Since King's speech, how far have we come?

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – NAACP president James Vincent gives the United States mixed grades for fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King's dream. He says African Americans have made great strides in being elected to public office in the United States but that they continue falling behind academically.

"The dropout rates have never been higher," Vincent says. "In terms of incarceration rates, they've never been higher. So the record's mixed. There's some successes to point to but there's some failures as well."

Vincent says African Americans continue to feel discrimination in employment as well.

" I see people not reaching out to qualified people of color, African Americans all the time," he says. "It's not that we're not out there. We're here. We're just never given the opportunity and access in terms of employment opportunities that exist. And I think we need to understand that. If you look around and don't see qualified people of color in positions it's because no one's asking them to apply."

Rhode Island, says Vincent, is behind other states in putting African Americans in positions of leadership. With a few exceptions, he says, newly installed Governor Lincoln Chafee is getting off to a slow start.

"I applaud him for reappointing Keith Stokes as director of EDC," Vincent says. "I applaud him for appointing Sandra Powell director of Human Services. And I applaud him for the two people in his office but what I would like to say is there is so much more that he can do in terms of hiring people of color, especially African Americans. I mean there is so much more opportunity that our community's looking for."

If there is one thought Vincent would like to leave with Rhode Islanders it is this:

"I just want people to understand that equal opportunity is not a bad word. And affirmative action means outreach. Giving people opportunity, access. We're all a stronger and better team when we have the best people on the field. When we include everyone we're better. In every case."

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