Ken Kerle: Respect for all should be core value

Ken Kerle
Special to Gannett Kansas
Ken Kerle is the former managing editor of the American Jail Association from 1987-2009. A former Topeka resident, he lives in Hagerstown, Maryland.

My first wife (deceased in 2003) and I left Topeka in September 1952.

We had both graduated from Washburn University and I had a scholarship to American University located in Washington, D.C. At that time, people who lived in Washington, D.C. were not permitted to vote (there was no elected mayor and city council) and new arrivals like us kept our Kansas citizenship to remain voters.

In 1961, insufficient finance compelled me to seek a job. I secured a position on the faculty of Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.

Illinois required the newcomers who wished to participate in elections to register as voters. My wife and I did this and registered and gave up our Kansas voting connection.

I returned to Washington, D.C., to complete the work on my doctoral dissertation (Title: “The League of Kansas Municipalities”), which required another three years. By this time, residents of Washington, D.C. had gained voting rights. African-Americans comprised the majority population in the nation’s capital back in 1967.

The D.C. school system left a lot to desired and so many parents left D.C. for residence in Maryland and Virginia. Our neighborhood, close to the Rock Creek Park Zoo, acquired the nickname El Salvador, D.C. I lived in this neighborhood for 53 years.

Historically, much had changed in this country. Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954. President Johnson Economic Opportunity Act passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965. This legislation was an effort to empower African-Americans and other minority groups.

The blockbuster event proved to be the election of the first black president in American history, Barack Obama.

My assessment of American progress is mixed. On the one hand, the country has experienced economic growth and progress. On the other hand, African-Americans, and Hispanic minorities do not enjoy the same opportunities in the job market, in education and in treatment from the criminal justice systems in majority of the 50 states.

My personal visits to 828 jails in 48 states over 16 years convinced me that much more needs to be done to keep minorities out of the American criminal justice system. Teaching college courses to inmates in three Maryland prisons, of which 50% were African-American, convinced me that these programs have value for the imprisoned students and are a benefit to the taxpaying public.

My second wife (also a Washburn graduate), and I agree that tolerance and respect for our fellow beings, regardless of race or ethnicity, should be taught in our school systems and re-emphasized by organizations of all kinds who believe that this country is committed to American democracy for all.

Ken Kerle is the former managing editor of the American Jail Association from 1987-2009. He lives in Topeka.