When I look at the economic indicators of unemployment, homeownership, and education, I can see that 2011 wasn’t a good year for the African-American community.
The unemployment numbers for African Americans in South Carolina are at 20 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics data, significantly higher than the state’s current rate of 9.9 percent and Charleston’s rate of 7.8 percent.
Meanwhile state Sen. Robert Ford has said that the mortgage crisis has hit African Americans the hardest — and many in the black community would agree with him.
The graduation rates remain at a dismal 50 percent for African-American males. Failing schools produce unskilled workers, and that’s not going to cut it in a 21st-century economy. Can we let another year go by without addressing the gap? Perhaps our leaders can help these students get the technology they are missing at home and, unfortunately, in many of their schools.
The political landscape wasn’t better, as we lost political power in the City of Charleston as the result of continued gentrification and redistricting. The continued migration of African Americans from the peninsula results in the loss of federal resources available to low-income census tracts. This money is used to develop homeownership and job creation programs. African Americans also failed to seize city council seats in North Charleston, where there’s a black majority. This was a missed opportunity to guide the city as it grapples with port expansion, rail access, and economic development issues.
Mayors Joseph P. Riley Jr. and Keith Summey were re-elected as expected and their black opposition rejected. Riley received at least 50 percent of the African-American vote in this year’s election; that 50 percent represents the older generation of African Americans, which continues to see Joe as a symbolic bridge between Jim Crow and post-segregation politics. The other half represents a younger generation ill prepared to face new-world realities like a tough and competitive global economy. This group, justly or unjustly, blames Mayor Riley. It goes with being the incumbent, but he has one more term to change their minds.
Mayor Summey received an even greater share of the black vote in his re-election bid. The mayor of North Charleston has built up a strong reserve of social capital through community churches and civic leaders. Those who underestimate the power of social capital got crushed when Summey cashed it in on Election Day. He won decisively despite accusations of racial profiling and discrimination at the hands of the North Charleston Police Department. It did not bother voters that the mayor’s position on rail access is not in their best interests. Mayor Summey will have to be responsive to the issues raised concerning the African-American community over the next four years, and if not, the community cannot wait until the next election to hold him accountable. Educate the voters now. Demand action now. Get prepared now.
Meanwhile, the election of Keith Waring to Charleston City Council is a very important development in the African-American community. First, Keith is the son of Louis Waring and literally and figuratively represents the passing of the leadership baton from one generation to the next. More importantly, however, is what Keith’s election means for economic development in the African-American community. While this is Waring’s first elected office, he has served as a de facto leader of black Charleston’s business and professional class, which often seeks his advice on political matters. Waring has also served in a leadership capacity within the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. I believe all of this gives him the tools to develop effective economic policies that will help create a self-sustainable environment where minority-owned businesses can thrive. I believe he is also key to developing the necessary unity among council members representing underdeveloped communities. Waring will play a major role in helping Mayor Riley make substantial and long-lasting contributions to the African-American community during his final term in office.