We celebrate Black History Month– and look to the future

As we celebrate Black History Month, we take note of what still needs to be done to ensure equal opportunity for everyone.

We believe that progress should be honored. It’s hard to overstate how far African Americans have come since the founding of this nation, thanks to their ingenuity, brilliance, and determination. Although misinformation and prejudice persists, the facts speak for themselves.

Last Friday, we told you about Author Monique Morris’ mission to debunk common misconceptions about African Americans. Mother Jones illustrated some of the findings (see graphs).

We believe that community-building requires organization and advocacy. Regardless of racial makeup, all communities face their own unique challenges and enjoy unique assets. In a supplement to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Dr. Robert K. Ross, the CEO of The California Endowment, suggests that scaling up ideas that already work— rather than chasing the next new idea– is the solution for addressing social inequity. He describes how listening to and mobilizing a community can produce better results than searching for a panacea.

Ross shared an example. “A few years ago, The California Endowment’s board of directors visited a Fresno nonprofit focused on creating health-promoting environments for young people in 14 economically distressed communities across California,” he explained. “During this visit, we heard directly from youth leaders about a burning issue that was not on our radar screen: schools’ over-reliance on suspensions.”

Ross wrote:

Funding advocacy and community organizing may not be as glamorous, neat, or tidy as supporting the next great program or organization. It’s difficult to capture the results in a glossy bar graph or pie chart, and it doesn’t necessarily lead to easy photo opportunities like stocking a neighborhood food bank. But philanthropy has to recognize that community power, voice, and advocacy are, to use a football analogy, the blocking and tackling of winning social change.

We believe that fair housing is a civil liberty all Americans should enjoy. In 2012, the ACLU sued Morgan Stanley for alleged violation of the Fair Housing Act, and in a article first published by Equal Justice Society, john powell, of Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, framed the housing crisis in terms of civil rights.

“Wherever there is a dual system, whether it is a dual school system or a dual credit system, it suggests we are treating some groups as though they are not full members of society,” powell wrote. “Until this is fully addressed, there is not a post-civil rights movement, only a civil rights one.”

Praxia Partners understands that predatory lending exacerbates inequity. We also know that African American homeownership is good for America. Through the Sustainable Community Investment Fund, we are committed to revitalizing marginalized communities hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, so home prices are restored and communities can heal.

“All built neighborhoods have been profoundly impacted by the banking crisis,” said Praxia Partners’ founder, Joe Recchie. “Our focus has been wresting control of these valuable assets from the banks that own the neighborhoods. To my knowledge, no housing has been improved by a bank in Eastmoor [a Columbus, Ohio suburb]. Instead, the tragic foreclosures have only undermined the remaining homeowners values in their property. The reverse occurs when new investment is made, and that is our strategy.”

We believe that education is an integral facet of community-building. The days of state-sanctioned segregation are over, but inequity and lack of equal opportunity persist. This is not a matter that affects only black and “minority” students. This issue affects every single student in America.

Philip Tegeler’s op-ed, “Memo to Department of Education: Diverse Classrooms Create a Better America,” states, “A recent study by the Connecticut Department of Education found that Hartford students who attended voluntary integration programs last year with a mix of suburban and city students performed better in math, reading, writing and science. The percentage of students who achieved at or above proficiency on state tests was 20 to 40 percentage points higher for Hartford students in racially and economically diverse classrooms.”  He also points to a study by the National Coalition on School Diversity that shows how “non-minority” students benefit from diverse learning environments.

When communities are revitalized, tax bases are bolstered and public schools improve. When we fight discriminatory banking practices, neighborhoods are protected from predatory lending. When we ensure the right of families to live in their community of choice, we progress as a nation.

While it’s important to celebrate Black History Month, we also take note of what must be done in the present and in the future to make sure that everyone truly has access to equal opportunities– and a shot at the American dream.

About Holly

Holly Jensen is a writer and poet who has worked with nonprofits and businesses for over a decade. She also serves as editor of The Ghazal Page, an international literary journal.
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