Opinion: Support programs that close the racial gap in education

3CDC facilitates programming specific to individual communities nationwide.

The Economic Policy Institute projects that people of color will be the majority working class — working people without a college degree — by 2032. And while not everyone wants to go to college, poor reading scores can cause shame, and cut short aspirations for those who do.

In 2019, only about 17 percent of black third grade students in Colorado Springs School District 11 — one of the city’s most diverse districts — met or exceeded expectations in the Colorado Measures of Academic Success English Language Arts Assessment. That’s down from 23 percent the previous year. Close to 41 percent of white third grade students in D-11 met or exceeded expectations on the same test. And with classrooms empty because of the COVID-19 crisis, students will likely lose even more ground.

The gap in educational success relates to other ways structural racism affects communities of color. Over the last week, mainstream media have circulated reports of racial disparities in the death toll from COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says the coronavirus is “shining a bright light” on “unacceptable” health disparities in black communities. And the fact that we have fewer people of color in positions to care for their communities during this crisis may also be costing lives today.

This is nothing new, and these disparities aren’t necessarily going to be fixed during this crisis. But we can shine a light on how our kids are educated and encouraged to become professionals.

This is where Nicholas Crutcher comes in. He’s the minister at New Direction Baptist Church, a licensed therapist, teacher and CEO of Crutcher Cornerstone Community Development Corporation. 3CDC is a community-building organization whose Southeast Colorado Springs chapter has partnered with the Martin Luther King Youth Success Movement and the Pikes Peak Southern Christian Leadership Conference to provide the online Reading Success toolkit to help families grow their children’s reading skills.

Families who can afford it pay a $25 fee to access the toolkit. The fee is waived for those unable to afford it, and families that don’t have an electronic device may qualify for a free Amazon Fire tablet.

This is just one of the programs offered by the organization’s Southeast chapter. During local school shutdowns, which may last until the fall semester, Crutcher is working with community partners to create programs that ensure students are on track when they return to classes. From their offices inside New Direction Baptist Church, 3CDC is even offering sack lunches for families who need them during this time. Crutcher says they are averaging about 91 meals a day.

This is Crutcher’s way of giving back.

[pullquote-1] Crutcher, 38, was born in Peoria, Illinois. At a young age, he lost his father (whom he never met) to gang violence, and his mother, who suffered from mental illness, soon abandoned him. Adopted by the Crutchers, Nicholas says it was their love and hope that provided the foundation for his life, and eventually helped form his ideas for 3CDC, a membership-based movement meant to meet the needs of people within a particular community. Over the last 25 years, he has organized partnerships in Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, California, Georgia and Washington, D.C. — and some of those partnerships have expanded internationally to Ghana.

Membership in 3CDC (which is free) comes with resources to build a neighborhood chapter that connects members to regional “villages,” which are composed of multiple chapters.

Through the village, neighborhood members can access programming within their neighborhood chapter, or connect with different groups across the nation. Programs, like Southeast’s Reading Success project, are tailored to meet the needs of each community, but expansive connections help create best practices.

Crutcher says his business model comes from the example set by Jesus Christ. He often asks, “What would Christ do?” This starts first with “adoption.”

“When we choose a program or community to work with, we are ‘adopting’ the community we are working with,” he says. He adds that there is a difference between participating in a program and being adopted by an organization. Programs are often based on performance, and that is usually what generates individual commitment. But he believes it should be the other way around; those, like 3CDC, who choose “adoption” should be committed to people first. The organization is currently working with about 237 youths, and the programs they develop arise from those individual and family needs.

“We are here. We choose you. We are in it for the long haul,” Crutcher says.