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Free Associate’s Degree: A Solution, But Not the Solution

William E. Spriggs

William E. Spriggs

By William E. Spriggs

We should all congratulate President Barack Obama for pulling the education debate into the 21st century, or perhaps dragging it into the late 20th century, by proposing access to free education through at least an associate’s degree. But this merely restates the obvious.
As the White House documents supporting this policy point out, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, as the economy transformed into the modern era, Americans embraced the call of Progressives to extend public education from 8th grade to 12th grade. New job skills were required in the age that brought about automobile, telephone and airplane manufacturing and new occupations like electrician, motion picture projectionist, X-ray technician, truck driver, bus driver and radio operator-jobs that could not have been imagined in 1880.

So, too, common sense dictates that a high school degree in a world of computer processors and cell telephone communications cannot meet the needs of a changing world where webpage designers, “app” writers and cybersecurity specialists are in high demand.

The president is simply asserting the obvious in extending free associate’s degrees as a democratic right. The price of the basic ticket to the game has changed. That means the full access to society has a new predicate.

Unfortunately, we live with a dysfunctional democracy where anti-democratic forces are strong. There are those who are fighting hard to limit voting rights instead of the American ideal to protect and strengthen those rights. So it isn’t surprising that voices are being raised to limit economic rights, and to instead rail against “government” extension of opportunity. Of course, the movie “Selma” reminds us that small minds have sought to limit opportunity in America for a long time.
But beyond the obvious need to redefine the right to a basic education in a world in which “basic” has clearly changed, the rest of the president’s case is short on the fuller problems and issues facing America.

First is the notion that the extension of the educational right is a solution to the sagging earnings of Americans. At the beginning of this century, in 2001, the median earnings of American men was $42,755, but in 2013 they had dropped to $39,602. This was despite an increase in the share of men with associate’s degrees from 7.5 percent to 9.1 percent and declines in the share of men with less education than an associate’s degree from 63.4 percent to 58.1 percent. It also came despite an increase for those holding bachelor’s degrees or higher from 29.0 percent to 32.8 percent.

So, despite increasing educational attainment, the income of men fell. More to the point, the income of men holding associate’s degrees fell from $51,144 to $42,176. More emphatically, the median earnings of men with bachelor’s degrees fell from $65,769 to $58,170.

Second is the argument that a better educated workforce will lead to a more productive workforce. This is clearly the case. Productivity of America’s workers increased from 2001 to 2013 by 27 percent. And increases in productivity are traditionally the source of increasing wages. But wages did not increase.

The president’s proposal deserves immediate support. But it must be supported in the framework of extending rights and opportunities that is the hallmark of America-the nation that always looks forward. And we must fight against those who want to take us backward.

Still, as the AFL-CIO’s recent National Summit on Raising Wages highlighted, the United States is facing a more fundamental structural problem that must be addressed. We have a better educated and more productive workforce, but a workforce that is getting paid less. Those lower wages are not the workings of the market or some economic necessity. Those lower wages are the result of clear choices to feed corporate coffers at the expense of an economy that functions for all. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, we must have policies that treat corporations as part of America, not above America.

We must commit ourselves to reinvest in America. Those who look backward will see costs; those who look forward see dividends.

Power, Justice and the Cheap Blood of Black Males

Hakim Hazim

Hakim Hazim

“Justice is nothing more than the advantage of the stronger.” -Thrasymachus

 By Hakim Hazim

The grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York should not surprise us. Justice is in the eyes of the beholder and the criminal justice system is not blind. It derives its power from the larger societal framework that simply has many preconceived ideas about Black males. We must work relentlessly to change this and hold the system accountable. We must also support the people who are doing that and exercise patience in the process. Keep in mind the two chief law enforcement officers in this nation are Black: Barack Obama and Eric Holder, and racial tensions are at an all time high. To their credit they are doing quite a bit, but they face an uphill struggle. We should follow their lead on criminal justice reform and we should do everything we can for the young Black men around us before and after tragedy strikes. We should also consistently deplore what we are doing to one another; it’s senseless not too. All of these things reinforce the notion, “Black Blood is cheap.”

Current law enforcement approaches toward us as a people and the tacit societal approval behind it must change. Society inherently nurtures the belief that justice is nothing more than the interest and the sustained advantage of the stronger, and it has played out that way for centuries. The rationale is, “If they did things the right way, they would get what I have and so would their children.”  Such self-righteousness obscures reality.  The fact is people do all they can to give their descendants an advantage in the system and they tilt the scales to their advantage. It’s true with race, power and wealth and gender. It’s simply a human trait of passing the best of your efforts, lessons and acquisitions to your children, but you also pass your biases on as well.

When we first arrived, justice was never considered for us as a people. It was an elusive concept for which we prayed, fought, bled and died for. To this very day, she seems a distant stranger to many of our people still in terms of access, resources, familial ties and fair treatment in terms of the criminal justice system. Although all black people have felt the sting of injustice, poor black folks feel it the most. Having little to bargain with or offer they are viewed as inferior, unworthy and an unnecessary, troublesome burden by many—even middle class and upper class blacks. Our inner cities are filled with Black-on-Black crime, fatherlessness and substandard schools. This fertile ground of dysfunction produces young men who think that they or their peers have little value. Feeling powerless, they prey on one another and lash out at the larger system. This crab in a bucket mentality is celebrated in the music of popular culture. The sad fact is this, many of us have not learn to value one another the way we should and King’s Dream falls on deaf ears to many of the younger generation.

Let’s face the facts: statistics show young people who do well often succeed because of the systems and programs that strengthen them. Things like a solid family structure and access to education, faith-based organizations, mentoring agencies, activity, athletic and interest development organizations and employment services, give young people a fighting chance. If not, their doomed from the womb. The deaths of so many young black males or own the hands of many. The Black-on- Black gang wars, stand your ground advocates and law enforcement officers have all contributed to this. Passivity is not an option. Let your voice be heard, or remain entrenched in hypocrisy. The choice is yours.


Hakim Hazim is the founder of Relevant Now and co-founder of Freedom Squared. He is a nationally recognized expert in decision analysis, criminality and security.



Through The Media Lens: Covering Race and Police Brutality

Bob Butler

Bob Butler

By Bob Butler 

The second half of 2014 has been marked by the shooting deaths of four African-American males by local law enforcement — Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York, John Crawford and Tamir Rice in Ohio — that have attracted the attention of national media and the federal government, and shined a light on the issue of policing in minority communities.

It has also been marked by some exceptional journalism on the subject, as well as some alarming narratives from journalistic choices that, while not necessarily intentional, serve to perpetuate stereotypes of Black men as dangerous criminals.

Race is present in the dynamics around these stories and those who are involved in producing these stories. Put another way: while a diverse group of journalists has been on the ground reporting this story, the same cannot be said about who makes decisions about what will be covered and how.

Some of the coverage goes into great detail about how the victims’ actions may have contributed to their own demise: John Crawford should not have tried to buy a toy rifle at Walmart, Mike Brown should not have (allegedly) stolen cigars from a convenience store, Eric Garner should not have (allegedly) been selling loose cigarettes and Tamir Rice should not have been playing with a toy gun.

These cases are not the first, nor will they be the last, involving Black males and the police. It must be pointed out that Black males are not the only ones being shot. Dillon Taylor in Utah and Gil Collar in Alabama were White and also unarmed when police shot them. The difference is the media coverage of their cases does not imply that they deserved to die.

From the breaking news coverage of these events to the analysis that followed, and will hopefully continue, it is important to recognize the negative patterns that can emerge in such stories, and to discuss strategies for countering these patterns.

Two questions can help guide this process: Is this information relevant? And how will this affect the story?

A big part of how narrative is shaped in these stories starts with the photos of those involved. While availability of photos can be a challenge, especially in the early stages of a fast-moving story, efforts must be made to paint the fullest picture (pun intended) of the central figures. Images depicting black men solely as menacing, threatening or dangerous only fuel existing stereotypes.

Weighing whether to include details about a black victim’s criminal background or drug use also contributes to the narrative. Here, balance is important. Is there an attempt to report the officer’s history? Does the officer have a disciplinary history or a record of complaints regarding use of force? Is the victim’s background relevant to the specific incident that ended his life? If so, explain this to readers, lest it be interpreted as gratuitous or malicious.

In the case of Tamir Rice, why did the Northwest Ohio Media Group report on his parents’ criminal records? What did that have to do with Rice being shot by police?

Stories like Ferguson and the deaths of Crawford, Garner and Rice reaffirm the urgency of more diverse American newsrooms. Look no further than the membership of the National Association of Black Journalists to find many examples of responsible reporting.

NABJ was founded in 1975 in part, “to monitor and sensitize all media to racism.” Nearly 40 years later, NABJ still finds it necessarily to fulfill this role. It is our hope that those committed to a better approach to exploring issues of race and society will join us in examining how we can all improve.

Bob Butler is the President of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). NABJ is the largest organization for journalists of color in the nation, and provides career development as well as educational and other support to its members worldwide. For additional information, please visit, http://www.nabj.org