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.
It is a known but not normally talked about fact that African Americans endured
more then 400 hundreds years of enslavement, generations of oppression, and
continued acts by their oppressors shortly after emancipation.
The slave system of men, women, and children forced to do their masters’ bidding
and regarded as no more than cheap labor helped to build the America we cherish
today. The cotton boom gave way to a globalized economy that was built on slave
Blacks fought for every civil right that resulted from Jim Crow, lynching, segregation,
and American apartheid. African Americans were promised 40 acres and a mule, but
the promise was never fulfilled. Black people were given civil rights, but without
economic equality, parity, or justice. African Americans marched in streets,
communities, college campuses, and towns so that all Americans, including men,
women, gays, lesbians, Asians, Hispanics, and all other “minorities” could have civil
rights and affirmative action opportunities.
However, today, after the blood, sweat, and tears of black slaves, we find African
Americans at the bottom of the economic pool of opportunity and equality. The
disparity between the white race and the black race is immensely discouraging. But
what’s even more troubling is that other minorities and women are moving further
along economically than blacks. This has all systemically impacted the black
community since the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and President Lyndon
Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 after a weaker law was passed in 1961.
Nonetheless, the black community today consumes an estimated 1.2 trillion dollars
and owns or produces less than 2 million businesses nationwide. If African
Americans would have had an economic plan attached to their civil rights agenda in
1968, where would we be today in 2012?
It is clearly African Americans’ time for economic equality, parity, and justice. Black
people never received their dues for enduring slavery, not to mention the promised
40 acres and a mule. African Americans are a major purchasing power in the United
States. It is time we receive not a hand-out, but a hand-in. We do not need charity,
but rather economic parity. We must hold accountable all who have benefited from
cheap labor and low economic status within the confines of capitalism. The facts and
the statistics are clear. We just need to handle our business, unite, and spend our
money on those who patronize, hire, and support the African American community.
Political leadership must lead to economic access, opportunities, and equality;
otherwise, it amounts only to a failed policy or political advocacy agenda. He who
holds the golden rules, by embracing civil rights without economic justice only does
us a civil injustice.
This speech was said to have been delivered by Willie Lynch on the bank of the James River in the colony of Virginia in 1712. Lynch was a British slave owner in the West Indies. He was invited to the colony of Virginia in 1712 to teach his methods to slave owners there.
“Willie Lynch wrote,
I greet you here on the bank of the James River in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and twelve. First I shall thank you, the Gentlemen of the Colony of Virginia, for bringing me here. I am here to help you solve some of your problems with slaves. Your invitation reached me on my modest plantation in the West Indies where I have experimented with some of the newest and still the oldest methods for control of slaves. Ancient Rome would envy us if my program is implemented. As our boat sailed south on the James River, named for our illustrious King James, whose bible we cherish, I saw enough to know that your program is not unique.
While Rome used cords of wood as crosses for standing human bodies along
the old highways in great numbers, you are here using the tree and the rope on occasion. I caught the whiff of a dead slave hanging from a tree a couple of miles back. You are not only losing valuable stock by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for maximum profit, you suffer occasional fires, your animals are killed,
gentlemen . . . you know what your problems are; I do not need to elaborate. I am not here to enumerate your problems, I am here to introduce you to a method of solving them.
In my bag here, I have a fool-proof method for controlling your black slaves. I guarantee everyone of you that if installed correctly it will control the slaves for at least 300 years. My method is simple, any member of your family or any overseer can use it.
I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves, and I take these differences and make them bigger. I use fear, distrust, and envy for control purposes. These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies, and it will work throughout the South. Take this simple little test of differences and think about them. On the top of my list is “Age”, but it is there because it only starts with an “A”; the second is “Color” or shade; there is intelligence, size, sex, size of plantations, attitude of owners, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, East, West, North, South, have fine or coarse hair, or is tall or short. Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action—but before that, I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than trust, and envy is stronger than adulation, respect, or admiration.
The Black Slave, after receiving this indoctrination, shall carry on and will become self refueling and self generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Don’t forget, you must pitch the old Black vs. the young Black male, and the young Black male against the old Black male. You must use the dark skinned slaves vs the light skinned slaves, and the light skinned slaves vs. the dark skinned slaves. You must use the female vs. the male, and the male vs. the female. You must also have your servants and overseers distrust all Blacks, but it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect, and trust only us.
Gentlemen, these kits are your keys to control, use them. Have your wives and children use them. Never miss [an] opportunity. My plan is guaranteed, and the good thing about this plan is that if used intensely for
one year, the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful.
Concluded by Willie Lynch 1712”
What would the former Mayor Coleman A. Young, Jr., the first African American elected as the mayor of Detroit in 1972, at which time Blacks constituted slightly less than 50% of the city’s population say in response to the question, “Is the ice colder outside Detroit rather than inside?” If you cannot come up with a response, ask those Detroiters who are baby boomers, senior citizens, or lifelong residents of the city. Ask anyone who experienced or witnessed Jim Crow laws, segregation, or when Mayor Young disbanded STRESS (Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets), which had been connected to the deaths of eight Black people in its first four months of operation and 18 people in its first 14 months in Detroit. What would the people say who helped to elect Young as the first African American mayor of Detroit, a major, highly populated U.S. city?
“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” (William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois) I question whether Black people have gained any economic independence in Detroit’s political economy. We should request our elected leadership with a clear conscious and uninfluenced mindset to increase the contracting and procurement pool for African American entrepreneurs and Detroit-based business owners. I would also ask anyone elected in the city of Detroit for a short-term and long-term economic plan or vision for a city that is at least 80% African American and that has a total population of more than 500,000. Anyone not able to give a clear answer, in my opinion, should be fired.
I beg to interrogate those in power who control and make decisions pertaining to the economic destiny of Detroit and its residents’ hard earned tax dollars. Is there a connection between our city government and the residents of this city who are poverty stricken, illiterate, disenfranchised, marked by incarceration, psychologically and mentally distressed from generations of economic difficulties, or just loyal, lifelong taxpayers who never gave up on a dream for a people, the same dream that our ancestors envisioned during American slavery for Black people today. When will we gain control of our lives, economics, politics, and education as a people? When will leaders step out and step up as a voice for the voiceless in righteous and truthful terms invigorating vision, knowledge, and wisdom? The chains of slaveries past plague our communities. We must break free of all forms of oppression and oppressive acts, policies, or politicians. It is time for results-driven leadership, leadership with a caring heart, and leadership with a proven track record in the community and a concern for its people regardless of race, creed, or color.
“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.” (William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois) A slave mentality does not improve the circumstances, but ownership and economic independence does. We must begin to own our own or continue to be owned by someone else, duly elected or not.
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