During the Indiana Black Expo’s annual week-long IBE Summer Celebration, a veritable Who’s Who of Black America descends upon Indianapolis. In the early 90s, I had the privilege of participating in the Indiana Black Expo’s Youth Telecommunications Workshop (YTW), a program designed to give inner-city youth the opportunity to explore careers in broadcasting by providing actual hands-on experience. Under the supervision of the YTW program staff, my fellow students and I produced a news program televised by a local cable affiliate. Of course, IBE Summer Celebration was our busiest time of the year. In the summer of 1991, we covered Minister Louis Farrakhan, Tupac Shakur, Arrested Development and the arrest of the boxing heavy-weight champion of the world, Mike Tyson. At any rate, that summer was also first time I heard about the infamous Willie Lynch Letter. Supposedly, in 1712 on the banks of the James River in Virginia, a slave-holder by the name of William Lynch espoused a methodology for making a slave, and moreover, keeping black folks mentally subordinate for generations into perpetuity. Lynch told his audience that he employed this very methodology on his own plantation with great success. Among his tenets of suppression, Lynch advised other slaver-holders to create divisions among blacks based on work responsibilities, skin color, gender and age. Lynch describes in meticulous detail tactics such as elevating slaves working in house to a higher status over those working in the fields. He prescribes pitting light skinned slaves against slaves with darker complexions. He further instructed slave owners to sow seeds of discord between older and younger slaves as well as male and female slaves. Whether you believe Willie Lynch actually existed or not becomes immaterial in light of the real life implications of the document attributed to him.
Though it is always easier to opine about what could have been, there is value in bringing to light certain missed opportunities. Between 1999 and 2004, the black community in Columbus, Ohio, had an opportunity to establish a very special legacy. Those who Dr. W.E.B. DuBois would have dubbed “The Talented Tenth of Columbus” could have ignited a renaissance among the African American community from which the entire city could have benefited. Instead, like the classes of enslaved Africans working plantations across the Antebellum South, they failed to set aside individual differences for the benefit of the greater good. With the type of firepower they wielded, the African American leadership in Columbus could have transformed Central Ohio into an economic development juggernaut to be modeled by other metro areas across the country. Among other things, Columbus could have been a haven for entrepreneurship by creating an incubation system through public-private partnership; furthermore, by combining their resources, the Columbus black elite could have started pumping venture capital into disruptive technologies and other emerging markets. I wish I could take credit for developing that scenario, but I did not. Such an incubator existed in Columbus, located on the corner of Broad and Grant, in fact. It was struck down, however, in its infancy by some African American power-brokers downtown. The young black visionary who established the incubator did not seek the blessing of the more established African Americans about town; so, they cajoled the incubator’s funders to discontinue their support in favor of other pet projects. What developed instead was a group of black social entrepreneurs, a ring of nonprofit organizations that did good work but could not create any wealth for anyone but the heads of those organizations.
(An excerpt from “On the Columbus Negro”, We Struggle Not Against Flesh & Blood: Thoughts & Reflections on Being Black in America, Vol. 1. Copyright © 2012. Amir Clayton Powell. All Rights Reserved. Download the full eBook.)
Amir Clayton Powell is an advocate, author, entrepreneur, father, husband, servant of God, and warrior. By the by, he also happens to be the Publisher of The Old School Journal™ (TOSJ) as well as the Founder & Chairman of A C Powell & Co. LLC. Find A C on Twitter: @AClaytonPowell. Follow TOSJ on Facebook & Twitter.
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