Fixing the Jericho Road

America, make no mistake about it: eradicating poverty as we know it is the last piece of unfinished business in America today. And we can do it by fixing the Jericho Road, together.
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I am tired of picking people up along the fabled Jericho Road of life. I don't want to play the role of the Good Samaritan, anymore.

Let me explain.

As an adult, I religiously attended First A.M.E. Church in South Los Angeles, California, where I was actively mentored by then Reverend Dr. Cecil "Chip" Murray, but in my early childhood years I grew up, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, in a traditional, small corner Baptist church called Mount Calvary Baptist Church, also located in South Central Los Angeles.

At Mt. Calvary, it seemed as though a Sunday didn't go by without hearing someone, typically the pastor, talk about the Biblical "Good Samaritan," along with a relevant parable or a story about his role in our lives and in our larger society. These were all references of course to the Biblical Good Samaritan, "helping those in need" along the fabled and dangerous Jericho Road of Israel.

I believe that today much of our society's social outreach strategy for the poor, as well as the world's overarching focus on how best to serve the poor, and how we can otherwise "help out our fellow man" and Silver Rights in Africa all originated from these dignified stories of legend in the Bible. They originated from the "Good Samaritan" helping those in need along the Jericho Road. I submit, respectfully, that we may need to better define and better understand the meaning and the role of the Good Samaritan and the challenges faced on that Jericho Road in our respective lives today, along with what it ultimately says about our subsequent approach to the poor and others, in need.

Growing up in Compton, California and South Central Los Angeles, stories about the "Good Samaritan" and aiding those in need offered me an invaluable lesson, at a very impressionable age, in the development of my own core values. Values such as care and concern for others, compassion, empathy, service, and of course the value of community. This process also instilled in me the very real sense that in order for us to have dignity, we must first offer it to others. Finally, I learned that we were all connected, even interconnected, and ultimately, inter-dependent. All good things.

This said, over the past 40 years I have noticed a troubling movement towards individuals and communities in need, more focused on the sympathetic "give-a-man-a-fish" interpretation of the Good Samaritan, than the empathetic and dignity-centered "teach-a-man-to-fish" interpretation. In short, we were doing what made us feel good, maybe even a slight sense of superiority, but not what was necessarily in the long-term best interest of those who sought the help we had to offer.

More than 40 years since the dawning of the civil rights movement and 44 years since the 1963 Dr. King "I Have A Dream" speech, working completely out of what I call "good intentions," we seem to have created or enabled an odd and growing culture of victimization... amongst many we were actually trying to help. Good and decent people -- individuals of strong character, capacity, rich in potential and care -- all hurt, battered and bruised in some way, along the modern day Jericho Road. Good people we tried to help in the wrong way. As an unintended consequence, I would suggest that we have helped to enable a sense amongst subsequent generations of young that they should not only "await" for their savior to come, but expect it too. Literally waiting to be saved by the modern day Good Samaritan, sitting along the side of the modern day Jericho Road. Well, this is not good, and it cannot be what God had intended for His children, because becoming a victim, or worse treating other people as if they are, does not "nurture our own nor the other's spiritual growth." There is no dignity in handouts, when other options exist. Love is work.

I spoke recently at a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Financial Freedom Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, hosted by the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, and I told the students and faculty there who have entered the honored field of "serving the least of these" through social work, that they had in front of them a new and revolutionary task for the 21st century. Their task was to do "nothing less than completely transforming their chosen field of study," transforming it from the inside out. The task of finally committing themselves and their colleagues to the job of "fixing the Jericho Road."

Ambassador Andrew Young, my personal hero and mentor, the global spokesman for Operation HOPE, and the first lieutenant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., recounted a conversation that he and Dr. King had on this very topic. Dr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King had just returned from Israel, and predictably people began talking about the Good Samaritan and the Jericho Road, and associating this image with Dr. King. Dr. King told Andrew Young then, "...Andy, I think the Good Samaritan is a great individual. I of course, like and respect the Good Samaritan... but I don't want to be a Good Samaritan." Dr. King continued, " see Andy, I am tired of picking up people along the Jericho Road. I am tired of seeing people battered and bruised and bloody, injured and jumped on, along the Jericho Roads of life. This road is dangerous. I don't want to pick up anyone else, along this Jericho Road; I want to fix... the Jericho Road. I want to pave the Jericho Road, add street lights to the Jericho Road; make the Jericho Road safe (for passage) by everybody..."

Well, this 20th century Dr. King analogy has as much significance and relevance today as it did then. Fixing the Jericho Road is precisely what our work is all about here at Operation HOPE. Somehow, a desire to "help our fellow man" has too often morphed into a desire to "carry-my-otherwise-able-bodied-fellowman," and this is not in the end good for him nor for us. Or worse, it has migrated into the sense that some of us are somehow permanent victims, helpless and without personal choice-making abilities; somehow entitled to being "saved," time and time again.

Now, it goes without saying that God has called upon all of us to help those who cannot otherwise help themselves; from the elderly, to the handicap and infirm, to the sick and shut-in, and all others equally unable to do for self. This we must do. This, society must make appropriate provisions for. We cannot have another Katrina, ever again. This is non-negotiable.

This said, if you are an otherwise healthy black, white, brown or yellow man, 25 years of age with 2 kids depending on you to take care of them, then you just need to get up and go get a job. Period. The best thing a Good Samaritan can do for you is to pass you the "help wanted ads" from the local newspaper, and let you use their telephone too. God helps those that help themselves.

I will help you, and the world owes you a fair chance, but you need to go get a job. I have, like, five.

And don't go running to God looking for cover from personal responsibility, because God Himself ordained in Proverbs in the Bible, " be poor is not to not have anything, to be poor is to not do anything, and lazy hands make a man poor." In other words, God wants everyone to do the work in their own lives.

As best I can tell, God has no use for slackers. Love is work, and God is love.

Now, I know I am getting into some dangerous waters here --- so let me go a little further and a little deeper.

I happen to know the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mr. Mohammad Yunus, an economist who founded the Grameen Bank, and a very good man who no doubt deserved this award for his life's work of helping and empowering the poor. Yunus has helped and continues to help countless millions around the world to help themselves. Then U.S. President Bill Clinton and then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton both recognized the power of his work during the Clinton Presidency, often citing him as an example of what could be done to "uplift the poor," and to do well and do good too. Yunus also has a different approach to "aiding the poor."

You see, Mohammad founded the Grameen Bank not out of some paternalistic sense of "sympathy for the poor," but frankly and more practically, because he was tired of beggars approaching him on street corners for nothing more than handouts. He empathized with those in need and knew there had to be a better answer than begging and handouts. He knew of another approach, one steeped in human dignity. Yunus saw the potential inherent in lifting the poor out of their sorry state, and he built a completely new business model to accomplish it; one based on the power of the market and free enterprise and entrepreneurship to solve problems, and with a less than a 2 percent loan default rate today.

Mohammed Yunus believes you can "bank on the poor." We here at Operation HOPE fully agree with him. Yunus and HOPE also agree on something else -- that there is inherent dignity in being able to "do for self."

Now, right here in America it could be fairly said that Black America was offered an extremely bad set of cards to play, as we set forth on our collective journey called the American Dream in the 20th century. Let me summarize in digest form:

Enslaved and told it was illegal to READ A BOOK.

Promised "40 acres and a mule," and subsequently told "...just kidding." "You get nothing for all of your hard work, literally building the first true American economy." Absolutely nothing, unless of course you count lynching parties and separate and unequal education and facilities as a good thing.

Snookered into believing that sharecropping (think "auto leasing," but without the fancy car to drive around, nor the fair and reasonable buyout option at the expiration of term) would somehow lead to real property ownership one day.

Unlike our Jewish, Japanese American and Indian brothers and sisters, Black America never received what some might call "reparations," nor even a real apology for slavery (and no, I am not about to make a case or ask for any form of reparations now for black folks in America. I mean really -- who would offer the producers of an Oprah, and a Chris Rock, and a Shaquille O'Neal and a Bill Cosby, financial reparations today? Black folks just need to leave this one alone. Move on. Next. Although the concept of free, universal, K-through-college education for future generations of black youth would not in any way be an unreasonable or unthinkable opportunity for all involved).

Let me continue, briefly...

Could not VOTE in America until the late half of the 20th century. Think about this for a minute. We are talking 40 some-odd years ago, so we are not talking about the history of our last, just past generation, but the reality of this one.

Okay, by now you get the message, I am sure.

This all said -- WE ARE NOT VICTIMS, anymore.

Life is not fair -- and we need to move on.

Yes, the NAACP and others need to keep fighting for justice and "our rights," so to speak, and our moral leaders and our government need to keep fighting against acts of discrimination, racism and other forms of disparate treatment, but in the meantime -- we really just need to move on.

The civil rights movement triggered America's second American Revolution, a movement benefiting not only blacks but all races, and women too, but respectfully that was 40 some odd years ago -- and we need to move on.

We have been beaten down as a people, but we are not a beaten down people. We need to move on. We have made mistakes -- like not taking the initiative to understand capitalism and the free enterprise system and how to make it work for us -- but we are not a mistake, and we need to move on.

Capitalism has been used as a tool against Black America in America's storied past of the 20th century, but that doesn't mean we cannot learn to make capitalism and free enterprise work for us in the 21st century. Rainbows, after storms -- and we need to move on.

Freed adult slaves were promised "40 acres and a Mule" by President Lincoln, a good man later killed, then were subsequently informed that this particular promise was somehow "all one big misunderstanding" (you just have to smile at this stuff and shake your head), but we now just need to refocus our energies, and our efforts, on securing "40 books and a bank account" for our children. We need to move on.

Blacks have experienced the painful, blunt-end of a win/lose economic model, but that does not mean than we cannot lead the way towards an entirely new and more enlightened, open-ended, and inclusive, win/win economic model for the 21st century. That is precisely what Dr. King was trying to achieve, and precisely why he launched his final movement in the "Poor People's Campaign" in 1968, inspired by my new friend Ms. Marian Wright Edelman, the year he was assassinated. We need to move on.

Blacks were denied a quality education in the 20th century, but that does not mean we should not pursue, or not actively encourage our children to pursue (with a vigor akin to eating three meals a day), a quality education in the 21st century; for education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool. When you know better, you tend to do better. We need to move on.

Blacks have good reason to be upset with America, but God says to love those that forsake you, and forgive those that sin against you. We, none of us, are perfect, and "a Saint is a sinner that got up." We need to move on.

At the end of the day, we need to stop responding to violence against us by building up violence within us. We need to heal, and we need to move on.

I have called for a movement "from civil rights to silver rights," because I thought that "moving on" and actually building something for our people (all people), was the most powerful way to honor those that came before us and who gave their lives in the civil rights movement, so that we may have life today. As my friend and mentor Dr. Dorothy Height once told me, "what good is it to have fought for equal access and affordable housing (legislation), if we cannot afford to pay the bill in the hotel, rent the apartment or buy the house?" She continued, "We must be dreamers, with shovels in our hands." We need to move on.

If the civil rights movement was about removing impediments and "bad choices" made legal by others in our lives, then the silver rights movement has to be about empowering ourselves, to make better choices, for our lives. We need to move on.

This means that the white man increasingly must begin to understand that it is in his enlightened self interest to help create black and brown homeowners in America, and it also means that black and brown folks increasingly need to understand that it is in their enlightened self interest to become new homeowners in America." We all need to move on.

When you convert check cashing customers into banking customers, everybody wins.

When you convert renters into homeowners, everybody wins.

When you convert small business dreamers into small business owners and entrepreneurs (particularly our young people, looking for direction and educational relevance in their lives), everybody wins.

When you convert minimum wage workers into living wage workers, everybody wins.

When you convert those on the poverty rolls to those on the payrolls, everybody wins.

When you move people up and out of poverty, offering them a hand up, and not just a hand out, everybody wins.

Andrew Young once told me, "Communism failed because it could not create a middle class. And that capitalism succeeded precisely because it did create a middle class. But capitalism and the free enterprise system has not yet proven itself relevant to the poor." Bravo Dr. Young.

This is my calling in the 21st century -- making capitalism and the free enterprise system work for the poor -- and this is the calling of the silver rights movement here in America and around the world today, aided by the practical, on-the-ground work of the organization I founded 15 years ago after the Rodney King Riots, Operation HOPE.

It is a call and a calling "to make capitalism and free enterprise work for the poor."

It is a call and a calling to prove that you can "do well and do good," and better still, "do well by doing good" corporate America. Win/win, and not win/lose.

America, make no mistake about it: eradicating poverty as we know it is the last piece of unfinished business in America today. And we can do it by fixing the Jericho Road, together.

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