Introduction to Project 21's 1994 Annual Report, Black America 1994: Changing Direction

Black Americans this year look forward to the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Indeed, there is much to celebrate. In the three decades since the Act's adoption, African-Americans have experienced a degree of political enfranchisement of historic proportions. Over 8,000 African-American elected officials serve at every level of government. In Congress, the number of African-American members surpassed 40 for the first time in history, and 1992 saw the election of the first African-American woman, Carol Mosely-Braun of Illinois, to the United States Senate.

The challenges facing the African-American community in 1994 are not the same challenges that were faced thirty years ago. With the battle for civil rights won, African-American leaders must face the daunting problems of economic dependency, crime, drugs, poor education and broken families. The problems have changed, and new solutions must be found.

The generation of African-American leadership that won the battle for civil rights focused on solutions that stemmed from Washington - and rightly so. The refusal of some state and local governments to acknowledge the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of race, demanded federal legislation to guarantee these rights, and the power of federal agencies to ensure enforcement.

However, after three decades of trying, the federal government has proven incapable of solving the greater problems of economic disenfranchisement, lawlessness, and a disintegrated family structure. Washington-based solutions, despite the noble intentions of their creators, have failed, and the African-American community is demanding new approaches.

Curiously, many of today's African-American leaders continue to cling to top-down, Washington-based solutions to these problems. Their response to the failure of the "Great Society" programs of the 1960's is simple: let's have more of them. Meanwhile, the grass-roots of the community has moved far ahead of the traditional "inside-the-Washington-beltway" civil rights establishment. Most African-Americans are supporting an agenda of "empowerment": the power to take children out of bad schools and send them to good schools, the power to open a business, the power to buy a home, the power to make a community safe. This is the agenda for the coming century.

"Black America 1994: Changing Direction" examines the challenges, and the opportunities, facing the African-American community in 1994. In this volume, significantly, the reader is not likely to find the names of the contributors familiar. The reason for this is simple. The opinions contained within these pages represent the views of real-life African-Americans. Unlike those regularly featured on the evening news providing political commentary, the contributors to this report have no press staffs. They do not earn lofty speaking fees. They are not paid six-digit salaries to fly around America seeking photo opportunities. They are regular folks who have something to say about how to improve the quality of life in their community.

The recommendations of the contributors represent a departure from the traditional policy agendas that litter Washington like yesterday's confetti. In addition to recommending initiatives for government, the contributors suggest actions to be taken by families, churches, civic organizations, and ordinary citizens, all for the betterment of their own neighborhoods, and the African-American community at large. The contributors recognize that while government ultimately must deal with the consequences of crime, broken families, illegitimacy, and underemployment, the best solutions must begin within the family and community.

The views of this report's contributors surely will contrast sharply with many of the views commonly expressed by the establishment civil rights leadership, and thus "Black America 1994: Changing Direction" may generate a degree of controversy. It challenges the status quo and the conventional wisdom which has dominated discussion of the state of black America for decades.

For some who have benefited politically from the status quo, this report may be unwelcome. For the press, it may be controversial. For the contributors, it represents the hope that the African-American community, by changing direction, can prosper, and triumph, in the coming century.

Ronald Nehring


(For a copy of Project 21's 77-page Black America 1994: Changing Direction, send $10 to Project 21, c/o The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E. Washington, D.C. 20002, 202/543-4110 Fax 202/543-5975, E-Mail Checks, money orders, Visa or Mastercard are accepted.)

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