I recently attended an impact forum at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate to listen to Geoffrey Canada speak about a community empowerment project he implemented in Harlem. Canada is an American educator, social activist and author, who holds psychology and sociology degrees from Bowdoin College, and a Master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
One of the takeaways for me was that research shows that if we don’t remove children by the age of 13 from a violent, impoverished environment, we cut in half the probability of these children ever leaving poverty and accumulating wealth. So based on this information, we can predict that if we continue down this path, our children and grandchildren of color, and many generations after, will continue to live in poverty.
Minority communities have a disproportionate number of incarcerations, mistrials, harsher sentences, low home ownership, higher high school dropout rates, lack of access to higher education, low college enrollment and higher access and dependency to subsidies.
History tells us that whites have benefited from subsidies as much as other minorities, but historically, their subsidies were provided following a different set of rules. They were given subsidies following two goals: first as a survival mechanism, but most importantly as a vehicle to accumulate wealth, unlike the benefit package that is given to minorities, that, I think, only follows one rule: to keep poor people poor.
It’s very clear to me that minorities have been historically given a position of disadvantage and were totally not given good cards in this game called life. That said, when are we going to wake up and face this reality? When are we going to change the narrative? When are we going to stop believing that the system somehow will treat minorities with institutional and civic fairness? When will we stop asking, and start empowering our community to rise up to the challenge, instead of encouraging them to go ask for free or discounted things? I say this with the utmost respect for each and every advocate and activist out there doing this type of work. But, maybe, our strategy needs to change and all of the effort should be put into rallying our own communities in order for them to properly prepare our young, instead of organizing people to ask for free or discounted things.
I think the time has come to truly accept that our realities are different. And as a result we need to use a different strategy that prepares us, especially our children, with every tool necessary to tear down stereotypes, knock down biases, push open closed doors and fight for what they deserve. In order to find inclusiveness and equity we need to be intentional and disruptive. We need to use education, labor training, financial literacy, healthy family planning, and prevention and intense protection from diseases such as substance abuse, as pillars to create this new generation of leaders. This is the only way I believe that can help us even the playing field and achieve what will never voluntarily be given to us. The reality is that we will be perceived as half as good, so we need to be twice as good in order to get what we rightfully deserve.
So, my question is: When do you think enough is enough? If you ask me, it’s time for change. Now.