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Arva Rice

Arva Rice

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Cheesehead State of Mind: Taking Cues from Wisconsin in NYC

Posted: 03/29/11 04:30 PM ET

After living in New York City for over 20 years, there are few times that I feel the need to remind people that I am originally from Wisconsin. But 2011 has been different. First, the Super Bowl Packers made headlines, then so did a governor named Scott Walker. It has been an interesting time for a cheesehead.

The assault on collective bargaining has awakened a spirit of activism that this state has not known in a long time. The frustration and agitation has struck a chord around the nation and around the world. Community members, parents, small business owners, and students are collectively asking why banks, and the auto industry deserve a bailout while the middle and lower class bail water from their sinking ships.

A local eatery, Ian's Pizza Shop, has been delivering pizzas to protesters after receiving orders from almost every state and as far away as Egypt. The shop's staff has been tracking the donations on a chalkboard and posting regular updates on its Facebook page. As a result, Ian's has delivered over a thousand pizzas to hungry union workers. The daily pizza orders are a testament to a basic human desire that we all have to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

For the past few months I have seen and experienced the epic coverage of the winter holiday snow storm, the very public protests against New York City Schools Chancellor Cathie Black and school closures, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's clash over seniority in teacher lay-offs.

Underneath the political posturing and public stand-offs lie the concerns of New Yorkers about how they and their families will fare in the months and years to come. So I am left with the gnawing question: if this is what New Yorkers are fighting against, what are we fighting for? It is up to each and every New Yorker to answer this question, but I had to answer it first.

As CEO of the 90-year-old New York Urban League, my job - indeed my privilege - is to bring the concerns of the community to decision-makers. The diversity of black New Yorkers sometimes makes it difficult to determine community concerns and priorities, so we asked.

Last December, the NYUL conducted an online survey asking community members to let us know their thoughts on education and employment priorities in New York City. Of the nearly 470 respondents, 52 percent said they believed that increased parental involvement in schools positively impacted academic performance.

With respect to addressing our city's need for more jobs, they cited increased small business opportunity and government-funded initiatives as the best ways to create jobs in this struggling economy. The poll's findings along with discussions at our annual meeting form the basis for our 2011 Advocacy Agenda.

Research and experience shows us that when parents are involved in their children's education, it makes a profound difference. Students whose parents are engaged in their children's educational experience do better academically, socially and vocationally regardless of economic status. Parents want their children to be successful, but they need better information and tools from the schools and community based organizations to help them navigate the school system.

As a result, the New York Urban League's top priority on our educational agenda is greater parental education and engagement. But we cannot achieve this goal alone. We need all New Yorkers and all Americans for that matter to join us in our efforts to help more of our nation's children, especially those from under-served communities, get into and succeed in college.

To help further these efforts, we have formed a partnership with The Daily News to co-develop and co-brand a guide for parents to help their students navigate high school and beyond, drawing on decades of experience administering the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Scholarship Fund and hosting the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Fair.

As we develop the guide we will be looking for feedback through social media, community meetings and one-on-one conversations. We hope to make putting parents back into the public education equation as easy as ordering pizza.