|John Y. Odom, Ph.D. (r) with U.S. Representative
Dr. John Y. Odom's column
Make Them Do It!
Sons to Madison.” http://host.madison.com/opinion/column/joe-robinson-why-i-won-t-bring-myblack-sons/article_d9d68ab7-1b91-54efad50-
What is to be said about the kinds of home and school cultures that continue to produce mass failure this deep into the 21st century? With
illiteracy and innumeracy running this high, we shouldn’t wonder why Wisconsin’s Black incarceration rates are the worst in the nation or with
why Black unemployment is so high. Our kids can’t read or do math at acceptable levels!
Unfortunately, we can’t even blame socio-economics. DPI data also demonstrate that poor white kids SCORE HIGHER than middle class Black
kids! Intergenerational illiteracy and innumeracy have lasting negative impacts on everything important, including employment, housing,
nutrition, health, crime, policing, incarceration, childcare, eldercare, happiness and psychological wellbeing.
Yes, we must be vigilant to ensure that the laws that we fought so hard for are not reversed. Those who are trying to turn back the clock on
civil rights and diversity have the uphill battle because of the sacrifices of those whom Dr. King represents. Today, all levels of government
have law, statutes, rules and regulations regarding civil rights, equal opportunities, Affirmative Action, contract compliance — to name but
some binding commitments. In addition, many organizations have voluntary policies to advance the cause of diversity. These commitments
are, in large part, results of the King-led civil rights movement. Still, there is an unspoken sector that exists as a result of the civil rights
movement that requires significant attention, and that is civil rights and diversity professionals.
Those of us in the boomer generation and older remember when none of those positions existed: they are a direct result of the movement.
Those positions represent a compromise that folded external protests inside of organizations. Instead of external boycotts, sit-ins, lawsuits,
picket lines and petitions, organizations created positions and departments to serve as their frontline contacts with communities and
Most of the early appointees were former civil rights activists. And civil rights communities had to fight for those activists even after they had
been hired. Salaries, benefits, an office, staff, budgets — were all causes for struggle. Over the years, civil rights became normalized then
Mahatma Gandhi said of Christianity “I like your Christ; I don’t like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” What Gandhi said
of Christians can be said of many civil rights professionals. Do those who profess to be followers of Dr. King fairly represent his willingness to
speak truth to power? Are we willing, in far less perilous times, to take unpopular stands for those most in need of a champion?
Or have we swapped civil rights integrity for favor from supervisors, a regular paycheck, a pension and an invitation to the golf outing? Have
we convinced ourselves that we are doing the best that we can under the circumstances while doing little more than marking time? Time
management specialist George Odiorne called the “Activity Trap” — a process of looking busy but not getting much done.
In 1935, a representative of the Los Angeles School District wrote to Dr. W. E. B. DuBois asking DuBois’ opinion on a plan by the L.A.
superintendent to hire a Black employee to provide advice on matters relating to Black students. DuBois replied that the success or failure of
the plan depended on only two factors — the kind of superintendent the district has and the kind of person the superintendent hires. DuBois
went on to say that if the superintendent does not believe that Black students have the same potential for success that White students have,
and to advance the superintendent’s racism an advisor is hired as a “yes” man, then nothing but bad could come of the plan. But if the
superintendent believes that Black students have all of the potential for the future good that their counterparts have, and to advance this belief,
an advisor is hired to support the achievement of Black students, then nothing but good could come of the plan.
So, what have we: expressed good intentions supported by positive results or are we talking a great game while Black achievement can’t rise
above 10% in Wisconsin?! President Clinton, in his campaign for the White House, popularized the definition of insanity as doing the same
things over and over while expecting a different result.
Frederick Douglass, whose 200th birthday we will celebrate next month, said “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it
never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be
imposed upon them...” To what are we quietly submitting?
The formula is clear — courageous results-oriented leaders, advisers who speak unvarnished truths to power and a relentlessly demanding
citizenry. If we don’t make both leaders and advisers stand up for justice and equity in a world where advanced skills are basic, we might as
well sew a bunch of little uniforms and send 90 percent of our kids straight to prison.
It’s fair to ask “How long must we make them do what they signed up to do?” My late and wise Aunt Ida said, when praying for blessings “Give
Him (God) no rest: and you take none either.” The Biblical story of Jacob who wrestled with an angel described by the lyrics of the spiritual “I
won’t let you go until you bless my soul.” And Dr. King addressed the issue by quoting the book of Amos, saying “…until justice rolls down like
waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Jesus’ 33 years and Dr. King’s 39 years of life compel us. “The fierce urgency of now”
demands us to lengthen our stride, to quicken our pace and never give up.
A few years ago, I was privileged to meet the great civil rights leader and Congressman
John Lewis. In his remarks to a small group, Lewis recalled participating in a meeting
with President Lyndon Johnson and other civil rights leaders at the White House. In that
meeting Pres. Johnson said to Dr. King “Make me do it!”
Even Johnson who was a champion of civil rights legislation was in such need of
political pressure that he entreated Dr. King to “Make me do it!” And if intense,
incessant pressure was needed by a politician whose intentions were supportive, how
much more pressure is needed against officials whose intentions and actions
contradict civil rights, justice and equity or who are merely paying lip service. How
much more pressure is
needed against public, private and charitable officials who have become comfortable
with cashing their pay checks while the suffering of “the least of these” intensifies.
Recently, a report by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction revealed that 90%
of Black students cannot read nor do math at grade level! Nine out of 10! And the scores
for Black kids in Madison are worse than the average for Black students in the rest of
It’s worth a re-read of Joe Robinson’s July, 2016 article “Why I Won’t Bring My Black