Beyond black lives protests, lie the income and education gap
© Getty Images

It is difficult to watch the heartbroken reactions of families who’s lost a loved one. Ongoing protests reflect the feelings of many African Americans who still experience discrimination and feel separated from the broader society. Police brutality and racial profiling, systemic racism, destruction of the family unit, and poor education contribute to this reality. There are disadvantaged youth spending more time on the street than at home or in a classroom, and ultimately finding themselves in various forms of trouble.

The Black Lives Matter movement was born out of the conflicts between police and predominantly black communities. Unrest in the streets, protests in the NFL, and events like those that unfolded at the University of Missouri remind us that bold efforts can affect change. We only have to look back at the Civil Rights Movement to prove change is possible. But, let’s fast forward and imagine for a moment that we achieve change, and reach a universal agreement that our lives matter – then what?

I hope the need for protests will diminish and at that time we can move the lives of disadvantaged youth from simply mattering to actually progressing. In my opinion, such a transition will require a renewed focus on access to higher education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections show a positive employment and income differential for those with a Bachelor’s degree and above (BLS, 2015). Good careers and income are difficult to achieve without the necessary learning provided by a liberal arts education or the technical abilities developed through STEM training. Educational focus in early childhood, middle and high school years is fundamentally important; however, a higher education can broaden experience, hone skills and build the professionalism necessary for life success.

I am a black doctoral student studying higher education at the University of Pennsylvania and also the president of an education institution. At times I’ve felt the anxiety of being different and the dejection of discrimination; however, I’m also fortunate to be living a very rewarding life. I’ve worked hard and positioned myself to take full advantage of access to higher education made possible by education equality efforts years ago. In the book, Envisioning Black Colleges, A History of the United Negro College Fund, the author, Marybeth Gasman, describes how access to higher education was opened to all Americans through the influence of the United Negro College Fund, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the Brown v. Board decision. Booker T. Washington, one of the early pioneers of education equality, believed economic improvement for black people would come from hard work and the ownership of property; while his contemporary, W. E. B. Du Bois, encouraged black students to attain the elite levels in the liberal arts, where a Talented Tenth could advance the civil rights of all black people (Gasman, 2002, History of Education quarterly vol. 42 pp. 493-516). Despite their different approaches to higher education equality, their visions of prosperity for the African American family were similar.

Also according to Gasman, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania, these pioneers helped inspire the foundations for Minority Serving Institutions. These institutions are powerful instruments of change because they assume success for the minority student, teach in ways that focus on what the student needs to learn rather than what is convenient for the professor, and allow students the opportunity to participate in culturally relevant assignments that speak to the issues in the communities from which they come.

Plainly stated, the road to success for minorities in America travels through higher education. Minority Serving Institutions and their unique approach offer effective solutions for promoting individual success and community development. In addition, their attentive approach, if applied more broadly across all higher education institutions, could help advance underserved populations throughout the country. The work of Du Bois and Washington showed us how education can move large numbers of young minorities toward classrooms and careers. The time has come for a renewed effort and new education leadership in minority communities, dedicated to this generation’s underserved.

I truly believe that after the protests have ended, and there is agreement that our lives matter, we will only progress as a society when higher education is encouraged and expected as a normal path to prosperity for every minority child.

McAlmont is a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania and president of a computer science institution in Salt Lake City. Follow him on Twitter @ShaunMcAlmont


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.