Bridging the Gap in Black America

Niagara Falls

It has been a hard month in lovely Minnesota. You see here in the North there is a depression going on. Not amongst most Minnesotans of course. But among its African American citizens there is very very very little to cheer about. We have seen our friends and families hurt and even killed by the police. We have literally lost ground year over year compared to our peer groups and while we have made ground up in unemployment, our average wages are half of the household averages.

So what the heck happened here? We have some of the best schools in the country here. We have a high concentration of Fortune 500 companies. We have a Black Congressman! Surely we should be making more progress. But we are not. We are trapped by a vision and as long as a community we wait for that vision to manifest we will never move forward. And this is not just a Minnesota problem, but a national crisis. The Federal government isn’t coming Puerto Rico and Katrina have taught us this. We all have a part to play.

So what is this vision? That is part of the problem. There isn’t a vision but visions that amount to the same meta narrative. We are suffering from history of slavery and Jim Crow. As a result we are behind and only by receiving reparations or better legislation,or access to capital or, more government protections can we finally realize Martin Luther King’s vision of the Mountain Top.

But this vision is bullshit and as community we need to turn away from it and focus on creating power through leadership and equity. Vision is a pie in the sky ideal that is rarely actionable and frankly unrealistic. Without massive action Blacks will continue to suffer at the hands of the state because by not taking action we are offering ourselves up as willing sheep. We can mitigate this by first building a firm base of economic and academic stability.

Every institution in the Black community and those that interact or partner with it is guilty of maintaining this chasm. The Church for example(and I am not limiting this to the Black Church but most churches that Blacks attend) doesn’t really focus on activities that push people out of bondage into freedom. Instead of focusing on creating personal compelling goals and holding its members accountable for results it focuses on food packs for kids. Now this is a nice to have but actionable goals with communal support and accountability lift people out of poverty not giving away food. Instead of teaching financial management and personal management, and how to run an effective household they preach just wait for Jesus. In lieu of literally teaching people how to apply for jobs effectively and how to present a professional image, they preach Jesus is coming soon……While I have faith he is coming soon…..I am sure he would expect us to lift up our community while we are waiting.

But schools are just as much to blame. Education isn’t actionable. As my spouse and I were walking down our kids high school hallway after yet another waste of time in a conference, we pondered why practical skills were no longer taught? “Those skills aren’t on the ACT!” Shouted a dean back to us. REALLY? Even college grads need to know how to cook, darn a sock, sew a button, repair a door or saw wood. Every graduate needs to know how to use a bank or set a basic budget or how to buy a house or stock. These are skills that separate those who are effective members of society from those who are not. And many low income households lack these skills because some families have never had access to the information. And what academic information is taught well its not placed in a cultural context. Teachers bring their context to the classroom. That context includes language, family culture, and assumptions. If our kids come from homes where the language, family culture and social assumptions are literally 360 degrees different, well it’s no wonder academic progress falls further and further behind. If the books and maths taught are not relatable how can a child possibly get the academic base they need to move on and excel? To develop a habit of reading and curiosity students need to see what’s in it for them. They also need to see themselves in the academic work as more than a victim, but as success stories as well.

And the business community seems to heap on. Many CEO’s complain of a skills gap, a lack of business culture, and etiquette. Yet they choose to simply sit and wait and blame the family instead of training, investing, and here is an idea leading their staffs versus managing to the numbers. There isn’t a constitutional requirement that business solely maximize earnings for their shareholders. Leaders must expand their managerial responsibilities if for no other reason than to expand their customer base by leveraging its people.

So we know Blacks face societal challenges, we know this. But as Black’s we have to decide to get the knowledge. And if you are not Black you have an obligation (it's not all about you!)to teach to lift Blacks out of poverty. A simple example. There are many low income Blacks who lack a banking relationship. As Blacks we have to set a clear goal to get the information about not only how to establish such a relationship but how to manage it over time. We can’t let personal embarrassment or fear stop us. As non Black members of society if you clearly see people being ripped off at check cashing establishment teach someone to fish! Too often people mistake simply not knowing or worse fear for irresponsibility. Rarely is that the case. Be a good American step up and help!

I did mention goals though and as a community Blacks needs to focus on personal goals. We can’t hit a target we can’t see. Goals should be clearly state what you want, with a date certain, and list of the resources needed to achieve the goals. This should be taught in Churches, Mosques etc, and all Schools, and in the workplace in a culturally sensitive way. And for those of us who know this….pass on the knowledge and hold your friends and family accountable for not only learning this but applying this. Too often for those of us fortunate enough to have moved to the middle class we think ourselves too good to help those who have yet to succeed. This needs to end.

If we can execute a rigorous education in culturally relevant language. If we can teach all people how to be members of excellence in society instead of taking the family culture shortcut. And finally if we see something do something about it. Maybe just maybe we can close the gap.