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Child Watch: Dr. King Left Blueprint for Eradicating Poverty

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Marian Wright Edelman
By Marian Wright Edelman
NNPA Columnist

 

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it.” Not too many years ago, Kirtley Mather, a Harvard geologist, wrote a book titled, Enough and to Spare. He set forth the basic theme that famine is wholly unnecessary in the modern world. Today, therefore, the question on the agenda is: Why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life?”

In January 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took a very rare “sabbatical” at an isolated house in Jamaica far away from telephones and the constant pressures of his life as a very public civil rights leader to write what would become his last book: Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

Professor Mather’s book arguing that mankind had achieved the ability to move beyond famine was published in 1944, yet in 2015, despite seventy more years of unparalleled advances in scientific and technological capability and global resources and wealth, hunger and want are still rampant – most shamefully in the United States with the world’s largest economy.

Hear again Dr. King: “There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will . . . The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’”

When Dr. King died in 1968 calling for a Poor People’s Campaign, there were 25.4 million poor Americans, including 11 million poor children. Today, there are more than 45.3 million poor Americans, including 14.7 million poor children, living in our boastfully rich nation.

The question is why we allow poverty still to exist, especially among our children who are the poorest age group of Americans, and the answer remains the same: The deficit in human will and genuine commitment to a fair playing field for all by a critical mass of leaders and citizens in our morally anemic nation.

How can it be that the top 1 percent of Americans enjoy more of the nation’s wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined and that millions of children are hungry and homeless and poorly educated? If the qualification for individual and national greatness is genuine concern for the ‘least of these’ as those of us who are Christians say we believe, and if nations and our concurrent role as members of nations and not just as individuals are accountable, then too many of our political, corporate, and faith leaders and citizens – all of us who live in America – are failing.

The national holiday celebrating Dr. King’s birthday is over, but I hope we will heed and act on his 1967 declaration —“the time has come for an all-out world war against poverty”—and work to win the first victory right here at home in the biggest economy on earth and end the shame of 14.7 million children being the poorest Americans by ending child poverty now.

Dr. King’s voice guides us if we are willing to hear and act on it and use it as a road map for action no matter the political weather. Reflecting on the direction the struggle for civil rights and social justice should take in Where Do We Go from Here?, he shared a story about the need to commit to difficult struggles for the long haul and described a nine and a half hour flight he had taken from New York to London in an older propeller airplane. On the way home, the crew announced the return flight from London to New York would take twelve and a half hours. When the pilot came out into the cabin, Dr. King asked him why. “‘You must understand about the winds,’ he said. ‘When we leave New York, a strong tail wind is in our favor, but when we return, a strong head wind is against us.’ But he added, ‘Don’t worry. These four engines are capable of battling the winds.’”

Dr. King concluded: “In any social revolution there are times when the tail winds of triumph and fulfillment favor us, and other times when strong head winds of disappointment and setbacks beat against us relentlessly. We must not permit adverse winds to overwhelm us as we journey across life’s mighty Atlantic; we must be sustained by our engines of courage in spite of the winds. This refusal to be stopped, this ‘courage to be,’ this determination to go on ‘in spite of’ is the hallmark of any great movement.”

 

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

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Community

Closing Youth Prisons Is Not Enough

But without a plan to invest in and institute a restorative justice framework, most of that money might find its way back into local youth jails rather than into treatment and rehabilitation.

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Ella Baker Center staff and members attend a Books Not Bars rally in Sacramento advocating to close youth prisons in California. Courtesy of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

COMMENTARY

As a parent who was involved in the juvenile system as a teenager, I know too well that children who are struggling should never be incarcerated and treated like criminals. 

Instead, they should be cared for as young people in need of restorative help. This May, dedicated as National Mental Health Awareness Month, was the perfect opportunity to embrace human rights and racial justice by moving from a carceral system of punishment to a community-based health system of restorative care.

“We have a system in place that is not really focused on rehabilitation,” Los Angeles State Senator Sydney Kamlager told CalMatters in January. Unlike some states, we have not had a governing body in California to oversee trauma-responsive, culturally informed services for youth–the majority of whom are youth of color–in the juvenile justice system.

Fortunately, we in California finally have a chance to make a change. California Senate Bill 823, signed by Gov. Newsom last December, shuts down California’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and redirects millions of dollars to counties to provide care and resources for young people. But without a plan to invest in and institute a restorative justice framework, most of that money might find its way back into local youth jails rather than into treatment and rehabilitation.

Sonya Abbott and her son Anthony Johnson can attest that a transformation is long overdue. When Anthony was 16, Sonya found a bag of Xanax in his back pocket. Believing that he intended to sell the drugs, she made the difficult decision to turn him in. At the time, she viewed her decision as a way to save her son’s life, and the lives of others.  Now she says, “I feel like it just made things worse.”

As is too often the case, Anthony was cycled through a number of ineffective programs and has been shuttled back and forth among several facilities. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the DJJ went into lockdown, Anthony was at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in San Joaquin County. Feeling lonely and depressed because of the isolation, Anthony asked for extra counseling.

“They refused to give it to me. They laughed at me,” Anthony says.

 Anthony attempted suicide roughly two days later. He remembers a Chaderjian staff member witnessing his suicide attempt and saying, “You’re not doing it right, I’ll call this one in later,” then walking away. Afterward, Anthony was kept in the medical unit for a month, locked in a room for 23 hours a day, without any counseling or companionship.

Throughout all of this, the DJJ did not inform Abbott of her son’s suicide attempt, nor his consequent transfer to Patton State Hospital. After Anthony missed a scheduled Skype visit, Abbott had to call every juvenile facility in California to locate him, and only then learned that he had tried to take his own life. He remains at Patton today.

Statistics show that suicide and suicide attempts are too common. According to a 2014 report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection, “11% of the youth (in the juvenile justice system) had attempted suicide at least once,” far exceeding the percentage  in the general population.

Nor are the dangers of youth incarceration justified by the outcomes. A 2015 study from the University of Washington, observed that, “juvenile incarceration is not only ineffective at reducing criminal behavior,” but that those who were incarcerated in their youth were more likely to suffer negative consequences in every aspect of their adult lives.

Abbott describes Anthony as a good kid who just got himself a little lost. “I don’t understand why there’s no resources for these kids,” she says. “They are just locked up and forgotten. I can’t let my kid be one of their victims.”

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to chart a new direction. Part of SB 823 creates Juvenile Justice Coordinating Councils (JJCC) in each of our 58 California counties, bringing together experts and constituents like Abbott and Anthony, whose lives have intersected with the juvenile justice system. 

These new councils will help guide how the millions of dollars in new state funding can best be deployed to provide a continuum of care. To inform that process, youth advocates have been working to implement a community vision of care to replace the old carceral model that has failed so many of our most vulnerable young people of color.

Advocates are also pushing the state to properly resource the new department within Health and Human Services (HHS) that will provide oversight for the new system. The proposed budget is a woefully inadequate $3 million; Assemblymember Cristina Garcia and state Senator Maria Elena Durazo, joined by the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice and members of the Free Our Kids Coalition, are pushing for a larger allocation to help scale up community-based interventions by local groups. 

If a community system rooted in healing had already been in place, Sonya Abbott and Anthony might have received the help they really needed. We can do better for our kids and our communities.

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Entertainment

‘The Neighborhood’ Welcomes New Executive Producer Meg DeLoatch 

Firing on more than one cylinder and beyond the comedic arena, DeLoatch wrote on VH-1’s hit drama, “Single Ladies” and is completing a middle school fantasy novel about a boy who fights demons.

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The Neighborhood/CBS

Meg DeLoatch/ CBS

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., is in the house and in “The Neighborhood.” 

CBS Studios has brought aboard Meg DeLoatch as executive producer and showrunner to guide its popular Monday night, family-centered sitcom starring Cedric the Entertainer and Max Greenfield.

DeLoatch, a proud member of the iconic African American national sorority, is an award-winning Hollywood veteran who’s written and produced a variety of hit shows during her acclaimed entertainment career.  She’s the recipient of two (2021, 2020) NAACP Image Awards and nominated for a 2020 Writers Guild Award for Netflix’s “Family Reunion,” the multi-generational family series she created and currently serves as its executive producer.

An advocate for diversity and inclusion, DeLoatch assembled one of the first all-Black writers’ rooms to authentically voice the comedy series starring Tia Mowry-Hardrict (“Sister Sister”), Anthony Alabi (“Insecure”), and Emmy-winner Loretta Devine (“The Carmichael Show”).  Richard Roundtree (the original John Shaft) guest stars as Grandpa.

An impressive list of industry credits for DeLoatch range from family-friendly shows including Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home” and “Austin & Ally” to adult comedies “Born Again Virgin,” “Bette,” (CBS) and “Brothers,” (FOX). DeLoatch created and executive-produced UPN’s romantic comedy, “Eve,” starring Grammy Award-winning Hip Hop artist Eve.  She wrote and executive produced TV One’s comedy series, “Here We Go Again,” starring LeToya Luckett and Wendy Raquel Robinson.

Firing on more than one cylinder and beyond the comedic arena, DeLoatch wrote on VH-1’s hit drama, “Single Ladies” and is completing a middle school fantasy novel about a boy who fights demons.

The Maryland native is no stranger to celebrity stratosphere having worked with Bette Midler, Jennie Garth and Ice Cube.  Early on, DeLoatch combined her interests in theater, literature and visual media to earn an interdisciplinary degree from American University.  She subsequently moved to California and the rest is Hollywood history.

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Commentary

Biden’s “Plan” to Address the Racial Wealth Gap Won’t Cut It. Only Reparations Can Do That

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris/ Featured Web

OPINION

On June 1, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, President Joe Biden announced a plan to support Black homeownership and Black-owned businesses, which he said was aimed at closing the racial wealth gap between Black people and white people. The plan received praise from those who celebrated Biden’s apparent attempt to address the gap, which his administration has identified as a key policy goal.

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

These are all great steps worth taking, but we shouldn’t pretend like they will do anything to meaningfully narrow the racial wealth gap. Only reparations can do that.

According to a recent New York Times piece by Duke University economist William Darity, the wealth gap between Black and white Americans ranges from somewhere between nearly $54,700 a person and $280,300 a person. 

Using the larger estimate, which Darity argues is more appropriate, the total racial wealth gap amounts to $11.2 trillion–“a figure that implies that incremental measures will not be sufficient” to close it, he wrote. 

Another 2016 study from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Enterprise Development suggests that white households are worth nearly 20 times more than Black households on average, and that it would take 228 years for Black folks to catch up. That’s assuming white people’s collective wealth doesn’t increase at all during that time. 

And that was before our households and businesses took the devastating economic hit of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing discrimination in homeownership and supporting Black entrepreneurship are worthwhile policy endeavors. But we should be honest about what they represent in the grand scheme of things: At best, they are marginal steps in the right direction. And that’s not going to cut it. If we are serious about addressing the racial wealth gap, then we must get serious about reparations. There’s no way around it. The numbers speak for themselves.

If our elected officials aren’t prepared to go that route, fine — but we should stop letting them pretend like they are serious about the racial wealth gap. A gap created out of centuries of stolen labor, stolen land, and stolen wealth and resources can’t be addressed by a new housing policy or small business grant program.

During the 2020 campaign, then-candidate Biden said he supported H.R. 40, a bill that would commission a congressional study on reparations to determine what that could actually look like. The House passed the bill last year. Biden should push the Senate to pass it, too–and then sign it. 

And even that would only be the beginning.

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