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Let this be the year to make progress toward racial equality

By GERALD ARCHIBALD
Non-Profit Management
Rochester Business Journal
January 3, 2014

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
  -Nelson Mandela
 
2043 is expected to be the year in which the white population of the U.S. will become a minority. Thirty years can pass very quickly! Are we adequately preparing for this transition?

We, the white majority, must move to end the hypocrisy now. The time is very short for fundamental change in racial inequality, segregation and economic disparity. These objectives must be accomplished through the cooperation and collaboration of what Nelson Mandela called a "rainbow nation." If we don't take a leadership role, this demographic transition will be chaotic.
 
I believe that tax-exempt and faith-based organizations must lead the way in working to change government policy. Inevitably, we must achieve fair and balanced government budget allocations as well as uniform enforcement of laws and regulations.
 
As Pope Francis said recently, we must all bear responsibility for improving the lives of others less fortunate. However, since the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, a mere 60 and 50 years ago, the white majority has through its actions maintained a tight grip on racial segregation in the U.S.
 
You may be saying, "Here goes the left-wing liberal commie on another tangent." But before you do, ask yourself why the following facts represent the American reality in 2014, 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. I don't expect you to agree with me; simply open your hearts and minds to the following facts:

  • Our public schools remain segregated for all intents and purposes.
  • The U.S. incarcerates a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.
  • Religious worship occurs in largely segregated churches.
  • The wealthiest 1 percent of our population is 78 percent white and 2 percent black.
  • Black young people, under age 30, have a 1-in-3 chance of being incarcerated.
  • The non-white U.S. population has become poorer since the Johnson administration's War on Poverty.


All right, enough already. We know we have a problem. It's existed for centuries. Do you have any proposed solutions?
 
As a matter of fact, I have my traditional Top Ten list of proposed solutions. But first, be aware that every large city in New York State has numerous tax-exempt organizations and government programs focused on addressing the social and economic problems born of racial inequality.
 
For example, in Rochester we have the Urban League, Action for a Better Community, Ibero-American Action League, Salvation Army, settlement houses, Boys and Girls Clubs, United Way, Community Foundation and a multitude of faith-based ministries. (Check out Catholic Family Center and Spiritus Christi as just two of many examples. At the same time, don't forget the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters of Mercy and School Sisters of Notre Dame, each of which has active ministries addressing problems in our urban core.)
 
So if we have government funding efforts supplemented by all of these tax-exempt organizations, what more needs to be done? Social, economic and racial inequality have existed since the dawn of humankind. Resolution is highly unlikely, though progress and effort are the keys. As Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible until it's done."
 
In the interest of providing recommendations in the direction of both progress and effort, I offer the following 10 suggestions:
 
1. Leadership without bias and ego satisfaction are core requirements for progress to be achieved.
 
2. The entire community must be involved across the spectrum of social, economic and racial status. Can we work together across racial lines toward meaningful progress?
 
3. Close to 50 million Americans, almost 20 percent of the population, are living in poverty. Breaking the generational cycle of poverty requires legitimate and meaningful employment. Our business community must create employment opportunities for the poor and less fortunate.
 
4. For example, if I have the option of making $1,000 a week dealing drugs, being unemployed or working at minimum wage, the human condition forces the illegal choice. Since multiple states have addressed controlled legalization of marijuana, a cost/benefit analysis for New York (criminal justice, health and safety versus increased tax revenue and more jobs) would be an appropriate first step.
 
5. People can take advantage of employment opportunities only with an effective educational system for our young people. While charter schools offer some hope, they too face the challenge of surrounding poor children with others in poverty. A metropolitan, technology-based transformation of our public education system is long overdue. Every city school should be "adopted" by a business or service organization. Rochester Rotary's adoption of School 8 is an excellent blueprint for success.
 
6. The nuclear family is frequently lacking for those in poverty. Seventy percent of African-American children are being raised without a father figure. What if every child in poverty had a consistent parental role model through a program similar to the Big Brothers/Big Sisters?
 
7. Our children and young people in poverty cannot learn effectively if they are hungry. Support our local food banks-in Rochester, Foodlink-and do not forget the multitude of food pantries that exist throughout our communities, sponsored by faith-based ministries.
 
8. The criminal justice system needs reform. Just as slavery and racial segregation were abhorrent, incarceration is not an acceptable solution. Programs focusing on alternatives to incarceration have been successful and show significant promise.
 
9. Suitable housing must be available in an integrated community. If we continue in our cocoons of white suburbia, communicating with our white social networks in cyberspace, there can be no meaningful progress toward social, economic and racial equality.
 
10. I have been frustrated for decades by the lack of philanthropic support from the private sector to urban tax-exempt organizations. As an example, do Ivy League universities really need tens of billions in tax-exempt endowments while our urban cores continue to decay, partly for lack of sufficient financial investment?
 
My purpose in this column is not to embarrass or criticize. Rather, it is to emphasize that every American has a responsibility to do his or her part in making progress toward social, economic and racial equality. While we recognize that equality for all may represent a utopian objective, we also cannot ignore that our country was founded on the belief that all individuals are created equal and have an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
 
That was how the founding fathers saw things in the 18th century. A 21st-century leader, Pope Francis, said recently, "Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unjust economic structures that create huge inequalities."
 
Please make a new year's resolution that you will do what you can to promote progress toward social, economic and racial equality. This can best be accomplished through providing your volunteer time and financial support to organizations focused on urban issues.
 
Peace and best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!
 
Gerald J. Archibald, a CPA, is a partner in charge of management advisory services at the Bonadio Group and is known for expertise in non-profit and tax-exempt accounting, management and governance. He can be reached at (585) 381-1000 or garchibald@bonadio.com. Download podcasts of his articles at http://viewpoints.bonadio.com.

1/3/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.



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