Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Educational Revolution Will Build Ownership by Akindele Akinyemi

Last night I attended the Black Enterprise Conference here in Detroit, MI. While I was at the Town Hall Meeting on President Obama’s Economic Agenda (the panel included Warren Ballentine who is a CNN Commentator, Joe Watkins from MSNBC, Washington Times editor Tara Wall and the Independent Women's Forum President Michelle Bernard) I heard great ideas and great solutions to the issues facing urban America economically.
Today, Urban America are at a crossroads when it comes to leadership, policy and education. In an environment where we cannot seem to agree on anything, from religious differences to differences of culture and forms of government, or even forms and definitions of free enterprise as well as the definition of capitalism itself one thing we need is to regain our self-dignity as a community.
As we are pushing for eradicate poverty in our community one must be mindful of the fact that for each impoverished community is an emerging market waiting to be born. For example, there are areas of Detroit that is waiting to emerge from poverty.
If we continue to develop the emergence of an urban stakeholder class in Detroit we will no longer see homeowners not renters. We will see our urban, inner city communities not as wastelands, but emerging markets in Michigan, vastly under-served, and the last bastion of lost capitalism.
Part of eliminating poverty from our hearts is being in tune with God and understanding the importance of global education. Detroit is not an island. It is part of the greater regional Southeastern Michigan area. We have to move away from the spirit of fear and poverty to the spirit of success.
Part of creating a new reality and new focus is reshaping public policy in urban areas. Traditionally, public policy in America is principally designed around America’s first priority; economics and ownership. Individual property rights. From tax breaks and other protections for homeowners, to incentives for the working class, to incentives for small businesses and major corporations alike it’s all about owners and producers.
In general, urban communities do not care about tax break or tax cuts unless we have a job. If urban people do not own a home or business in the community that we serve do we really care about a bond issuance for infrastructure repairs or investment in our local community?
Frankly, those who are not owners or tax payers may not even know what others are talking about. Therefore, it's Greek or Mandarin to those who are not owners or producers. And so, as a result we have effectively tied one hand behind the collective back of our political leadership; forcing them to pursue bad public policy and strategies that are not proactively protecting, enhancing and growing our own individual property rights, but rather a reactive, defensive “strategy” of trying to protect and preserve an ever decreasing pool of mostly entitlements and public subsidies.
This is why I propose and support the revamping of public education here in urban communities. If we move education to a global reality then we will be prepared to build a legacy for our grandchildren and beyond.
We need to open the doors of educational options as well as teaching (not indoctrinating) our children to become global citizens. Part of that global initiative is financial literacy to create future entrepreneurs. Teaching our children that they are scholars, not thieves, and giving them a sense of ownership of their education will move our community in the right direction. We must be in the business of giving our children a hand up not a hand out.
When we utilize the power of financial literacy it then should practically link itself to viable strategies for true economic empowerment and ownership in urban communities.
Education is paramount to the development of our community. There are MANY candidates who are running for office (both this year and next year) who will walk up to me and say, "I support charter schools." My next question to them is why? 95% of the time I cannot get a serious answer from them. When I talk about educational reform I am not just talking about lifting the cap off charter schools or supporting the efforts of the Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb but creating an actual revolution in the educational movement.
You cannot create a silver rights movement in Detroit without revolution. It does not matter how much reform we do in education if you are not about changing the culture in our community then we are doing nothing but wasting time.
The culture must change in a silver rights framework. 1 out of 3 Black men in the City of Detroit has been incarcerated. These young men are bringing that prison culture into the streets of Detroit. This is why you see our young men sag their pants, all tattooed up and cannot speak English. You ever wondered why our women are doing the same thing? It's not because women are coming out of prison at high alarming rates but because women are a reflection of men. When you break down the man in the culture you also breakdown the family unit.
This educational fight is fought on three levels in the silver rights movement. The first level is establishing the culture. We fight and eliminate this ghetto culture in poverty-stricken areas by creating a COUNTERCULTURE. Social conservatives MUST take the lead on this creation. We have to make education "cool" and "sexy" to retain our student population.
The second level is raising the bar on education. We are global citizens not just American citizens. We belong to the world community. Therefore, we must teach our children that they too are global students. When we teach our students to (1) believe in God, (2) believe in yourself so you can believe in your goals and ambitions and (3) believe in people they will go far. We do not do business with companies, governments, or organizations; we do business with people.
The third level is developing stakeholders. Our students and parents must support an institution of change that helps to create a community of stakeholders. When you develop a community of stakeholders you create an atmosphere of ownership. I often tell my candidates running for office that if the home ownership rate in a particular area is 35 percent, what do you think the voter turnout rate will be? We do not need a voter turnout drive per se (unless it is for a specific cause). We need more homeowners. When we have a homeowner, we have enlightened self-interest. They care because they have invested.
When you have a homeowner, you have got a policeman on the block. When you have a homeowner, you have a taxpayer. It is not a miracle; it is common sense. It is enlightened self-interest.
When you have a homeowner, you have a potential venture capitalist. Why? Because when you have a home, you build equity. If you want to start a business, and the bank turns you down, you approve yourself and get a home equity loan, and invest in your own business. You become your own scholarship and send your own child to whatever four-year college you want. You become a stakeholder. Our children are stakeholders in the very school they attend. We have to teach this message from K-16 education. Our job is to eradicate poverty.
So if we want to make a change, we have to do something really difficult. We have to work together to find common ground in urban communities. Our communities are fundamentally underserved. What I mean is places like Inkster, Michigan and Benton Harbor, Michigan do not have a grocery store within the city limits. Some areas like Muskegon Heights do not have a Walgreens, CVS, or Rite Aid. Some urban communities lack gas stations, entertainment, basic things that are hard to find in lower-income communities. Serving them will make them community stakeholders.
We have to view Michigan’s inner-cities as opportunities, as communities of promise. The Democratic Party exploits the urban community with entitlements and the GOP NEVER campaign or fully understand the importance of utilizing urban communities. I have never understood the strategy of trying to win a statewide election in Michigan without the inclusion of the urban communities.
Because of the lack of education we pass down bad habits from generation to generation. When will we stop blaming poverty on the poor? Poverty has nothing to do with the lack of money. It is the spirit of hopelessness. When will we stop blaming people with good intentions? Of course, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. But to suggest that Democrats or Republicans are devils, the rhetoric might be winning the battle, but it is losing the war. This is why I push for political balance in Detroit and other urban areas in Michigan. We need representation on both sides of the aisle representing urban issues.
I have had on occasion to advise certain city, county and state legislators who are my friends that calling the Mayor, County Executive, Governor or even President names is probably not the best way to get him or her to sign your legislation. Better to assume that people have the best intentions, but may not know the right way to go about achieving the desired outcome. That is the most practical way to get somebody to work with you.
We must understand that the inner cities of Michigan are tomorrow’s new markets. The new frontiers of capitalism are Michigan’s underserved communities. In the urban communities where people are making less than $25,000 a year are not dumb, and they are not stupid. They are uninformed or misinformed. It’s what they don’t’ know, that they don’t know, that is killing them. These communities are today’s slums and tomorrow’s gold mines. Right below our feet is the next frontier of new markets. These are green communities that have been underserved for a long time. These are communities that people can create with a vision.
You cannot discuss entrepreneurship without discussing education from a global perspective. Ethnic diversity is not a goody-two-shoes issue. Diversity is a business issue. Therefore, we need to be diverse in our approach to creating solutions.


Chaz said...


Wonderful piece! I agree completely. Education is the key to unlocking a brighter future for urban communities. I have worked with children in some of the hardest hit areas and the more I get to know them, work with them, and teach them, the more I realize how gifted, intelligent, and beautiful these people are. But it is a matter of giving them an educated foothold so they can lift themselves up. It is also equally important that we do not throw money at the situation but instead make sure there is accountability in order that every dollar going to schools to aid in the education process makes it to serve the children on their path.

steve said...

Great post.

One way to help all parents and students is school vouchers. One study I saw said that parents who have access to vouchers are significantly happier with their child's education and parents are more involved as well.