The following is an open letter by Council Member James sent to the NAACP.
To begin, I would like to commend the NAACP on 100 years of important advocacy and service to African American communities all across the US. In New York, our evidence of the NAACP’s legacy is found in New York chapter president Hazel Dukes and in Brooklyn president Karen Boykin-Towns, whose work and commitment to justice has benefited us all.
The 100th anniversary is another milestone that we can add to the series of accomplishments and historical events that make 2009 a significant year in history. With the election and inauguration of Barack Obama - our nation’s first African American President - the role of the NAACP in providing trails for us all to blaze deserves much credit and gratitude.
But as the old saying goes, we may have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. 2009 also marks the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking film Do the Right Thing, a creation of Brooklyn’s son Spike Lee. The issues that surfaced in the film still cause us all to think about the implications of race relations and inequality. Since Mayor Bloomberg honored the NAACP this week, the question must be asked: is the Mayor doing the right thing for communities of color in New York City?
Under the Bloomberg administration, many issues affecting communities of color remain critical challenges, but go seemingly unaddressed. In 2004, data from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that half of Black Men in New York City are unemployed. Since that time the administration has taken on extremely limited efforts to address this crisis. In fact, this week the New York Times revealed that the unemployment rate for Blacks in New York City has increased at a rate four times greater than the rate for whites in the city. At 14.7% unemployment for Blacks, the Black-White gap in New York is increasing at one of the fastest paces in the country. While unemployment amongst Black New Yorkers was soaring by 167%, the Mayor ignored communities most in need, and invested $45 million in city dollars to provide job training to those on Wall Street. Unfortunately, the administration continues to do far too little to close the gap and the promote diversity and in equality in the city.
The administration’s efforts at improving diversity and promoting equality can best be determined through the city’s Women and Minority Business Enterprises (WMBE) program. The percentage of procurement opportunities for WMBE’s remains distressing. As head of the City Council’s Contracts committee, I have witnessed the administration fail to take a more active approach in increasing business opportunities for women and minorities. Moreover, minority representation in Mayor Bloomberg’s administration still remains a major challenge. Unfortunately the Mayor’s administrators do not adequately represent the demographics of the New York City that many of us know. This city is in dire need of more administrators who actually relate to the experience of average New Yorkers.
Finally, over half century after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, fought for victoriously by the NAACP, the City of New York still remains burdened by persistent segregation. In fact, according to a study by the University of Florida, New York City has experienced the least decline in segregation rates. Very little policy or discussion has emerged from this administration to target the continuing patterns of segregation in the city’s housing.
Mayor Bloomberg, do the right thing, honor the NAACP’s legacy substantively - address the issues that the NAACP has been fighting for these past 100 years - as you finish the remainder of your term. These issues still remain a critical challenge for our city, but far too often it seems these challenges are met with a blind eye and deaf ear.
Finally, and most importantly, congratulations to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on its 100 years of invaluable service, not just to African Americans, but for all Americans. Beyond 2009, I am certain the NAACP will keep up the critical work it began a century ago and continue to make the United States more just for all. I am certain that the NAACP will continue to provide the same level of support and inspiration to many, for at least another 100 years to come.
Member of the City Council