By now everyone in the nation and most people around the world have heard about Ferguson, Mo. The death of Michael Brown and the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson touched off protests that quickly turned into violent riots. Whether or not officer Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown, one thing is certain, the events of that day and the grand jury decision blew the lid off of racial tensions that have been simmering for decades.
Unfortunately for those who want to see real societal change when it comes to race, their efforts have only been set back by the riots, violence and looting that have occurred in the aftermath in Ferguson. It’s unfortunate because those who committed the acts, predominantly teens and young adults, probably don’t care about change as much as they did an opportunity to cause mayhem and steal.
When significant change took place regarding race in this country a few notable things occurred. First, in the 1960s, Americans were horrified at the treatment of blacks in the South as they watched the news and saw non-violent protestors attacked by police dogs and sprayed with fire hoses. The key was the protests were non-violent and the people didn’t deserve that kind of treatment and it repulsed most Americans.
A second, and more powerful change agent was the leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King had a vision and a strategy that moved people to action that couldn’t be ignored. And like Mahatma Gandhi, he knew non-violence was the key.
Those two things are needed today for real change to take place. African Americans need the entire country to see the mistreatment that routinely takes place and to understand how their opportunities are much more limited than most Americans because of racial bias.
Most importantly they need a leader who can rally them as Dr. King did. Without a respected leader their movement will fail. Despite using social media to rally people, the March on Wall Street and We are the 99% movements ultimately failed because of lack of leadership. Couple that with the reality that news cycles are so much faster and people quickly forget the latest “big” story. Think about it for a moment; when was the last time you heard about the March on Wall Street or the We are the 99% movements? I can’t think of the last time either was in the news. More importantly, did any substantive change take place? No.
My personal opinion is current leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson can’t fill the leadership role because of their contentious pasts and current public perception. Even President Barack Obama will be too polarizing to lead this cause when he leaves the White House, in my opinion.
Someone who I believe could fill that role is former General Colin Powell. He has the admiration of all Americans because of his long service to our country and his conduct as an individual. He knows how to lead, strategize, compromise, and deal with the media. He commands the kind of respect that makes people in this nation and around the world listen.
And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the violence is only a black issue. A brief scan of history will show other groups have been involved in violent protests. For example, in New York City, the Irish (my ancestors) rioted during the Civil War when the draft was instituted. They didn’t want to go to war to free the slaves and felt the influx of blacks moving to the North would hurt their employment opportunities. One hundred people died during the New York riots. Another example comes by way of sports where we see people of all color celebrating then rioting in the streets after their teams win National Championships, World Series and Super Bowls.
But Ferguson was different because the violence we witnessed not only hurt the cause in Ferguson, it hurt the community and ultimately its citizens. Looting, damaging and destroying local businesses will put many in the community out of business for good and some jobs will be permanently lost. In an area with high unemployment they simply can’t afford that.
So, what are some influence tips to bring about change? Here are a few quick thoughts.
Rather than focus on differences, African Americans could focus on what they have in common with the rest of the nation, which is an application of the principle of liking. They need to talk about how they are mothers and fathers like many of you reading this. They’re also sons and daughters. They must remind America they want the same thing we all do – a chance at the American Dream. This should be the norm, not the exception in their communities.
Look for ways to give instead of just asking for change. By giving you engage reciprocity and people will be more inclined to give when you ask. Perform acts of kindness, volunteer in the community and encourage people to go out of their way to help others, especially those who are difference. Kindness is hard to ignore.
A strong leader like Colin Powell would engage the principle of authority because he possesses both expertise and trustworthiness when it comes to leading. Neither Al Sharpton nor Jesse Jackson has the trust of enough Americans to qualify to lead at this time.
The cause has to be bigger that just African Americans. According to U.S. Census statistics, African Americans make up slightly less than 13% of the population. Hispanics and Latinos are more than 16%. Together 30% of the population can’t be ignored. By focusing on change for all minorities and reaching out to sympathetic whites they can engage consensus. The more the average American sees the groundswell of support, similar to what’s happened with gay marriage, the more will get onboard.
Consistency is engaged by reminding all of us about the truths we hold to be self-evident in The Declaration of Independence; that all people are created equal and deserve equal opportunities. By pointing out where the system fails in this regard, it reminds us of our duty as Americans to make this a reality for all people.
The last principle to engage is scarcity. What does this country stand to lose by not affording more opportunities and fair treatment for all? We’re a nation of immigrants. Without people of all races, both genders and each nationality, we would not be the great country we are. If we limit those opportunities we limit ourselves.
Let me conclude with this. A big part of my desire to use this forum for this message comes from the fact that my best friend for nearly 40 years is African America. Russell Barrow was my best man when I got married and again when I renewed my wedding vows. You would be hard pressed to meet a nicer, more caring, giving individual than Russell. My daughter Abigail has always called him “Uncle Russell.” I’ve heard his stories of dealing with racism and seen some firsthand. In addition to Russell, I’ve had the opportunity to befriend many other African Americans through work. They’re wonderful people! For them, their families and future generations I want to see a better America and that won’t come about without change.
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.