This year the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh’s 2011 State of Black Pittsburgh Town Hall Meeting addressed the issue of racial disparities in education, a problem that many have labeled the civil rights struggle of our time. Throughout her speech on Oct. 29, Urban League President and CEO Esther Bush illustrated the statistics behind the racial achievement gap, but also how her organization has tackled the problem over the past year.


“We’ve all heard the appalling numbers. For example, African-American and Hispanic students trailed their White peers by an average of more than 20 test score points on the National Assessment of Education Progress math and reading assessments at fourth and eight grades,” Bush said. “That’s according to analyses by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2009 and 2011, which concluded that the gap equates to a difference of about two grade levels. That’s right. Two entire grade levels.”

While Bush brought the audience at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture up to speed on the devastating statistics, her overall message was one of hope, inspiring them to commit themselves to improving education for their children.

“Lower academic achievement generally correlates with higher rates of high school suspension, a greater likelihood of being retained in grades, a less likelihood of graduating from high school, which leads to a less likelihood of enrolling in and graduating from a college or university, higher unemployment rates, lower incomes, and a greater likelihood of incarceration,” Bush said.

Showing the Urban League’s commitment to education, Bush shared information on the creation of the African American Achievement Trust, a coalition of local Black leaders who convened in May. Their goal is to build a culture of academic equity and excellence for Pittsburgh’s Black youth.

Bush also highlighted the success of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School, which recently received the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Keystone Achievement Award. The charter school received the award due to sustained academic achievement on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests for six out of eight years.

Beyond these two programs, the Urban League’s Department of Education and Youth Development also operates a number of programs such as their Black Male Leadership Development Institute that introduces youth to the college experience. Similarly, they operate the Early College Career Awareness program, which served 119 youth this year and a science, technology, engineering and math program that worked with 318 youths in hopes of getting them engaged in the STEM career fields.

“Academic achievement not only impacts who does and does not graduate from high school and college. It also helps determine one’s access to choices and opportunities and whether one’s life—and the lives of one’s children—ultimately will be lived with meaning, with purpose and with dignity.”

The event titled “For the Sake of Our Kids” featured a morning of activities aimed at parent and child advocates. Workshops included “Raising an Educated Black Male,” “How to be an Effective Parent of a School-Aged Child,” “The Impact of Labeling on Our Children” and “Achievement: Standing in the Gap (how to help change schools).”

Children were entertained by activities with the Pittsburgh Power football team and tours of the August Wilson Center’s exhibits. There was also a job fair.

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