Making a Difference:
Incremental Progress Towards Transformational Change
Kennedy School of Government - 2008 Black Policy Conference
April 11, 2008
Governor O’Malley and I have set big goals for Maryland to address the challenges that we face. So we set broad goals that reflect the values of all Marylanders, not just the Black community within our State. Goals to strengthen and grow our middle class and support small, minority- and family-owned business. Goals to improve public safety, public education and public health in every community. Goals to expand opportunity to more Marylanders – opportunities to learn and earn, and enjoy the health of our environment and the health of the people we love.
In my experience, I’ve observed that the big issues facing the African American community are manageable through linkages or association with broader issues facing the larger community… broader goals articulated for all communities, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion.
In Maryland, we’re proud of our successes. We’re one of, if not the wealthiest state in the Nation. Our workforce, along with Massachusetts, is one of the best educated in America. Our public school system is ranked the third best in the country – and improving still. We have the most diverse business community in America – 16 percent of all firms in Maryland are majority-owned by African Americans. And it’s estimated that close to 51 percent of our 400,000 small businesses are minority- or women-owned companies.
But there are still dichotomies in our state that cry out for solutions, dichotomies where the divide falls disproportionately along racial lines. Despite being one of the best educated states in America, 600,000 Marylanders lack a high school diploma. Despite our strong schools, one out of five Marylanders in the workforce are still functionally illiterate. Despite the world-renowned hospitals and medical programs in our state, 800,000 Marylanders lack health insurance. Despite being home to the nation’s wealthiest majority black jurisdiction – Prince George’s County – our state is still one of the most violent states in America.
So we search for practical solutions, based on our shared values, to address these disparities with the understanding that the problems we face are not unique to any one community, any one subset of our population, or any one interest.
There are 800,000 Marylanders who live everyday without health insurance, far too many in Baltimore City, in Prince George’s County and in the rural communities in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore where the vast majority of black Marylanders reside. And within the context of the uninsured and underinsured, there are disparities in health outcomes. So we seek universal coverage.
And while that is our end goal, we see the incremental progress that is possible and present along the way – progress through practical solutions like expanding SCHIP. Maryland is only 1 of 4 states that covers children up to 300% of FPL and we spend 2.5 times our federal allocation by drawing on funds not used by other states. Establishing school-based health centers in those schools that experience a high percentage of students on free or reduced lunch. Providing primary adult care to low-income adults for preventive-type office visits, recognizing that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Last year, we passed the Health Care Reform Initiative that will cover 100,000 uninsured Marylanders through expanded Medicaid services and—for the first time in Maryland—small business incentives. An incremental yet significant step toward universal coverage.
And to specifically address disparities in health outcomes, we’ve taken several approaches. We’ve dispatched experts from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to educate health professionals and students, and other stakeholders, about the advantages of cultural competency and workforce diversity in the health and allied health professions. We’ve allocated a significant portion of Maryland’s Cigarette Restitution Fund to eliminate targeted health disparities in minority communities.
We have seen progress in Maryland over the last five, the last six, the last seven years as a result:
- The African American heart disease death rate has dropped by 19 percent, and the disparity in heart disease deaths has been gone down by 5 percent;
- The cancer death rate has decreased by 15 percent, and the disparity by 40 percent;
- The African American stroke death rate has decreased by 35 percent, and the disparity in stroke deaths has been reduced by 49 percent;
- The African American diabetes death rate has decreased by 29 percent, and the disparity has been reduced by 28 percent;
- And we’ve cut the African American HIV/AIDS death rate by 23 percent, and the disparity in HIV/AIDS deaths has been reduced by 24 percent.
We know our strongest weapon in this battle is greater health care coverage. Still, we also know that our progress is possible because of the practical initiatives, programs and campaigns that enable us to make incremental progress on a daily basis.
Last week, Eugene Robinson – the Washington Post columnist – wrote a piece on the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s death. He wrote:
“Forty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, we sometimes talk about race in America as if nothing has changed. The truth is that everything has changed – mostly for the better – and that if we’re ever going to see King's dream fulfilled, first we have to acknowledge that this is not an America he would have recognized.”
Since Dr. King’s violent murder in Memphis, poverty in the black community has been cut nearly in half. Black Americans today wield $800 billion in consumer power – an amount that would make Black America the 15th or 16th richest nation in the world. And forty years ago, 2 out of 100 African Americans earned today’s equivalent of $100,000 – today, one out 10 earn at least that much.
But there are still disconnects between communities of color and the types of opportunities that sprout wealth – corporate, personal and community wealth and Maryland is no different. Prince George’s County – the wealthiest majority-black county in America – also has the 2nd highest unemployment in Maryland. Baltimore City sits at one of the focal points of Maryland’s technology triangle but certain neighborhoods are still marred by boarded windows, abandoned properties and street corner commerce.
But there are steps that we – as policymakers – can take to connect communities with opportunities – steps we are taking in Maryland.
We embrace “inclusionary zoning” practices, based on the model in Montgomery County, Maryland, that provide lower-income families with the benefit of affordable housing in opportunity-rich neighborhoods. We support public transportation – $100 million for an east-west rail connector in the Washington suburbs that will connect communities in Prince George’s County with the job opportunities in Montgomery and $1.4 billion between now and 2015 to enhance the statewide MARC rail to link Baltimore neighborhoods with new job opportunities coming to Maryland because of Base Realignment and Closure. And we’ve made a staunch commitment to encourage homeownership which includes, today, a commitment to stand with people against foreclosure – as Maryland recently enacted what the Washington Post characterized as the most sweeping measures to protect homeowners from foreclosure.
While there is not specific data, we’ve seen anecdotal evidence that connecting people and communities with opportunities is a small step toward gaining wealth, stability and a promise for a brighter tomorrow.
- People are moving back into Baltimore after two or three generations of population decline;
- Minority and Women-owned businesses are growing every year—today comprising more than half of all Maryland small businesses;
- And new wealth is being shared in black, in white and in all communities as rail, bus and other transit options create new urban, walkable centers in otherwise suburban settings.
Steady strides push toward lasting, permanent, positive change.
More than connecting communities to opportunities, we also need to bring opportunities to those communities and that starts with public investments in the public institutions within those communities—the schools, the libraries, the educational institutions that develop human potential. The institutions that set as their goals the elimination of performance gaps, the improvement in graduation rates and the achievement of greater all-around success.
In Maryland we understand that success does not come cheap, that it does not come simply from our desires to make change. Since 2002, we have invested an additional $1.2 billion per year in K-12 education through the nationally-renowned Thornton Commission’s “Bridge to Academic Excellence.” We put quality and accountability standards in place well before, and far more successfully, than the federal government did with No Child Left Behind. We instituted all-day Kindergarten and boast one of the top 10 Pre-K programs in the country for low-income families. And we’ve embraced partnerships with Teach for America, the BELL Foundation, with the College Board and with local businesses to enhance the learning opportunities for all our students.
And we’ve seen the fruits of our investment.
- Since Thornton was implemented, we’ve seen reading and math scores go up at every grade level, in every jurisdiction;
- Maryland leads the nation in AP participation and ranks second in performance;
- Graduation rates are increasing;
- No less than three Maryland high schools are ranked among the nation’s top 100 public high schools;
- And our state school system is ranked the third best.
We’ve also made incredible strides in narrowing the performance gaps between white and black students.
- In the past seven years, 3rd grad math scores for African Americans improved 40 percent and the performance gap was cut by more than a third;
- 8th grade reading scores improved by 30 percent and the performance gap was cut by 15 percent;
- More black students are taking the SATs today than in 2000 and scores are up;
- The dropout rate across the state is dropping nowhere faster than in the black community;
- And since 2000, we’ve experienced a 30 percent reduction in the number of African American students dropping out before graduating.
Our work isn’t done – these gaps aren’t closing nearly fast enough. But we should be and are proud of the incremental progress we are making toward profound, lasting, transformational change. Change that is made possible within the context of bigger goals shared by all Marylanders.
CONCLUSION – “DON’T BLOW IT”
Michael T. Hayes – a professor from Colgate University – has examined the role incremental progress plays in our world. He has spent a great deal of time looking at both successful and failed efforts to develop or implement far-reaching policy and he arrived at a simple conclusion: progress requires negotiation and compromise, but it also requires leaders and policymakers who possess the ability to think big. And big change is most likely to occur through a series of smaller steps, practical, day-to-day solutions.
It falls to you, tomorrow’s policymakers, leaders, activists, and public servants to step onto the roads of incremental change and make your distinct and unique contributions in your area of interest and expertise. You’ve got to bring real ideas and real vision. You will make profound, transformational change in your time by embracing the hard work and the oxymoronic nature that accompanies it: Practical idealism; Consensus-wielding ideology; And the patient urgency for now.
That’s your task. You have the benefit of this outstanding School of Government, surrounded by the best and the brightest, and undoubtedly eager to make a difference in your community.
The only advice I’ll leave you with, because this is not a commencement address, is this: “Don’t blow it!”