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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Friday, December 05, 2014

Ferguson, Staten Island and Moving Forward

On November 25, Barbara Crafton posted the following comment on the Geranium Farm Facebook page [1]:

Discouraged and sad about yet another young black man who won't grow old, yet another set of parents who won't see grandchildren, yet another town torn apart. And another missed chance for all of us.
Or is it missed? We still have a chance to learn a better way. But first we must admit that we need one. And that means we must listen to one another, and not leave the room when someone says something that we don't like, muttering something snide about "playing the race card." Newsflash: we are ALL playing the race card, all the time, and most of us don't know it. None of us can opt out of this deadly game. 
But we CAN decide how we will play. Truth or a comfortable lie? A desire to understand or an insistence on remaining ignorant of realities other than the one we ourselves inhabit. 
We have no grounds for despair, and no right to it. Not as long as we're still alive.
We were intending to add some of our own commentary to this about moving forward from here.  Those thoughts originated as an extension of the article we posted two weeks ago about lower labor force participation and how that condition might be corrected.  That problem may be different from the racism questions Barbara discusses, but the two may have similar answers.

Then, Wednesday, to our surprise, a grand jury in Staten Island, New York, declared that it would not indict another white policeman for his fierce action against still another black man he was trying to arrest.  This one is closer to home, quite literally.

We live at the Brooklyn end of the Brooklyn Bridge.  On that afternoon of December 3rd, we had occasion to cross the street right at the entrance to the Bridge, at about 5:15PM, roughly two-and-a-half hours after the grand jury's decision became known.  There were police everywhere.  A block or so on up a hill toward Brooklyn Heights, a group of police vans and cars was parked next to a park.  The cops, fortunately, were standing around idly because right then they had nothing to do.  I chatted with one of them in a nearby diner, and he told me that, in contrast, his colleagues elsewhere in the city were plenty busy.  Indeed, that was the time when the "die-in" at Grand Central Station was going on.  The next day, after a night of demonstrations around the city, heavy, visible police presence remained in our local neighborhood and, I assume, elsewhere around the city.

Unlike Ferguson, these New York City protests seem non-violent; hardly any property has been damaged and we've not heard of any significant injuries.

We do hope the judge in the Staten Island court will accede to the prosecutor's request and release some of the grand jury records.  Through various press reports and conversations, we have come to understand, though, that Eric Garner was actively resisting arrest, which makes the policeman's actions look less overdone than the video of the incident alone might indicate.  Also, we learned that the senior police officer in Daniel Pantaleo's patrol unit that day was a sergeant who is an African American woman.  At the same time, our point here is not to make judgments either way on this whole unfortunate mess.

Our point is to talk about the kinds of actions that might address some of the underlying problems.  Why are those black men so desperate that they robbed a convenience store or sold unlicensed cigarettes.  Why are their communities less well off than surrounding towns or neighborhoods.  We've found two specific approaches; they're long-term actions, not immediate responses, and they're meant to lift up people in lower-income neighborhoods, regardless of race.  These themes seem to fit Barbara Crafton's broader perspective described in her Ferguson comments.

First, we've just become acquainted with a group in Atlanta called Operation HOPE.  Perhaps some of you already know them.  The founder is John Hope Bryant, an associate of Andrew Young; one of the board members is Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Operation HOPE works in schools in low-income areas to help students learn about legitimate banking and business activities.  In a recent book on his work[2], Bryant explains that the people who live there have entrepreneurial talents and leanings; it's just that their businesses concentrate on illegitimate activities like drugs – or in Mr. Garner's case, selling unlicensed cigarettes on a street corner.  So Bryant wants to shift them to more fulfilling work; he talks about a young man who took a notary public exam and then set up a portable notary business.  He talks about three young men who set up a cleaning and yard-work business in his own community.  Then Operation HOPE works with banks to set up regularized financial services in these neighborhoods; bank managers go into schools and explain standard banking to students, so they know there is an alternative to check-cashing outlets and loan sharks.  SunTrust Banks in Atlanta is one of the main supporters and participants in these efforts, as are other financial institutions.

We've also just become acquainted with Nicole Baker Fulgham.  Dr. Fulgham is founder of The Expectations Project, an organization that seeks to further education reform and narrow the academic achievement gap by enlisting particular contributions from churches and people of faith.   She will appear in January at Trinity Institute at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York.  She has written Educating All God's Children describing the need for this work [3].  We are still reading the book, and the early pages document ways poverty handicaps educational efforts.  Intriguingly, Dr. Fulgham comments on the transformation of the population of the southern California city where she lived from mainly African American to Hispanic; as that shift took place, she explains, the African-American leaders in the school system were hesitant to yield their governance positions and influence to the incoming Hispanic population even as it became the majority in the community.  Thus, as Barbara Crafton commented, we can all be racists in one form or another, even if we believe we want to be anti-racist.

How hard is this?

At least we can see some ways forward here, which address at least two issues at once.  We can perhaps ease inequality by lifting up the bottom groups and helping them learn to generate their own growth.  We can limit crime by showing people fruitful, legal ways to make money.  And we can encourage participation in the real labor force, not the shadow economy.  The drawback, of course, is getting versions of Mr. Bryant's and Dr. Fulgham's programs in place in the vast number of locations where they are needed.  That takes time, but maybe if we can all look forward to something constructive, then fewer people will feel the need to stage a die-in in Grand Central Station or – this evening – in the intersection in front of Brooklyn's Barclay Center sports arena.

[2] John Hope Bryant,  How the Poor Can Save Capitalism.  San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.  2014.  Operation HOPE's website is

[3] Nicole Baker Fulgham, Educating All God's Children.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Company.  2013.  See the Facebook page of the related organization, The Expectations Project:

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