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Berea touted as model for nation – Affirmative action for the poor May 28, 2007

Posted by C.A.R.D in affirmative action, Affirmative action for the poor, African Americans, African-American, Berea, Berea affirmative action, Black, Blacks, Card, college, Henry Louis Gates Jr., interracial college, Jean Fairfax, Kentucky State College, low-income affirmative action, middle class, White, Whites.

Berea College — and its emphasis on providing a college education to those who don’t have the means to pay for it — should become a model for the rest of the country, renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. told the school’s graduates yesterday.The nation needs an economic bill of rights, guaranteeing access to a safe, good education, affordable health care and a place to live, said Gates, a Harvard professor of African-American studies and a cultural critic.

He challenged the 245 graduates to do better than his generation.

“Will you have the will to insist that the Berea ideal becomes the American ideal?” he asked.

Gates noted that Berea, which was founded in 1855, was the first interracial college in the south. He said the school has been a model for the rest of the country ever since.

The college, which admits only low-income students and does not charge tuition, awarded Gates an honorary degree of humane letters. Jean Fairfax, a civil rights leader who began her career at Kentucky State College, now Kentucky State University, was also awarded an honorary degree.

An economic bill of rights would have the effect of affirmative action for the poor, Gates said. Race-based affirmative action provided a way for blacks to enter the middle class, and he was one of those who benefited, Gates said.

In 1969, when he went to Yale, Gates was one of 96 black students in his class. Three years earlier, the graduating class included 6 black men. The difference wasn’t the quality of black students but affirmative action, he said.

For the 1966 class, Yale had quotas for black students. Those who got in were middle class — the children of doctors, dentists, lawyers, undertakers and numbers runners.

Gates didn’t come from the black middle class. His father worked two jobs — at a West Virginia paper mill and as a janitor — to put him and his brother through college.

“No one in the American academy has benefited more from affirmative action than I did,” Gates said.

Gates wants to expand affirmative action to include those who come from poor families. His own children, Gates said in an interview before his speech, shouldn’t benefit from affirmative action, because they have lived a very privileged life.

“We need to get more poor black people into the middle class,” Gates said. “We need to get more poor white people into the middle class.”

Because of the students whom it serves, Berea works toward that goal, Gates said. The school understands more than other colleges that it isn’t enough to pay lip service to diversity, Gates told the graduates.

“The only way to make affirmative action live up to its ideals is to create economic conditions that will allow those ideals to take root,” Gates said.

CARD {Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination} Source: Kentucky.com

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