Adam Clayton Powell’s famous “What’s in your hand?” speech in 1967 pointed out a very important and relevant truth that still applies today. He said, “You’ve got in your hand the power to use your vote and to use even those ‘few cents’ you get from welfare, to spend them only where you want to spend them.”
The question and its answer ring clear when it comes to the critical economic and political issues of our time. A major component related to Powell’s question is the reality of another idiom: “A little goes a long way.” That’s the philosophy of The One Million Conscious and Conscientious Black Contributors and Voters. We know that relatively small amounts of money from individuals can create a collective tsunami of cash flow for our businesses and organizations.
Powell’s question must be reinvestigated today, at least among those of us who are both conscious and conscientious about black economic empowerment. Why? The answer is quite simple. Too often many of us find excuses for not doing the things that are necessary to achieve our economic independence, instead of looking for reasons why we should. Many of us look at what we don’t have and get stuck there, instead of looking at and using what we do have to move forward. And, many of us say things like, “We all need to come together” and “until all black people get on the same page,” instead of realizing that a relative small portion of blacks can make significant change in our economic and political status in this country.
“All” black people will never do anything together, and to wait for that to happen is futile and a monumental waste of valuable time. Our forebears did not wait for all blacks to join them in their efforts. They sought and found those of like mind and went ahead with their work. They understood that with a critical mass of critical thinkers their movement would take on a life of its own and move forward under its own steam. Even though they had very little in their hands they knew they could achieve a collective goal by pooling what they had and using it to build their own economy.
So, what’s in our hands today, brothers and sisters? We like to brag about how much income or “spending power” we have, but we should be bragging about how we are using it to empower ourselves. We proudly stand before our people and brag about how important our votes are, instead of being able to brag about what our votes, over these many decades, have provided us in return. We brag about being here since this nation began and even before, but we can only brag about what we collectively built prior to integration, i.e., black towns, but not what we have built since that time.
Admittedly, many black folks have built strong competitive businesses that have reached the multimillion- and even the billion-dollar plateau, and they must be commended. By and large, however, those businesses pale in comparison to our percentage of population and our aggregate annual income. We must do better with the tremendous amount of financial and intellectual resources we have in our hands. We must also do much better with the votes we have at our disposal — we must be smarter and we must leverage them rather than just give them away without getting something in return.
Adam Clayton Powell and other stalwarts would be proud of us for following their sage advice. Let’s make this personal. What’s in your hand? Aside from your vote, do you have a “few cents” to spend with a black business? Are you willing to put your “few cents” together with others of like mind and create more conscious black millionaires? Are you committed to supporting those who support you?
Each of us should do an assessment from time to time to determine if we truly are in alignment with the principles we espouse. Talk is easy — following through is what counts. Look and see what’s in your hand and put some of it on the line for yourself and your people. Don’t wait for everybody else to do it — you do it, and become a positive example for others to follow. Don’t put it off, because one thing we don’t have on our hands is time.
James Clingman’s latest book, “Black Dollars Matter: Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense,” is available on his website, blackonomics.com.