*The recent resignation of Blair Taylor from his position as President of the Los Angeles Urban League (LAUL) has caused a BIG buzz in the Los Angeles black community.
Taylor left “the League” to accept a global executive position with, of all companies, Starbucks, for BIG bucks. Before I get started, I want to say that Blair is a friend and I am happy for him and his family. A person should always do what’s in the best interest of their family, and only Blair knows what that is. I wish him the best of luck in his future pursuit, as he “did his time” in the community activism circle and saw the need to move on. Only the person in the arena knows when it’s time.
With that said, the mad buzz in the community is not about the fact that he left.
It’s about the fact that it has widened the dearth for what many already see as a voiceless community. Blair was viewed as the “future of black advocacy” in Los Angeles. He had (has) polish, vision, diplomacy and character, all the things we love in “our leaders.” He had his detractors too, but that was bound to happen when you replace a legend. He was always faced with the persistent critique of “He’s no John Mack.” Well, nobody’s a John Mack.
There was not another John Mack anywhere in the whole National Urban League system. Trust me, they looked. Replacing John Mack was a heavy lift, particularly on the fundraising side. Very few could have done it. Even fewer would have tried it to do it. It’s one thing to “talk that sh*t,” but very few people even try to tackle the complexities of the traditional civil rights organizations anymore. The complexities of sustainability, advocacy, and of course, relevancy.
The NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, CORE and NUL are all in advocacy crisis right now. And they all seem to be “running in place,” while the issues of the world, and of our community, consume them. The Urban League, nationally and locally, is the most stable of them all. But the leadership crisis faces them as well. Civil rights advocacy is no longer the “lifelong” endeavor it once was. I don’t think anybody had the expectation that Blair was going to stay there 30 years like Mack did. Still, his departure catches a vulnerable community off guard. Blair wasn’t Mack inasmuch as he didn’t desire to be a career activist.
The important thing was that Blair didn’t try to be another John Mack. When they gave the young brotha a shot, it was equivalent to stepping into your daddy’s shoes, they were a little big for him—but he soon learned to walk in them. He tried, and did, establish his own identity and it was tough going. But he established some pretty progressive ideas, with the 50 block neighborhood initiative to save Crenshaw High School and the China exchange student program, that were “outside the box” of traditional civil rights thinking. When you combined it with the activism that occurred during his tenure; the black student enrollment issue at UCLA, the Knowledge Transfer Summit, the philanthropy redlining that was (is) occurring in South Los Angeles, Blair Taylor “hit the mark” and he was the prototype of the 21st Century activist.
But now Blair has now stepped off the activist “porch” and gone into “the House.” “Going into the house” is the metaphor for stepping out of the advocacy arena and “going to make some money.” All the “big boys” have done it; Vernon Jordan, John Jacobs, Kweise Mfume…paid their dues and gone on to take high level corporate positions, sit on other corporate boards, demand huge honorariums to “commentate” on the struggle. It’s the reward for a “tour of duty.” Like everything else in America, politics and preaching—in particular, it’s about the money. I mention politics and preaching because the core of black advocacy comes from those who, supposedly, “represent” the sentiments of the people.
There was a historical intersection between the church, the civil rights groups and elected office. The church was the pipeline to leadership in both civil rights groups and political office. Now people run for office, to make money, and they preach, to make money. Serving is secondary. People now serve in civil rights groups to “raise their profile.” We all know advocacy—like crime—doesn’t pay (except if you’re Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, then it pays…), but it will raise your profile. But on the local levels, serving has become secondary to the visibility one receives, in hopes to be, one day, invited into the house. Blair was invited in.
The Los Angeles Urban League was (is) the most visible and the most vocal of the civil rights groups. The NAACP and SCLC have been “non-players” beyond the antiquated “reactionary” politics of a police shooting or some catastrophic event that they have to chase it down after it’s happened. Both of the local leaders of these organizations are looking to run for office (one for the school board, the other the National NAACP Board). With Blair now “in the house” and the other two looking to go in the house (or raise his profile to go in the house), who really speaks for black Los Angeles? And we’re not talking gadfly activism, three person press conferences—one at the mike and two holding signs, candlelight vigils when a celebrity dies type of nonsense (which is really not activism). That type of activity is elementary school sandbox advocacy…second grader stuff. How do we play past the clowntown attentionseekers? Even the clowntowners are now talking about going in the house (running for office). DAMN!!!
Nina Simone reminded us of the callousness of the segregation movement, after the killing of Medgar Evers and the bombing of four little girls, in the song, “Mississippi Goddamn.” Well, what else has to happen in Los Angeles for the black community to get a goddamn clue?
There’s a pretty callous politic affecting the black community that needs to be addressed. Who’s sitting in the boardrooms across the table from banks addressing the foreclosure crisis, or addressing the capital redline still choking out South L.A., or addressing the housing discrimination that now disproportionately impacts black people? Who’s addressing the fraud taking place in these school bonds and the backroom dealing on these charters schools that are sinking our children’s education, or the environment impact issues that are jeopardizing our health around community and transit development? Who’s addressing the Police Chief on the issue that officer involved shooting fatalities rose 72% in one year? Who’s pulling together resources for summer jobs for our youth? Who’s pressing any kind of state and local government accountability—for our community—at all? Who’s getting out front of the real issues that change the quality of life in our community? I can tell…now that Blair’s gone in the house?
Nobody. Oh sure, there are people “puttin’ in work”—but not that kind of work.
If it wasn’t for a few opinion leaders picking up a pen weekly and calling out some stuff, most of our so-called civil rights leaders wouldn’t even know where the fight was (is). That’s how you know the black community’s in trouble…there are no more voices on the field.
Everybody wants to go in the house now—make that money, and the field of battle—the civil rights advocacy that speaks for the masses—is left uncovered, and silent, as injustice spreads on many fronts. As I said a few weeks back, some who claim to speak for our community are of a different mindset today. One that says, if you can’t change reality in our community, you escape it. More and more are escaping the realities of a community in decline. One that’s been in decline for nearly two decades. The burden is heavy and our advocacy leadership is also poised to escape. How do you escape? These days…you simply go in the house. All I can say is, “Los Angeles Goddamn.” Maybe I’ll write a song about it.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.