This is the first of a series of stories the Press is writing throughout Black History Month.
Black Americans are still facing lower median income, lack of support in the education system and higher imprisonment, according to black officials in South Jersey.
Whether they’re a city mayor, a prosecutor or even an average resident in South Jersey or around the country, there are still issues affecting and disparaging black Americans in 2018.
In 2015, nearly a quarter of black adults ages 25 and older (23 percent) had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 36 percent of white adults and 53 percent of Asians, according to the Pew Research Center.
“When you talk about how far this country has come, you still see the same disparities with African-Americans, especially in urban areas,” said Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam.
Gilliam added that the key to changing those numbers is to fund education in urban areas so black youths can have a decent education. As a black man who grew up in Atlantic City, Gilliam said one of the issues he had as a kid was a lack of support in school when he would struggle.
He wants to see that change.
“Creating opportunities for education and creating these open conversations, we can begin to heal these open wounds that we have overlooked that have become a cancer rather than a sore,” Gilliam said.
According to Pew Research, the median household income for black Americans was $44,100 in 2015, compared with $75,100 for white Americans. Also, among full- and part-time workers, the median hourly earnings of black workers were 75 percent of white workers’ in 2015.
Kerrin Wolf, an assistant professor of law in the School of Business at Stockton University, recently did a study with his colleague Aaron Kupchik titled “School Suspensions and Adverse Experiences in Adulthood,” where they looked at the disciplinary cycle that children and teenagers often go through and how that can lead to a life of crime.
According to the study, more than 3 million students are suspended in the United States each year — a number much larger than the 1 million in the 1970s, according to Wolf.
They also found suspended students had a 31 percent greater chance of criminal involvement than other students and a 22 percent greater chance of becoming victims of crime.
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said children of color are geared toward suspensions and expulsions in higher rates that the general public. This causes a trajectory to the prison pipeline, but Webb-McRae said that through talks with the Cumberland County Positive Youth Development Coalition and other school administrators, they can help divert children from the juvenile justice system.
“If you look at our justice system and who is in it and who is incarcerated, that’s another area where African-Americans are over-represented compared to the general population,” she said.
Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle said it all comes down to education for solving issues, specifically early childhood reading levels.
Tweedle is a member of the Educational Foundation for the League of Municipalities, which helps with challenging children in the area to read. Tweedle visits schools such as South Main Street Elementary in Pleasantville and reads with the children.
“I think if we can get kids to read, that will speak volumes to what they can achieve,” Tweedle said.