A grim assessment of current realities in central cities and some optimism about how things can and ultimately will get better.
That is what Sheryll Cashin, a professor of law at Georgetown University and Marquette University’s 2016 Ralph Metcalfe Fellow, offered in a talk last Thursday in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall. The session was part of Marquette’s observance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
“The thing I liked about Dr. King is that he always appealed to our betters angels. I believe there are a lot of better angels out there,” Cashin said in response to a pessimistic question from an audience member.
“Change is inevitable,” she said. “Nothing is permanent.” She urged people not to limit their imagination of a better future for the nation and for those whose lives now are shaped by “a nasty othering” at the hands of those with power and wealth.
Cashin, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, focused on a set of lectures that Dr. King delivered in 1967 on Canadian public radio. She compared what King said then to circumstances now, saying little has improved in central cities, and some things have gotten worse.
“Here we are in 2016, still dealing with the legacy of concentrated poverty,” Cashin said. She said the number of neighborhoods with intense poverty (40% of residents or more) is dramatically higher than it was in 1970. There are now 4,400 high poverty census tracks in the US, up from 2,500 in 2000, she said. And the number of people living in concentrated poverty has doubled since 2000.
“This is not the American dream,” she said.
She also said economic segregation is increasing nationwide, and the most rapid increases have been among African Americans and Latinos, with those with adequate means to move out of central cities relocating to higher-income areas. She said that, in a recent analysis, only 29% of African American children lived in middle class neighborhoods. “That explains most of the achievement gap between black kids and other kids,“ she said.
“It bears emphasis, it may seem old school, but integration works,“ Cashin said.
She said progress will come only through alliances among people from different “tribes,” as she put it. “Culturally dexterous” people who are not afraid of being themselves or working with others can lead to the creation of better communities. She pointed to West Hartford, Conn., as an example of a place where both through policies and day to day practices a more just community is being created.
“You have to give people a positive vision of where you’re trying to go,” Cashin said. “I urge you all to reclaim the radical Martin Luther King, the one who was planning a poor people’s campaign at the end of his life.”
Cashin’s one-hour talk may be viewed by clicking here.