Free at last, free at last? Check again.

By Donald W.R. Allen, II
Contributing Writer
After the election of President Barack Obama, civil rights spokespersons have become too Black or too radical to address White America on the ongoing and ever-rising list of disparities facing Black America. Usually, being too Black or too dark is something we experience in room lighting.

The year 2011 will soon be upon us. Get ready for the social commercialization of Black people all around the United States during Martin Luther King’s birthday and Black History Month.

How long will we let White America fake and covertly celebrate our rich heritage knowing that, because of our plight, White America and poverty pimps have created a billion-dollar nonprofit industry riding the gravy train of Black disparities all the way to the bank? Would the General Mills Foundation ever consider having Spike Lee as the keynote speaker at the MLK Breakfast?

A few years back, I received a letter from the General Mills Foundation that was sent to the Independent Business News Network (IBNN). In that letter, I felt a whitewash of sorts was going on because of my hard stance on “celebrating non-actions.”

In other words, if poor people are still poor, education is not working, and of course there are no jobs, it doesn’t matter how much money the General Mills Foundation donates — something is wrong; it’s not working. It was apparent that the General Mills Foundation doesn’t really understand nor truly comprehend the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writings or mission.

One of his last goals for the African American community, a goal that he outlined in a book published before he was shot and killed that highlighted the key to success in poor communities, was economic development. I felt at the time that General Mills and the United Negro College Fund were only interested in a good “show.”

Some people have heard of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last book, titled Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? released in 1967 but applicable now as a way to examine the giving practices of the General Mills Foundation and other philanthropic agencies. In it, Dr. King writes the following:

“In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike. Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education restricting job opportunities; poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative; fragile family relationships which distorted personality development. The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked one by one. While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis or at a similar rate of development. Housing measures have fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies. They have been piecemeal and pygmy. Educational reforms have been even more sluggish and entangled in bureaucratic stalling and economy-dominated decisions. Family assistance stagnated in neglect and then suddenly was discovered to be the central issue on the basis of hasty and superficial studies. At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.”

To celebrate the legacy and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is to focus on the last piece of his legacy — economic development. Black people are not happy just to sit at the lunch counter; today, we want to own the lunch counter! In 2010 we have seen three different reports that show Minnesota as the worst in economic, educational and racial disparities for people of color.

If one is giving grants to organizations that focus on education and the success of the youth of Minneapolis, how could this academic failure occur? A wise man once said, “You can’t just water the tree; you also must take care of the roots.” The General Mills Foundation and others have been simply watering the tree without tending to the roots.

In other words, the foundation has been comfortable granting dollars to the same individuals and the same organizations year after year rather than taking the time to speak with the true stakeholders in North Minneapolis. As a result, nothing identifiable with change has taken place in over 15 years.

The current trend in North Minneapolis reveals a community in demise — social, economic and educational demise. Examples of the community’s demise: In 2007, five elementary schools in North Minneapolis were closed and more than 1,700 home foreclosures occurred in 2007 and 2008.

In 2009, the City of Minneapolis threatened to close Bethune and Willard parks, a sign of fiscal mismanagement. In 2010, with the threat of closing a historical North Minneapolis school coupled with over 50 homicides, there’s been a “cease fire” in real action.

If the foundation were more strategically focused on how its grant dollars were disseminated, these types of devastating occurrences, which ultimately reduce the social worth and economic value of a community, could be avoided. By working to prevent such demise, the General Mills Foundation and others would be able to pinpoint tangible examples of what the foundation has done to rehabilitate blighted communities in North Minneapolis. 

In closing, this is the time of the year we celebrate the birthday of one of the world’s great leaders — the Revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In keeping with his sprit and goals, I’d like to refresh your memory of Dr. King’s objective in Memphis, Tennessee at the time he was assassinated.

His objective was to secure better wages and working conditions for garbage workers. I emphasize the words garbage workers to highlight the fact that he was fighting for and died for “the least of thee.”

Dr. King states in his “I Have a Dream” speech that “…America has given [Black] people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’” I refuse to believe that General Mills, Inc. or the General Mills Foundation is providing our community with a check marked “insufficient funds.”

I am concerned that the dollars awarded are only given to people they feel comfortable with. My motto is, “Rarely can you hire a friend and expect to get a job done.”

Donald W.R. Allen, editor in chief of IBNN NEWS and USA Radical Black, is a Northside native. He welcomes reader responses to