In November 2008 in New Orleans at one of the first major African American oriented conferences after the Obama election, Ron Daniels, Ph.D., the relatively new executive director of the Institute of the Black World, issued a call for the partnering of all progressive Black think tanks in the U.S.A. It was to be a different approach to trying to get a handle on the myriad problems facing Black Americans during the 21st century by bringing together not only immense intellectual talent and experience, but the network associations and media contacts of a diversity of Black groups dedicated to the advancement of African Americans.
Daniels recognized that the first elected African American president would open more doors and provide more opportunities for Blacks who had carefully strategized plans to move forward, but that nothing could be taken for granted.
Unfortunately, that call for Black think tank consolidation has not yet occurred, and subsequently, Black progress that could have been made has gone wanting. The statistics are staggering: during President Obama’s short tenure thus far, more than a quarter million more African American youth have dropped out of school; in excess of 100,000 have lost their lives or gone to prison (not just jail) because of gang-related activities, including homicides, assaults, rapes and armed robberies; and in Chicago, the president’s home base, there is an open Black-on-Black shooting war targeting young African American citizens.
Could Black think tanks united have done anything about these depressing facts, and if so, how?
Black think tanks, historically related to colleges and universities and/or activist churches, usually take on the task of researching, documenting, analyzing and commenting on the various immediate and long-term problems African Americans face.
Once debated, thoroughly discussed and collectively resolved by the think tank constituents, the results and decisions regarding how to effectively deal with these problems are packaged and disseminated to the public. Such packaging is usually through scheduling public seminars, forums and conferences, books and YouTube video clips, lecture-tours, web sites and blogs, and through scholarly papers and free community pamphlets.
Sometimes, think tank members even take their own advice and actively pursue relevant legislation, community protests and teach-in workshops to help galvanize the public for immediate work. In essence, Black think tanks that work effectively promote detailed planning, assessment and meticulously conceived programs for action to help both individuals and community groups.
Besides the Institute of the Black World, itself a resuscitated version of the IBW located in Atlanta, Ga. within the Atlanta University Complex, there are several prominent Black think tanks currently operating at the state and national levels, albeit independently rather than collectively.
These include Nathan and Julia Hare’s renowned BlackThinkTank.com organization out of San Francisco, Calif.
Established in 1979 as the result of decisions made by veterans of the struggles to create Black Studies Departments and Programs in the nation’s colleges and universities, the Hares’ think tank has produced many, many recommendations disseminated at public lectures, workshops, Internet chats, blogs and conferences.
They have focused most of their attention on analyzing how to repair and promulgate Black male/female relations and love-thyself sessions for a fractured Black community, including a rites of passage program for Black youth. Since 1979, they have jointly published eight books with their ideas and solutions through their Black Think Tank publishing division.
Another important Black think tank is Leon D. Caldwell’s (Ph.D.) Think Tank for African American Progress, initially established in Memphis, Tenn., but with symposium branches in Long Island, NY and other cities. Its aim is to convene community activists, practitioners and policy makers to develop and implement solutions to the major challenges facing the Black communities of the U.S.A. This has included mentoring sessions with Black boys to try and teach them responsibility and self-respect, and conferences on dealing with treatment disparities in Black health situations. This particular think tank has thus far been very effective at disseminating information on how Black folk can help themselves.
A third grouping is the California Black Think Tank formerly associated with the California African American Political and Economic Institute at California State University Dominguez Hills.
Currently, this gathering of writers, entrepreneurs, community activists and organizers, intellectuals, financial consultants and political analysts is regularly meeting at Los Angeles Southwest College.
The group has already produced a California Black Agenda, a booklet of recommendations focused on how African Americans can survive and transcend this economic downturn, a regular assessment of candidates and bond issues for upcoming elections, and a set of questions to use when evaluating political want-to-bes. Its continuing mission is to accumulate and organize relevant data that can benefit the African American community and help Black folk get more out of the political-economic system in which we live.
There is a very significant role that Black think tanks can play and are playing in our quest to maximize Black futures. Whenever and wherever we can, we should encourage, support, and engage them. They are part and parcel of our necessary drumbeat forward.
Professor David L. Horne, is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or Non Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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