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Black Belt Commission is going to bring change

Commentary by Hank Sanders

“Its been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.” The late great Sam Cooke imprinted these words on our collective conscience with his immortal song, “A change is gonna come.” The song is full of hope cresting the pain and despair. The song is still very powerful nearly fifty years after it was first rendered. I thought about the song’s refrain on at least eight occasions this week.

The most obvious occasion was the signing of the Executive Order creating the Alabama Black Belt Action Commission by Governor Bob Riley. In January 2003 the Governor announced that he intended to create a Black Belt Commission to “transform the Alabama Black Belt.” He also announced that I would chair the Commission. During the 20 months since those announcements, I often felt like it might not happen. Yet on Wednesday, August 11, 2004, the Executive Order Creating the Black Belt Action Commission was officially signed. In my heart, I sung these words from that old Sam Cooke tune, “Its been a long time coming but a change is gonna come.”

A second occasion was a Monday meeting of Team Selma concerning a potential industry locating in Selma/Dallas County. If and when it happens, it will be the biggest new economic initiative in here in the last half-century. It was enough to make me sing in my heart, “Its been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.”

I sang such a song in my heart on a third occasion on Monday night at a dinner with Team Selma and representatives of the potential industry. The hopes emanating for all lifted my spirits and I sang in my heart, “Its been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.”

A fourth occasion was the Entrepreneurial Conference at Wallace Community College in Selma where I made remarks. It is one manifestation of a determined effort to create businesses and jobs from the ground up in the Black Belt to supplement the industry and jobs brought into the region. It is a critical piece of the puzzle because, even under the best circumstances, we cannot bring in enough industry and jobs to meet all our needs. We must create some from scratch. This initiative caused me to sing in my heart, “Its been a long time coming but a change is gonna come.”

A fifth occasion involved the nearly five-hour meeting of the Black Belt Community Foundation (Foundation). The motto of the Foundation is, “Take what you have and make what you need.” The cross section of blacks and whites, the older and the younger, the male and the female, the grassroots and the powerful, all working harmoniously together filled me with hopes high enough to sing this song in my heart, “Its been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.”

A dinner with Team Selma and others on a ranch located in a rural area of Dallas County provided the sixth occasion. The moment sprung for our sealing the deal on the location of another industry in Selma/Dallas County. That industry will have been announced by the time this Sketches is published. The great food, beverages and ease of atmosphere between blacks and whites, some from Selma/Dallas County and others from afar, made me sing in my heart, “Its been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.”

A seventh occassion occurred after two meetings with State Treasurer Kay Ivey and Assistant Director of ADECA Bill Johnson. We had worked through some challenges involving the Black Belt Action Commission that could have become stumbling blocks. Talking through the challenges earnestly and honestly allowed me to sing in my heart, “Its been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.”

The eighth occasion was the Black Belt Health Summit in Montgomery where I spoke at the opening luncheon. My subject was, “In our time and place, with God’s grace, we can make a difference.” The nearly 500 people were from all walks of life. A spirit of hope and determination filled the halls and rooms. I was lifted high enough to sing in my heart, “Its been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.”

I have had my hopes lifted and dashed too many times for them to be easily lifted again. No single one of these events could have lifted my hopes high enough to sing such a song. Perhaps no two events could have caused such a song for I have sung another verse of Sam Cooke’s song: “Its been too hard living but I’m afraid to die. I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky.”

This week, looking forward from Monday over the week with the prospects of most of these occasions in view, my heart rose on hopes, I sang, “Its been a long time coming but a change is gonna come.” Looking back from the end of the week my heart is singing even more beautifully. For a person who cannot sing, that’s pretty good.

EPILOGUE -The songs we sing in our hearts tell a lot about our spirit. Songs helps us to get through the trials and tribulation. They also help us celebrate our overcoming. I am glad to be singing songs of celebration.