Thursday, July 09, 2015

Make a promise.

The positive correlations between educational attainment and economic mobility are clear. But the rising cost of higher education makes getting a college degree seem more challenging for the very people who need it most. I say "seem" because while the list price of a college education has increased dramatically, the actual cost for students from families with low or moderate income has not changed much. How can we ensure those student see college as attainable and worth the effort? Make a promise.

Promise communities have a place-based scholarships that fund all or part of every child's higher education expenses.  The benefits include:

  • Increased economic vitality in the community
  • Increased enrollment in local schools
  • Increased enrollment in and completion of college
  • Improved elementary and high school academic performance
As you can imagine, these efforts can be expensive, particularly in larger cities like Kalamazoo, MI, and even in smaller ones like Arkadelphia or El Dorado, AR, But in very small towns, ensuring every high school graduate has a chance to get to and through college may not cost as much as you think. 

In very small, low wealth communities, many of the students will qualify for significant need based financial aid like Pell Grants. And if students receive academic and other scholarships as well, they may be able to cover much of their tuition on their own so that the promise scholarship is only responsible for gap funding. In these communities a well off, though not necessarily wealthy, individual may be able to make a life changing difference for people in her hometown.  

So consider working with a local community foundation or other entity to make a promise in your community.  It can be a game changer for the people and community you love. 

Monday, July 06, 2015

Speak up.

As a lifelong member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and as a human being, I was truly saddened by the recent killing of nine members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This was one of those occasions in which it is difficult to answer the central question of this blog, "So what can I do?"  As a society, we answered by considering removal of Confederate flags from public spaces, discussing reductions in gun violence, and making donations to Emanuel AME.

All of this is important and worthy work, but it does not address the core issue of racism and hate. We such a complicated, problematic, and entrenched understanding of race.  It is easy to understand why we shy away from dealing with it, but we must because racism results in part from our collective unwillingness to honestly address race. has numerous resources to help facilitate these important conversations.

We also must speak up when we hear friends or acquaintances say or talk about planning something cruel.  Sometimes silence isn't enough. There are times when we have to show disapproval in an effort to help stop something tragic from happening.  And if that conversation is too difficult or too dangerous, then it's time to talk with the police or other authorities.  Better to do that than to have to ask "So what could I have done" after something tragic has occurred.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Ban the box.

If you've ever applied for a job, you likely had to respond to a question about past criminal convictions. If you have none, you may never have thought much about the box.  But if you have a past conviction or care for someone who does, you know that checking that box means lost opportunity to contribute positively to society and one's family.

The Ban the Box Campaign  is a national movement to give those with prior convictions a fair chance to live decently, work productively, and provide for themselves and their families.  Here's how you can help:
Attorneys can also organize an expungement clinic to provide free legal assistance to those wanting to clean up their records.

Employers shouldn't reject qualified candidates who want to work because of a debt to society that has already been paid. Ban the Box so everyone has a fair chance.