DIAL UP A PROTEST Every one has to choose their own battles and the things for which he is willing to fight. Yes, I have to admit that few people like a good fight as much as I do, but my father always taught me to pick them wisely.
Last week, the local chapter of Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the media got upset over an African-American mother being arrested at a local Wal-Mart on the eve of Black Friday. The dispute was over a TracFone that she picked up before the item was due to go on sale.
The phone was taken away from her. She protested. She was asked to leave the store. She refused. Deputies threatened to arrest her. She resisted. She was arrested.
And while the story might make good headlines, I don’t see an argument over a prepaid cellular phone that costs from $10 to $60 as a worthwhile battle, especially when compared to Rosa Parks, James Meredith or the Selma to Montgomery March.
No, the big battle is in the public high schools of Escambia County where only two-thirds of our white students and half of our African-American students graduated in the 2011-12 school year, according to the reports released by the Florida Department of the Education. The county is 12 percentage points below the state graduation rates.
Yes, the overall graduation rate for Escambia County has improved over the past nine years, but so has the state graduation rate. Sadly the rate of increase for Escambia County public schools is much less than the state rate.
In 2003-2004, there were less than five percentage points separating Escambia County from the state average. That gap has more than doubled, stretching to 12.3 percentage points for the 2011-12 school year.
As important as a cell phone might be, I do believe that a high school diploma has greater value, especially when the community is trying to attract new employers with claims of an educated workforce.
Statewide African-American students showed the biggest increase over the past five years, rising from 50 percent graduating in 2008 to 63.7 percent this year. Hispanic students also graduated at higher levels, rising from 59.8 to 72.9 percent over the same period.
Escambia County’s minority students didn’t have similar jumps in graduation rates. The gap between the white and black graduation rates for the county narrowed over the past five years, shrinking from 21 points to a little over 17 points, but I’m not sure that’s something about which we can brag.
No, sir, battles for cellphones don’t excite me, but one for more high school diplomas is worthwhile for the entire community.