Quality of life improving for Black kids, but gaps still exist


Our children: They are young, grown, and everything in between. It is our duty to nurture and encourage them to pursue opportunities for their own growth and personal enrichment. But it takes more than great parents, relatives and friends to raise great kids; it takes a great community with leaders who recognize that the success of our neighborhoods is really in the hands of those much younger than us.

First of a three-part series
In this special three-part series on youth in the community, we will look at how both Minneapolis and St. Paul are taking measures to encourage young African Americans to succeed, and also how African Americans rank with other children across America on very important issues such as education, poverty and crime — all factors that contribute to the success and well-being of our kids, and our neighborhoods.

The Foundation for Child Development (FCD), a national private philanthropy dedicated to promoting the well-being of children in the United States, has good and not-so-good news for Black youth living in America.

Just recently, the foundation released the findings of a study that shows the quality of life for young Black Americans is improving. This means the gap with regard to quality of life is narrowing between Black and White children. The study looked at a number of topics like health and safety, violent crime and education to reach its conclusion.

The report, “Racial-Ethnic Inequality in Child Well-Being from 1985-2004: Gaps Narrowing but Persist” is the first to research racial and ethnic disparities among Black, White and Hispanic children for a nearly 20-year time span.

From 1985-2004, the foundation researched tens of thousands of children across the country between the ages of zero and 17, all Black, Hispanic or White. Fortunately, everyone experienced a better quality of life.

“It would be a terrible thing to say that children aren’t doing better,” said Fasaha Traylor, the foundation’s senior program officer. “It’s gratifying and not surprising, particularly for African Americans, that they have made great progress over the years.”

According to the report, Black children saw the largest positive change in violent crime. While all children were much less likely to commit a violent crime in 2004 than they were in 1985, the likelihood of Black children committing a violent crime decreased so significantly that it is now nearly on par with Whites.
Another positive finding for Black children is in the area of voting. The study showed that Black youth are now more likely to vote than ever before, and this momentum is building faster than it is for White children.

Monique Williams is one of those youngsters who fell in line with the survey’s voting results. She attends Harding High School in St. Paul. Monique is just one year short from being old enough to vote but is plenty old enough to know that selecting the next president for our country isn’t an easy decision.

“I was thinking it might be kind of nice to have a lady in office,” said Monique.
Nabria Johnson, a fifth grader at Cherokee Heights Elementary in St. Paul, has seven more years left before she can cast a ballot. But if she could vote today, she’s already chosen her next president.

“President Barack Obama!” Nabria exclaimed while talking with a couple of friends after school at the Baker Rec Center in St. Paul. “But it is a hard decision because this is our first year of having an African American running for president, as well as a girl running for president, so I know it’s a hard choice.”

Putting politics aside, the report also found that rates of poverty are decreasing for all children studied. And, the poverty rate is decreasing more rapidly for Black children than it is for White children.

In the area of education, the numbers aren’t impressive. The study found that there’s room for Black children to do more homework. Substantial gaps between Black and White children in reading and math test scores have hardly changed in 19 years, as well as the gap between Black and Whites of earning a bachelor’s degree.

“We really think our country needs to focus on how kids get started,” noted Traylor. “By the time a student drops out of school or fails a grade, it is too late to correct. We need to start out right, and do it right the first time.”

Traylor recommends paying close attention to pre-kindergarten through third-grade students.

“The focus would be to teach these kids life lessons. Lessons like learning how to be curious, learning self-control, learning patterns and learning to listen. These are the things that really matter.”

The foundation also found that we still have a long way to go to eliminate a gap between Black and White children altogether.

“The report found that even if trends continue at their current pace, it would take another 18 years for Black children to have as good as quality of life as White children, said Don Hernandez, researcher and author of the report. We’re going to have to better our public policy; otherwise it could take decades.”

Next week, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman makes education a top priority.

For more information on the Foundation for Child Development and its report, visit www.fcd-us.org.

Felicia Shultz welcomes reader responses to fjubratic@comcast.net.