Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The gymnasium at the Baxter Community Center in Grand Rapids started filling up a little before six Monday night. Dinner was provided. Parents and kids loaded up Styrofoam plates, then sat down with their meals at the rows of tables. It was a full house.

As the meal finished, napkins folded on plates, a man in a dark grey suit took hold of the microphone and began his presentation.

In front of him were families. Parents. Children. Young children.

The man talked for a while. Eventually, he got to this:

"They have more power than you do," he said. "They have guns. They have legal authority to kill you."

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

It’s not a new story:

A young black man dies after an encounter with police. A community takes to the streets to demand answers. Their protest turns violent, and the national media takes notice. When calm is restored, there are promises. This time will be different. This time things will change.

That was the scene 11 years ago in Benton Harbor, a scene not unlike today in Ferguson, Missouri.

Derek Bridges / flickr

The death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the resulting chaos in Ferguson, Missouri is an extreme example of the long tail of a racial power imbalance. 

Racial power dynamics between police and the communities they patrol have historically been, and still are, important for communities in Michigan and across the country to address. But, a less explosive version of this racial power imbalance plays out elsewhere every day.

We've recently dedicated a fair amount of time on State of Opportunity talking about voices and bias and code switching, so I thought it'd be cool to check in with Jenn White about what it's like to be one of the few minority voices on public radio. Below are a couple excerpts from our chat.

scan from urbanoasis.org

We know racial segregation exists in our communities. We know this segregation is rooted in history. And yet, sometimes we allow ourselves to believe that segregation is somehow a natural thing, that it happened all on its own. But segregation in the United States did not happen happen that way. The racial divisions we see in our neighborhoods today are the result of deliberate actions taken in the past. 

Those actions, rooted in racism, were carried out by both individuals and institutions. We don't have to guess at their origins. We have the documentation.

This is a follow-up on the conversation about reparations, started by an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic a few weeks back. Many of us see educational opportunity as one of the ways to undo the ongoing economic injustice created by racist policies against African Americans in this country. But in this piece, sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom argues that even a college diploma isn't enough to equal the playing field.

Annie E. Casey Foundation, Race for Results report


This week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a national report that caught our eye. 

The report is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count series. Kids Count tracks a number of indicators – things like birthweight, school test scores, poverty level, and college attendance.

This new report includes 12 indicators in all, and they’ve been combined to come up with an index score for overall child outcomes. Those scores were then broken down by race, and each state was ranked.

For Michigan, there was a surprise. 

Tech & Opportunity: what is "technical entitlement"?

Jan 24, 2014
Tess Rinearson

Two related blog posts on technology and opportunity worth highlighting this week come from Tess Rinearson, a software engineer for the blogging platform Medium, and Phillip Guo, an assistant professor in computer science at the University of Rochester. 

Rinearson's wrote her post, "On Technical Entitlement," when she was an 18-year-old computer science student at Carnegie Mellon. In the piece she looks at what it means to grow up technically competent from an early age, but to have that skill undermined by gender stereotypes. About technical entitlement, Rinearson says, 

It starts with a strong background in tech, often at a very young age. With some extreme confidence and perhaps a bit of obliviousness, this blooms into technical entitlement, an attitude characterized by showmanship and competitiveness.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

It seems like everyone has a 'best books' list around this time of year. So we decided to get in on the action. We picked some old books, some new books, some books for kids, some for adults, all of them somehow tied into our State of Opportunity theme.

Without further ado, I present to you [drumroll, please]...

A Not-at-all Comprehensive Reading Guide to Poverty/Race/State of Opportunity Issues

  • The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Lives, by Sasha Abramsky. This book is on my Christmas wish list. It first caught my eye in this New York Times article, and it made the paper's list of 100 Notable Books this year. Here's how the folks at the Times describe it: "This ambitious study, based on Abramsky’s travels around the country meeting the poor, both describes and prescribes." -- Jennifer

It’s been a long, hot summer for uncomfortable questions about masculinity---at least in my news and pop culture consumption it has.

The George Zimmerman trial and its outcome have author James Baldwin’s words pinging around my brain: “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”