Despite tremendous social, political and economic progress made in the Black community over the past 50 years, the wide economic, educational, and political participation disparities between minorities and their White counterparts prove there is still much to be done.
This according to the Joint Center, a prominent think tank founded in the wake of the Voting Rights Act of the mid-1960s to support and encourage civic and political participation in the African American community.
But unlike many research institutes, they’re not just pointing out the obvious. The Joint Center has decided to shake up the scene with a new institute devoted to studying and promoting minority political participation and governance. The very aptly named Civic Engagement and Governance Institute was launched recently at a National Press Club ceremony.
Is there still a need for an institute dedicated to eliminating political engagement disparities between ethnicities? Sometimes it’s hard for younger generations, unexposed to legal segregation or racially motivated brutality, to understand that there is.
Robert Mallett, the Executive VP of UnitedHealth Group and a member of the Joint Center’s Board of Governors, commented on the real need for today’s minorities.
“Despite electing Barack Obama, despite all the progress, this is not a new era of post-racial politics,” said Mallett. “Housing, income, and even voting rights disparities continue to plague minority society.”
Mallett described the lack of political representation for Blacks and other minorities, an increasing disillusionment with government, and the relatively unknown and changing technological environment as reasons to educate and promote participation.
“Blacks are not participating in politics as they should be. They are participating at a much lower percentage compared to their population . . . With online voter registration and young Blacks adopting broadband at the highest rates, there is no excuse for the lack of participation.”
Dr. Dianne Pinderhughes, Notre Dame Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies, described the opportunity to work with the Joint Center as an “opportunity for reflecting and learning from the past.”
“[The Joint Center] is a key source of information and analysis for people of color,” said Dr. Pinderhughes, describing how no other organization is as adept as the Joint Center at catering to the economic and political needs of African Americans and other minorities.
Kurt Schmoke, Dean of the Howard University School of Law and former Mayor of Baltimore, gave a great example of the disparity amongst generations and highlighted the continuing need for promoting political engagement. With the pending nomination of Barack Obama in 2008, Dean Schmoke remembers arguing with his students about the possibility of a Black man being elected President. He didn’t think the country was ready for it. His students knew we were.
“They said I didn’t understand because I was an elected official from the last century,” he said to the laughter of the audience. “Although technically true, as I left office in 1999, this proves that although the times are changing rapidly and more civic engagement is occurring, more is still needed.”
Over the last 40 years the theme of the organization has been “research, empowerment, and engagement, all of which will be applied to this new project,” said Schmoke.
Justin Vélez-Hagan is Senior Contributing Writer and Commentator for Politic365.com. He is also the National Executive Director of The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, an international developer of senior living facilities, and is a reservist in the U.S. Air Force. He can be reached at Justin@Politic365.com.