An Open Letter to My Children: Why You Must Choose Public Service Over Politics

Dear Erika, Kristin, Gibby, and Teddy:
I’m writing this letter to offer all of you a deep apology on behalf of my generation as well as Poppa’s. As you came of age, we have shared with you the value of public service, that all of you have the capacity and responsibility to work to improve the lot of the less fortunate and play a role in advancing this nation.

But it’s hard to advocate something that I don’t feel compelled to do myself. As you know before your grandfather started Black Enterprise, he spent years as an administrative assistant for the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. He assisted the senator as he attempted to ensure that the poor were clothed and fed, no one was denied equal opportunity because of the color of their skin, and all had access to fair housing. In fact, Poppa was able to get the senator to help launch an organization in his old neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to enable blacks to start businesses and employ local residents. His intentions and those of Sen. Kennedy’s were honorable and their causes were just.

Poppa asked me a few weeks back if I would ever consider public office. I respectfully told him that such a move would be the last thing I’d do. The reason: There is no longer nobility in government service.

To confirm that fact, all I need to do is point to the recent activities in Washington. At a time when more than 14 million remain jobless, scores of families are threatened with home foreclosures, and roughly 40 million people subsist below the poverty line, our elected representatives seem more interested in gamesmanship than working together to address our vast problems.

Just take the recent debt ceiling debate. President Obama seemed willing to engage in reasonable dialogue and compromise to bring the GOP and Democrats together to agree on a plan that would avoid the United States defaulting on our national debt for the first time in history. Over the course of the month-long debt debate, we saw partisanship at its worse, where both sides drew ultimatums. Irresponsible  politicians literally held the country hostage. And at one critical point, the Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to take a call from the president. Congress and the White House finally agreed on a deal that averted default less than 24 hours before the deadline. The result, however, was that rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded America’s credit rating for the first time because congressional antics demonstrated “a degree of uncertainty around the political policy-making process.”

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