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Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Published: 1/13/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

COMMENTARY

Diversity should include capitalists, corporate execs

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

At the Community Coalition's second forum on racism last week, White House aide David Johns said we should keep the conversation going.

We should also get more people involved. In fact, we need to risk political incorrectness if we want to actually get something done.

Let's take diversity, a value many of us say we hold dear. Mr. John's raised a delicate point: the lack of black, male teachers in urban schools. It's a huge problem. Young black men need good role models. Mr. Johns was honest. He said the problem is that we are not graduating enough young black, and Hispanic, kids from high school.

Why is that?

Well, it's complicated. Mr. Johns talked about the discipline gap. He talked about how many families do not reward their young for academic excellence. But he did not talk about reviving vocational education in public high schools. Many involved people tell me that needs to happen in Toledo.

Mr. Johns wants more young black men to go to college. Fair enough. But if a traditional academic program doesn't work for a kid, why not offer an alternative? We do for wealthy suburban kids. If vo-tech gets young people jobs, it's not exactly “classist” to open that door, is it?

We seldom talk about another kind of diversity — including folks who are not already members of the choir: people who do not think like the people holding the meeting.

I'd like to hear a panel discussion on race that includes a Republican.

I'd like to hear a forum or symposium on poverty that included a capitalist. After all, business people built the great physical structures, and most of the great public institutions, in this city. Too many of our conversations about urban problems are closed circles in which the talk is self-congratulatory.

I wrote last week about two groups I have been covering: the Community Coalition, which is concerned with raising consciousness about racism, and the newly formed group headed by Baldemar Velasquez, concerned more with poverty and practical remedies. (The second group doesn't even have a name yet but is called by one of its members “the organizers.”) I think the two groups are complementary. I hope they will work together. I think they both need corporate leaders, and practical men and women from the private sector, in their midst. That's how you build out rather than burrowing in. And that's how you get stuff done — today, tomorrow, and the next day.

Many people I talk to say the most significant thing a Toledo mayor has done in the last 50 years is the creation of CareNet, by former mayor Jack Ford. CareNet provides medical care for the uninsured. But how did Mr. Ford make it happen? He not only had a good idea, he worked with hospital CEOs. Without representation from the corporate world, this great idea would be just an idea; another interesting intellectual orphan.

If we really want to help central city kids, by organizing them, by educating them for real jobs and the economy of the future, by mentoring them and loving them as Romules Durant does, we had better, as Mr. Durant himself agrees, get some Republicans, some capitalists, some small business people, some CEOs involved in our thinking and planning. Diversity has more than one meaning.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

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



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