Is anyone paying attention to the depths of despair and hopelessness that have gripped American urban communities? While our attention is on national health care, Afghanistan and Iraq, someone better be watching our backs right here in our local communities.
Certainly, we need national health care, and the wars must end. Yet there is also a war being waged inside our neighborhoods. This war has been going on far too long without very much national attention.
Millions of people have lost jobs and are continuing the process of losing their homes to foreclosure. I live in the city of Detroit, a very vibrant city with many jewels that most folks never see. All that is ever really described is the pain of unemployment, dilapidated buildings and crime.
Even though all of this is not a fair depiction of Detroit, welcome to urban America. This is also Miami, Chicago, Memphis, Charlotte, Harlem, Washington, D.C., L.A., Columbus, Baltimore, Jackson, New Orleans and right where you live. There is enough unemployment and hardship going around for everybody to get their own piece of the action.
A few weeks ago, the city of Detroit Planning and Development Department called for a meeting downtown to deal with a special economic opportunity for those without homes. This initiative, The Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, was intended to provide applications for those who qualify for economic aide through the stimulus program provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Only about 3,500 applications were available. Almost 50,000 people showed up to receive an application.
This influx of people charged the Cobo Convention Center, mistakenly believing that the Obama administration was providing monetary grants for this particular program. This was due to the fact that the news media sent a message that confused the issue. Yet the mistake only provided a very accurate indication of what many already know: The depth of despair and anger in our urban cities runs deep.
There were arguments about standing too long in line, and people were generally upset with the slow pace of government assistance. Some even threatened to shoot folks who jumped in line in front of them. Please don’t think this occurred simply because this is Detroit. I want you to know this is your city, also. You just may not have gotten the word yet. This pain is running like a deep river through the main streets of every city in urban America.
A week earlier, the Detroit Edison Company called for a meeting to provide energy and utility assistance to families in preparation for winter. Thousands showed up at a location formerly used for the Michigan State Fair. The energy company was forced to shut down the meeting four hours early due to the overflowing crowd.
Detroit has lost the significant impact of the auto industry, which has devastated many families. Manufacturing jobs have disappeared overseas, and the government has not quite managed to fix this problem.
The issue of unemployment is a matter of national security. One cannot imagine the pain that is now in the midst of the homes of families with fathers and mothers who are without the means to support themselves and their families. If they don’t have legitimate resources to aid them, as we can plainly see, they will pursue illegitimate means.
When unemployment is counted in urban communities it is generally in double digits. The state of Michigan has a 15-percent rate of unemployment. The city of Detroit has a 28-percent rate of unemployment. Yet we know that many have dropped out of the reporting process and are not being counted on the rolls. They are now being counted in the heavy tolls that are taken in crime, despair, family splintering and angry people.
I don’t care what you call it, we need a national program to help the people of America. The Stimulus Program is taking too long in terms of the trickle down to the streets of the nation. This great need should not be written off as merely another government program. It is a government mandate to do what is necessary to provide, protect, promote, and perpetuate the quality of life for all Americans.
If we do not do this then we can expect more crime, more gang violence, more family splintering, less faith and hope in the political system to do what it is constitutionally mandated to do.
Now it is time for our country to do something for the people. JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! It is not a national option; it really is a matter of our national security.
The Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony is president of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP (the nation’s largest NAACP branch), and a member of the NAACP national board of directors.