The Flags Are Coming Down. What Now?

The Charleston church massacre was an act of terror that left a deep emotional scar on the country. It shook our faith and, for many African Americans, made us wonder out loud if there was any safe space left. The tragedy was a tipping point that led to the Confederate flag coming down from the South Carolina State Capitol. Now other cities and states are considering taking down the "stars and bars" for good.

The question now is: after these flags that represent the darkest part of American history are no longer flying, how will we come together to address the ongoing disenfranchisement of African Americans? It's a complicated question but one that must be asked and addressed.

Let's look at some numbers: There are 44 million African Americans in this country. And, on a daily basis, a disproportionate number encounter a form of domestic terrorism in communities plagued by gun violence, the proliferation of gangs and drugs, and abject poverty. For many, they feel stuck in war zones and feel under attack every day. This is unacceptable.

Tragedies, like what happened in Charleston, get us fired up to demand change. "Black Lives Matter" we say in protest, but what is really behind what we are saying? I cannot tell you how many times I've wondered, aloud, why we cannot seem to come together as a community and a nation of compassionate people to reverse the societal ills that disenfranchise so many of our citizens.
Although we have seen remarkable progress in some areas, we remain in crisis mode. Before President Obama finishes his term, and before the hurt we feel over Charleston and other recent tragedies and injustices passes, we must mobilize to demand the kind of lasting change that directly improves the daily lives and future outcomes of millions of African American citizens.

Improving outcomes requires action that reaches across racial, ethnic and political lines. It must galvanize African Americans and rally our non-Black allies. And it must be handled with a sense of urgency. Every day headlines remind us that we have no time to waste.

In addition to a large number of Black children falling prey to gun and gang violence, many schools in urban communities are feeding prison pipelines instead of pathways to college. And subjecting black and brown children to low-quality, poorly funded schools -- something the state of Illinois has done for decades -- is a violation of their civil rights.

Add to the mix the high numbers of African Americans who live in food deserts, have limited access to healthcare, experience high unemployment, and you have a recipe for hopelessness and disaster. There are many organizations working on these issues in metropolitan Chicago. However, we still have a ways to go.

At the Chicago Urban League, we call communities with limited or no access to life-sustaining goods and services, and educational and economic opportunities 'urban deserts.' In the coming months, we plan to roll out a series examining the complexities of the problems facing citizens living in urban deserts and seeking solutions and partnerships to reverse these lingering social and economic problems.

We will keep you informed of our research, recommendations and collaboration opportunities and invite you to participate in the conversations and be a part of the solution. The task may appear daunting but, at the Chicago Urban League, we know that we can strategically tackle the challenges that create urban deserts. But we can't do it alone. We need you to be engaged in the process.

In a desert, the absence of life-sustaining properties can be deadly. The same thing is happening in too many of our urban centers. We lack so many resources and access to opportunities that our people are losing their lives to the streets. For them, the terror is not in a distant land. It's right in their backyards and no one is being held accountable. What are we going to do to change that?

Today, there is a new civil rights battle we should be waging, and that is to fight attempts to roll back African American progress and bring life-sustaining tools to citizens languishing in the desert. The Chicago Urban League is answering the call to bring relief and revitalization to our communities. We hope you will join us in this journey.