MAXWELL:  A good neighbor with a fence

3/24/1997 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


If the Uhuru Movement was not an official part of the St. Petersburg’s Community Action Committee charged with fixing the economic and social problems in the African-American community, its increasingly strident and naive rhetoric could be ignored. But because this band of self-styled socialists belongs to the task force, all St. Petersburg residents should pay attention to what its members say.

A few days ago, Sobukwe Bambaatam, the group’s media coordinator, wrote in a letter to Neighborhood Times that if Walgreen Co. does not show respect for the black community by removing the fence surrounding its new store at the corner of 22nd Avenue S and Dr. M. L. King (Ninth) Street S, black residents “should make them (Walgreen) leave.” In another place, Bambaatam writes that Walgreen “is a white-owned corporation that has come into our community for the sole purpose of making money.”

Well, of course, Walgreen Co. built in the black community to make money. Business is self-interested. Making money is what corporations _ black, white and otherwise _ do.

Bambaatam derides the “low-wage jobs” the Walgreens store provides. Yes, some employees _ who were unemployed or who had difficulty finding jobs before _ no doubt make slightly above minimum wage, as millions of other workers do throughout the nation’s economy. Others, however, have discovered paths to real careers and are earning or will earn respectable salaries.

Walgreen Co. is not a cure-all for labor problems in the riot zone. It is but one company, a strategic player in unraveling a social and economic maze that took generations to take root. So when Bambaatam claims that “Walgreens is not doing us (blacks) any favors,” he is puerile beyond measure. Many elderly residents, for example, now have a well-stocked drug store, including a top-rate pharmacy, near their homes.

In short, the overwhelming majority of black residents see the store as a godsend, as a modern convenience that benefits their lives. Apparently, black shoppers _ if their purchases mean anything _ have decided that the Walgreens store’s fence is not a racist insult or the evil deed of “the slave master” that the Uhurus say it is.

The black residents of the area do not need the paternalism of Omali Yeshitela and his followers or their zany advice about right and wrong.

Nothing is more insulting than the Uhurus’ insistence on telling mature African-American adults where they should spend their money. According to Walgreens’ cash registers, the people are thinking for themselves quite nicely.

Most blacks know the “real deal”: While Yeshitela and others do not have the capital or the economic acumen to establish businesses on their own, they do not want any white businesses in the black community. They long for a version of communal factories straight out of the old Soviet Union or North Korea.

Bill Maxwell is a columnist and editorial writer for the Times.