A few years ago, I wrote an op ed titled, “Listening is not Enough” that encouraged my white sisters and brothers to do more than listen. The African American community needs action steps that address specific issues raised in public forums, opinion pieces, books, panels, and classes, not just listening ears. Sometimes I wonder should I have written a second piece titled “Talking is not Enough.” In racial justice work, we confuse conference attendance and participation that give us space to talk about the issues of racism with delivering material change in the lives of Black people. They are not the same.

As an executive director of a national Black studies institute, I am more interested in the work of racial justice, not just talking about it. So much energy and focus are on these public forums for scholars and organizational leaders to pontificate about the nature of the problem and make recommendations that are rarely implemented. Month after month. Year after year. We “talk” about racial justice one conference after another held at universities, churches, and conference centers attended by thousands of concerned and engaged citizens. In between conferences, there is also plenty of social media posts and sharing information (sometimes misinformation) about the systemic and deeply personal dimensions of racism. Given the history of silencing voices from the margin, I want to be careful here. I am not suggesting that we stop talking about racial justice. Not at all. However, I want to push back on the ways the “talking apparatus” has monopolized our approach, producing (1) people who are content to do no more than to talk about racial justice; and (2) uneven, untracked, unreported, and or no results in the lives of Black people.

From my years as a university institutional effectiveness officer and denominational advisor, I know how difficult it is to get organizations and experts to assess (think measure) their effectiveness in achieving outcomes. We work in environments that confuse activity with productivity. When this happens, we fall into the rut of doing things that don’t produce desired results. We see that we aren’t getting results and so double-down on our efforts instead of re-evaluating what we are doing. I have seen similar systems and approaches to work in my decades of work in higher education and church ministry. In educational settings, professors confuse lecturing and passing grades with learning at the course and program level. Administrative units in colleges and universities operate multi-million-dollar budgets with large staffs but struggle to assess their effectiveness to student success and the mission of the school. They are busy, but a cursory look at retention rates, graduation rates, student satisfaction surveys, and course completion rates will show they may not be as effective as they could be. I have seen pastors with cult-like followings busy preaching inside the walls of a congregation in a community completely falling apart. For the past few decades, we have witnessed the rise and decline of mega-churches and see evidence that religious activity, no matter how intense and sincere, does not always result in social change. Our religious-affiliated nonprofit organizations, seminaries, colleges, and universities are culpable as well. The millions (possibly billions) of dollars invested in conference budgets and speaking fees that bring attention to the sponsoring institution is really more about prominent leaders and the social credibility or relevance it provides the institution, not the actual work of racial justice. I think this, in addition to our overall ineffectiveness in producing change, is problematic.

A cursory look at data in education, healthcare, incarceration rates, and wealth does not instill a lot of hope about progress made in the past few decades. In fact, in areas like home ownership rates and wealth creation, we are losing ground. The “speaking apparatus” does not always produce measurable change. A lot of that is because of the vicious tentacles of racism and the resurgence of white nationalism. But some of this is on us and ineffective approaches to the important work of racial justice.[1]

Research and Advocacy from the Institute

In a resource titled Planning After Protest, I talked about the need to move from protesting to planning for change. I wrote in 2020 at the height of protests and dialogues happening across the country. I wanted leaders to maximize the opportunity we have to create real change. I like to think of moments like this as having three stages as detailed below.

Stage One Protest Creating awareness, Expressing moral outrage, Fostering sympathy (support)
Stage Two Educate/Advocate Explaining & interrogating the problems, Analyzing the history of slavery & racism
Stage Three Action (Plan & Organize) Developing outcomes-based plans & strategies, Specific asks to lawmakers, business leaders, philanthropic organizations, etc.

We stay on the first two stages – protesting injustices and holding forums that educate and advocate for change. These stages are incredibly important; but without real planning and attention to the mechanisms tasked with carrying out specific tasks and follow-through, we can be busy but do not deliver measurable change. Given sample data such as:

  • The Black community in America is on the path to zero wealth. The median Black household wealth is forecast to hit zero by 2053 (report by Prosperity Now and Institute for Policy Studies).
  • At just 41.7 percent, Black households have the lowest homeownership rate nationally—30.0 percentage points lower than white households (according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies)
  • Automation trends and the lack of digital literacy skills are changing the nature of work and widening the racial wealth gap.
  • A dollar circulates among banks, shopkeepers, and other businesses nearly a month in Asian American communities, nearly 20 days for Jewish communities, 17 days for white Anglo-Saxon Protestant communities, and 6 hours for African American communities before that money flows out (according to Maggie Anderson, Our Black Year).
  • Less than 2 cents of every dollar an African American spends in this country goes to Black-owned businesses (according to Maggie Anderson, Our Black Year).

We need an “outcomes-based” approach to infrastructure issues confronting Black communities and the development of a twenty-five-year plan. This approach can help us move racial justice work from “talking” in public forums to the development of plans that led to incremental and measurable change. We need energy and financial resources for mechanisms that help us organize, focus, produce, and share data about our work followed up with corresponding policies that meet specific needs. That is change we can see, measure, and report to the public.[2] This belief informs work I will be doing with an international forum committed to racial justice work that I invite you to join in the coming months and years.

Brogdon’s Statement to the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent at the United Nations (April 2024)

On behalf of the 3.4-million-member National Baptist Convention of America, International (NBCA) and the Institute for Black Studies at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in Louisville where I serve as Executive Director, I make the following statement and recommendations.

The African American community is blessed with strong leaders and organizations. However, we do not always coordinate our work. Given data in areas like education, health, incarceration rates, and wealth, this has to change. The United Nations has the stature to galvanize Black leaders and organizations in the United States and a platform through the PFPAD to assist us in better coordinating our work during a Second International Decade for People of African Descent.[3] Therefore, I propose the following:

(1) The coordination of a broader network of leaders and stakeholders. Members would come from the following: historic organizations such as the NAACP, Urban League, Rainbow Push Coalition, The National Action Network, select denominational presidents or presiding
bishops along with new organizations such as Black Lives Matter, American Descendant of Slavery (ABOS), members of the Black congressional caucus, executive directors from Black Studies programs, African American CEOs of businesses, physicians, mental health professionals, attorneys, and judges. We could divide network members by region for collaboration and to ensure proper representation and establish working meetings.

(2) The advancement of a focused Black agenda around the following: economic reform, educational reform, and criminal justice reform. Other important issues like reparations, healthcare, closing the digital divide, affordable neighborhoods, protecting voting rights, and environmental issues can fall under one of these broad reforms. A coordinated network would allow the African American community and those committed to racial justice work to gain buy in from the leaders and organizations who work on the frontlines.

(3) The identification of specific outcomes for each Black agenda goal. It would also be ideal to have a timeline for implementation. Sample economic outcomes could be: increase Black wealth from 2% to 4% by 2050; increase home ownership rates to 47% by 2050; increase number of Black-owned businesses by 10% by 2045; and increase voter participation rates by 10% by 2040. Sample educational outcomes could be: increase endowments of all HBCUs by 25% by 2035; increase retention and graduation rates of African American university and college students by 10% by 2045; increase the number of African American educators by 2040 (percentage TBD). Sample criminal justice outcomes could be: increase the number of African American police officers, attorney, and judges by 2050 (percentage TBD); repeal ten specific laws or policies that disproportionately impact African Americans by 2035; increase the number of African American mayors, governors, state representatives and senators, congressional members by 2050 (percentage TBD).

(4) The development of a comprehensive centralized research center that monitors and collaborates on the Permanent Forum’s work. A centralized center can work with other research organizations to gather data but take the lead to ensure data is interpreted and published in the form of an annual report. The research center could use the Changing America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being by Race and Hispanic Origin by The Council of Economic Advisers for The President’s Initiative on Race (September 1998). The report tracked the following: population, education, labor markets, economic status, health, crime and criminal justice, and housing and neighborhoods. The major difference from this report to the one produced by the forum’s network would be tracking progress, not just challenges. The African American community and broader public needs detailed data on what’s been done in a given year to advance racial justice, who is doing it, and the results.

These recommendations would allow leaders and organizations doing racial justice work to do the following:

  • To organize justice work on a national scale in ways that reduce organizational redundancies that dilute the effectiveness of financial gifts and past or new partnerships put in place to address specific aspects of racism.
  • To galvanize leaders and organizations around a focused Black agenda.
  • To identify outcomes we measure and report to the public annually.

Other benefits include the following:

  • To track and report key regional and national legislative victories and challenges to the African American community.
  • To track key local, regional, and national partnerships and initiatives that advance outcomes and goals of a focused Black agenda.
  • To maximize the impact of financial investments and partnerships put in place to address racism.
  • To monitor the federal budget and assess ways it advances or opposes outcomes and goals related to a focused Black agenda.
  • To restructure the annual conference apparatus away from talking to providing space for collaboration and work toward specific local or regional outcomes related to the Black focused agenda.

For more information email: Lewis.brogdon@bsk.edu or to view the condensed report go to institute.bsk.edu.

[1] For example, can we measure the effectiveness of the mechanisms in place to help the African American community since the turbulent years of 2020? We have seen billions of dollars in gifts from the philanthropic community to HBCUs, Black Lives Matter, the Urban League, and various nonprofits. Where are the forums reporting funds received, their use, and outcomes? How can people doing justice work build on some of these positive developments in the face of continuing challenges without knowing these things?

[2] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech titled “Where Do We Go From Here” in August 1967. Ideas and insights from this keynote address for the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). His speech demonstrates an approach to racial justice that could benefit current leaders and organizations. Dr. King gave a detailed overview of the work done by SCLC before discussing the many challenges they face. He mentioned specific programmatic actions in Grenada Mississippi. They made 453 demands that were met. He reported that they conducted voter registration drives in 79 counties and held over 100 voter education/get out to vote drives. He mentioned specific initiatives such as the Citizen Education Program, the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Housing Development Corporation, and Operation Bread Basket that brought over 2200 new jobs to the Black community in Chicago and over 500 million dollars in new income to the Black community in Cleveland. He named people carrying out this work. He was also aware of and reported how many African Americans were employed by Sealtest, a large company in Cleveland, given that African Americans comprised 35% of the population there. He knew and reported what the federal government spent on the Vietnam War and the flight to the moon. He knew these things because his organization tracked them and believed it gave context to issues African Americans faced in 1967. I also believed he knew it was important to report both progress and challenges to the public.

[3] United Nations General Assembly resolution 75/314 of August 2021, which operationalized the Permanent Forum, decided that the purpose of the Permanent Forum is to serve as “a consultative mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders as a platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of people of African descent, as well as an advisory body to the Human Rights Council.” Resolution 75/314 also decided that the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent “shall be open to the participation of academics and experts on issues related to people of African descent and non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council” as well as “other non-governmental organizations, including grass-roots and community-based organizations, whose aims and purposes are in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations” (see https://www.ohchr.org/en/permanent-forum-people-african-descent).

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