Let's Get on Board This Train

A New Visions Commentary published July 1996 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected]

It is encouraging to see another bona fide effort to address the critical needs of and devote the necessary attention to an urban agenda, as the 104th Congress is now doing. "Saving Our Children: The American Community Renewal Act of 1996," as co-sponsored by Congressmen J.C. Watts (R-OK) and Jim Talent (R-MO), offer some important provisions with the potential to make a significant difference in many communities across this nation. More importantly, the bill has the backing of the House Leadership and will likely get a floor vote this summer.

The Urban Marshall Plan, co-sponsored by Congressman Chris Shays (R-CT) and former Congressman Kweisi Mfume (D-MD) in the 103rd Congress, also caught my attention. However, I was quite disappointed, but not at all surprised, to see the bill fail to see the light of day from the then infamous House Rules Committee under the control of its former Chairman, now ranking minority member and my 1994 congressional opponent, Congressman Joe Moakley (D-MA). The Urban Marshall Plan showed it was possible to forge a bipartisan blueprint for change on a broad spectrum that could stimulate economic empowerment and reform.

I now have reason to be more optimistic that the provisions in the "American Community Renewal Act of 1996" -- including the establishment of up to 100 renewal communities and incentives for employers to hire high-risk employees (former convicts, people on welfare, teenagers, etc.) -- will spur development and entrepreneurial opportunities like few have seen before as the dawn of a new century approaches.

As president of a recycling company that became the first business to locate in an empowerment zone in Atlanta, Georgia, I can attest to the fact that communities are fertile grounds for programs that do not necessarily require opening the government cookie jar or piggy bank. Merely by expanding the scope of opportunity and access, and cutting government red tape, citizens will be empowered to control their destiny to develop, enhance and uplift the major components that make a difference in their daily lives within their community.

As a businessman, I am excited about the possibility of a significant increase in the number of areas that can become renewal communities. Having spent the better part of 1995 working with some of the current empowerment zone cities as potential sites for our recycling processing plants, expansion to almost 100 "renewal communities" would certainly offer my company real opportunities. I suggest that my company and many minority-owned companies are not looking for a guarantee of success, but for a window of opportunity for success.

My recycling company has established a partnership with our young people to provide meaningful career inspiring employment and scholarships for those desiring either an academic or a vocational opportunity at a higher level institution. I was pleased to see provisions under the family and moral renewal portion of the bill that establishes scholarship programs which empower parents through choice to educate their children in quality schools.

It is noteworthy that faith-based organizations are not left out of the equation. I have long felt that, as government is a poor parent and a lousy job creator, churches should focus on their role as community-based providers of services and strengthening families, both spiritually and morally. The faith-based service provider empowerment component offers a major opportunity for institutions in the communities. We often hear about the ravages of drug abuse in our cities and usually what follows is a tale of the woeful shortcomings and shortages of existing drug treatment and counseling programs. I believe empowerment of neighborhood groups, including religious institutions to offer services, is a bold, progressive idea that community leaders should embrace.

Before the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Wendell Gunn, a black vice president of the Chase Manhattan Bank, argued before the platform committee that "blacks had struggled for decades for the right to buy a ticket to the train, and just when they won that right the train stopped running."

It was true then and it's still true to this day. Unless Congress institutes the kind of reform our communities need to thrive again, a vast population of talented, educated and courageous people wanting to build an enterprise in their communities will be waiting at the station for a train that will not be on time again in 1996.

by Michael Murpy, a national Advisory Council member of the African-American leadership group Project 21, a former Republican nominee for the Ninth District of Massachusetts ###


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