As the Mayor of the City of Newark, Cory Booker has a lot to say about the now popular term of leaning in and how it plays into his city’s efforts to improve the lives of African-Americans in New Jersey’s largest city.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the third annual African-American media breakfast with the Mayor. This event serves to give the media access to the Mayor and hear about city issues while detailing how it’s becoming a national example of urban transformation.
“I’m leaning in. I’m a resident of this city. I’m leaning in on exercising my power and control by doing everything in my ability to change outcomes.”
– Mayor Cory A. Booker
No red cape in sight, Mayor Booker approached the podium discussing right away some of the main issues affecting the black community involving race, education, health care, poverty and crime.
RACE & EDUCATION
Newark, New Jersey is currently experiencing its greatest economic development boom. It’s a vibrant city that is sprouting new businesses, hotels, park expansions and making way for green spaces throughout its area. However, there are trends, the Mayor points out, which are still ailing the black community. These trends are setting young people behind and jeopardizing their opportunities for a better future.
Mayor Booker strongly believes that the fabric which determines our health as a democracy is the state of socioeconomic status.
“If you shift your lens from socioeconomic status, which in many ways is the healthiest lens to use and put race on this—you still see trends that are profoundly troubled,” he says. “Looking at disparities in education between minorities and non-minorities within this country just leaves a trail of tears when you look at the data (referring to a report by McKinsey and Company). African-Americans are profoundly underperforming using race when compared to white Americans.”
When we look at our economy, the achievement gap is costly. It’s not an issue that shapes one particular demographic, but all Americans and the world. According to the report, this problem impacts our GDP by 1.3-2.3 trillion dollars. To put it in perspective, “If you realize now that the majority of Americans being born are minorities, project 15-20 years from now. The workforce of tomorrow will be profoundly underperforming if we don’t change or heal this rift that exists for our country.”
The hard truth: In New Jersey, black Americans make up 13-15 % of the population, but crowd prisons by 60%. Research shows that if we don’t make the effort in changing the outcome for our youth and the educational achievement gap, we’re headed for a permanent recession.
From budget cuts, school closures and adopting a new standard of education — education reform remains to be a hot-button topic, relevant today as ever before.
Recently, hundreds of Newark public school students peacefully protested against Governor Chris Christie’s education budget cut of $56 million dollars to the city’s schools. Students walked out of classes seeking restoration of the proposed cuts, which they felt unfairly targeted urban students, according toThe Associated Press. The education budget of all city schools is controlled by the state.
What should be the collective idea to push forward to ensure all children receive a quality education? The Mayor believes the power lies with the people, leaders and its community. He believes that the ‘blame game’ in our schools of who is held accountable should stop. And to see real change, one must exercise their power to achieve local control of their communities.
Does it take a village to ensure that students receive a quality education, in this case, a whole city? Dr. Melissa Harris HRS -0.3%-Perry of MSNBC, said in a recent 30 second PSA for a campaign called Lead Forward that we never really invested in our children’s public school education as much as we should because of our current mindset. Harris-Perry said as parents (primary caregivers), we need to stop viewing our children as our own, but as belonging to whole communities.
When it comes to public school education, Mayor Booker says he has no loyalty to a particular education model. “I went out in my first term and said, “I don’t care what the delivery model is.” I have no loyalty to a building. I have no loyalty to a delivery mechanism of education. If you can take a poor child from my city and educate them at home, God bless you. And we should give you money to do it.”
Noting the performance of Newark’s charter schools he said, “If you take our charter school sector in Newark, it outperforms every charter school sector in the country. Fact check. Our charter schools outperform the state average. What I said I was going to do— what I am going to do—is expand our districts.”
POVERTY & HEALTH CARE
In Newark alone, 40% of the women having babies have no prenatal care or receive it too late. The cost to our society for the kid who is born and gets no prenatal care comes with a question – What happens between the time of conception and your first year? What happens is 80% of your cognitive development. Because of the prevalence of poverty in this community, it’s critical to see this as an issue, especially for the African-American community, says the Mayor.
There are a number of barriers that prevent expectant mothers in receiving adequate prenatal care, many of which plague the African-American community in major ways. These barriers include financial, personal, structural and demographic barriers. Research also suggests that socioeconomic status doesn’t just affect children’s health and development prior to birth, but extends well into adulthood. Ultimately, however, access to prenatal care has the ability to correct the disparities of birth outcomes.
GUNS & CRIME
There are now 1,000 police officers on the streets of Newark, 500 fewer than when Mayor Booker first came into office. But something is working. “And yet, we’re getting lower crime numbers now. Its incredible work that my police department is doing,” he said, before detailing the grim reality of Newark and other communities throughout the United States: Kids are getting their hands on weapons that should be in a warzone.
More than 30 Americans are shot every day with guns. But, says the Mayor, the illegal guns are not coming from Newark. But that’s not where it ends.
Newark has developed a number of programs to lower recidivism rates in its city. It has also concurrently created programs to boost achievement and success for at-risk youth. According to Booker, Newark Now, a nonprofit he founded to empower families and the city of Newark, saved the state millions of dollars. “Some of our programs, like the one Newark Now, dropped it 60% to 70%, saved the state in just incarceration and arrests millions of dollars– and not only that, empowered families to succeed,” he said.
Then there are companies like Jewelry for a Cause, in which founder Jessica Mindich takes the illegal guns from Newark and turns them into jewelry. She then donates 20% of the proceeds to Newark’s gun buyback program.
There is much promise in New Jersey’s largest city, Newark.
Amanda A. Ebokosia is a freelance journalist and founder ofThe Gem Project, Inc. The Gem Project is a not-for-profit organization that is focused on building worldly leaders, through its enriching educational programs for youth and young adults. As a writer, she is most passionate about discussing leadership, feminism, social-issues and education. You may find her on twitter:@ebokosiaor on:Amanda Ebokosia: Leadership Community.
Image Credit: The City of Newark’s Office of Communications
Originally posted at Forbes.