I’ve spent my entire career as a civil rights activist and anti-violence advocate. I hear from folks all over the country about how fed-up they are—how much they want change—but they don’t know where to start. It’s not enough just to be informed, we’ve got to work tirelessly to do better. With the “The Lookout,” I’ll collect the most important stories and action items that you need to know about and things you can do each week, keeping you involved so you can create positive change for yourself and your community.
1. Spotlight on Black Male Achievement
It’s about time we close the achievement gap and get black men on track for success instead of prison, or worse, the grave. President Obama announced last week that the White House will roll out a new campaign called “My Brother’s Keeper,” designed to enhance opportunities for young men of color. I know a lot of us are used to hearing promises about how some program or another is gonna make our lives better, and then never seeing any results. But let me tell you, this is not your average program that’s all talk and no substance—and my colleagues, Michael Blake, former White House staffer, and Michael Skolnik, editor-in-chief of Global Grind, who work closely with this administration will attest to that. With “My Brother’s Keeper,” the President and his team are thinking outside the box, funding diverse strategies from across the country, then getting those leaders and organizers into a room together to figure out what works and what doesn’t. This is an overhaul of the entire system. When the White House publishes the numbers from these projects we’ll be able to understand exactly what tactics we need to use, and maybe more importantly, which tactics we need to stop using to get more men of color on track for the opportunities they need. That’s not a promise, that’s a fact. As the mother of a teenage son, I’m quite excited about the possibilities.
2. Charter Schools Vs. Public Schools
Now let’s talk about something we can do in the meantime. While we talk about charter schools, let’s obsess on talking about public education. Let’s make it clear; I’m not anti-charter schools. I welcome alternative forms of education. I welcome anything that helps to get our kids on track for the opportunities they deserve—please, bring it on, we need it! The problem, at least in New York City, is that the overwhelming conversation around charter schools takes the focus off of how we fund public education. Public school is where most of our kids are spending their days not just learning math and history, but also learning how to socialize and seeing how they fit into the world around them. Without the resources to teach our children; no books, classrooms falling apart, no funding for extracurricular activities, etc., they’re not just losing out on education, they’re losing an identity of equality and self-worth compared to their charter school peers—with classrooms in the same building—who have all the resources and support that our public school kids don’t, but desperately need.
What Mayor de Blasio seems to be trying to do in New York City (and catching a lot of flack for) is make sure public education get’s the focus and the funding it deserves. Let’s not make it an “us vs. them” situation; let’s stop talking about charter schools like they’re the enemy of reform and start talking about public schools like they’re an opportunity for reform. We talk so much about changing the public education system, now it’s time to act. Some say that Mayor de Blasio’s choice to reform the way that charter schools exists in NYC is his way of paying back the labor unions for supporting him during the election—I personally don’t believe that this is true, but what I know for sure is that “no child left behind” should mean just that. We cannot let some children fail while others succeed, which means throwing a wrench in the plans to educationally segregate our children. It might be a good idea to pump the breaks to refocus our energy into public education.
3. If You Build It, They Will Come
After two slow months, manufacturing is up in Georgia and a few other states around the country, which means more jobs for unemployed Americans. If Georgia’s boost is any indication of where the manufacturing industry is going, then President Obama’s plans to bolster the industry in Detroit and Chicago with $140 Million could be good news for the whole country. Analysts say it’s too early to tell for sure, but this trend is definitely a good sign. Because even though the unemployment rate dropped overall in the last two months, we still have over 10 million Americans, many of them black Americans, without jobs and more than 2 million without unemployment insurance. It’s not nearly enough, but knowing that the manufacturing industry is growing could mean a lot more people climbing their way out of poverty and into opportunity. And there is no doubt, we are desperate for opportunity.
4. What Happens When Progress Isn’t “Progress” For Everyone?
There’s always been debate around gentrification, but after Spike Lee’s impassioned speech last week highlighting the cultural divisions and changes in his native Brooklyn neighborhood, the subject started getting a little more attention. Cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York City are starting to gentrify pretty quickly and, just like in Lee’s Brooklyn, that means a lot of folks coming into mostly minority, low-income neighborhoods, hiking up the rent and pushing local residents further and further from the city center. It’s a lose-lose situation for folks because more income and business in the neighborhood tends to come with more economic activity, better schools, and often-safer streets—which community organizers and local residents often spend their lives fighting for. Yet, the original residents only get to enjoy the perks for so long, until they wake up one day and the demand for housing in this newly improved neighborhood means they can’t afford their rent anymore.
Finding a balance between improving these neighborhoods and maintaining a space for low-income residents is the number one issue that was the heart of Spike Lee’s speech and the debate in general. Fortunately we’ve heard that Detroit and Philadelphia are trying to do something about that. By cutting property taxes for existing residents, these cities are giving folks a fighting chance against gentrification and ensuring that diversity of all kinds, racial, cultural, and economic, is thriving throughout the country. However, as we see more cities begin to use gentrification to try and grow the economy in their area, we need to organize our community leaders and organizers to push back against the marginalizing of local residents.
5. It’s Not Over Until We’re All Free
Sunday night’s Academy Awards were historic. Kenyan Actress Lupita Nyong’o won Best Supporting Actress, only one of 6 black women to ever win that award. And when British director and producer, Steve McQueen, accepted the award of Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave, it was the first time in 86 years that a black person ever won in that category. That it took nearly 100 years is disgraceful, but that we can all celebrate and reward the talents of black folks on the world’s stage is another brick in our long road to equality.
It’s that unfinished road that McQueen called out in his speech, dedicating his award to “the 21 million people still in slavery.” Because even now in 2014, there are millions of men, women, and children who are brutalized and stripped of their humanity, kidnapped and trafficked around the globe in an illegal sex and slave trade; and millions more are enslaved by inequality and injustice. If we can come together to celebrate the successes of black men and women from around the world for portraying the struggle of our ancestors (and their ancestors) in 12 Years a Slave, then we’ve got to come together to recognize that the struggle still remains for our global brothers and sisters today. In Uganda right now personal freedoms are under attack. An anti-pornography law banned women from wearing miniskirts, and those who do have been sexually harassed; men who disapproved of their choice of clothing have even stripped some women naked in the street without consequence. Not to mention the strict anti-gay laws in Uganda sending men and women to prison. Even as we fight injustice here at home, we have to know that our struggle isn’t just local, it’s global—we can’t be free if our brothers and sisters are still in chains.
I want to hear from you; what’s going on in your community? What stories or events should folks know about? Leave a comment below.
Called “a leader of tomorrow” by Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie B. Jarrett, Tamika D. Mallory is a nationally recognized leader and civil rights activist. Tamika is the Founder/President of Mallory Consulting, LLC and the former Executive Director of the National Action Network (NAN), one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations. She is featured regularly as a leading voice on key social justice issues and is currently making headlines around the country for her tireless activism and strong stance on women’s issues, anti-violence, young adult advocacy, and decency.