The Annual Black Critique of Public Policy

September 27, 1990|By Garland L. Thompson

THIS IS a season for serious issues. Many people still think of the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Weekend as an excuse to show off the latest fashions and watch black political stars show off their latest rhetorical tricks. Some of those people are in charge of news coverage at major media outlets, judging from the limited attention paid to the conference over the last few years, and they should know better.

What it has become is a great national forum for blacks critiquing public policy. With thousands of black leaders, including local politicians, trooping in from all areas to meet with their representatives on Capitol Hill, that's to be expected. If anybody missed that in all those ''Issue Forums, Workshops & Braintrusts,'' go to the back of the class.

The conference is chaired for the second year by Baltimore Rep. Kweisi Mfume. It began yesterday with a plenary session: ''Abused, Abandoned, Addicted . . . the Black Child in Crisis.'' Let's not forget the report that more young black males are under control of the criminal justice system than in college. Much of their trouble can be spelled D-R-U-G-S, and it starts with the despair of abandonment by a society focused on capital gains instead of human values.

Today's sessions look at another side of the black family's problems in a brain trust on ''The Quality of Life of American Workers: Preparing Black Youth for the Workforce.''

That once seemed only a problem for blacks. But the Hudson Institute's ''Workforce 2000'' report made it plain that integration of all minorities -- blacks, Hispanics, Asians -- and women into the heavy-hitter posts of American business must go to the top of the to-do list. Dwindling supplies of young white males, the retirement of a generation and necessary expansions of the job market will leave U.S. employers anemic in the competition with offshore rivals. Shape up or watch your profits ship out, ''Workforce 2000'' says.

Other studies, by the W. T. Grant Foundation and the American Society for Training and Development, revealed what needs to be done. Re-tool vocational education, the Grant study says. A full 61 percent of America's high school students pursue general or vocational curricula, but their courses of study have not been improved since the post-World War II era. And that's where tomorrow's factory workers, craft workers, technicians, office lTC workers and customer service personnel must come from.

The training developers looked at the other side of the problem: What employers must do to build the work force they need. They examined the whole of the American work-force training enterprise, profiling the companies whose ''best practices'' lead the way for others.

Education is a continuing interest at the Legislative Weekends. ''Testing in America: The Impact on Blacks and Other Minorities'' and ''Literacy in the 90s: Preparing for Our Future'' testify to the pressure blacks feel to move beyond the glowing reports of improvement in young blacks' high-school completion rates to address the structural impediments to greater black participation at the more sophisticated levels of the American mainstream. Another report broke new ground here: ''Education that Works: An Action Plan for the Education of Minorities,'' by the Quality Education for Minorities project at Massachussetts Institute of Technology and the University of Texas.

The Black Caucus workshops help disseminate such information, adding in the perspective of community leaders who have long grappled with these problems. They provide a leavening that otherwise would be missing from the national scene.

That's only a few of the sessions. The list of topics to be explored, as always, is exhaustive.

You can read all that material by yourself, but there isn't much you can do with it. Getting together with professionals and community leaders allows people to fashion new approaches to fixing the problems everybody acknowledges. And more: Congress is where the action happens that sets everyone else's ball rolling. Bringing so much information together with the leaders of major committees and subcommittees allows blacks to bring much greater firepower to bear on the problems that plague them.

And in the area of civil rights, congressional firepower is critically needed. Right-wingers like to say the national debate over social policy was resolved when George Bush and the Republicans retained control of the White House. But the dissenters spoke eloquently in answer to that when they elected Democrats and liberals to control both houses of Congress. In light of the Supreme Court's backward stance on so many civil rights issues, congressional action to resurrect rights, as in the legislative overturning of the Grove City College decision, is entirely proper. One item on the Black Caucus list is the Civil Rights Act of 1990, passed by both houses but not yet reconciled by conference committee work.

You get the idea. Serious work is on the agenda. Time's a-wasting for getting it done.

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