Speakers at the National Urban League’s “State of Black America” (SOBA) town hall held recently at Howard University didn’t hold back on what they see is a deliberate and calculated attempt by the Republican Party to suppress the Black vote.
During a three hour event where the national civil rights organization formally released its latest State of Black America report and equality index, Chanelle Hardy, NUL Senior Vice President for Policy and Executive Director, said that “As we continue our work, a shocking pattern of legislative activity began to consume more and more of our attention and that is this eerily familiar assault on our hard won voting rights.”
“This is about a shifting target of legislation that begins by analyzing what types of trends are showing up in young people, people of color, disabled people, elderly people, low-income people getting to the polls and creating creating bills to prevent those patterns from repeating in 2012,” Hardy added.
Hardy said the report, “Occupy the Vote to Educate, Employ and Empower,” details steps the organization is taking to secure voter rights including the launch of an “Occupy the Vote” center, an online site at its Iamempowered.com. The website will serve as a comprehensive source to educate voters about voter laws, links to an information hotline and tools for securing a voter registration form.
The NUL began issuing its SOBA report after then General Counsel Vernon Jordan took note when President Gerald Ford’s State of the Union never addressed Black people. Ford “… did not mention Urban, Black, poor people or their concerns even once,” said NUL President Marc Morial. “So Vernon Jordan, at that time, said, if he will not do it then the National Urban League would.”
“I must report that the state of Black America is under attack,” warned Morial. “Tens and thousands of school teachers are laid off in cities and therefore the quality of education is under attack. When 10% of people control 2/3rd of the wealth in this nation. When unemployment is double digit in most economic urban centers, economic equality is under attack. When the right to vote is under attack, democracy is under attack.”
Several of those who contributed essays to the report spoke during the panel portion of the town hall, including activist and author Kevin Powell who urged the audience to support Black communities. He targeted successful Blacks who have made it but then abandon the communities they came from. “We think other people’s Kool Aid is better than our Kool Aid,” Powell said. “We dont’ have to look to other people. Let’s look at our histories.”
Author, blogger and political columnist Keli Goff said she saw the discrepancies in opportunities for Blacks to be rooted in economic inequities.
Addressing the upcoming US Supreme Court affirmative action review, Goff said, “Even though I don’t come from a rich background, I was able to have a bit of a leg up by piecing together a bit of financial aid. At this point, the leg up that people like me needed, that leg up is getting kicked down one leg at a time and that chair is collapsing on this generation.”
“We have all been conned to believe this issue is about race, when the issue of real injustice when it comes to college admission, college affordability and graduate school is really about class not race,” added Goff.
Goff cited studies that even conservatives agree with. “America has officially been designated one of the least upwardly mobile first world countries on the planet….In England, where they have a queen and king, it is easier to move up,” she said noting that “we see an activist movement right now because we are sick of it.”
Panelist and noted radio host Warren Ballentine said African Americans ought to not rely on others to fix their communities but do more to support them, and urged parents to send their children to HBCUs and to put their money in Black banks.
Addressing experts and policy makers who prefer to have the market control policy, Nolan Rollins, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, said that smart market-based policies will not work if it permitted whole pockets of American society to become destabilized.
“You see bail outs and tax policies developed to keep industry going,” he noted. “How do we keep community going? If we were really smart about how we utilize them, we would help the economy.”
Meanwhile, educators on the panel like Howard University School of Education Dean Dr. Leslie Fenwick saw the virtual absence of African American educators contributing to the decay in inner city schools.
She seemingly praised the era of segregated schools pointing out that during that era, “you had models of intellectual authority” and that there were “Black teachers teaching Black students.” Today, 73% of inner city teachers are White, 91% of teachers in urban centers are white, and 68% of inner city principals are White – yet, the majority American inner city students are Latinos and Whites.
The difference, according to Fenwick, is that Black and Latino teachers are less likely to refer students of color to special education. In fact, they are more likely to refer students of color for gifted programs and students are less likely to be suspended or expelled. They are also more likely to graduate in four years.
“This country needs to diversify its teaching force,” Fenwick said. “It has not, en masse, been cultivated by Black educational leadership.”