Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October 2013 ESSENTIAL Class Day Takeaways

Guest post from ESSENTIAL Class of 2014 participant Blair Dancy, reflecting on the October 2013 class day on Greater Austin's demographics and growth. Blair is a partner with Van Osselaer & Buchanan and a trial lawyer in Austin.

Common Interest; Uncommon Passion.
Personal family lore has it that Placida Cantu Villarreal encouraged her daughters to marry the palest of men. The story goes that, after the Civil War, the color of one's skin dictated quality of life in the Rio Grande valley. Placida wanted better for her daughters.

Placida's daughter Josephine—my great, great grandmother who never learned to speak English—relented, marrying an Irishman almost twice her age. He had immigrated to the U.S., changed his name, joined the Union Army, and after the fighting was done, stayed in New Orleans to run a bar. Something happened (perhaps a repeat of something in Ireland?), and he fled Louisiana, winding up in Hidalgo County, working another bar.

A real catch for a young, Spanish-speaking girl.

The price for non-whites to buy opportunity has changed considerably since the 1800s. But even today, with so many barriers removed, disparity remains.

At our first ESSENTIAL Class Day last Wednesday on demographics and growth, we heard Hispanics will soon be the majority in Austin. Yet, 46% of Hispanics under age five are in poverty in the city, 35% in the Austin MSA. Problems persist for the African-American population as well, with its own unique history. The city itself remains balkanized politically, economically, and racially, despite some level of integration.

One easy link to be made is between education and poverty. The high school dropout rate was 2.9% for whites; 7.9% for African-Americans; and 9.6% for Hispanics in AISD as of 2003-04. Poverty rates are also higher for African-Americans and Hispanics. But education is only the tip of the iceberg.

There is no single solution. It's been decades since AISD first put magnet programs in underperforming high and middle schools, but the degree to which those programs help alleviate disparity remains subject to debate. Next year, we will see a city council morph from at-large seats dominated by voters in central Austin to districts more representative of our diversity. Hopefully that step will help beyond the mere politics of city hall.

Then there are the individual stories. Our guest speaker, Geronimo Rodriguez (ESSENTIAL 2004) of Seton, persuaded his migrant-farmer parents to put down roots for four years so he could graduate high school, eventually becoming the lawyer he is today. Not a typical story; not a typical inspiration.

As for Josephine marrying an undesirable man for the paleness of his skin, I can only hope that is no more than a remnant of the 1800s. But one thing she and Geronimo have in common, separated by more than a hundred years, is the desire for a better life—for themselves and those around them.

There are sixty of us in this Leadership Austin class who share this same passion, and we benefit from our diverse backgrounds. What an impact sixty of us can have on a better Austin, for everyone. I'm looking forward to our remaining classes and our group project, to see what the Best Class Ever can do.

Until next time...

NOTE: The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni, faculty members, and guest bloggers are their own, and do not represent an official position of the organization.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Blair, its is true that our demographics are changing. I am glad we can see it as our problem to solve instead of "their problem". This class is great and to be surrounded by such awesome caliber of leaders is inspiring and rewarding every time we get to tackle these leadership issues. Lets see how we can work together to address one of the biggest issues that will become our city's defining moment.