February, known nationally as Black History Month, is an appropriate time to work toward closing the opportunity gap for people of color.
As we focus on prioritizing diversity and figuring out how to do better, one thing we can work on is providing more resources to people of color, and the Nassau County Office of Minority Affairs is doing just that. The department, created by the County Legislature, advocates for minority Nassau County residents by strengthening and building communities up through programs that promote employment as well as economic, business and cultural opportunities. Its mission includes improving and stabilizing economically deprived areas of the county.
One of the county’s initiatives, known as the HUD Section 3 program, is a provision of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 requiring people who receive certain HUD financial assistance provide job training, employment and contracting opportunities to low-income residents of their neighborhoods.
The county’s affirmative action program ensures that disadvantaged residents are given opportunities in government roles, employment and housing.
Other initiatives, like the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise and the Minority/Women Business Enterprise programs, reflect the reality of the disparity “between the proportion of minorities and women hired for contracts or projects and the proportion of minorities and women willing and able to do the work,” according to county documents.
We know that Nassau County school districts in largely white communities spend thousands of dollars more per student, on average, than most communities of color do, leaving thousands of African-American and Latino students with considerably fewer educational resources than their white counterparts, according to a recent study by the nonprofit EdBuild.
More than 50 of Long Island’s 124 school districts have stark divides in race and funding, according to EdBuild, which examined the 969 most divisive district borders across the United States. Of the Long Island districts in this category, 10 of their borders are “deeply divisive,” with a difference of 20 percent or more in school funding between neighboring school systems, often amounting to nearly $7,000 per pupil.
State Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, said that a primary reason why the schools see such financial disparities is because they are largely funded by local property taxes — a system that Brooks said is unfair. He sponsored a bill earlier this year to address these funding inequities, and it could reshape the way Long Island’s schools are funded. The bill, which passed in both the Senate and the Assembly and awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature, would create a task force that would analyze the current funding structure and search for a new, more equitable one.
Seeing efforts like these being matched by others to address the disparities in the entertainment industry is encouraging. In recent years, artists have called out the selection process for the Grammy Awards and Academy Awards, spurring conversations about inclusion and representation in the music and film industries.
After musicians again brought attention to the selection of mostly white honorees at the Grammy Awards ceremony on Jan. 26, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences launched a diversity initiative to combat the problem. The measures include hiring a diversity and inclusion officer and establishing a fellowship that would review and report the progress of diversity and inclusion efforts.
Those efforts can even be seen in the toy industry: Mattel recently introduced millions of Barbie dolls, some featuring bald heads, wheelchairs and the visible symptoms of vitiligo — loss of skin tone and blotchy skin — to be more inclusive of those with disabilities and disorders.
While the changes are taking place in various industries throughout the country, we’re also seeing change in our local municipalities. It’s 2020, and though we’ve come far, we’ve still got far to go.