Urban League President Hugh Price, speaking last Sunday at the league's national convention in Houston, proposed what he called "Ten Opportunity Commandments" calculated to close the economic gap between black and white Americans.
Price is a savvy and reasonable man, and I pretty much endorse all the proposals. But as I understand it, the original Ten Commandments were not public-policy suggestions of the sort Price espouses; they were instructions to the Jewish people, through Moses, regarding their own conduct. So if Price won't mind, I'll follow his commandments with a decalogue of my own. First his:
1. Offer quality preschool education to every child whose parents cannot afford it.
2. Provide affordable health care for the 41-million Americans who are uninsured.
3. Ensure that every public school serving poor children equips them for self-reliance and citizenship.
4. Vastly increase support for proven programs . . . that get school dropouts back on track.
5. Guarantee universal access to affordable higher education by reversing the alarming disinvestment in public colleges and by slashing tuition for needy students.
6. Maintain national economic policies that promote high employment, rising income and economic growth in urban and rural communities that have missed out on the good times.
7. Eliminate the digital divide by utilizing tax credits for families or tax write-offs for corporations to make the acquisition of computers and use of the Internet affordable for every American family.
8. Assure full participation of minorities in higher education, employment and contracting.
9. Eradicate the home-ownership gap along ethnic lines by providing 100 percent mortgage guarantees for credit-worthy working-class minorities.
10. Equalize access to capital by totally eliminating discriminatory business loan practices.
To repeat, these are not unreasonable proposals. My "commandments" are not meant to supplant his, only to get us focused on what we can do for ourselves while we're waiting for the society to "do the right thing."
Here are mine:
1. Use every available platform to get parents to understand the power they possess (or that we could help them acquire) to get their children off to a good start in school.
2. Use the resources at our command to persuade our people to stop their unhealthful ways. The things most likely to jeopardize our health today are not the uncontrollables like the Bubonic plague, malaria and polio, but our own choices. Smoking, illicit drugs, sexually transmitted diseases all are greater menaces than health threats from the outside world.
3. Let all parents, rich or poor, instill in their children the importance of good citizenship _ from sandbox to ballot box and jury box.
4. Never cease preaching to our young people the importance of staying in school.
5. Get more of our children ready for post-secondary education by insisting that they take real advantage of the educational opportunities already available to them _ including free public education.
6. Never let our children forget the importance of work _ even at dirty and underpaid jobs. Work _ because it teaches discipline and alters habits and attitudes _ is the best cure for unemployment in our community.
7. Encourage parents to skip a couple of pairs of Nikes and use the money to buy a used computer for their children. Let them ask those of us who work at office jobs to keep our eyes open for computer bargains.
8. If our children have the mental and academic wherewithal for college, let's get them in school somewhere. Sure they'll earn more if they can get into Harvard, but they'll earn a lot less if they don't extend their education _ technical or academic _ beyond high school.
9. Teach our young people the importance of acquiring some "bricks." They have to live somewhere, so they might as well live in an economic investment. The things they've been buying _ designer clothes, gold chains, leather coats and fine cars _ all are worth more at the time of purchase than they'll ever be worth again.
10. Teach our entire community the difference between income and wealth. That way, we'll understand the advantages of going into business for ourselves instead of merely going to work for someone else. The more our people turn to business and make a go of it, the more banks will climb all over themselves to finance our businesses. Meanwhile, we'll not only feed ourselves and make jobs for our community; we'll also have something to leave to the kids.
William Raspberry is a Washington Post columnist.
Washington Post Writers Group