Like other minorities, blacks still suffer discrimination when it comes to jobs, schooling, housing and other facets of American life. Although there is no perfect solution, one approach will make the biggest difference in the next century - community and economic development.
That was the word from Linda Dupont-Johnson, former director of the Utah Office of Black Affairs and currently the director of Municipal Services for Seattle Mayor Norman Rice."While education prepares our kids for the work force, it prepares them for a work force that is rapidly changing and is greatly diminishing in certain areas," Dupont-Johnson said. "Economic develop-ment can have a significant impact in shaping the work force of the future through vocational training, private-sector investment in job creation and small-business development."
Dupont-Johnson was one of many speakers Friday at the second annual Black Leadership Conference sponsored by the Gov-ernor's Office of Black Affairs. The event also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Governor's Black Ombudsman and the Governor's Black Advisory Council.
The two-day event featured roundtable discussions on a host of issues, special programs for youth and celebrations of black culture, including everything from Rita Bankhead's African-American Dance Troupe to rap music to Joe McQueen's Jazz Ensemble.
Dupont-Johnson suggested other communities might want to try an approach that has made headway in fixing up economically depressed Seattle areas. The city formed a consortium with the state and the five largest banks to develop loan pools to alleviate the business credit problems than often stymie minority business creation.
Dupont-Johnson worked a year to get the program going and found the banks very receptive, especially when the governments pledged to back some of the riskier loans needed by minority entrepreneurs.
Seattle officials also relocated the city parks and recreation office in one economically troubled area, which has helped surrounding businesses by attracting a more affluent clientele to the neighborhood. Neighborhood residents are finding jobs with the office as vacancies occur.
Dupont-Johnson also offered these suggestions:
- Invest in human capital by providing services to battered women, pregnant teens and others in need. "A man can't be expected to do well on the job if he's hungry or ill."
- Support minority businesses and ask for a minority salesperson or representative when buying a car, finding a doctor or even buying postage stamps, since there is a black heritage line available.
- Encourage beneficial business investment. If non-minority businesses want to offer jobs, training and an opportunity to enhance the quality of life for minorities, "get out of the way and let them in."
- Serve as mentors for subordinates and celebrate the successes of minorities who do well. For those on their way up, don't be afraid to ask for help.
- Help children remove hatred from their lives "and teach them that we are our brother's keeper."