Black think tanks
Time to unite
Some would call the state of Black America desperate and dire. But, in order to begin to solve the problems, who do we run to? Where are the solutions? How do we unite?
Black scholars across the nation believe they have an answer for us. World-renowned scholars and power couple Nathan and Julia Hare, who are both Ph.Ds., founded the Black Think Tank in 1979 in an effort to liberate African American minds and reconstruct the Black community with methods that stemmed directly from the home.
They primarily focus on Black relationships, and their work is conducted from a base in San Francisco. That is where scholars gather to explore solutions to the community’s seemingly undying problems and disseminate the information they gather.
The Black Think Tank is known for publishing books and “solution manuals” for organizations, other intellectuals, and even the ordinary Black “Joe Schmo” to use in their work or individual lives.
Since The Black Think Tank was founded in California, hundreds of think tanks have sprouted up on college campuses and in communities across the nation, including Los Angeles’ own California State University Dominguez Hills. Originally established as the California African American Political and Economic Institute (CAPPEI), David Horne, Ph.D., and his cohorts helped develop the California government-sponsored 501(c)3 think tank in 2002. Initiated at CSU Northridge, the institute was moved to the Carson campus in 2003. Like other think tanks, CAPPEI was established to aid the African American community in Southern California by implementing ideas, projects, and other methods throughout the community under the leadership of Professor Horne.
The organization recently underwent some changes, including a new director. Since then, the 18-member group has decided to expand the institute and have established the California Black Think Tank (CBTT); they are now working independently of the university.
The goal is to collaborate with others in the movement for Black liberation, as well as to educate and unite African Americans in the region economically and politically; empower youth; and provide resources to the community. Ultimately, through education, African Americans can be given a broader range of choices that will benefit the lives of themselves and those around them.
Black think tanks may have these grand ol’ purposes and appear to be useful, but some question, are they? Some might suggest that Black think tanks are nothing but groups of egotistical intellectuals who debate about the issues they have only read about in books. But Horne says his group is about the action. Each branch of the global intellectual institute must develop its own disposition, though.
“While the CBTT did focus more on policy and program recommendations, publications and pamphlets, from the outset the aim has been to disseminate those decisions to the community for implementation, and often that has meant the CBTT members themselves became advocates and implementers in their own organizations,” Horne stated. “Freed from certain university restrictions, the CBTT has recently chosen to focus even more on the planning and implementation of the policy recommendations it makes, including supporting political candidates, organizing community action groups, etc. A think tank is what its members make it. If ivory tower is what the members want, that’s what it will be. But if activism, advocacy and analysis happen to be one’s creed, as it is for the CBTT, then the think tank can indeed develop another character.”
The CBTT has created and published “A California Black Agenda” and has assisted in creating the “Directory of Black Elected Officials.” The group is working on completing a “Handbook of Recommendations for the Black Community to Survive This Economic Downturn.” Other publications include “How to Question Political Candidates and “How to Analyze Relevant Voter Initiatives in California.”
As the good book says, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”
Although we are not talking about a preacher in this instance, or Jesus for that matter, the principle is relevant. As Black intellectuals congregate and propose their ideas on how to solve our world’s problems, how does the information get out? And whom does it go to?
According to Horne, the CBTT acts as a limb of the community.
“The CBTT was originated and always operated as an extension of the African American community. Thus, among the intellectuals on the CBTT is a predominance of community-based folk as representatives of various parts of the Black environment,” he said.
With the introduction of the Internet and other modern means of communication, individuals seeking solutions, answers, help, or just more information have it at their fingertips. Many Black think tanks distribute information via web sites and host monthly meeting for the public to attend.
An issue Horne, along with other concerned solution-driven African Americans have observed is the disunity among Black think tanks. Horne highlighted that while there are at least four such institutes in the state, there is little communication between them.
There may be no calculable number of how the Black think tanks in California and abroad have influenced individuals and even full communities, but people are hungry for change and are looking toward those who say they have answers.
One blogger, who goes by the name of Stephen A. Smith, wrote a plea for his city’s (Milwaukee) African American intellectuals to gather in the name of liberation.
Because his own city has gone through a tremendous amount of turmoil and unrest, Black residents of Milwaukee appeared to be duped; there was no organized group of Black intellectuals to discern the policies that were ultimately affecting them.
“There is a lack and definite need for a think tank dedicated to policy issues impacting the urban community in the city,” Smith wrote. “A Black think tank would be a tremendous benefit for the community. An organization like that could be a major influence on having the city elect its first Black mayor (in Milwaukee). A Black think tank would be a heavyweight in driving economic policy, education reform, legal policy and much more. Think of the influence such a group could yield in a city, where there are hundreds of thousands of African Americans.”
The need is there; that much may be obvious. But it is about getting the solutions to the people and recognizing the strength from within, uniting us, and progress.
Professor Horne only speaks positively of the institute, but recognizes its flaws. However, he stresses the importance of nurturing these types of organizations for the advancement and assessment of the Black community, and for stabilizing some kind of congruency among organizations like his.
“Black think tanks have a very substantive and significant role to play in analyzing the evidence on where the Black community is right now and what viable options are available (and may become available) to fundamentally alter the negative environment many members of the Black community have to endure daily,” Horne said. “The Black think tanks are not the sole answer, but they are clearly an important part of the overall solution and should be in the equation.”
To learn more about CBTT, visit www.cappei.org or attend a monthly meeting that is held at Los Angeles Southwest College every fourth Friday (except in Dec.).
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