I’ve spent my entire career as a civil rights activist and anti-violence advocate. I hear from folks all over the country about how fed-up they are—how much they want change—but they don’t know where to start. It’s not enough just to be informed, we’ve got to work tirelessly to do better. With the “The Lookout,” I’ll collect the most important stories and action items that you need to know about and things you can do each week, keeping you involved so you can create positive change for yourself and your community.
1. Denying Poor Kids Educational Resources Is Unconstitutional
I don’t need to tell you all that most minority communities in this country are getting the short end of the stick educationally. But since President Obama announced his plans to improve educational opportunity for young men in our community with My Brother’s Keeper (a program that will help overhaul the systems already in place by comparing the success of different projects and pinpointing what works and what doesn’t), we have a new outlet to not only air our grievances, but try and make the changes we need. We now have a renewed opportunity to help shine a spotlight on programs that help our children, and—more importantly—an even greater responsibility to expose the limitations to their opportunity.
So let’s expose one of the worst; The Supreme Court of Kansas found that the state was illegally, and unconstitutionally, underfunding schools in poorer districts. Now this is just shameful, but unfortunately, it’s not shocking. Community organizers and education advocates know that programs like the one in Detroit are the exception, not the rule. But now that Kansas will be held accountable for increasing funding (how much is still to be determined), and since My Brother’s Keeper will hopefully increase criticism of problems like these, we may be able to create lasting change to our public education system.
2. Leveling the Educational Playing Field, Detroit Aims to Close The Digital Divide
In contrast to the terrible situation in Kansas, there’s at least one school district that’s actively giving poor students MORE resources. A new web-based project for Detroit Public Schools is helping to close a digital divide that’s hurting underserved kids who don’t have access to the Internet. An enormous 70% of public school students in Detroit have no Internet access at home, compared to the 33% of students nationwide. That means Detroit’s students aren’t just falling behind their peers locally, they’re falling behind the rest of the country as well. A web-provider called Kajeet is partnering with Detroit Public Schools to pair kids who don’t have Internet access with wireless devices that allow them to connect to their school’s coursework and resources.
3. Optimism and A Growing Economy
More good news for Michigan! Folks throughout the state are taking the initiative to start their own small businesses with the help of a federal loan program. The U.S. Treasury began a lending program in 2010 to help boost small businesses with the resources and capital they need to expand their capacity and spread commerce throughout their communities. Small businesses across Michigan have been awarded $69.5 million, more than any other state in the country.
More than anything, this eagerness to take chances and create small businesses (a true risk that all business owners can attest to) is an unprecedented sign of optimism and hope. A sign we urgently need after years of communities across America falling into desperation and hopelessness thanks to what seemed like a perpetually downturned economy. What’s even more exciting is that this is just one sign of increasing optimism; after hitting a five-year low at 6.6% unemployment, that number has gone up to 6.7% this month—but that’s actually a good thing. The increase means that people who were unemployed but not looking for work have reentered the arena and are looking for jobs because of increased job creation and potential. Now we have to be ready for them, we need to have the opportunities available for these folks. We can’t lure people into false hope, we have to demand greater opportunity and do all that we can to present that opportunity to anyone who needs it.
4. Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day
March is National Women’s History Month. The commemorative month began as a week-long recognition of women’s contributions to history by local California schools in 1978, but it has become a national celebration of women’s integral role in the shaping of America—past and present. Each year also comes with a theme; 2014’s theme is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment” and I couldn’t agree more. The women who inspire me, who I’ve worked with, and who I’ve worked to empower, all embody those qualities and many more. And while even one whole month is not enough to celebrate them, I hope you’ll join me in recognizing some of our most inspiring women of character, courage, and commitment this month.
For International Women’s Day last Friday, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a group of “courageous” women from around the world who are leading the fight for women’s equality and opportunity. The First Lady hopes that they will inspire us all: “When we see these women raise their voices and move their feet and empower others to create change, we need to realize that each of us has that same power and that same obligation.” And she’s right—we have the obligation to use our power and our voices to create change for others who can’t, and that’s not just by women and for women—its true for each one of us.
5. Bloody Sunday: The Selma Bridge Crossing Anniversary
Forty-nine years ago, 600 voting rights activists peacefully marched arm-in-arm across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, when they were suddenly and brutally attacked by local law enforcement. As images from that “Bloody Sunday” spread across the country, they helped spark increased action from communities across the United States, and the government itself, to ensure voting rights for Black Americans and to stop the vicious attacks against our freedoms, which defined the Black experience for so long.
This past Sunday, for the 49th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, thousands of folks from America and abroad gathered on that same bridge in Selma in remembrance of civil rights leaders and the sacrifices they made for our equality. Although I wasn’t at the march this Sunday, I’ve participated in several anniversary celebrations and I’ve traced the steps of that march side by side with Rep. John Lewis and the Reverend Al Sharpton. Every year, whether I’m there or not, I take a moment to truly think about those who sacrificed so that we could vote, so that we could even have a Black president. I know I beat the drum for voting pretty loud, and some of the Lookout readers may comment that voting ain’t the answer. I beg to differ, because I know how potent voting can be for creating the change we need; if that were not the case, obstructionists wouldn’t be working so hard to disenfranchise voters even today! We cannot diminish the men and women who fought so hard so that we could have a voice in this country and in OUR government. So don’t wait until the last minute to register your friends and loved ones, and don’t even consider not voting in the 2014-midterm elections. Honoring those who fought for our right to vote cannot be done with lip service, it must be done with action.
I want to hear from you; what’s going on in your community? What stories or events should folks know about? Leave a comment below.
Called “a leader of tomorrow” by Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie B. Jarrett, Tamika D. Mallory is a nationally recognized leader and civil rights activist. Tamika is the Founder/President of Mallory Consulting, LLC and the former Executive Director of the National Action Network (NAN), one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations. She is featured regularly as a leading voice on key social justice issues and is currently making headlines around the country for her tireless activism and strong stance on women’s issues, anti-violence, young adult advocacy, and decency.