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Wednesday April 16th 2014

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Disparities Statistics Aren’t Our Death Knell
By Rev. Lonnie D. Wesley, III

My vocation has taught me that when times get tough, there are a number of ways to proceed.  You could toughen up along with the times, which means you would butt heads like rams, and commence with a virtual stare-down—whoever blinks first loses.  Or you could take a step back, analyze the situation and make the appropriate changes.  I prefer the latter, whenever possible.

I have learned to embrace the fact that not all talk that seemingly goes against you is “bad” talk.  Bad is relative. How you respond to the talk determines whether it was bad for you or not.

Case in point, the Escambia County Disparity Report (Independent News, “Black & White,” Feb.  23) published by this paper. Most reasonable adults will admit that the numbers are certainly disturbing. The median household income for African-Americans, in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars, was $26,492, while that number was $49,279 for Caucasians.  The poverty rate reveals African-Americans suffering at a rate of 32.7 percent, compared to only 10.7 percent of Caucasians.

Moving to education, almost one out of every four, 22.6 percent, African-Americans 25 years and older is without a high school diploma.  That number is only 10.3 percent for Caucasians in the same demographic.

The public schools of our county are graduating 58 percent of the African-American students enrolled.  Caucasians are graduating at a clip of 83 percent.

The dropout rate is 4.4 percent for African-Americans.  It is 1.6 percent for Caucasians.  What’s the reading proficiency for African-Americans versus Caucasians, you ask?  Well, 39 percent of African-American children in our schools are reading at or above grade level.  Caucasian children are at 72 percent.  Math proficiency?  Those numbers are 43 to 74 percent, respectively.

As far as births to unwed mothers go, between the ages of 20-54, African-Americans registered at 76.6 percent, versus 33.2 percent for Caucasians.

And, trust me on this one: the list goes on and on and on.

While these numbers are, indeed, very staggering, I just refuse to believe they are the death knell of our community.

While there is plenty of blame to go around, I believe our answers start at home. We must try to get back to some of the things that made home—well, home.

Do we know where our children are on the weekends anymore?  Are we afraid to go into their room? Their room that is located in our house, that is.  Let’s get back to that.

Let’s get back to expecting better of and for our children. Let’s demand their best and accept nothing less. Let’s be involved with them in school and in church.

And then when we see that they are not being educated, like now, let us hold those in charge for their education responsible—because no matter what kind of household a child comes from, he or she still deserves to receive the best education.

We have seen the numbers, now what are we going to do about them?

It’s our time now.

Rev. Wesley is the pastor of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church.