Saturday, January 06, 2007

West Fresno Neighborhood Embodies Best of Black America

I have put up a number of recent posts on the cultural crisis afflicting the lower third of black America. One entry looked at the failure of black America's current political leadership, citing Juan Williams' critique of the how the contemporary "blood of martyrs strategy" fails the nation's black poor.

I was thus heartened yesterday when I read
this excellent Fresno Bee article highlighting the neighborhood activism of West Fresno's black community. Here's the introduction:

On a stretch of West Kearney Boulevard, a group of affluent residents is working hard to change the image of west Fresno as a poor, crime-infested area.

These doctors, business owners and educators could have moved to north Fresno or Clovis and spent their time playing golf and attending social events. But they chose to stay and work to make things better for the less fortunate because they believe in the future of west Fresno.

"I was never tempted to move out of west Fresno. I am comfortable here. I know the people and the community. I feel I'm wanted over here," said La Vera Williams, a business owner, volunteer and longtime resident of West Kearney Boulevard.

Williams said that if she needs to buy something she can't find in west Fresno, she'll go out of the neighborhood and come right back.

"I own businesses here. I believe I should live in the community."

The residents have kept close to the community through their professions over the years. Many of them are retirees who volunteer or serve on boards and committees of nonprofit organizations. They want west Fresno to prosper and have been willing to do their part to make it happen.

Together, over the decades, they have formed a mostly upper-middle-class black neighborhood in west Fresno. Residents of that section of the street are the go-to people, the ones who've worked to make things happen. They brought medical care to the area, helped start a college scholarship program, organized an annual toy giveaway and have worked to influence the Fresno City Council on land-use issues in west Fresno.

Here's an example of the some of the good work La Vera Williams has accomplished:

She became involved with the local chapter of The Links, a national organization of black women. The group raises money through a banquet and other fundraisers and donates the funds to Saint Agnes Medical Center's sickle cell program.

Sickle cell anemia, an inherited disorder, is common in the black population. Williams said her sister helped start the foundation after watching Williams' niece suffer from the disease.

The Links has helped organize a support group for sickle cell patients, awards scholarships to students and holds an annual Christmas dinner, including a toy giveaway for children, in west Fresno.

John LeBlanc, a former Central High School student, won a $1,000 college scholarship in 2006 from The Links. LeBlanc, a student at California State University, Fresno, is majoring in chemistry with plans to become a teacher. He had a 4.3 grade-point average in high school.

"It was really helpful for paying for my tuition and books. It's one of the reasons that allowed me to stay at Fresno State," said 18-year-old LeBlanc.

"I'd be spending more time on a job than at school because I would be working to pay for school," he said.

Read the whole thing. The black community of West Fresno represents the best traditions of self-help in the post-civil rights-era. The neighborhood's pattern of economic success and solidarity, community activism, and group outreach provides a powerful example of Martin Luther King's dream of equality through integration and self-empowerment. The stories of achievement here contrast dramatically with the debilitating troubles of the black underclass, which are chronicled much more frequently in the news media. We need more stories of success and uplift in the black community. This message of middle class success -- the example of people helping themselves through hard work and opening avenues of opportunity -- is desperately needed among the country's black underclass. It is a powerful antidote to the current civil rights leadership's inability to break the code of silence stifling self-criticism of the black lower third's culture of failure.

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