No. 266 – The Welfare of the City

I’ve been struggling to write this month, particularly this week. Figured I’d share my scripture reflection from this morning.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Jeremiah 29:7

It’s hard to sing the Lord’s song in this country. Yet, God gave instruction to the Israelites in exile to do everything to ensure Babylon did well.

That seek and pray in the verse is key. Action and prayer. I worry that we’ve put government on the pedestal as this out of reach “principalities and powers.” As a result, we’ve given up our responsibility to be involved in the components that go into making a city, a country do well.

The couple verses before verse seven talk about building resources to take care of ourselves and growing our families. What else goes into seeking a city’s welfare? A country’s welfare?

-Vote
-Be involved in shaping policy
-Run for elected office from the lowest to the highest level
-Support folks around you who you think could good officials
-Hold officials accountable
-Hold yourself accountable if you’re one of those officials
-Build businesses either as employees or founders
-Invent things that make life easier for folks

AND

-Pray

There’s a lot to do. We’ve got an uphill battle working through the bullshit in how this country works. But, we have a responsibility to slog through it and reshape it into something better.

We can’t throw up our hands under the guise that there is some spiritual force operating in high places, so we’re only going to pray. That’s not doing our job.

Yes, we have in our hopes that heaven is at the end of our time here on earth. While we’re here, let’s focus and tend to this place well.

It’s hard, I know. I’m feeling quite tired. But, I can’t let my daughter’s children live in a world that hasn’t felt my presence.

No. 240 – Tuesday Reads

Source: Techcrunch

Some Policy Lessons from COVID-19 “It is about time that African progressivism focused not just on criticizing those in power, but also on developing viable political programs that can win power. This will require organization, political education and communication that resonates with mass publics, genuine openness to knowing “the realities on the ground”, and a dose of principled ideological promiscuity pragmatism. The habit of waiting for perfectly enlightened voters and politicians under perfect institutional conditions effectively concedes the fight to the region’s shamelessly inept water-carriers.”

Lila Fenwick, Who Broke a Barrier at Harvard Law, Dies at 87 – “Ms. Fenwick graduated from law school in 1956, one of a handful of women in a class of hundreds. Ruth Bader Ginsburg started the next school year, when the dean at the time famously challenged the nine women in the class of the future Supreme Court justice to defend why they were occupying a place that could have gone to a man.”

The City That Has Flattened the Coronavirus Curve – “The economic hardship a shutdown would cause was not lost on Breed. She was raised in a public-housing project by her grandmother, from whom, Harris said, Breed inherited a practical streak. Breed’s sister died of a drug overdose, while her brother is currently incarcerated on a 44-year sentence for manslaughter. “Her grandmother was a tough lady,” recalled Harris, who has known Breed for years. “She was practical, practical to her core.”

Africa is on our DNA – “At 54gene, driving change means focusing on ensuring that the welfare of Africans is not left out of global health developments while also building a long term sustainable business that will contribute to the continent for many years to come.” (note: 54Gene just announced a $15m series A round of financing.)

Stephon Marbury’s Wild Ride on the Front End of the Coronavirus Pandemic – “The games have to stop now. The game won’t be fun if people die.”

No. 231 – On Resilience

It’s not fear that grips him. Only a heightened sense of things.

Narrator from 300

In the scene embedded above, a young Leonidas is out surviving in the wilderness as part of his training to be a Spartan soldier. The scene above tells the story of him crossing paths with a wolf looking for a meal. In the scene, we see the boy turn away from the wolf and walk towards a small crevice in a mountain. The wolf gives chase and gets stuck as the boy dives backwards. Then the narrator says the above quote.

That scene has come to mind a good bit as I’ve considered how I try to continue making progress towards my goals in a world upended by this virus. Early in the days of social distancing in the US, I was really energized about locking in and getting a ton done with the extra hours of not having a commute to deal with. Then, I wondered why my brain felt like it was on a treadmill, reminding me that I had slipped a bit in using my tools to maintain my mental health. Today, I’m doing my best to take steady steps towards my goals and exercising the resilience I’ve built over the years going through tough times.

Hard times never last, tough people they do.

Ace Hood

Parallel Experience

While I love this quote, it’s been challenging to watch is the parallel experience black folks are going through in the U.S. On one hand, the creativity we’re seeing from the musicians among us has been magical. DJ DNice kicked the energy off with his Homeschool sessions, and Timbaland and Swizz Beatz have carried the energy forward with the battles they’re organizing. I already love dancing by myself, and they’ve taken my solo dancing to another level.

At the same time, black folks are most likely getting hit harder by COVID-19 than other ethnic groups. New York, New Orleans, Detroit and more hot spots for the virus in the US have large black populations. It’s hard to see 40% of the deaths in Michigan coming from the black community when we only make up 14% of that state’s population.

Heightened Awareness

My ears perked up last week when I heard Chamath Palihapitiya tell Kara Swisher that he sees something similar to the Patriot Act happening as we emerge from this pandemic. People will most likely want to know that the people around them are healthy and may be willing to give up more of their information in order to know who around them is healthy.

Telecom operators in South Africa are already working with the government to help track the movements of people who have tested positive for coronavirus and identifying the people with whom they come into contact with. Here in the US, there are calls for immunity certifications to identify people who could go back to work, provide healthcare, and more.

Should Chamath prove to be right and immunity certifications become a thing, my mind goes back to black folks disproportionally dying from coronavirus in Michigan. We’ve already seen the impact of label “Chinese virus.” How do we ensure black folks aren’t labeled as somehow deficient as opposed to existing in a system that has made it quite difficult to remain healthy? A lot of black folks made it through tough times over the more than 400 years we’ve been in the U.S. Yet, a lot of black folks didn’t.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I don’t know right now, but I’ve been encouraged by the many virtual gatherings of black folks to put our heads together in efforts to figure out how we support each other, exercising resilience. I’m grateful to get to support friends’ and acquaintances’ businesses, particularly the ones who are setting aside some of the revenue to support efforts to keep folks fed and healthy, investing in resilience. As I get a sense of the next right thing to do, I will do that.

No. 116: Can You See the World Through My Eyes?

Niall Ferguson’s biography of Henry Kissinger continues to provoke thought. The following two quotes were delivered at Harvard’s Commencement in 1950.

To see Asia through Asian eyes — that is the prime requisite for Western policy towards Asia…You cannot prepare a policy mold for Europe and … assume that it will do for Asia as well.

– General Carlos Romulo.

The tendency to brand any nationalist movements whatever in Asia as Communistic rests on another of those assumptions which need to be re-examined…There are unquestionably nationalist movements in Asia which are Communist-led or which are abetted by Communists. But the fact does not necessarily invalidate the intrinsic quality of the genuine nationalist movements in the region…These movements, though originally sprung from a people’s natural aspirations to freedom, are subsequently taken away by the politically sly and ruthless Communists from the hands of the timid and confused liberals lacking prompt and effective support from their friends in the West.

-Secretary of State Dean Acheson

No. 11: Africa’s Agricultural Potential – What’s the Cost?

At what cost will Africa realize the economic potential of its agricultural industry? According to McKinsey & Company, about 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land is on the African continent. A few months ago, NPR did a piece on how Brazil has leveraged science to establish the country as a breadbasket. While listening to the piece, I thought about the model Brazil presents for African countries. Initially excited, I then thought about the potential costs of producing genetically manufactured (GM) foods.

Embrapa, Brazil’s government-run agricultural research institute, has done significant research to find ways for various types of crops to grow in the country since the 1970s. This research has led to enormous economic output. According to the Economist, Brazil drove the value of its crops from $23 billion in 1996 to $108 billion in 2006. Furthermore, the country is only using 12.5 percent of its 400 million hectares of uncultivated arable land. The Economist article qualifies these figures with the caution that Brazil drove agricultural growth systematically, and that growth on the African continent will not come quickly. Brazil spent years improving its soil, in concert with seed development. These developments led to new farming techniques that have enabled farmers to significantly increase their yields.

One can imagine the implications of Brazil’s agricultural growth for the African continent. McKinsey and Company projects that by 2040, African countries can increase the collective value of their agricultural output from $280 billion to $880 billion. To do this, countries will have to bring more land into cultivation, increase crop yields, and replace low-value crops with high-value crops like fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, if African countries are not able to implement these key drivers faster than Brazil has, 2040 will not be the year that the continent realizes $880 billion in agricultural output. The celerity with which African countries have driven the boom of the mobile phone industry makes me hopeful that it will be able to implement agricultural growth at a faster pace.

My tension lies in Brazil being second only to the United States in utilization of GM crops. Proponents of GM foods point to the necessity of these crops in establishing food security and production levels for generations to come. Critics argue against GM crops due to their potential danger to humans, and the threat they pose to other plants. A number of African countries are already producing GM crops, and scientists in Brazil continue to develop new plant technologies and farming techniques. Scientists, farmers, and policy makers are going to have to commit to thoroughly vetting the costs and benefits of employing GM crops in pursuit of a robust agricultural industry on the African continent. The economic potential of agriculture on the continent is quite impressive and will be an obstacle to objective cost-benefit analysis of policy options. Decision makers must champion thorough research and holistic conversations in shaping the premise on which countries drive agricultural development efforts. Without this hard analysis, the realization of Africa’s agricultural potential could come at a significant cost to the continent’s one-billion people.