The picture cannot be grimmer. May the Lord help those of us who continue to do business as usual in America at a time when Black people are on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder and are steadily descending. Social progress without economic growth is tantamount to leaving New York City and traveling southward, down the New Jersey Turnpike, in hopes of getting to Boston up north. The fact that you are on Interstate Highway 95 does not mean that you are heading in the right direction. Often, Blacks in America are on the right road but speeding in the wrong direction.
I am greatly concerned about the economic state of our affairs and how blasé we appear to be in what truly is a state of economic emergency. Every other race has access to capital, owns franchises, controls some industry, carries out global trade with its homeland and owns and operates much of the commerce in its community. In all these economic areas, Black America trails those communities at an alarming distance. Power equals property, and property is the only true real estate. But Blacks own well below 1 percent of this nation’s real estate. It is not hard to compute how little power that represents.
The socioeconomic impact of this powerlessness is debated and discussed daily by both Black and white people, as well as by people of other colors. Crime, health, justice issues, the gangsta style and popular cultures, education and the media, as well as all of the vices that plague our people, can be traced back to our dire economic circumstances.
Black America desperately needs a prophetic voice. Our hurting race needs men and women of ardent faith who will—with great clarity and precision—address our economic circumstances in pursuit of workable solutions. One only needs to reflect on last year’s presidential election and it is easy to chronicle the tremendous role that the white church played in getting President George W. Bush re-elected at a time when an unjust war was being fought and hundreds of thousands of innocent people were being killed. Clearly, power—and not righteousness—motivates these people and, yes, they are motivated.
Black America’s preachers and church system must take the same pro-active stance that their white counterparts have taken to gain political power and economic control. Slavery, colonialism and even the current Bush presidency are the result of the power of the white church in the white race’s quest for supremacy and global economic control. And let us not lose sight of the fact that most white church organizations are modern pioneers of commerce and economic power in the global community. The Black church must begin a similar agenda for economic parity.
Given the nearly $1 trillion buying power of Black America and the sad fact that we own very few businesses, our No. 1 priority must be economic reformation. In this undertaking, the church must lead. Black churches must now relearn the lessons that our great African forefathers taught Europeans to help civilize that race. Historians Black and white have documented that scholars throughout the Western world—the famous Greek philosopher Pythagoras, for example—traveled to Africa for the knowledge and wisdom taught in the mystery schools of Egypt and south of the Sahara at the University of Sankore and in other intellectual centers in Timbuktu and Jenne. From the civilizations and empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai, they learned sophisticated forms of governance and commerce. Africa’s contribution to Western civilization continues. Consider that in 1907, Picasso, the famous European artist, made the faces of the women in his canvas “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” look like African masks, marking a turning point in Western art.
We are a spiritual people, but the true indicators of our inner spiritual strength are the external defenses and the prosperity of our communities. True spiritual depth is not measured by the quantity or size of our churches and other institutions nor by the number of leaders we have. Rather, it is measured by our impact on the economic well being of the community in which we live. Clearly, the church needs to reform its views and join the long list of Black institutions that now recognize the importance of economic empowerment.
The church’s mission is to empower. It is the prosperity of a people that best depicts its strength and power. In the Black community, therefore, the Black Church must mean business!
Reverend Dennis Dillon is the chief executive minister of the Brooklyn Christian Center and the executive chair of The Black Church Means Business Conference.
By Reverend Dennis A. Dillon