African Americans Debate Current Relevance of Black Civil Rights Organizations

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African American civil rights organizations came under fire at a recent debate KPCC sponsored. The event, which took place during black history month, asked whether civil rights groups for African Americans are still relevant. KPCC's Frank Stoltze says the question stirred emotions about the state of black communities and organizations across Southern California.

Frank Stoltze: The NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress On Racial Equality: Joe Hicks says they're dying organizations stuck on a decades-old, irrelevant message.

Joe Hicks: A debilitating message of victimization that says no matter what you do, the white man is gonna always have his foot on your neck. That's, I would argue, a disempowering message that is not helpful to a 10-year-old kid to hear. And I've seen that message delivered.

Stoltze: Hicks heads Community Advocates, Inc., which co-sponsored with KPCC a panel discussion on black civil rights groups. President of the L.A. Urban League Blair Taylor said Hicks has it wrong when it comes to his and many other black organizations.

Blair Taylor: I'm living in this world and the conversations that we're having with black youth about the systemic obstacles that are in your path that will stop you – we are going to help you remove those, and then you can soar like an eagle.

Stoltze: Taylor pointed to the Urban League's multi-million dollar "Neighborhoods at Work" project. It seeks to improve safety, education, health, housing, and employment around Crenshaw High School. Eva Patterson is with the San Francisco-based American Civil Rights Institute. The civil rights attorney said her work remains relevant, given a recent study of how employers reacted to white and black sounding names on resumes.

Eva Patterson: The people with the white sounding names at the top of their resume got more callbacks, got more jobs. When they increased the qualifications of the black sounding names, the white people still got farther along in the process.

Stoltze: But Ward Connerly argued black civil rights groups have for the most part achieved the legal equality they've been fighting for, and should focus their efforts more broadly.

Ward Connerly: The organizations should be focusing on the problems that affect low income whites, low income Asians, low income vegetarians, whatever. It shouldn't be based on race.

Stoltze: Connerly is a former UC Regent who authored the 1996 proposition that sought to outlaw affirmative action programs by public institutions in California. He said many of the issues facing African Americans confront all low income people, though he cited one issue of particular concern to him.

Connerly: And that's the whole phenomenon of immigration – illegal immigration especially. I believe it has had a significant effect on black neighborhoods in this community and in this state.

Stoltze: Eva Patterson of the American Civil Rights Institute took issue with that idea.

Patterson: It isn't a zero sum game, there's enough for everybody, and we–
Connerly: There isn't!
Patterson: Well, there should be.

Stoltze: Asked about the biggest challenges facing African American civil rights groups today, Taylor of the Urban League cited two. Public schools with high dropout rates that fail to prepare boys and girls for the workforce – that's number one.

Taylor: Number two, and this one isn't cited too often, is the growing issue of hopelessness in our community. You find that there is a increasing sense that we won't be able to equalize things in the 21st century.

Stoltze: Taylor said many African Americans continue to face unique challenges that require both individual fortitude, and civil rights organizations devoted to eliminating inequalities.