If you want to scare the establishment, get people together who it doesn’t think belong together. If you are students having a problem with your principal don’t just go to his or her office with the usual troublemakers; walk in with some of the smartest kids, some jocks, a few punks, blacks, whites, latinos, and, best of all, the kids who never seems to be interested in doing anything at all. Once when we were fighting freeways in Washington, I looked up on a platform and there was the Grovesnor Chapman, the chair of the white elite Georgetown Citizens Association, and Reginald Booker head of a black militant organization called Niggers Inc., and I said to myself, we are going to win. And we did.
My old friend, the late Chuck Stone, really knew how to get along with other people. When he was columnist and senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, 75 homicide suspects surrendered to him personally rather than take their chances with the Philadelphia police department. Black journalist Stone also negotiated the end of five hostage crises, once at gun point. “I learned how to listen,” he said. Stone believed in building what he calls “the reciprocity of civility.” His advice for getting along with other Americans: treat them like a member of your family.
Show everyone respect and you’ll walk comfortably among every class, subculture and ethnicity in this land. Don’t show respect and you’ll live a lonely life.
Part of that respect is towards yourself. Don’t apologize for who you are. Don’t be afraid to argue with someone just because they are of a different ethnicity. Arguing with someone is a form of respect too, because it means you really care about what they think. But bear in mind that in a community, your view is just an opinion and not a rule.
If you are a member of an ethnic or other minority, remember that as an activist your role is to provide solutions to problems and not merely to be a symptom of them. To be a survivor and not a victim.
During the civil rights movement, black leaders spoke not only to those of their own culture but to many whites, especially young whites like myself. The most influential book I read in college was Martin Luther King’s ‘Stride Toward Freedom’ and it wasn’t on any required reading list. Cesar Chavez had a similar cross-cultural appeal. But then as African Americans became more successful in politics there was a understandable but unfortunate tendency to retreat to a constituency you knew you could rely upon. And so black leaders became much less influential in the white community.
It’s an important lesson for any young black or latino activist.
Don’t let your story be ghettoized; instead take that story and find the universal in it, and use that story to move those who don’t look like you but can understand the story because you made it theirs, too. The greatest ethnic success stories in America have come when a minority learned to lead the majority, as the Irish and Jews often did in the past century.
I hear over and over that blacks and latinos can’t work together politically, but I can almost promise you that the next great ethnic leader in this country is going to be someone who ignores that cliché and creates a black-latino coalition which, after all, will represent thirty percent of the people in this land.