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Saturday, February 26, 2005

 

Tavis Smiley's "State of the Black Union" 2005 Unity Covenant



Atlanta was the hot spot today. Tavis Smiley hosted his annual symposium "The State of the Black Union." The forum was held at Rev. Eddie Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. The program focused on defining the African American Agenda. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition took opportunity to explain to those gathered that the Black Congressional Caucus has in place a ten (10) point plan of action. But regardless of the question of whether or not the agenda set forth by the Caucus is the substance of this group's covenant the forum did establish that the process will include a community unity.

Today, black leaders voiced a need to advance the community. Freedom was the agenda until 1864. Civil rights, voting rights and access to public accomodations followed from 1864 to 1964. Leveraging the black community's collective capital appears to be the new covenant.

They voiced a concern that Democrats have taken the black community for granted and the republican party "just takes, using blacks who really have no power to lead."

The highmark of the event was when the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam, explained to the group that "regardless of where we have been, we want to advance our people." He said, " black children can't eat at the table of illusion and hypocrisy." He added, "we can't focus on the house that denied us access for 400 years." He closed, "the hell with democrats and republicans."

These African American leaders, carrying the history and weight of the black experience want group unity. They appear to have found meaning in their individuality and heritage. It's more than a common skin pigmentation. It has now become a community based on a social phenomenon of systematic and comprehensive forces that only those challenged by a longstanding history of discrimination and violence may understand.

The Need:

The level playing field remains more illusion than reality... Since the start of George W. Bush presidency in January 2000 a general concern in the African American community was voiced that on issues that are of the greatest importance to millions of Americans, the President's policies are misplaced priorities. The uncertainty continued into 2004 election.

But there's one truth above all others in second term elections. They are referendums on the incumbent. So as hard as it is to accept, there are other Americans outside the African American community that like the job that George W. Bush is doing. And, with re-election he's not an asterisk anymore alone among American presidents. That is, riding the votes of 59 million (other)Americans, he's the president regardless of the fact that majority of African Americans who voted would rather have had the other guy.

So... it's time to move on. African Americans must put their differences aside. American identity is not a function of birthright but a way of life. The African American community must keep moving toward the America identity it believes is possible. Isn't democracy great?

Some argue "African American leaders judges America from the utopian standard, never comparing America to anything other but the Garden of Eden (immigrants, for example, are said to compare America to their old country)." But, it has been only forty years since separate water fountains of Jim Crow prohibitions and many Americans would now like to proceed as if the slate is clean and the scale is balanced.

The upward strides of many African Americans into the middle class have given the illusion that race cannot be the barrier that some make it out to be. However, one in four African Americans continue to live below the official poverty line (versus approximately one in nine whites). The optimistic assumption of the 1970s and 1980s was that upwardly mobile African Americans were quietly integrating formerly all-white occupations, businesses, neighborhoods, and social clubs. Black middle- and working-class families were moving out of all-black urban neighborhoods and into the suburbs. But, the one black doctor who lives in an exclusive white suburb and the few African American lawyers who work at a large firm are not representative of the today's black community. And although most white Americans are also not doctors or lawyers, the lopsided distribution of occupations for whites does favor such professional and managerial jobs, whereas blacks are clustered in the sales and clerical fields.

In short, the inequalities run even deeper than just income. One must compound and exponentiate the current differences over a history of slavery and Jim Crow, and the nearly fourteenfold wealth advantage that whites enjoy over African Americans—(regardless of income, education, or occupation) needs little explanation, and add the failure of the education system where African Americans children are the clear victims.

The explanations for economic inequality perceives the American political economy as being fundamentally fair with virtually everyone guaranteed an equal opportunity to compete, work hard, and excel in American schools, labor markets, housing markets, and other American social institutions. However, using wealth as a measure of economic inequality, the same top twenty percent of American households controlled over sixty-eight percent of the net worth of the United States, leaving virtually no wealth in the hands of the bottom twenty percent.

Economic inequality that characterized the United States at its inception continues to influence contemporary institutional practices and American social institutions routinely discriminate against African Americans denying them the means of acquiring human capital (innate individual capacities such as talent and motivation combined with achieved qualities such as educational qualifications and employment experiences). Limited to segregated neighborhoods, educated in inferior schools, and lacking access to the good jobs that are increasingly located in inaccessible suburban neighborhoods, African Americans bear an unfair share of the costs and economic inequality in the United States constitutes economic injustice.

Recurring discrimination in workplaces and elsewhere wastes human capital and seriously restricts and marginalizes its victims. The negative impact of racial animosity and discrimination includes a sense of threat at work or elsewhere, lowered self-esteem, rage at mistreatment, depression, the development of defensive tactics, a reduction in desire for normal interaction, and other psychological problems. The costs of racial animosity and discrimination extends well beyond the individual to families and communities. While many African Americans may have managed to overcome discrimination, their struggle will take a toll in their personal health or on the ability to maximize contributions to the larger society.

Discussion:

Are some blacks becoming a "black bourgeoisie?"

Are some blacks controlling the wealth and power within the black community and turning its back on its own people?

Are many members of black America adopting the values, standards and ideals of the white middle class, and are trying to distance themselves from the black poor?

In the 1960s, federal entitlement programs, civil rights legislation, equal opportunity statutes and affirmative action programs broke the open barriers of legal segregation. The path to universities and corporations for some blacks was now wide open. More blacks than ever did what their parents only dreamed of – they fled blighted inner-city areas in droves. The new frontier, business where the dollar is made and where significant wealth and resources are at stake.

But, is there a widening rift between the black haves and the black have-nots that has been blurred by racism, ignored by blacks and hidden from white society?

Is black wealth, like white wealth, now concentrated in fewer hands?

A study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, shows progress toward school desegregation peaked in late 1980s. That is a half-century after the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of American education, schools are almost as segregated as they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The report said that a massive migration of black families toward the suburbs is producing "hundreds of new segregated and unequal schools and frustrating the dream of middle-class minority families." According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test report, by the 12th grade, on average, black students (in the United States) are four years behind those who are white or Asain.

The "NAEP" test report not only average scores for each racial or ethnic group; they also place each individual test-taker in one of four different "achievement levels." The bottom is labeled below basic, which is reserved for students unable to display even "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills." In five of the seven subjects tested, a majority of black twelfth graders perform Below Basic. In math, the figure is almost seven out of ten, in science more than three out of four.

While this gap may not be hidden from public, black republicans have been inhibited from describing the problem in its full dimensions. But closing the skills gap is the answer to real racial equality in American society.

What, in fact, are black republicans doing with what they aggregate?

Access to positions of power and prestige – and to well-paying jobs in general – are limited because blacks typically leave high school with an eighth-grade education. The status of blacks today is different than it was a half century ago, when almost 90 percent of blacks lived in poverty. By now more than 40 percent of blacks describe themselves as middle class, and a third live in suburbs. College attendance rates are as high although a high percentage drop out before getting a four-year degree. African-Americans are CEOs and occupy lofty positions in the federal government. But all is not well.

The most discouraging news of all is that which has been barely discussed by black leaders: the appalling racial gap in academic achievement in the K-12 years. Without an education, black children are slaves to the world they live in. Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision struck down legalized school segregation to give equal educational access to African Americans and other minorities. But, today's major American educational issue still involves race.

Blacks have no choice but to prepare its young. At least three black men ascended in the aftermath of civil rights movement to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and an additional 275 or more senior black executives are now no less than three steps away from the CEO. They've attended the nation's most prestigious schools, learned how to navigate the highest reaches of the systems, and they have thrived.

But, for all their great wealth and enormous resources, it appears most sucessful blacks remain absent from the struggle of educating our young. Recently, Kmart Holding Corp. chose Aylwin Lewis to improve the giant retailer's image and operation. Lewis joins Stanley O'Neal of Merrill Lynch, Richard Parsons of Time Warner, Ken Chenault of American Express and Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae as the only African American chief executives heading top publicly trading companies in the U.S.

Corporations today say they do look to a talent pool largely comprising minorities and women for their senior and middle managers. But the level of education and the caliber of schools blacks attended are not equal, and the competition for market share is so ferocious that companies must recruit the best talent.

George W. Bush appealed to Americans' best instincts when he declared that no child should be left behind.

But?

All agree that every child in America should have the same opportunity to reach his or her full potential regardless of the color of skin, gender or the income level of the child's parents. The president's plan has set up millions of vulnerable kids for failure, leaving black youth with another dose of mostly symbolic politics. The education reform accountability system based on annual testing in grades three through eight that financially sanctions schools that do not show quick improvement, will do a great deal of additional damage to the children in America's most-troubled public schools. It is wrong to expect schools to succeed virtually overnight when so little is done to attack inequalities in education.

How can he expect the poorest children, who face every disadvantage, to do as well as those who have every advantage?

Given Bush's spending priorities there is little left to finance his efforts to leave no child behind. Further, by the time students enter the third grade, when the Bush testing plan would kick in, much already has been determined about whether individual children will succeed or struggle academically.

America's schools must be accountable to the children being educated in them and to their parents. But making high-stakes annual tests the sole determinant for students and their schools, and imposing major costs on those who fail, is counterproductive.

In closing, assessment should measure, not drive, education reform. Why force schools to spend thousands on consultants to teach test-taking strategies instead of substantive learning? The magic that can happen between a creative teacher and engaged students is too often lost in schools driven by test preparation.




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