Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr. and the 2016 State of
Black America Report:
Locked Out of Opportunity
|Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr., ULGM CEO, was in Washington, D.C. at
the National Urban League’s legislative summit when The State
of Black America was released.
absence of Black people, people from lower socio-economic levels. If you go to the Farmers’ Market, you won’t see a whole lot of African
Americans there and it is a great venue. There are other venues in town where you can see how well people are doing because they require
you to spend money and things like that. A lot of people are locked out.”
Anthony sees a lot of factors that keep African Americans and others locked out. Subtle socio-economic factors can be at work that serve as
a glass barrier to people applying for positions in the public and private sectors.
“We are moving away from balanced panels,” Anthony observed. “Sometimes in agencies, we know that we don’t have sufficient numbers of
people working in government. But there is a climate now to move away from that. And I think that is a big mistake. I think that we still have
to make sure — you don’t have to call it Affirmative Action — we still have to make sure that there is fairness in recruitment, hiring and
promotion and making sure that people have an opportunity to get in the door and have the opportunity to get promoted. It’s just the right thing
The work environment also contributes to that long-term glass barrier that people experience.
“We’re finding out that toxic workplaces don’t lead to retention,” Anthony said. “Particularly in the construction fields, a lot of times people get
jobs and it isn’t always the most welcoming place once they get there. Sometimes, they might be isolated or alienated. Employers need to
make sure that they are diversifying their workforce, but also have support systems there. That’s one of the good things about the programs
that we do at the Urban League. As people go into new environments coming out of our training programs, we’re there as a support system
and we can interact between the employer and them and we can continue to provide that coaching and counseling as they are learning their
way or finding their way into new workplaces. But that is a challenge. Sometimes, you are going to go in there and you are the only minority in
the room or you’re a pioneer. It’s the first time that they have hired a minority. It can be tough. We have to make sure, especially in
government agencies, they are monitoring their workforce and are shooting for a representative bureaucracy. At least you are meeting the
socio-economic and racial demographics that you have in your community. If you have 15 percent minorities in the community and you look at
your workplace, it shouldn’t be 1-3 percent. I know it’s not one-to-one, but it should be close to that. It should be a representative
In order to make progress in eliminating the racial disparities in employment, Anthony feels that employers need to be intentional and
scientific in their approach.
“When you are deciding on resources, whether it’s for a program or for hiring, make sure you have a diverse group giving input,” Anthony
emphasized. “Tracking and monitoring opportunities is a big deal. If it’s not being tracked, you don’t have the opportunity to course correct.
And in all of the things that we do, we need to be checking to see if it is happening. And if it isn’t happening, then we need to course correct or
have some discussions. That also adds to transparency. We have to be transparent.”
And we have to be committed to diversity each and every day.
By Jonathan Gramling
Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr., CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, is
feeling frustrated. He had just come back from the National Urban League’s
13th Annual Legislative Policy Conference: Save Our Cities, Jobs and
Justice in Washington, D.C. when the 2016 edition of The State of Black
America was released. The subtheme of the conference was Locked Out.
Anthony was feeling it.
In Anthony’s view, there are many factors that keep African Americans and
other people of color locked out of the economy that span a number of issue
areas including employment, education and housing. But it is the lack of
economic opportunity that Anthony feels keeps many people of color on the
outside looking into the good life that Madison has to offer.
“We talked about the street economy,” Anthony said. “People are not going
to let their kids go hungry. If they don’t have a job, they are going to find
something to do. My mother would always say, ‘If a person won’t work, they
will steal.’ And I am not saying that to cast any shadow on any group. But
people need resources to live and eat. The basics of life require that you
have money. To be in this society and fully enjoy things, you need to have
money. You can look around at venues in this city and you can see the