Yesterday I attended the Legislative Black Caucus Legislative Workshop at the State Capital in Annapolis. This was a great information session about what is going on in the state related to five areas: Health, Education, Business and Economic Development, Law and Justice and Environmental Justice. I attended three of the workshops and here are my take aways.

Health
HIV/AIDS is at epidemic propositions in Baltimore in comparison with other major urban areas
There is a need to increase testing in our prisons and jails
Health disparities along race and social class are predictors of high and low mortality
Automation within medical record keeping is essential
HIV/AIDS testing will be a major initiative for 2007

There were no discussions about the Maryland State Board of Health initiating a wellness effort. Pfizer, who had representatives at the workshop, has an initiative called Be Powerful. It is a wellness initiative focused on African Americans but the wealth of information that they are providing is available to everyone.

Education
Teaching to the test is frustrating for educators
Teaching in schools with disciplinary challenges and violence is difficult
Cultural learning differences are not addressed adequately from the state Board of Education
Lifestyle and living environment affect a student’s ability to learn and there is nothing that educators can do to overcome communities where education is a low value and priority
Maryland is in the top 5 SAT scores and AP class score
Economic status is an indicator of poor academic achievement in Maryland. The Board currently does not have a strategy to address this challenge
Drop out rates is a predictor of future earning potential and incarceration
The exit exam currently tests for basic skills. It is not rigorous enough for the students who are looking to compete with other students in this global marketplace but it is overwhelming for the economically challenged. I believe that a high school diploma should mean something, Attendance is great but achievement of basic academic competencies is more important.

Law and Justice
Charles Dutton said in a film that we watched, “I am confused about why we are at war in Iraqi for their democratic rights when the system here is broken. There are hundreds of felons who have served their time and they still do not have the right to vote.”

My learning points were:
Voting is a right not a privilege
People with voting rights are less likely to re-enter the prison system
Those ex-offenders who have earned back their right to vote are extremely diligent in utilizing their right

As a pastor attending these sessions I was privileged to meet many state delegates, representatives and senators. I was not a big name preacher but each of the workshop leaders made it a point to share their card so that we could discuss possibly collaborations, partnerships and joint ventures. Tutoring programs for non violent first time offenders and long term in school suspensions, programs to assist ex offenders to transition to the real world and health clinics are all possibilities for partnerships.

There are serious achievement gaps, incarceration inequities and health disparities that can clearly be seen across racial lines. Elections are coming up in a week. Those people who earn my vote will be talking about the issues and not each other. They will not be attempting to distract me by discussing who is a friend with George W Bush and who is not. No child Left Behind is not working, the war in Iraqi is floundering, Medicaid and Medicare are broken, the Republican party with all of its power is struggling with corruption and moral failure. Now that we know the problems the Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Independent who will earn my vote as a commissioner, senator or school board representative will be addressing the issues with some real solutions.

Praying for Solutions
Seeking Answers
Trusting God

William T Chaney Jr

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