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Last week in your column, Talk to Danny, you pointed out that you have been one of the most ardent supporters of the King Drew Medical Center. You said, while you greatly admire some of the people associated with it, the recent tragedies that have taken place there have caused you to reassess your position, and you’ve come to the conclusion that you were wrong, and therefore, must withdraw your support. I hated reading those words, yet, I loved reading them at same time. I hated reading them because it said something about King Drew Medical Center that I found deeply disappointing, but at the same time, I loved reading your words because they went a long way towards revealing our character as a people—which, in the final analysis, means much more than any medical center. Your willingness, and the willingness of many in our community to face reality over emotion, guarantees that we are clear-thinking and objective enough to spring back from what is, essentially, a community embarrassment.
The community circled its wagons around King Drew Medical Center because we felt that the institution stood as a symbol of our competence as a people. When it came under attack, we felt like we were under attack, so naturally, our first reaction was to come to its defense. But the fact is, while King Drew provides a convenient symbol to point to for bragging rights when times are good, in reality, it never did represent who we are as a people, during good times or bad. Although the King Drew Medical Center carries an illustrious name and is located in the Black community, it’s simply an institution, and therefore, a microcosm of the world at large. It’s made up of a combination of people—competent, and incompetent, caring, and uncaring—just like any White run institution. Also like any White run institution, including the United States of America, it is only a reflection of the individuals who happen to be running it at any given time.
While the King Drew Center, as an institution, never represented who we are as a people in the past, we can now, at its lowest point, use its failure to clearly demonstrate who we are by the force of will that we display in bringing it back from the ashes. We should use this opportunity, and every challenge in our community, to make ourselves better than what we were-not just to show the world, although that’s a good incentive, but to show ourselves.
We have a choice—we can either look upon the institutional failure of King Drew Medical Center as a community embarrassment, and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can use it as an opportunity for growth, and to show our Black youth the kind of determination that makes us a vibrant and viable people. It is that, and not words, that will give them a sense of pride in what it means to be Black. The eyes of the world are now upon King Drew and the Black community as a whole. And as they look upon us, I see that familiar smirk that they once reserved for Black professionals prior to Johnnie Cochran stepping onto the world’s stage—a smirk that says Black professionals are the fraudulent and incompetent. products of affirmative action. So as I see it, our current situation presents us with a challenge. We can either hang our heads in shame, or we can suck it up and regain control of this institution, staff it with the very best Black professionals, and demonstrate to these turkeys once and for all, the level of unparalleled excellence that resides within the Black community. We must show them, and more importantly, our Black youth, that the brilliance that Johnnie Cochran brought before the bar, and that Colin Powell demonstrated in both military tactics and diplomacy, was not an anomaly. Our young people need that to define who they are, not just empty rhetoric.
So where others may see this episode as a stain on the Black community, I see it as an opportunity. I am completely convinced that we have the creativity and intellectual capability in the Black community to turn the King Drew Medical Center into an institution that will stand on a par with any great medical institution in the world. So we need to stop whining and blubbering and set about the job of getting that done. Once we do that, it will be clear to even us, that we can do anything we set our minds to, and at the same time, demonstrate to a new generation of Black people the true meaning of Black pride.
We need to convert this negative situation into a challenge for our people. We can just as easily use this situation to rally and inspire young Black people to the cause of excellence, as Bush used 9/11 to rally America to stupidity. We need to convert the Kind Drew fiasco into a cause celebre to rally the entire Black community behind a new mindset. We’re a passionate peoplelet us use that passion to rally the community to the cause of excellence. “They say we’re incompetent—let’s show them who we really are.” We could rally around the call to “EMBRACE THE DREAM”, then once we get Black people behind the effort, as the young people say, it’s on.
We can start by encouraging our churches and other Black institutions to adopt young Black scholars, and pay their tuition through medical and other professional schools with the proviso that these young people repay the community in services when they graduate. We should make a big deal of scouring the community for the best and the brightest. And from the very beginning, we should promote these young scholars as our future, and give them rap star status in the community in order to inspire the young people coming up behind them. We should produce award shows, with the top entertainers in the business, similar to the Soul Train and BET Awards, but in this case for academic excellence. And we should begin to recognize all of our young people for the pursuit of excellence. We must send a message to our young people that our community values the pursuit of excellence, and that a passion for knowledge is not just a White thing.
We need to start molding young minds at a very early age, and utilizing our churches as seven day a week, full-service institutions in the community. They should be used as community centers that serve as daycare centers during the week, that employ unemployed mothers to keep the kids of working mothers during the day. And those of us who can, should volunteer to tutor others in reading, writing, child rearing, Black history, politics, or in whatever other skills we possess. We’ve got to make the pursuit of knowledge a priority in our community.
We should also begin to contribute our time, money, and skills to the churches themselves—regardless to whether we happen to attend or not. We must come together and transform these churches, from places that talk about God, to places that actually do God’s work—from places that TELL you how to treat your fellow man, into places that SHOW you how to treat your fellow man. They need to be transformed from places full of “do-gooders,” into places that do some good. Talk is cheap.
In addition, we must donate our time and money to help the churches rent buses to take young people outside the community on field trips—to arboretums, museums, newspaper facilities, radio and television stations, college and university campuses, skid row, police stations, prisons, or just simply, outside the community to see how the rest of the world lives. And we need to invite movie stars, rap stars, sports heroes, and every other kind of celebrity to donate their time and money to this endeavor. They should be enlisted to visit our schools, churches, and other institutions that are working to promote the interest of our young people. If they don’t have the time, we shouldn’t have time for them. We need to create an environment where our young people can see, touch, and feel success—an environment where if they’re hanging-out on the corner, they’ll not only be out of sync, but missing out on where the action is.
Personally, I would also like to see us establish some sort of foundation made up of Black celebrities, businessmen, and smaller donors to establish an entity to buy up property in and around Leimert Park. We need to expand on what is being attempted there now. That entire area could be converted into a model of African American creativity. I envision Black families picnicking in the park among statues of Billy Higgins, 5th Street Dick, and Marla Gibbs; and then shopping in Black owned businesses, instead of riding the bus right past, to give their money to White conglomerates. I see music studios, creative workshops, restaurants, night clubs, barber shops, churches, movie and television production-and of course, the irrepressible White folks walking around in sandals, dashikis’, and Afro wigs, shopping in African Boutiques. I see it as a tourist attraction, drawing people from all over the world.
Then once the money begins to flow, and our investment in our young scholars start bearing fruit, that would lead to the establishment of Black banks, and more Black loans. That, in turn, would lead to more businesses, more jobs, much more pride in who we are, and less dependence on the White man. It would also lead to our political enlightenment, which would give us more clout in the city as a whole.
A fringe benefit of all this would be the fact that as consumers, we have to worry about Latin immigrants coming in and taking our jobs, but as producers, those very same people would go from being competitors, to customers and business associates—and if we’re smart, political allies.
Danny, you and brothers like you are in a position to help make all of this come to pass. I realize it sounds ridiculously ambitious, but every great man’s reach must exceed his grasp—indeed, that is what makes them great. You clearly have the instincts to be a good editor, the only thing left now is to embrace the dream, and become a great editor. You don’t have a thing to lose, and we all have much to gain. So embrace the dream, brother, and let history smile upon you.
Eric L. Wattree, Sr. n can be reached at