Since the dawn of their freedom a century ago, Negro Americans have been advised to “cast down your bucket where you are.”

But those who offered this advice too often did not bother to look at whether its recipient was standing by a river of opportunity—or in the midst of a desert from which his bucket could bring back only the sand of poverty and ignorance and want…

Clearly, the most important problem in Harlem is education of every kind. Fathers must learn job skills, and mothers how to buy food economically; students must learn to read, and little children how to speak; and teachers must learn how to teach and employers how to hire.

But our educational efforts have thus far not been sufficient…

Fundamentally, better schools do not automatically produce better or more dedicated students. For perhaps the greatest barrier to education in Harlem is simply a lack of hope, a lack of belief that education is meaningful to a Negro in the city of New York.

The proof can be found in one fact: that the most important factor in the dropout rate is not principally the state of the student’s family. Nor his earlier schooling, nor whether he attended preschool classes or had a guidance counselor. The main determinant of the dropout rate is the opportunity for employment in the area.

This, after all, should be no surprise. Children whose fathers are without work for months or years on end are not likely to learn the value of work in the school or elsewhere. High school seniors who see last year’s graduates standing on street corners, or working part-time in menial jobs, are not likely to be impressed with the value of the last year’s schooling.

And the effects of the shortage of meaningful employment are enforced by a welfare structure which is frequently destructive both of individuals and of the community in which they live…

So if we are to break out of this cycle—if our educational programs are to work-we must move immediately to provide jobs for all those willing and able to work…Arguments over whether unemployment can best be improved by job training or general prosperity become meaningless. Neither has been adequate. Something more is needed.

At this point let us make clear what that something more is not.

It is not a massive extension of welfare services or a new profusion of guidance counselors and psychiatrists, whether on a block, neighborhood, or other basis…

I turn now, therefore, to a more realistic program for jobs—a program for all our Harlems—a Program for the United States.

Action.

Let us, as a beginning, stop thinking of the people of Harlem—the unemployed, the dropouts, those on welfare, and those who work for less than the minimum wage-as liabilities, idle hands for whom some sort of occupation must be found. Let us think of them instead as a valuable resource, as people whose work can make a significant contribution to themselves, their families, and the nation.

Now ask if there are jobs to be done. In fact, the inventory is almost infinite: parks and playgrounds to be built, the beaches to be renovated, the subways to be refurbished. If we begin—as the president said we will—to meet the pressing needs, there will be jobs enough for all our people.

Let us, as a beginning, stop thinking of the people of Harlem—the unemployed, the dropouts, those on welfare, and those who work for less than the minimum wage-as liabilities, idle hands for whom some sort of occupation must be found.

But let us not make the mistake of regarding these just as jobs; and let us not erect buildings for their own sake. In any program of building now begun, therefore, I urge the following:

First: Priority in employment on these projects should go to residents of the areas in which they are undertaken.

For this is man’s work—work which is dignified, which is hard and exacting, which is at the same time rewarding to the man who does it and rewarding to the community around him. Much of it is work which can be done by unskilled workers, who now have the most difficult time finding jobs; but in such a program, there would be jobs of all kinds, including those requiring administrative and managerial skills…

Second: Public and private training programs should concentrate their funds and their efforts in on-the-job training on these projects…

Third: Our conventional educational system should be directly integrated with the rebuilding effort…

Any high school student who so desired—whether for financial or other reasons—could be allowed to leave school to work on such a project. The schools would maintain jurisdiction over these students; and they would, as a condition of employment, be required to continue schooling at least part-time until the requirements for graduation were met…

Fourth: The rebuilding should be consciously directed at the creation of communities: the buildings of neighborhoods in which residents can take pride, neighborhoods in which they have a stake, neighborhoods in which physical surroundings help the residents to create the functioning community which must be our goal. We should, for example, make provision for condominium ownership of low-income apartments. At another level, we should engage in as much rehabilitation as possible, saving all of the old that is economical and sound. We should build in stores and workshops and play space. And the planning of the neighborhoods should, from the outset, involve the people of the areas affected.

Fifth: Present social service programs, particularly welfare, should be integrated with the rebuilding effort…

Sixth: Using the building program as a base, occupational opportunities and training should be opened up in all related ways. As building takes place, for example,some should learn and then operate building-supplies businesses; small furniture-manufacturing establishments; or restaurants in which the workers can eat…

Seventh: An essential component of any program for regeneration of the ghetto will be the active participation of the business community in every aspect of the program, in a partnership of shared costs and effort with government…

Eighth: Equally essential is the full participation of private groups, especially of labor unions and of universities…

What is called for, in short, is a total effort at regeneration: an effort to mobilize the skills and resources of the entire society, including above all the latent skills and resources of the people of the ghetto themselves, in the solution of our urban dilemma.

This is a lengthy list, yet even so it is not complete…

Finally, if our plans are to be serious, not merely an exercise in planning, there is the question of cost. I do not believe that cost to be prohibitive; much is already available under existing programs…

This is not to say that all the cost can be met out of the present budget; it cannot. But a start can be made, in some of our great cities—a start which will teach us the techniques of such a massive effort…

And the costs of this program will be to a substantial degree offset by lower welfare costs…

But the greatest returns of the program I have outlined would be returns in human spirit: in lessened dependency, in lower delinquency and crime, in more beautiful cities, and children stronger and healthier in every way; and these returns are beyond our capacity to measure…

None of this can happen unless you will it to happen, and unless you can and do make the hard and sometimes unpopular decisions which come with responsibility.

It is easy and popular, for example, to attribute our housing problems to the greed of landlords and the indifference of the city, and to seek ever more drastic penalties for failure to make needed repairs, or even more drastic protests against incomplete enforcement.

Certainly there are many landlords who have profited shamelessly from the people of Harlem.

But to seek the solution for our housing problems in ever more rigorous code enforcement is irrelevant. For after a generation of trying, it should be clear to all that we simply do not have the legal and administrative resources to chase every landlord in Harlem through the courts and boards whenever the heat fails or a window is broken.

What is needed is to put these buildings in the hands of the people who do want to keep them up. But we have not done what we could toward this end…

So it is you—leaders of the Negro American community—who know what must be done better than white Americans can ever know—you must take the lead; you must take the first steps, using what is available, and showing what is needed but not available…

The dream of liberty and equality set out in our Constitution 190 years ago [was] never completely fulfilled, yet [is] always alive, still asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. To work to bring it closer to fruition is the highest task in which we can engage.