Terry McLaughlin: Project 21 – Building up our communities

Horace Cooper is a retired teacher of constitutional law and a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. He is the co-chairman of Project 21, a program created by the Black Leadership Network, a group of African-Americans who came together during the riots that occurred in the wake of the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles 25 years ago.

These leaders believed that the media was characterizing those riots, the looting, and the violence as “legitimate out workings of the frustrations that Black Americans feel,” and they asked themselves, “Is that your idea of how people achieve change or express angst?” Their collective answer was “no.”

Project 21 was formed to provide “the other perspective, the other view that families matter, that the private sector is far more important than the government sector. That people need to have initiative and be motivated with the kinds of community organizations … that help our communities develop and be better.”

In a recent interview, Horace Cooper explained that, “from the 1920s up to the 1950s, Black Americans were actually more literate, more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to have stable families than the population as a whole.”

“We like to pretend what we see today is the way that it’s always been,” Cooper continued. “But it’s just the way that it’s been since the ‘problem solvers’ have been in charge … a class of Americans whose entire livelihood is based on the existence of victims … We’ve spent $22 trillion and all we’ve done is enriched the problem solving class and we’ve not done the basic kinds of things that would be good for Americans, Black, white or brown. We had policies [in the past] that said it was not the job of government to solve every problem, it was the responsibility of the individual. They supported free enterprise, they supported very limited regulation on the part of the government … You have to have an environment where you are making policies that are great for the country. And when they’re great for the country, it turns out that the least among us benefit even better.”

Project 21 has identified key areas in need of reform and offers 57 budget-neutral recommendations to “remove barriers blocking Blacks from reaching their full potential and ensuring the American dream is attainable for all.”

The key areas of focus for Project 21 are promoting K-12 educational choice, improving higher education, reducing Black unemployment, strengthening faith-based communities, promoting self-determination, improving the relationship between police and Black communities, ending excessive regulation, stopping wealth transfer from the poor to non-citizens, reducing the economic harm of excise taxes, and reforming the criminal justice system.

In each of these areas, Project 21 offers concrete recommendations for actions that can be taken to improve the lives of our citizens. Details of all recommendations can be found by googling “Project 21’s Blueprint for a Better Deal for Black America.”

Here are a few examples: Of the 31 empirical studies examining the impact of educational choice on public schools, 29 found that educational choice policies improved the quality of public education. Project 21 recommends establishing a federal needs-based educational voucher program, among other actions to improve educational outcomes.

Also recommended is incentivizing schools of higher education to provide students the support they need by requiring colleges and universities to meet minimum graduation rate standards to qualify for federal financial aid programs.

To encourage employment, Project 21 recommends abolishing the 1931 David-Bacon Act which requires contractors to pay prevailing/union wages for all construction projects receiving over $2,000 in federal funding.

The law was specifically designed to prevent non-union Black workers from competing with white union workers for jobs. This law remains on the books and continues to serve its original purpose, because minority owned firms are often small and unable to pay union wages, so are often precluded from participating in federal construction projects.

Project 21 recommends other actions, such as analyzing all new federal regulations to ascertain what affects they have on hiring young, low-skilled workers, and allowing employers in special low income zip codes to hire employees 22 years of age and younger without paying FICA taxes.

Believing that the church has consistently been a force for good in the Black community, among Project 21’s recommendations is the establishment of Federal Tax Credit Scholarships which allow individuals and businesses to receive tax credits for donating to non-profits, including churches, which provide tuition assistance to low income and at-risk youth.

One recommendation made for improving public safety and community-police relations is to disarm federal agencies that do not have a direct role in law enforcement, and reprogram those funds to local police departments to improve community relations.

More than 80 federal agencies currently employ armed agents. Many are necessary and appropriate, such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service. But the Department of Education, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, IRS, Tennessee Valley Authority, Department of Agriculture, and even the Railroad Retirement Board have armed agents.

I encourage readers to learn more about Project 21’s Blueprint for a Better Deal for Black America. They offer serious and constructive proposals from leaders and professionals within the minority community to improve lives and outcomes — actions and solutions that can raise up our communities rather than tear them down.

Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for . Write to her at [email protected]

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