Anderson’s black youth are falling behind, and officials are looking at the problem in the hope of reversing what is shaping up to be a lost generation in Anderson.
Indiana Black Expo released results Tuesday on the state of black youth, and Anderson ranks last in 16 Indiana metropolitan areas. Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Felix Chow said only 20 percent of black students have graduated in the last two years. More than a fifth of ACS’s 1,450 black students are in special education with only about 10 percent in advanced placement classes.
There are economic factors affecting these numbers. More than half — 55 percent — of black youth live in poverty. For families, 69 percent of black youth live in households run by a single mother. Black unemployment is 24 percent above the state average. And between 2000 and 2010, median household income for blacks fell by 4 percent or 12.3 percent below the state average.
These are problems that have no easy solutions. Crushing poverty leads to many of society’s ailments. It prevents social mobility, sets up a survival mindset that favors short-term solutions (e.g.: getting something to eat, making a quick buck) over long-term actions, such as getting an education.
Poverty begets poverty. Youth are more likely to end up as their parents, trapped in the same poverty-stricken neighborhoods with little way out.
Poverty, as was pointed out, is not peculiar to the black neighborhoods. There are poor whites, and Anderson still has an overall 8.7 percent unemployment rate. The jobs that are here, outside of a few, pay nowhere near the wages in the General Motors years.
Judy Streeter, president of the Indiana Black Expo Anderson chapter, rightly said that it does no good to gather statistics if nothing is done about them. She wants to convene a meeting with city officials to come up with solutions before the end of January.
But what will they come up with? Where is the magic potion that will cure these gargantuan ailments? In order for anyone to live like there is a tomorrow worth having, there has to be genuine hope. In order to reach the level of genuine, there has to be results that others can see and emulate.
Right now those results are hard to come by in Anderson, and black youth, along with white youth, cannot see solid reasons for caring about a future that they perceive is next to impossible to attain.
Whatever solutions this committee comes up with have to be based in reality with an honest appraisal of what can be done and what is mere talk fodder. The rules have changed. The problems are so endemic, so pervasive that what once passed for solutions won’t fill the bill now.
There is one bright spot. It was noted that third-graders’ ISTEP pass rates went up nearly 100 percent. Children are able to put aside the despair in their neighborhoods and go to school ready to learn. The trick is starting the youngsters off on the right track. Something is working there.
But when they get older and can see the plights of their brothers, sisters and families, they begin to wonder if any of their work is worth it. Reversing this attitude is central in keeping black youth in school and interested in their future. They have to know there is something to reach for, and that they are better off working for that goal.