Eric E. Vickers

Painfully, Nelson Mandela’s passing points to why the long march of black Americans for equality – from which he drew inspiration – has languished for two decades: leaders with limits to sacrifice.

Perhaps nothing symbolizes this more than the national president of the NAACP’s recent announcement that he will leave the post because he wants to spend more time with his family. Although understandable, imagine what the world would be like if Mandela had put his family before the cause of his people.

Arguably, we are in a different time and era, when self-sacrifice of the magnitude of a Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X is unnecessary. Arguably, blacks achieving the electoral power sufficient to enable a black president substitutes for such sacrifice being necessary to elevate African Americans to a state of equality with white Americans.

The argument, however, seems to fall flat on its face when examining the atrocious disparity between the condition of black Americans and white Americans. By every statistical index and measurement of the quality of life – including physical security, income and wealth – black Americans rank so intractably lower than whites that in reality an invisible apartheid exists. It is no less an injustice to people that they are trapped at the bottom of society than that they are assigned to it.

Nationally and locally, African Americans are entrapped in inferior schools, chronic joblessness and an environment of violence. This would be more visible if we were to put up signs on the school districts that are accredited (“whites only”), on the reports of unemployment rates below 7 percent (“whites only”) and on the highway billboards heading out of our crime ridden cities (“whites only”).

The success of some blacks in being able to navigate and escape this entrapment should not blind us to the injustice, just as being able to reach the echelon of an attorney did not blind Mandela to the plight of his people.

Time has graciously allowed those whites who fought tooth and nail against this country imposing sanctions on the apartheid regime that imprisoned Mandela to acclaim him as a heroic and magnanimous leader. The man they love now is the one they branded a terrorist because he wanted and fought for power for his people. Mandela understood that power brought to a people not just tangible control and influence over the apparatus of government, but also an intangible sense of pride and dignity.

I thought about this kind of power recently in viewing the Missouri History Museum’s The 1968 Exhibit. Through poignant historical illustrations, the exhibit shows that King’s assassination in April 1968 spelled the end of the Civil Rights Movement and the arrival of the Black Power Movement, as starkly reflected in the iconic photo of the two black American athletes with black fisted gloves defiantly raised during the October Olympics, and the R&B song topping the charts that year: “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

When black power burst upon the national scene in 1968, Mandela was just four years into a life sentence at Robben Island, while blacks in the city known for Dred Scott – infused with a sense of black nationalism - elected Missouri’s first black congressman. When Mandela triumphantly emerged from jail 22 years later in February 1990, all the leaders of the Black Power Movement were gone, their leadership decimated and replaced by blacks in elected and corporate positions and throw-back civil rights leaders.

In the 23 years since, the man who sacrificed everything has seen his downtrodden people arise, while black leaders, who have sacrificed nothing greater than a position, have witnessed their people languish.


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I couldn’t disagree with you more and respectfully, Mr. Vickers. The “long march of black Americans for equality” has not languished for two decades because of leaders with limits to sacrifice. It can be more attributed to followers laden with apathy, and too many demanding “equality,” with little or no concern for what they are offer in return.

Dr. King did not tell the street sweeper not to sweep. He advised the sweeper if he had to be a street sweeper, to strive to be the best street sweeper he could be. Somehow, that message has been lost, because self-proclaimed leaders seldom, if ever, relay that messaged or extol the values of character, education, individual responsibility and accountability. They are more focused on their own profitability and purposefully shifting the blame to others to avoid the risking the lost of their “popularity.”

Young people need to be told that there are two sides to that equation relating to so-called “equality,” and that they are largely responsible for one side of that equation. Until they understand that requirement, the struggle for what they calling “equality” will languish forever, because no one will ever give you anything for nothing in return.

Times are different, indeed. In years past, education for blacks was illegal. Today, it is legal, yet truancy prevails in inner cities throughout the nation. Blacks were once not allowed to vote but today, they can not only vote but have been elected to office. Yet, apathy prevails , and too many do not exercise their right to vote.

When you talk about high unemployment rates, you fail to talk lecture on the critical need for young people to stay in school and inspire them to develop skills. because most jobs require skills, Mr. Vickers. We live in a new age of technology, and not all unemployment can be attributable to “discrimination” as you assert.

When you write articles like commentary, or have the opportunity to speak publicly, Mr. Vickers, do you tell your young followers that when opportunity knocks, one has to prepare himself so that he can take advantage of such opportunities? If so, there is much to be gained.

You talk about violence, but who’s killing who? Are whites entering into black communities and killing their youth by the thousands? If blacks as well as whites flee those violence ridden communities and go elsewhere, are you calling the subsequent segregation “apartheid?” You say that some “blacks have been able to navigate and escape this entrapment.” It means that there is a way out, however difficult it might be to escape. Examine how they did it, and tell as many of your young followers that they can do it too. Dispense with the perpetual victimization, Mr. Vickers. There is little to be gained from it. Lecture on the importance of self-reliance and independence.

Finally, I applaud the national president of the NAACP for being honest in admitting that he no longer wants to serve at the organization's helm, although he could do so just for profit. He should be admired for wanting to spend more time with his family.

You ask us to “imagine what the world would be like if Mandela had put his family before the cause of his people?” All of the people were Mr. Mandela’s family, and that is what made him so great. We have witnessed his great achievements in that regard, and as expected heard from critics who have come out by the hundreds. It should be noted that they are a dime a dozen and have sacrificed nothing.

Encourage your youth to develop their God given talents and skills, and to do all they can to become self-reliant, because in this world, sadly, it is inevitably that every man will be for himself and only God for us all. In such a world, one can never rely solely on the empathy of others or goodwill.

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