The holidays are over. Of course, we will have to second line our way through Mardi Gras madness. And we will. Those shameful statues that pay deference to a dark period in our nation’s history might even eventually come down after some legal wrangling. But, after that—after we party and celebrate slight successes—can we talk about economic parity and the flagrant disregard and discounting of DBE programs?
How about the housing crisis . . . seriously?
Or education . . . seriously?
Seriously, how about poverty and economic equality?
Or real CORRUPTION?
As we move into this new year, can we get serious?
We really ought to, because despite what may seem like gains and progress in a so-called post-racial society, 2015 was not our year. Know what, forget 2015—the last decade and a half has not been so hot for Black folk, if you want to know the truth. Don’t take our word for it. To be sure, if you need stats and data to back up that assertion, they are readily available. A quick turn to the 2015 edition of National Urban League’s State of Black America should suffice.
Even a cursory read of the document shows that in every category that matters—from employment to income equality to education and healthcare to justice—Black America is in a state of crisis. Save for slender gains in stats from one year to the next, we doubt the 2016 report will show Black America significantly catching up with White America.
Those damning statistics are seen locally. The 2015 State of Black New Orleans, released by the local affiliate of the NUL, provided a unsettling look at the condition of our community.
According to that report, the median income in New Orleans for African-Americans was $23,000 in 2005. In 2013, it increased to $25,000. Meanwhile, median income for White city residents in 2005 was $49,000. In 2013, that number jumped to $60,000.
Let’s not forget that unemployment among Black males in New Orleans continues to hover around 52 percent. And in 2013, overall unemployment for Blacks in New Orleans was almost three times the rate of White unemployment in the city–13.6 percent compared to 4.6 percent, respectively, according to the ULGNO report.
With Black men out of work and Black families earning only a portion of what their White counterparts in New Orleans earn, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the dire straits of our children as delineated in the Youth Index recently published by the Data Center. Most of the stats shared in the report do not provide racial breakdowns; but we already know. If it’s hard out there for the kids in general; Black kids are catching hell.
The Youth Index, snippets of which are shared on page six of this edition of The New Orleans Tribune, lists the Census Bureau statistic regarding 44 percent of New Orleans’ children under 18 living in poverty. Let’s get serious. Most of those children are Black, no doubt. In fact, the 2015 ULGNO’s State of Black New Orleans indicates that the poverty rate is significantly higher for Black youth in the city, with 50 percent of Black children under 18 in poverty.
Meanwhile as rising housing costs and gentrification continue to push more poor, Black New Orleanians to the city’s fringes, our elected leaders pat themselves on the back for striking deals that allow developers to double the size of overpriced apartments in exchange for adding 11 (barely five percent of the housing units being built as a part of the project) for low-income residents.
In New Orleans, it seems we even refuse to get serious about the one program that has the enormous potential to start leveling the playing field for Black folk. But instead of holding people’s feet to the fire as it relates to Disadvantaged Business Enterprise programs, questionable activity and even sabotage our continually glossed over and overlooked. DBE goals are snubbed. It’s business as usual, which is why after decades of DBE and MBE programs we still have not realized the sort of gains that would assist Black businesses in growing their capacity so that they can provide employment at levels that support families and strengthen communities. To be sure, this game where one company, happy to get a few bucks, lands a DBE contract only to funnel business and most of the money to non-DBEs (as has allegedly occurred in the massive and costly redevelopment of the Iberville Housing Development and likely in many other lucrative contracts as well) is beyond counterproductive. It is abusive and offensive–the worst example of corruption.
And it doesn’t look like its going to get any better. We know that the lucrative airport project is not meeting its DBE goals with only 28.4 percent of the work contracted to DBEs. Not only is that short of the project goals of 33.09 percent, but we are always cognizant of the fact that DBE designation includes both women and all minority-owned businesses, which means that Black-owned businesses are still only getting a very small piece of the pie.
Meanwhile, it gives us little comfort to know that the prime contractor on the Iberville redevelopment—under whose watch contracts and money allegedly passed through a DBE to non-DBE firms—is one half of the team that won the primary contract to redevelop the World Trade Center. Together, the airport and the WTC redevelopments total nearly $1 billion; and if structured fairly could have a far-reaching impact on the local Black community through economic development and job creation. To allow the opportunities associated with these two projects to by-pass our community would be negligent at best and criminal, on our part, at the very worst.
Speaking of abusive and offensive, we won’t even bring up what has happened with the redevelopment of the city’s so-called “mixed income” housing projects, except to say that if you don’t think $1500 for a two-bedroom apartment in the former Iberville in a city where many employers are still paying their workers $7.25 an hour (barely $15,000 a year for a person working 40 hours a week) is a travesty of colossal proportions, you need to get serious. The only thing worse is that next to nothing is being done to prepare young New Orleanians, especially young Black New Orleanians, for better paying jobs in growth industries. It is not accidental, we say.
And will there ever be justice for the thousands of teachers and school employees, the majority of whom were Black, wrongfully fired in Orleans Parish in the wake of Katrina. No apologies, regrets and excuses—but justice. We couldn’t stand it if we hear one more education reformer say “what happened to the teachers was wrong, but . . .” filling in those ellipses with some defense to justify the hijacking of an entire school system.
Let’s get serious.
It seems the only way Blacks in New Orleans can catch a break is if they were being hurled off of floats by Mardi Gras maskers on Fat Tuesday—and maybe not even then.
Now, if numbers aren’t your thing, there have been plenty of incidents and episodes that should serve notice.
Just look at what transpired across our nation and in our city during the last few years. You know the names. They have become household words—Trayvon, Tamir, Sandra, Eric, Justin, Wendell, and on and on. The end of 2015 was especially disappointing, punctuated by the no-indictment decisions in the unanswered for deaths of Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland. To be sure, both of those announcements—one right after the other—were tough pills to swallow. They made holiday celebrations seem vain and vulgar.
Actually, the beginning and the middle of 2015 weren’t so great either. There were all out political and legal attacks against affirmative action and voting rights taking place in legislatures and courtrooms across America. And did Supreme Court Justice Scalia actually say Black folk usually attend “slower”, “lesser” schools because they can’t cut it at the big “elite” (yes, read historically and majority White) universities. An ostensibly educated man—a jurist sitting on a seat in the highest court in our nation utters such foolery, and others dare question the validity of young people taking to the streets in cities across our land to declare Black lives matter.
We need to get serious because while the Black Lives movement has had to defend its very existence in the press, on social media, in the halls of our government, and on the streets, Oregon “militia” armed to the teeth can start an all-out standoff against the federal government for no real reason at all, with the only bloodshed taking place so far occurring when one fumbling, domestic terrorist shoots another. Man, we need to get serious.
Can we get serious?
Yes, we can. That’s the thing about a new year. It offers a new beginning—a chance to regroup, refocus and demand more of all of our leaders—and ourselves. We ought to be tired of making do, giving up, settling for less or selling out to serve selfish desires.
And we will admit to feeling buoyed by what can be done when folk come together. We’ve seen it. Truth is we didn’t agree with the energy and focus placed on removal of four confederate monuments. Our position—though misunderstood by some—has not changed. It was never that we thought the monuments should stay up. It was that we refused to devote any time and attention to a debate about taking them down. We don’t always have to agree; and we applaud those who fought for what they believed in. Their tenacity has paid off; and despite legal pushback, they are not giving up. When the last of those stone images is removed, we only hope that there is more of the same fervor and passion to knock down the other challenges that beset our community.
It is time to get serious about the laundry list of problems and nuisances our community faces on the local, state and national levels. The subtitle of the 2015 NUL State of Black America was Save Our Cities: Education, Jobs & Justice—a noble and necessary call out. But if we are ever going to save our cities, we have to save ourselves first.
And we can do that, too, because we must. The good thing about a crisis is that more often than not it is also a turning point—that defining and decisive moment when something must change, and so we set about changing it.
Let’s get serious.