"Give us a plan of action . . . a 10 Black Commandments; simple, strong, that we can carry in our memories, no matter where we are, and reach out and touch and feel the reassurance that there is behind everything we do a simple, moral, intelligent plan that must be fulfilled in the course of time."
That challenge, thrown out by actor Ossie Davis at a Congressional Black Caucus dinner, has been haunting the black leadership ever since. Now, a decade later, a coalition of some 150 black organizations, including the caucus, believes it has produced what Davis called for. A press conference earlier this week announced the Black Leadership Family Plan for the Unity, Survival and Progress of Black People.
Its essence is a set of 12 rules that blacks, through their organizations, will be urged to honor: support the black church; protect the elderly and support the youth; excel in education; oppose crime; buy and bank black; register and vote; hold your elected officials accountable; support black family and community life; challenge and boycott negative media and support positive media; secure and defend the black community; support Mother Africa and Caribbean nations; contribute to the Black Development Fund.
The Black Development Fund, according to the caucus chairman, D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, is not a separate fund but a device to increase support for existing black organizations, ranging from churches and colleges to youth and civil rights groups. The organizations are listed in 12 categories, and each month blacks are urged to contribute at least $1 to that month's category. The focus for February, for instance, is black candidates and political organizations. Since the plan was launched too late for the January focus on civil rights groups, the other 11 months this year will be designated "civil rights catch-up month."
The idea, says Fauntroy, is to encourage black Americans to "get serious about supporting institutions that are working for the unity, progress and survival of black people." In order to accomplish that, the "leadership family"--consisting of the heads of some 150 national black organizations--is enlisting support from virtually every area of black endeavor. The National Newspaper Publishers Association, for instance, has agreed to distribute camera-ready copies of the rules to its members; black entertainers will tape public service announcements to be aired on black radio stations; churches will sponsor writing and oratorical competitions based on the rules.
"If we could get just 1 percent of the people to join the effort, that would constitute a success," Fauntroy said. "I think it will be more. If people give just 1 percent of what's available to them during the year, we could have $1.4 billion added to the efforts of the organizations."
This is a key aspect of the plan. Even such venerable black organizations as the Urban League and the NAACP have depended heavily on white contributors to finance their budgets of approximately $6 million a year each, with the result that they have not been entirely free to set their own agendas. The Urban League, for instance, hit by federal budget cutbacks, has lost a number of federal contracts and, as a result, has been forced to eliminate several programs, including job-training efforts.
Fauntroy says that he expects, later on, the creation of an economic development fund for business-minded blacks who don't have access to venture capital, "but that's too big a step to take now."
If the plan works as envisioned, "five or six years down the road we would be functioning as a true extended family," Fauntroy says. "Leadership would be working together on a number of overriding issues that can best be addressed by all of our various institutions working in concert. As a result of that kind of leadership and cooperation at the state and local level, the various institutions would be cooperating more on projects and activities that improve the quality of life for blacks. And we would have a network that would enable us to communicate directly with hundreds of thousands of blacks over a turnaround period of perhaps two days. I think, moreover, that by that time we would have developed the means of mutual self-support in the vital area of ecoomic development. We would also be a much more effective political factor in the country."
It is the stuff of dreams, but Fauntroy is convinced it can work. "Success depends on the extent to which people embrace the plan," he said. "I think we have done as much as we can to make sure they at least know about it."
The Reagan administration cuts in social programs make it more imperative than ever that black Americans undertake to finance their own agendas, Fauntroy said. "We have to get our people to understand that if we don't pay the piper, he who pays the piper will call the tune."