A Significant Beginning

Trans-ethnic political leaders. Leadership diversification. Changing participation and political orientation. The administration and economy, energy, education. Two-way communication. "We have an opportunity!"

The particular benefit of this conference, as I see it, is new thinking and new ideas. This conference is more than just another event. It is a significant starting point; it signals a lot of things that are very important to the entire nation.

You are talking about the ideas of the next ten years or beyond

The intellectual quality and the standard of excellence and the articulation of views here has not been matched by any conference that I have attended in the last ten years. With all that power gathered in one place, this has got to be the start of something really important. I think that it gives us an invaluable vantage point on the state of what I would call black thinking and black leadership.

The fact that people are talking about pluralism is directly at odds with what I saw the other day when I attended a meeting, along with the then president-elect, with some of the people who purport to represent the leadership of the black community. I am not in any way disagreeing or putting them down, but I think the difference between that meeting and this conference is significant. They were talking about the last ten years and the ideas of the last ten years. You are talking about the ideas of the next ten years or beyond.

For example, you talked about a new corps of trans-ethnic political leaders. That is a really valuable concept. You also talked about the diversification of black leadership. I think it is tremendously important for people who come from similar backgrounds to be able to have different ideas about how to solve their problems. That is the start of political and philosophical maturity and is a very important product that was demonstrated here.

You are on the cutting edge of new coalitions

I would like to suggest an analogy to another phenomenon that is going on right now that intersects with what is happening here, and that is what is occurring in the labor unions. People there are recognizing that the monolithic voice of labor no longer represents the working man in this country. So they are developing new types of leadership, both within the unions and among workers who are outside the unions. It is the same kind of thing—a broadening of horizons about their real interests. So you really are on the cutting edge of a whole lot of new coalitions. Here is an opportunity, since you are in at the start, to participate at a much higher level than has ever been achieved before in this country.

Some of the objectives that were discussed here, nontraditional roles, go along with something I have been thinking about, and that is nonpredictable positions and nonpredictable attitudes of a kind that came out of the discussions today. So you cannot tell what a particular black leader or a particular black person is going to have as his thought patterns in reaction to a particular situation. This is change in thinking; it is change in self-participation; it is change in leadership, and it is change in varieties of political orientation.

There will be a pattern of listening, meeting, conferring, and two-way dialogue

I think that the response of this administration must be, first of all, to listen. The great thing about Ronald Reagan, as governor and in a few weeks as president, is that he has the capacity to listen and also the capacity to hear. In the past week he has met with four different groups representing minority communities. With those of us who are here tonight, this will be the fifth meeting. This is by far the most extensive, of course. But there will be a pattern of listening, meeting, conferring, and two-way dialogue.

The response will include black participation in government, but it will be different in some ways. I think Ronald Reagan is committed, as you suggest today, to putting blacks in nontraditional roles. There are going to be black people in high places on the White House staff, but they are not going to be there simply as ambassadors to other black people. They are going to be there because they have a substantive role to fulfill, and black people coming to the White House will go to the same people that everyone else does. You are not going to have one person that all blacks have to funnel through.

We have an opportunity

We are going to address the problems of this country. And we hope that how we act will benefit black Americans as well as Americans of all types. I would suggest four ways in which we hope to help.

First of all, we address the general problems such as the economy and energy. What we do for the entire nation will help blacks; it will help poor people of all races, because the major problems of this country—the economy and energy particularly—impact poor people of all races much more than they do the rest of us. The kinds of things that poor people spend their money on are fairly limited; they are the necessities of life. The poor do not have much discretionary income, and every time that inflation robs them of their purchasing power, it hurts them a lot more than it does the general public.

Second, there are specific problems in which the black community has a special stake. I agree, as was mentioned earlier, that we have to make sure that there is financial support for the black colleges. And we have to make sure that the zealous demons of the Department of Education do not get involved in trying to undo what has built up as a great tradition of black colleges over the years.

Third, we pledge to develop a clear-cut and continuous twoway communication so we can hear you and so we are able to articulate to you what we are trying to do and why we hope to gain your support.

Finally, we will further black political participation by way of the appointment process in the government itself.

These are the things that we feel we can do in responding to the kinds of ideas that have come forth here today. The question that we have to ask in concluding this evening is—what happens now? And if I may quote the eloquent Percy Sutton, we have an opportunity!

11 A Skeptic Persuaded? Table of Contents About the Authors