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'Looking to the wrong people to fulfill our agenda'

By Richard B. Muhammad -Editor-in-Chief | Last updated: Mar 29, 2010 - 9:40:56 PM

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Tavis Smiley lays the ground rules for discussion at the "We Count" symposium at Chicago State University on March 20. Photos: Timothy 6X

Tavis Smiley
CHICAGO ( - Speaking candidly at the "We Count! The Black Agenda is the American Agenda" forum hosted by Tavis Smiley at Chicago State University, the leader of the Nation of Islam warned against simply appealing to and expecting the American government—even an administration led by a well intentioned Black man—to solve Black problems.

The subject of the day was whether President Barack Obama ought to be presented with a Black agenda and the Black scholars and heads of institutions and organizations agreed that an agenda was needed and appropriate, but the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan offered definition and wise counsel:

A young student asks a question of the elders.
“An agenda is a program, a schedule, a timetable, a plan, a scheme to accomplish a certain result. We have come up with Black agendas, but we've been looking to the wrong people to fulfill our agenda,” he said as the packed crowd at the Emil and Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center exploded into applause.

The cry of jobs and justice has been longstanding and unanswered, the Minister noted.

“How long are you going to sit around begging White people to do for us what we have the power to do for ourselves,” he thundered as the audience roared its approval March 20 and as other panelists stood and clapped. “Our brother (President Obama) is brilliant. He has a good heart. I think he really loves America and wants to make America better. … He has the heart to want to make America better, but he's like that camel in the Qur'an that God warned the people: Don't hamstring his camel. They didn't care what God wanted, they hamstrung the camel. They didn't care what God wanted!”

Seated (L-R) Raven Curling, Rev. Jesse Jackson, host and moderator Tavis Smiley, Angela Glover-Blackwell, Dorothy Tillman; standing (L-R) Rev. Michael Pfleger, Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Thomas Burrell, the Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan, Prof. Michael Fauntroy, and Dr. Ron Walters.
President Obama has faced blistering attacks from the White right, recalcitrant and often caustic attacks from Republicans, lukewarm support from fellow Democrats, intense media scrutiny and death threats since taking office a little over a year ago.

The Minister spoke passionately and his remarks were often interrupted by the audience when he spoke at the spirited gathering. The panel, which sat at a table with a cube labeled “love,” included the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux, radio host Dorothy Tillman, political scientist Ron Walters, academics Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, and Michael Fauntroy, ad company founder Tom Burrelle, Angela Glover-Blackwell of PolicyLink and Raven Curling, Chicago State student government association president.

Running for office and making promises and dealing with the forces that surround power, “the real power,” are two different things, the Minister said. “Barack Obama does not run this country. President Obama has been chosen to govern White affairs and if in that process we get something, it won't be because the governing powers want it, it will be because we organize and force a government to speak to our needs,” he continued. Applause and cheers came again from the audience and fellow panelists.

The Minister expressed pride in seeing a Black man in the White House but stressed America is under divine chastisement and falling fast.

Mr. Obama was selected before his election, Min. Farrakhan said.

“The people that chose him know the time, that we are living at the end of America's rule as a great power in the world. Now you have to face it—she's bankrupt. What are going to do when the dollar is worth nothing? They are printing money out of thin air to back these programs. So my brother may be disappointing some that thought he would be what maybe he has the nerve not to be.”

The severe weather and loss of friendship are signs of America's fall, he said.

A shot from above the Jones Convocation Center on the campus of Chicago State University.
Earlier in the conversation the Minister shared how he had not spoken to keep his words from being used against Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign two-years-ago.

“We love our brother and even if we have some disappointment, because our conversation is around that word love, love our brother even if we have some disappointment, or some dissatisfaction. I was always hoping that what was said would be without vitriol, because vitriol poisons communication. Nobody at this table spoke with vitriol, but with passion,” the Minister said.

Since 97 percent of Blacks voted for Mr. Obama, we have a right to expect something from him, Min. Farrakhan said. But there are problems, such as racist America between government stimulus program and money coming to Black neighborhoods, he continued. But the president has a responsibility speak out and if he “does not use his bully pulpit to address that, we can fault him for that,” the Minister said.

He also warned those opposed to President Obama to do him no physical harm. Mr. Obama should listen to healthy criticism and the media must not try to use the dialog to foment an assassination attempt, Min. Farrakhan said.

“No president runs the political system; no president runs the economic system, no president. He may be able to influence it here and there but they don't run it,” observed Dr. Ron Walters, from the University of Maryland and former deputy campaign manager during the Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1984 White House run.

Agendas are more than issues, said Dr. Walters. Agendas include issues and also represent organizing principles and allow you to use those principles to flex power, he argued. “You can't use your power effectively if you don't have a direction to go,” he said.

Dr. Dyson, an early supporter of Mr. Obama, expressed his love for the president and understanding that the president had to “code switch” in his expressions to win office. “My point is you are the president of ‘err-body' which includes me. I ain't got to be White to be part of America. Latinos asking him for something and they got something. Gays and lesbians said ‘don't ask, don't tell,' changed it. Jewish brothers and sisters said deal with Israel, deal with it. All of those are specific entities, why is it when it comes to Negroes we are persona non grata?”

All previous presidents have dealt with race from the Emancipation Proclamation and Abraham Lincoln through civil rights and affirmative action legislation, Dr. Dyson said. The presidents that signed these laws weren't Black, he said. “How come you are the first president who doesn't have to deal with race? If you want to be great, deal with the Negro Question,” he said.

Dr. West expressed concern about forces around Mr. Obama that include Wall Street figures and those who represent the corporate elite. “We are talking about those at the top who have been making billions, and billions, and billions of dollars when 21 percent of America's children live in poverty and 38 percent of Black children live in poverty,” he said.

“Just because he is Black does not allow him to know every exact detail of our disposition in this country, we have to voice those,” added Ms. Curling, the Chicago State student leader.