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Many civil rights programs have lost purpose

The passing of Rosa Parks should serve to remind all of us that freedom is not a state of tranquility; that rights, won before, must be fought for again and again.

In the 1960s and 1970s, minorities and others fought to establish laws and programs to assure justice and equal opportunity for all Americans; nevertheless, many of those problems still exist. What is most disturbing is that now many of the programs Rosa Parks and others fought for have lost their original purpose and become entrenched in those same governmental bureaucracies minorities fought to change.

The '60s found minorities in America subjected to discrimination in all aspects of life — jobs, education, housing and public accommodations. The civil rights movement of the 1960s changed all that. Not only did Rosa Parks say she was not giving up her seat, but soon others picked up the civil-rights torch: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Corky Gonzales, Bert Corona and Cesar Chavez, to name a few. The movement demanded that America live up to what the Founding Fathers envisioned, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights . . . " There were marches, sit-ins and acts of civil disobedience by minorities and others seeking justice and equality.

In Utah, prior to the civil rights movement, minorities were victims of blatant discrimination, and many of their parents "knew their place," accepting discrimination as a way of life. As the struggle for civil rights began in Utah, it was the younger people who said "ya basta," (enough) and grassroots organizations were started among Chicanos, Japanese-Americans and blacks determined to take their destiny into their own hands.

The gains that were made for our communities — fighting discrimination; improving housing, health services and youth/adult incarceration; providing employment, education, farmworker programs, Head Start, health and community centers, hot-lunch programs; and enabling legislation to have public housing, day-care centers and greater access to higher education — came from minorities who put the interests of their community first rather than their own. They sought to develop self-help programs and to be seated at decision-making tables that affected the lives of their people. They were advocates for change, demanding to be treated as equals and given equal opportunity to pursue their aspirations.

Many of the community- and minority-based organizations that started as advocates for change have become part of the fast-growing "social-service industrial complex." They are now in the service delivery, study and research business financed by the agencies they originally set out to change. Instead of advocates, they have become "partners" and further fattened the bureaucratic social-service network by recycling the old concepts that created them in the first place — coordination, cooperation, communication, collaboration and non-duplication of services. It all sounds so noble; yet, it is those concepts that have created the monopolies now consuming tax dollars that allow the various bureaucracies to become preoccupied with process, and providing information and referral as their only product.

Civil rights leaders made America aware of the injustices and advocated on their own behalf. It resulted in the passage of civil rights laws and the creation of many government programs to help minorities and the poor. However, those programs are now taken over by professionals who hire their own, develop "comprehensive" plans and reporting systems, and produce only a flood of paperwork to justify their existence.

Celebrating Rosa Park's life should remind us of the lessons minorities learned from the 1960s, that if change is going to be made to improve the lives of those less fortunate in our community, we have to do it ourselves. That means standing up and speaking candidly, expecting to be treated with respect and as equals and, once again, fighting for justice and equality. Policymakers should have the courage to eliminate the programs that no longer serve their purpose and only waste tax dollars.

To continue programs simply because they are minority programs, for fear of being seen as racist, is demeaning. Americans have always supported public policies that promoted the public good and the values upon which this nation was formed.


Utah native John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations, served on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch and on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards. He also has been deputy assistant secretary of labor. E-mail: jdflorez@comcast.net