Originally posted at Empower.org

Black History Month draws focus on the sacrifices of leaders and achievements that have uplifted the black community over decades and centuries. It is also a reminder of the challenges the black community has endured over that period and some that still exists.

Underlying this are inconvenient truths that today create barriers to breaking down those challenges and the need for the black community to take different approaches. Some of which may defy conventional ideas that have permeated in the community for decades under the guise of helping blacks through liberal ideas of big government. So much has been achieved by civil rights leaders of the past that we do not have to fight the same battles today, and the best way to honor such sacrifices is to move forward and build on the legacy of what these leaders fought to achieve. Most important among these goals is the equal liberty for blacks to prosper.

In the 20th century, the main civil rights issues focused on removing racial discrimination so people could achieve goals or rights based on the content of their character and ambition and not their skin color. Due to the sacrifices of many, America has come a far way in breaking down racial and social barriers. The fact that we have a black president and that it is not impossible for anyone of any racial background to hold any position is a testament of achievements of the Civil Rights Movement during the last century, thus enhancing the principle of the American Dream.

Today, many who claim to be for ‘equality’ or to be civil rights leaders, only seem to emerge when they can use incidents (whether they are racially motived or not) to relive and stoke racial animosity of the past to gain personal attention and profit. The constant impulsive attempts to allude that current incidents reflect today’s version of Jim Crow laws, slavery and lynching have fueled a 21st century civil rights industry. This industry has been deliberately oblivious to the remaining real barriers to upward social and racial mobility, such as the insufficient opportunity for school choice and a slow growth economy.

A liberal political class in the name of progressivism has bartered the prospect of dismantling this barrier, in return for sustained political power guaranteed by special interests such as teachers unions who oppose school choice, a major civil rights issue of the 21st century.

One such example is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who was elected on the mantra of  ‘Tale of Two Cities,’ suggesting that he would bridge the gap of inequality in NYC between the very wealthy and the poverty rampant among minorities through redistributionist policies. NYC elected a socialist aficionado with no management experience who won on spinning catchy populist lines that imply reducing income equality. This has not worked out well to those ends for the people in socialist countries that de Blasio has had a fascination towards. It also won’t be for the thousands of mostly poor minorities whose main barrier to upward mobility is the lack of choice for education opportunity via charter schools.

The charter-school movement began in New York in 1999, and it gave independence from imbedded union rules and city regulations, which had impeded learning and positive results in many schools. The successful result of charter schools have led to almost 200 charter schools today teaching some 70,000 students while there are another 50,000 desperate kids on waiting lists to get in one. A lottery system has been used to allocate the sought after opportunity to attend these schools. A few years ago a documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’ showed students and parents who personified the need for opportunity in school choice, and the difference charter schools have made in the lives of poor children, especially blacks.

Most charter schools have been operating out of unused space in public schools. Thus, making more efficient and productive use of space compared to failing traditional schools. De Blasio has tried to get a moratorium on placing charters in unused space in traditional schools and to make them pay rent, satisfying the demands of one of his main backers, the teachers unions. Since charters get no capital funds to build, the ending of such co-locations would result in many charters being killed or prevented to open.

Unions don’t like charters because they are not in their control and eliminate excuses for the failure prevalent in traditional schools. In addition, they are often less expensive to operate. Most importantly, unions view charters as a threat to their political power because more charters or school voucher programs reduce the influence of the union dues collecting apparatus.  This apparatus funnels campaign contributions to liberal politicians like de Blasio, which in turn rewards unions with hefty benefits that work against the interests of students and the tax payer. 

School choice administrated through charters or voucher programs counters this symbiotic relationship between unions and politicians that is impeding the actual progress of a civil rights issue of the 21st century. This symbiotic relationship also helps to wreck financial stability of cities, just take a good look at Detroit. More cities even at the detest of unions, are actually considering more school choice and voucher programs to improve the quality of education while helping to get their budgets in order.

A month before de Blasio was elected, over 20,000 parents and children marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to demand good schools in a direct response to the prospect that de Blasio would become the next mayor and follow through on his anti- charter school promises. They marched for freedom of choice for education.

Ninety-three percent of charter school students in NYC are black or Latino. Thirty percent of Harlem kids attend charters. During protests for school choice, parents carried signs saying: “My Child My Choice” and “Charter Schools Are Public Schools.”

According to the New York Post, when Yvette Clark a Democratic congresswoman from Brooklyn had a nephew who was having problems getting into his school of choice MS 51 in affluent Park Slope, she called then City Councilman Bill de Blasio who promptly got him in. De Blasio was willing to fight for school choice for a friend in power while he fights to prevent other parents from having the same choice.

According to Families for Excellent Schools, a charter advocacy group, almost 16,000 city children could lose access to charter schools if de Blasio’s moratorium fully materializes. This would affect over 9,000 children already attending 23 different charter schools that are aiming to expand to offering higher-grade levels, and would also affect another 6,510 who are to attend 14 charters set to open in September 2014. If some children who are attending charters now think ‘they can keep their charters if they like them,’ they are about to get an Obamacare experience.

Efforts to limit school choice by Democrats who purport to help the less fortunate did not start with de Blasio. President Obama opposed the D.C. Opportunity and Scholarship Program and had to be pressured to support it. This school choice voucher program has been very successful in helping underprivileged kids get out of failing schools and into ones which have led to increased high school graduation rates. The first black president who ran on ‘hope and change’ sought to deny hope to those that needed it most, even though that community overwhelmingly supported his election. Just like de Blasio in NYC, his allegiance to union political supporters took precedence to allowing freedom and opportunity to children’s education.

Twice the Obama administration has sought to undermine local school choice programs which involve no federal funding. The Justice Department targeted private schools that participate in a school choice program in Milwaukee and were subjected to new regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and treated as though they are government contractors. The effect of this would raise costs of operation thus making it more expensive for children to attend. These schools have contracts with parents not the government, plus in the 22 years of operation no complaint about treatment of disabled children have been filed.

In Louisiana, the Obama administration’s Justice Department under the first black Attorney General Eric Holder, filed a lawsuit against a program created by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal. It was using an obsolete 1975 desegregation order to argue that Louisiana should get approval from a federal court before giving scholarships to students in some school districts. It claims the scholarships could alter the racial composition of those schools by taking minority children out of failing public schools because it “frustrates and impedes the desegregation process.”

According to a 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed about the Louisiana program, “this program provides tuition vouchers to children from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty line whose children otherwise would attend public schools that the state graded C, D or F. This year, roughly 8,000 children were using vouchers to attend private schools. Among those, 91% are minority and 86% would have attended public schools with D and F grades.”

“If successful, the Justice Department’s motion would thwart school choice not just vouchers, by affecting charter schools in hundreds of districts across the country that are subject to desegregation decrees. It would deprive thousands of Louisiana school children, nearly all of them black, of the opportunities they have ever had.”

A CNS News report revealed that the black youth unemployment rates for ages 16-19 is 393% higher than the national unemployment rate according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). See the full CNS News report here.

The lack of quality educational opportunities that could be provided by school choice have greatly contributed to this eye-opening statistic. The less quality education for the poor and minorities means they have less chance of upward financial mobility to narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Some advocates still push for affirmative action as a civil rights issue to ensure racial balance and equality in colleges and universities. However, more school choice would actually empower and give the equality of opportunity to children of all races with ambition to qualify for higher education, negating affirmative action and the stigma it portrays of allocating a place in a college based on race.

In the 21st century the concept envisioned by the 20th century civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, would be materialized by the opportunity for any child to succeed via school choice. Not only would school choice lift many poor and minority children out of failed schools, the upward mobility it allows would reduce the possibility of them leading to crime which is prevalent in these communities. 

While race as the barrier of upward mobility and success in the previous centuries have been diminished, the 21st century has witnessed the continuous rise and reinforcement of barriers cemented by the political ambition and sustenance of individuals who pretend they are for equality. Barriers, which only inhibit economic freedom, pit people against each other and foster class envy.

Civil rights that are allocated based on equality of opportunity rather than dictated or restrained by political opportunists and the special interests that support them, is the real way to prevent the  ‘tale of two cities.’ Too bad people who spin the populist chants of equality and hope in the name of progressivism, get away with it by winning elections to in turn nurture the true ‘tale of two cities.’

A constant narrative among the racial industrialists of our time has been that the main barrier today that prevents black upward mobility is racism. Despite many examples of black American achievements that dispel this notion, it is often forgotten that the black community also includes black immigrants from countries who today still experience racial or economic challenges reminiscent of blacks in America decades ago. A paper released last year from University of Chicago PhD candidate Alison Rauh, however, finds that “black immigrants tend to be more successful than black Americans. They out-earn black natives (after accounting for age) and are more likely to be employed. This is not surprising; white immigrant groups outperform their native cohort too. But what’s most intriguing is how their children fare. The children of black immigrants are more likely to go to and complete college than native blacks (and whites) and are less likely to drop out of high school.”

The most educated immigrant group in the US is not Koreans, not Indians, not any group from Europe, but Nigerians. Also, 54% of Nigerian Americans either have a Bachelor or Masters Degree, yet only 47% of black American men graduate from school. This is another indication that the current educational system in America is undermining the foundation for blacks to rise and is testament to why more school choice is needed to uplift blacks to have better opportunities to have better upward income mobility. The almost monolithic black vote for the Democrat Party, whose members makes up most of those who oppose school choice, needs to be questioned by the black community. The biggest advocates for school choice have been Republicans or conservatives.

The policies advocated by Democrats warped in narrative that stokes racial grievances and victimhood like it is still the 1960s, not only is a disservice to the black community, but it damages black culture by disrupting the family unit and encourages government dependence as the only way to move up. There is still a very high black on black crime rate that gets a lot less attention than when a black person is shot by the police. The provoked knee jerk reaction spurred by race mongers like Al Sharpton to use the ‘race card’ and incite disorderly conduct in every incident involving a black and white person before the facts are known, only amplify negative stereotypes of blacks. In the case of the Ferguson incident, many black owned businesses were destroyed during riots resulting in many people losing their place of work.

The black unemployment rate last December at 10.4% is almost twice of whites. According to a Forbes article last month by Joel Kotkin, the cities where blacks are doing best economically are mostly in red states with lower taxes, lower cost of living and which are experiencing other pro-jobs and pro-growth conservative policies. Conversely, the cities where blacks are doing the worst economically and are experiencing the largest outward migration of blacks are mostly run by Democrats or have been bastions of liberal policies for decades.

There is a lot of hope for the black community in the 21st century to meet the challenges that still exist, but it will involve the determination to acknowledge the real obstacles, seek real leadership that empowers individual liberty to achieve and have the reassurance that the toughest days are behind us because many sacrificed so we can now have an easier path to succeed for generations to come.

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Karl Miller is a political analyst and contributor at Examiner.com and The Western Center for Journalism

Follow Karl on Twitter @KarlMiller1776

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