In the 1960's activist, religious and civil rights leader Malcolm X stated, “When you live in a poor neighborhood, you are living in an area where you have poor schools. When you have poor schools you have poor teachers. When you have poor teachers, you get a poor education, you can only work in a poor- paying job. And that poor-paying job enables you to again live in a poor neighborhood. It’s a very vicious cycle."
Malcolm echoed the sentiment of African American Elders who made the migration from the Southern States to the Northern states In search of occupational opportunities and to escape Jim Crow Laws and lynchings in the south. It is estimated that between 1916 to 1970, 6 million African Americans migrated north and secured work in the steel mills, railroads, meat packing and auto industries. The message that these elders/pioneers delivered to young African American children and adolescents who were born in the North is that education is the key to freedom. Many of these elders had parents and grandparents who during slavery were not allowed to attend school or learn to read. A slave owner’s wife was teaching Frederick Douglass to read when Douglass was enslaved. The slave owner told his wife, “If you teach him to read, it will be impossible to keep him a slave.” It was common for Black parents of the Great Migration to tell their children, “No matter how sick you are, you have to go to school.”
At the time of this writing most of the jobs African Americans secured during the Great Migration have either disappeared or have been shipped abroad. Studies indicate that African Americans have twice the unemployment rate as Whites and are still lagging behind on standardized test scores, which can determine the quality of your education. Many are also miseducated in elementary schools increasing the risks of dropping out of high school, drug use, drug selling (for income) drug related arrests felony arrests which makes it even more difficult to qualify for financial Aid for college and secure employment. Thus for many, a feeling of hopelessness can set in leading to a return to drug use and in some instances drug selling (for income) and a return to prison. To quote Malcolm X, “A very vicious cycle.” Education is also important for African Americans seeking addictions recovery. According to Dr. William Cloud, as educational recovery capital increases, recovery rates also increase.
There is good news. Urban Prep High School, located on the South Side of Chicago has a 100% African American Male Graduation rate and 100% of these young men have gone on to college, over the course of the past decade. Nearly 90% of African Americans who attend North Lawndale Prep High school on the West Side of Chicago go on to College. The average income in the communities where these two schools are located are beneath the poverty line. These schools prove that when a school has a great mission, (Urban Prep expects every student to go to college and the students recite a daily pledge that they plan to go to college) and dedicated faculty who are able to motivate students, all things are possible!
During the Great Migration the manufacturing industry was the largest employer of African Americans. Today, the future of employment in America is STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). These jobs require a good education. The elders were right. Education is a key to success. In spite of the struggles described in this blog post, the great majority of African Americans are high school graduates. Many have also graduated from the finest colleges in the nation and the majority are middle class economically.