In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King spoke to his concerns about suggestions that Blacks wait (how much longer is not certain, but wait anyway) for justice to “come around.” “Wait” for our humanity to be recognized and honored, until others could “come around” to the idea.
He wrote, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’”
The Urban Research and Outreach Center (UROC) has spent $2 million to improve broadband Internet access for “minorities,” and we are still waiting. We are still hoping that the present situation doesn’t mean that this will never get right before the grant period ends and all we have left to talk about is what a shame it is that we never got to benefit from the programs or from the countless grants written to fund them.
It reminds me of Lissa Jones’ Spokesman-Recorder article “It’s time to quit ‘waitin’ on Roosevelt’” in her March 24 “Voices of the Village” column. I learned about the Langston Hughes poem and its meaning in that column: “You see, the pot’s still empty and the cupboard’s still bare, and you can’t build a bungalow out of air! Tell me, Mr. Roosevelt, what’s the matter here?”
UROC spent $2 million, and the cupboard is still bare?
Here’s the “it”: The headline read, “Critics Say Millions of Dollars Wasted on Computer Labs.” (Go to http://kstp.com/article/stories/s2098937.shtml for the article.) The piece went on to read, “It’s called the ‘Broadband Access Project,’ and it’s run on tax dollars funneled through the University of Minnesota.
“A [Channel] 5 Eyewitness News investigation found the 11 computer labs in Minneapolis and St. Paul are not getting the use they were intended to get. We visited each site and found erratic hours, difficult-to-find locations and even closed and locked labs when the doors were supposed to be open to the public.
“The program receives $3.6 million in public money — the bulk of it from federal stimulus dollars. We checked the university’s own year-end records and found the use of these computer labs had actually gone down since millions of federal dollars were pumped into them in 2010.
“A university spokesperson told us there were some concerns about the marketing of these labs and that it was a start-up project they were learning from and were working out glitches.”
Two million dollars now gone, and we are still uncertain about the hours of operation and we are not aware of all of the locations! Two million dollars, gained on the backs of Black children (the “concern” in the grant application), which improved facilities across the city, but no one really knows the locations; and should we be fortunate enough to find them, they might be closed and locked.
Two million dollars, and what did we get? We have a building, first designed for research on Black children and families, an idea we rejected from the start. That “idea” ended up as a building where Lucille’s Kitchen used to be housed. Say what you will about the “Kitchen,” but I swear that it got more traffic than UROC.
Two million dollars into this thing, and we still don’t know. Better yet, UROC, do you now know “about the marketing of these labs”? Is it still, in your words, university spokesperson, a start-up project the university is learning from? And, finally, are you through working out the glitches? If so, may we please see the latest report given about the public’s $2 million investment?
To make things just a little more complicated, part of the $2 million was “invested” in the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium (MMMC), the communications group responsible to get the message about broadband access and the computer labs to us. Have you gotten the message? Maybe I missed it. Haven’t heard a word. What a shame.
We are calling on the leadership of UROC Executive Director Heidi Barajas and her colleague, our own Dr. Robert Jones, to partner with us to spread the message about and access to broadband Internet for our young geniuses in the making. We remain ever hopeful, Director Barajas and Dr. Jones, that we can work together to straighten the road that looks a little crooked right now.
Twin Cities activist Al Flowers lives in Minneapolis. He can be seen on “Politically Speaking” at 6 pm and “Holding People Accountable” at 9 pm Sundays on MTN Channel 17.