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Opportunities abound; so look around

Opportunities abound; so look around
by Rodolpho Carrasco
Saturday, June 26, 1999 in San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group
(Rodolpho Carrasco is associate director of Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, Calif. and a columnist for the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group. Check out more articles by Rodolpho Carrasco here.)

A reader of this column said to me this week that she was disappointed with one of my previous columns where I agreed with NEWSWEEK magazine that this is the best time ever to be African American in America. She said that NEWSWEEK and I were both wrong, that the general quality of life for African Americans, particularly for poor Blacks, has not improved. She also said it was dangerous for a columnist to project the idea that all is well, because there remains much work to be done before America is a land of "justice for all."

As she talked, I listened closely to her thought. I agree with her principal point, which I re-state as "Don't let people off the hook." In supporting the idea that life in general for African Americans has improved, I do not mean to say that the work of justice is complete.

In particular, this woman and a number of other people who emailed or talked with me in person pointed out the fact that for Blacks near the poverty line, the fruits of improvement - including increased income and education - remain a rumor at best. It is true that for many poor people these are not the best of times.

When I say these are good times, I'm thinking primarily about opportunity. There are more opportunities for African Americans, for Latinos, and for all kinds of people, than ever before. For what other reason does the world keep busting down our front door to get in? How else can we explain the impressive growth of the African American and Latino middle classes?

But that is not to say that there are enough opportunities (for example, in corporate America) or that all opportunities are excellent (most new jobs produced in this overheated economy are part-time with no benefits), or that some people do not have serious obstacles to overcome before they can grasp the opportunities.

Nevertheless, there are opportunities. The positive perspective that opportunities are plentiful must also be shouted from the rooftops, just as we shout out against injustice and brutality.

Looking for a connection to a good company? Job fairs are advertised in the newspaper every week. The Pasadena-Altadena Urban League just held a successful job fair. One enterprising young person from my neighborhood, on summer break prior to his junior year of college on the East Coast, snatched up a summer position at a large engineering firm.

If, in your life, you have been walking down the wrong path, you can make an about-face. Locked up in prison as a juvenile? You can better your lot while inside by working hard in a number of programs designed to educate and skill impressionable youths. Trying to kick a drug habit? Drug treatment programs abound.

Just plain old need a job? While you are searching for that ideal full-time job with great benefits, it is possible to acquire two or even three part-time jobs. These are not career-building jobs, and many pay just minimum wage. But in other countries - Cuba and Mexico come to mind - people would literally die for the opportunit to work as many part-time jobs as possible as they searched for career-type employment.

In talking about jobs, I don't mean to overlook the significant population of people coming off of years of welfare dependency for whom entry into the job market is actually very difficult. I have seen cases where it's very hard to "just get a job," especially when child care is a problem, the father is not in the picture, and transportation consists of relying on the public buses. These are what I call genuine obstacles to opportunity, and individuals as well as society need to figure out how to support single mothers, especially, in this position.

But there are other obstacles to opportunity that engender less sympathy.

A kid needs an education to succeed. But he is held back a grade because he failed a class. When asked why, the kid says he got an "F" because the teacher hates him. Then it comes to light that the kid ditched class 20 times, didn't turn in any work, and openly opposes the teacher in class.

Someone's mad that the police are keeping a close eye on them. Then it comes to light that the person is under contract to place a hit on a rival gang member. Another person needs a little cash to help until the end of the month. Then it comes to light that they spent their money on drugs and clothes, and chose to pay their cable bill before paying the electric bill.

No, life is not perfect for Latinos, African Americans, or anybody. Blacks and Latinos continue to confront systemic as well as individual evil. But sometimes the evil, the collective "They" who figure so prominently in the lives of so many people, is a phantom, and in such situations it is not dangerous boosterism to emphasize the crush of opportunities available to all Americans. To the contrary, it would be irresponsible to cover up this important fact when so many need to act on it.

 

The copyright for these materials are owned by Rudy Carrasco.  These materials were used with permission by TechMission