charleston is anchored by MUSC that according to studies generates a $1.9 Billion dollar impact on the local economy. MUSC is a state run agency, and therefore we can use our leverage to access business opportunities that arise as a result of its research activities, and procurement or spending activities. The Military Industrial Complex is a big spender, and has built in federal MBE goals. We must plan and strategize, invest and partner to access these opportunities.
The entrepreneurs, politicians, and elected officials are the talented Tenth that WEB Dubois spoke of when he defined that special group from our community who have been educated, and trained in the human endeavors necessary for effective nation and community building. It will be you who provide our community with your skills and expertise in the areas of planning, finance, special event planning, administration, communications, construction, insurance, procurement, and infrastructure so that together we can plan, develop, and implement a strategy that will help us to accomplish our aim of advancing our economic agenda. It is you who must take on this role as the modern day Freedom Fighter. We must approach this mission with as much fervor and commitment as did those who came before us. They did it under the threat of punishment and death, and while our struggle is not as physically dangerous it is just as important. It is your turn to continue our struggle for civil and human rights. Our aim is economic development, and when the next generation writes of our accomplishments- they will report of this generation that we accomplished what we willed- We willed to control our own destiny though economic independence, self- determination, and self-sustainability. They will write of this generation- We did not default on their debt to those who paid the price before us!