Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reflections on Dr. King's Historic Speech and Our "Race to Equity"

On the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, it is important to reflect on the progress we have made, and on the distance we still have to travel. I have known for some time that Wisconsin has some of the largest disparities between African Americans and Whites in the nation. These differences can be found on a wide range of issues across all points of the developmental continuum, from healthy births to adult incarceration and everywhere in between.

What I did not understand was how broad and deep these challenges are here in Dane County. Over the past 18 months, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF) has been working to better understand the dynamics that have led to these differences in order to make a greater contribution to decreasing them. Our project, Race to Equity, has found that the disparities here in Dane County are some of the highest in the nation. For example, according to 2011 US Census data, nearly 75% of all African-American children in Dane County lived in poverty, a rate 50% higher than the state as a whole and nearly twice as high as African-American children nationwide in that same year. When compared to the 5.5% child poverty rate for white children, this creates a disparity ratio of 14:1. Another example is high school graduation. It has been well documented that in Madison, the rate of African American students not graduating on time is nearly 50%, compared to a rate of 16% for white students.

There are many reasons we observe these differences, and I will not pretend that I fully understand all of them. But there are a few things that I am clear about. It is clear to me that we all have important roles to play in addressing racial disparities. I am also clear that reducing and eliminating racial disparities in our community is in the best interest of every one of us, independent of our own race or ethnicity.

One of the lines from Dr. King’s speech that sticks with me is his dream that his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” That is something we should all dream for all of our children, and something that is, unfortunately, still not a reality in Madison, in Wisconsin or in America.

Ken Taylor

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