Grim: Job Outlook for Young African-Americans

CHICAGO – Don’t tell D’Andray Jackson hope is lost; he’ll have none of it.

His arms tucked inside a sweatshirt on a cool morning, D’Andray shrugs off the hard math that suggests he, as a young black male, isn’t supposed to make it.

His school, Beidler Elementary on Chicago’s west side, ranked 1,531 out of 2,068 elementary schools statewide. It’s a poor showing, but with 26 percent of the students meeting state averages in reading and math – up from just 2.7 percent eight years ago – there have been gains.

“I have a lot of hope,” said D’Andray, 15, an eighth-grader standing atop busted concrete early on a school day. Asked about career dreams, he shoots high.

“I’m thinking business,” he said. “The CEO of something, anything. … It is crazy, but yeah, I’ve got hope.”

D’Andray’s hope belies the employment record for black youth.

The black youth (ages 16 to 19) unemployment rate for April was 38.2 percent, compared with the white youth unemployment rate of 22.8 percent. Experts say the employment rate is a more telling figure. In April, just 15.5 percent of black youth were employed, compared with 28.3 percent of white youth the same age.

White young people 20 to 24 years old had an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent, compared with blacks in the same age range, who had an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent.

Education is one of the prime requirements for obtaining and keeping a job, according to the experts, and with the high school dropout rate for black youth nearly twice that of white youth, blacks’ employment will be affected throughout their lives.

U.S. Department of Education statistics show that 5.2 percent of white youth between the ages of 16 and 24 are high school dropouts, while 9.6 percent of black youth in the same age range have dropped out. But those numbers do not reflect the overall percentage of the workforce without high school diplomas.

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The R Word

By Marianne Modica

Morning Joy Media

297 pages.

The “‘N word’ equivalent for white people is ‘the R word,’” says Marianne Modica in her Foreword to this young adult novel. People cringe when they are called “racist.” A professor at Valley Forge Christian College, Modica trains future teachers in multicultural education. Racism is expressed subtly today, she says, “in ways that are so much a part of our lives that we don’t notice them.”

Through the eyes of Rachel, a sheltered Italian-American high school junior in a Philadelphia suburb who befriends city youths of color, Modica’s novel explores cultural misperceptions among groups who are isolated from one another. It touches on inequalities in educational facilities and long-standing racial hatreds, on a personal and societal level.

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Not Just A Game:Power, Politics, & American Sports

Not Just a Game: Power, Politics, & American Sports

Directed by Jeremy Earp

Written by Dave Zirin, Jeremy Earp and Chris Boulton Media Education Foundation

62 minutes. BETA/DVD/DVCAM; free online study guide, transcript, and other resources.

This compelling documentary, based on Dave Zirin’s bestselling book “The People’s History of Sports in the United States”, asserts that sports are a cultural and political force that reflects and shapes our national identity – even though “we’ve been told that sports and politics don’t mix.” As the film’s passionate narrator, Zirin juxtaposes historical and recent images from his wide experience as sports editor of The Nation magazine and commentator on sports in print, radio, television and online.

Ever since seeing a team mascot beat up a man in Arab clothing at a basketball game in Madison Square Garden just before the Gulf War in 1991, Zirin has built his career on “trying to understand that murky place where sports and politics collide,” he says. American sports have always shaped “cultural attitudes, norms and power arrangements.” Sports history reveals our struggles with these structures, which affect our “notions of who we are and how we see each other through gender, race, and class.”

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The Legacy of Jim Crow

FARMVILLE, Va. — Parents here are literally begging the Prince Edward County supervisors to increase property taxes next year to make up a $2 million shortfall in the public school budget and prevent teacher layoffs. But none of them are surprised that the supervisors have said no.

Over the past 60 years, this county government has been notoriously cheap, especially when it comes to paying for public education. In fact, the supervisors’ opposition to higher property tax rates has proven to be the most enduring remnant of the old Jim Crow era. This is, after all, the only local jurisdiction in the United States that actually abolished public education for five years – between 1959 and 1964 – to delay racial integration of the schools.

Dozens of parents and teachers showed up at the supervisors’ meeting on April 17 in what they already knew would be a futile effort to change the county’s reputation.

“This is becoming an ‘us-against-them’ community again,” Barbara Arieti, a school counselor, warned the supervisors. “I don’t know why you can’t grasp the concept of ‘we.’ ”

The Rev. Samuel Trent, also a parent, reminded the supervisors that “Prince Edward is a school that nobody wants to send their children to.”

Not one person spoke out against an increase in property taxes. Carolyn DeWolfe, whose grown children were educated in the local public schools during the 1970s, said that pleading with the supervisors for more money for public education has often been considered “a rite of spring” in this rural south-central Virginia community. Parents’ and teachers’ efforts in the past two years have been based on the need to make dramatic improvements at the high school, which in 2010 was officially designated as one of the lowest-performing schools in Virginia.

Meeting to discuss the budget again one week after hearing the testimony of teachers and parents, the supervisors explained that they were against a tax hike because many local taxpayers could not afford to pay it. Vice Chairman Howard Simpson said the schools always have had the funds “that the board thought they have to have.”

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No Real ‘Alternative’

Over the past two years, Patrick Welch has grown accustomed to prison life. The metro Atlanta native must wear a uniform every day. He frequently must step through metal detectors and be patted down by security officers who are checking for weapons and drugs. He can’t move about his living space freely. Common personal items – including cash – are considered “contraband” and therefore are banned. He eats, sleeps and socializes exclusively with the 500 men in his unit.

As an inmate at Coffee Correctional Facility in far southeastern Georgia, Welch, 20, said he was well-prepared for prison life after spending eight months at an Atlanta Public Schools alternative school for disruptive students. A civil rights attorney described the school, Forrest Hill Academy (FHA), as a “prison before prison for the kids.”

Officially, the school was designated as the educational home for hundreds of Atlanta youths moving in and out of the juvenile justice system and those teetering on the edge. In 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sued the school system for operating the middle and high schools as what the group said was actually a “warehouse for poor children of color.”

The increased imposition of zero tolerance policies across the country has spawned similar alternative schools, used to separate suspended students and others with behavioral problems from regular classrooms.

Before he was arrested in 2009, convicted of robbery, hijacking a vehicle, gang participation and theft by taking and sentenced to six years in prison under Georgia’s First Offender Act, Welch was one of the eight named plaintiffs in the 2008 lawsuit seeking improvements at the school.

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The Racial Gap in Learning, Discipline

When is a three-day suspension simply three days out of school, and when is it the first step into the school-to-prison pipeline?

More and more, scholars and researchers are concluding that getting into trouble and having trouble learning are intertwined – most suspensions these days stem from relatively minor conduct infractions – but the experts haven’t decided whether the misbehavior or the trouble learning comes first. And they don’t know whether either or both contribute to black students being punished more frequently and more harshly than white students.

U.S. Department of Education statistics show clear disparities: A survey by the department’s Office for Civil Rights found black students were three and a half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students during the 2009-10 school year. The survey covered public schools attended by 85 percent of all students in the United States.

Other Education Department numbers show blacks lag about 5 percentage points behind whites on test scores, a gap that has remained fairly static since the late 1980s. For the previous 15 years, black students had been narrowing the gap.

Although relatively recent zero tolerance policies have been blamed for high dropout and incarceration rates for black youth, research has found that unequal treatment started long before those policies.

In their article “The Achievement Gap and the Discipline Gap: Two Sides of the Same Coin?” Anne Gregory, Russell Skiba and Pedro Noguera conclude that suspensions increase the disconnection between marginally achieving youth and their schools, causing the students to be “less invested in school rules and coursework and, subsequently, less motivated to achieve academic success.”

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The New Jim Crow

There are now two different versions of African-American history. The first is the inspiring story of slaves who were given their freedom after the Civil War. The second is the tale of a harsher reality in which black Americans have moved from slavery through a series of lesser racial caste systems over the last 150 years. Many of America’s young black men are ensnared in the second story.

The lives of these young men are controlled by what author Michelle Alexander describes as “the new Jim Crow.” The old Jim Crow was a series of laws that limited the freedom of black people after emancipation. When the Jim Crow era ended with the civil rights victories of the 1960s, Alexander says, a new, more colorblind system emerged, based on law-and-order politics, that leads millions of young black men to drop out of school and end up in prison. Along the way, they are denied literacy skills, a family life, a job and full citizenship in the United States.

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Miracle in Philadelphia or Shuffling Deck Chairs on the Titanic?

More than 220 years ago, the eyes of our emerging nation were focused on Philadelphia, as our Founding Fathers gathered there to try to create a more perfect union by crafting a new Constitution to replace the flawed Articles of Confederation.

Today, those interested in the future of public education should keep their sights on the City of Brotherly Love again, as its leaders try to remake – some say dismantle – its public school system.

What happens in Philadelphia may well determine the fate of urban public education elsewhere in the nation.

Philadelphia’s woes are similar to those in other . . .

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N-Word: Let’s Find Another Way to Show Affection

Richard Pryor and other famous African-Americans have tried to desensitize it, but the N-word still carries hate. When I listen to today’s music, the N-word flows continuously. Jay-Z, one of my favorite rappers, says he uses the word to undermine its power over African-Americans. But in my house, my mother has one rule: Don’t say a word you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr., even if you are trying to undermine its power.

If my mother stood in the hallway at my school listening to my . . .

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It Starts in the School: Reality of Racial Disparity

CHICAGO – Julie Anderson is 55, white and squarely in the middle class. “I’m not exactly liberal,” she said. But sometimes a person’s views shift when hard facts are laid bare before her.

Anderson confronts such facts weekly, when she makes the six-hour, 350-mile drive from her home in Chicago to visit her son at Illinois’ Menard Correctional Center in Chester.

For the past 17 years, he has been serving a sentence of life without parole for murder, most of it in lockdown. He was 15 when he was arrested and transferred to adult court for prosecution.

“It’s like we’re imprisoning an entire race of people,” Anderson said of the makeup of Menard’s population, which averages just over 3,400 inmates, 62 percent of them black. In contrast, less than 15 percent of the state’s nearly 13 million people are black.

“It’s happening. We tell everyone else, every other country, what to do. Look in your own backyard,” Anderson said.

Incarceration, and the long-term deprivation of rights that accompanies it, is now almost the norm for many African-American men. For example, one in five Cook County (Chicago) black men between the ages of 20 and 29 is in prison or under parole supervision.

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