As political pundits, political action committees, and politicians gear up for what is bound to be another bare knuckle brawl in 2012, young activists around the country are setting agendas to intending to move their issues from the margins to the center of American life. As scholar/activist, Dr. Cathy Cohen, points out in her book Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Democracy) and in the national survey 2008 and Beyond, many young Black Americans don’t believe that equality exists due to their lived experiences.
Yes, we have more Black faces in high places (corporate America, politics, academia etc.) than ever before, but only 13% of Black youth believe that Blacks in the U.S. have achieved racial equality. Black President or not, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Andrew Breitbart’s high-profile character assassination of Black folks is a glowing example of the uphill battle that people of color face in this country. If that isn’t enough: how about the fact that black youth still suffer from lower rates of high school graduation and higher rates of incarceration, AIDS and unemployment compared to white youth?
On both sides of the aisle, political elites continue to spew Horatio Alger rhetoric like “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” without addressing the overall institutional barriers that hinder so many young people of color from having a decent quality of life. Yes, personal motivation is always a factor that has to be accounted for when trying to understand self or group advancement. However, the disparate access to vital resources in disadvantaged communities and the over-surveillance by law enforcement in these same areas continues to normalize what the scapegoat should look like instead of getting to the root of the problem
Today I join with other young activists across the country to say enough is enough! It is time for us young folks of color to come together and set our own agenda, one that will not only transform our lives for the better, but one that will help transform our country to reach it’s true democratic ideals.
On February 19th The Public Square of the Illinois Humanities Council and the Black Youth Project along with numerous other co-sponsors hosted a discussion focusing on the issues raised in Dr. Cathy Cohen’s new book Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and Future of American Democracy. Helping to lead this discussion was Dr. Cathy Cohen, Bakari Kitwana, Rosa Clemente, Rob Biko Baker, Keyon Farrow, FM Supreme and Fresco. The participants gathered that day, most of whom were young people of color and many of whom are young activists, debated the most effective ways to improve the lives of Black youth.
Below are ten key issues that the panelists and participants alike felt must be addressed today by political elites and communities of color to transform the possibilities and opportunities for young black people in this country.
While no one document can represent the varied perspectives of young people of color and the organizations that represent and mobilize us, maybe one document can help to continue and broaden the discussion about our needs, our desires and our political demands:
1) Violence- The violence in our communities must stop! We don’t believe in merely locking up the perpetrators. We should work on creating vibrant communities that provide constructive programs that give kids of color positive outlets. Derrion Albert’s murder in Chicago should’ve been a wake up call to the world that something must be done to stem the tide of youth on youth violence.
2) Felony disenfranchisement / Political Engagement- Retroactive punishment of felons by denying them the right to vote continues to keep too many people of color from engaging in the political process. According to Michelle Alexander in her book New Jim Crow, as of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
3) Jobs- According to the Institute of Public Policy Research almost 50% of Black youth between the ages of 16-24 are unemployed compared to 20% of White people in the same age range. When you deny us the opportunity to work a living-wage job you are pushing us in the direction of the underground economy.
4) HIV/AIDS- We must end the vicious cycle of complacency by the government and our communities when it come to fighting HIV/AIDS in communities of color. African Americans continue to have the highest rates of HIV in the United States. In fact, Young African Americans between the ages of 16-29 account for half of all new infections.
5) Access to reproductive rights for women- The House has voted to cut Title X funding, the program that provides low-income women with family planning; $75 million of the $317 million eliminated goes to Planned Parenthood. Don’t allow the government to institute yet another way to police women’s bodies.
6) Incarceration- The preschool to prison pipeline must be end! The Drug Policy Institute estimates that 75% of all drug arrests involving Black youth are prosecuted. Additionally, Black youth are 3 times more likely than White youth to serve their sentence in an adult prison for a drug charge.
7) Poverty- According to a report conducted by the Children’s Defense Fund of the 5.6 million children living in extreme poverty, nearly 2 million are Black. What kind of wealthy nation are we when we let our children grow up in poverty?
8 Police Harassment- We need to find common ground so police aren’t perceived to be the enemies in communities of color. The only way to build trust with the law enforcement is by ending racial profiling and harassment of Black and Brown youth.
9) Education- The Schott State Report on Black Males & Education 2010 revealed that a little less than 50% of Black males are graduating from high school each year. We need to find innovative solutions outside of charter schools to address educational inequality for both Black girls and boys.
10) Access to full health care- 16% of all Black children are uninsured and 75% of those children that are uninsured have at least one parent that works full time. Children deserve a right to lead healthy lives regardless of their parent’s income.
To manifest our collective destiny, it is imperative that young people of color attack these issues head on and without fear of retribution. Like Lupe Fiasco in “ Words I Never Said: “If you don’t become an actor you’ll never be a factor”