Black History and Black Futures

Black History Month is a time to celebrate influential leaders and impactful moments of the past. But celebrating Black history is not enough. 

United Way continues to work toward a future where Black Americans have the same access to employment, education, health care and housing as their white neighbors. 

As part of that work, below we highlight an important moment from Black history that aligns with our focus areas of health, education and financial stability, outline a few current challenges faced by Black Americans, and explain what United Way is doing to help solve these problems.

Health

Moment in History
July 9, 1893: Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performs the first successful open-heart surgery at the black-owned, interracial hospital he founded in Chicago. Both Dr. Williams and his patient were Black.

Current Challenges
But since Dr. Williams’ groundbreaking work, health outcomes for the Black population are still significantly worse than for whites.

  • Nearly 100,000 fewer Black Americans would die each year, if the Black mortality rate was the same as it is for whites.
  • A Black individual will live three fewer years on average than a white person with the same income. 
  • Black Americans are nearly 4 times more likely to be hospitalized and 3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites.

United Way’s Work
United Way believes that an individual’s race, ZIP code, or income should never be a barrier to quality health. We work to address health inequity by:

  • Fighting for improved access to health care coverage
  • Creating exercise and recreation opportunities in low-income and segregated neighborhoods
  • Making it easier for people to access substance abuse programs
  • Setting up mobile food pantries
  • Supporting the mental health needs of veterans

Education

Moment in History
April 23, 1951: 16-year-old Barbara Rose Johns leads a strike to protest segregation and poor conditions at her Virginia high school. Her leadership inspires local lawyers to sue the federal government, a case that eventually becomes part of the landmark Brown v. Board decision.

Current Challenges
The Supreme Court ruled school segregation was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. But segregation in public schools has only risen since 1996. This kind of structural racism along with institutional racism has hurt the educational outcomes of Blacks students.

  • The graduation rate for Black students (79%) is lower than the national average. 
  • Schools with 90% or more students of color receive $733 less per student.
  • Only 57% of Black students have access to the full range of math and science courses needed for college-readiness.
  • More than 70% of Black students were learning remotely in fall 2020, compared to 40% of white students. 

United Way’s Work
United Way fights to shift the odds for students of color and those in low-income areas. Our work includes:

  • Recruiting volunteers to read with preschool and elementary students
  • Providing after-school programs and extracurricular activities and clubs
  • Supporting middle and high school students through graduation
  • Connecting students with volunteer mentors and tutors

Financial Stability

Moment in History
May 12, 1968: Thousands of Black women, led by Coretta Scott King, begin the first demonstrations in the Poor People’s Campaign. After building Resurrection City on the National Mall, they stayed in temporary shacks for over a month in a fight for jobs, unemployment insurance and a higher minimum wage. 

Current Challenges
Decades of segregation, discrimination and low wages have impacted the financial stability of Black families in the U.S. Since 1992, the racial wealth gap has grown.

United Way’s Work
United Way battles chronic unemployment, homelessness and financial illiteracy; issues that disproportionately affect Black Americans. In April, United Way Worldwide created a relief fund for Black Americans harmed by the financial devastation of the pandemic. Our ongoing work includes:

  • Providing free tax preparation services for middle- and low-income families
  • Offering financial education and coaching, especially to unbanked individuals
  • Training adults for careers in thriving industries, like health care
  • Providing job counseling and application assistance to the unemployed

The wider United Way network fights for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community. You can be a part of this important work in Monterey County. Use the email sign up learn how you can give, advocate or volunteer to ensure that every single person, no matter their race, can thrive in our community.