Last updated: April 25. 2014 10:56AM - 543 Views
By Larry Sutton Contributing columnist

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Based on a recent Supreme Court ruling upholding a Michigan law that banned affirmative action for admissions at state colleges, are we at a place in society where race no longer matters? Well, this ruling by the High Court has revived the national dialogue and debate over affirmative action, with many people having a lot to say.

The term affirmative action, first used by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, is used to describe programs that are intended to remedy past discriminations by helping minority groups and women gain admission into colleges and access to jobs and opportunities.

Following my graduation from NC A&T in May 1972, I personally benefited from affirmative action by being awarded a scholarship to attend Duke where I received my Master of Arts in Teaching in the summer of 1973. And from there, I spent the next 34 years teaching high school social studies at Clinton High school, retiring in 2007 after being tapped as the system’s Teacher of the Year twice.

The use of affirmative action, beginning in the late 1960s and in the 1970s, has opened more doors for women and minorities, giving them more opportunities to make gains in education, to hold professional and managerial jobs and serve in government.

Being controversial from the outset, affirmative action was designed to be a short-term remedy to right past wrongs, and critics of affirmative action complained it was a form of reverse discrimination against men and whites. The question now that remains at the center of the affirmative action debate is when will America no longer need to right past wrongs?

Today, can we say with certainty that all groups in our society have the same opportunity to succeed? With this question on our collective minds, the American people can take this opportunity to assess how much progress has been made in overcoming generations of inequality.

It’s abundantly clear that we’ve come a long way since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which banned discrimination in public facilities, employment, education and voter registration, yet much remains to be done.

Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, economic justice is still far away with poverty widespread, the chasm separating the “haves” and the “have-nots” widening and the unemployment gap persisting.

As a community, we have a moral obligation to commit to equality of opportunity for all, putting in place policies and practices that help the underserved and underemployed, allowing them to become self-supporting citizens. When we help our most vulnerable young people reach their true potential and become inspired to take ownership of their future, the whole society is much better off.

I am hopeful that the people involved in our economic engine will seek to change these conditions by creating economic opportunities. In your interactions with each other, talk about diversity, equity and a belief in second changes, keeping in mind that our country’s history “is there for all to read.”

With so much work yet to be done, affirmative action is still necessary if we are ever going to level the playing field.

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