MAXWELL:  A far-reaching call for action

12/23/1996 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper

 

The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Pinellas County Urban League should be commended for bringing National Urban President and CEO Hugh Price to town. Price spoke to about 250 breakfast guests Friday at the Bayfront Center arena. He addressed select issues outlined in The State of Black America, the Urban League’s annual, scholarly assessment of black life.

Washington’s promise of millions of dollars notwithstanding, the essence of Price’s message is the best thing that has happened here since the riots. Price did what no other public figure has had the courage to do: He held everyone _ whites and blacks _ responsible for the area’s problems and responsible for fixing them. He held all agencies _ government, social, educational, religious and otherwise _ responsible.

The quality of life in black America is improving in most categories, he said. More blacks are graduating from college; more own homes than ever before; incomes are up; teenage pregnancy is down; crime is down in most black communities. This progress is the direct result of broad-based involvement of many forces, including affirmative action.

At the same time, though, too many African-Americans are still disconnected from the mainstream economy, Price said, pointing out that millions of blacks are worse off than ever as the economy becomes more technical and global. He challenged local corporations to work harder at training, hiring and promoting blacks.

He also called for “no-excuse school reform,” in which teachers do everything possible to make sure that their charges learn. He called for the school board to ensure that black students attend schools that are adequately equipped, with rigorous curriculums.

He challenged the police to change practices that foster mistrust among the citizenry.

But Price’s most important message _ the one often suppressed _ was aimed at African-Americans themselves. Black parents, even if they cannot help their children with homework, should find a meaningful way to get involved in their children’s schools. Black adults must help eradicate the “negative peer culture” that scares black children away from achievement, that condemns them for being smart. “We must start celebrating achievement,” Price said, lauding a local mentoring program that is run by a young black man. “We must start seeing our children as assets and not as liabilities.”

Price brought truth and courage to a debate that has become self-censoring and timid. He brought sanity and practicality to an atmosphere contaminated with paranoia, denial, recrimination and anger. Local leaders _ white and black _ who want to see progress here should heed Price’s wise counsel. Progress, Price said, is a viable social compact among the government, organizations and individuals.

Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer and columnist for the Times.