Faith, Freedom, Personal Responsibility
Ms. Parker in 1995 founded the Center for Urban Renewal and Education after experiencing first-hand the failings of our welfare system. She converted to Christianity and began working with state and federal lawmakers to create policies that fight poverty and create jobs.
As she tells Peter, “[F]irst-hand experience in the grip of welfare, learning how to live off the rules—“Don’t Work,” “Don’t Save, “Don’t Get Married”—I found myself very lost in criminal activity, drug activity and sexual activity that then led me to welfare and dependency.”
Despite the odds, Ms. Parker climbed her way out of welfare and, in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the national press began taking notice of her, as Ms. Parker’s message at the time stood is contrast to Rep. Maxine Waters’ (D-Calif.) narrative about the state of black America.
“[The policing] narrative from the left has always consistently been that the problem is somebody else’s fault and it’s about race and racism, and my message was different—that we need responsible people living wholesome lives so that we can make communities work.”
Star Parker Leads on Welfare Reform
Fast forward more than 25 years later, Ms. Parker’s work helped conservatives under then-President Bill Clinton pass major welfare reforms in 1996. Ms. Parker has also spearheaded other legislative victories since launching CURE in 1995.
“We’re called now the Center for Urban Renewal and Education so that we can focus on market-based solutions to fight poverty in four different areas: in healthcare, in education, in housing and in economic stability in these communities.”
What’s more, Ms. Parker says the left, and the Urban League in particular, needs to more accurately align its “State of Black America” messaging with actual real-life numbers on the experience of African American individuals and communities.
‘There Are Two Sides to the Black Story in America’
“The big takeaway is that there are two sides to the black story in America,” says Ms. Parker. “The Urban League has put out a ‘State of Black America’ report every single year and it’s still singing the same song of the ‘60s, and we as a society have moved a lot further than that.”
Ms. Parker, for example, says there are more black men in college than there are behind bar but one wouldn’t know that from the messaging that comes out of the Urban League and other left-leaning organizations that purport to represent the black community.
“It’s under-appreciated how many African Americans have already finished school; that are in college; that their lives are working really healthy but what we keep knowing as a society and the drain on us economically is that little pocket of those who have not realized their destiny…”
Get HUD Out of Housing
In addition to helping others realize their larger purpose in life, Ms. Parker says the team at CURE is also homing in on specific policy areas that will continue to improve our welfare system and encourage, instead of discourage, upward mobility.
For starters, says Ms. Parker, the Department of Housing and Urban Development needs to get out of the housing market and that, in general, policymakers should continue expanding opportunity zones, championed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) during the Trump administration.
“I think the one barrier, if you’re talking politically, is ‘Why is HUD involved in housing?’ I think that when you start talking about a free country, you shouldn’t have an entity that decides winners and losers and who should live in what zip codes,” says Parker.
“We want barriers removed so that people can live free, which would then correct all of our education problems, some of our racial problems and many of our economic concerns,” she says. “When you lock people in certain zip codes and nothing in those zip codes work, then it spills out to the bigger society.”
Celebrating Overturn of Roe v. Wade
CURE also wades into the abortion debate. Ms. Parkers says Roe v. Wade was one of the most devastating things to happen to the black community and celebrates the recent Supreme Court decision, Dobbs v. Jackson, which says the Constitution doesn’t confer a right to abortion.
“You can’t have liberty in pursuit of happiness if you don’t have life. When African Americans understand that we bought a lie five years after King’s death—we saw Roe v. Wade as national law that focused on our poor communities and have them kill their offspring. We have killed off our entrepreneurs. We have killed off our investors and that community of people that make life sustainable into the future.
The Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, says Ms. Parker, was the biggest setback for the black community in recent history and that black Americans deserve a hope and a path forward for their communities instead of shriveling, lifeless communities.
“When you think about 20 million blacks dead since Roe v. Wade, that’s more African Americans that then were alive during the civil-rights movement. That’s how we’re narrating out to get people to refocus on what they bring to the table with their sexual energies,” Ms. Parker says.
“What comes with your sexual energies is marriage and then production of children so that you can have a future. And so that’s where we’re going post-Dobbs. We’re thrilled that that 50-year-old barrier is now put back into our courts for us to have a discussion that we should have: “Is it good for you to kill your offspring?”
Two-Parent Families Matter
Kendall Qualls, president of TakeCharge Minnesota, is educating and inspiring those in black and other minority communities to, as its namesake suggests, “take charge” of their future and not—for a protracted amount of time—depend on the government to meet their needs.
“What we want to do is take the culture back to what it was before we had help from the government, and that culture of the black community was rooted in faith—Christian faith—family, a two-parent family,” he adds, emphasizing the importance of intact family structures.
A plurality of black children today are living in a single-parent home, according to research from the Institute for Family Studies, which sources its findings from the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey. This wasn’t always the case, however, as Mr. Qualls says.
“When I was growing up as a kid, nearly 80% of black families were two-parent families, and then the last one is better education for our kids. So, we provide that prescriptive narrative. Every month we get new volunteers coming to help us speak this message into the communities.”
Promoting Marriage, Vocational High-School Programming
In the months and years ahead, TakeCharge Minnesota will work to build stronger family bonds, including promoting marriage and childrearing. The team will also work with private high schools to enhance vocational programming so students are able to land high-paying jobs.
“Yes, it’s great to have kids. Let’s make sure we have that—after you get married—and we want to begin to bring back vocational education to high schoolers, and it’s hard to do that in public schools so we plan on doing that in the private sector by recruiting middle-school kids into high school.”
Mr. Qualls says the program will be modeled after a program in Birmingham, Alabama called “Build Up,” which is a high-school workforce development program that prepares students to earn credentials and jobs that ultimately help a person and family build wealth.
“We’re going to partner with contractors and homebuilders and have these kids renovate dilapidated homes in kind of blighted neighborhoods. So, they’ll be working on these homes over the course of ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade.”
Over the course of their high-school career, students will be able to earn certifications in various trades—trades that enable them to earn middle-class wages. The program also partners with banks so students can purchase one of the homes they built throughout their time in high school.
“So, it’s a way of moving kids from poverty to prosperity—you know, populating the trades, but also, think about affordable housing. Well, guess what. They’re building that … they’re making that happen. And [they’ll have the] ability to start families at a young age.”
‘Phoenix’ Out of the Ashes
Mr. Qualls says Minnesota is “epicenter” where the rioting, the looting and the “Defund the Police” movement began in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. To bolster programs that empower black communities in the heart of a state in turmoil is a remarkable thing, he says.
“And think: Out of the ashes of that is going to come a Phoenix with a very different message from the black community—one of restoration and returning back to its roots and it’s all built on the essence of what we know about the American principles and values. They work.”
After building out vocational programming in Minnesota, Mr. Qualls and his volunteer team will move next to Michigan and endeavor to create and bolster vocational training in the Wolverine State. It’s his hope that, eventually, TakeCharge increases its footprint even more.
“I Am a Victim Victor”
In addition to enhancing job-skills programs, Mr. Qualls work focuses on spreading the messages that inspire habits of healthy, happy families. As a result, he’s produced a documentary titled “I Am a Victim Victor,” which shows faith, family and education is a recipe for success.
“Coming out of the Twin Cities, we have a different message,” he says. “Every month, we have new volunteers come—they come to us because there’s not a voice in the black community for one that’s focused on, ‘How do we improve ourselves?’”
The one-hour documentary has received two film-festival awards and TakeCharge recently hosted a private showing of documentary and in attendance were some of the TakeCharge volunteers, who were available to answer questions at the event. Click here to watch the trailer.
Remember: ‘Healing Agents,’ Solutions Exist
Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is a longtime civil-rights activist and former director of the Administration of Justice division at the National Urban League. He is also served as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and started the Woodson Center in 1981.
“The Woodson Center is committed to demonstrating that the problems of poverty and violence that is wreaking havoc in low-income communities—that solutions exist. And so, part of what we do is try to demonstrate—we take a retail approach to it.”
No city or neighborhood is hopeless. There are always positive aspects in every community and Woodson Center staff identify those positive elements and offer support and services so communities can begin to thrive, says Mr. Woodson.
“We go into one troubled community and identify a set of problems, but recognizing that there are healthy elements within that community already working on the problem. And what I do—and we do—is come in and find those healing agents, build on what they do, like a venture capitalist without the capital.”
Outsiders Aren’t the Magic Elixir
There is an elitist conception on both the political left and right that turning around troubled communities takes outsiders swooping in with buckets of cash or plans to implement charter schools. The solution, however, is more complicated and requires relationship-building.
“That’s why policies towards reducing poverty have failed over the last 50 years because the approach has often suffocated healing agents in those communities in the name of helping them,” says Mr. Woodson.
The answer, he says, to turning around struggling communities is identifying existing leaders and equipping them with the tools they need to succeed, grow their network and ultimately expand their influence to the broader community.
“We go in and look for the untutored ‘Josephs’ that have the moral authority and the trust of people in those communities and the ingenuity to come up with creative ways to promote redemption from within the community, maybe starting with a small group of individuals who are able to expand their influence to others in that community and together they represent a source of restoration and reclamation in that community.”
Voices of Black Mothers United
One of the handful of programs under the Woodson Center umbrella is “Voices of Black Mothers United.” The program serves as both a salve and a mouthpiece for mothers that have lost their sons and daughters to violence.
“Those mothers—we have brought them together by the thousands so they can speak for themselves and they are taking steps to unite with the police—partner with them—providing help and support for mothers who have lost children,” says Mr. Woodson.
Sylvia Bennett-Stone, director of Voices of Black Mothers United, works with five area homicide departments to connect bereaved mothers with meaningful employment, an effort to bring down the number of bereaved mothers that die by suicide or of broken-heart syndrome.
“So, they build trust between the families of deceased kids and the police and, as a consequence, many more of those cases in those cities have been closed because people report the killers. So, there are concrete things that the moms are doing, not only to provide aid and comfort one another but to work with law enforcement to improve and prevent violence in those communities.”
Engage Low-Income Leaders
Mr. Woodson says he is hopeful race relations will improve in the years to come but that the answer to empowering those in troubled communities is about more than complaining about disastrous policies coming out of hostile political administrations.
“I say to my friends on the conservative side, we must do more than write papers and go on Fox and complain about what the left is doing. We must join in common community with low-income leaders because they are the ones that are demonstrating through their actions the importance of the values of our founders.”
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