My thesis is always that if African Americans are going to be strong, they need to look at the models that work. Most ethnic groups outside of African Americans have come to the realization that if they can get 30 percent or so of their people voting for whatever the opposition party is, it means that the door still opens when somebody goes, as opposed to us doing 95 percent for one party and if we lose that election, the door shuts because they don't need us. I'm talking about smart politics. We don't do smart politics. One-dimensional politics is not smart politics.
President Bush has been good for black colleges, but for black communities in general, as we know presidents and their ability to deliver for them in terms of affirmative action and other issues? I would say no. But I would say that he took very strong stands on black colleges. Maybe that's because his father and his family have always been involved with the United Negro College Fund, and they strengthened the giving in that area significantly. In other areas, maybe not. That, of course, depends on where your politics are, because the voucher programs, for instance, that were put in place in DC in my opinion are probably going to help those kids, just as vouchers helped the kids in Milwaukee. But blacks would never ascribe that as something positive -- on the whole, we would not. It will take time to see what the results are, but that could have been a plus. I don't think whether it's a Democrat or whether it's a Republican, whether it's Bush or whether it's Clinton, you can say all of anything that they did was necessarily good or bad for the black community, because that's just the way it was. Clinton did the welfare thing; we accepted it because he's our friend. If Bush had done the same thing we'd have been marching on the White House. A lot of our stuff is around personalities as opposed to real politics. It's really about the who, not the what. I think it is [a mistake] to the degree that we get locked into personalities that are only going to be in the position a maximum of eight years. That means every four to eight years we are transitioning, as opposed to being in a position where we have some solid rooting and understanding of what things are working well for us and how to maintain those things in the long term as opposed to tying them to an individual. And then whoever that individual is whom we elect has some debts they have to pay; they have some agendas that are their own, and as they try to meet those agendas, they may not be able, when all things get fleshed out, to do the things that they promised you they were going to do before they got elected.
The top two pressing issues for the African-American community [are] education and economics -- two areas that we don't seem to believe any longer are essential to our survival. We talked about the Free African Society. The thing they understood was that you had to put a key in the hands of the people, and that key was education, which is why they put so much emphasis on developing education in schools, in churches, or whatever they had to do. But they also built their businesses, they built entrepreneurship, they opened their own drugstores, they opened their own cleaners. We lost that somewhere along the way when we integrated, because then we went outside of our community for basic services. We have to reclaim a spirit, one that says education is valuable, and education must be excellent, as opposed to accepting mediocrity. And we must say that it's all right for us as a people to build economic enterprise in America, because that ultimately is what determines the strength of a people within this country of which we are a part.
What keeps us from getting there in many instances is an inability to truly understand that we have made significant strides socially and politically, but the models for social and political empowerment are for the most part bankrupt, because they're dependent exclusively on government. Government is not the largest source of revenue in America; it collects revenue, but it collects revenue from businesses. For years we ignored businesses. We didn't want to talk to businesses; we said they were the enemy when in reality that's where we should have been all along, because you have a much clearer understanding of how you can create the revenue and resources to meet community needs from the business side than you do from the government side. Government is always about the politics of getting revenue to you; business is about if this works, if it generates additional revenue, then we're willing to try it, which is why you see so much of an emphasis today on trying to attract Hispanics, who will now become the leading population by the end of this decade. That's a business model. Somebody has a business plan that says this is the population we need to serve, because this is going to be the largest population in America. If we don't understand those paradigm shifts, then we're left behind, because we're still trying to make a model work that worked for us 40 years ago [but] that will not work for us 10 years from now when the new census data come out.
The black leadership is in place in terms of its numbers; it is out of place in terms of understanding what it needs to do in order to empower its own people. In too many instances, the leadership's first allegiance is to the party that one feels elected them, as opposed to the people who actually went to the polls and cast that vote. Whenever you put the party before the people, you wind up serving the party and not the people's needs.
If you're going to do anything positive and powerful and empower people, you got to do it with an understanding that there is a two-party system in America. And you make those parties vie for whatever support you give them, as opposed to feeling that it's an automatic right because you're a particular party.
Just as it was the driving force in the civil rights movement and the education movement, the black church will have to be the driving force in education again, but it also has to be the driving force in economics. You see that evolving as you look at a different kind of church model. There are persons like myself who have been to business school, been in corporate [settings]. Kirby John Caldwell down in Houston, Texas at Windsor Village United Methodist Church [is a] Wharton MBA. Bishop T. D. Jakes's business sense is superior to that of most corporate 500 CEOs. There's a whole different kind of evolution that is occurring, and that evolution is saying it is not about pie in the sky after you die, it is about understanding that the reality of heaven has to be a part of this paradise that God has planted you in here. Therefore, you must begin to look at the opportunities that are available in the place where you are. I talked earlier about taking over urban renewal land. That land is in every community. In most communities, though, the leadership sits back until gentrification takes place, and then they want to have a protest. You don't have a protest; you take ownership. Nobody can get within 26 blocks of this church [in Queens] to any property that's vacant, because if it comes up for sale or is vacant, we buy it. We take charge of it; therefore, we control what happens in our community.
Leadership in the black community has to begin to teach people the value of ownership. If you come here and it's Sunday, you will hear a five-minute discourse on home ownership. That's critical; it's important for the stability of families, it's important for the building of a community that is sustainable. I do that for five minutes, and then I preach a biblically fundamental sermon, so that it does not have to be a conflict [between the two]; there is the merger of both, the holistic approach. If you look at Acts 2:1-4, it talks about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the shaking of the building and the winds blowing and the fire coming in. That's where people stop. But you go down to the 40th verse of the second chapter of Acts, and it says that 3,000 people joined the first day. There were people added every day, and people came because their needs were met. Some sold their property and came back so that they could help meet the needs of others. It is not one or the other; it is understanding that one gives impetus to the other, one lights the fire for the vision that allows you to make the other a possibility and reality in the lives of people. It is what I call creating the visible evidence of the manifestation of God's presence. Once people see that church and they come in, they receive the movement of that spirit, but then they see the manifestation of that spirit evidenced in the fact that "I've got a home, I got a child who's being educated, I got a mother who is being housed, I know that in my community there's such stability that supermarkets and drugstores come who would not come, because they look at what that church has done on Merrick Boulevard and they want to be on Merrick Boulevard." It is not one or the other; it is understanding that one ought to be the impetus for representing the foundation on which all the other stuff is built: "In all thy getting get God, and all things shall be added unto you."
The 50 percent unemployment rate of black males in New York City probably represents the microcosm of the nation. In other words, I tend to think that even in smaller cities the percentages are probably equally as close. I think there are some issues that probably inform that -- the dropout rate, the number of persons who have felonies. A recent study, about two years ago, indicated that one out of every four African Americans probably is in the system in one way or the other. They're either in jail, they're on probation, or they're in some way tied to the system. As those numbers escalate, that means these are people who will have difficulty getting into the job market. And so that's a percentage of them. You got the dropout percentage. And then you have a percentage that has come to believe that they're going to get this big payday. They're going to be the next Michael Jordan; they're going to be the next 50 Cent. They're going to keep selling their hip-hopper albums out of the trunk, and one day somebody's going to discover them. Everybody has these dreams about what they're going to be without understanding the work and the discipline required to get you to that place.
We've got to begin to reinstitute the idea of work and discipline and commitment and honoring yourself by looking within yourself and then knowing who you are and then processing that in a way to say, "This is really where I am. This is what I need to do to get to the next level, so that my daddy took that job as a waiter or washing pots to get through college so that he could get a better job. I've got to get to that place where I also do whatever I have to do to get to the place where I can get the job I want or do as my parents did." My parents came up from the South. They moved to the Midwest, they moved to the East, they went to where they thought the steel mills were, where the automobile industry was. Every time I open the paper, if I see that BMW is going to Alabama or to South Carolina, or I see Mercedes is going to Alabama, or Saturn is going to Tennessee -- they came up; maybe I need to go back down to where the jobs are being created. We don't have mobility anymore. Our kids think that their whole world is the block they live on, and they don't understand that we always went to where the jobs were. What we are saying now is, "I'm a New Yorker. I'm not leaving New York." Other people are saying, "I'm going to wherever that job is, and I'm going to take that job, and I'm going to build my family in that place." We've got to learn the value and the power of mobility. I've never been satisfied to stay in one job, in one place, and they've got to learn the value of that.
You can't point to racism as a blanket culprit, but I think that racism in part has something to do with it, because we're still the last hired and the first fired. There are ways to get around that just as there were in the 20th century for those of us who grew up in segregation. I knew I would not be packing a cotton sack on my back all my life. I knew I wouldn't be mowing lawns in the 100-degree weather in Houston, Texas in front of mansions. I dreamed about the day I'd live in one. That's what we have to do -- get people to start dreaming about the day they do it, but understand you got to work to get to it.
[Investing in the black community] is very much an issue. Take two communities like Prince George's County, Maryland and Tyson's Corner, Virginia. We did the studies at Brookings. When major corporations made a decision that they wanted to locate in the DC area, they had a community of middle-class African-American people in Prince George's County. The average home in that county is about $300,000 or somewhere in that range. But they went out to Tyson's Corner, which is almost an hour's drive from DC. They invested in building communities and businesses, so that here you're talking about people with the same kind of economics who now have to drive from Prince George's County out to Tyson's Corner, when you could have just as easily created the same kind of industrial base right there in a community where you would have had enough of a workforce that you would not have even had problems trying to resolve it. And it would have been a mixed workforce because you had DC, you had Montgomery County, and all of them together. There is a problem in the perception of those who do the market studies about where businesses can best function -- even a community like [Queens], the most influential by virtue of its vote. By the census data it has a greater income variable than the surrounding communities. Yet, you would not build a shopping mall here; you build the shopping mall three minutes past the county line into the next county, where the economic variables are less than what you would have here. That's all over America. You drive right across the county line [and] take advantage of the people who are living in the city who drive across that county line and bring their resources there, as opposed to having people coming from that place to the place where they could do the same thing.
I do think there is a racial cloud over the analysis that makes a determination of where businesses are going to locate. The tragedy of that is that here in New York City, up until about 10, 12 years ago, not even that long, you did not have a major supermarket in an urban African-American community. They built the Pathmark supermarket in Harlem, [and] it became the largest-performing supermarket. They came here two years later, built the supermarket here in Queens, [and] it is now the largest-performing supermarket. Then Walgreen's came, then CVS came, then Rite Aid came because they said, "These people are spending money, and they're spending money outside of that community. Let's put something in the community." There has been no failure in the communities when they do the analysis and make the determination that these are the people who are keeping us alive, so we need to put the businesses in the place where they are.
I'm on the board of a group called Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, [Harvard Business School professor] Michael Porter's group out of Boston. One of the things we're doing is analysis of the strengths of the inner city, and what we've discovered is there is a valuable work base there. Generally the real estate is relatively cheaper because it has not been fully developed, and there are possibilities for being able to generate the necessary resources if investments are made by the investment community putting the finances in to help to rebuild those communities. Most people would rather live in the city, and that's evident by what re-gentrification is doing. People who took white flight in the late '60s, early '70s are now leaping back into the cities and re-gentrifying. If not them, then their children are. Most people want to be in the city. We have to get the message out: a city is a good place to live, crime is down now, and the environment has changed. The aesthetic conditions are in order for us to have a revival of these communities, because the urban community is still the driving engine that makes the difference between whether a suburban community survives or not.
My problem with the thesis that this displaces blacks is, if you've never been taught ownership, you will always be moving. What I do in this community is tell them, "Own it." You own your own community. You don't get that kind of displacement in Jamaica, Queens, in part because this is an ownership community. That's why when we see a vacant lot, we buy it. That's why when we see a house up for sale we try to buy it, because we say that you then make the determination of what your community is. The studies in Harlem, for instance, indicate most folk never owned it. They just said this is a great community; this is Harlem -- the Harlem Renaissance. That's not enough. [Harlem] and downtown Brooklyn are clear indications, Clinton Hill and those communities -- people didn't understand ownership, and now they've almost been priced out. The tragedy of this is those people are being driven into the inner-tier suburbs that people moved out of the city to in the early '70s and late '60s. I don't know how we're going to solve the problem, because now the social problems of the inner city are becoming the social problems of the inner-tier suburbs. We do have some serious problems that we're going to have to address. I believe my job is to stop the outflow and to make sure [people] understand that they can grow their assets and their equity, and it starts with home ownership.
My thesis is that as long as you are not totally dependent on government and you learn how to leverage government resources, it allows you to have resources available that you would not otherwise have -- the ability to do the things that are central both in ministry and in education. When you look at the great institutions in this country, whether it is Harvard or MIT or Yale or any of them, they have a significant amount of government grants providing some support that allows for the infrastructure of the university to be expanded. I see the same things happening in churches, and the reason I do community development with government support is that we could never do what we do in terms of senior housing or building homes for individuals or even education unless we had that leverage base that the government provides. As people make the arguments about the separation of church and state, that's not a discussion I find of any value. Rather, I find that as my people happen to be church people, godly people, they are still tax-paying people, so they have a right to the access to those resources, and it's my responsibility to guide in ways that make sure those resources are properly used and that if properly used, they meet the needs of people, and that's really the ultimate responsibility of government.
When I can assess where government resources are and where the focus of government is, that's where I plant my seed. That's where I begin to try to work, that's where I try to build. In New York, as we built housing it was because that's where the government funds were at that particular time. Now those funds have moved over to homeland security, and so it makes sense for me to evaluate how those funds are being distributed, and I've come to the realization that many of the major universities in this country are getting homeland security funds. Wilberforce University deserves to be a part of that process as well. If that's where the dollars are, that's where we try to seek to get them. It will enhance our sciences programs, our engineering programs, and other areas of the university. If we can build those programs through government support and build the rest of the university through our own resources, it will become a much more marketable institution.
Many churches are coming to the realization that they have some responsibility for the sustainability of their communities. If they don't take leadership in that process, it's just not going to happen. ... If community values diminish, you will not be able to sustain the church community that you are responsible for. If you gain the means by which you create appreciable value in a community -- take its primary resource, which is its land, and make that land useful, then it means you are growing the value of community, the worth of community, and you are creating an environment where people want to come and live, as opposed to where people wanted to move out. If we can do that and at the same time combine an educational element that is built on top of an economic element, we will be able to see a lot of the urban communities in America turn around.
Many pastors are beginning to take hold of that vision. They are taking responsibility for making government a partner but understanding that ultimately the responsibility of the people, like Nehemiah concluded, is to build for themselves. ... The more people in church leadership in urban communities realize that they should find means by which they have access to [government] funds, then they must reach out and develop relationships with government. When I say "government" I'm not saying one has to lock oneself into a particular party, but learn how to deal with whoever happens to be in that seat of government. I don't think God is Republican or Democrat. I think God is apolitical, and so we have to become apolitical enough to be strong and important leaders in the communities we are a part of, and when we do that government will seek us out and want to partner with us, so that "faith-based" does not become just rhetoric but becomes a reality, not because it is a government program but because the faith community rose up and challenged the government to be responsive to the needs of its people.
I think there are other chapters in my life. At the moment I don't see myself going back into politics, but the politician in me always says, "Never say never," so we'll see what the future holds. ... There are very few politicians at the city, state, or federal level that I don't have some relationship with. ... That's the way you get to a place where through relationships you are able to have your institution, your university, your church become more viable. The more we learn that, the better we are able to build communities and institutions.
It is my spiritual life that really makes it possible for me to keep things in focus. My reality is that faith is not something that you carry with you and you take it off and you put it on. No matter what environment I'm in, I know who I am as it relates to my spiritual connection to God. Even in Congress, I always had a real sense that, "I'm here because it is the will of God that I should be here at this point in my life, and therefore I can stay for a season and do what I think God wants me to do." It certainly informs my ministry, because without that kind of spiritual connection, from my upbringing to this stage in my life -- I've been able to see blessings that I don't think could have been possible, even a simple thing like being able to go to college. I worked my way through, but I did it because I think I had faith, and then I had a minister say to me to come and be his youth pastor. He didn't even know me. The blessings of my life I attribute totally to God, and [I] believe that it is God's will that I have some purpose, some destiny. I continue to move in the realm of the spiritual, and it allows me to know that everything's going to be all right. As I like to say, "God has upheld me, God has carried me, and God has sustained me." That is the only way I think the successes in my life have come about.