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Commentary: Stop complaining, start doing something

  • Story Highlights
  • Call for "National Blackout Day" asks African-Americans not to spend money
  • Ballentine says call has gone beyond black protest to include other issues
  • Martin calls for action, not more complaining
  • Says working on problems with others in your community leads to real change
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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(CNN) -- Over the last couple of days I've gotten a few e-mails regarding a call for a "National Blackout Day" on Friday, which calls for African-Americans to refrain from spending any money to send a signal to the federal government.


Roland Martin says Americans need to band together to solve social ills.

The call was issued by Warren Ballentine, a lawyer who hosts a show on Syndication One Radio Network.

In his call, Ballentine wants African-Americans to abstain from spending to show the economic importance and power of our people, as well as to protest the legal injustices in this nation, whether it was the sentencing of Georgian Genarlow Wilson (who was released from prison on Friday) or the Jena Six.

On Wednesday, I had Ballentine on my radio show and he said that the concept has morphed into a broader one because non-African-Americans wanted to use the day to express their outrage over other issues, including immigration, high gas prices and the Iraq War.

One issue I raised with Ballentine was how do you measure such a protest to show its effectiveness. He said others had raised a similar point, and noted that it's important to not be discouraged by such talk, but to move people to act.

I concur that it's critical that Americans express their displeasure if they believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction. But to be honest, we have tons of ways of doing that.

If you turn on talk radio, you will hear people crowing about every issue under the sun. Poll ratings show that the American people don't have a high regard for the job President Bush or Congress are doing. New blogs are popping up every day and folks are weighing in, some offering critical analysis while others are cursing out anything and everything. Video Watch as Roland Martin talks about this column »

We have become a nation that is adept at complaining -- but isn't so bold when it comes to action.

See, that's the real problem we have: taking our righteous indignation and doing something about it.

When the idea of supporting the black out came to mind, I thought of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, when African-Americans in that Alabama city said they were tired of being relegated to the back of the bus.

What was supposed to be a one-day protest turned into 381 days. Why? Because they were able to see that people were unified in their efforts, and that measurement led them to keep it going, thus ushering in the Civil Rights Movement that brought down Jim Crow and led to laws that forever changed this nation.

I thought about Richard Neill, a Fort Worth, Texas, dentist who was so sickened by the trash TV talk shows on the air that he targeted the advertisers of Phil Donahue's long-running show.

Neill then began to elicit support from friends and neighbors, and when they were done, Christianity Today says 221 advertisers opted not to advertise on the show. In addition, the crusade caught the attention of other shows and forced them to clean up their act.

Neill didn't just express outrage. He took it a step further and focused on taking action.

In my own life, I can see how outrage can lead to action.

I grew up in the Clinton Park neighborhood of Houston, and what was once a thriving community for African-Americans had fallen into disrepair. Drugs were running rampant, residents had stopped taking pride in their yards and city services were essentially nonexistent.

So my parents chose to join with a few neighbors, and using the mantra of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, pronounced that they were "Sick and tired of being sick and tired."

These residents decided to launch the Clinton Park Civic Club. And my parents made us help them by making signs and going door-to-door with fliers, all in an effort to let others know about the initiative.

It started off small by focusing on heavy trash pickup days and cutting overgrown lots. But these small bands of people kept pushing, and in a few short years, they were working with the police to target drug dealers, had abandoned homes taken over by the city, new streets, sidewalks, sewer pipes, a revitalized park and a senior citizens' center. They didn't just get mad. They did something about it.

Maybe Ballantine will get people to express their frustration. OK, fine. But that's just not for me. And it shouldn't be for you. We have enough Americans mad.

Now we must take action. You must decide whether you want to complain about your situation or work to fix the problem. You may not be able to end the war in Iraq yourself, but when you begin to build alliances with others, your action may change the hearts of many in Washington.

You may not be able to solve our education crisis in America, but maybe if you and others get together and begin to tutor young kids, you could increase reading and math scores for your little group.

In the Bible, Nehemiah sought to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Others called him nuts for thinking he could do so. But he pressed on. He also told the people not to focus on others, but just on rebuilding the area in front of their home. When each household just rebuilt their portion of the wall, then the entire wall would be finished, and that would provide protection for everyone.

Too many of us are worried about someone else's portion of the wall. Look at what's in front of you. Fix your portion, and let someone else worry about their portion.

Trust me, you can do it. You can make a difference. You can succeed. And there is no telling how far you can go, but you must start somewhere. Today.

So, what are you prepared to do?


Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and he is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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