Jackson Talks African American Affairs
Published: Friday, August 30, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 30, 2013 11:08
Maurice Jackson, an associate professor of history at Georgetown, was appointed the first chairman of the new D.C. Commission on African American Affairs in July. Natasha Khan (COL ’16), a staff writer for The Hoya, sat down with Jackson this week to discuss his new role in the city government.
What are the goals of the D.C. Commission on African American Affairs?
My goals, and the commission member goals, are to really study the problems of the population of Washington — the black population. The commission was mainly created because of the population loss of the African American community. I think the loss is quite tragic and drastic, when you consider that the city has gained 10,000 whites in the past 10 years and lost almost 40,000 blacks.
What is causing this mass exodus?
The economic situation is bad, and it’s only getting exacerbated. And why should that be? Why shouldn’t African Americans be able to afford to live in the city? There are many problems — first of all, affordable housing. But before you can afford housing, you need to get a good job. And what is affordable housing? Some people think it is a $40,000 house. That might not sound like a lot to a Georgetown student, but that house is a lot of money in certain parts of Washington. We need moderate housing created for moderate income. We need houses that families of two or three or four can afford. The city has to find creative ways of financing, like low-income mortgages. The city has done it before, but we need to do it on a more drastic scale.
What is a major issue facing the black community?
If you read some of the things available, they say that reading scores have improved 2 percent in the last couple years. Well, that is 2 percent more reading at grade level, so 2 percent more of African American students are reading at grade level. And then, of course, the large dropout rate. And people drop out for many reasons. When I was a kid, people drop out to go to work. People drop out because they’re so far behind; they were ashamed to catch up. I know this: I grew up in Newport, Virginia — I was in the projects there. I was sent down to live with my grandmother in the Deep South. When I came back to school in Newport, even though the education there was very poor, I was two grades behind because the education in Alabama was 10 times worse.
What are ways to encourage and support young students?
Sometimes a kid gets behind and it’s embarrassing, so that kid might need extra help. And sometimes, it’s because of nourishment — they need a balanced meal. And of course, a stable family situation. Even rich people know that if you can’t make payments on certain things, it creates schisms in the family. What people don’t realize is that, in some communities, it’s not that this generation is bad; it’s the generation before them. Let’s say that a kid’s parents, grandparents, weren’t fortunate enough to finish school, so maybe they didn’t grow up in an environment where people constantly read. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. You can’t solve all the problems in one generation, and we’ve let other generations falter, too. And it becomes a problem — why do you think you have so few African-American men teaching at this campus? You can count them on one hand … many of us are first generation. I asked some inner-city kids, what was the one thing they would say about Washington? They said the violence, just the inner-city violence. But we can’t say we’re going to solve the next generation’s problems if we haven’t solved this generation’s problems or even the previous generation’s problems.
How can students help with this situation?
Students have to do more than just go out and touch the world. They need to make it a lifelong commitment. But also, they need to understand the problems in the city and use that knowledge and go out into the world. It can’t just be a semester.