The Class of 2010

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“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.”—Marcus Garvey

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WASHINGTON (NNPA)—It is graduation season in America—a bittersweet moment for thousands of young high school and college seniors who are leaving the relative comfort of classroom and campus life to pursue their dreams and find jobs in an economy that continues to struggle.

In communities of color the dilemma is even harsher.

In many of our largest urban cities, for every one African-American or Hispanic student who receives a high school diploma, one or more is left behind. College graduation rates are no better. Only 43 percent of African-Americans who enter college, graduate—a 20 percent gap compared to their White counterparts. While it may have been true 30 years ago, that you could get a good job with less than a high school diploma, those days are long gone. In today’s high-tech, knowledge economy, a college degree is the starting point for most good jobs. But, persistent achievement gaps and lagging graduation rates, especially in communities of color, are putting both the future of millions of young people and our nation at risk.

In the National Urban League’s 2010 State of Black America, Education Secretary Arne Duncan puts it this way. “…The promise of a world-class education system is being deferred for African-Americans all across the country…The achievement gap is unacceptably large. The average Black child is two or three grade levels behind the average White child. About half our African-American students fail to graduate on time. Only one in five Blacks over the age of 25 has a bachelor’s degree.  .In short, too many in the Black community are being denied the American Dream. Solving the problem starts with education.”

We agree. With more than a million young people dropping out of school each year and with fewer jobs demanding higher skills, America is facing a crisis in education. That’s why the National Urban League is more committed than ever to the mentoring, tutoring and scholarship programs that have always been a part of our mission. And it is why we have made ensuring that every child in every community is ready for college, work and life by 2025 one of the four pillars of the National Urban League’s centennial year I Am Empowered initiative.

President Obama and Arne Duncan have also placed fixing our broken education system at the top of the nation’s domestic agenda. They have invested more dollars in elementary, secondary and community college education and for proven programs like Head Start. But money and good intentions alone are not enough. True education reform calls for a change in beliefs, attitudes and behaviors on the part of all of us—from policy makers in government, to parents, teachers and students themselves.

Until we believe that every child, regardless of race, background or income, can and deserves to learn. Until we create a classroom environment that says to our young people, you matter, your school matters, your future matters. Until we take the time to mentor, tutor and volunteer in our schools, graduation season will continue to be less than all that it can be.

(Marc H. Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.)

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