Are you among the current generation of African Americans who, while enjoying the rights of inclusion the civil rights movement helped to secure, see little or no value today in the organizations that delivered the goods? “I respect these organizations a great deal,” says 40-year- old Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, a research scientist with the New Jersey Department of Health, “but they seem to be best at putting out fires. We need something new.”
Ironically, it’s Nsiah-Jefferson’s generation that the NAACP, Urban League, SCLC, Rainbow/PUSH and other civil rights organizations are counting on most to help breathe life into their new agendas for the 21st century.
Yet Nsiah-Jefferson isn’t active in any civil rights organization, nor are many of her friends, despite a vague sense of wanting to do something. Her parents, now in their 70s, are extremely active lifetime members of the NAACP. They sometimes wonder why their daughter hasn’t made better use of the lifetime membership they purchased for her as a child.
If civil rights organizations are to regain the dominance they enjoyed during the ’50s and ’60s, they’ll have to convince people like Nsiah- Jefferson to follow in their parents’ footsteps–a challenge they have come to view as an opportunity.
Armed with ambitious plans and strategies, the premier civil rights organizations have issued a clarion call to a new civil rights arena– economic empowerment. But before they can win back the hearts, minds– and pocketbooks–of those who have defected, today’s leaders must convince African Americans that their vision is right for the 21st century.
The National Urban League has proclaimed itself “ready to dive deeply into the issue of economic development,” with a multifaceted plan to help African Americans increase their economic self-sufficiency. Packaged under the theme “Economic Power: The Next Civil Rights Frontier,” the League’s agenda is expected to signal a clear direction for the 21st century. It will be fully laid out for members and other constituents at the Urban League’s national convention in Washington, D.C., on August 3-6.
Focusing specifically on ways to “shape the economic future of African Americans,” participants will receive how-to advice on becoming entrepreneurs, accessing capital, getting involved in urban revitalization and partnering with large companies to engender self- sufficiency and wealth-building in the African American community.
“Our program is really a refinement of the objectives the Urban League has had since its inception in 1910,” says Milt Little, senior vice president of affiliate development programs and policy. Little, who was brought onboard in January to implement the new initiatives, says the Urban League has always endeavored to “build individual and collective wealth, increase business and home ownership, prepare people for gainful employment and promote academic excellence.” His background in corporate philanthropy with Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Manpower Demonstration Research Corp., a nonprofit organization in New York City, gives important clues to the key strategies to be used–corporate partnerships and job training.
Working through 115 affiliate Urban Leagues across the nation, the national office plans to roll out its economic initiatives within the next 18 months.
“This has been