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(NNPA)—It seems that people championing causes important to Black communities are diminishing in number. Now that African-Americans have access to the “mainstream,” it’s now less popular to determine and define issues in racial themes and objectives.


Case in point, D.C. Councilman Marion Barry is embroiled in controversy, this time for remarks criticizing local hospitals for hiring Filipino nurses instead of local residents. At a Council budget hearing, Barry told officials of the University of the District of Columbia they should hire more D.C. residents as teachers and nurses, “It’s so bad that if you go to the hospital now, you find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines,” Barry said.

The former D.C. mayor’s critics are calling his comments “racist.” Current mayor Vincent Gray, and several D.C. Council members have condemned Barry’s statements. Some “concerned citizens” are organizing a “Say Sorry Barry” campaign urging that he “apologize.”

To Blacks, Barry’s goals seem laudable when he says that he wants UDC to become the premier supplier of medical personnel and nurses to hospitals in the District. Barry said, “Let’s grow our own teachers…and nurses. The nation has a national shortage of nurses to the point it has hire foreigners,” Barry said. The champion of the people says, “I want UDC to become the premiere nursing school…that graduates 400 nurses a year that can service D.C. residents.”

The persistent nursing shortage is a serious national issue in which Black Americans could be pivotal in solving. And, as the baby boomers age and the nation’s health care needs grow, Barry sounds prophetic to some. Compounding the problem is the fact that nursing colleges and universities across the country are struggling to expand enrollment levels to meet the rising demand. An intense shortage of registered nurses (RNs) is projected in the South and the West. Aside from deteriorating working conditions, the nursing profession has failed to be attractive to young Blacks or Whites; and much now needs to be done to counter college students’ declines in interest to consider nursing as a probable career.

The former colonial relationship between America and the Philippines is the foundation for Barry’s true, but scorned, comments. The first nursing school, Union Mission Hospital Training School for Nurses, was established in the Philippines in 1906. The first big wave of nurses from the Philippines came in the late 1940s. Thousands migrated to the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s. The Philippines have been the number one source of foreign-trained nurses in the U.S. for decades. In 2005, 55 percent of the foreign-trained registered nurses in the US were educated in the Philippines. As America’s nursing shortage gains in severity, a whole new generation of Philippine nurses is coming here.

If we drop the political correctness, and look at the situation from Barry’s perspective, nursing is a field and shortage that Blacks need to address. In D.C., and across the nation, nursing is perhaps the most in-demand and well-paid profession in the medical industry. Registered nurses (RNs) constitute 2.6 million jobs. The average age of a RN is 44.5 years. More than 581,000 new nursing jobs will be available within a decade. The average annual salary is $57,200 and base salaries can be as high as $72,000.

In America’s “mainstream” society,” Black leadership has become a negative moniker. It’s possible that the “politically correct” people scolding Barry don’t understand that what he is saying is that “the next generation of nurses should look like communities they serve…and that speaking the language and understanding the culture of patients is especially important.”

Today, 24 Historically Black Colleges and Universities offer baccalaureate-level nursing programs. The Ethnic Minority Fellowship Program strives to increase the number of minorities in medicine and offers annual stipends to pre-and-postdoctoral students. The National Black Nurses Association offers several annual scholarships with award amounts that range from $500 to $2000. Minority Nurse Magazine sponsors annual scholarships for minority students with outstanding academic records who have demonstrated personal commitment to health care professions.

(William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.)

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