Wednesday, February 19, 2014

If I Were a Young Man…

“If I were a young man - yubby dibby, dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
All day long I’d biddy, biddy burn.
If I were a young man…
If I were a biddy biddy young
angry, diddle, daidle, daidle man.”
by Charlie Leck
If I were young again and looking for a fight with the establishment, I’d find it, sure enough, in the recent news stories about the extremely wide gap in the success of educating black kids compared to white kids in Minneapolis. As Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach, might have said: “What the hell is goin’ on here?”
There’s no need to plan a trip to Mississippi to stir up folks and call for action and fairness. We got enough troubles “right here in River City.”
In this great city on the Mississippi there is something wrong with what we’re doing in education. The story is constant and we’re being hit with it again and again in the local newspaper; and good for them! We need to have this story told and we need to be hit over the head with it until we get the guts and energy to fix this despicable problem.
We’ve got to get this inequality thing figured out. Until we do, there is going to remain a major division between the races – with non-whites making up the majority of the lower-income and poverty statistics and whites making up an overwhelming majority of the upper-income and middle-class portions of our society. And that just ain’t fair!
This morning’s newspaper tells the story again and it’s enough to make your back curl upward and your blood boil. Only one in three black students in Minneapolis graduates on time. “Four out of five black students are not proficient in reading…”
These are the things pointed out in an article by Steve Brandt in this morning’s StarTribune (Black students face long odds in Minneapolis). Where are the civil rights workers? Where are the protesters? Where are the volunteers? Where are the fund raisers?
I remember when I went to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to work on the Voter Registration Project, white folks down there would look me in the eye and ask why I didn’t fix the problems “you got where you come from?”
Well, I’m here to say, right now, that they’re damned right!
As Harold said as an opening to his famous song in The Music Man…
“Well, either you’re closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated…

Well , ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say trouble right here in River City…

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital ‘T’”…
In fact, black students, Latino students and Native American students all lag far behind white students in the Minneapolis school system.
Read the danged article! If it doesn’t make you angry and make you stand up and shout that “I’m damned angry and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” – then somethin’ is wrong with ya! Hear?
I have a daughter who put in a number of years with Teach for America (TFA) and as a TFA alum she’s coming back to Minneapolis on Friday for a weekend conference. I hope the conference is on this issue, but if it isn’t I’m going to get some advice from her about what I – one old, white man – can do to help turn this situation around.
You, too! Come on now! Somehow we can all get involved in this thing and get it turned right around!
My friend, Sam Stern is a great example – and his example makes me feel ashamed. He has just taken one kid and devoted himself to this young black student and determined that this kid is not going to fall through the cracks like other kids do. Sam is going to make sure that his young friend can read properly and that he knows how to interact with “the system” and use it to his advantage.
Gad-dang, guys like Sam Stern should be getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom for what they do and those of us who do nothing ought to get slapped-upside-the-head!
Here’s where it starts! Go to the paper and read this story. One, an awful lot like it, ran last week, too. I shouldn’t have to draw pictures for you! You know what it means. It means we’re gonna keep havin’ places like they have on the north side of Minneapolis where there is poverty, hunger, homelessness, high crime rates and we can rest assured that it is going to keep happening generation after generation UNLESS someone figures out how to stop it!
You’ve got to figure it out for yourself, I guess, because it doesn’t sound like the big educational experts are figuring it out after all these years of spending money. Maybe we need hundreds or thousands of volunteers to step in like Sam Stern has and say: “No sir! Not this kid! It ain’t gonna happen to him ‘cause I’m gonna make sure it doesn’t!”
Sam, my man, I think you’re a great guy. I admire you as much as I admire anyone in the world and I'm damned proud of what you’re doing. How do we get a few more thousand men and women to do the same thing so, kid by kid, we can change the situation? You hear about how all these people get wound up and stirred into action on Facebook and Twitter and all those on-line places, so how do we get ‘em stirred up here in Minneapolis?
“We got trouble! Trouble with a capital-T and it’s right here in River City!”
“Despite years of attention, the gap persists. For black students it widens after kindergarten…”
“…Further, a close look at the district’s numbers reveals a surprising fact: Poverty makes almost no difference for an American-born black student in his or her chances of graduating on time in Minneapolis schools."
“White students in poverty graduate in four years at a higher rate than black students who are not poor, according to district data.”
“…The achievement gap has been in the news since the 1980s, but didn’t leap into public consciousness until the 2002 No Child Left Behind law forced schools to separate test scores for different racial groups.”
Minneapolis is one of the great cities in the nation. I love this city and I love to brag about it (and I do in so many ways), but this is a nagging problem that has been with us for far too long and it is now time to do something about it. If you live in or near Minneapolis, this problem could use your help.
I'm gonna find out what I can do and then I’ll do it! I’m old and I’m tired, but I’ve got to help!


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1 comment:

  1. Is there a suggestion on how to try to fix it other than 100 or 1000 or 10000 Sam Sterns or just the cold ugly truths of the matter being stated?