Can We Do a Better Job Taking Care of Our Activists?

January 3, 2011  |  

If there’s one important thing I learned from working for Reverend Al Sharpton as the Atlanta President of National Action Network is there are tons of people who need help. In addition there are a great number of unknown activists willing to give this help. But can someone be helped if they don’t meet you half way? I had a very intriguing conversation with a close friend the other day and she said that she supported President Obama. I asked, “How did you support him?” She stated, “I supported him by my approval of his campaign.” This really piqued my curiosity to dig further. After a few minutes of badgering her,I learned that she actually believed she supported the president just because she said she supported him.

The more alarming part of this revelation is there are millions of blacks in our community who feel the very same way. They feel that they support someone simply because they say they do. My friend never held campaign signs, voted, contributed to President Obama’s campaign, or participated in a phone bank; yet she confidently believed she supported him. How can we really believe we support someone (or something) if we never translate that endorsement into an action? Pastor Crute, senior pastor of Destiny Metropolitan Church in Marietta, GA, once said “We live out what we believe, regardless of what we say.” Let’s think about this for a second.

We have community activists that commit their efforts, finances, risk their freedom and reputation, and sometimes willing to lay down their lives to help others. But if we do not convert our moral support into tangible actions, we are as opposing to them as those who openly contest their ideology. Minister Louis Farrakhan said in a crowded room I was in a few months ago, “I am able to remain free because of those who contribute to my work.” This was a stellar statement in my opinion. I thought about it for days. There is one of two things that often happen to our activists: they have to resort to the corporate donor or non-black contributor to keep their momentum going, or risk possible failure. When the possibility of failure emerges and a plea for actionable support is needed, the volume of the vocals reduces to a whisper.

True, there are corporations that contribute to black causes, but when they open their checkbooks we must now watch what we say when we open our mouths. I am even witnessing a trend where organizations that were founded for and includes “black” in its name, is carrying images of other races on their paraphernalia. Is this because the organizations know it needs the help of non-black dollars if it expects to be successful? Is it understood that black businesses do not rise to enormous success solely because of the black dollar? What do you think?

To be quite honest, the buying power of the black community is more than enough for us to lift ourselves from suffering. The question is, where are we willing to spend those dollars? Some of us continually pay for what we want but beg for what we need! What we need is self-efficacy, equality, and invasive education that roots out the cosmetic coverings of knowledge we have carried for generations. Activism is tough work. It frequently means working for people who don’t understand the real help they need. But as we witness activism, whether on large or small levels, we must give true support of progressive and effective movements or we can expect that at the end of the day, the activist will be the one crying for help.

Devin Robinson is a business and economics professor and author of Rebuilding in the Black Infrastructure: Making America a Colorless Nation and Blacks: From the Plantation to the Prison. Contact him at

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