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.
“The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you'll get action.” —Malcolm X
Last week, many African-Americans woke up to an opinion blog entitled “Opportunity Negroes: Detroit’s Undercover Uncle Town.” Its goal and objective was a direct attempt to challenge certain black people in Detroit to awaken from more than 150 years of involuntary servitude and mis-education.
Yesterday, former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was found guilty by a Detroit jury for running his own personal enterprise while serving as the custodian of city taxes and the head of an economic infrastructure searching for undeniably visionary and committed leadership. Monica Conyers, countless others have taken the 30 pieces of silver, and in the next few months more than 150 indictments for criminal activity will take place. Because of personal neglect for the calling to serve, leadership in Detroit’s black community has failed to keep its eye on the money ball. This has inevitably led to dissipated unique economic development and empowerment opportunities, leaving the community in the spiraling circle of calamitous financial straits that has been fostered in Detroit for decades.
“The economic status of the black freedman was the result of his lack of land and capital and of the high price of cotton. But Negro suffrage, in spite of its failures, made impossible the reestablishment of the old slavery, provided the beginning of education for the freedmen's sons and permitted the Negro to take the first steps toward economic freedom. The new disfranchisement and the recent enactment of unfair labor laws has been engineered by the merchant class in order to secure its position as a middle exploiting class between landlord and laborer. At present, three classes of Negroes are to be distinguished: the semi-submerged group of 2,000,000 laborers, the emerging group of 1,200,000 working men, and the leading group of 250,000 independent farmers and merchants and professional men. Hope for the future lies in the perception by the intelligent American laborer of his common industrial cause with the Negro, in the physical virility, hard work, and dogged determination of the American Negro, as well as in the sympathetic attitude of the better class of Amer-i-cans.” —W. E. B. Du Bois
African-Americans must realize power is not given, it is taken. In Detroit, African-Americans benefited from a majority black population of more than 82%, which in turn helped the city to elect black leaders for more than 40 years. Detroit elected its first black mayor, Coleman A. Young, in 1973. Certain African-American leaders have taken it for granted that power can be claimed in exchange for abandonment. I use the term abandonment to acknowledge the responsibility provided off the backs of those enslaved for more than 400 years, the many who bled, died, and sacrificed their lives. Their service became the rent blacks paid for the spaces in society African-Americans occupied.
African Americas may not have kept their eyes on the money ball before, but we cannot afford to do so now. Under the leadership of African-Americans, billions of dollars worth economic opportunities have passed through the City of Detroit without any accountability. Outside special interests and non-Detroit-based businesses were awarded the majority of the city’s economic opportunities, contracts, and procurement options, while others became monopolized by the friends-and-family plan that is symptomatic of corruption. In the next five to 10 years, billions more in contract opportunities will enter the city of Detroit while local businesses either remain last in line or are not even invited to the table. This situation pertains to the M-1 light-rail transportation system, the new stadium, private sector development, construction projects, municipal purchasing, lighting, the Cobo Convention Center expansion, tourism, a new bridge to Canada, and several other multi-million dollar economic development initiatives.
With the new emergency manager coming to Detroit, we must all keep our eyes on the money ball. There cannot be taxation without representation, and economic incentives are needed to help Detroit and its residents revitalize and rebuild its global economic base and infrastructure. Now that the City of Detroit is cleansing itself from those who previously sought personal gain, we can focus on Detroit’s becoming great again. Great because its leadership became great and made Detroit a world leader once again. Great because black leaders realized their identity and assumed their roles and responsibilities to do the right thing, to serve those who depend on us to make a difference.
“There is in this world no such force as the force of a person determined to rise. The human soul cannot be permanently chained.” —W. E. B. Du Bois
Thank you GG, TG, and JG for inspiring this opinion.
Detroit is facing an epidemic in the form of a prevalent case of African Americans who have done nothing to help the Black community but rob, cheat, steal, camouflage, and pose as credible Black leaders. Malcolm X called those who lived back during the days of slavery “House Negroes,” while others enriched the variety of names with the terms Sambo, Uncle Tom, Sell Outs, and Slave Negroes. It was a time when Black people would get called out for their direct intent to use the Black community for personal gain, opportunity, self-appointment, and contributing to the degradation of the Black community and race. Some African Americans are misguided Black folk because of their direct intentions in Detroit.
“Why not exploit, enslave, or exterminate a class that everybody is taught to regard as inferior?” - Carter G. Woodson
We have seen in Detroit very few leaders who were un-bought, un-sold, and un-influenced by the circumstances of the oppressor and the assault on the Black community. Many African Americans during slavery gave their lives so their children could be free and reach equality in America. But throughout history these Uncle Tom Black folks have sought the approval and acceptance of the dominant society while stepping on, exploiting, and manipulating the Black community. Marcus Garvey said the Black community is full of impostors and perpetrators using the name of Black power and identity.
“If you can control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.” ― Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro
The line is being drawn in the sand. We are starting to see exactly who is who within the Black community. The African Americans who really had the best interest of the Black folks who have been dealt the backhand and baggage of slavery and its economic conditions. We are starting to see which ghost will take off the sheet of self-destiny, hatred, and anger towards the Black people and the communities and ghettos where they reside. We are discovering certain Black politicians, clergy members, educators, educated, bourgeois, poverty pimps, media pundits, businessmen, young professionals, elected, old-guard, and establishment leadership.
“In a later age 'Uncle Tom' became an epithet for a black person who behaved with fawning servility toward white oppressors. This was partly a product of the ubiquitous Tom shows that paraded across the stage for generations and transmuted the novel into comic or grotesque melodrama.”
We can trace Black neglect back from the post-Civil Rights days, and the existence of the selfish, opportunistic, profit-driven, sold out, and political prostitutes for decades. There was a time when Negroes would deal with out-of-touch Black folks. There was a time in history when if you got caught back-stabbing another brother or sister, you could expect something coming to you. There was a Black code in the streets and there was respect for that Black code. We have been truly mis-educated to be African American without a Black identity. There are Black folks who only feel comfortable within the dominant culture and society. They totally remove themselves from the Black struggle, while trying to live a life without acknowledging race, creed, or color. Society is more racist now than ever before; everything Black people worked for since slavery is being attacked and threatened by the complete removal of progress. The clock is being turned back in time, right in African Americans’ faces.
“The present system under the control of the whites trains the Negro to be white and at the same time convinces him of the impropriety or the impossibility of his becoming white... the Negros will have no outlet but to go down a blind alley, if the sort of education which they are now receiving is to enable them to find the way out of their present difficulties.” ― Carter G. Woodson
Isn’t espousing a color-blind, race neutral, melting pot society a modern way of hiding the master’s silver? What are Black leaders conserving when Black Detroit and other communities are burdened by poverty, crime, unemployment, homelessness, and other social pathologies?
We have to watch out for these types of Negroes: they are in our families, at our jobs, at the gym, in our social networks, elected to office, owners of Black businesses, and operating in the names of historically Black organizations, associations, fraternities, sororities, nonprofits, and community groups. We need to start calling these Black folks out for what they truly are and do with the express purpose of exposing those who are leading exploiting, opportunity-seeking, and money-grabbing lives promised by the dominant culture. We have to protect our families, friends, community, and workplace from these individuals. No longer can we stand for ideals. No more can we keep getting smacked in the face. Am I my brother’s keeper? Can we honor the code? If we don’t, Black society and culture will be removed completely. There is no exception for inequality; no regard for servitude or enslavement by our own people. We must stand and we must fight and in some cases we must die for righteousness, truth, equality, and excellence in the Black race and nothing short of it.
“If they were to be subordinated to some one it should be to the white man of superior culture and social position. This keeps the whole race on a lower level, restricted to the atmosphere of trifles, which do not concern their traducers. The greater things of life which can be attained only by wise leadership, then, they have no way to accomplish.” - Woodson, Carter Godwin
It is time for Detroit’s next generation to step up, step out, and take it from these Sold Out, Uncle Tom, Power Hungry Opportunity Negroes. It is time for those true to Black excellence, identity, struggle, and uplifting of the race to move forward with a plan, solutions, and resolute leadership qualities. The time is now. Power is not given; it must be taken. Although we have had some phenomenal Black leadership in the past, they were few and far between, many going unnoticed because they never wanted to be in the spotlight, but they gave their lives for the Black race. Detroit is ripe for strong, new, and bold leadership unlike what has existed until today. Do something special to uplift the Black race and not just yourself and let your actions, deeds, and efforts speak louder than your words, brothers and sisters.
Power to the People! Stay Black! Keep it Real!
Disaster capitalism is “the practice (by a government, regime, etc.) of taking advantage of a major disaster to adopt liberal economic policies that the population would be less likely to accept under normal circumstances.”
‘To Whom Much Is Given, Much Will Be Required.” Here in Detroit, we have no one to blame, but ourselves for appointment of an EM. The writing has been on the wall for decades. Leaders accept responsibility and apply vision to solve problems. It all comes down to leadership.
Here are collections of quotes that can reflect the circumstances of leadership needed to turn Detroit around.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” –John Quincy Adams
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” –Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder
“The true mark of a leader is the willingness to stick with a bold course of action — an unconventional business strategy, a unique product-development roadmap, a controversial marketing campaign — even as the rest of the world wonders why you’re not marching in step with the status quo. In other words, real leaders are happy to zig while others zag. They understand that in an era of hyper-competition and non-stop disruption, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.”–Bill Taylor
“Leaders instill in their people a hope for success and a belief in themselves. Positive leaders empower people to accomplish their goals.” –Unknown
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” –Theodore M. Hesburgh
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” –John F. Kennedy
“A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.”–Jim Rohn
“The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.” –John C Maxwell
“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” — John Maxwell
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