DON'T WANT NOBODY TO GIVE ME NOTHING: AN ASSESSMENT OF BLACK COMMUNITY SELF-HELP
Foster-Bey, John Albert
Self-help has been a central feature of African Americans' response to the historically limited opportunities faced by blacks in their efforts to become fully functioning American citizens since the 18th century. While widely embraced within the black community, historically the meaning of self-help has been contested. Black liberals and progressives following the lead of W.E.B. Du Bois have seen self-help as a strategy for organizing the black masses to advocate for and demand changes in the social system and in the racial distribution of resources and wealth. They understood self-help as a strategy for political empowerment. As such, their goal is to encourage government to provide the programs and resources necessary for full black economic, social and political participation.The more ideologically conservative elements of the black community have traditionally seen black community self-help as an approach to empower blacks to build their own communities and institutions. From this more conservative perspective, blacks can only become fully functioning citizens if they are not dependent on government (and some would say whites) for their wellbeing. Community self-help is the only logical pathway for blacks to develop the personal and group capacity necessary to participate in society as full citizens.Community self-help is not just relevant for African Americans. It also has become a prominent strategy for promoting citizen participation among low-income individuals in anti-poverty initiatives in both advanced and underdeveloped economies. Modern economic development theory and practice finds that anti-poverty efforts are more successful when residents of poor and disadvantaged places are full participants in the planning, implementation and evaluation of community development initiatives. This study examines the intersection of the black self-help traditions and the modern manifestations of community self-help, such as community capacity building and social capital. A review of the literature finds that black self-help, while having its own unique aspects and history, shares some common features with modern notions of civic engagement, social capital and community capacity building.However, while there has been considerable discussion of black community self-help in the scholarly and popular literature, there are few empirical studies of black community self-help. In particular, there are only limited studies that attempt to explain empirically why self-help varies from one spatial community to another. Based on the scholarly literature, black self-help is defined as the combination of black civic engagement and black local entrepreneurship. Using a sample of 59 medium to large metropolitan areas as the spatial unit of analysis, this study finds four distinct types of spatial locations that describe different configurations of self-help: 1) metropolitan areas with high levels of both civic engagement and local entrepreneurship, 2) places with high levels of black local entrepreneurship and low civic engagement, 3) metropolitan areas with high black civic engagement and low local entrepreneurship, and 4) locations with both low black civic engagement and low black local entrepreneurship. On average, each of these four types of locations has their own unique configuration of metropolitan contextual characteristics. However, there also are differences in contextual characteristics between metropolitan areas within each of the four types of self-help groups. Finally, average black self-help appears to have grown across the metropolitan areas in the study sample.
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