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Black Community: Which Way Is Up?
By Nii-Quartelai Quartey
California is at a crossroads and the Black community among some of the state's most vulnerable populations is preparing to walk the plank as California lawmakers try once again to address a budget shortfall, this time in excess of $19 billion.
Simply put: There is no more meat on the bone to cut, so look for lawmakers to go for the bone marrow in an attempt to balance the budget.
Expect the next round of budget cuts to be painful but don't allow lawmakers to squander the best opportunities for the highest return on investments during this deep economic recession--we the people. While it's tempting to spend the remainder of this article and perhaps a series of other articles pontificating about how the Black community may have lead itself onto the plank, I find it much more productive to better understand the consequences of disinvestment from bold and aggressive strategies to turn around the devolution of resources intended to support some of the most vulnerable populations to become increasingly less vulnerable.
Recently I listened to a National Public Radio (NPR) debate featuring Former California Governor Grey Davis and Van Jones Former Special Advisor to the President Obama, among a few less familiar industry leaders that sounded more like the tale of two California than anything else. The debate topic: "Is California the First Failed State?"
Gov. Davis and Mr. Jones, seemingly over optimistic about California's future given the bleak social and economic landscape, made me wonder if they were aware of the 12% state unemployment rate, high school drop-out rates upward of 60% in some areas, the 33% single-year tuition fee increase for students attending California public college/universities, and an elevating HIV/AIDS infection rate with no local or state wide leadership with a bold and aggressive prevention, education, or policy prescriptions in-hand.
I wondered if they lived in the same California. I've been organizing in. Had they forgotten that we the people drive innovation, technology, and development in California? Improving the quality of life of African-Americans in California among other most vulnerable populations makes all communities more competitive in the 21st century. Disinvestment from the safety net programs, institutions, and opportunities for social and economic innovation cannot go for the norm in Sacramento or quite frankly in the looming California State Budget anymore.
The answer to these monumental challenges facing African-Americans and other vulnerable populations is not simply another stimulus package or government bailout, the answer involves loving ourselves and believing in the promise of our community more than rigid political ideology that sometimes keeps us from supporting good leaders that may be less connected to the donors and interest groups that have a stronger hand in selecting our elected and non-elected leadership.
We are the sleeping giants that will forever be comatose, unless we wake up and activate our power around a shared purpose--a healthy, better educated, thriving community. Do not be fooled: elected leadership works for us.
We must keep the pressure on them for bold and aggressive strategies to address:
- An almost 20% unemployment rate among African-Americans and lack of job training
- An increasing rate of HIV/AIDS infection due to severe cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and treatment budgets
- An inequitable public education system failing upwards of 60% of largely Black and Latino low-income students.
Outreach to elected and non-elected leadership through office visits, phone calls, letters, and community organizational pressure will be essential to strengthening communities on the decline.
Yes we can demand a responsible state budget that doesn't force the elderly to choose between food or medicine; Yes we can demand a responsible state budget that doesn't force HIV/AIDS health care agencies to choose between treatment or prevention; Yes we can demand a responsible state budget that doesn't invest more in prisons than k-12 education. Change is simple: it starts with you or ends in the absence of your activism.