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75 posts categorized "Minorities"

Documentary Film and Gentrification

April 07, 2014

(Kathryn Pyle is a documentary filmmaker and a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she wrote about the promise and failure of humanitarian aid in Haiti.)

Urban_gentrificationThe phenomenon of gentrification – how it gets started, who benefits, and who loses – is a longstanding concern in cities across the country.

But the term describes only the most visible and disturbing face of urban change: the crowding out of lower-income residents from a suddenly "hot" neighborhood by more affluent newcomers. At a time of growing income inequality in the U.S., it's an image that has captured the attention of the media and, increasingly, is sparking public indignation.

Writing in the New York Times ("Cities Helping Residents Resist the New Gentry"), Timothy Williams observes that "the arrival of newcomers to formerly working-class areas…is distinct from previous influxes over the past thirty years" because new arrivals tend to want to live in newer housing, and the condos and loft spaces built to satisfy that demand not only are too expensive for long-time residents but also add to the density of a neighborhood while reducing the ratio of older residents to new arrivals. Williams' article goes on to discuss measures that have been adopted by cities to mitigate the impact of gentrification on longtime homeowners, while a Times article ("Gentrifying Into the Shelters") by Ginia Bellafante notes that creating and maintaining affordable housing for low-income renters in gentrifying neighborhoods requires an altogether different set of measures.

The topic hasn't escaped the notice of documentary filmmakers. Told in different styles and about different places, films such as Gut Renovation (2012), Third Ward TX (2007), and We Will Not Be Moved (1980) identify common elements in the gentrification process -- foremost among them real estate speculation and private housing development, in many cases encouraged by tax breaks and rezoning policies.  

Su Friedrich's Gut Renovation is a very personal account of that process as it unfolded in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and how that process is displacing the local artist community – of which she is a member. It begins, in 2005, when Friedrich notices the first high-rise condo going up down the street and ends, five years later, with her own building's demolition to make way for the umpteenth luxe condo project in the neighborhood. Needless to say, the redevelopment of Williamsburg continues unabated, affecting the neighborhood’s long-term population of Poles, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans and irrevocably changing the very thing that attracted artists to the neighborhood in the first place.

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'Under Construction': La Plazita Institute - Albuquerque, New Mexico

March 18, 2014

Under-construction-logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

As in the desert that surrounds this city, it seems almost all living happens at dusk. The sun throws rose-colored light on the Sandia Mountains, the pale houses empty, and the sidewalks fill. Above, the skies look brush-stroked and extravagant, and a breeze comes, as if it had been hiding, too. When you endure in the desert, this hour is your reward.

And if you are a boy here, this is the hour when someone will show you a crooked path to manhood. You'll follow an older brother or cousin down to the Rio Grande to receive an initiation of blows and beatings. There, under the Cottonwoods, you'll try not to cry when they say you need to go beat up that kid you used to play with. In just a little while they'll call you carnalito (little brother, little dude).

Like many of the Chicano and Native American youth in Albuquerque who take guidance from La Plazita Institute, Raymond Maestas was brought into gang life before he got out of middle school. He learned to go at life with a gun on his waist and to get away from it all by taking a hit. But one day when he was fifteen a man invited him to earn respect a different way, by talking about his feelings, by serving his neighborhood, and by beginning to honor a heritage he had never been taught. The man was Albino Garcia, and the place was called La Plazita. The other guys in the room, the ones he was supposed to open up to? They were the ones he'd been conditioned to hate.

"I was stuck in the life, gang style life, I grew up here in the South Valley, you know," Maestas remembers. (South Valley is a neighborhood in the city's Southeast District.) "The words of Albino made me think. I was fifteen and I had a son.

That was ten years ago, soon after La Plazita began trying to help one of the most underserved populations in the country with programs like organic gardening, ceramics, and screen printing, along with traditional Native American rituals like a sweat lodge and "Warrior Circles." Here Maestas, who is twenty-five now and is covered neck to waist in tattoos, will tell younger teens how he learned to talk about his feelings, and, perhaps for the first time, those mentees will know someone who has dared to walk a different path.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 1-2, 2014)

March 02, 2014

Ukraine_protestorOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Big Data

In the Washington Post, Brian Fung reports that more than a dozen civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, "are backing a set of principles targeting the widespread use of data in law enforcement, hiring and commerce."

With the advent of big data, are "we to assume that government and business will be 'upended', 'revolutionized', 'disrupted' or some other exciting verb but [that] nonprofits and civil society will remain unchanged?" asks Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. Not likely, says Bernholz. "On the contrary, the implications of networked digital data for both addressing our shared social problems and changing how we voluntarily act, how we associate with each other as independent citizens, how we organize for change or protest, are profound. Isn't it time for a real discussion of privacy, association, and autonomy -- about civil society -- in a networked data age?"

Education

Guest blogging on Education Week's Living in Dialogue blog, Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, argues that "the lack of process is precisely why Common Core needs to be abandoned, especially by public service and teacher unions."

Health

In a post on the Forbes site, Geoffrey Kabat, an epidemiologist with an interest in lifestyle and environmental exposures as factors in chronic disease, suggests that reports that we may "finally be seeing the beginnings of a reversal in the upward trend in obesity" -- a conclusion based on one statistic from a study conducted by researchers at National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) -- belies a more sobering reality: there was no change in obesity either in children and adolescents or in adults over the ten-year study period.

Innovation

Innovation in social change works is great, writes Dr. Robert Ross in a special supplement to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, but it's not everything. "In fact," adds Ross, "when it comes to addressing today’s urgent social problems, from education and public health to civil and human rights, innovation is overrated."

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‘Under Construction’: Center for Urban Families - Baltimore, Maryland

February 24, 2014

Under-construction-logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

To learn more about the Center for Urban Families, visit BMAfunders.org.

Joseph Thomas knows how deterioration works. It is the same process for the shuttered blocks of West Baltimore where he was a boy as it is for the man who has no one to talk to. The facades are the last thing to go.

"In prison you have a lot of time to think," says Thomas, who served two years. A quiet, gentle man, he thought about how he had drifted through life since an early age with no one to steer him. Most of all, he thought about his daughters, wondering if he still had a chance to give them what he didn't have, a positive role model. Today, you listen to him talk about his teenage girls, what it means to make it to one of their badminton games, and he almost blushes. He was always in their lives, but he has learned that there are different kinds of presence.

Thomas, 38, is one of more than twenty thousand people who have come through the doors of Baltimore's Center for Urban Families (CFUF), where fatherhood and employment courses re-order their ideas about what a man's life can mean to his family and to the neighborhoods they call home.

The center operates out of an angular, bastion-like building here in Sandtown, where Thomas was a boy. "It was wild," he says. "It was drugs on every corner. It was people getting killed." But in the center's halls, people carry themselves with a refined confidence. They show up on time and sit around boardroom tables, or in large, university-like classrooms. And Thomas, like everybody else, is wearing a suit and tie. "The training wasn't just about training for a job," he says. "It was about succeeding in life."

Founded in 1999 by a former drug addict, the Center for Urban Families has become a model for how to reach urban men, perhaps the country's most underserved demographic. Here in a community that many think of as a "city of neighborhoods," the center's work targets the hardest of these, the street corners that have found infamy as the backdrop of popular television crime shows like The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Streets.

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'A Small Committed Minority of Believers'

February 18, 2014

(Shawn Dove is campaign manager for the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement. In a December 2012 Newsmaker interview with PND, he discussed the report Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys.)

Headshot_Shawn Dove_A generation ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted in Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?, the last book he published before he was assassinated, that "it will take…a small committed minority [of believers] to work unrelentingly to win the uncommitted majority. Such a group may well transform America's greatest dilemma into her most glorious opportunity."

The great dilemma that King wrote about in 1967 still gnaws at the roots of a nation that was founded on a premise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but was built on a foundation of racial and gender inequality. And while today no single group of people in America can claim that it alone is marginalized — sadly, there are many such groups — it is hard to dispute that disparities faced by black men and boys across a number of indicators, including incarceration, academic achievement, and unemployment, paint a picture of their systemic exclusion from the American mainstream.

The thorny issue of black men and their standing in American society is, of course, not a new one. Yet in light of recent advances in the emerging field of black male achievement, there is reason to hope that the small committed minority of believers who have been working hard to improve the life outcomes and perceptions of black men and boys are swaying the majority of non-believers.

By now, most people have heard that President Obama intends to launch a significant new effort "to bolster the lives of young men of color" in America. Building on momentum that has been growing over recent years, the public rollout of My Brother's Keeper, as the initiative is called, represents a bold response to the challenges confronting so many young men of color. Without a doubt, this is an historic moment for the work and aspirations of many leaders working within and outside philanthropy who have devoted their lives to creating an America where black men and boys can compete on an even playing field of opportunity and realize their full potential.

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For the Success of Boys and Men of Color, A Call to Action

January 29, 2014

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post was first published on Open Society's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanIn this year's State of the Union address, President Obama opened the door to an opportunity that may be a game changer for millions of boys and men of color in America.

In his speech, President Obama said he believes in the fundamental importance of transforming the lives of young men and boys of color and is committed to bolstering and reinforcing government and private partnerships to work on the issue.

We welcome and are heartened by the president's commitment and recognition that a key part of the effort to increase opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race and gender, is to focus explicitly on helping boys and men of color succeed.

Young men of color face systemic economic, social, and political barriers in their everyday lives. As a result, too many of them are denied educational opportunity, become unemployed, or, worse, face incarceration.

In spite of these barriers, we see men and boys of color overcome the odds on a regular basis —graduating at the top of their classes, achieving leadership positions in corporations, becoming business owners, and being wonderful fathers to their families and valuable members of their communities. They are vital assets to our country, and investing in pathways to build opportunity for them will deliver significant economic and civic benefits to the nation as a whole.

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Newsmakers: Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

December 18, 2013

Headshot_darren_walkerIn September, Darren Walker became the tenth president of the Ford Foundation. Before coming to Ford, where he was vice president of the foundation's Education, Creativity, and Freedom of Expression program, Walker served as vice president for foundation initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation and as chief operating officer of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, where he guided the organization's efforts to develop housing for low and moderate-income families in Harlem.

Recently, Michael Seltzer, a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic, spoke with Walker about the current social change environment, the influence of the foundation's activities on his life, and his hopes for the foundation going forward. Seltzer is a distinguished lecturer at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs and an affiliated faculty member of its Center for Nonprofit Strategy & Management.

Philanthropy News Digest: What is it like to be president of the Ford Foundation?

Darren Walker: Although I've been at the foundation for more than three years, in many ways I still have a lot to learn. I certainly didn't arrive here with any idea I would end up as president. When I walked through the doors of this institution for the first time, it was a transformational experience, because the Ford Foundation represents the ways in which my own life has been changed by philanthropy.

I'm a graduate of public schools. I attended public school in a small town in Texas, and I am also a graduate of the first Head Start cohort, a program that was developed out of Ford Foundation-supported research on early child development at Yale University. After high school, I attended a large land grant university -- thanks to Pell grants, another Ford Foundation-supported intervention -- so I know all about Ford's commitment to public education in this country.

After college, I worked on Wall Street and one day found myself at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, which was hosting a representative of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a creation of -- you guessed it -- the Ford Foundation. LISC had awarded a grant to the Abyssinian Development Corporation for capacity-building initiatives that would allow it to realize the aspirations of the organization's founders, who had a dream in the mid-'80s that Harlem could be a community that could regenerate itself from within. And the Ford Foundation, through LISC, believed in that dream and invested in it. And that capacity-building grant made it possible for ADC to hire me. So my journey, like the journeys of so many others, has been deeply influenced by the Ford Foundation.

I was thrilled to receive a call from the foundation's board chair, Irene Hirano-Inouye, and have her tell me that the board had voted to appoint me president. Actually, I wasn't sure how to respond, beyond saying, "Yes!" because I know that with this job comes huge responsibility, and that I stand on the shoulders of some extraordinary people.

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Creating Paths to College and the Urgency of Now

October 29, 2013

(Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant is the interim director of the Youth Policy team at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy organization that works to improve the lives of low-income people. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Headshot_RhondaTI was a STEM whiz as a child — a seemingly unlikely thing for a girl, and an African-American girl at that, to be. In middle school, I attended a magnet program and learned computer programming while taking advanced math and science classes. In high school, I took calculus and physics and learned a computer programming language. My primary interest was engineering, so my school district helped me attend summer programs at area universities. That experience landed me a job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the age of 17.

Although I chose public policy instead of engineering as my life's work, those were the opportunities that put me on a path to college. My middle school and high school offered classes that nurtured my interests in mathematics and science. I had great teachers who used hands-on learning to take basic lessons to the next level. I remember our physics teacher explaining the science behind breaking boards martial arts-style and wading in the Chesapeake River in hip-high boots to learn about plant life. I also had guidance counselors who knew me personally, connected me to summer opportunities that allowed me to cultivate my academic interests, and walked me through the college application process. My family couldn't afford to pay for college. Without these opportunities, it would have been far more difficult to continue my education.

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New Initiative Moves Beyond College Access for Low-Income Students

October 22, 2013

(The following post was written by AiLun Ku, a program director at the Opportunity Network, which works to put high-achieving low-income New York City high school students on the road to college and a good career, and Greg MacDonald, dean of admissions and financial aid at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.)

Headshot_ailunku_gregmacdonaldEvery college economics professor can tell you about the multiplier effect, but when they do they usually focus on the income side of the equation. In contrast, Lafayette College and the Opportunity Network have developed a multiplier effect in the form of an investment that expands diversity at a highly competitive liberal arts college and enriches the experience for low-income, first-generation students.

Issues of college access continue to make headlines. The Lafayette College-Opportunity Network partnership moves beyond the debate about access by supporting students not only through the admissions process but throughout their college careers.

Through the partnership, Lafayette will admit, with each incoming freshman class, three to six well-qualified applicants from the Opportunity Network and provide them with financial aid to fully meet their needs during their college years. Students attending Lafayette through the partnership will be spared having to overcome the major obstacles to higher education faced by so many first-generations students — cost and a lack of information and guidance needed to navigate the admissions process.

But gaining admission to college is only half the battle. Today, even high-achieving high school students are graduating without the tools needed to excel in a college environment that often is dramatically different from their home and high school. Too many students need to learn how to manage time and money, how to advocate for themselves, how to find and ask for academic help, how to adapt to life on a college campus where most students come from higher-income backgrounds, and how to build a network of people willing to support them in school and beyond.

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When It Comes to Health, Place Matters

October 02, 2013

(Dr. Brian D. Smedley is vice president and director of the Health Policy Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C.)

Headshot_brian_smedley.jpg_3The implementation of the Affordable Care Act is an achievement Americans can be proud of. Making sure that all our brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, have proper health insurance makes us a stronger, more prosperous nation.

Amid this important change, however, we cannot ignore the work that remains to be done, especially in communities of color. Insurance cards are not enough.

To become a society with better health -- not just better health coverage -- we must also look at the role "place" plays in the lives of minority communities.

Where we live, work, and play is surprisingly predictive of lifespan. Within the City of Boston, for instance, people in some census tracts live thirty-three years less than those in nearby tracts. In Bernalillo County, New Mexico, the difference is twenty-two years.

Researchers are releasing Community Health Equity Reports at the Place Matters 2013 National Health Equity Conference today in Washington, D.C. Data from Baltimore, Birmingham, Chicago, New Orleans, and other cities demonstrates that where you live is a powerful determinant for how long you'll live.

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What Innovation in Education Really Means – Doing What Works!

September 06, 2013

(Dr. Tiffany Cooper Gueye is chief executive officer of BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), a national nonprofit that aims to transform the academic achievement, self-confidence, and life trajectories of children living in underresourced urban communities.)

Headshot_Tiffany-Cooper-GueyeWhen the "No Child Left Behind Act" was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January 2002, there were an estimated 141 million cell phones in use in the United States. Today the number of active wireless devices stands at 326 million and the majority of them are tablets or smartphones -- devices that were the stuff of science fiction back in 2002. Needless to say, technological innovation transformed the telecommunications industry in a few short years -- and the world changed forever.

Sadly, we've seen no such transformation in education since the enactment of legislation that was meant to shine a light on student achievement gaps and schools with consistently poor outcomes. Yes, government leaders are quick to trumpet the latest "innovation" in the field and "experts" obsess over every fad and new technology, but poor schools and student achievement gaps are as much a part of the education landscape today as they were in 2002. And that's a shame, because we already have some of the tools and approaches we need to make huge leaps forward in the way we educate our children.

Case in point: summer learning.

Summer learning works, and the lack of it in places where it's most needed clearly compromises student achievement and school success. Indeed, we have decades of research quantifying the reality of summer learning loss and a growing body of evidence about the value of summer learning programs. Yet for millions of children, summer learning loss is an accepted fact of life.

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Lincoln Died for Our Sins

August 26, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the ninth installment of that series (click here for the eighth, "The New White Negro," by Isabell Sawhill), Jelani Cobb, director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut and author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress, examines the themes that, over the last century and a half, have made our sixteenth president "a Rorschach test of sorts" and how those themes are bound to and illuminate questions of racial reconciliation and progress in America. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Lincoln_MemorialThe opening scene of Steven Spielberg's cinemythic portrait of the sixteenth president features President Abraham Lincoln seated on a stage, half cloaked in darkness, and observing the Union forces he is sending into battle. It's an apt metaphor for the man himself -- both visible and obscure, inside the tempest yet somehow above the fray. Lincoln was released in early November 2012, just in time to shape our discussions of January 1, 2013, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet with its themes of redemption and sacrifice, Spielberg's film could seem less suited for an anniversary celebration than an annual one. Here is a vision of a lone man, tested by betrayal, besieged by enemies whom he regards without malice, a man who is killed for his convictions only to be resurrected as a moral exemplar. Spielberg's Lincoln is perhaps less fitted to January 1 than it is to the holiday that precedes it by a week.

In fairness, this narrative of Lincoln's Civil War, equal parts cavalry and Calvary, did not originate with Spielberg. The legend of the Great Emancipator began even as Lincoln lay dying in a boarding house across from Ford's Theater that night in April 1865. (In the same way that JFK's mythic standing as a civil rights stalwart was born at Dealey Plaza in November 1963.) In the wake of his assassination, Lincoln the controversial and beleaguered president was remade into Lincoln the Savior, an American Christ-figure who carried the nation's sins. Pulling off this transformation, this historical alchemy, has required that we as a nation redact the messier parts of Lincoln's story in favor of an untainted, morally unconflicted commander-in-chief who was untouched by the biases of the day and unyielding in his opposition to slavery. We have little use for tainted Christs. Through Lincoln, the Union was "saved" in more than one sense of the word.

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The New White Negro

August 24, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the eighth installment of that series (click here for the seventh, "Prison's Dilemma," by Glenn C. Loury), Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of many books on the economy, most recently Creating an Opportunity Society, examines the role of race and class in the breakdown of family formation among lower-income American families over the last fifty years. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Headshot_isabel_sawhillIn 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan released a controversial report written for his then boss, President Lyndon Johnson. Entitled "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action" (76 pages, PDF), it described the condition of lower-income African American families and catalyzed a highly acrimonious, decades-long debate about black culture and family values in America.

The report cited a series of staggering statistics showing high rates of divorce, unwed childbearing, and single motherhood among black families. "The white family has achieved a high degree of stability and is maintaining that stability," the report said. "By contrast, the family structure of lower class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown."

Nearly fifty years later, the picture is even more grim -- and the statistics can no longer be organized neatly by race. In fact, Moynihan's bracing profile of the collapsing black family in the 1960s looks remarkably similar to a profile of the average white family today. White households have similar -- or worse -- statistics of divorce, unwed childbearing, and single motherhood as the black households cited by Moynihan in his report. In 2000, the percentage of white children living with a single parent was identical to the percentage of black children living with a single parent in 1960: 22 percent.

What was happening to black families in the '60s can be reinterpreted today not as an indictment of the black family but as a harbinger of a larger collapse of traditional living arrangements -- of what demographer Samuel Preston, in words that Moynihan later repeated, called "the earthquake that shuddered through the American family."

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Prison's Dilemma

August 21, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the seventh installment of that series (click here for the sixth, "A Dedicated Life: Shirley Sherrod's Ongoing Battle for Racial Cooperation in Georgia," by Ryan Cooper), Glenn C. Loury, the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University, explains how America's overreliance on incarceration adversely affects African Americans and exacerbates existing racial and class inequalities. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Headshot_glenn_louryOver the past four decades, the United States has become a punitive nation without historical precedent or international parallel. With roughly 5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. currently confines about one-quarter of the world's prison inmates. In 2008,one in a hundred American adults was behind bars. Just what manner of people does our prison policy reveal us to be?

America, with great armies deployed abroad under a banner of freedom, nevertheless harbors the largest infrastructure for the mass deprivation of liberty on the planet. We imprison nearly as great a fraction of our population to a lifetime in jail (around seventy people for every hundred thousand residents) as Sweden, Denmark, and Norway imprison for any duration whatsoever.

That America's prisoners are mainly minorities, particularly African Americans, who come from the most disadvantaged corners of our unequal society, cannot be ignored. In 2006, one in nine black men between the ages of twenty and thirty-four was serving time. The role of race in this drama is subtle and important, and the racial breakdown is not incidental: prisons both reflect and exacerbate existing racial and class inequalities.

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A Dedicated Life: Shirley Sherrod's Ongoing Battle for Racial Cooperation in Georgia

August 16, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the sixth installment of that series (click here for the fifth, "Deconstructing Reconstruction," by Nicholas Lemann), Ryan Cooper, the Web editor at Washington Monthly, checks in with Shirley Sherrod, a former USDA state director of rural development for Georgia, who was fired after remarks she made at an NAACP banquet were intentionally misrepresented by conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Headshot_shirley_sherrodAlmost three years ago, in late March 2010, Shirley Sherrod, who was then the USDA state director of rural development for Georgia, gave a forthright speech about her life story at an NAACP banquet. She told of how a white sheriff had lynched her cousin in 1943, how her father was killed by a white neighbor who went uncharged despite three witnesses, and how after her father's death she dedicated herself to staying in Georgia to work for change. Initially, she said, her commitment was limited to the black community, but in 1985 her mind was changed.

That year, while Sherrod was working for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a nonprofit helping black farmers hang on to their land, Roger Spooner, a white farmer in danger of foreclosure, approached her for help. She took Spooner to a white lawyer, assuming that one of his "own kind would take care of him." But when she discovered that the lawyer would do nothing for him, she did what she could instead. Eventually, she helped Spooner keep his farm. This was a lesson from God, Sherrod said during her NAACP speech, to teach her that it's not all about black and white, but about poverty also. "Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't," she said.

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