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Broken Promise Zone

President Obama announces Promise Zone Initiative with students from the Harlem Children’s Zone in Jan. 2014. WHITE HOUSE PHOTO

President Obama announces Promise Zone Initiative with students from the Harlem Children’s Zone in Jan. 2014. WHITE HOUSE PHOTO

President Barack Obama first announced the Promise Zone Initiative during his 2013 State of the Union Address. The initiative is supposed to be a way for the administration to work with “local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand access to educational opportunities and quality, affordable housing and improve public safety,” according to a press statement at the time.

The Promise Zones are meant to be a tool to expand opportunity, social and economic mobility. Yet, only one of the zones is majority-Black.

It is another federal policy that will mostly fail to impact African Americans and another, that disappointingly, comes from the first Black President.

Along with the Affordable Care Act, an Obama-defining-legacy, the Promise Zones will also not reach many Blacks.  The Affordable Care Act gave states the ability to opt-out of Medicare — a serious flaw in expanding health coverage.

Locally, Gov. Rick Snyder and his Emergency Manager Jack Martin failed to submit the application to fund Head Start for Detroit students, a tragedy of immense proportions, only explained by a shocking level of incompetence, which does not bode well for the argument that EMs provide superior management or the practicality of the EM law.

Federal programs and dollars are failing to reach the populations who need it most at a critical time in our history, when inequity is growing and civil rights are eroding.

A Center for American Progress report outlined how federal policy has failed to help Black Americans who are disproportionately affected by poverty — no new trend in America’s history of slavery, racism and disadvantage.

The greatest federal interventions have almost always failed to reach Black people. During the New Deal Era, in the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policies were intended to lift a country out of poverty after the Great Depression, with changes that included the creation of Social Security — which did not benefit domestics and farm workers who were mostly Black. Or the G.I. Bill, which propelled the country’s economy after WWII, African Americans did not benefit and still it seems are not largely benefitting from federal policy.

Additionally, much of the progressive civil rights legislation including Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act is being weakened or repealed.

Nationally African Americans are largely poor, and in Michigan because of the EM law are mostly unable to vote. It’s 2014 and the poverty seems depressingly entrenched, isolating and more tied than ever to being an African American.

“African American families have lived in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods over long periods of time and over multiple generations, limiting access to better opportunities,” writes sociologist Patrick Sharkey.

He is telling the story of Detroit, Benton Harbor, Flint and Pontiac. Detroit is one of the most racially segregated cities in the nation. Sixty percent of Detroit’s children live in poverty.

Even Gov. Snyder has acknowledged the structural poverty and significant unemployment in these urban centers — occupied by Black people.

There has to be local, state and federal programs and policy that acknowledge, considers and compensates for race as a real and structural disadvantage.  Government should work to break the barriers to social and economic mobility. For now, begin by petitioning for the Head Start money.


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