Voice: Dr. Levester Lyons

Dr. Levester Lyons is president of the Aurora chapter of the NAACP.

“One of the things I constantly talk about is voting. More young folks are saying voting’s not that important. They don’t understand that people died just trying to register to vote, not even being able to vote, just trying to be able to register.”

These disparities didn’t surprise me. I was appalled, but not surprised. Looking at my own personal situation, I’m doing better than my parents did, but considering the education gap and training that they had and what I have, I’m not doing that much better. My father had a 10th grade education. My mother graduated from high school.

I probably make pretty good money, but considering buying power, probably not that much better than what they did. My father was English, and he sometimes had to work two jobs. He was able to feed 13 kids and get us to school. I’ve got five children, three of them have degrees and two are still working on degrees. And I wasn’t able to help them much more than my dad was able to help me. If it wasn’t for grants and scholarships, they’d have had just as bad a time as I did. I was able to help them with books and sometimes with food and stuff, but I couldn’t pay for any of their tuition. When you think about it, it kind of hits you right in the face. It’s like “hmmm …”

(Everyone) tells you early on to work hard, try your best, try to be the best at whatever you do. I have a PhD, my boss, who is white, has a master’s degree, and that’s not unusual when I look at some of my friends (who are minorities).

We could say it’s racial, we could say it’s a whole bunch of things. That’s one of the things I’m going to start looking at more and more – do a survey: What kind of degree do you have? What kind of degrees does your boss have? Is there a difference between the races? I’m going to retire in December or January, and I’m looking for something to do. So that’s something I might put on my plate.

If you had asked my dad about whether the gaps would narrow, he would probably have said he would see it narrowing.

Difference in education would have been the biggest influence. Right now I’ve got people working for me who’ve gone to school and have school loans. Some of the bills that pass when they talk about increasing the interest rates, from, what, 3 percent or 4 percent now to 6.8 percent. Some of them won’t even be able to pay those off for 10, 15, 20, 30 years. I went to school, I was lucky, I was blessed. I had a lot of grants. I had the GI Bill. I’m thinking with increased (rates) it’s going to make it even more difficult for people to advance and I think those gaps are going to continue to grow.

I’m angry. When we think about the American dream, work hard, get educated. Everybody talks about education, how with a college degree you’re going to make a million dollars more than folks with a high school degree and how with a higher degree you’re going to make even more money. But that doesn’t seem to change – according to your statistics – much of anything. You can buy a house, you can buy a car. But you’re going to end up paying for it for some time.

I was in a meeting last night. There was a young man, in his 40s, and he was talking about the organization he was working with and how hard it was to get people involved. That most people, and I’m talking about blacks, they don’t see a problem until it’s them that’s getting fired, or them losing their house. Up until that time, they don’t see a need for the same kind of passion for civil rights that there was in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They haven’t lived it. They’ve been the recipients of it, but they haven’t lived through it. One of the things I constantly talk about is voting. More young folks are saying voting’s not that important. They don’t understand that people died just trying to register to vote, not even being able to vote, just trying to be able to register. They don’t understand that because they didn’t see it, they didn’t live it. Watching it on the TV in a documentary doesn’t have the same impact.

The Trayvon Martin case got a lot of play. But that’s one incident and it had to do with a number of other things. I talk about legislation; if you’re not involved in legislation then people put together laws that will affect you. They only start noticing it when people start getting killed. That law’s been on the books in Florida for a while. Stand your ground. Trayvon probably wasn’t the first person to get killed under that law. But it was at the right time, and there was a lot of emphasis on that. But again, we go back to voting rights. What’s important now, those states that are trying to change ways that people can register to vote, with having IDs and different forms of information when you come to vote. Reminds me of the poll tax they had way back in the ‘20s and ‘30s. You had to take a test to be able to vote. And most of the time you couldn’t pass the test because it was put together so you couldn’t pass, and the folks who could (take) the test were usually the majority, not minority. That was all the way up through the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Voting Rights Act didn’t come in until ‘64, ‘65. People who don’t have IDs to vote are old people, poor people. The best way to keep them from voting is to make it difficult to vote.

I hope that reporting theses gaps will become a wake-up call to get involved. People are not involved in what’s going on around them.

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