This year marks the 10th anniversary of Tavis Smiley’s State of the Black Union. This forum is designed to provide valuable information that will help empower the black community. This event is more than a collection of great speeches. It is a place where individuals come to be empowered to act on improving their lives, provide better service to their communities, and make where they live, play, work, study, and worship better than the way they found it.

Smiley’s model has been successful for several reasons. He brings in black professionals who are leaders in their professions, and they answer specific questions and speak about the core issues that affect our society.

Over the years, Smiley has written three books which draw from the ideas presented during the State of the Black Union. His first book, The Covenant with Black America, outlined several goals he wanted to see accomplished, such as correcting the system of unequal justice, accumulating wealth, environmental justice, and providing access to living wage jobs. His second, The Covenant in Action, presented the steps people should take in obtaining the goals outlined in the first book, while the third book, Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise, focuses on a checklist of items President Barack Obama promised during his campaign in an effort to hold the president and other elected officials accountable to their promises.

As I reflect on what Mr. Smiley has done with the State of the Black Union, I wonder about the plight of blacks, women, and other minorities in our state and our city. It would be good to have a forum in the city of Charleston focusing on minorities. Charleston County has made great improvements in the hiring of minorities and awarding contracts to minorities. However, there must be a strategic way to improve the conditions of minorities and the educational level in our community, and close the financial gap among the classes.

Having an open forum where leaders from all professions and special interest groups can come together to identify the needs, develop objectives and goals, lay out the how-to steps, and identify where the responsibility lies would get the conversation started. In some cases the individuals are responsible. But if they do not have the basic tools, know how to use them, and have proper guidance, how can we expect individuals to fend for themselves?

This annual forum should provide a report card to the city and county from year to year. The Black Expo and the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce do provide some of this, but the consistent follow-up does not exist.

At this forum, the right questions should be asked and a straight answer should be demanded. Often times, the wrong questions are asked and a clear answer is not given. We must be honest with each other if we can ever expect to make it to a higher level.

Finally, participants and spectators should leave the forum with a list of objectives, goals, and how-to steps. They must also know who will be responsible for ensuring that these goals are accomplished and who is accountable when they are not.

We must focus on tangible results rather than accepting empty promises and demand substance over rhetoric in order for true progress to be made. I truly believe that if such a forum were to take place here, the condition of all would improve and better leaders would emerge. Commitments from elected officials, community leaders, the clergy, corporate leaders, and the community at large would be required if we are serious about having a strategic road map in making Charleston and South Carolina as good as we claim to be.

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