Bloomberg will take bold action to shrink race wealth gap: Harlem Children's Zone founder

Geoffrey Canada, Opinion contributor

More than 150 years after the 14th Amendment guaranteed all people “equal protection of the laws” and 56 years after the Civil Rights Act banned racial discrimination, we must confront the reality that the median black family in the United States is still almost 10 times poorer than the median white family. This isn’t a white problem or a black problem. It’s an American problem. 

I’m reminded of a line from Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

This racial wealth gap tears at the fabric of our society. We need a real leader in the White House who will unite the country and bring us all together to close this gap so every family in America has the opportunity to thrive.

The pernicious legacy of slavery and Jim Crow disadvantages the African American community in many ways — from education to employment to housing to the criminal justice system. Let’s look at the data: 

►The average black student attends a school at the 37th percentile for test score results, while the average white student attends a school in the 60th percentile.

►The unemployment rate for black Americans is nearly twice as high as for white Americans, and the average black worker earns about 28% less than the average white worker.

►Only 43% of black Americans own their homes, compared with 73% of white Americans.

►And the imprisonment rate for black men is almost six times that of white men in the United States.

Alarming racial disparities

All these factors contribute to the racial wealth gap in our country that gets passed down from one generation to another, making it harder and harder for African Americans to get ahead. Upward mobility is much less likely for black than white Americans. Of black Americans born into the lowest fifth of the earnings distribution, 51% remain there at age 40, compared with only 23% of white Americans.

These disparities in opportunity for African Americans are alarming, and interconnected. It makes no sense to me to tackle an issue like educational inequality in isolation. That’s why I founded the Harlem Children’s Zone. I’ve always believed that the success of our children and the strength of our communities go hand in hand. To break the cycle of generational poverty and give our kids a real shot at the American dream, we have taken on not just some but all of the issues children and families in Harlem face — crumbling apartments, failing schools and gun violence, to name a few.

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There are distressed neighborhoods like Harlem in every corner of our country. We need innovative and comprehensive solutions nationwide to address the generational poverty that prevents too many of our young people from reaching their full potential.

President Donald Trump said last year that the opportunity-zone provision in the Republicans’ 2017 tax-cut legislation provided “massive new incentives for investment and job creation in distressed communities.”  But, as The New York Times has reported, these “opportunity zones” are primarily benefiting Trump’s family members, friends and other wealthy Americans. Instead of building affordable housing in distressed neighborhoods or grocery stores in food deserts, developers are building luxury apartments and hotels.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg greets the Rev. Robert Turner in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Jan. 19, 2020.

On Sunday, my friend and Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg unveiled his plan to significantly reduce the racial wealth gap for black Americans. Rather than giving tax breaks to his family and friends, he will invest $70 billion in the neighborhoods that need it most. This national initiative will lift up 100 of the country’s most disadvantaged communities.

Similar to our approach in Harlem, Bloomberg’s policy will address disparities in early childhood development, education, employment, and health and environmental conditions. And, like me, Bloomberg is a big believer in innovation and data. He’s willing to try new things and isn’t afraid to fail, and he will focus on evaluation to expand the programs that work.

Bloomberg will reduce wealth gap

Bloomberg also has proposed steps to create 1 million new African American homeowners and start 100,000 new black-owned businesses. 

In addition, Bloomberg will reinvigorate and reorient the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, requiring companies to report on hiring, pay and procurement data, and collecting lending data. Earlier this month, Bloomberg laid out his plan to protect and restore voting rights by addressing practices such as ID requirements, roll purging and gerrymandering.

I’ve known Mike Bloomberg for many years, and I know he will bring our country together to start closing the racial wealth gap in America. Again, let’s look at the data: 

►During Bloomberg’s time as New York City’s mayor, graduation rates for African American students rose and the black-white achievement gap shrank. 

►He launched an ambitious plan to expand affordable housing.

►And he reduced the number of black New Yorkers in prison by reforming policies that disproportionately impact young men of color.

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Bloomberg also created the Young Men’s Initiative, the first municipal plan to focus on the persistent disparities experienced by young men of color in education, employment, health and crime. President Barack Obama later launched My Brother’s Keeper, with similar aims and branches in 250 cities.

I don’t want to look back four years from now to see that the racial wealth gap has stayed the same, or even worse, grown bigger. This year, we have the chance to elect a president who understands we are all tied in a single garment of destiny — and who will take bold action to end discrimination against African Americans and increase opportunity for every American. I’ll be casting my ballot for Mike Bloomberg to get it done.

Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, has endorsed Mike Bloomberg for president. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mike Bloomberg has bold plan to end racial bias and reduce wealth gap