Voting rights and civic engagement were the hottest topics at a town hall Wednesday night hosted by the National Urban League on the campus of Howard University to unveil its annual State of Black America report, titled this year Occupy the Vote: Educate, Employ & Empower.
Each year NUL documents equality gaps between African-Americans and whites in a variety of areas, including income, health, education and social justice. Scores for civic engagement showed the biggest decrease in the four areas measured, from 101.8 percent to 98.3 percent.
The Urban League reckons that the civic engagement score has declined in part due to new voting laws that make it more challenging for African-Americans, young adults, senior citizens and low income people to cast ballots by requiring that they present a state-sanctioned photo identification card or that limit early voting periods and opportunities for groups to conduct voter registration drives.
“We must occupy the vote so we have a voice in the future of this nation,” NUL President Marc Morial said. “Not now and not on our watch are we going to allow a nation, which spends a trillion dollars to defend democracy abroad, erect fences and barriers here at home.”
Education also was at the center of an impassioned discussion because it serves as a pathway to economic empowerment and inadequate level of education, from finishing high school to earning college degrees, is widely believed to play a key role in the African-American community’s high unemployment rate.
Participants on the town hall panel that focused on education stressed the need for more people of color to become teachers.
“Sixty-eight percent of inner-city principals are white. We know that the majority of public school students are minorities. However, they don’t have access to a diverse teaching body. This is a travesty,” said activist Kevin Powell. “We know that there are academic and social benefits when they are taught by Black teachers. They are less likely to be referred for special education, less likely to be suspended and more likely to graduate. This country must diversify its teaching force.”
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(Photo: Courtesy National Urban League)