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Making Waves

A common tide and one for all

West Ashley resident Daron Lee Calhoun Race and Social Justice Initiative coordinator at the Avery Research CenterWest Ashley resident Daron Lee Calhoun Race and Social Justice Initiative coordinator at the Avery Research Center

December 14, 2017
By Bill Davis | News Editorl

West Ashley resident Daron Lee Calhoun II hopes that the recent racial disparity study he shepherded into existence will be the next step in making life fairer for everyone, regardless of color, in Charleston County.

Calhoun is the Race and Social Justice Initiative coordinator at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. For more than three decades, the center has been a repository of source materials and research into black culture and history in this country.

“The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina, 2000-2015” is an 80-page report that took two years to complete.

It paints a decidedly black-and-white picture of racial disparity in Charleston County. It can be found at the Avery Research Center’s website (or at this link: http://rsji.cofc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/The-State-of-Racial-Disparities-in-Charleston-County-SC-Rev.-11-14.pdf).

It includes disturbing data about how much more likely black students are to be arrested or expelled in a public-school setting, how much less likely black students are to graduate from high school than whites, how much harder it is for black consumers to get a mortgage on a home, the enormity of black income levels compared to white counterparts, and so on.

“Now that we have the numbers we knew were there, and that the disparities aren’t just anecdotal,” says Calhoun, “there can be no excuse,” for government to sit idly by, says Calhoun.

“I hope that this study will give politicians and grassroots organizations the sword to make changes to discrimination within our city,” says Calhoun.

On Wednesday, computer flash drives are to be delivered to public libraries throughout Charleston County containing the report, which paints a decidedly black-and-white picture of racial disparity in Charleston County.

But the report may have a further reach, according to the report’s main author, Stacey Patton, who is a multimedia journalism professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore and a regular contributor to publications like The Washington Post as a journalist. She holds that the disparities at play in Charleston County are no different than they are across America.

It was the slayings at “Mother” Emanuel A.M.E. by Dylann Roof and the shots fired into the back of a fleeing Walter Scott by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager that fired up her interest in writing the study.

Patton had just given a paper in Charleston the week before Roof opened fire, killing nine parishioners at the historic church, and marveled that she had just been in the church on a tour.

After Roof’s arraignment, Patton wrote a piece for the Post arguing black Americans needn’t forgive racists for heinous actions, even in a church setting. Soon, the director of the Avery, Patricia Lessane, contacted her and she began work on the study.

When asked how she separated her personal feelings from the study, Patton is direct:

“I didn’t and I don’t pretend to,” she says, adding that her anger and shock continued as she compiled data for the report. “I am black, this is real life, and I am not going to treat black life as an academic or journalistic exercise. Walter Scott could have been my uncle; Emanuel could have been my family’s church.”

She says her passion as a “scholar-activist” in putting together the study was appropriate, “because lives depend on it.”

When asked if some of the findings and recommendations presented in the report may allow critics to dismiss it as screed or the extension of the “culture of victimhood,” Patton is equally direct:

“I don’t care … the numbers don’t lie.”

Calhoun says the numbers that disturb him the most, the increased likelihood of black students being suspended out of public schools or fully expelled. He says that this more firmly establishes the “school to prison pipeline” for many young blacks in the county.

For example, the report finds that black male and female students make the lion’s share of arrests at West Ashley High School for the 2014-15 school year, and that West Ashley Middle School came in third for arrests at school for all middle schools in the county for the same period.

Several local elected politicians, white and black, declined to comment for this story.

County Councilman Vic Rawl, who represents big chunks of West Ashley, says that after reading an article about the report in another local publication that he doesn’t need to read the full report. But not because he doesn’t agree with its findings,

“My takeaway is that everything in that report, from my experience, is applicable in every county in the country,” says Rawl, who adds, that he “cannot and will not dispute” the report.

The county currently has host of diversity-focused policies, from its decade-old Diversity Committee for its workforce, to a free mediation program for landlords and low-income renters, and onto state diversity hiring and advancement goals for minorities, as well as youth mentoring and apprenticeship programs.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and I understand the problems and the issues, and as far as areas where Charleston County government has authority and can impact we are doing the best we can do and are working on it,” says Rawl.

Rawl’s point was that County Council has no authority over other sectors of local government, like the school district.

A Charleston County School District spokesperson said last Friday they were not able to get anything when asked for comment on the disparity in arrests and expulsions on Thursday of last week, as well as to respond to complaints Patton has made about how it collects and releases data especially related to race.

Mayor John Tecklenburg did choose to weigh in, saying: “The city of Charleston is committed to addressing the long-term disparities in our community with real and substantive solutions.” He details the city’s focus on several major projects, including the ongoing Freedom School initiative.

Perhaps the boldest program the city is tackling is the managing of the “new $20 million bond initiative that is expected to eventually produce more than 800 new units of affordable housing for our citizens,” says Tecklenburg.

Regardless of current projects and programs, Calhoun plans to be always working for racial change in Charleston.

Earlier this year, he brought best-selling black author Ta-Nehisi Coates town. The National Book Award-winning author’s talk came during the time when the national debate over removing Confederate memorials was reaching its highest volume.

And Calhoun knows his work is far from done, as he saw the fight over whether to rebuild Stono Park Elementary take place close to where he lives. He says the wave of gentrification hitting in West Ashley now, like in historic Maryville-Ashleyville, proves it.


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