This year's Black Press Week held in Washington, D.C. culminated with the an award ceremony honoring Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, who received an award for community service and founder and President of the Children's Defense Fund, Marian Wright Eldelman who received a lifetime achievement award for her leadership as the nation's biggest advocate for of undeserved and underprivileged children.
Ben Jealous got his start in journalism at the Jackson Advocate in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the youngest person to hold the position of president of the NAACP in the organizations nearly one hundred year history. Jealous spoke to the crowd about the challenges of working through this recession but emphasized to publishers the need for them to fight as hard as ever. Noting that often the corollary of fighting for equal rights in America has taught the black community that achieving whatever is fought for at the at moment can cause the community to lose everything they had at the same time. This year's election and the controversy over new voter restrictions laws being pushed at the state level took Jealous to Geneva, Switzerland for this years United Nations delegation. More states have introduced more laws pushing people out of the ballot box than in any year in any century, over 5 million people.
Jealous told the United Nations delegation in Geneva, Switzerland that, he was there now to, "ring a bell because we need you to come take a look at what's happening in the U.S. Sometimes the U.S. needs to have its ideals reflected back to itself and needs to have its realities reflected back to itself." The voters being targeted by these laws are disproportionally black and the very students who chose the last president. In his words, the impact of the recent crackdown on voting rights is clear. Jealous explained to the crowd how voting rights laws of the twentieth century are have the same intent as these laws being introduced today and although politicians may not be as plain spoken as they once were, the bottom line is that the laws do now what they do then, disenfranchise black voters.
The evening's second award recipient, Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, harkened back to the premise of the civil rights movement. A movement built around a generation of people who wanted to their children to do better. A generation who always maintained that education was the ticket. Marian edified the shattering blow the cradle to prison pipeline has on the state of the black child and the black community. Edelman described it as one of the worst crisis in America. "The toxic cocktail of illiteracy in that eighty percent of black children cannot read or compute at grade level in 4th 8th or 12th grade that is if they have not already dropped out, codifies the whole point of slavery, to keep us illiterate. If you cannot read and compute in this global economy you are sentenced to social an economic death. After all of this effort we did to provide equal education," she continued, "we need to look at the young unemployment rate for black young men under thirty, it is at nearly forty percent with no hope, no jobs and poverty growing among our children many of them never get onto the trajectory of success."
Illiteracy, poverty, and out of wedlock birth rates and incarceration rates have been feeder systems into this prison pipeline for years. Edelman warned the crowd that if this continued and without their involvement the current system will take away the last fifty year progress.
"We have got to reweave the fabric of family and community," she explained. Edelman has started an organization of freedom schools designed to do what the public school system has not done. Provide a real opportunity for black kids living in impoverished underserved communities. She imparted to the crowd that they cannot wait for the public school system to educate these children.
"We need to have a community effort because we are going back. We know what to do to save children. It is movement time folks, we have got to step up."
Caryn Freeman is a journalism student at Howard University and the Editor-in-Chief of The Caxton Press. http://www.thecaxtonpress.com.