Ken L. Harris serves as the President/CEO of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce with access to more than 79,000 black-owned businesses in Michigan. Commissioner Harris was elected to the Detroit Charter Commission in 2009. Harris currently serves on the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in Washington, DC and as Midwest Director for the US Black Chamber over 12 states. Harris is an active life member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, and a 33rd Degree United Supreme Council Prince Hall Mason. Harris received the U. S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 2007 Minority Business Advocate of the Year Award in Michigan and was inducted into Crain’s Detroit Business Class of 2007 40 under 40. Harris was also featured in DBusiness Magazine 30 in their 30’s Most Influential and Ebony Magazine in 2011. Harris a former NCAA Basketball Academic All-American point-guard for Clark Atlanta University graduated with a B.A. in Psychology and M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Clark Atlanta University (HBCU) in Atlanta, Georgia and an Educational Specialist (EDS) Degree from Wayne State University in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Ken Harris is a PhD candidate at the Michigan State University in African American and African Studies and the Eli Broad School of Business Program.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson argues:
“The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples. The Negro, thus educated, is a hopeless liability of the race.”
“The difficulty is that the “educated Negro” is compelled to live and move among his people, whom he has been taught to despise. As a rule, therefore, the “educated Negro” prefers to buy his food from a White grocer because he has been taught that the Negro is not clean. It does not matter how often a Negro washes his hands, then, he cannot clean them, and it does not matter how often a White man uses his hands, he cannot soil them.”
It challenges me a great deal, witnessing the unprecedented, obscene denigration of Black leadership and Black identity, a community depicted by its condition and solidarity amid harsh economic conditions and poverty. Principled and strong Black leadership is essential for effectively dealing with complex issues facing Blacks in the 21st century.
“You have all heard of the African personality, of African democracy, of the African way to socialism, of negritude, and so on. They are all props we have fashioned at different times to help us get on our feet again. Once we are up, we shan't need any of them anymore. But for the moment, it is in the nature of things that we may need to counter racism with what Jean-Paul Sartre has called an anti-racist racism, to announce not just that we are as good as the next man, but that we are much better.”
—Chinua Achebe (1965)
How can Blacks find unity amid the systematic circumstances that have perpetuated generations of societal influences that adversely stifle African-American progress? As a society, Blacks have failed to produce group-oriented strategies, agendas, and plans necessary for community evolution. Because we are not unified, organized, and structurally conditioned to produce systematic results as a community, we find ourselves victims to the vigorous onslaught, oppression, and denigration of Black leadership at all levels. In some or most cases, African-Americans are to blame and perpetual failure to produce progressive results driven by principled leadership. Although there are great strides in our sometimes selfless attempts to unify a divided community, we find ourselves pressing the reset button, starting from the same place from which we left off. This causes a ripple effect of the same old tired, recycled, and yet visionless cronyism seen throughout the Black community. But there is hope.
This past weekend, more than 100,000 people gathered in Detroit, Michigan, to honor the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his “Walk for Freedom” more than 50 years ago. The NAACP’s Detroit branch, the UAW, coordinated the event, along with many Black organizations speaking as one voice, with one agenda and one objective: to fight against injustice, inequality, and the denigration of Black leadership. This is positive, yet progressive action toward unifying the Black power base. I applaud the leadership that has been tirelessly coordinating such a profound historical occasion and victory in the Black community, at every level, even in the midst of great confusion and turmoil.
“In the West and elsewhere, the European, in the midst of other peoples, has often propounded an exclusive view of reality; the exclusivity of this view creates a fundamental human crisis. In some cases, it has created cultures arrayed against each other or even against themselves. Afrocentricity’s response certainly is not to impose its own particularity as universal, as Eurocentricity has often done. But hearing the voice of African-American culture, with all of its attendant parts, is one way of creating a more sane society and one model for a more humane world.” —M. K. Asante (1988)
In Detroit, with a plethora of unyielding issues preventing the Black community’s unification—oscillating from schools failing to educate Black children to racial profiling, the new Jim Crow (mass incarceration of Black boys), teen pregnancy, disproportionate crime and violence rates, and ubiquitous poverty—we find ourselves spiraling through a maze of confusion, disunity, and special-interest leadership.
“This process is described as systematically depriving African-Americans of their knowledge of self. The mis-education of the Negro is the root of the problems of the masses of the African-American community and that if the masses of the African-American community were given the correct knowledge and education from the beginning, they would not be in the situation that they find themselves in today. African-Americans often valorize European culture to the detriment of their own culture.”
—Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1933)
We cannot properly address these serious issues pertaining to the Black community until we are re-educated and our virtuous existence is aligned with a Negro “Black” identity willing to set aside self-serving agendas and priorities that are detrimental to Black progress. Until we are prepared to challenge the status quo within the Black community, we shall not have righteous access to the social, political, or economic benefits fixed by America’s capitalistic global program. We must unify, putting egos aside, strategizing for alternative progress in the Black community. There are many spokes in a wheel; together, let us assemble the engine so we can get rolling. The future of Black America is in front of us, but we will see it only once we realize the potential in ourselves.
We thought we had escaped the Jim Crow laws established and enacted between 1876 and 1965, shortly after the emancipation of slaves. If we don’t quite remember the mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities within the Southern states comprising the former Confederacy, starting with 1890’s "separate but equal" status for African-Americans, we are headed back there now. The Jim Crow laws separated White from Black, putting African-Americans in inferior conditions based on class, race, and status, systematizing the economic, educational, and social inequalities and disparities that still persist today. The rebellion of the southern United States and the resultant Confederacy steered patterns of segregation in housing, enforced by covenants, bank lending procedures, and job discrimination—including discriminatory union practices—for decades. Remember, Jim Crow laws enforced the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation, as well as the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for Whites and Blacks. Keep in mind that these laws followed the 1800–1866 Black Codes, which had previously restricted the civil rights and liberties of African-Americans with no pretense of equality.
Just hours ago, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder that gutted a signature achievement of the Civil Rights Movement: the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It places millions of African-Americans, people of color, women, and many who had gained freedom from slavery, the American apartheid system (Jim Crow), and other vicious schemes of oppression, racial profiling, and discrimination at the mercy of a dysfunctional Supreme Court neurotic about addressing ideological transgressions as opposed to just doing the right thing. History now has the opportunity to repeat itself—an American history that most want to forget, even the perpetrators of the racist regimes that enforced hatred, incarceration, and the spread of deranged ideological beliefs.
While I hoped that the Supreme Court would make the right decision, knowing Americans’ history, and after hearing the arguments, it is hard to be shocked by today's result. Justice Scalia even described the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act as “the perpetuation of a racial entitlement.” Since he uttered this, that phrase—“racial entitlement”—has lingered in my mind for months now. In my mind, this is an attempt to deflect a discussion of immortal wounds from America’s past and the predators who inflicted the lashes that kept Blacks and free slaves away from the polls. History must not repeat itself.
For Black people, voting has never been an entitlement; it is a freedom that has been earned through extraordinary sacrifice, blood, poverty, economic limitations, severe inequalities, generational disparities, systematic oppression, and discrimination inflicted upon free slaves and their descendants. Because the right to vote is not explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution, ideological state legislators have been attacking that very right in states across the country, including the great state of Michigan. That is why we need a constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to vote for all, wherever they live, with protections against reemerging cynical acts of oppression conducted throughout Southern states.
Without an amendment guaranteeing the right and freedom to vote, each state sets its own electoral rules, leading to confusing and sometimes contradictory policies with regard to polling hours, registration requirements, voting equipment, ex-felon rights, even ballot design. The result is an electoral system divided—separate and unequal. Black people died and made sacrifices so that all people of color, women, and minorities could have civil and voting rights.
For decades, the Voting Rights Act has protected voters in pockets of the country with a history of racially discriminatory voting practices, blocking more than 1,500 laws aimed at making it harder for us to vote. Just this past election, it allowed the Justice Department to block attempts to manipulate the voter rolls by politicians in Texas, South Carolina, and Florida. Now that the Court has overturned Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, previously protected states such as these are now in limbo.
I ask all African-Americans, people of color, women, and other minorities who have experienced voter intimidation, discrimination, and oppression to join me in letting the Supreme Court and Congress know that voting should be the fundamental right and freedom of all citizens, regardless of race, creed, color, sex, or ethnicity.
Current right-wing ideologue efforts to make it harder for people to vote are not bound by geography or a history of racial discrimination—they are widespread, targeted, and coordinated. When you really begin to dig into the types of right-wing ideologue voter suppression bills that are spreading across the country—discriminatory voter ID laws, proof-of-citizenship requirements, laws that prevent groups like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote from organizing registration drives, attempts to purge people with minorities names from the rolls, and limits on weekend voting hours in urban communities—it is clear that far-right politicians are trying to keep the rising majority of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, immigrants, young people, women, and people of color away from the polls.
Shifting attitudes and demographics demand a new approach to protecting the freedom and right to vote. We have to stop playing defense and start working to enact bold changes and expand the fundamental right to vote.
Please join me in ensuring all Americans have the right and freedom to vote.
The Voting Rights Act was the result of decades of hard work, advocacy, protests and marches, and courage in the face of death, lynching’s, and isolated incidents of extreme violence and oppression. It was one of the crowning achievements of a generation and cannot be lost because of a lack of continued advocacy.
The road to a constitutional amendment for the right to vote is similarly long and paved with obstacles. This is no ordinary campaign, but rather, one that will require years of hard work to win.
Let us keep rising together and ensure that every American has the freedom and fundamental right to vote and that the clock is not turned back to the days of Jim Crow and the American apartheid system.
Power to the People,
Ken L. Harris
Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc.
P. S.: Special thanks to Rashad Robinson, executive director, ColorOfChange.org
As you may know, I am a PhD candidate in African American Studies with a specialization in Entrepreneurship at the Eli Broad School of Business at Michigan State University.
Through the Eli Broad School of Business Research Program, while preparing for my dissertation research, I will have the exciting once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a unique international service learning and research-intensive course in South Africa May 9-28th, 2013. I am aiming to conduct original research in Africa that will significantly contribute to the field of entrepreneurship. I will visit Johannesburg, Pilanesberg, Port Elizabeth, Tsitsikamma, Oudtshoorn, and Cape Town, South Africa. While interning, I will have the opportunity to conduct advanced field research in Pretoria, Cape Town, and Soweto, while I simultaneously work with other South African communities and institutions which primarily focus on contributing to important cultural and economic development and policy. This is a unique opportunity to explore how innovation-driven entrepreneurship impacts global economies in Africa, as well as how economic agencies influence, foster, and cultivate such innovation.
At the University of South Africa in Pretoria, the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, and the University of Johannesburg in Soweto, my primary goal in the study of Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurship in South Africa is to conduct high-quality research that identifies and analyzes South African economic development successes in order to ultimately prepare contextual views of entrepreneurship in the urban marketplace. Of particular interest are the positive economic developments that have taken place in South Africa over the last decade. What are the roots of these developments? To what extent are they sustainable and transferable to other African countries, in addition to Black-owned businesses in the United States?
I want to learn as much as I can about the South African entrepreneurial mindset, culture, and environment in the hope of making the study of South Africa a more mainstream endeavor for applied economics and entrepreneurial development. Lastly, I plan to systematize the available data on South Africa. To do this, I plan to establish a website that will act as an inventory and clearinghouse of economic data on South African cities and townships visited during the course of this project. The website will host datasets in cases where existing public data is not otherwise available online. It will serve as a space to house the information collected, observed, and researched as a means to accelerate the dissertation process.
What is closest to my heart in this endeavor is the opportunity to define what constructs successful Black businesses throughout Africa and the Pan-African Diaspora. My research will be able to be used to systematically link global economies with the intent to connect industries and sectors both domestic and abroad.
As I embark on this incredible journey, it is with honor and glory that I will research entrepreneurship and its innovations back in the motherland, while visiting my roots in the southern part of Africa. Home could never have been closer than the opportunity to link two nations as a scholar activist, and for that I am grateful.
Keep economic hope alive. Until my return on June 3, 2013.
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