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Tracy White

Move the needle. Drill down. Switch the lens. There are a lot of buzzwords that get thrown around in boardrooms, classrooms and the social arena.

Two buzzwords that don’t receive so much buzz: equity and inclusion as they relate to the African American community. They are words that are talked about behind closed doors and are often an afterthought rather than a conversation. Equity and inclusion are words that remind some that they "need to do better." They remind others that there’s still work to do.

While progress has been made, the perception that all are "equal" is far from the reality of opportunity and achievement gaps. In the 2016-17 school year, according to the Iowa Department of Education, the 4-year graduation rate for Caucasian students in Scott County was 90%, but only 83% for African-American students.

Perhaps Lyndon B. Johnson summarized the challenge of equity and inclusion best when he said, "You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'You are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result."

For many, it’s still not fact nor a result. To say that race and all the ways it manifests historically, culturally and in our business and social environments is challenging is an understatement. For example, the racial wealth gap is the result of systematic disadvantages that African-Americans face on a regular basis. African-Americans with a college degree had less median wealth in 2016 than whites without a college degree – $57,250 compared to $81,650, according to Christian Weller, a professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Factors such as occupational steering, residential segregation and outright discrimination are at play and substantially contribute to the wealth differences between African-Americans and whites.

What’s important to know is this: All is not lost. African Americans have overcome slavery, segregation and systematic racism. When viewed in this context, the future will be one of continued progress by a people who have proven their resilience and strength over and over again.

Progress regarding inclusion and equity will only be amplified when we come together to solve our community’s most pressing issues. We must face the reality that not everyone enters life with the same advantages and opportunities.

As a society, we need to believe that equity and inclusion is a journey – not a destination. It’s something you must go through in order to comprehend. Not everyone is going to relate to hunger and poverty, high dropout rates and low graduation rates. Not everyone will understand the frustration of unemployment, underemployment and mass incarceration.

However, what we can do – no matter our personal experiences – is come together and work together to protect our most vulnerable and provide opportunities for each and every one of us to live our most successful life.

Where do we go from here?

It comes down to this: We have to improve our approach. We have to evolve. The opportunities to initiate, influence, invest and inspire are something each of us can do. When you initiate, you become curious about those who are different than you. When you influence, you seek that common ground and allow others to feel welcome. When you invest, you look beyond yourself and begin giving access to others. And when you inspire, you begin to challenge stereotypes, battle bias and focus on fairness in decision-making.

There are no buzzwords when it comes to boosting success for every Quad-Citizen.

Leadership requires us to talk about the challenges we face and insist that we commit our hearts and minds to doing something different. Only then can we collectively take concrete steps on our journey to achieve a better future. Nothing changes if nothing changes.

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Tracy White is director of the African-American Leadership Society for the United Way of the Quad-Cities. She’s been a community volunteer and runs a mentoring program called Well Suited. Voices of the Quad-Cities, a weekly column featuring local writers, runs on Tuesdays.

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