Commentary: A Message to Cornel, Tavis and Black America

Message to Tavis Smiley and Cornel West: Personal responsibility is just as important as systemic change.

Posted: 02/13/2013 12:19 PM EST

I was in the auto shop one day and overheard two mechanics arguing over the best method to fix a car. From the loud discussion, it was clear there were two main problems: neither the fan belt nor the engine was functioning properly. 

The first mechanic felt the need to replace the fan belt first because it was a relatively easy fix, which could be done in a manner of minutes. The second mechanic felt the engine should be serviced first because it was a much larger issue and could take a few days to complete successfully. It seemed to me to be a pointless debate because both issues needed to be fixed and if you neglected either issue, the car wouldn’t operate. Pride, ego and an unwillingness to see the larger picture caused a very simplistic decision to turn into a debate that lasted much longer than it should and took them away from the single most important task at hand: fixing the car.

This is what happens in the Black community far too often. We find ourselves in these petty arguments, filled with foolish pride and ego, which distract us from the most important task at hand economic advancement for all. When it comes to determining what is needed for the Black community, there are many issues, but all should be given equal priority in our discussions. If any one of them is not addressed, the economic advancement of the Black community will be obstructed.

Whether your topic of choice is education, financial literacy, civic engagement, mass incarceration/social justice, health, parental obligation, entrepreneurship or mentorship, all are crucial to the forward advancement of our community and anyone who chooses to advocate on behalf of their particular issue must be respected.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Cornel West and discuss the State of the Black Economy on Feb. 6. West is in the news frequently and is very vocal about many issues including holding the president accountable for policies that impact the Black community. While we don’t always agree, I continue to respect his work as well as the work of Tavis Smiley.

We must understand that West and Smiley are doing what they believe should be done to fix the vehicle of the Black economy. They are doing their very best to address poverty and comprehensive economic advancement. In my eyes, they are leaders and should be commended for their efforts. Their efforts, my efforts and the efforts of many others are all necessary and should all complement each other.

I am an advocate for personal accountability. I can criticize West and Smiley for not talking about personal responsibility, or I can become the change I want to see in the world by placing the burden upon my own shoulders to complement their efforts. As opposed to criticizing them, we can recognize that both of us have ideas on what is needed to move our community forward. Both personal responsibility and systemic change are crucial for economic advancement and together we fulfill a much needed void in our community. 

Complementing the efforts of others and therefore maximizing the positive impact we have on the community is how we must work together. We must never believe that every leader can be everything to everyone; this is a burden that is too heavy for anyone to bear.

The Black community must not assume the excessively convenient posture of the critic. It takes nothing to criticize the efforts, or the lack of efforts of someone else, but it takes real strength to step up and fill the void as you perceive it. Reaching out to others in a unified effort with the full understanding that none of us is as strong as all of us, that’s what is needed. Together we can do phenomenal things that will never be accomplished if we attempt to move forward separately. 

I hope that we all will not be so quick to find reasons to demonize others' efforts; that we will continue to find reasons to uplift and support the efforts of others; that we will continue to strive to be the change we want to see in our communities; and that we will always see the bigger picture that can only be achieved through unity. In that place where you find common ground, you will also find community advancement.

Ryan Mack is the author of Living in the Village.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Tavis Smiley/Facebook)

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