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Published: Friday, 1/10/2014 - Updated: 11 months ago

COMMENTARY

Talk must continue, but it’s time to act

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

David Johns, a bright and passionate young African-American, gave a fine talk at the University of Toledo Thursday night.

Mr. Johns is an assistant to the president of United States and heads up the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. He's working on some important things, including early childhood education; increasing literacy, especially science and math literacy; empowering parents; and recruiting black male teachers.

He was funny and eloquent. I loved what he said about diversity within the black community. I wish him well. And more than well: funding.

Mr. Johns speech was the second in a series and part of a recent initiative of the Toledo Community Coalition, a group seeking to raise awareness of racism and promote interracial dialogue. It was followed by an enlightening panel discussion.

One young man on the panel talked about the need for dialogue, because the races remain,"two kinds of people who don't know each other."

Another talked about how teachers must give students their time. Not time for academic preparation but from themselves.

These young men moved me. As did Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant. His passion, devotion, and growth are something to see.

Mr. Johns said: "The conversation cannot end here." He's right. Because if it is honest, integrated, and sustained, it will change hearts and minds, one at a time.

At the same time, I know this: the conversation cannot is not enough. Not any more. Toledo needs action -- specifically action in behalf of young black and Hispanic men of the central city.

The racism discussion is one thing. Raising awareness and building bridges is another, and most laudable. But the loss of another generation of minority males, who often leave behind un-cared-for children, is a clear and present danger -- a crisis that is here now. What are we -- not in D.C. but here in Toledo -- prepared to do about it? Today and tomorrow?

Another ad hoc group, supportive not competitive, has begun to meet. It is informally chaired by Baldemar Velasquez, head of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. They don't even have a name. But one of their members suggests -- "the organizers."

Two ideas have come out of only two meetings of this group, again, a fledgling band. One is that, funded by grants and private charities, urban youth be organized. Mind you, some are organized now -- as gang members. But what if there were an alternative organization like Mr. Durant's "young women and men of excellence"? What if this program were expanded to more and more youth? What if its mission were also expanded to public service projects and to peer-to-peer mentoring? What if there were stipends and summer jobs to come from membership?

It is one idea. Not necessarily the idea. But an action idea.

And, again, the larger conversation has to keep going. But there has to be an action component. It is time for doing.

The second action idea is more focused: A revived, well-funded, modern, state-of-the-art vocational education high school -- in the central city. Technical education. Jobs. Economic power.

Mr. Velasquez says he wants to launch a "new war on poverty" in Toledo. I think he can. I would like to see the Community Coalition and the organizers reach out to each other, and to Toledo corporate and business leaders, and -- dare it be said ? -- Republicans. That's how former Mayor Jack Ford got CareNet going. A corporate CEO signed on. We need capitalists and practical men right now.

I believe that, working together, a major initiative to actually do something for the youngsters we all say we are concerned about could be roughed out in a working weekend. It wouldn't be a solution. But it would be a start.

Like the man says in the commercial: "Let's build something together."

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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