As Blacks languish, whither go civil rights groups?

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 5/11/2011, 5 p.m.

The belief that President Obama's election heralded immediate change was so strong that shortly after his win, the blog Debate Link featured a Nov. 7, 2008, column entitled. "Do We Still Need Civil Rights After Obama?"

It is a penetrating question.

Rozalind Winstead, a San Diego-based compliance consultant who believes that civil rights organizations are definitely relevant today but need retooling, and possibly a return to the street agitation and marches that helped them desegregate the South in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, says:

"As a compliance consultant, I see inequities and disparities in employment practices, construction jobs, and public contracts," she said. "Black people still do not benefit from the doors that were pushed open by civil rights organizations. If anyone thinks the civil rights era is over and those organizations are no longer needed, she is not paying attention to what is happening across the country."

In spite of the election of Barack Obama, there are the very obvious economic indicators that racism might be (is) alive and well. The nation has spent the last few years slogging through an economic doldrums that has left millions unemployed, and as usual African Americans were the hardest hit.

In April, the nation's unemployment rate was 9 percent, or 13.7 million Americans out of work. In stark contrast, the rate for Blacks was 16.1 percent and 11.8 for Hispanics. The pattern displayed by these stats (African American joblessness at almost double the country's rate) has remained consistent for years.

And there is no way that these millions of African Americans could all be lazy, shiftless and uninterested in working. Something else must be afoot, and conversations with those who study such issues would most likely point to the underlying racism that results in qualified Black job candidates being ignored in favor of sometimes less skilled Whites.

Maybe it's racism. That insidious something that civil rights organizations have been fighting in America for decades. So perhaps groups like the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Rainbow Push are needed--again.
They are needed, Winstead added, because of all the assaults on Blacks and the achievements of civil rights groups.

But some wonder if they really are still relevant.

To a degree civil rights groups have stepped up to the plate, most notably in pointing out how national and local policies impact African Americans.

For example in July 2010, a group of prominent civil rights leaders joined forces to push for a federal education agenda that gives all students an "Opportunity to Learn." Among their demands were to revamp the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In the framework developed they also wanted to support universal access to early education for students in all states, including recruiting and retaining highly effective educators.

There is also a need, the leaders said, to address long-standing resource inequities that exist nationwide. Additionally, they believe the Obama Administration's Race to the Top education funding strategy is inherently problematic for high-need students and school districts.