Time for New Black Leaders

The Reverend Jesse Jackson's very crude comment about wanting to cut off Barack Obama's testicles, breached a psychological levee in Black America. Yes, the remark was whispered, unbeknownst to Rev. Jackson, while his Fox News mic was live, but it was said nonetheless. And we know this is not the first time that Rev. Jackson has made a snide remark about Obama. I do not want to pretend to be inside the mind of Rev. Jackson, or any other Black political leader, but it has become evident to me, as a longtime community organizer, and as a current Democratic candidate for Congress, that Obama's campaign has brought the Civil Rights generation's chickens home to roost, finally.

It began as soon as Obama announced his candidacy. Was he Black and qualified enough to be a leader because a) he was biracial b) he was too young to have participated in the Civil Rights Movement and c) he was not a minister. Obama was an enigma to the old Black guard because they did not create him, and because they could not control him. This is the root of the generational split in Black America. The Civil Rights battles were fought to give future generations an opportunity to achieve the unthinkable just forty years ago. But now that many of us have the audacity to run for public office, to own businesses rather than spending our lives working for someone else, to become big-time donors in campaigns, there is a heavy resentment from the established Black gatekeepers. I hear it, often, as I run for Congress: that I didn't come through a political club; that I should wait my turn; that I didn't seek permission to run for office from the right Black leaders.

Frustrated and feeling powerless, some old school leaders have taken to chastising younger ones every opportunity they get. This, to me, is the crux of Jackson's comments, and the reason why so many Black politicians in New York City chose to support Hillary Clinton over Obama. It was not just a Black thing. It was a generational thing. A lack of political and moral courage thing. My opponent in Brooklyn, the 74-year-old Ed Towns, steadfastly supported Senator Clinton, even as nearly 60% of our Congressional district voted overwhelmingly for Obama back in February. Mr. Towns is so out of touch with the district that he did not see the waves of younger Blacks who moved to the district in the past decade, and who have, like me, bought property, and are here for the long haul. And we've been wondering why entrenched Black electeds like Mr. Towns are so disengaged from the community, to the point where many do not know his face nor can name three concrete things he's done in 25 years in office.

That sort of invisibility and do-nothingness, in Brooklyn, in Harlem, in the other parts of New York City where we have Black electeds is no longer acceptable. Neither is it acceptable for these old school leaders to treat their positions as a family business, to be passed to a family member or close friend when they are finally done. Neither is it acceptable for them to sit in office, unchallenged, year after year, while New York's Black communities continue to be mired in poverty, violence, crime, disease, terrible schools, and a sort of despair and hopelessness one would imagine in war-torn countries.

I certainly acknowledge and appreciate what the Civil Righters have done, but we younger African Americans are saying now, loudly, the jig is up and it is time for you to go, especially if you have not created hope and plans of action for our communities. The days of marching and protesting without a clear purpose are over. The days of voting for someone just because they are Black are over. Indeed, the multicultural legion of young Americans who've flocked to Obama's campaign suggest that we want leadership that builds bridges, not be stuck in the rhetoric and realities of the past. I have witnessed this as I've been campaigning. Yes, I must represent the concerns of Blacks and Latinos in East New York. But I cannot ignore the Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg or the young White professionals in Fort Greene. They are all my people. Until we have Black leaders who understand that the America we need now is one where an Obama can be president and a Nas can make a rap song like "Black President," both condemning Obama doubters and reminding everyone of the inequities that still exist, then we will continue to have leadership that is operating as if it is 1968 instead of 2008.

Kevin Powell, author of 8 books and Brooklyn community organizer, is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Brooklyn's 10th CD. He can be reached at kevin@kevinpowell.net

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