For generations, African-Americans have been fighting for justice, equality, and equity here in the United States. Having only truly gained our full rights as citizens in 1968, one would be remiss to ignore all of the significant progress we have made in such short time. But it would be equally irresponsible to pretend that we don't still have some enormous barriers to climb.


There are still too many recent instances of racial discrimination, particularly in the American justice system where we see far too many people of color unjustly locked away. Too many African-American children live below the poverty line; too many aren't receiving the education or nutrition that they need that put them at a disadvantage to live happy and productive lives. Too many of us come from broken families; and it seems the cycle of mistrust and misguided values continues to drive a wedge between Black men and Black women. 

However, I do believe that we as a community have the resolve to surmount these challenges, and make progress unparalleled to the generations of past. I believe that social institutions such as government, schools, churches, and businesses bare some responsibility to facilitating this progress. However, the burden lie most heavily on us, as individuals and as a community.

The recent release of JAY-Z's 4:44 album has stirred a lot of discussion regarding the reexamination of some of the core values in the African-American community, such as family, mental health, and Black economics and wealth building. I want to on some of those subjects, so I've laid it out in 10 steps what I believe African-Americans can do ourselves right now to build a stronger and more prosperous community. These are just my opinion to try and create a discussion. Please feel free to add your thoughts and opinions in the comment's section. 

1.) Recommitment to Education

It goes without saying that education is the key to freedom; economic, mental, spiritual and so on. As African-Americans, it is important that we ensure that our children get the education they need in order to succeed in the world we live in. This means making sure from the time they are in Kindergarten until the time they graduate high school our children are being properly prepared for college.


In my home state of California, the number of African-Americans attending four-year universities in the state have either declined or at best remained stagnant. I believe this is due in part to the fact that the rising costs of tuition, and the burden of student loans, mixed with the fact that too many students aren’t finding work in their fields of study have many African-Americans feeling college isn’t worth it anymore. That a college degree doesn’t mean what it did a generation ago. But the fact still remains that those with higher degrees of education tend to make more than those who do not. 

We have to recommit ourselves to educational excellence. This means pushing for policies and programs that help to make the educational experience relevant to the world we live in. This means preparing our young people for jobs and careers of today and tomorrow; in the tech field, where African-Americans are highly underrepresented, or in green energy where there are a lot of new jobs, but not enough people with the right training to fill them.  

If we truly want to thrive as a community, we have to keep reinforcing the idea that education is the surest path out of poverty and into the middle and upper-classes. But we also have to work to make sure that idea remains true.

2.) Stop Hatin’ - Support the Culture

Let’s keep a hundred, as a community, we tend to not do as well as others in terms of supporting one another. I’m not just talking about sharing your boy’s new mixtape on Facebook or on the ‘gram. And I’m not even necessarily talking about “buying Black” (which of course is very important as well).

Rather, it's time for us, in my analysis, to stop being so quick to put one another down and start learning how to build each other up. In so many instances, we are the first ones tearing down a member of their community for their accomplishments, dismissing them as either being sellouts or members of some non-existent cult (seriously). We love listening to Black rappers ripping each other a part on wax, waiting for that moment when MC Such-and-so-and-so bodies or ends their opponent's music career, thus rendering them unable to take care of their families and make a living.  


To bring it closer to home, how many of us don’t even try to start that business, or get that degree, or go for that higher paying position at our jobs, or start writing that book, simply because we don’t believe we can? Because there's nobody that's going to encourage that? How many times do we try  to float our ideas to our families and friends, only to have them fall on deaf ears. How many times have you heard “Ahh, they ain’t gonna let no Black people do that,” or “Why you wanna do that? You just wasting your time.” And let’s be real, how many words and deeds of encouragement do we give to our family and friends?

It's time for us as a community to become more supportive of each other and realize that there's enough outside forces putting obstacles in our way to success; the last place we need to encounter obstacles or opposition is from our own people. The more we support our community and culture for positivity and progress, the more better off we'll be. 

3.) Bank Black

One way to establish wealth is ownership. Home ownership and business ownership are imperative to economic growth in the African-American community. Of course, not all of us have the capital to start a business, or to put a down payment on a home. And very often, we find it difficult to obtain loans from mainstream establishments; either because of “bad credit” or other reasons.

This is why it is important to put your money into Black-owned banks. Many Black-owned banks are more understanding of our cultural and community needs and aspirations. This means they are more likely to loan you money to open that hair salon, or help you to repair your credit so that you can get a loan for that dream house that will become your financial nest egg.


Let's start putting money into Black-owned banks such as OneUnited Bank so that they can have more money to put back into the community; this is absolutely crucial for our growth.​

4.) Develop a Trade

A lot of brothas and sistas see the entertainment industry as where they want to establish their careers. There’s nothing wrong with going after your dream. I refuse to be the guy that says “give up that dream, go get a real job” (probably because I dabble in the entertainment biz myself). But one thing that is important is making sure you have the money to not only fund your dream, but also maintain and take care of your family while you’re pursuing that dream.


While I am a strong advocate of more Black people going to universities and getting higher degrees of education, I also realistically understand that college isn’t for everyone. So how are you going to make a living? I would say develop a trade; a technical skill that cannot be outsourced to a foreign country or a computer.


I have a friend who started his own construction company with damn near no money, and no degree. He taught himself the construction trade, and within 2 to 3 years, his company is pulling in about $1 million in revenue every year.


Getting into things like construction, electrical engineering, doing/cutting hair, cooking, cleaning, working in the healthcare industry, etc., are all things they aren’t going to fade away with trends or age; they are always in high demand, and can always provide you with a solid income to support your family and your dreams.

5.) Vote... All the Time

Simply tweeting “Black Lives Matter” isn’t enough. Simply reposting videos of blatant police brutality isn’t enough. Claiming to be "woke" isn't enough. Being pissed off at Trump, and writing the system off as rigged isn’t enough. We’ve got to turn our frustration into franchisement. Not just when the name “Obama” is on the ticket. Not just during national elections.


African-Americans need to be involved in every single level of elections. Local elections are particularly important; these determine who sit on your child’s school board, who your representatives are in the city council, who the sherif of your police department are, etc.. And I don’t want to hear “my vote doesn’t count” or “I don’t feel like I’m an American anyway, I’m BLACK; I ain’t voting for nobody...” or “All this shit is a setup anyway, they gonna put who they want in there. My vote don’t matter.” Not only are all of those things untrue, but they’re exactly what the powers that be want you to believe in order to suppress your vote.


Our ancestors literally fought, bled, and were lynched and murdered to have the right to vote, many of whom never lived to see the day that they could. Why did so many sacrifice so much for enfranchisement? Because they understood the importance of being able to choose who represents us, or what laws get passed that affect our needs and values. If you don’t like who or what’s on the ballot, you can do something about that too. And that brings us to the next step.

6.) Get in Positions of Power

If we as a people want to put an end to systemic racism and biases within our justice system, or end the economic disparities that keep so many of us in poverty and out of the middle and upper-class, we need to have more of us in positions to execute those goals.


This means more African-Americans should run for office, start business/corporations, and seek degrees and career opportunities that will put them in positions of influence that we can implement laws, create products, and create jobs for those who ordinarily are underrepresented.


Yes, this is all easier said than done. But this should be our North Star; this is why we need to demand more from our education system, our public representatives, and from businesses that make money off of our community to implement programs and policies that will help create the environment for us to prosper and move forward.

7.) Spend Less, Save More

We spend a lot of money. A lot of money. From shoes, beauty products, electronics, etc., we put a lot of money out there. If we start saving our money instead of giving it away - especially to those outside the community - we could wield more power.


Spending more frugally will make businesses fight harder for our dollar and we will also have more in the stash for rainy days, or for investments that could then help that money to grow.


So, to quote TV One’s Roland Martin, instead of buying your kid those $200 pair of Lebrons, but them $200 worth of stock in Nike. In years time, they could possibly have enough to buy a few pairs of Lebrons!

8.) Stop Playin’ - Let’s Get Married

As millennials, we’re quickly becoming known as the “hookup generation,” where we have all these one-night stands or “sex buddies” with no real attachment or long-term commitment to the relationship. This leads to many unwanted pregnancies and children being born into unstable family situations.


If we want to build a stronger, happier, more loving community, I am here to tell you; we literally can’t afford to be out here playing in these streets! We have to start thinking about our future. Yes, we’re all still young and want to have fun.


I get it, everyone may not be trying to be married. But the idea of developing strong long-term partnerships will not only help build a stronger, more loving community, it can also help us to become more stable financially as well.


Studies have shown that marriage is correlated with economic stability. Building a strong, happy, and economically stable family will enable you to provide a healthy and happy environment for your kids to grow up in. They will then go on to be healthy, happy and productive citizens, and our community will be a better place for it!

9.) Promote Physical and Mental Health

One thing that is not touched upon enough in our public discourse is the traumatizing effects that hundreds of years of systemic oppression and racial discrimination has had on African-Americans.


The persistent images and narrative of African-American bodies being brutalized and locked away unjustly can leave a lasting feeling of hopelessness, despair, and anger among our community.


The ravaging effect of drugs and alcoholism has left too many broken homes and broken hearts. We must take responsibility as a community to address these issues and try and help one another heal. We have to take care of our minds and our bodies, and be more understanding and empathetic to one another.


Once we break some of the mental chains that we still have, then we can begin to move towards an overall more healthy and prosperous community.

10.) Treat Black Women with Dignity & Respect

This should go without saying, but unfortunately in 2017, we still need to drill this in. Let’s be clear: the Black Woman has had to carry the African-American community on Her back for generations. When welfare, drugs, and a racially biased criminal justice system all but removed Black males from the home, tearing apart the Black family, it has been our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunties who have picked up the slack.


For too long, Black women have been walked over, mistreated, unappreciated, and some even abused (physically and emotionally) at the hands of Black men. Yes, there are forces from outside the community that cause our sisters harm, and those must be fought too. But the last place a Black woman should have to worry about being oppressed is within Her own community; a community that She helped to nurture and maintain in our allegorical absence.


It’s time for us to step up. Let’s do a better job of respecting the minds, bodies, and souls of Black Women. This means never putting your hands on woman for physical abuse; this means not cheating on our women, especially those who have stuck by our sides through thick and thin; this means letting Black women of every shade, size, and hair texture know that they are beautiful - not comparing them to other cultures or making them feel less for being who they are or aren’t.


Once we start truly showing love and respect for our sistas, all these other things will fall into place and we will see our community grow stronger and more prosperous.

Michael J. Payton is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of CSUITEMUSIC.com

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