How to best use American Rescue Plan funds? Toward immediate change for the vulnerable
The votes have been tallied and new faces have emerged from the respective City Council and School Committee fields. For some, the idea of discussing the next term is premature. For others, such as myself, the time to move forward is already behind us. We have listened to the candidates – now the candidate-elects – must make their pitches as to how to best use funds from The American Rescue Plan on the behalf of the people of this great city.
Today, the platitudes and grandiose affirmations often devoid of details must end. A path of transformative and generational change specifically for our most vulnerable must be charted forward. Unlike most municipalities, Cambridge must move with deliberate speed, as it is no secret that two-year terms leave many electives essentially campaigning “on the job.” Their year-two policy proposals are often lean on details but pack an emotional punch to elicit faux hope in prospective voters, especially those who have been historically left on the margins: folks who vote with their gut though their trust of elected officials is frayed; people who are more of the composite of the Cambridge of my childhood, where race and class weren’t overintellectualized and engulfed in academic jargon.
There has been a slew of banter from political operatives as to how best leverage funding from The American Rescue Plan provided by the Biden administration; however, many of our former prospectives and elects have fallen short in offering a pragmatic yet progressive proposal of how to best fold these dollars into our village of international innovation, intellectual curiosity and communal grit. It is my singular position that the dollars from should be deemed as Moral Money. We must center our morals and work together on a series of generational ills to heal the next generation of our community.
Education is not only political, but has also become the human rights litmus test of this generation. We are a nation that has chosen complacency, in essence “working around” inequity in schools and refusing to radically shift the paradigm on race and class stratification that affects our youngest citizens. I am aware that a chorus of residents will vehemently disagree with me and point to the work of John F. Kennedy, Lydon B. Johnson, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and now Joe Biden as policymakers doing work that shifts the lives of black and brown people. With all due respect to the luminaries who have started the conversation, we must stand as a model for our commitment to solving a series of specific issues – one that challenges both bodies to work together for the sake of our children with as much strategy and compassion as we elevate consensus around bike lanes and tree canopy.
Money without clear goals and benchmarks won’t save us. We must own the race and class divide that plays a role in how we govern black, brown and working-class white folks in our city. In the words of recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, “You can’t heal what you don’t reveal.” As a city, we must acknowledge the social ills we bemoan are not simply national concerns, but local wounds that must be tended to heal from our past of racism and class isolation. Trotting out black friends and sharing anecdotes of the other Cambridge on the campaign trail reminds me eerily of the words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” with our political operatives replacing the clergy and ignoring the needs of the common folks, specifically those who reside on the other side of prosperity.
To swing the pendulum, it is necessary that we discover our greatest moral selves and be undeterred to create institutions through private, public and university financial commitments that will move us closer to the opportunity and equity we espouse and carelessly advertise as ourselves. It is time to create spaces to address (but not limited to) the following:
- The eradication of the achievement gap
- Centering excellence in black male achievement
- An articulated strategy to address environmental racism
- Prekindergarten for all
- Free community college for all single-caregiver households
- Free college at public colleges and universities for Cambridge Rindge and Latin School graduates who hail from homes of $80,000 a year or less
- Year-round wrap-around summer-academic boot camp
- After-school programming that supports the mental health of our district’s K-12 students
- Post-graduation planning and supports for all CRLS graduates
- Mental health outlets for the most vulnerable
A community that ignores its most vulnerable through policy has disregarded this moment. The rhetoric must stop, and the work must begin today. The moment is now.
Tony Clark is co-president of The MBK Cambridge Task Force.