By Jade Myers
Equity in the City of New Orleans can only be achieved when citizens are active, engaged and informed about issues within their community and are willing to solve them. Those were the insights of James A. Joseph, the former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, a Yale University graduate who was a Civil Rights Activist. Joseph addressed New Orleans residents at a public lecture on Oct. 3rd that was organized by Equity New Orleans, a citywide initiative within the Office of the Mayor, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The lecture, titled “Can Equity in Leadership Lead to a Civil Society” was held at Xavier University. Civic virtue, civic engagement and civic leadership, he said, are the components to achieving equity in society.
“When I think of civic virtue, I’m reminded of a caution offered by Edmund Burke who said America is great because America is good and then he added if America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great,” Joseph said.
“I am persuaded that a good society depends as much on the goodness of individuals as it does of the soundness of government and the fairness of law,” Joseph added.
Patriotism, according to former U.S. Gov. John Winthrop, Joseph said, is what Winthrop called making the condition of others, “our own.” Citizens can help bring about change both in serving the country, and in being a critic of society. In 1958, Joseph served two years in the U.S. Army. Then he served as U.S. Ambassador to South Africa under President Bill Clinton for four years. Joseph said he has now committed his life to serving and educating others by publicly speaking about civic, religious, and academic engagement.
“Our democracy was not forever assured…an active and informed citizenry would be required if we were to keep evolving into a more perfect union,” Joseph explained to the audience about Benjamin Franklin’s writings.
Joseph said he believed that inequity exists within leadership because of a lack of reconciliation and hope, which are critical to resolving civil tensions in society today. According to Joseph, the ways in which we can solve these issues are by becoming more involved and aware of what is taking place in society and being open to fixing these issues. This involves civic engagement and civic leadership, both at grassroots levels, and in public life.
Joseph’s career embodies this. After beginning his career at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he organized and led civil rights efforts there in 1963. This was just the beginning of Joseph’s desire to become civically engaged and to become a civic leader.
“Each of us has to be involved if we are going to change the world in which we live in and particularly, this moment in the United States,” Joseph said. “In order to be effective, we have to be well-prepared. That means we have to know as much as the advisory, those people who stand in the way of progress,” he said. The former ambassador explained that being more involved, aware and knowledgeable are the keys to achieving civil progress in society.
The call to activism, said Camryn Jones, a Xavier student who attended the ambassador’s lecture, is something her generation must carry the torch on into the new millennium if inequality is to ever be solved.
“Being a young woman living in this society that is filled with constant situations of hatred, racism and police brutality is why I found Ambassador Joseph’s discussion on how to solve these issues was much needed,” Jones said. “What I took from this discussion is that we as a society need to become more informed and involved in what is taking place on a day to day basis,” she added.