09/17/2014 10:46 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2014

#AfterFerguson: Faith-based Organizing's Approach

Indulge me for just a few minutes here. While what we at Gamaliel fight on are depressing issues, right now, at least, I'm kind of giddy. It's not often that a two-time Pulitzer-winning journalist basically endorses everything we are doing.

He didn't use our name and wasn't referring specifically to our organization, but veteran New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently outlined a few of the causes underlying recent demonstrations in Ferguson and elsewhere that have justifiably attracted national and international attention.

Look at these grim statistics from Kristof and how our work addresses them.

  • The net worth of the average black household in the United States is6,314, compared with110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid. (Whites in America on average own almost 18 times as much as blacks; in South Africa in 1970, the ratio was about 15 times.)

    While we are a multiracial coalition, the bulk of our members are people of color, and we in Gamaliel are working to reduce the wealth gap in the U.S. through our "Putting America Back to Work" campaign. Gamaliel affiliates are pushing President Obama to modernize a 30-year-old, miserably outdated federal regulation on minority and female construction jobs. We are also working to make sure that high-speed rail construction includes jobs for minorities and women in Illinois, and we recently got commitments from Gov. Pat Quinn and the Federal Railroad Administration to work with us.
  • The black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967. A black boy born today in the United States has a life expectancy five years shorter than that of a white boy.

    Gamaliel affiliates are fighting hard to expand Medicaid. More than 700 Missourians who could be directly helped by Medicaid expansion die each year, yet the state legislature has refused to take up the issue. We will continue to work with diverse pastors and faith leaders in inner-suburb areas like Ferguson, as well as in exurbs like St. Charles and Clay counties, to get the message to state legislators that if one person dies because they don't have Medicaid, it is one death too many.
  • Black students are three times as likely to be suspended and expelled, setting them up for educational failure.

    Gamaliel affiliates are pushing hard for an end to the increasing use of expulsion and suspension, especially with young men of color. We're backing legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Reps. George Miller (D-California) and Gregg Harper (R-Mississippi) to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. (The Senate version is aptly named the Keeping ALL Students Safe Act.)
  • Because of the catastrophic experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated today than employed, according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Nearly 70 percent of middle-aged black men who never graduated from high school have been imprisoned.

    In Wisconsin the 11 x 15 campaign seeks to cut Wisconsin's prison population in half, from 22,000 to 11,000. The campaign has won almost5 million for diversion programs and started a firestorm with its assertion that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections is failing to parole nearly 3,000 inmates it believes can and should be released, costing Wisconsin96 million a year.

Gamaliel and its sister community-organizing networks, like Jobs With Justice, have been working on these important issues, with little national attention, for years. Maybe Ferguson is starting to wake up our nation to the plight of the 99 percent who have been not only neglected but outright robbed of a decent life through thoughtless and sometimes racist policy making.