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Local Urban League affiliate issues ‘State of Black New Orleans’

30th July 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

The New Orleans affiliate of the National Urban League released a solutions-based assessment July 24 of the challenges facing Black New Orleans residents in a number of key areas, including economic development, access to health care, educational opportunities and leadership development. Known as the “State of Black New Orleans,” the 50-page document was compiled by a team of area experts and presented at last week’s Urban League conference.

New Orleans Urban League president Nolan Rollins, says his group’s analysis, and the solutions outlined in the report, present an opportunity for area residents to alter the direction of the city, or lose the chance to “improve the lives of the children who are not yet born and who will never know our names, but will feel our presence because we were there before they arrived.”

Economic development

The report’s section on economic development reveals a sobering outlook among Black business owners who perceive the city’s business climate as one that is not friendly to minority interests. A majority of Black business owners balked at “the image that New Orleans extends equal opportunity and access to all businesses regardless of the owner’s race or gender” with “nearly nine of 10 [Black entrepreneurs]…experiencing the denial of business opportunities.”

These obstacles are a leading factor in causing Black business owners to encourage their children to seek opportunities outside of New Orleans. More than 60 percent of Black entrepreneurs featured in the report expressed a desire to see their children kick start their careers in other cities, while an almost equal number of white business owners plan to encourage their children to stay local.

To level the economic playing field for local Black businesses, the report’s authors, contend that expanding the “participation of more minority-owned businesses in economic initiatives in New Orleans is essential to the city’s financial health, well-being and civic engagement.” Doing so is critical, they argue, because minority firms employ more than 23,000 New Orleanians and boast a collective payroll just north of $700 million, while contributing more than $125 million to local and state economies through various taxes and fees.

Concrete steps to address the health of Black businesses, according to the report, include dedicating resources and personnel to monitor minority business trends; providing incentives for major vendors to contract with minority firms; encouraging banks to offer bridge financing to Black entrepreneurs; and increasing public awareness about the perils associated with relegating minority-owned businesses to the margins of the city’s economy.

Education

In the education sector, the report notes the decades-long struggle of local educators to improve school performance in the midst of various budget constraints and attempts to overhaul the learning process in Orleans Parish; and features an analysis of several key areas of interest, including the pursuit of higher education by Blacks, the landscape of primary and secondary education, the city’s high suspension and expulsion rates and the much-talked-about issue of school performance.

Black students continue to be disproportionately affected by rates of suspension and lag behind other groups in obtaining college degrees, but fixing these disparities is not just the right thing to do, the report contends, it is essential so that minority students can “reap the benefits of the Next Economy.”

“New Orleans is attracting the types of businesses that will sustain the city during the Next Economy,” the study argues, “but according to [national research], the New Orleans metro [area] scored in the lowest quartile among the largest 100 metro [areas] for its gap in 2009 in the supply of educated workers relative to demand. This is easy to understand, given that the share of African Americans in the New Orleans metro [area] with postsecondary degrees continues to be lower than the U.S. average. Consequently, African-American and Hispanic households earn 48 percent and 24 percent less income, respectively, than white households in the area.”

But winning the fight for equal education involves more than just better test scores, the report contends. “Mainstream institutions will have to engage with ‘disconnected youth’ in creative ways that simultaneously provide job training, degree attainment, professional development and employment,” while colleges and universities should act to “reshape economies and our collective future” and not simply serve as a “training ground for industry.”

Health

“New Orleans,” the study states, “has been on the cutting edge of medicine for many decades” due to the presence of several state, local and privately funded medical facilities in the region, but that factor is often juxtaposed with Louisiana’s position as “one of the poorest states in America [that] ranks near the bottom of all 50 states on most health measures.”

Poor health disproportionately affects the state’s Black residents and the lack of discretionary income among working-class Louisianans of all stripes creates a demand for state-funded medical services. But the state’s eligibility rules that govern who qualifies for taxpayer-funded medical care are outdated and fail to cover those who are in the greatest need, the report charges.

“Adults without dependent children,” the document points out, have been “ineligible for public coverage no matter how poor” and irregularities in the state’s healthcare program for children caused almost a fourth of the state’s population to be uninsured as recently as 2005.

Solving Louisiana’s problems with access to affordable healthcare include amending the eligibility rules for Medicaid and the state-run children’s health program; creating additional federally backed health clinics in Orleans Parish; and rolling back cuts to psychiatric care.

Leadership

Black New Orleans residents need “institutes that will develop leadership skills and social consciousness.” Moreover, an “evolution of what we perceive to be ‘Black leadership’ is required to achieve these goals, the report said.

“We as African Americans,” according to the report, “are looking for the next Martin [Luther King, Jr.] or Malcolm [X]. Locally, we are looking for the next Dutch [Morial] or Dorothy [Mae Taylor] to lead us from our current situation. However, it is clear that the previous archetypical leadership is not the model to be used in this 21st century because we need sustainable leadership that is not dependent on one individual leader. Essentially, we need African-American leaders whose presence articulates a style that could successfully address the issues and economic dilemmas that many New Orleanians currently face, irrespective of race.”

Over the next 10 years, a new style of Black leadership, the study contends, must emerge in New Orleans and nationwide in order to successfully advocate for marginalized people. But today, the work of local elected officials like U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond and others, along with national figures like President Barack Obama are models for how future Black leadership should appear.

Next steps

Rollins says the local Urban League chapter will present the State of Black New Orleans report in various community settings in the coming months to ensure that the study and some of its findings are not mere talking points, but that the solutions outlined in the document are aired and that confidence is given to area stakeholders to advocate for the proposed changes.

For more information and to obtain the full State of Black New Orleans report, contact the New Orleans Urban League at (504) 620-2332.

This article was originally published in the July 30, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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