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Charleston's minorities should not settle for the status quo

Hoping for a Better Decade?

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This decade has presented many challenges and opportunities for us as a community and as a nation. Perhaps some of the missed opportunities of this decade will be able to bear good fruits in the future.

No one can argue that we will end this decade on a low note, especially given the way we entered it. The additional hardship our military faces has increased the burdens placed on service members and their families, while the unemployment rate of our state has forced individuals to make tough decisions about their living conditions and making ends meet. Home foreclosures have plagued communities and displaced families, and small businesses are struggling to stay in business. Local governments have to cut critical programs and services that people rely on. Even our teachers and school officials had to be furloughed due to budget cuts. It seems that many find themselves looking up just to see the bottom.

The growth of finances and jobs during most of the past decade have been overshadowed by the events of this decade. In recent months, the people of South Carolina and the tri-county area have received encouraging news with the announcements of Boeing's Dreamliner assembly plant and the Clemson Restoration Institute's wind turbine drivetrain test facility. Both ventures will provide a long-lasting positive lift to the unemployment rate and create an economic impact of direct and indirect jobs that are greatly needed. Meanwhile, being able to retain Maersk Line has also been beneficial to our area, and the expanded volume of work at SPAWAR, Force Protection, and other military and defense operations has been a silent lifeline for this region.

Make no mistake, the economic status of our city, state, and nation will improve. We have bounced back before, and this time will be no different. But moving forward will be based on lessons learned in this decade and will involve more effective and creative governance.

Through it all, the two things that remain the same in our area are the political spectrum and lack of diversity in the public sector and in business. These two entities must change in the approaching decade if we are to be progressive in thought and action.

It took the implementation of a diversity policy in 2005 by Charleston County Council in order to correct some of the inequities that exist among minorities. After the policy took effect, minority department heads grew from one to 12, and procurement contracts with minorities grew from zero to 20 percent. Only 7.8 percent of minorities made $50,000 per year — now it is 17.8 percent. These changes did not happen overnight, nor did they occur because people's hearts changed. Single-member districts helped make this a priority. Hopefully, the coming decade will foster a more inclusive environment for minorities.

It is the hope for many that a meaningful and committed effort will begin to develop, sustain, recruit, and expand minority businesses in this region. Perhaps such an environment will increase the number of minority department heads, procurement and general contracts, and equitable salaries that have been lacking for far too long. Hopefully political will and public opinion will make this happen.

As this year and decade come to a close, the question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are better off compared to a year ago or a decade ago. While many of us would like to think we are, let our resolution be to raise our standards and challenge ourselves to not accept the status quo, to not wait for our turn, and to not settle for less than what our greatest teachers expect of us.

In young, progressive political and business leaders, I remain hopeful. In a sincere and committed effort to increase minority businesses and proper representation in local government, I remain hopeful. If you too remain hopeful for a better decade, start by making a difference in the lives of people you do not know, and for a cause that is greater than yourself.

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