IU alumnus Tavis Smiley and SPEA faculty members release new book on plight of black Americans

  • Jan. 7, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Writer and broadcaster Tavis Smiley, an Indiana University graduate, has authored a new book with contributions from IU faculty that concludes black Americans are increasingly challenged politically, economically and socially.

"The Covenant With Black America: Ten Years Later" (SmileyBooks) is a follow-up to a bestselling book Smiley wrote in 2006. That book laid out a national plan of action to address 10 crucial issues facing African-Americans.

In the new book, Smiley says there has been little progress in health care, criminal justice, housing, education and racial equality.

"Black America has lost ground in every leading economic category," Smiley writes.

That conclusion is buttressed with chapters contributed by faculty and students at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs:

  • Health care and health outcomes are beset by disparities between blacks and whites. "While improvements are visible in some areas including mortality and physical activity, the racial gap in prevalence of chronic conditions and mortality risk factors has not narrowed," write SPEA faculty researchers Kosali Simon, Angshuman Gooptu, Seth Freedman and Victoria Perez. "There is promising potential in the ACA (Affordable Care Act) to reduce these gaps."
  • Education advocacy efforts should focus on evidence-based policies and practices rather than a single approach to "solving" educational inequality, writes SPEA’s Ashlyn Nelson. For example, students benefit most from school choice in states with strict charter school standards. Evidence-based investments in professional development for teachers and administrators are of more value than vague calls for greater school and teacher accountability.
  • Criminal justice reform requires an articulated plan, commitment to actionable progress and accountability for change, writes SPEA’s Jeremy Carter. He suggests a policy agenda that includes limitations on aggressive tactics, improved training, more diversity in police personnel and the adoption of video technology. Carter writes that police must broaden their awareness of racial bias and take actionable steps to reform policy and practice. Such reforms should follow the best practices he outlines in the book.
  • A digital divide remains a hurdle to economic prosperity, according to SPEA’s Michael McGuire. He says white and black access to the Internet is virtually the same, but that is due to smartphone use. Racial disparity is revealed in the percentage of households that have broadband, computer-based access at home that is crucial for applying for jobs or for college or doing homework. "The real divide is based in a 'racial wealth gap' that holds millions back from adopting broadband because a computer can rarely be purchased from their yearly income," McGuire writes. "Until families can afford the basic technological necessities -- a computer being one -- and gain broadband access from home, a digital divide along class and racial lines will remain."

Smiley will be discussing the book in detail the week of Jan. 11 to 15 on his nightly PBS broadcast and has interviews scheduled with major national and international media outlets throughout the month.

About Tavis Smiley: Tavis Smiley is the host of the late-night television talk show "Tavis Smiley" on PBS, as well as "The Tavis Smiley Show" on public radio. He is the founder of the nonprofit Tavis Smiley Foundation, now in the midst of a campaign focusing on alleviating endemic poverty in the U.S. He grew up in Bunker Hill, Ind.

About the School of Public and Environmental Affairs: SPEA was founded in 1972 and is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the U.S. In the most recent "Best Graduate Schools" ranking by U.S. News & World Report, SPEA ranks second and is the nation's highest-ranked professional graduate program in public affairs at a public institution. Four of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings. SPEA's doctoral programs in public affairs and public policy are also ranked by the National Research Council as among the best in the nation.

In addition to Simon, Gooptu, Nelson, Carter and McGuire, other contributors to the book connected to SPEA include Lisa Blomgren Amsler, David Audretsch, Beth Cate, Andrea Need, Ken Richards and Bee Smale.

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Jim Hanchett

  • School of Public and Environmental Affairs
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