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Statistics add up to disgrace

Black folks have been relatively quiet about the recent report from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). It ranked African-Americans 30 places behind the white population of the United States on the global Human Development Index.

Most folks are saying, "So, what else is new?" or our young folks just say: "Whoop, there it is!"

The independent team of economists for the UNDP wrote that if African-Americans were considered a separate nation (interesting choice of words) we would be ranked 31st, Hispanics 35th, behind Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, South Korea and Estonia.

The report shows that the black infant mortality rate is 19 per 1,000 live births, double that of white people, which is eight per 1,000 live births. This lowers the life expectancy of black people.

Black education levels are below those of white people and poverty levels are higher.

Per capita income for white people in 1990 was $22,372, but only $13,378 for African-Americans.

In 1990, more than half of the black children in the United States were growing up in single-parent homes, nearly three times the number of white children.

St. Petersburg physician and community activist Dr. Paul McRae, a gastroenterologist in this city for 13 years, says African-American health problems are severe. He's concerned that black people often seek help for health problems only when they get very ill.

"They don't go for maintenance, to keep their sugar or blood pressure under control," McRae explains. "We need to change from crisis medicine to preventive medicine. I think that by doing that, we can impact some of the dollars spent.

"Also, part of the problem is that we don't have enough available health facilities for outpatient care. And we need to get the health agencies into the communities to do more educating about preventive health care."

Some black folks say if they see one more report on the economic and health conditions of African-Americans, they'll scream in frustration. Where's the money? Where are the resources? Where is the interest? Who wants to help?

Some of us believe that black people are going to have to help themselves. And there are signs that this is happening. There's a drawback to that, however; as soon as we say black folks are trying to develop their own resources and attack the issue in a culturally sensitive manner, even if it means being activists, our liberal white friends get nervous and accuse us of being separatists.

And across town, white conservatives are dancing in the streets, saying, "It's about time black folks pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps!"

According to the U.N. report, black people don't have any bootstraps to pull on in the first place.

This from the report: "The African-American population of the United States participates SO LITTLE in the benefits of the U.S. society and economy, that it would rank 30 places behind the white population of the U.S. . . ."

In Tallahassee, a husband and wife team are concretely trying to do something about developing the kinds of thought patterns that could assist black people in empowering themselves.

On June 5, the Aakhet Center for Human Development was opened at 812 S Macombe St. Its founders and architects are psychologists Dana and Sharon Dennard. Both teach at Florida A&M University, and also own Amen-Ra Bookstore.

Besides private therapy, this summer their Sakkara Youth Institute, for ages 7 to 12, will teach computer literacy, black history, African drumming, dance, karate, yoga and public speaking. Informational programs on issues pertaining to African-Americans will also be developed.

The Dennards were not surprised by the U.N. report. Take a stroll down the average street in this country, or turn the television to CNN, and you'll see the reality of the report, the Dennards say.

Sharon Dennard says in this society, the general feeling is that no one really cares that much about what happens to black folks, "As long as it doesn't roll over into their communities." She says this kind of attitude can also be found at governmental agencies.

"The Hispanic population is not faring any better than we are," Sharon Dennard says. "The Asians are doing quite well because their culture is intact. Black people are surviving worse because our culture was never allowed to be intact. Because it was destroyed when we stepped onto this soil."

She says programs in this country that deal with prevention are rejected or receive inadequate funding.

"The problem develops because those in leadership positions who could affect a change, try to separate and ferret out bits and pieces of the problems, and they forget how the system interrelates. For example, they try to deal with physical problems without dealing with psychological problems. It's all interrelated."

Her husband, Dana, says African-Americans must first develop an ideology that would prepare them to confront and manage their problems. "In this country and in Africa, we are being fragmented, so we don't have the capacity to support each other and develop from within. We need to recognize ourselves as one nation of people, scattered about the globe," Dennard says.

But he also says there is hope. Average black people are talking more about unifying their efforts. They're reading more material about Pan-Africanism and talking about educating their children in this ideology.

In the past two or three years, Dennard says professional conferences, and even religious circles that invite him to lecture, are discussing cultural issues and the churches' lack of knowledge about African history and foundations.

African-Americans need to create an atmosphere that will empower them to have a higher standard of living, and that definitely includes reading everything they can on African history, and to begin thinking now about what kind of business they can start.

"The system does not want us to think economics," Dennard says. "Because that is what drives the system. Black people must get in the habit of personal development. Self-sufficiency is a good thing. We've been brainwashed to believe that we don't have to know anything. We can dance, sing, play basketball, but we're not supposed to have knowledge."

It will ultimately be black people who must take control of their future, Dennard says.

"It has to be us. The other interesting thing is that if at any point we ever embrace that idea of self-sufficiency, perhaps we could end up being No. 1 on that United Nations list, rather than 31."

The Human Development Report is $17.95, Oxford University Press, 2001 Evans Road, Cary, NC 27513.

Editor's note

Columns by Peggy Peterman and Dave Barry are making guest appearances on page 3 today. They were moved inside to accommodate the "Floridian Illustrated" beach edition on page 1.