President Obama’s speech in Selma, Alabama, is a Declaration of Independence for the twenty-first century. It is the beginning of a new American history – an inclusive one that does not presume the subjugation of one citizen under another. No longer does the slaveholding legacy of Isaac Norris prevail. Samuel Stouch’s poisonous vision of true Americanism has lost its mass appeal. Now is the time for every American town to examine itself, its elected officials, and its business community. With a dedicated effort, Norristown will not be another Ferguson, Missouri.
The crucial change must be the commitment of local officials, philanthropists, and business leaders to innovative partnerships with the NAACP and the Carver Community Center. At every previous juncture in American history when there was a chance to achieve a more inclusive society, the lack of institutional investment in African American organizations has crippled the ultimate outcomes. Between 1865 and 1877, substantial efforts to create new industrial ventures with integrated investment groups never materialized. As a result, rigid, pervasive, and national forms of racial segregation took root, causing a century of anger, resentment, and violence. Between 1948 and 1972, the only integration that occurred simultaneously dismantled local African American economies and isolated educated African Americans at the bottom of white institutions in every sector of the global economy. The consequences of these failures are manifest in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, just as they are in Orange County, California; DeKalb County, Georgia; and Monmouth County, New Jersey.
When senior citizens take the time to guide and mentor the most diverse group of young Americans in the nation’s history, the chance to develop the full potential of human capital in every metropolitan area will arrive. Human capital is the combined value of a people’s education and expertise. This mentorship cannot be limited to homilies about personal responsibility; it must extend into specific financial relationships to help students become entrepreneurs. The detailed knowledge of management, marketing, investment, and contracting must not remain secret from African Americans, women, and immigrants. Organizations from the Times-Herald through Conicelli’s dealerships must craft new internships and leadership opportunities for professionals under 35 years old to energize the region over the next decade.
Tonight, at the Carver Community Center, there is an important opportunity to take a first step together. At a Volunteer Fair, starting at 6pm, every part of the Norristown family has a chance to come together and break the habits of the past. It is a chance to heal, listen, learn, and build across the painful divides the country has seen in Selma, Alabama, and Ferguson, Missouri.
Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (ICMG_International Center for Metropolitan Growth) and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. He is also the primary instructor for the “Engines of Wealth” initiative at Monmouth University. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). For bookings (workshops and speaking engagements), contact NJ History (email@example.com).