Black Leaders Share Disappointment, Hope on the 50th Anniversary of the Kerner Commission Report’s Release
‘One sign of hope is the activism of young people’
WASHINGTON – Clergy leaders with PICO National Network, the largest coalition of faith-based groups in the nation, and the director of Howard University’s leadership and public policy center said the goals outlined in the Kerner Commission report 50 years ago remain largely unrealized. In the report, released in February 1968, the Kerner Commission identified unemployment, segregation, poverty, media coverage and substandard schools as the prime causes of the most pressing challenges facing Black people in economically distressed areas. “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, and one white—separate and unequal,” it stated.
Today, five decades after the report’s release, faith leaders declared not enough has changed for Black people since then:
“I am disappointed that police distrust that served as one of the sparks igniting riots in most of the cities studied by the Kerner Commission is still present, not just in big cities, but in small and medium-sized cities also,” Elsie D. Scott, director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard University, said. “I am saddened to see the country move from the optimism of electing the first African American President and from devising and implementing programs to address police trust, health disparities and other inequality issues to a period of turning a blind eye to bias, housing problems, the need for investment in quality education and other inequities.
“The one sign of hope is the activism of young people,” Scott said, “who seem to have the spirit of the Freedom Riders to face resistance head-on and elect officials who will not be content with the status quo.”
Pastor Michael McBride, director of PICO National Network’s LIVE FREE campaign to end gun violence and mass incarceration, echoed Scott. “Many of the stubborn challenges outlined in the report still remain major obstacles for a disproportionate number of Black people in this country,” he said. “We are partnering with organizations and leaders across the country to make our communities safer and ease the trauma associated with gun violence and mass incarceration, but elected officials need to be partners in this effort.”
“Solving the challenges facing communities of color requires a renewed commitment from various stakeholders—from clergy, grassroots groups, federal and state governments and people of color-led organizations,” said the Rev. Greg Holston, executive director of PICO’s Philadelphia federation, POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild). “We can create the future that we imagine with joint effort.”
PICO National Network works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns through its 45 local and state federations. Learn more at www.piconetwork.org.