Racial and economic disproportionality

On February 2008 The Seattle Times published on their editorial page a guest piece on Equity and social justice. The election of Senator Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States should increase the momentum to significantly erode racial and economic disproportionality. This will be particularly important as this nation’s racial make-up continues to undergo rapid change.

Is this of local concern? African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and some Asian nationalities are aggregately worse off now than they were in 1970. Even updated census data would tell us the income inequality has seen rapid growth in our community. We need to be aware that the history of this country has taught us that communities with social unrest eventually see the erosion of their quality of life. Businesses relocate elsewhere and talented people find more suitable environments for work, play and to raise their children.

Bill Block who is leading the effort to end homelessness in King County sent me an email link to a New York Times article that discussed income in equality in five metropolitan areas, including King County. Researchers were from the University of Texas Inequality Project. The article reports ”According to Mr. Galbraith and Mr. Hale, much of the increase in income inequality in the late 1990’s resulted from large income changes in just a handful of locations around the country — precisely those areas that were heavily involved in the information technology boom.” The report shows that income inequality was the result of high technology investments in our area.

The 21st Century economy will be a technologically robust era. We are going to continue to invest in the expansion and enhancement of our tech industries. Does that mean we will also continue to be ravaged by poverty and race?

The point of the University of Texas research is not to discourage technological growth. It is to call our attention to its affect. But, we also know that out of the box solutions are being undertaken, explored, and researched in this community. We are the one community with all the tools and resources to reduce the impact of poverty. It will be done if we make considerably more strategic investments in early childhood education both locally and nationally. We also need to continue to rethink and retool our K-!2 schools. Most importantly, our efforts must focus on our poorest zip codes. In those zip codes lay the seeds that may fruitfully undermine our long-term quality of life.

Early Childhood investments are absolutely critical. There is cutting edge research being conducted at the UW Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences. They and other researchers would attest that before birth, an infant learns the “melody” of its mother’s voice. A newborn’s brain is only about one-quarter the size of an adult’s. It grows to about 80 percent of adult size by three years of age and 90 percent by age five. Some of the first circuits the brain builds are those that govern the emotions. The first two emotions are opposites: feeling calm and relaxed and feeling distress. Beginning around two months of age, these start to evolve into more complex feelings. During the first six years, its brain will set up the circuitry needed to understand and reproduce complex language. A six-month-old can recognize the vowel sounds that are the basic building blocks of speech.

Early Learning unquestionably makes a significant difference in the lifetime of an individual. Much of who we are is established between 0-5. Learning literally grows the brain. So, reading to and teaching children to read is an absolute must. But, the exposure to art, music, play, neighborhood, and outdoors activities are also powerful learning tools.

As a state and local priority we must reach every family with children between the ages of 0-5. If necessary, we should pair families in need of help with volunteers who can provide reading and artistic resources. We must do the same for children are under the care of unlicensed childcare providers. We must provide substantial funding for this effort with private and public sources.

In addition, the educational system must work for children in poverty. A Harvard retrained African American, Geoffrey Canada whose book “Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America’ makes an incredibly strong case for reducing the impacts of poverty on the educational outcomes of children. It requires major system reform, parental training, and community accountability. We should attempt to uniformly replicate his efforts in the schools where we have significant participation in our free breakfast and lunch programs.

I have often heard, the poor shall be with us always. The context of the phrase denoted our indifference, thus our acceptance of poverty. Yet, we have come to believe we can change the world with technology. We have already changed our community by using the wealth generated by technology. Now is also the time to believe that we can eventually bring poverty in our community to its end.

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One response to “Racial and economic disproportionality

  1. Hey Ron,

    I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the speech you gave at the rally on Saturday. Love is love.

    As African Americans we are honor bound to fight inequality in all it’s forms. It was good to see you there.

    Good luck!

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