Thousands of people who returned to their homes throughout the United States after the NAACP convention in Kansas City, Mo., should have stayed longer.
They left a lot of unfinished business. In a public forum on "green jobs," Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., criticized the oldest and largest civil rights group in the nation for failing to live up to its legacy of street protests and activism.
"The NAACP may not like what I have to say," said Cleaver, a Methodist minister who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement. "But we have abandoned what got us over."
The room at Bartle Hall had seats for 300 for the climate change forum on "Green Jobs: A Lifeboat in the Unemployment Storm?" But only about 30 people attended. That was the first sign of significant concerns that went begging.
Cleaver didn't give any of it a pass at the convention. He explained that he had secured millions of dollars in federal stimulus money from the Obama administration for the Green Impact Zone in the urban core of Kansas City.
The 150-block area is in the heart of the black community. Yet black workers haven't been included in representative numbers at major "green" construction projects. Cleaver said he toured the area recently with officials and was "embarrassed because at one location no blacks were on the construction site, and at another there was only one."
"It's absolutely crazy," Cleaver said. "I can't legislate and agitate at the same time. People now believe they can get away with anything.
"We need a resurgence of the NAACP. We need direct action as in the past, or we're going to see more and more of our gains cut off."
The $787 billion in federal stimulus money pushed by President Obama was designed to pull the nation out of the recession. Cleaver said the stimulus money will never recur in our lifetime. "When this is gone, it's gone," he said.
The NAACP and people of color need to get their share of the federally funded jobs and contracts now.
"We see people being exclusive (with jobs and federal contracts employing only majority workers)," Cleaver said. "That's when we need the NAACP. That's when we need protests.
"The contractors could say, 'I want diversity.' But we're not getting it. If we fail to take advantage of this genesis of the world turning green, we can blame only us."
That's an abomination because green jobs are going to be a growth sector of the economy, Texas Sen. Rodney G. Ellis said.
"The economy is going to be rebuilt," Ellis said. "The question is, are we going to participate in it?"
Phaedra Ellia-Lamkins, chief executive of Green for ALL, said green jobs need to be welded into existing industries such as mass transit, which has to include light rail and bicycle lanes, construction, clean water projects, energy audits, more energy efficient homes and businesses, and renewable clean-energy resources. Wind, solar and geothermal sources have to be harnessed and applied to where people live and work.
Rinku Sen, executive director of the Applied Research Center, said that "racial impact analyses" must accompany new projects to ensure that minority businesses and workers are included with access to loans and federal funding.
At a convention news conference, the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton said jobs must be the focus of civil rights in the 21st century. Unemployment is close to 10 percent for the nation but about 20 percent for African-Americans.
On Oct. 2, the NAACP is expected to attract tens of thousands of people to Washington, D.C., for a march for jobs. Jackson correctly said that the Obama administration has a plan for Afghanistan, a plan for Iraq, a plan for immigration reform and for gays in the military, but no plan for job creation in the nation's deteriorating urban cores.
That cannot continue.
"Urban America is in a state of emergency," Jackson said. "We will not be diverted or otherwise distracted."
Let's hope that focus holds in all efforts to include people of color as the country continues to go green.