by Joseph Debro
Don’t ask don’t tell seems to be a thing of the past. Everybody wants to come out. Nobody wants to live on the down low. Even Black elected officials are coming out. They are beginning to admit to the other elected officials that they are Black and that they largely represent the aspirations of Black people.
Coming out is a good thing. If an elected official admits to a colleague that he or she is Black, it is an admission that was expected earlier. Unlike a closeted homosexual who comes out, when a Black elected official comes out and admits to being Black, it may not be much of a surprise.
Local Black elected officials are slowly coming out and telling everyone that they are Black. White elected officials have always been out. They have always represented the interests of White people. If that interest happens to coincide with the interest of Black people, they represent that interest too.
Black elected and appointed officials recognize the need to empower Black people but have been too engaged proving they are fair-minded to act on that need. It is not unfair to give some advantage to those who are at the bottom of the opportunity ladder. It is not unfair to work around the Prop. 209 conundrum. (Proposition 209 ended affirmative action in state contracting, higher education and hiring.)
A few weeks ago, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell came out. Ms. Maxwell is the chair of the powerful Board of Supervisors Committee on Land Use and Economic Development. She represents District 10, including its largest neighborhood, Bayview Hunters Point.
She declared that she is Black. She introduced legislation that will help Black contractors and other San Francisco small contractors to win contracts and hire more San Francisco residents for work in the construction industry.
The surprise was that her legislation drew unanimous support from the other members of the board. Her legislation represents change in an industry that resists change. She demonstrated that the non-Black board members were waiting for her to represent the aspirations of the Black people of her district. Other Black elected officials must follow her lead; indeed others in the East Bay are taking tentative steps in that direction.
BART board members Lynette Sweet and Carol Ward Allen both refuse to vote to award a prime contract to a contractor who had no Black subcontractors on his contract. Alameda County Supervisors Keith Carson and Nate Miley awarded a $100 million sole source contract to a Black developer a few years ago.
Supervisor Sophie Maxwell is to be commended for coming out. It is politically acceptable to write and pass legislation that helps empower Black people. It does not have to be welfare; it can be about jobs and about contracts for Black people.
On a much smaller scale, Alice Spearman wrote legislation for the Oakland Unified School District that attempted to help empower Black people. These two women have proven that it is politically OK to empower Black people whom you represent. White elected officials expect you to do that. Black people expect you to do that. Economic parity for Black people benefits us all.
The Black community must come out. The fact that we live in an integrated community means that we must ask for what we need as Black people. We need to identify legislation, education and other practices that will empower Black people. It is OK to say, “I am Black and I need you to support the Black press.” It is OK to ask your insurance broker to spend some of his ad dollars in the Black press. It is your duty to ask your Black elected officials to support the Black press.
It is OK to demand that your public officials support legislation that will empower the Black community. As a Black person, you have an obligation to ask for empowering legislation. As a Black person, you have an obligation to thank Sophie Maxwell.
You may not be aware of her heroic act but for the Black press.
Joseph Debro is president of Bay Area Black Builders. He is also president of the Visitacion Valley Community Development Corp., co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors, a general engineering contractor and a bio-chemical engineer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.