You have a majority of children, particularly in the African American community, growing up in single-parent households. I think that’s one of the main variables you can point to when you start addressing the gains that have been lost.
There are lots of points of speculation as to why the gaps exist. When you talk with some of the older experienced folks of the civil rights movement, the one thing that we continue to come back to is the challenged family structure, African-Americans and Latinos, in the sense that back in the ‘60s the family structure was much more solid. There were more men in the house.There were less single women trying to raise children on their own. You have a majority of children, particularly in the African American community, growing up in single-parent households. The family structure has disintegrated in a sense. I think that’s one of the main variables you can point to when you start addressing the gains that have been lost. There’s nothing that impacts their education, their quality of life, more than the economic challenges that are faced by single mothers or single head of households.
There’s no real one answer to this. There are a lot of reasons why and a lot of challenges that face the family structure. Certainly the employment situation that has hampered African American and Latino males, in particular, for a long time, created the problem. Quite frankly, many would argue the end of Jim Crow and the creation of the justice system where men of color have been unjustly targeted. And that argument has been made over and over again, that it went from Jim Crow to more the justice system, and we have seen over and over again where young men of color have been wrongly accused, unjustly accused, disproportionately sentenced to longer terms for similar crimes. So it’s clear you have to look at the unemployment rate. You have to look at the justice system and the overrepresentation of men of color in the justice system and the advent or introduction of drugs and particularly things like crack cocaine into communities of color that have just absolutely devastated many communities.
What we do know is that we still have a vast majority of kids of color growing up in single-headed households. So, that is a challenge. We can only begin to turn the dial by doing some of the things that we’re really focused on, which include education, and really focusing on the achievement gap and working with other non-profit and community organizations to present positive role models as well as mentors in the community.
But that is why I have been more focused on the achievement gap through our Education Compact and through some of the things we’re doing with before- and after-school programming to really give these young people opportunities to be introduced to positive men and women in their community. But also to make sure they have safe haven and greater support systems. So those things are going to exist. Can we turn the dial? We can. But we’re going to have to be willing to talk about the problems and the root of the problems as opposed to just focusing on some of the symptoms that result from them.
We know if we focus on our young people, making sure they’re ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, they’re more likely to read at grade level in 3rd grade and they’re more likely to graduate. If they graduate, they’re more likely to go on to college or to a career that’s more sustainable. Unfortunately, we’ve got to go back to those kinds of basics to begin to rebuild and to give young people the sense of opportunity by giving them the very best start.
The thing we’re going to focus on is making sure that parents understand how to be engaged in the lives of their children and particularly in their education. The Education Compact we started since I’ve taken office is really focusing on making sure parents have the tools, whether it’s a single mother, single father, or two-parent headed household, they have the tools to effectively manage and navigate their children through their educational careers.
There are many people, again some of the more experienced civil rights advocates, who will say pre-civil rights movement, or before desegregation, was more beneficial to African Americans because the family unit and community unit was stronger. Though we never want to go back to those times, it’s those kinds of values of staying together, and working together, and making sure that children are the focal point of the family and that there’s a strong family unit around the kids is the point these people are trying to make.
All of us as parents have to learn one thing and that is we have to stop focusing on the school being the answer and understand, as we’ve started to say around here, it’s the other side of the school door where we can make the greatest impact for our children. And that is to make sure they’re safe, make sure they have access to nutritional meals, make sure they have access to good health care, make sure they have good, strong after-school programs and support systems outside of the school.
Our hope always is that we’ll close these gaps and see greater level of the playing field. The reality is that I think you’re seeing more stakeholders show up. Let me give you an example. All across this country, mayors are saying no more are we going to abdicate our responsibility of education to just school districts and superintendents. We have a voice to lend to this and everything we talk about, whether it’s safety in our neighborhoods, whether it’s economic development, job attraction, if it’s quality of life, everything lends itself to whether or not our schools are being effective. So mayors are starting to step up all over this country. I’m just so excited to hear mayors saying it’s time for us to start weighing in and to play a role. As we all know, by 2030, the majority of people in this country will be people of color and we have an obligation to make sure they’re educated and prepared and that this nation remains strong as a result of their leadership.