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When the Defender’sWendell Hutson recently interviewed Maurice McFolling, CEO of Parker House Sausage Co., one of the more poignant points of the resulting story was that the 88-year-old company has difficulty finding employees that can pass the drug test

But historically it was because the owners of business, who were white, refused to even let us apply, much less hire us. As a result many insightful Black folk started their own businesses and grew them through the patronage of the community.

But those expansions were often blunted by the unavailability of additional capital; hence they could only hire a limited number of people. However, it was not always our own doing that kept us from getting work or having work to give.

The Parker House situation and any others like this become more salient when we understand that employment is not a means to wealth, but it certainly is a means to selfsufficiency.

When one studies U.S. Department of Census Bureau information about the ZIP code where Parker House is located – 60609 – the data shows that nearly half of the 28,340 workers there, or 11,177, earn less than $25,000 annually. Potential workers unable to pass the Parker House drug test certainly aren’t making $25,000 and whatever Parker House would pay it is better than what they are currently making.

As long as people are unable to be hired because of drug test failures, they will continue to keep their surroundings mired in poverty. Of course, every substance abuser is not living in abject poverty, but too many are – especially too many Black ones. For most of us, it’s probably difficult or impossible not to know someone who has encountered the ravages of drug use.

It is a pox on urban America that fuels crime, stalls education and substantially damages generations of Black folk. A report from MinorityNurse.com shows us that while Black folk only comprise 12 percent of the U.S. population, our percentage at the nation’s substance abuse treatment facilities is nearly double at 23 percent. And there certainly is a significant percentage who isn’t seeking treatment. Parker House is to be commended for what it is doing.

The company is looking first at folk who live in the immediate vicinity to hire. Parker House is not like too many companies these days, Black or white, who instantly turn and hire folk who do not look like us or speak the language we grew up speaking and still speak. We all can be assured that if Parker House is having difficulty finding “clean” employees there are many other businesses in and around the city in the same position.

That translates into pockets of brothers in several ZIP codes spending day after day unemployed with few prospects for changing their circumstances. We cannot blame the employers for that. Nor can we cling to the many claims that the Hispanic folk are taking all of the jobs, and Black folk are being shut out. The Hispanic business owners are hiring their own, which may not be appreciated but certainly is understandable.

The Parker House example is proof we are the ones doing the shutting out – of ourselves. Forward thinking folk will look at the opportunity for employment at a Parker House, not just as a job but as a tool for learning and potentially developing another kind of business. It may not be a sausage spin off, but whatever the offshoot is, it can be a viable company that employs yet another group who can potentially create another business.

It is obvious that a drop, a major one, in substance abuse in our community will turn around the fortunes of many. We need to begin to give hard looks at what the most effective drug treatment programs are and start to devise ways for folk in the community to avail themselves to them. Undoubtedly it would be naive to believe we can incur a 100 percent success rate of eliminating addictions, but we certainly can do better than we are today.

There are things that we all can do to help eradicate part of the problem. If a drug addict steals and has nowhere to sell that booty, then breaks-ins will drop. When we see a drug deal occurring near our homes, the productive thing to do is report it, rather than look away. Enough calls to the police ultimately will get the response we’re expecting.

It is past time that we continue to allow a minority in the community to thwart the ambitions and successful future of so many more.

______ Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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