Finishing The Agenda Of Inclusion In Chattanooga

Thursday, March 8, 2018

“The Unfinished Agenda: Segregation & Exclusion in Chattanooga, TN and The Road toward Inclusion” by Dr. Ken Chilton, was commissioned by the NAACP-Chattanooga Branch and published August 28, 2015.  It said a lot. 

This report clearly points out the economic and safety issues, existing in Chattanooga’s inner city, did not happen by chance.  The release of this report was followed by a Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial, “A Dream Deferred in Chattanooga,” written by David Cook.  Mr. Cook wrote about how the city and the Homeowners Loan Corporation used a process called redlining in identifying Westside, Alton Park, Hill City, Clifton Hills and much of East Chattanooga, where most of the African Americans lived in Chattanooga, as high-risk areas and not worthy of real-estate investment. This resulted in all of the attention and resources being directed toward transforming downtown and the riverfront at the expense of the inner-city neighborhoods where over 73 percent of the African Americans in Chattanooga lived.    

The downtown renaissance left a majority of the African Americans forcibly displaced by gentrification.  Where most African Americans once lived, the white population, between 1990 and 2013 increased 103 percent while the number of African Americans in these neighborhoods decreased by -36 percent.  “The investments made in and around downtown,” according to this report, “have not been replicated in the low-income neighborhoods.”  The economic growth and development in Chattanooga has yet to trickle down to those in the lowest income quartile living in the inner-city neighborhoods of Southside, Westside and East Chattanooga.   

Those of us, who care about Chattanooga, feel the same level of commitment and determination that transformed Chattanooga’s downtown can be used to make this city a more inclusive one—a city where all residents benefit.  Chattanooga inner city neighborhoods suffer as a result of its underemployment. 

The Hamilton County public education has also contributed to the development of an image of African American young people that is incomplete, inaccurate and undeserving. Sadly, too many African American adults have failed these youth by failing to exercise the kind of adult leadership that our young people deserve. Perhaps that is why young people are demanding as well as defining their own interest and are unwilling to defer their dreams. Youth today are re-writing their version of “Why We Can’t Wait.” They are beginning to re-focus their aggression and drive toward a renewed quest for social justice and opportunity. 

The solutions to developing a more inclusive Chattanooga include education, job opportunities and targeted philanthropy and policies.
The school-to-prison pipeline: an epidemic that is plaguing schools across the nation. Far too often, students are suspended, expelled or even arrested for minor offenses that leave visits to the principal’s office a thing of the past. Statistics reflect that these policies disproportionately target students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities.

So how bad is the school-to-prison pipeline? See the stats for yourself. The infographic from demonstrates a general overview. 

African American girls in Hamilton County are suspended from school at five times the rate of white girls.  Twenty percent of all African American boys were suspended during the 2013-14 school year, compared to 6.2 percent of white boys -- meaning African American boys are suspended at more than three times the rate of white boys. 

There is a clear relationship between family-school engagement, teacher quality, and diversity to student success.  Even still, too many students of color and poor students languish in schools that have high concentrations of culturally incompetent and underprepared teachers and a revolving door of novice principals. 

Hopefully, this will begin to change with the hiring of our new superintendent, who was successful in his former position for turning failing schools into model schools. 

Based on my short synopsis of the inequity in Chattanooga’s educational system and neighborhoods, I believe that rather than finishing the agenda of inclusion in Chattanooga we must first establish and then finish it.

Dr. Everlena Holmes

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