Why education is an answer to tackling Fort Worth's racial divide

Anniversary of Jacqueline Craig’s arrest brings protesters together

Fort Worth has a systemic problem of racism, protesters say, especially in the police department.
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Fort Worth has a systemic problem of racism, protesters say, especially in the police department.

Every person who cares about the future of Fort Worth needs to take a long look at the interim report the Task Force on Race and Culture presented to the city council Tuesday.

It paints a picture of a city ethnically divided by economic opportunity, cultural bias and entrenched bureaucratic practices.

The data collected since last August when the Task Force began meeting details the harsh reality of what happens when you have less education; less money; and live in areas with older housing in desperate need of repair.

Those have-not citizens living in have-not neighborhoods tend to be African-American or Hispanic. They often have greater health problems. Their children are more likely to attend low-performing schools. And if they’re African-American, they’re more likely to have been arrested.

Here are a few of the cold, hard facts:

An estimated 13,000 Fort Worth residents live in overcrowded or substandard conditions, sometimes without plumbing. Of those, 59 percent are Hispanic.

Minority neighborhoods are home to 77 percent of households with no personal vehicles.

The median income for a white household is $63,704 a year; $44,748 for Hispanics; $41,317 for African-Americans

Bob Ray Sanders, one of the Task Force co-chairs, noted: “In some areas, we are about as bad as we were 30 years ago.”

Faced with so many examples of long-standing inequity, council member Dennis Shingleton seemed frustrated as he asked — where do we focus if we want to fix this?

We don’t have a blueprint for that, though we’re hopeful the continued work of the Task Force will produce one that begins to close the gaps.

In the meantime, here’s one good place to start: early education. A child who can read will more likely excel in school. Getting a sound education creates the foundation needed for a good job and a higher standard of living. Financially stable families have the ability to access health care and create financially stable communities.

It’s not rocket science. We’ve long known education is a great equalizer that can lift many boats.

The data shows the challenge. According to Read Fort Worth only 34 percent of third-graders in the Fort Worth ISD were reading on grade level last year. That means two-thirds of the students were already behind. And studies show those students may never catch up and are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

We’ve written before about the fact that the Fort Worth school district has taken a giant step by offering pre-kindergarten to every four-year old in the district, something most area districts don’t do. Fort Worth ISD has created leadership academies with extended school days and programs to help students who are struggling.

But reaching Read Fort Worth’s goal of having all third graders up to speed with their reading by 2025 will take a village - a community effort.

Kristin Sullivan, executive director of Read Fort Worth, says individuals can help in two ways: by donating money for much-needed, culturally appropriate books, or by donating time to serve as a reading mentor.

Got an hour to spare each week?

Get started by registering at https://volunteer.fwisd.org/.

If several thousand of us said “yes” to that we might begin to move the needle just a little, and eventually set off the chain reaction that would someday resolve many of the city’s other cultural disparities.