Two days before Thanksgiving, C. Payne Lucas, a longtime head of the relief agency Africare, was numb from the death and destruction he had seen in Africa.
Only a few days earlier, he had walked through the bone-dry earth of drought-stricken Sahel. He had seen people claw through anthills searching for grain stored by ants. He watched old people, left in a village to die, share meager grain with chickens provided by his organization. Mystified, he sat in his quarters at night, asking himself, "How can the world community let this happen?"
While many Americans have responded during the last month with money and volunteer aid for Ethiopia's starving millions, Lucas points to an even larger developing holocaust. In the next two to five years, he said, an estimated 150 million Africans face a similarly agonizing fate. One would think, considering the prosperity enjoyed by many black Americans, that they would be in the vanguard of relief efforts for Ethiopia, indeed, the whole continent. But that simply has not been the case. While a comparatively few black Americans have responded to the plight of these Africans, the overwhelming majority of black people have not responded to the challenge of saving African lives, beyond lip service.
"Black people have not gotten together on this issue," said Lucas. "Blacks ought to have our own summit. I'm not just talking about the traditional leaders, but the sororities, fraternities, churches. It bothers me that some entertainment and sports figures can participate in telethons for muscular dystrophy, while not one has called me about the drought."
While I agree with Lucas, I see two roles for black Americans in combating the problem of famine in Africa. One, they must pressure this administration to not only pay attention to what is happening in Africa, but to appropriate additional funds for relief. At the same time, our government must begin providing the same technical assistance to Africa that it took to Asia in fostering the green revolution. Consideration should also be given to a Marshall Plan for Africa.
Aside from encouraging our government to act, black Americans also must generously provide money and volunteer technical assistance to the continent.
As the Rt. Rev. John Walker, Episcopal bishop of Washington and chairman of Africare's Board of Directors, says: "People have a right to ask what black Americans are doing. We are constantly on the aggressive side when it comes to the government's activities regarding South Africa , but if we are not supportive now, our words become empty comment."
Walker also has asked that anybody interested in contributing to the African relief effort contact Africare, headquartered here at 1601 Connecticut Ave. NW. As Africare's records indicate, all monies donated are properly targeted and efficiently spent.
If Americans, particularly black Americans, do not respond to this cry of alarm from Africa beyond the Ethiopian crisis, the possible consequences are staggering. The entire continent of Africa could be decimated within two to five years. One hundred fifty million people will die of starvation and African culture would receive another devastating blow.
I have always refused to accept any charge that American blacks are insensitive to the plight of Africans, even in the face of a black Ethiopian government that, while it called for international aid two years ago, went ahead and spent upwards of $100 million to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its revolution, and, given the responsibility of feeding its hungry masses, discriminated against people of certain regions and political persuasions.
The U.S. government is also not immune from the charge of playing politics with food and starving people. As recently as last fall, our government refused to send increased amounts of food and aid to Ethiopia because the ruling government is Marxist.
During the '60s, when many American blacks donned dashikis and wore Afros, Africa conjured up romantic visions that fostered great pride. Perhaps, as we enjoy our dinner on this Thanksgiving Day, one thing should be remembered. Hungry children know little about politics, and true leadership is born from adversity.