Voice: Rita Lewis

Rita Lewis is president of Denver chapter of NAACP.

“I would like to see some positive stories about the gains that blacks have made. Are there more African American small business owners? Are there more African Americans going into the sciences?”

A lot of African Americans are choosing to put their kids in private schools, including myself. Keep in mind a lot of African American students are expelled and disciplined and oftentimes arrested and taken away and then their parents have to figure out how are we going to deal with this? There is a big disparity in the way African American students are disciplined in public schools, and Latinos, compared to white students. African Americans are suspended far more than white students and Latinos are suspended more than white students.

I would like to see some positive stories about the gains that blacks have made. Are there more African American small business owners? Are there more African Americans going into the sciences?

I think the gaps are wider in certain areas. The poverty figures mirror the large unemployment rate for blacks. A lot of African Americans lost their homes due to the high unemployment rate.

In the ‘70s, we made significant strides. Life was good when Bill Clinton was in office. All in all, everybody was prospering regardless of race. When George Bush was in office, a lot of jobs were lost, a lot of jobs were outsourced, and that’s a problem for everybody, regardless of their race.

There’s a saying we have in the African American and black community that we’re the last hired and first fired. That’s how we feel. There’s a Latino guy over there and he hasn’t lost his job yet. There’s a white guy over there and he hasn’t been fired. But we’re losing our job. We’ve always heard that from our parents and grandparents. When we lose our jobs and can’t pay our bills, we lose our homes.

It’s so hard for me to get people riled up and interested and engaged. Why? It’s various factors. I think of my own peers between 40 and 50. They have their careers. They don’t want to mess that up. They have their homes. They have their cars. Their kids are in private school. Whatever. We’ve arrived. I think the biggest thing is, they don’t want to lose what they’ve acquired. So many times we’ve had people say, “What does the NAACP do? Are you really relevant?” We have to question ourselves. Are we relevant in this day and age? And I say absolutely. We’re absolutely relevant. There’s still a need for civil rights. We just don’t have the fire in our bellies. You don’t see many African American activists really going out there, hitting the pavement and really protesting some of the atrocities that happen in this city. I don’t know if we’re quiet warriors now, or what’s going on. Most people will say I don’t want to get blackballed or I don’t want to be stigmatized, or whatever. At some point, at the end of the day, if you think something’s wrong, you need to speak up.

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