Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, grew up during the Civil Rights Movement and looking back, she says, the Black community has not progressed that far since then.
“The struggle continues and it seems that we take a step forward and maybe three or four steps back,” Grant said at the 14th annual Urban Summit Conference, held earlier this month in Kansas City.
The lack of progress Grant sees is not just based on her own experience, but research conducted by the Urban League of Greater Kansas City in conjunction with the University of Missouri Kansas City’s Center for Economic Information. The two organizations took a detailed look at the condition of African Americans in the Kansas City Metro area in five areas: economics, education, health, social justice and civic engagement. Their well-documented and quantified findings are included in the 2021 State of Black Kansas City report released last month.
“I believe this research is the single most significant publication in Kansas City because it gives the data that chronicles our oppression and our marginalization,” said the Rev. Vernon P. Howard, vice president of the Urban Summit. “It also tells the significant reality of the continued disparities of our people since 1619. Going forward, it begins to chart a path for our future work in the days and months and years ahead.”
The results of the SOBKC findings are summarized in the Equality Index, which measures how African Americans are doing in the five areas on a 100-point scale. Whites are used as the benchmark (100 points), because the history of race in America has created advantages for Whites that continue to persist in most of the outcomes measured. UMKC’s Center for Economic Information, following the same methodology as the National Urban League, calculated Kansas City’s 2021 Equality Index as 72%.
Using a pie chart as an example, the Equality Index means rather than having the whole pie like White Kansas Citians, Black Kansas Citians are missing 28% of the pie.
Many factors contribute to the lower score including:
The median net income of Black household is on 62.9% of White households.
The median net worth of Black households is only 12.8% of White households.
Homeownership of Black Kansas Citians is 56% of White homeownership. Sadly, less than half (42.66%) of Black Kansas City residents own their home, compared to 76.06% of White families.
In 2006, Black Kansas Citians’ economic index was 54%. In 2020, it’s 62%, an 8% improvement in 14 years.
100% of Black students in Jackson County are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch.
In Wyandotte County, 73% of Black students are economically disadvantaged.
In Jackson County, Black children are three times more likely than White students to be suspended from school for 10 or more days.
Blacks Kansas Citians without health insurance had an index value of 67% in 2020, up from only 46% in 2019 and 52% in 2015 The life expectancy of Blacks in Kansas City had an index rate of 85.1% compared to Whites The number of Blacks in good physical condition had an index of 71.4% compared to Whites
Local vehicle stops in proportion to the population for Blacks compared to Whites index value was 67%, documenting Blacks are disproportionately stopped while driving compared to Whites.
The Murder Victimization Rate showed a major disproportion with 72% of murder victims from the Black population, compared to 20% of victims from the White population.
This is an area where Black communities typically excel. It measures involvement in our local community in ways that can have a positive impact on our community, like voting and participating in community organizations.
This year’s civic engagement index is 99.5%, almost equal to the White community. However, this number is down from previous ratings of 109% in 2019 and 107% in 2015.
“As we've looked at it over the years, it's been really quite troubling, in that we have made progress, yes, but the progress has not been fast enough,” Grant said.
THE CASE FOR REPARATIONS
The big question Urban Summit leaders asked: is equity enough to mitigate these inequities?
Grant said if everything was equal from the start, then equity would be enough. However, everything is not equal, so reparative justice is needed to repair those inequities.
“One thing we know is that if we keep doing the same thing we've been doing and expecting a different outcome, that's called insanity,” Grant said. “So, we've got to stop, think, regroup and come out strong in 2022 with a plan to achieve reparative justice to the economic harm that has been done to the Black community. Reparations are needed.”
As a result of the State of Black Kansas City data, the Urban League created a list of reparations recommendations including:
The Urban League of Greater Kansas City is recommending cash payments, free college tuition, student loan forgiveness, business start-up grants and home-down-payment grants for descendants of enslaved Black Americans. They are also recommending a 50-year exemption of federal, state and local taxes for Black Americans.
The Urban League recommends school administrators collaborate with Historically Black Colleges (HBCUs) and Universities and Brothers Liberating Our Communities (BLOC) to create strategies to recruit and retain more Black and Brown teachers.
Requiring all teachers and school staff to participate in anti-racist, anti-bias professional development for up to 16 houses each year for the next five years is also at the top of the list.
The Urban League also wants schools to implement restorative practices that replace traditional discipline such as in and out-of-school suspensions.
At the top of the list for health is ensuring the protection of Medicaid expansion in Missouri, the expansion of Medicaid in Kansas, and increasing funding for public health infrastructure, to appropriately prevent, respond and recover from public health crises.
SOCIAL JUSTICE RECOMMENDATIONS
The Urban League is recommending the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice investigate patterns of violent KCPD policing targeting communities of color.
The Urban League is also seeking local control of the Kansas City Police Department and the passage of an ordinance mandating the city allocate no more in funding for the department each year than the 20% of the city’s budget, which is required by state law.
CIVIC ENGAGEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS
Urging Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to further expand voting protections for the historically disenfranchised is one of the most important recommendations the Urban League has for increasing civic engagement.