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Exploring the Urban League's 'State of Black America'

By Lenore T. Adkins Special to the AFRO | Last updated: May 10, 2017 - 10:57:02 AM

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Issues that are crucial to Black America, including criminal justice reform, economic empowerment, affordable housing and education, found a forum in early May and will be covered in a televised “The State of Black America” town hall meeting airing later this month on TV One.

The show, moderated by Roland S. Martin, managing editor of TV One’s News One Now, was taped at the historic Howard Theater in Northwest D.C.

The taping came hours after the National Urban League released its annual report on the “State of Black America.” The report found that the 2017 equality index, a measurement that tracks Black progress in economics, education, health, social justice and civil engagement, was 72.3 percent. The figure was one percentage point higher than the 2016 index.

National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial said the narrowing of healthcare disparities, coupled with educational improvements contributed to the slight hike in 2017.

Going forward, Mr. Morial said May 2 that the league will push its plan that demands a national investment of $4 trillion over the next 10 years. Half of that money would go towards building infrastructure that benefits people living in “inner cities,” including a jobs component that would guarantee minority business participation and jobs for workers living in high-unemployment neighborhoods.

The remaining $2 trillion would cover job training, health insurance and education.  Blacks could continue to demand that the Trump administration advance policies that enforce civil rights, and improve health, education and economic opportunities, he said.

“I hope that this is the beginning of elevating the data the information and commentary about the state of Black America,” Mr. Morial told the AFRO.

Meanwhile, Republican communications strategist Paris Dennard, a CNN commentator, told reporters that putting money into HBCUs is something  “President Trump must do.” He also said Black leaders wary of Mr. Trump shouldn’t shy away from working with him and his team.

“There’s a train of thought that says that we should not engage with the Trump administration,” Mr. Dennard said before the show. “There’s a train of thought that says he may not be in line with what Black America needs or understands. But I believe that you have to have a seat at the table. You have to engage actively and early so that our issues are on the table. Because if they’re not, we stand to lose.”

Meanwhile, the show, hosted by Mr. Martin, and two panels dove into the report’s findings and offered some solutions for the issues it raised.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, Rep. Karen Bass of California, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York were originally scheduled to serve as panelists for the show. However, none of the Democrats attended, due to scheduled votes they opted to take at Capitol Hill.

Cultural critic Touré called for a national movement that urges employers to stop asking job candidates to check a box about their criminal records. It’s a question he said unfairly punishes Black ex-offenders by locking them out of jobs.

“If you paid your debt to society, you should be able to return to society,” he said.

Companies might stop asking that question if the government can offer tax breaks or incentives for hiring ex-offenders, Mr. Dennard said.

When it comes to redeveloping Black America, Mr. Martin called on the National Urban League to spend this year gathering a group of Blacks to create an investment fund in hopes of combatting gentrification in Black communities.

“If we know the home prices are low and the land is cheap, well hell, let’s stop complaining about it and we buy ourselves,” Mr. Martin said.

Angela Rye, a political analyst for CNN and NPR and CEO of Impact Strategies, said supporting Black-owned institutions is key to controlling Black destiny. That starts, she said, with banking Black.

“If our banks had our resources in them, if we were banking Black, then they would not have been slaughtered in the 2008 recession,” Ms. Rye said. “If we were banking Black, we would have access to capital because they lend to us.”

In a particularly heated exchange, Mr. Martin asked Mr. Dennard if he’s seen a housing plan from the Trump administration.

“We’re talking about how do you redevelop Black America, how do you change cities,” Mr. Martin said. “You have to have a real housing plan and not just help out young … White folks that want to buy high-priced condos and Black folks that go to the suburbs where there’s no public transportation and no jobs.”

When Mr. Dennard responded that he’s hopeful HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson will write a housing plan after completing a nationwide listening tour, the audience laughed. Mr. Carson, who originally declined a position in Mr. Trump’s cabinet to serve as secretary of health and human services because he never ran an agency, has been criticized for referring to slaves as some of America’s first immigrants. The taping’s audience was mostly comprised of people affiliated with the Urban League and its local offices.

“It may not pass your laugh test but at the end of the day, elections have consequences and one of the consequences is that the president of the United States gets to select a cabinet he wants,” Mr. Dennard said. “And Dr. Carson is our secretary of HUD.”

The program is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. on May 31 on TV One as a two-hour special.

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