By James Clingman
On October 11, 2002, we lost a great Black leader to an assassin’s bullet. Who was he? Stop reading right now and see if you can answer. If you cannot, then you are one of the reasons I am writing this article. While this is my annual dedication to him and his family, I also dedicate it to those who did not know him and those who have no knowledge of his lesser known assassination, but an assassination nonetheless, and the impact it had upon Black people.
We are quite familiar with famous Black men who were killed by assassins, but there are others who have died in that same manner and for similar reasons who are not celebrated, not remembered, and not memorialized. This brother falls into the latter category; he died during that well-known protracted period of chaos, fear, and confusion in and around our nation’s capital.
Emerging from that period was that ominous moniker, “The DC Sniper,” which has since been dramatized on TV. The sniper(s) became more familiar to us than any of those they killed and remain in our psyche today, but their victims are slipping from memory. There should have been a movie about the victims, and in this case, especially about the one to whom this article is dedicated; but maybe one day, huh? Another dear friend, Bob Lott (Philadelphia), is just the right person to produce it.
The man I am writing about, and I emphasize, “Man,” is Kenneth Bridges. He sought no accolades, even though he did some of the most important work in economic empowerment since Marcus Garvey. He was humility personified, despite being a Wharton School of Business graduate and one of the most intelligent persons around. He did not seek the spotlight, even though his message of self-reliance should have been blasted over all media, especially Black media.
Ken refused to allow his spirit to be crushed by negativity, irrespective of the mountain he was climbing and the stiff winds of change he faced daily. (Working for our people is very difficult and trying.) He met sacrifice head-on, despite having six children and a loving wife at home, by traveling across this country to spread the gospel of economic empowerment. And Ken never met a stranger; he was known for his bear-hugs and loving persona, always smiling, always encouraging, always ready to help, and always teaching.
I continue to write about this giant because everyone should know who he was and what he did. Just as we know about more prominent brothers and sisters who fought for economic freedom, we should know about Ken, and we should teach our children about him. He is the proper example of leadership for young people, thus, the title of this article, “Building Bridges.” Let me pause here to mention and give honor to Brother Muhammad Nasserdeen, who also died on October 11, 2007.
Great leaders serve – they don’t consider themselves higher than others. They are not intimidated by the initiative and intelligence of younger brothers and sisters. Rather, they always try to create other leaders by duplicating themselves. Great leaders know and accept the fact that one day they will have to give up the reins of leadership, so they are in a constant mode of developing new and younger leaders to take their places.
Great leaders build other leaders, and if there is one leader in whose image and memory we should build it is Ken Bridges. We must build more “Bridges” in addition to the Bridges children who had a father who taught them well, raised their consciousness, and put them on the path he pursued.
If you paused at the beginning of this column and could not answer the question, then you have learned something very important, and I have done my job. Now it’s up you to tell someone else, to educate your children, and expose them to a true Black leader, Ken Bridges, and the work he did. Our children need to be connected with Ken’s children; they are the future leaders who have the consciousness to do the right thing for all the right reasons, as Ken demonstrated during his relatively short life.
The likes of Claud Anderson, Bob Law, Rosie Milligan, and others are still working hard to bring Black folks out of the darkness of economic despair and dependence; we should get to know and appreciate them now while they are still with us. Do some research on your own to find out who they are, and take the opportunity to work with and support them. The ball’s in your court Black America.
If you’d like to see a video of Ken, go to my website, Blackonomics.com, click on videos, and share the love that exuded from Ken Bridges for his people. Then, as Ken would fondly say, “Let’s Get Busy!”
(Note: Just before publication of this article I learned that Walter Lomax (Philadelphia), a close friend, mentor, and supporter of Ken Bridges and his family, passed away. Now October 10 will always be just as significant as October 11).
James Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.