Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Roberts Brothers---Building a Legacy of African American Wealth

Public schools across the United States prepare children for the workforce as employees or specialists, such as carpenters, engineers, lawyers or doctors. The set up is that students attend school for thirteen years, graduate from high school qualified for college success (without a need for remediation courses) and move into a career and the middle-class. Schools provide core content curriculum that is often void of teaching financial literacy. Every now and then, the exceptions to these school rules become models to us, especially when African Americans join the Donald Trumps of the nation.

The Roberts brothers, Steven and Michael, were on track for the middle-class life but veered off into big business and wealth. Unlike their father who retired after 39 years with the U.S. Postal Service, these African American men built a billion dollar empire by building the extra into extraordinary.

"We weren't rich, we weren't poor, but we just never had any money either," says Michael about their upbringing in St. Louis. Today they are among the wealthiest African Americans in the nation. The Roberts Companies consists of more than 70 companies throughout the nation. Their holdings include hotels, television and radio broadcast properties, theatres, telecommunications facilities, shopping centers, some of the finest developed real estate properties, aviation, and much more. They are big business leaders.

Like many African Americans, Michael and Steven Roberts can tell you when they just had two quarters to rub together. Yet like what African Americans are fully capable of accomplishing, they saw beyond what were obvious and created masterpieces out of properties others thought untouchable. They trekked the typical American education route by attending public schools, college, and then law school. As lawyers, Michael and Steven teamed up to advice clients and as elected officials became Aldermen. Their journey beyond ordinary began with the purchase and development of one property in the African American community and continued with multiple purchases in the heart of St. Louis and the nation.

Michael and Steven Roberts are often called on to speak about their success. They enjoy encouraging students to become life-long learners and to identify an area of passion. Start with an idea, learn what there is to know and own it, do the work--sweat equity--of putting ideas into action, and reap the rewards. They would remind students of two key cogent points: there is no retirement in doing what you love to do, and remember the importance of service to others as you build a legacy.

The Roberts are an example of African American success. No longer relegated to sit in the back balcony because she is Black, Mom can sit where ever she wants in the theatre now owned by her sons. Now, that is letting freedom ring from the mountain tops.

Friday, January 14, 2011

On second thought--”The time for justice, freedom and equality is always right now”

The Great Debaters, starring Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, is a movie inspired by a true story set in a deep southern Texas town that openly sanctions racism. It epitomizes the struggle “underdog” African American students and teachers experienced to gain an equitable education in an unjust society. A professor and coach, Denzel Washington, cultivates African-Americans to engage their intelligence and leads them to surpass Harvard University’s best and brightest Euro-American students. The power of words becomes sport. Winners take all, including becoming an historical powerhouse.
Although racially segregated water fountains, restaurants and public schools seem to have disappeared in 2010, the nation’s problematic achievement gap between black and white students and suburban and urban academic apartheid demonstrates that a deep-seeded racial divide persists.
“Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does” Supreme Court Justice Warren, May 17, 1954
The 1954 Supreme Court decision, offered by Chief Justice Warren, on Brown v. Board of Education and the 2001 federal mandate No Child Left Behind has yet to unravel centuries of wrongs committed against African Americans. We rise in anticipation of the fruition of these inherently moral and democratic rulings that attack the impact of racially segregating children into separate and unequal classrooms, schools, communities, economies, and academic opportunities where access to rich curriculum taught by skilled teachers is the norm.

The lawsuits brought against the Lower Merion School District and won by its African American community are a force for change. So be it we pray lest this time justice, freedom and equality take black students to the education Promised Land that it be by the hand of the Almighty’s “ten plagues and then the Red Sea.”.

Trial date set for racial discrimination case against the Lower Merion School District

After unsuccessful attempts to mediate a long-standing lawsuit, Concerned Black Parents and several African American families head back to Federal Court in November, 2011 to address the failure of the Lower Merion School District to eradicate the impact of racist and discriminatory policies and practices toward its black students.

On July 30, 2007, Concerned Black Parents. Inc. joined several African American students, parents and the NAACP Mainline Branch as plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District, and later amended the Complaint to add the Pennsylvania Department of Education as defendants. The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) originally filed the case with lead attorneys Barbara Ransom and Judy Gran who have since passed the gauntlet to Sonja Kerr. In 2009, the international law firm of DLA Piper joined PILCOP in representing the Lower Merion plaintiffs; thereby adding an outstanding team of lawyers led by Carl Hittinger.

Generally, the Complaint alleges that the School District’s policies and practices caused African American students and the members of the class to fall behind their peers academically.

The Federal Court’s Chief Justice Harvey Bartle, III initial response to the Complaint was to deny the plaintiffs a class standing, to dismiss several plaintiffs, and to insist that all plaintiffs receiving special education services exhaust all remedies and resolve issues under the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA).

In 2007, the Lower Merion School District tracked students on several academic levels; including modified, standard, honors, advanced placement and the International Baccalaureate. Anecdotal and factual evidence indicates that the majority of African Americans are routinely segregated into the lowest academic levels provided by the school district, with a small handful enrolled in honors, AP or IB courses. Nearly 90 percent of a modified class contained African American students; which is statistically improbable without direct manipulation in a district where these students total 7.5 percent of the entire student body. Today, the District reports the elimination of all modified level courses.

Demonstratively, African American students are not benefiting from the blue-ribbon winning school district where the majority of Euro-American students are in higher-level courses that improve standardized test scores and post-secondary outcomes. This lawsuit intends to even the playing field.

The IDEA and No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), require the District to provide these students access to the same general education curriculum and quality education, which Lower Merion provides to their similarly situated peers.

In an effort to accomplish what Chief Justice Bartle ordered, PILCOP filed 5, 10, and then 20 Due Process Hearings (21 in all so far) for African American students in an attempt to make right the special education wrongs accomplished by the Lower Merion School District over decades

In all cases either the Hearing Officer determined that the Lower Merion School District did not provide an appropriate education to African American students and ordered appropriate remedies or a settlement agreemet was reached.

Among other revelations, evidence revealed that certain students did not belong in special education simply because they are not disabled.

Within days of DLA Pipers admission as legal representatives to the plaintiffs, the LMSD initiated an attempt to settle the three-year old lawsuit. Retired Federal Judge Bissell joined the case to mediate the settlement. Plaintiffs attended the mediation sessions with experts— professors, authors and researchers—who studied the case and recommended what is known to alleviate the impact of institutional racism in public education. On December 10, 2010, Dr. McGinley, Michael Kelly and district attorneys failed to settle the three-year old lawsuit with plaintiffs.

This case goes to a jury trial in November, 2011.