Editorial

Racial equity issues most rooted in education

June 16, 2017
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Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss is providing sustained city leadership in the quest for racial equity in the community, last year winning Grand Rapids a selection as one of five cities in the country to become part of the Racial Equity Here effort. Bliss is expanding the goals of that program with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with the expressed intent to “create jobs” in targeted neighborhoods of high unemployment and the resulting poverty level incomes.

Grand Rapids Business Journal offers caution of expectations that business owners can solve social issues, largely resulting from failures in education. Grand Rapids Public Schools still is battling to climb above a graduation rate of 65.5 percent. It is overly simplistic to point to neighborhoods of high poverty and link them to a national crisis of employee recruitment and unfilled jobs, suggesting that both problems are solved in linking one to another. The word “employable” is the minimum criteria for a job and directly related to education. West Michigan continues to suffer low education attainment — especially compared to the Detroit and Ann Arbor regions — and that is exactly the issue facing employers desperately seeking a “qualified, skilled workforce.”

Area business owners have been at the forefront of creating innovative partnerships and job training. Most recently, skilled trade associations, like Associated Builders and Contractors of West Michigan, have set up youth employment programs in specific neighborhoods to provide hands-on learning. Manufacturers have set similar examples, too numerous to mention here.

The Business Journal notes a comparable recent city initiative, suggesting in 2016 it could create “sustainable jobs” and “sustainable businesses.” The Business Journal noted the mark of ignorance in believing a government can create private sector jobs predicated on pre-selecting with political wisdom the winners and losers, and then leaving those to survive in a free market.

The Business Journal reported one of the goals of the Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative is to help organizations recognize their biases in hiring practices and work to eliminate them. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce was the first in the country to establish in 1997 the Institute for Healing Racism. After 20 years of demonstrated commitment, one could suggest that the successes and failures or limitations of the program could be studied for insight. The Grand Rapids business community has proven leadership in those and other initiatives and most especially as funders and donors to education foundations and programs directly targeting employment issues.

The Business Journal suggests that to set up a scenario that would scapegoat business owners under the guise of very real social justice issues is not a replacement nor a solution for the lack of gains by social service institutions and educators.   

The root of the problem in matching jobs to the unemployed remains rooted in educational achievement. No politically correct program will change that, but it will shortchange the community in the long term. It is expedient for political gain but not for full employment. 

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