I've been thinking lately, about my 'black credibility cookies'. As most folks know, if you are going to stand up and talk about why your opinion ought to be respected, some resume of credentials is expected. When it comes to matters of 'black interest', you need to have black credibility cookies.
The interesting and difficult thing in all of this is that once upon a time, there were surefire cookies. Today it's a lot harder. I thought about this as I drove through the old neighborhood on the way to the office this morining. I went past the building that used to be the WLCAC store. It is a fact that Pops used to volunteer for WLCAC some afternoons, and of course I would come along with. They used to have a supermarket on Washington Blvd. in Los Angeles, just a couple blocks east of the original Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles. In that same neighborhood were the Wilt Chamberlain apartments. Back in the day, you couldn't say enough good things about Wilt Chamberlain because he purchased those buildings from white people and then became a black property owner renting to black people. I cannot imagine that any pro-sports player could, in 2007, get nationwide props for doing the same thing. I think it is natural, given the events of the past 40 years, that blackfolks are harder to impress.
Nevertheless, there were some things I've done that I can remember getting some measure of props for. But even if not, it's a good exercise to try and remember such matters.
I think that the most significant thing I ever did for community service was to insure the funding for NSBE. I really enjoyed that job generally. Specifically, the thing I was able to pull off which had a direct impact was the funding for the Southern California Camping Conference at which we took three busloads of inner city kids up to the mountains for the weekend and introduce them to business, math and science professors and professionals. One year I was head counselor with the hands-on role, but I insured that we got the buses paid for two or three years in my capacity on student finance committee for my college. That was my pet project and it was fun to have the political clout to make sure that it happened, and of course I think that experience set an insiders pattern for me subsequently. Who knows? I don't think about it much.
I did a lot of activist work in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, again, mostly raising money and helping other black clubs and organizations raise money. I helped organize fundraisers for the UNCF. I assisted Maxine Waters' office in various ways. I volunteered for the Brotherhood Crusade. I knew a lot of folks who were involved with the founding of the King-Drew Medical Center. I did my piece for the Rainbow Coalition when they rolled through town. When I was a kid, I got to ride in the Watts Christmas Parade. These are things that come to mind, vaguely.
When I think about the kinds of things I wanted to do during the mid and late 80s after my college career, most of it was around establishing communications across multiple black organizations. Really the biggest and last thing I wanted to accomplish as black community activist was to go into business setting up bulletin boards and websites for grassroots community groups. I think my college career was very pivotal and instructive in that.. the more I write about and recall it the more I think I should talk about that specifically.
In high school I did a smattering of community service. I was a camp counselor for my church. I was a page at the Episcopal Convention in LA. I taught Sunday School and was a responsible member of the church youth group (The Images of the Future). It's all rather a blur. I'd have to find a very old resume. So let me skip back to college.
At Northridge, I was chapter secretary for my frat (Alpha Phi Alpha) and representative to the (black) Interfrat Council. I was the School of Engineering rep on the Student Finance Committee, I was the student advisor (one of two) to the Minority Engineering (MEP) Program Board of Directors, and a rep to Statewide MEP. I was liaison in the Black Business Association (and my girlfriend was the Vice President). I was also National Finance Chair of NSBE, having had a number of chapter and regional positions earlier including Head Counselor for the Camping Conference and Editor of the Regional Newsletter. Basically, I was hooked up. From this position I was able to see a hell of a lot from the perspective of black clubs and organizations.
I tried and failed to do two things there which I thought would be beneficial. The first was to create the ECC, the Executive Central Committee for the black clubs and organizations, which was essentially going to function as a clearinghouse for the organizations to share information. The second was to get a 'jewel' line of seven brothers to cross into Alpha. Only three crossed. Of the other four that dropped, one was BSU president, one was captain of the track team, one was a piano virtuoso and the last was the president of the BBA. The three of us that crossed became best friends and roommates, but those two essentially live elsewhere in the world.
Part of the difficulty in establishing and maintaining this coalition of black interests on a predominantly white college campus had a lot to do with their unwillingness to give up control or even the illusion of control. Some of the black clubs were relatively wealthy, politically connected and powerful, like NSBE. Others, like the recently radicalized Black Student Union were weak and disorganized. The BSU, facing declining enrollment renamed itself the Black Survival Union and claimed to be the parent umbrella organization of all black clubs and organization. (This radicalization accomplished by a seventh year senior with an undeclared major, not the brother who dropped line) However, no matter what their position or orientation, all of the black clubs and organizations strongly resisted giving up their independence.
I actually learned a hell of a lot in having these leadership positions and the NSBE work took me across the country to see how the situation at Northridge compared to those at other college campuses. Naturally, we had Ivy League schools, HBCUs, public and private colleges in the mix, and I was able to speak, on the regular, with the leadership of all these schools. In my capacity as national finance director, I learned how much work it took to bring discipline to a broad variety of different black organizations. It wasn't exactly like herding cats, but some days it was.