This NY Times article on upward mobility quotes a study showing that where you live plays a big role in determining economic opportunity. This leads some to believe that moving is the answer but the article concludes that
For all the benefits that moves can bring, they are not a solution to poverty, said people who have seen the new paper as well as the researchers themselves. Finding ways to improve those neighborhoods, for people who cannot or do not want to move, is also important, researchers and policy makers said.
This reminds me that 50 years ago after the 1965 unrest in Los Angeles, the Watts Labor Community Action Committee(WLCAC) was founded with the motto Don’t Move – Improve. Studies by researchers and policy makers can be helpful but did we really need to wait 50 years to be told about something someone in the village had already done? Look around you, find a problem, come up with a solution, use family, friends and the web to find the intellectual and monetary capital to implement it. While the steps are pretty simple, committing to see it through takes a great effort.
It was good to see conservatives and liberals agreeing on Morning Joe and elsewhere that decades of systemic economic failure are creating a permanent underclass in Baltimore and throughout America. At the same time there’s a need to recognize that people have been not only saying this for some time, but also acting to prevent the present crisis. One participant in CNN’s Black In America Part 4 Silicon Valley documentary in 2011 noted:
As I said in the documentary, not fixing this problem ultimately leads to a permanent underclass. And if you think Occupy Wall Street is a troubling signal regarding dissatisfaction around wealth distribution, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I fear the growing wealth disparity, particularly along racial and ethnic lines, will be catalyst for significant civil unrest.
Commenting in 1982 on the 1965 Watts riots, the late community pioneer and founder of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee Ted Watkins said:
If we continue in the direction that we are heading in cutting out all of the support a community like this is getting. Not only Watts but New York, Washington D.C. and Detroit MI, possibly, people will be at war.
A Practical Man
Perhaps what’s needed most is a sense of urgency and the will to move beyond relying primarily on protests and government programs. We don’t have all of the science, technology, engineering and math resources we need but we have enough to start making an impact right now today. We can’t “buy black” if there’s no black company making the product, but we can choose how we spend our money so that we can invest in ourselves, our past and present knowledge of how to make products.