Black Excellence is the New Black

By Erica Copeland 

When the Van Jones Show premiered on CNN last month, hip-hop artist Jay-Z, who often avoids the spotlight off-stage, was the unlikely guest to headline its inaugural episode.

Although Jones interviewed the rapper-turned-mogul one month before Black History Month would begin, one of Jay-Z’s responses was a powerful social commentary on the state of black America – one which is relevant to the conversations often sparked during this celebratory month.

He said, “Imagine a world where there were no more firsts for black people… All of the firsts would have been accomplished. That conversation is done. Let’s move that out of the conversation. So where do we go from here?”

Go ahead. Indulge in a moment where you suspend your knowledge of reality and imagine a world where that dream came true.

That is the fictional world that Jay-Z and Ava DuVernay dreamt in the hip-hop legend’s music video for his song Family Feud which is featured on his newest album, 4:44.

The full-length music video is a 7-minute roller coaster ride into a futuristic era when an adult version of Jay-Z’s daughter, Blue Ivy, and a host of other female powerbrokers rewrite the U.S. Constitution to make it more democratic, inclusive, and equitable for all citizens.

The story weaves a beautiful plot. But once the music video has run its course, viewers are forced to return to a reality in 2018 that is less inspiring.

Black Americans still struggle to achieve many dreams espoused publicly in present or past – that of Martin Luther King that “men will be judged not by the color of their skin but on the content of their character” and that of Jay-Z’s world where blacks have accomplished excellence in every area possible.

Instead, black Americans are living a life that more closely matches poet Langston Hughes’s timely classic, “A Dream Deferred.”

What will it take for black people to reach the heights of excellence in every sector of society, every tier of government, and every industry of commerce?

And where do we begin? Do we start with tackling inequity and injustices in our systems of education, health, criminal justice, housing, or economic development?

The solution lies in each of us. Every generation must take up the yoke of fighting for social justice in this modern era.

We can find hope in the fact that in every historical era, Americans of African descent have been able to achieve greatness despite the yoke of prejudice and discrimination. The fact is that there is no shortage of black Americans  to celebrate for being the first to accomplish an incredible feat in areas of science, industry, arts, government, literature, to name a few.

The ultimate dream is a world where more than a limited few black Americans can break down barriers, set records and make history.  In this dream, black excellence – in every shape and form – is more than a rare exception, it is the norm.