By Jerry Mitchell
From birth, society places a different value on white Americans and black Americans, studies show.
That belief – combined with the sense of hopelessness that poverty can bring – can wage war on young souls, said Ronnie Crudup, senior pastor for the New Horizon Church that ministers to those in urban Jackson, Miss.
“You’ve really got to build that child’s psyche where they feel better about themselves,” he said. “You have to have character development.”
New Horizon offers after-school programs that help students do just that, he said.
They need to hear positive messages, said Crudup, who also serves as regional bishop for the Mid-South Diocese of the Fellowship of International Churches.
An experiment by Kenneth Clark helped convince the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 to rule segregated public schools unconstitutional.
During the tests, Black children were asked to choose between a black doll and a white doll as to which were “nicer.” The vast majority picked the white doll.
In 2005, that experiment was repeated in Harlem. Once again, the vast majority of Black children picked the white doll.
“It’s one of the unacknowledged hard truths that the lives of black people are valued less than white people, and that translates into the care or lack of care we display toward black children,” said Susan Glisson, executive director for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
The disparity is evident even in the cost of adoption.
The cost for adopting a white baby can run as high as $40,000 while adopting an African-American child may be as low as $4,000, according to adoption lawyers.
Into adulthood, African-American men working full time had 75 percent of the average earnings of comparable white men in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To counter negative messages, Operation Shoestring runs a program for “rising juniors” at Lanier High School, where they learn life skills, job skills and confidence.
Jordan Hunter, now an 18-year-old Lanier senior, completed the program and worked last summer at Barksdale Cadillac and handled a host of duties, including work in the accounting office.
“I got actual responsibilities, lots of stuff that makes you feel important,” he said.
At the end of the summer, the car dealer invited him back to work, and he did so over Christmas break.
In the fall, he plans to attend Morehouse College, majoring in business and marketing, he said. “This program has really changed my life.”
Things are looking up, too, in west Jackson, said Phil Reed, president of Voice of Calvary Ministries in Jackson.
For many years, a lesser value was placed on the inner-city, making west Jackson “a dumping ground for the problems of Jackson,” he said.
Development is now taking place in areas that were once no more than dilapidated houses. So far, the Penguin Restaurant, Koinonia Coffee House and Sleep Inn have sprung up west of Gallatin Street.
The $18 million One University Place on the Jackson State University campus is expected to be followed by another $125 million, Reed said. “It’s like ripple in a pond. It continues to spread out.”
Voice of Calvary has purchased the Capitol Street Methodist Church building and is moving toward developing it, he said. “We envision our community as being a mixed-income community where people of whatever economic group can thrive.”
Glisson said the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation is starting conversations in Mississippi across racial lines through its Welcome Table program, which already has been used in Philadelphia, Oxford, McComb and Greenwood.
Through these conversations, they learn they have much more in common than they dreamed, she said. “White conservatives find it shocking that young black women are as disturbed about the black teen pregnancy rate as they are.”
In the end, people learn what we have in common is much greater than what separates us, she said. “The cliche is ‘I’ll believe it when it I see,’ but that belief has to be changed before they can see. The truth is, I see it when I believe it.”
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