Spending 90% of the effort on 10% of the problem

Suppose you have a choice between resolving two health problems; one is a bee sting  that requires some ointment while the other is a heart problem that requires a bypass operation.  Which would you spend the majority of your time resolving and putting your attention on–the bee sting that’s uncomfortable or the heart bypass operation that would save your life?  Given the choices, most reasonable people would resolve the heart bypass operation post haste.  In other words, the majority of your efforts would be directed towards resolving the issue that represents the largest health threat.

There are a broad range of issues affecting the health of the African-American community across the nation.  Here’s a  partial list of some statistics that are indicative of some of the problems.  By no means is this an all-inclusive list:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 of black men between the ages of 20-29 is either in prison, on probation or under the supervision of the criminal justice system on any given day.
  • Nearly 72% of all births to African-American women were out-of-wedlock.
  • National high school graduation rates for African-Americans is a little over half.
  • About 1% of PhD’s in the physical sciences or engineering went to African-Americans.
  • The leading cause of death for African-American men between the ages of 15-29 is homicide. This generally occurs at the hands of other African-Americans.

One would think that with “health” problems of this magnitude, there would be a host of initiatives being pursued by African-American leadership to address them.  To be sure, there’s no magic bullet or single solution.  The solutions to these issues are as complex as the reasons they exist, but one can’t hope to craft a solution if there aren’t initiatives taken to address the problem.  Yes, there will be some attempts that fail, but that’s not a reason for not trying as it is from failure that the greatest lessons are often learned. Failure is a part of the necessary process on the path to success.

There’s one problem that I did not include on the list.  That problem is racism and the related injustices that accompany it.  I don’t dispute that it’s a problem as our history in America is replete with racism.  In the present-day however, this represents 10% of our problems, yet 90% of our effort in terms of initiatives, is spent fighting this problem or pursuing other initiatives not directly related to the very real problems we face.

Let me use an example and ask some questions to drive home the point and present a choice.  Consider the following as two choices before you and answer the questions posed afterward:

Scenario 1: An African-American fraternity has initiated a National Memorial Project in Washington DC to honor Dr. Martin Luther King.  Dr. King will be the first African-American with a memorial on the national mall.  After a few false starts and some controversies along the way, the foundation has successfully raised $ 108 million of the total estimated $ 120 million required to build the memorial.  Among the controversies along the way was the selection of a Chinese sculptor over an African-American one along with the King family demanding a licensing fee for use of the civil rights leader’s image.   Ground will break within the next year or so.

Scenario 2: A few miles from the proposed MLK memorial is the Trinidad neighborhood. During the 1990’s, Washington DC  was known as the murder capital of the US.  ( Currently Detroit and Baltimore have been vying for the title and a recount allowed Detroit to edge out Baltimore for this dubious distinction).  Crime is so rampant in DC that the police have set up military style checkpoints in the Trinidad neighborhood.  I don’t know of any instance in America where I’ve heard of anything similar to military checkpoints being setup to deter crime.  This was not without controversy as regards the resident’s constitutional rights, but a federal judge found that the checkpoints don’t violate them and the police insist that these have reduced crime.  Clearly, there’s a lot that needs fixing to address the crime issue and it’s clear that building more jails is not the long term fix.

Here are the questions:

  1. Which is the more serious problem?  Recognition of MLK’s contribution or the crime in DC and elsewhere that’s killing our children, our people and destroying our communities?
  2. See (1) above. If Martin Luther King were alive today, which do you think he’d believe is the more serious problem?
  3. Assume you could raise $ 120 million and could spend it on either scenario, which one would get your attention?(Remember this is a choice between dealing with a bee sting and major heart surgery, so choose wisely. Your “life” depends on this).

The scenario above is just one example where foolish choices are made by our leadership. There are many others.

For those of us who know better, it’s time to break ranks and to break our silence.    It’s bad choices across the board that are literally killing our people.

7 Responses to “Spending 90% of the effort on 10% of the problem”
  1. field Negro says:

    Hi Greg L, just came over to check out your site, and I must say I like what you did with the place. 🙂

    Keep doing what you do.


  2. Gregory says:

    Hey Field,

    Thanks much for the visit and for blogroll pub as well!

  3. Brother Greg you are spot on with your commentary.

    Here is my model regarding the architecture of the forces that bear down upon Black America and thus influences the attention span there in.

    The 9P’s In The Black Establishment
    * Politicians
    * Protesters (Civil Rights orgs)
    * Policy Makers (lobbyist groups)
    * Press (the Black Press – full of “progressives”)
    * Performers (singers, rappers, actors)
    * Preachers
    * Public School Teachers
    * Pro-Union Labor forces
    * Posters (Bloggers)

    Most of the confrontations that I get involved with have to do with the audacity of me assuming that there is a certain INCUMBENCY within the Black community and thus they should be held accountable for the results.

    Instead some people prefer the “permanent struggle AGAINST” some threat. They fail to realize that they have slipped up and now have power over the key institutions within our community.

    They function similarly to the White establishment figures decades ago when, the systematic injustice of Black people within this system that they controlled was brought to their attention by the Civil Rights movement – they responded in a hostile manner. In as much as I believe that Black people are 100% equal to all others and thus afflicted with the same flaws – it comes as no surprise that they act such defensively.

    It is time for the “Black rank and file” from the community to achieve some measure of independence and management of those forces that they have put into the seats of power to represent their interests.

  4. Gregory says:


    Thanks for stopping by. I’ve read your comments both at your blog and at Field’s as well. I’m in agreement with much of your analysis regarding an incumbency that has not been held to account. As you point out, black folks are in political control of many major urban areas, yet not only do the problems persist, they’ve gotten worst. Again, much of this is related to poor choices being made even as we have the power to pursue a new direction.

    Much of the problem is due to a leadership gap of sorts. In other communities, there are a group of leaders who are unelected, but who occupy positions of influence such that they hold the political leadership of their communities accountable. In the African-American community, there is a gap or dearth of leaders who serve this function. This is very much related to the lack of economic development in the community as represented by business people with flexible schedules who have an interest in ensuring that the politicos do their job. Generally, our intelligentsia is occupied full time working for someone else and are effectively muted for fear of economic consequence. These are the primary reasons why there’s the absence of an accountability structure.

    The problem is a structural one tied to the absence of two key groups–the intelligentsia and the entrepreneurs. Again, these two must enjoy a degree of economic independence to be fully effective at oversight IMO.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] been misdirected and is fraught with strategic error.  The error results in us directing the bulk of our efforts towards the least of our problems.   We’ve defined our problem as one of justice.  This is in error and the […]

  2. […] have more to do with better choices and holding people accountable.   I refer to this as spending 90% of the effort on 10% of the problem.  I don’t deny that racism is alive and well, all I’m saying is that it’s not the biggest […]

  3. […] why you’ll never see some of us at marches, protests and similar things as long as they represent 90% of the effort on 10% of the problem. When 90% of our efforts begin to address 90% of the problems, we’ll be among those in the front […]

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