Keith C. Burris
For days now, the nation has been observing the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. President Obama will stand about where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, when he gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. The President will surely remind us the march was about full employment and good wages, as well as civil rights.
So how are we doing?
Most would agree with what Colin Powell said Sunday — that we have made enormous progress on civil rights. Jim Crow is dead. Legal segregation is largely a thing of the past.
Moreover, issues such as interracial marriage, which seemed so large 40 years ago, are now nonissues.
But then we have the bleak prospects for young black men — joblessness, high-incarceration rates, and urban violence. Where are the tickets out? The Schott Foundation for Public Education reports that 52 percent of black males who entered ninth grade in the 2006-07 school year graduated in four years. For white males the rate is 78 percent.
We have made much progress. But there is still a lot to do.
In 2012, the black unemployment rate was 14 percent (twice the white unemployment rate) and higher than the overall unemployment rate in the Great Depression — 13.1 percent.
At a town hall-style meeting at Binghamton University in New York, Mr. Obama said: Let’s assume that we eliminated all discrimination magically with a wand, and everybody had goodness in their heart, you’d still have a situation in which there are a lot of folks who are poor, and whose families have become dysfunctional, because of a long legacy of poverty, and live in neighborhoods that are run-down and schools that are underfunded and don’t have a strong property tax base.”
His solution? Expansion of early childhood education; rebuilding schools, roads and bridges; more funding for community colleges; raising the minimum wage, and making college more affordable.
What about Toledo, where more and more people seem to be slipping into poverty, the housing stock is deplorable in the inner city, and joblessness is higher than Ohio’s average (9.2 percent versus 7.2)?
There is a possible agenda:
Fix the Department of Neighborhoods — rethink it, as Councilman D. Michael Collins says, and appoint a housing czar, as Councilman Joe McNamara says.
Create a blight authority and expand the definition of blight to include health and sanitary conditions, as former mayor and current council candidate Jack Ford says.
Fully fund city shelters. With less shelter funding, more people will be homeless. Simple as that.
Consolidate, where possible, city and county anti-poverty programs to eliminate duplication and increase efficiency and effectiveness.
Finally, the mayor should be involved personally in the affairs of challenged neighborhoods — doing all he or she can to bring small business and an end to gang violence.
Today the dream is not legal equality but economic opportunity. The dream is not visionary but practical. It is still national, but more than ever, it is local.
As long as we keep marching forward together and keep working toward achievable goals, Mr. King’s dream, the American dream, will continue to unfold.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.