Inequality discussed during town hall

By Eric Norwood Jr.
CNJ staff writer

The executive director of the New Mexico Office of African-American Affairs is well aware of the disparities facing the black population in Clovis. Yvette Kaufman-Belll is a graduate of Clovis High School and Eastern New Mexico University.

“I was a student-athlete with a 3.8 grade point average my senior year, and I had no clue how I was going to get into college,” Kaufman-Bell said.

Now the hometown girl who defeated the odds is back to pay it forward not only for Clovis, but the entire state.

Kaufman-Bell and her deputy director, Darren Johnson, hosted a town hall discussion on issues regarding blacks in Curry County on Tuesday night.

Kaufman-Bell is leading a statewide tour of town hall discussions, as she and Johnson have already visited Lea, Santa Fe, Chaves and Bernalillo counties with more on the way.

“We’re traveling the state to share statistical data on African Americans in our state. It relates to our successes and our disparities. From there we want to focus on what is being done to minimize the disparities and to also join efforts,” said Kaufman-Bell.

The statistical data is a report on the status of African Americans in Curry County and New Mexico for 2013. The research was done by the University of New Mexico Center for Education Policy Research, and focuses on health, education, and economic disparities, using data from 2007-2012.

Some of the numbers that stood out was that 40 percent of African-American Clovis 11th-graders are proficient or above in reading, the lowest percentage in the state. The statewide average is 52 percent.

The report also showed 35.6 percent of black high school students in New Mexico use marijuana, while 11.5 percent use cocaine. This info drew sighs of angst from the crowd.

Clovis City Commissioner Sandra Taylor-Sawyer shared her thoughts on some of the data.

“I was disappointed to see that our third-graders were doing good things, but there is a huge drop off for eighth graders and juniors. That was disheartening. I was happy to hear that a high percentage of our juniors would like to go to college though. That surprised me,” Taylor-Sawyer said.

The disparities loom large for African-Americans in Curry County, a county that boasts the highest percentage of African-Americans in the state at 6.8 percent. Taylor-Sawyer said some solutions that came from the discussion include a mentor program for high school students, involving more parents in education, and lowering the unemployment rate.

“This is my home. We have to do this for our people, our village,” said Kaufman-Bell.