State Of The Community
Starting in 2017 the Saginaw Branch NAACP leadership invites local elected representatives, civic, members of the clergy, organizational and business leaders and the public to a press conference is to deliver our annual statement pertaining to the state of the community/region highlighting the accomplishments of the local NAACP and the and the need for the community to continue a collective effort to address issues of diversity, unemployment and social and economic equality. Below is the Branch’s 2019 statement.
SAGINAW NAACP 2019 STATE OF THE COMMUNITY ADDRESS
Good morning. The past two years most of you have grown accustomed to Mrs. Leola Wilson delivering the initial welcome and opening comments at the NAACP Saginaw Branch annual “State of the NAACP Community Address”. This year it is indeed my honor to step to the podium as the newly elected President of the Saginaw Branch to do the honors. So, on behalf of the Branch I want to welcome the representatives of the media, area elected officials, the various organizational and civic leaders in attendance, NAACP Executive Committee members, other supporters and members of the public to the 2019 “State of the Community” address. Before I go further, it is important that those of us gathered today acknowledge the outstanding contribution Leola Wilson has made to the cause of civil rights over the past twenty years she has served as President of the Saginaw Branch of the NAACP. I admire her courage and commitment to the cause of civil rights and her willingness to always fight the battle for the “little” person, the person whose voice is unheard nor sought by some of our institutional and public decision makers. Mrs. Wilson, please know that we appreciate your efforts and as I assume the helm of the Saginaw Branch, I commit to doing what is necessary to continue the great work you started.
Traditionally, we’ve scheduled this annual address the same week we honor this nation’s greatest champion of civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This timing affords an opportunity for each of us to examine where we are as individuals, as a community and as a nation in our contribution to the realization of Dr. King’s bold and definitive “Dream” for our global existence. There is little debate that we’ve made substantial progress in addressing the issues of discrimination and race relations in this nation. I’m also sure that some of you will agree that there is no debate that the past few years have clearly demonstrated that the issues of racial discrimination, gender equality, economic equity and sexual harassment are issues that continue to demand not only our attention but resolution. Today, we continue to witness confusion and mistrust in some of our leaders. Within the past few days once again we’ve witnessed an elected leader, Iowa Congressman Steve King use language that many, including some of his republican associates, have interpreted to defend white supremacy and white nationalism as non-racist terms. Are we wrong to expect more from our elected leaders who solemnly pledge to uphold the constitution? In light of what we continue to witness almost daily in our community, our nation and throughout the world we know a visit to Starbucks can lead to a call to the police and your arrest if you are African-American. Trying to earn expense money for college from babysitting white children if you are black can lead to your arrest. I say, we can and must do better.
The past two years we’ve come to this venue to share our thoughts about how we see the state of this community. Our purpose has been to challenge local political and institutional leaders to direct more effort to the issues of equality and equity so that more of our area citizens are able to have a real opportunity to taste of the aforementioned “Dream”. In broad term the priorities delineated by the NAACP simply seek to enhance employment diversity, create greater fairness in our treatment of each other, and to pursue equality for all citizens.
This year the Saginaw Branch will commemorate 100 years of existence in the Saginaw region. I invite you to attend the events and activities scheduled throughout 2019 in celebration of our proud history. Over the years our outreach and advocacy efforts have been primarily directed to protecting civil and human rights of residents and seeking equality and justice for all citizens particularly minority and disadvantaged residents who live and work in the region. An especially important part of our work is focused around protecting the rights of all citizens to exercise their right to vote. In many jurisdictions across the county in the past few years we’ve seen a concerted effort to add more restrictive regulations that in many ways hamper the ability of citizens to vote. The Saginaw NAACP was a strong supporter of Ballot Proposal 3 which won easy support of Michigan voters in the November 2018 election.
Again, we’ve invited each of you to be with us so that we can share some thoughts about the state of the community from the perspective of the NAACP and our constituents. Let me just say from the onset that all too often when we present our thoughts and positions on various issues there are those who accuse us of intentionally playing the adversarial political game. I assure you that this is not the case. Keep in mind that without agitation and advocacy women and minorities would not have gained the right to vote. African-Americans would not have been allowed to attend many of this nation’s public universities. And, individuals who are being sexually harassed in the workplace may not be believed or heard.
There are two things we want to accomplish today, first we will provide a summary of our efforts in 2108. Then we will devote some discussion to what we hope to accomplish in the next year as we begin to shift our attention to the 2020 election. I’m going to ask Carl Williams who serves as Chair of the Branch’s Political Action Committee to comment on several of the important issues in our community and our efforts in 2018 to address them. Having served in the state legislature as our 95th District Representative, Carl brings a very practical and enlightened perspective on many of the issues that require our attention. Please welcome Carl Williams to the podium.
Thank you, Terry. And thank you Leola for your outstanding leadership over the past 20 years and your continued dedication to the mission of the NAACP. I also extend a personal welcome to each of you in attendance this morning. As I begin my comments, I start with the acknowledgement that we’ve seen substantial progress over the past 5-6 decades in tackling the issues of racism, discrimination and equality. However, none of us should accept the premise that racism, discrimination and inequality are nonexistent. In this community as well as around the nation we continue to see very overt acts of racism and discrimination. Indeed, several of this nation’s most visible public and private leaders have been charged with making racist statements and statements that alienate or demean certain groups. So, let me make this point clear the NAACP will continue our efforts to ensure the civil rights and equality for everyone. I also want you to know the NAACP also supports and champions the elimination of blight, infrastructure improvements and economic gains for this area. We support local efforts that contribute to the improvement in the quality of life for people who live and work throughout the region. Again, we say that it is our belief that most of us want to be part of a community that actively pursues growth and development and that make us proud and comfortable to say we live there. However, it must be understood that some of our fellow citizens are in an ongoing struggle to be a part of the progress we hear about. The NAACP will continue to challenge our elected and institutional leaders live up to their responsibility to identify and prioritize available resources so that they include plans and actions that promote and encourage diversity, inclusion, and equality. That begins with the need for our public and institutional leaders to do more to address the lack of employment diversity in many of our major institutions.
We say again, the ability of many of our communities to attract people, create jobs and grow wealth are communities that are inviting, tolerant, entrepreneurial, creative, healthy and safe. The simple truth is that a positive future cannot belong to any community that turns away from those who don’t look or talk like the majority. The NAACP feels that diversity and equality are values that must be respected and embraced by our leaders. If for no other reason, it is the morally right thing to do.
In the past we’ve included definitive data highlighting the economic and social consequences of discrimination, racism and intolerance to diversity that hampers the ability of many citizens to be full participants in the community’s success. The unemployment gap between African-Americans and Hispanics versus Caucasians still persists. The wealth gap and disproportionate levels of poverty in the area are prevalent. Educational disparity and incarceration rates across racial groups in the state and locally continue to contribute to the inability of some individuals to be full participants of society. Once again, we make the point that there is work still to be done to overcome these problems.
The Branch is committed to several advocacy and accountability measures that we believe helped make a difference in 2018. We believe we’ve achieved some success in expanding the public discourse concerning important issues in this community, while trying to represent the will of those who are often not visible participants in the dialogue about community-problem solving. At the center of our efforts are six nationally identified “game changers”. For the next few minutes let me share with you some of what we’ve done over the past year to help change the game.
I’ll begin by reporting on our efforts around the first game changer, education. In the past year we addressed two major priorities in this area; first was the continuing lack of unity and accountability on the Saginaw Board of Education; and secondly the new Delta College Downtown Center and need for diversity and inclusion in all phases of the project.
The local Branch directed communication to Saginaw school board members requesting that they help the community understand their decision to not renew the employment contract of Superintendent Nathaniel McClain. Many in the community felt that not renewing the Superintendent’s contract, after he received a positive evaluation from the board, and after achieving positive academic progress under his leadership would contribute to continuing instability issues associated with frequent turnover of the Superintendent’s position. Our advocacy efforts were primarily directed at encouraging greater unity at the policy table and requesting that the school board provide an explanation to the community regarding their action. More specifically, steps we took include:
- The Branch leadership authored a letter to the school board requesting that they provide a formal statement explaining their reasons for not renewing Superintendent McClain’s contract. The letter also delineated a series of actions and measures that the board was encouraged to adopt to improve board harmony and that would better position themselves to carry out their responsibilities to the students, parents and other stakeholders.
- The Branch hosted a press conference which was attended by some 50 community leaders, parents and other stakeholders to support our call to the Saginaw School Board for an explanation regarding the non-renewal of the Superintendent’s contract and our call for more disciplined governance and unity at the board table. The event received extensive coverage from local media outlets and garnered the support of several board members who pledged to improve their working relationship with themselves and with the administration.
- Branch officials continued to meet with Delta College officials during the first half of the year to further our advocacy for diversity/inclusion in construction, staffing and programming of the new downtown center.
- Branch officials also completed a series of meetings with Spence Brothers, the general contractor for the project, and project contractors to underscore the need to include minority businesses and employment opportunities in the construction phase of the center. Our efforts resulted in a ground-breaking meeting between MI-Works leaders, project contractors and local residents interested in training and employment in the construction trades. To be fair, we see this as a good start, but not an end. Quite frankly the construction phase of the project has moved forward without significant involvement from minority contractors or meaningful inclusion of women or minority workers.
The Branch will continue our efforts to support a strong well-funded public education system and hold local school board members accountable for their actions and decisions. We pledge to work with local education officials to limit the negative impact of implementing the new third grade reading requirements that mandate the retention of students. We will oppose efforts to modify social studies curriculum that alter or reduce the history about the contributions of African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and women.
Given the expected completion of the Delta College Downtown Center by late summer, we will continue to monitor the staffing and operational aspects of the project. We continue to feel it is essential the entire community must feel it is a part of this major tax-payer funded project in order for it to have sustainable success.
The second area of emphasis for the branch is healthcare where our efforts in 2018 were largely directed to continuing to aid in educating the public about the spread of HIV in Saginaw County and informing area residents about the growing Opioid drug crisis. Our 2018 Branch action highlights include:
- Continuing our partnership with Saginaw County Health officials to distribute HIV and healthcare literature to hundreds of area residents at our annual Freedom Fund Dinner and at other venues.
- A Member of NAACP Executive Committee serves on the Great Lakes Bay Region Healthcare Services Board of Directors and provides the Executive Committee with updates regarding local healthcare priorities.
- In November the Branch sponsored a community town hall meeting that provided vital information to nearly 100 residents in attendance regarding the emerging opioid crisis in the state and the region. Presenters included officials from the State Department of Human Services, the Saginaw County Mental Health Authority and our 95th District State Representative.
- Finally, a member of the NAACP Executive Committee continues to serve on the local advisory committee for School-Based Healthcare centers providing oversight and input for operating the Saginaw High School and Arthur Hill in-school health clinics. Monthly updates are given the NAACP Executive Committee
The goal of the NAACP is to educate the public about important healthcare issues and ensuring area residents have access to timely, high quality and affordable healthcare. Secondly, as the area continues to expand the healthcare footprint in the area and related employment opportunities, it is important that individuals and contractors from traditionally under-represented groups have access to jobs, be treated fairly in the workplace and be represented at the supervisory and managerial levels of our healthcare institutions.
Our third game changer is civic engagement. Throughout 2018 the NAACP undertook a major effort to educate voters about the importance of the mid-term elections. In addition, we continued to advocate to raise the awareness of elected leaders about the educational, social and economic plight of minority and other disadvantaged citizens throughout the region. Voter education and expanded clergy engagement were two key areas of involvement for us over the past year. Our specific accomplishments in 2018 include:
- Branch Political Action Committee members hosted meetings with area legislators and elected officials throughout the year including Senator Gary Peters, State Representative Vanessa Guerra, members of the County Board of Commissioners and City Council members to detail NAACP legislative and policy priorities.
- In March Carl Williams and Terry Pruitt were invited by the Saginaw County Democratic Party to provide an overview of NAACP Get-Out-The-Vote plans for the 2018 mid-term elections.
- Congressman Dan Kildee attended our May membership/community meeting and addressed the audience about the importance of voting in the mid-term elections and explaining to voters “what they have to lose” by not voting.
- Branch officials participated as part of a collaborative group to examine the potential and requirements for repealing the City of Saginaw’s Tax Cap. The group determined that the 2018 timing for a vote to repeal was not viable. The leadership of the group decided to re-examine the issue at a later point.
- Branch officials attended NAACP MI State Conference Legislative Day in June which provided an update regarding 2018 ballot proposals and a review of plans and coordination steps to Get-Out-The-Vote for the November general election.
- In May and October, the Branch sponsored town hall meetings that included presenters who detailed information about ballot proposals 2 and 3. The branch assisted in securing petition signatures for each of these proposals which were subsequently approved by voters in the November election.
- The Branch hosted a well-attended candidate forum in October of 2018 that targeted individuals seeking election to the Saginaw School Board.
- The Branch distributed 150 “Vote” yard signs to area residents to promote voting in the 2018 election.
- The Branch sponsored an election day 6-hour radiothon in partnership with WTLZKISS 107.1 that featured more than a dozen local clergy and civic leaders whose messaging was directed at encouraging voters to exercise their right to vote.
The bottom line is we feel good about our effort to improve voter turnout for the mid-term election. Voter turnout was up by 15-20% in many of the voting precincts in areas where many of our constituents reside. We continue to evaluate and build upon the take-aways from the 2018 Get-Out-The-Vote effort. Going forward the Saginaw NAACP will turn our efforts to the 2020 elections and the subsequent census count. We feel it is critical that the Branch be a key player in helping to educate voters about the importance of voting in the 2020 elections and the importance of participating in the upcoming census. We will work with our State Conference leadership to ensure that the key elements of proposal 3 are implemented in a fair manner and push back any attempts at the state and local level to curtail or dilute the intent of the voters.
The fourth area of emphasis targeted in 2018 was economic opportunity. Much of our effort here was directed at challenging institutional leaders, public officials and business leaders to understand the importance of how their economic development efforts can aid in advancing the goals of equal opportunity, especially in addressing the continuing lack of diversity in the workforce of many area employers. Specific actions undertaken by branch officials in support of our fourth game changer included:
- Branch representatives met with officials from Michigan Works and Saginaw Future to gain insight regarding major economic development projects in regions and employment prospects and to gauge the level of commitment to workforce diversity by major employers.
- The Branch forwarded a letter to one of the community’s largest employer, Covenant Hospital inquiring about the organization’s employment diversity plans and training protocols. The letter was precipitated by issues brought to the attention of the branch by several hospital employees. The communication also asked for data indicating the number of women and minorities at all of levels of staffing in the organization.
- The Branch’s President forwarded a letter to the Saginaw County Sheriff and County leaders in May requesting detailed plans for the inclusion of minorities and women in the construction of the publicly funded new jail project. We’ve received a very limited response to our inquiry. Though we agree with many in the community that a new facility is needed, we also feel that it represents an opportunity to use public funds to promote inclusion and further the goals of economic equity.
It is our position local business leaders and institutional decision-makers must understand that despite the employment gains we’ve seen in the State of Michigan and in the area, unemployment and under-employment among African-Americans and Hispanics in Saginaw is still 2-3 times worse than their white counter-parts.
The NAACP will continue to challenge public and private employers to be inclusive in their hiring and adopt diversity as an organizational objective. We will also challenge our legislative representatives to support more training and education programming that will lead to sustainable employment for the unemployed and under-employed.
The fifth area of focus for the Branch is criminal justice where in the past year we continued to advocate for improved relationships between residents and police officers and an end to racial disparities and discrimination throughout the system.
Let me list some of our specific actions undertaken in this area in the past year:
- Branch representatives met with Saginaw County Prosecutor, John McColgan to examine the expungement process and issues that lead to the regular criticism of over-charging of defendants. Our discussions also included changes to the public defender system and the impact of plea bargaining.
- The Branch’s Youth Council publicly acknowledged the achievements of Mrs. Ebony Roscoe with her appointment to the command staff of the Saginaw County Sherriff’s office. Mrs. Roscoe serves as the first African-American female to be named to the position of lieutenant in the Sherriff’s Department.
The public and elected leaders should know that fairness and equality in the legal system will continue to be a major focus of the NAACP. The Branch will monitor the implementation of the new Public Defender System being implemented across the state. It is also our intention to expand our efforts to promote and encourage the training and hiring of ex-felons in an effort to reduce crime and lower recidivism rates.
The sixth and final game changer listed in the 2018 State of the Community address was environmental injustice. We continue to see the proliferating problems of climate change and the disproportionate impact they have on communities of color and low-income communities. Locally we support the need to encourage our community leaders to address environment concerns as a human and civil rights issue. We will urge our local leaders to continue their efforts to secure funding and investment in support of proper cleanup and redevelopment of local industrial sites and the improvement of blighted residential neighborhoods including increased lead testing for our children and the demolition of abandoned buildings.
In light of the chaos and confusion about our national priorities pertaining to the environment we frequently witnessed at the federal level, it is necessary for the NAACP to join forces with others with similar concerns regarding environmental issues to hold elected officials accountable for the elimination of blight and other environmental matters.
I want to thank you for this opportunity to share this information. I want you to know that it is important that we respect each other’s roles in the community, but we must remember that none of the issues I’ve described today can be conquered unilaterally. It will take the collective effort of all of us to change the game.
Let me, bring back Terry Pruitt to provide some final comments as we bring today’s session to a close.
Thank you, Carl. Many of you have been here before. I want you to know that we appreciate you lending us not only your ears to listen but your heart to believe that what we, the NAACP, does is important and necessary. My hope is that you’ve heard something that will motivate you to join our effort to deliver on Dr. King’s Dream. Each of us has a responsibility to do what you can to make sure everyone has a chance to be treated fairly and to prosper
I want to repeat something I said in last year’s address. Pardon the redundancy but I feel what we brought to you last year represents an important take-away from these sessions. As we go forward, our advocacy and accountability efforts will remain focused on the six “game changers” addressed earlier. What you will see change are our areas of emphasis and the tactical approach we will utilize to address the problem. It is worth noting again that at the local level the NAACP is primarily an advocacy organization. Our mission is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. This is largely accomplished through education, public debate, agitation, protesting and our lobbying efforts. We realize that everyone will not agree with every position we take. We do not seek to be excessively adversarial, but to be a supportive partner in attempting to achieve fairness and equality for all. The challenge for all of us is to seek common ground and unify our efforts to address real problems and concerns in our communities. After more than 100 years of its existence in this community the NAACP has effectively demonstrated its ability to generate change and help this community address important problems.
Now, let me briefly turn to our plans for 2019. At the top of the list is the next major election cycle. Some might think it is too early to start preparing for the 2020 election. We run the risk of over saturation and turning off voters. I think starting now is worth the risk. If for no other reason in the view of many, the election in 2020 is the most significant election for the remainder of our and our children’s lifetime. Those we elect to send to Washington and Lansing will define our future for the next 2-3 decades. We can expect at the federal level whoever is in power will make important decisions concerning women’s rights, determine our environmental policies, determine the level of investment in our communities for infrastructure improvements, while the United States Supreme Court will likely make final determinations about how voting district boundaries can be drawn and other voting rights issues. Congressional leaders continue to signal that they will seek to make major changes in the nation’s welfare system and other “safety net” programs. These changes have the potential to impact the lives of millions of citizens in the nations and literally the lives of thousands of individuals locally. We also know that we are on the brink of major changes to our health insurance options that will be largely dictated by Washington. At the state level, our legislature will need to evaluate and make decisions about sustainable funding options for schools and seek equitable solutions to the car insurance crisis in Michigan. These are just some of the reasons why we’ve targeted voter education and voter turnout as our top priority for 2020 starting right now.
The rest of this year the NAACP will proceed with efforts to up our game as we seek to educate the voting public about the importance of the next major election cycle. In short, the NAACP believes that we need elected leaders who:
- Can prioritize the needs of the people and the communities they represent and work in a collaborative manner to address the concerns and needs of their constituents.
- Who are willing to set partisanship and ideology aside and work with those across the political spectrum to come up with solutions for our nation’s problems?
- We want elected representatives and institutional leaders to stop giving “lip service” to the issues of inclusiveness and diversity but who are willing to do something to make it reality. This is a challenge our political and institutional leaders ought to take seriously and be accountable for.
- Finally, we need elected leaders who won’t turn their backs on the civil rights gains attained over the past five decades including the right to vote.
We realize that this effort is bigger than the NAACP. That’s why we will reach out to partner with other leaders and organizations throughout the region as we pursue this work. Our specific plans include hosting candidate forums and organizing clergy leaders to aid in registering voters and encouraging voter turnout. Our plans also include working with local media outlets to promote voting and the distribution of information about candidates and ballot proposals that will be decided by voters.
No doubt, this is a big undertaking, but an important one. In short, the 2020 elections will not only set our legacy but set a pretty definitive course for the generations that will follow us.
Finally, this time last year we took an emphatic stand regarding a possible 2018 ballot proposal for the elimination of the City of Saginaw’s Tax Cap. Subsequently we joined a coalition of community groups to research the idea and to construct a plan as to how we should proceed. The Branch also hosted a town hall meeting to help educate residents about the need to remove the cap. Mid-year the coalition recognized that there were several competing ballot proposals on the August and November 2018 ballot seeking millage support for various other worthwhile community initiatives. Because of this, the coalition arrived at a point of consensus that the 2018 election cycle was not the right timing to pursue the tax cap elimination proposal.
We continue to feel that this is an important issue for Saginaw voters to re-visit. We are prepared to serve a role with others in making it happen. The bottom line is as long as the cap is in force the City’s ability to receive the full benefits of the new development and redevelopment efforts is severely restricted. As I’ve already stated this will not and cannot be the unilateral effort of the NAACP. This is a call to others to join forces to make it happen.
Again, thank you for attending. As we prepare to depart once again, I ask that you join us in doing what you can to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to celebrate the success of our community and the region. The city and this region continue to make substantial progress with revitalization efforts. Most of us continue to believe in the future of Saginaw and the region. There’s still work that must be done. We absolutely must work together to collectively arrive at where we need to be.
Let us remain unified in our efforts to help this community realize its full potential. The NAACP desires to be part of the solution and stands ready to work with others to move the community forward. Thank you.
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