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Re-imaginging a Black Agenda

Published in St. Louis American, December 24, 2018

Recently Michael Butler convened a gathering of black community stakeholders. The former Missouri state representative had the audacity to run against long-time politico Sharon Carpenter and the campaign savvy to take her job as St. Louis recorder of deeds. Butler’s main goal for the convening was to assess the level of unity in the room to forge a legislative agenda.

The kind of initiative may seem uncharacteristic of millennials who are often accused of being self-promoting, ahistorical narcissists. I found Butler’s call to action a breath of fresh air.

The call for a black agenda is not a new one.

Two that immediately coming to mind are the Freedom Agenda of the Black Radical Congress in 1998 and the Missouri Black Agenda (MBA) in 1984. For now, let’s stay in Missouri and see what lessons we can glean from the MBA.

The architects of the MBA were people – like Virvus Jones, Paula Carter, Charles Troupe, Bertha Mitchell and Freeman Bosley Sr. – who also sought out how to coalesce around an agenda that could move the issues of the African-American community.

The state agenda was inspired and informed by a report of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1980. The caucus was founded in 1971. The influx of black elected officials in the early 1970s, including William “Bill” Clay, fueled the need to move the ship of strategic goals for the black community in a sea of hostile, white interests.

The MBA’s goal was to offer the black community a way of evaluating the progress of its elected officials and to provide an opportunity for black leadership – elected and non-elected – to work together on a common program.

The agenda called for putting African Americans on state boards, commissions and authorities that impacted black life. It also addressed issues such as judicial and executive appointments. The vision included economic participation of black vendors and businesses. Most of the 1984 MBA remains unfinished as the political will dissipated over the years.

The contributors to the MBA were clear that it was a living document that sought to include all sectors of our community to continually  improve the agenda and to expand its reach. It further advocated its use to support those seeking and retaining public office.

Black voters are weary of the excuse by some black state legislators that they can’t get anything done in Jefferson City because they’re minorities in the minority party. Black legislators have been minorities in the minority party yet were able to accomplish some gains because of disciplined focus and creative negotiating  across the aisle.

Community agendas helped to push candidates Kim Gardner and Wesley Bell into their prosecutor offices. Those agendas called for the end to judicial corruption and the start of fair practices to replace racist ones. Near the top of the list is prosecution of police who have committed crimes, underscoring they are not above the laws they enforce.

Michael Butler wasn’t even born at the time of the MBA, but his efforts are in the tradition of those in perpetual search of a more effective way to achieve progress in our people’s struggle for self-determination and economic justice.

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The time is always right to do the right thing.” Implementing a powerful black agenda is always the right thing to do.

Published St. Louis American, December 24, 2018.

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