The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

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The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Henderson Links Discriminatory Practices at NFHA Conference

Feature Story by Civilrights.org staff - 7/15/2003

Housing discrimination is just one part of a greater system of inequalities, Wade Henderson told participants in the National Fair Housing Alliance's 15th Annual Conference last week . Henderson, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights' executive director, was the conference's keynote speaker.

The conference celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. The act, as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. Citing NFHA's 2003 Fair Housing Trends Report, Henderson told the audience that the federal government is not equipped to deal with the 25,000 plus housing complaints. "We have to make enforcement of fair housing more of a national priority."

Emphasizing the bigger picture, Henderson used the opportunity to link housing discrimination to discrimination in public education. "Without ending housing discrimination, there is no way to move to places where quality education is the standard." Citing the findings of Congressman Chaka Fattah's Student's Bill of Rights (HR 236), Henderson said, "A significant educational opportunity gap exists within states for low-income, urban, rural, and minority students. Closing that gap is critical to the U.S. political system, economy, and national defense."

Even though the Supreme Court upheld the use of affirmative action in Grutter vs. Bollinger, Justice O'Connor wrote in her majority opinion that affirmative action will not be necessary in 25 years, on the assumption that racial discrimination will be a thing of the past. Henderson fears that this arbitrary deadline will be used to undermine future progressive policies. While the Court supports diversity as a compelling national interest, there was no talk about what Henderson called "the shameless education system in Michigan." "The courts," he asserted, "can't have it both ways."

2004 marks the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education. Henderson urged the audience to use this anniversary as a teaching moment to see that public education and housing are linked and to find creative solutions that address funding inadequacies in order to equalize resources. He concluded that making linkages across various forms of discriminatory practices "will allow for the victories of the future."