Posted: Friday, December 13, 2019
By: Calvin Ben Lester, Jr.
“ I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen, When company comes…” Langston Hughes “I, too Sing America”
With humblest of apologies to the Honorable Brother Langston Hughes, I, too, sing Shreveport.
For many years, organizations like the venerable Committee of 100 and the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce have commissioned study after study to determine the best path forward for Shreveport and this region. Literally every study from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s has brought forward a similar thesis: the key to the growth and development of Shreveport lies primarily with the African-American community. More specifically, it is posited that until there is real, authentic, sustained entrepreneurial capacity built within the African-American community, Shreveport is doomed to fail to reach its potential. Until there is economic inclusion, the issues associated with parity that often play themselves out in the inequality seen in neighborhoods and schools will continue.
Recently, State Senator Greg Tarver challenged the leadership of Oschner Health system to be more proactive and inclusive in its operations. This call was as on point as it is needed. It is not enough to point to jobs as the answer to decades of economic inequity. The battle of the 1980s was the battle of jobs, hiring and black faces behind desks. The battlefield now is that of contract and capacity building.
Put another way, jobs equal income, while contracts equal wealth. It is the accumulation of wealth and its transfer that holds the key to a more just and equal Shreveport.
No amount of chicken dinners, corporate banquet table purchases, uniform donations for marching bands or in-kind facilty rentals will be satisfactory as we push to have the financial empowerment conversation that this community sorely needs.
Any community discussion from this point forward that does not address the systemic economic imbalance of Shreveport or fosters the creation of generational wealth is one not worth having and will not be tolerated.
Cognito Ergo Sum Invictus.
Calvin Ben Lester Jr., JD is a Professor of Criminal Justice at Jarvis Christian College, Executive Director of Grace Project Inc. and former Shreveport City Councilman for District A.