Status Check on the Black and Latino Dream in America

ljacobAfrican-Americans, Culture, Hispanics, Minority Relations

MLK and César Chávez

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chávez

Dr. King, in a message he sent in 1966 to Mexican civil rights activist, César Chávez wrote, “You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.”

Are Blacks and Latinos realizing the better tomorrow that Dr. King envisioned?

In many ways, yes. In others, no.

The United States presently has a black President, a Latina on the Supreme Court, a Black man on the Supreme Court, two Black senators, three Latino senators, and 43 Black and 31 Latino congressmen and women.

There are around 45 million Blacks and 55 million Latinos in the United States. Currently, there are a little over 317 million people in the county. Together we make up nearly 32 percent of the population of the United States.

Corporate America has, and has had, numerous Black and Latino leaders, including, Carlos Guitiérrez, former CEO of Kellogg Company and the 35th U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Roberto Goizueta, the iconic former CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, Antonio M. Pérez, CEO of Eastman Kodak Company, Carlos Rodríguez, CEO of ADP, Oprah Winfrey of, well, the Oprah Winfrey Network, Ursula M. Burns of Xerox Corporation, Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, Don Thompson, CEO of McDonalds, Clarence Otis, JR, CEO of Darden Restaurants and many others.

According to DiversityInc.com there are six Black and eight Latino CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. That means there are only 14 have Black or Latino executives leading Fortune 500 companies, or less than 3 percent of the group. Compared to the 32 percent of the general populace you can clearly see the leadership disparity.

In the world of entertainment, the list is numerous including such luminaries as Tyler Perry, Sofía Vergara, Eva Longoria, Whitney Houston, Shakira, Jennifer López, Morgan Freeman, Cristina Aguilera, and Richard Pryer, among others. My personal favorite, the trailblazing Ricky Ricardo, aka, Desi Arnaz. These stars appeal to audiences of all ethnic backgrounds.

In the sports world, the list is too numerous to list. But just by way of example, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Emmitt Smith, Roberto Clemente, Albert Puljols, Big Papi David Ortiz and the list goes on and on.

Latino purchasing power in the United States is $1.3 trillion annually and there are over 30,000 Latino-owned businesses doing more than 1 million dollars annually in business. African-American purchasing power in the United States is right at $1 Trillion annually.

Is the dream for success and opportunity being fulfilled? Without a doubt. America has clearly shown its willingness to follow prepared and qualified minority leadership and to esteem talented minority celebrities. We have made significant progress as a country and to deny that is to deny reality. We should all celebrate this progress.

Has MKL’s full dream been fulfilled? Well, let’s just say we all need to keep dreaming, and more important, working together to achieve greater things together than we can achieve separately. All cultures hold their distinctions. This is not good nor bad. We do not all need to look the same, or act the same. We should all, however, have a dream of making this world a better place for everyone.

Here are three areas in which we still need to see significant progress in the Black and Latino communities:

1. Education. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the high school drop-out rate among foreign born Latinos is 31 percent. It is 10 percent for those born in the United States. The Black high school drop our rate in the United States is 6 percent for those born outside of the United States and 9 percent for those born in the United States.

The deeper, and more troubling picture is regarding higher education. Of Latinos who do graduate from high school, less than 20 percent of those go to college. Of those who start college, less than 20 percent graduate. This attrition must be addressed to make greater strides.

In the Black community, 55 percent of Blacks who graduate go to college. Only 43 percent of those who enter, finish college. Among black men, only 36 percent who enter college finish. The attrition is statistically not as significant as in the Latino community, but, in both cases, it is very concerning and threatens the economic and social mobility of both minorities.

2. Integrity of Family Structure.

You might be surprised that I would mention this about the Latino community. The fact is that we have a serious problem in the United States among both Blacks and Latinos and that is the alarmingly high single mother rate in both communities. In the Black community it is around 70 percent, and among Latina women it is over 50 percent. If we are to give the stability necessary to our children, we must have an increased focus and commitment to maintaining both father and mother in the home.

3. Incarceration Rates.

Latinos comprise 17 percent of the U.S. populace presently but compose 35 percent of the entire federal prison population. Blacks compose nearly 40 percent of the federal prison population. Presently, of all people being sentenced to federal prison, 50 percent are Latinos so those numbers will shift a bit. This is troubling — by age 23, 49% of black males and 44% of Hispanic males will have been arrested in the United States. Latinos are the only high growth demographic in the country being projected to reach 130 million people by 2050 according to the U.S. Census bureau. If we extrapolate these current numbers, we should all be extremely concerned about the future of our country.

Now, let’s bring this full circle. Dr. King, in his speech on the National Mall back on August 28th, 1963 said, “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” At the end of his speech he cried out, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

We are all faced with a choice.

We can choose to celebrate the progress we have enjoyed, and also do our part to respectfully help develop a society in which all men and women are treated with respect and opportunities are available to all, or as some do within all groups, we can choose to promote dehumanizing racial bias, thus driving all of us into deeper levels of division and defeat.

Which will you choose?