The following is excerpted from a recent address given by Dr. James D. Tschechtelin, president of Baltimore City Community College.
As president of a predominantly African-American institution, it is important for faculty, students and the community to know where I am coming from on the issue of race. Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) enrolls 83 percent African-American students in a city that is 63 percent African American. This topic is critical at this time because race is dividing some of us and distracting us from our mission. Race has long been one of the taboo subjects of our society, and the need for an open and honest dialogue is great.
What do I think? What do I believe in? I know that we all live on the same planet, and we live in a multicultural world. I care. That is what God expects us to do — to care about each other. I believe that racism is real, that it is not fading away and that it is an American tragedy. I want to be a part of the solution.
In 1968, “The Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders” stated, “This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one [B]lack, one white — separate and unequal.” It was true in 1968 and it is still true today. I am concerned about this inequality and I want to do something about it.
In 1992, ABC’s “PrimeTime Live” televised a program which vividly depicted the salience of race in our society. Two young college-educated men, similarly dressed, one white and one African American, were filmed trying to accomplish similar tasks such as renting an apartment, buying a car, applying for a job and shopping in a shoe store. In each of the cases, the African-American male was treated differently from the white male. The white male was told that he only had to put down 10 percent to 20 percent for a car, while the African-American male was told that the down payment would have to be 20 percent to 25 percent (and the price quoted on the car was higher). In the shoe store, the African-American male was virtually ignored, but the white male was offered assistance. I am angry about racism and I am determined to make a difference.
In Andrew Hacker’s “Two Nations,” he reveals compelling data that show huge disparities between African Americans and whites in infant mortality, educational attainment, employment, salary levels, average life span and the quality of life in general. As Hacker suggests, I believe that racism is certainly one of the factors at work here.
State Pen and Penn State
Prisons have become the new “reservations” for African Americans in the 1990s. While African Americans make up approximately 13 percent of the general population, African-American men and women make up 47 percent of the persons in jail awaiting trial, 40 percent of those currently under sentence of death and 45 percent of the inmates in state and federal prisons. Something is very wrong with this picture. Fundamental changes are needed in our society. We cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem, even though that seems to be the current political and social thrust. The attempt at a prison solution is a terrible waste of human potential and a tragic expenditure of billions of dollars. It costs more to send people to the State pen than it does to send them to Penn State.
Turning the Corner
The late Reginald F. Lewis was owner and CEO of TLC Beatrice, the nation’s largest Black-owned company. He had a net worth of $400 million and was on Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. He was a native son of Baltimore, who went to Dunbar High School. Lewis once said that each of us must set our own goals and not allow anyone to tell us that it cannot be done. He said, “Don’t let any failure prevent you from moving forward,” and he lived that philosophy. His mother-in-law said, “Reggie could see down the road and turn the corner.”
We should take heed of this example in our personal lives and in the college. We need to be sure that we stay focused on our vision. We must pursue our goals …and persist with our dream.
We must go down the road and turn the corner.
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