Benjamin Franklin once said that without continual growth and progress, such words as "improvement," "achievement" and "success" have no meaning. This statement, true in the 18th century, remains so in the 21st century. Franklin, one of our country's founding fathers, made this statement in reference to America's thirst for freedom and search of prosperity. As we get ready to enter another year and begin a new chapter in the history books, we should take heed to Franklin's words and vow to march on.
Like many of you, I went to bed on Nov. 4 (or Nov. 5, depending on how long you partied) with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye as we made history. This long growing experiment called America elected its first black president and placed another rung on the long ladder from our dark past. For the past two centuries, blacks and other minorities have fought for America to judge them by the content of their character, and on Nov. 4, America did just that. Now, in the eternal words of W.E.B. Dubois, "It is today that our best work can be done."
As we celebrated over the past month and a half, the economic crisis has hit minority communities harder and harder. Our unemployment and dropout rates have continued to rise. While we were screaming "Yes we did," Detroit, a city with an 83 percent African American population, saw its unemployment rate rise above 21 percent.
Now, it is time to tell the truth. While black voter turnout increased this year, it still was not enough. Looking at the overall numbers, we could have done much better. So before you head into 2009 with your chest poked out, you should thank your fellow Americans for giving the president-elect a chance.
Also, this is no time for rest but a time to work harder. We have much work to do in our respective communities. We need to demand higher standards from our schools, but we must also get more involved. We have to demand that schools reorder their priorities to put college preparation first and vocational education second. As long as we allow the kids in inner cities to be trained for service while the kids in rich suburbs are preparing to be doctors and lawyers, we will be stuck in this disparate cycle that has plagued the educational system in this country.
The major problem is that some of us assume that African Americans have made it as a people, that somehow the election of Barack Obama has vindicated our entire community. While I certainly do not want to dampen the spirit of this historic event, I must keep my eyes on the prize. As long as we continue to see a 50 percent dropout rate, we have not arrived. As long as 15 percent of the general population continues to produce more than 60 percent of the prison population, then we have not arrived. The failure of education leads to the failure of principle, which leads to the failure of society.
While we cannot fix the world tomorrow, we must not use this moment as an excuse to rest.