The new ABC comedy Black-ish builds a story around a black family looking to maintain some connection to its heritage while living in suburbia.
The father, played by Anthony Anderson, laments that his son wants to play field hockey instead of basketball and then really loses it when his son declares that he wants to have a bar mitzvah and change his name to Schlomo.
Comedy is at its best when its rooted in truth, and assimilation stands as a reality for many blacks as they look to embrace diversity, enjoy improved lives while maintaining a connection to their historical roots. As Anderson's character takes his son through a farcical African ceremony to supplant the bar mitzvah, his father, portrayed by Laurence Fishburne, deadpans, "He would be better off watching Roots."
The reality is such challenges are less of a laughing matter for Bradford Everett. Everett, 31, an area director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a multiethnic group striving to connect college students with Christianity. In its efforts to reach black students and inspire them to become servant leaders, both InterVarsity and the Tampa Underground Network recognized that there are blacks they weren't reaching — blacks who could be leaders.
So the groups agreed to form Voice of Legacy, a black leadership conference that will be held Oct. 24-26 in Tampa (voiceoflegacy.com) at the Underground Network's headquarters in Ybor City.
"Many Black people perceive (correctly or incorrectly) that involvement in a multi-ethnic Christian organization requires the adoption of majority culture," Everett wrote in an email. "Assimilation dynamics are often a stumbling block to effectively reaching the Black community. Given the historical context of black/white relations, there are negative associations for being a part of a "white organization." There is an associated sense that black people lack agency or power in "white" organizations.
"Multi-ethnic gatherings break down this false sense and empowers black people to enter into their contexts more sure of their identity and with a determination not to assimilate but rather to bring who they fully are into their communities. This allows true multiethnicity to prevail."
Everett went through similar concerns after first connecting with InterVarsity as a University of South Florida student. But after attending a similar black leadership conference in Atlanta, he fought through those doubts, strengthened his faith and emerged into InterVarsity.
So while this is a black leadership conference — and Everett explained that black includes Caribbeans, Africans and people of multiethnic groups — it's not about recreating segregation. It's about giving young blacks the tools to grow as leaders whether they are in a multiethnic, predominantly white or traditional black church setting.
I'm excited anytime I see the next generation trying to inspire their peers to step up and assume leadership roles, regardless of race. However, it's particularly important for blacks to embrace and appreciate the sacrifices made by their predecessors and build upon that foundation. Given that faith and leadership have always been intertwined in the black community, this seems like a positive step.
A friend of mine says that I spend too much time lamenting about how the next great movement doesn't seem to be on the horizon and that today's generation has lost touch with the achievements of the civil rights movement.
I disagree. Like the organizers, I believe this adage should be a guide for young people trying to find their way in this changing world: No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he's been and exactly how he arrived at his current place.
That's all I'm saying.