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U.S. cities, nation face challenges as Americans pause to remember MLK

17th January 2012   ·   0 Comments

Dr. Steve Perry to highlight MLK Week celebration in N.O.

Editor’s Note: As the nation prepares to observe the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday on Mon­day, January 16, New Orleans is one of many U.S. cities beset with problems like Black-on-Black violence, rising homelessness, underfunded public schools, limited access to health care and sharp disagreements about how to use dwindling public resources to address these issues. Just last week, 17 people were shot and two police officers were fired upon during an 18-hour period in New Orleans. Violence erupted in Gentilly and forced an elementary school to evacuate its students after reports that an armed suspect had entered the facility. Late last year, a two-year-old girl was murdered during a bloody shootout and an 11-year-old boy already lost his life to gunfire this year as bullets entered the wall of the home he was visiting. To make matters worse, the divide between City Hall and the Black community appears to be growing after a number of incidents during which the mayor prevented civil rights and community leaders from attending a meeting intended to address Black-on-Black violence and the mayor excluded the NAACP from participating in this year’s MLK Jr. commemorative program in Congo Square. As the political bickering, pettiness and oneupmanship escalate in city, state and federal government, people’s lives are being lost and the city, state and nation are spinning on a downward spiral from which they may never fully recover.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A report released last Friday concluded that the last 30 years of public policy have not produced significant progress toward Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality. According to the Census Bureau, people of color will collectively make up the majority of the population in 2042, 30 years from now. If the country continues along the path that it has been on for the last 30 years, the racial economic divide will remain in 2042 and, in many regards, will be considerably worse. This is the core message of United for a Fair Economy’s (UFE) ninth annual MLK Day report, “State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority.”

The report examines trends across a variety of indicators including income, wealth, education, employment, health and incarceration. It finds that when the U.S. becomes a minority-majority country, the racial economic divide will remain disastrously large and will threaten the stability of the entire economy.

“The early 1980s marked a turning point in U.S. politics. Reagan sparked a ‘me-first’ ideological revolution in Washington, D.C. and beyond,” says Brian Miller, Executive Director of UFE and a co-author of the report. “The policies since have done little for economic progress for people of color, which should raise great concern as these demographic shifts occur. Without a sea-change in public policy, racial inequality will devastate our economy as people of color become the population majority.”

In 2010, Blacks and Latinos earned 57 cents to every dollar of white median family income. Persistent wealth inequality continues to entrench the racial economic divide. Near the height of the housing bubble in 2007, white net worth was five times greater than Black net worth and 3.5 times that of Latino net worth. The Black-white income divide will be only slightly reduced by 2042 if we do not change course, while the Latino income and wealth gaps and the Black wealth divide will all expand.

“Income and wealth inequality lend to a host of other social inequalities that keep people of color locked into cycles of hardship and poverty,” says Wanjiku Mwangi director of UFE’s Racial Wealth Divide program. “If we do not change course, our economy will not be able to provide for the swelling numbers of Blacks and Latinos out of work, in poverty and in prison.”

If current trends continue, in 2042, median Black family income will be 61 cents to every dollar of white median family income. Latinos, who account for the majority of population growth, will continue to experience a decline in economic security, earning only 45 cents for every dollar of income earned by the median white family. In addition, Black poverty will be nearly twice as high as white poverty, and poverty among Latinos will be more than 2.5 times greater than that of whites.

The report argues that the racial economic divide is the legacy of centuries of white supremacy practiced as national policy. “As a nation, we honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a holiday, but we tolerate the perpetuation of racial inequality that he dedicated his life to fighting,” says co-author Tim Sullivan. “The growing share of the non-white population presents an opportunity for Blacks and Latinos to build political power. In this era of extraordinary economic inequality, the fate of the vast majority of the white population is more connected with the economic interests of Blacks and Latinos than with the ruling political elite.”

The report proposes policy solutions to significantly reduce the racial divide. Foreclosure relief, federal aid to states and targeted job creation programs are needed to both combat the economic slump and to reduce racial economic disparities. Longer-term strategies including equity initiatives, wealth-building programs, increasing taxes on the rich, strengthening safety net programs, ending the war on drugs, and humane immigration reform are needed in order to substantially reduce racial inequality.

“Dr. King noted in the 1960s that Blacks have half the income of whites and are twice as likely to be unemployed,” recalls Mwangi. “Sadly, the same words could be used to describe the racial economic disparities that persist today. Closing the racial economic divide is a moral imperative, and should be reflected as such in our public policies.”

The stark realities of last week’s report were not lost on leaders of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, an effort to call to task those who benefit most from the inequitable distribution of wealth in the U.S. and abroad.

Here in New Orleans, Occupy NOLA protesters were “allowed” to assemble in Duncan Plaza across from City Hall for two months before being forced to evacuate by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu. While the group has vacated Duncan Plaza, it continues to exist and has vowed to continue to address the glaring inequities that exist in New Orleans.

This week in New Orleans, educator, speaker and author Dr. Steve Perry will be the keynote speaker for the 26th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Week for Peace, Jan. 16-21, 2012.

The Martin Luther King Week for Peace is presented by Xavier, Tulane, Loyola and Dillard universities. This year’s theme is “When Push Comes to Shove: Where Will You Stand?”

Highlighting the week is Thursday’s (Jan. 19) annual convocation during which Lifetime Achievement and Student Community Service awards will be presented. Students from all four universities will also be honored.

In addition to the convocation, other MLK Week activities include an interfaith service, Expressions of Unity celebration, and a community day of service. All events are free and the public is invited to participate.

Perry is the education columnist for CNN and Essence magazine, and the author of the bestselling self-published book Man Up! In his latest book, Push Has Come to Shove, Perry spares no sacred cows in describing what steps need to be taken to ensure that all American schools, whether urban or suburban, deliver a first-rate education to U.S. kids – the kind of schooling that will return the United States to the top of the global education rankings.

He is also the founder of the Connecticut Collegiate Awareness Program (ConnCAP) at Capital Community College, which over a six-year period sent 100 percent of its low-income first-generation graduates to four-year colleges. That led to the establishment of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut’s lowest-performing district, in 2004. Since its inception that school, too, has sent 100 percent of its graduates to four-year colleges. Capital Prep has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s Best High Schools.

Dr. Perry’s uncompromising, no-excuses approach to designing the ideal educational experience for children led to his being featured on CNN’s documentary “Black in America” and from there to an official role as a weekly education contributor to the network. His “Perry’s Principles” and other reportage, regularly seen on both “Anderson Cooper 360” and “American Morning,” tackles the most contentious issues being debated in American education.

A nationally sought after speaker, he has also appeared on hundreds of radio and television broadcasts and at education and cultural forums around the country.

The complete calendar of MLK events follows:

• Monday, Jan. 16
- Interfaith Service, 6 p.m., Lawless Chapel, Dillard University.

• Thursday, Jan. 19
- MLK Convocation: Reception 5:30 p.m.; Convocation 6:30 p.m., Presentation of Awards, Keynote Speaker Dr. Steve Perry, University Center (Grand Ballroom), Xavier University.

• Friday, Jan. 20
- Expressions of Unity, 7 p.m., McAlister Auditorium, Tulane University.

• Saturday, Jan. 21
- Community Day of Service, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Staging area, Loyola University (Recreation Complex).

For more information, call (504) 520-5420 or (504) 865-5181.

This article was originally published in the January 16, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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