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Education Among Black Priorities

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — African-American community leaders on Friday discussed new ways to tackle health care, economic and educational problems faced by members of their community in New Mexico.

Those at the African-American Summit, hosted by the state Office of African American Affairs and the nonprofit group New Mexico First, zeroed in on the three topics they think affect their community most.

Office of African American Affairs director Yvette Bell said the goal of the meeting was to give her organization an idea of what issues to tackle hardest and how.

For Bell, education is the most pertinent concern.

“Once we can educate, once we can inform. And once we can educate a generation, we will be able to get better jobs, be able to take better care of our health,” Bell said.

About 22 people in one of several breakout groups spent nearly two hours discussing that topic after they were asked to develop three recommendations to improve education for blacks.

Educational attainment among African-Americans fares poorly when compared to Anglos and Hispanics, data show. For example, 37 percent of African-American 11th-graders are proficient or advanced in reading, compared with 65 percent of Anglos and 41 percent of Hispanics, according to data collected by the state’s Public Education Department. In math, 27 percent of 11th-grade African-Americans are proficient, compared to 57 percent of Anglos and 30 percent of Hispanics.

African-Americans make up only 3 percent of the student population at the University of New Mexico, data show. Only 33 percent of those students graduate within six years, a figure that’s considerably lower than the already subpar six-year graduation rate of 45.7 percent for all UNM students. The national average is 55 percent.

Michael Brown, who participated in the education group, said the advancement of the African-American community is tied to how well it organizes itself.

Brown, who runs The Institute for Community Wellness and Athletics, a local nonprofit that promotes health and fitness, said the community has in large part failed to coalesce efficiently.

“The biggest issue for me is, it’s just dispersed across the state,” Brown said. “Geography is our worst enemy.”

The group picked 14 recommendations to focus on, narrowing some of them down to two statements that focused on making education more accessible through outreach to parents and community members, and to be more involved on a policy level.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal