Editor’s note: This is Senior Columnist Kwame McDonald’s final column as told to Staff Writer Charles Hallman last month.
Wize Owl is an old man who defines himself as an Afrikan in America, because he has not been afforded the rights of an American. He is concerned about the status of Black people in America and has for several years been in dialogue with Brother Kwame.
Wize Owl: Bro’ Kwame, you has been so faithful, workin’ in dis community for oh, so many years. You ask me so many questions. Now, I’d turn da tables and it is I who’d be askin’ da questions today. What you wanna tell da peoples, Bro’ Kwame?
Kwame: I am going to speak from a totally truth perspective. Black people should have a stronger role in Amerikkka today. If we look at jobs today, Black people would be working for the same old White people, and that would be nothing but a return to the master-slave relationship.
What I would like to see is that Black people strike out to be entrepreneurs or workers for self.
A good example: A young man coaching at St. Paul Central has a group of young men that he has playing for him. They were talking about jobs and other things.
What he did was use a truck that he has and go to the neighborhood and find jobs for his players to perform spring, summer and fall — cutting grass, bailing hay, painting and all kinds of outdoor jobs that one could think of. They all did that, and they all got paid from dividing the cost among themselves.
I would suggest that there are many, many opportunities like that.
Wise Owl: Dat sounds like a ready-to-go jobs program fo’ our young Black boys and girls, Bro’ Kwame.
Kwame: Another is that young people do painting — inside and outside. And when winter comes, I would have a snow shoveling group that would go around [the neighborhood performing these chores]. You could have [such job] opportunities throughout the community for people who like to hire these young people.
You may go up to an old person and say, “Look, we’ll do your lawn and your snow; we’ll clean off your porch.” If they say they can’t afford it, you say, “You can because you are going to pay me what you feel it’s worth.” You are not going to have a price.
What you will find is some people who will not be able to afford you, but they will give you what they have. The other thing you will find is that a lot of people will give you more than it was worth, and it will balance out.
Wise Owl: Bro’ Kwame, it’s a shame dem policktisins in Washington ain’t thought a’ somethin’ like dat!
Kwame: Pretty soon you could even begin to go to apartment buildings and contract with the apartment building [owner or landlord]. Pretty soon, you will have a maintenance organization that could make a lot of money.
One could even go to filling stations and ask if they could pump gas for people — none of us like to pump gas. So if [a young person] could some pump gas for a couple of dollars, that’s another little thing. Pretty soon you’ll get to a point where you organize it in such a way that everybody that comes in [to the station] will have their gas pumped.
I see signs around town that says “College Painters.” Here’s a group of college guys that started out painting in the summer — we could do that [as well].
I’m talking about businesses that are on the ground level. They are not going to pay a lot, but they are going to keep people hired for a while. Then when you get good and competent, you got people now becoming professionals — next thing you know, you got a business.
Wise Owl: So dat’s what you mean by “entrepreneur,” huh?
Kwame: When I was in law school, and first got married, I had to clean a dance studio and I had apartment dwellings, barber shops and beauty parlors around to clean. I was teased and cajoled so much because I had all this education but I wasn’t anything but a janitor. My biggest mistake was to listen to the people who said that, and accept their value system. I ended up taking a civil service exam — I went downhill ever since.
Wise Owl: But Bro’ Kwame, you didn’t go downhill. You faithfully worked for yo’ peoples here in da valley.
Kwame: There are all kinds of opportunities for us, and we need to get into small businesses and just keep turning it over and turning it over until it turns into a real business. It’s important that we as Black people work for self.
Wise Owl: How important is education, Bro’ Kwame?
Kwame: Our need [should] reflect around the origin, development and history of Black people, so that we finally base our education on the development, prosperity and the advancement of Black people. We don’t need to learn how to help White people.
Wise Owl: I can see you is gettin’ tired. But befo’ I fly away, Bro’ Kwame, what final single piece of advice you can give me, and give our peoples?
Kwame: Our survival, just like the survival of any people, depends on us leading others, including White people. We must recognize that we as a people were here first. That we as a people discovered and started things.
Wise Owl: Thank you, Bro’ Kwame.