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George Curry

Is Obama Trying to Kill Black Colleges? (Part II)

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(NNPA) Few things irk me more than hearing someone say or imply that now that we have a Black president, perhaps the time has come to abolish Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). I have zero tolerance for such ignorance.

HBCUs are being held to a different standard than other universities that target certain communities. Because Jews and Catholics were refused admission or subjected to quotas at major universities, they established their own institutions. That’s why we have the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., the College of the Holly Cross in Worcester, Mass. and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. for Catholics.

Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. says on its website that it was “founded in 1948 by members of the American Jewish community.” Like HBCUS, these schools did not restrict enrollment to Catholics or Jews. HBCUs have always welcomed White students and faculty members on campus. The belief that we should pay our respect, have a proper funeral and send our Black colleges off to a graveyard for relics simply because Barack Obama is president is preposterous. In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected president amid questions of whether America was ready to elect its first Catholic president.

JFK won but no one declared that it ushered in an era of post-religious bigotry. No one said, “Now that we have elected a Catholic as president, Notre Dame and Holly Cross have outlived their usefulness.” If universities established because of religious bigotry have not outlived their usefulness, why should HBCUs be put out to pasture?

There are 106 accredited HBCUs, 47 of them public. According the White House Initiative on HBCUs, Black colleges award more than 35,000 degrees each year. In Mississippi, HBCUs handed out 37 percent of the degrees awarded to African Americans in the state, followed by Louisiana (36 percent), North Carolina (34 percent), Arkansas (31 percent), Maryland (25 percent) Alabama and South Carolina (23 percent each), Tennessee (19 percent), Georgia (18 percent), Texas (13 percent) and Florida (9 percent).

As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a speech last September, “Too many Americans are unfamiliar with the staggering accomplishments of HBCUs. Most of America’s civil rights giants were educated at HBCUs – Dr. King, W.E.B. DuBois, Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, and Thurgood Marshall. “In our time, Jesse Jackson, Andy Young, Barbara Jordan, Congressman John Lewis, Marian Wright Edelman, and Doug Wilder all earned their degrees at HBCUs. Legendary artists and authors came out of HBCUs – Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison.

“Yet what is most impressive about the HBCU record is not just your famous alumni. It is that HBCUs, working with meager resources, almost single-handedly created an African-American professional class in the face of decades of Jim Crow discrimination.”

Duncan continued, “Even, more than a half-century after the demise of Jim Crow laws, HBCUs continue to have an outsized impact in educating Black professionals. We have over 7,000 institutions of higher education across the country, 106 of which are HBCUs. But in 2010, HBCUs still awarded a sixth of all bachelor degrees and professional degrees earned by African Americans in the U.S.”

At a time, when its projected that we won’t have enough college graduates to meet our future needs, it would be foolhardy to diminish a pool of institutions that have proven their value over the years.

While the Obama administration is saying the right things, HBCUs are approaching death by a thousand cuts.

Pell grants were reduced by Congress in 2011, making students eligible for 12 semesters instead of 18. That will hurt Black students who, on average, take longer to complete their undergraduate education.

Without consulting HBCUs, the Obama administration made changes in the Parent PLUS loans three years ago that made it more difficult for parents with less than stellar credit to obtain a loan. By some estimates, that change, which has since been modified, caused up to 20 percent drop in enrollment at HBCUs.

And now the proposal for the federal government to pay for the first two years of community college, a move that is certain to harm HBCUs. It would have been better to offer to pick up the tab for the first two years at any public university.

Some Black college presidents are reluctant to criticize the proposal publicly for fear of falling in disfavor with the White House. The head of some higher ed organization are carefully picking their words because they represent community colleges as well as HBCUs. And some people are hiding behind the time-worn excuse, “the devil is in the details.” In this case, the community college proposal represents the devil for the continued existence of HBCUs. And because we have our first Black president or have other conflict of interests, not too many people have the temerity to say it.

As one educator told me privately, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. must be rolling over in his grave.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Is Obama Trying to Kill Black Colleges?

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(NNPA) Is Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, trying to kill Historically Black Colleges and Universities?

If he’s not, he’s going to have a difficult time convincing HBCU presidents, trustees and alumni. Surprisingly, Obama has become their worst nightmare.

Neither Obama, the First Lady, the Secretary of Education or the president’s closest advisers attended an HBCU and, consequently, are tone death in recognizing what is broadly viewed as sound policy can inadvertently harm our nation’s HBCUs.

President Obama’s proposal that the federal government pick up the tab for a worthy student’s first two years of community college is a case in point. Without a doubt, a move toward free, universal higher education is an excellent decision.

But if the president had consulted the major organizations representing HBCUs, he would have heard suggestions on how to tweak his proposal so that it would not needlessly harm Black colleges, which it is certain to do.

The amended Higher Education Act of 1965 defines an HBCU as: “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.”

HBCUs enroll only 3 percent of college students yet are responsible for nearly 20 percent of all bachelor degrees awarded to African Americans. In some fields, the figures are significantly higher.

President Obama noted, “America thrived in the 20th century in large part because we had the most educated workforce in the world. But other nations have matched or exceeded the secret to our success.” And the U.S. can’t afford to lose the valuable contributions of HBCUs.

HBCUs compete directly with community colleges. Both enroll students who may need some additional tutoring or training before they are college ready. More importantly, students who enroll in community colleges and HBCUs are in dire need of financial assistance. If you make the first two years of college free to community college students – and not to HBCUs – you don’t have to be a rocket or social scientist to see that Black colleges will come out the losers.

And the bleeding doesn’t stop there.

If and when community college students decide to continue their education, they may be more inclined to transfer to a state-supported public university, where costs are cheaper than those of a private or public HBCU. In many instances, that state-supported university might accept all of the student’s credits whereas the Black institution might accept some of them.

Public HBCUs are likely to suffer under this scenario as well. If a Black student has attended a community college in Alabama, for example, he or she may be more prone to enroll in the University of Alabama or Auburn than they would if they had initially enrolled in Alabama A&M University or Alabama State. And given the costs, those students might totally bypass Tuskegee University, Talladega College or Stillman College, all private institutions.

Colleges such as Spelman and Morehouse, though harmed, can probably sustain the drop in enrollment. But without any adjustments, it could be the death knell for many others, including Miles College, Tougaloo, Paine and my alma mater, Knoxville College, which already has a foot in the grave.

With Republicans now in control of the House and Senate, it would have been far wiser for Obama to huddle with Republicans – whose presidents have been strong supporters of HBCUs over the years – to come up with a proposal that both sides could support. Going it alone, especially in this environment, virtually guarantees that the America’s College Promise program will go nowhere.

What should be done?

As one educator told me, it would have been better if Obama had said the federal government would pick up the first two years at a two- or four-year college. That would be better for most HBCUs. Because public tax dollars probably would not be designated for private colleges, the private and religious-affiliated institutions would still be in a bind.

As for the Republican majority accustomed to saying “no” to everything when they were out of power, education would be a good thing to say “yes” to. And correcting the blunders made by the White House may even help in reaching out to a broader political base, a goal the GOP claims it wants to achieve.

In the meantime, this new community college proposal, coming on the heels of the administration dropping the ball on Parent PLUS student loans that caused some HBCUs to lose as much as 20 percent of their student body and a proposed federal rating system that could also disadvantage some HCBUs, has some of Obama’s ardent supporters wondering if this is part of a plan to kill Black colleges. If it’s not, it may have the same sad effect.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Ed Brooke Doesn't Get his Due

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(NNPA) Sandwiched between the deaths of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and popular ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott, the passing of former Massachusetts Senator Edward W. Brooke III at the age of 95 did not get nearly the attention it deserved.

Though two African Americans were elected to the U.S. Senate during the Reconstruction Era by the Mississippi legislature – Hiram R. Revels and Blanche K. Bruce, both Republicans – Brooke was the first Black elected to the upper chamber by popular vote, beginning his term in 1967. What made his election remarkable at the time was that a Black Republican Episcopalian could be elected statewide in Massachusetts, a predominantly Democratic and Catholic state with a Black population of less than 3 percent. It would be another 25 years before another African American – Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois – would win a U.S. Senate seat (1992).

Prior to his election to the Senate, Brooke served two terms as attorney general of Massachusetts. When he came to Washington, he declined to join the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and told Time magazine: “I do not intend to be a national leader of the Negro people. I intend to do my job as a senator from Massachusetts.”

While doing his job, Brooke showed that – as did several Black Republicans who would later follow him in public service, including Assistant Secretary of Labor Arthur Fletcher in the Nixon administration and William T. Coleman, Jr., Secretary of Transportation under Gerald Ford – he could be a Black Republican without selling out his principles or abandoning the fight for civil rights.

When Barry Goldwater won the party’s 1964 presidential nomination, for example, Brooke, the state attorney general, refused to be photographed with Goldwater or endorse the Arizona ultraconservative.

In the 1966 book titled, The Challenge of Change: Crisis in Our Two-Party System, he asked, rhetorically: “Where are our plans for a New Deal or a Great Society?”

Though fellow Republican Richard Nixon was in the White House, Brooke opposed Nixon’s attempts to abolish the Office of Economic Opportunity and the Job Corps and weaken the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

And when Nixon nominated Clement Haynsworth and Harrold Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court, Brooke was part of a bipartisan coalition that blocked the appointment of the two nominees who were considered hostile to civil rights.

On Nov. 4, 1973, Brooke became the first Republican to call for Richard Nixon’s resignation after the famous “Saturday night massacre” that took place when Nixon ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox after Cox issued a subpoena for copies of Nixon’s taped conversations recorded in the Oval Office.

Brooke assumed an offensive posture as well, particularly on housing issues. He co-sponsored the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion or ethnicity. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson a week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He continued to work on strengthening the law and in 1969, Congress passed the “Brooke Amendment” limiting public housing tenants’ out-of-pocket rent expenditure to 25 percent of the resident’s income, a percentage that has since increased to 30 percent.

With the Voting Rights Act up for renewal in 1975, Brooke engaged in an “extended debate” with John Stennis (R-Miss.) on the Senate floor that resulted in the landmark measure being extended and expanded. He was also part of the team of legislators who retained Title IX that guarantees equal education to females and the Equal Credit Act, a measure that gave married women the right to have credit in their own name.

In 1967, Brooke served on the 11-member President’s Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, which was established by President Johnson to investigate the causes of the 1967 race riots and to provide recommendations for the future.

At various points during his career, Brooke was at odds with civil rights leaders and liberals. As attorney general, he opposed the NAACP’s call for a boycott of Boston’s public schools to protest the city’s de facto segregation, saying the law required students to stay in school. In the Senate, he opposed a program to recruit teachers to work in disadvantaged communities and opposed amending Senate rules to make filibusters against civil rights legislation easier to terminate.

Brooke also faced personal health challenges, including being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. He underwent a double mastectomy and was declared cancer free. Brooke spoke publicly about the illness, which strikes about 1,500 men each year, a disproportionate number of them Black.
In his 2006 autobiography, Bridging The Divide: My Life (Rutgers University Press), Brooke said, “My fervent expectation is that sooner rather than later, the United States Senate will more closely reflect the rich diversity of this great country.”

Throughout his life, Brooke did that exceptionally well.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook

2014: Unfair and Unbalanced Media

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Fox News, which mislabels itself as “fair and balanced,” was anything but in 2014, according to MediaMatters.org, the independent media watchdog group. The way that the right-wing network covered the deaths of police officers in 2014 is a case in point.

“The politicization surrounding the killing of two New York Police Department officers over the weekend was amazingly swift. Fox News led the right-wing media charge, immediately claiming Democratic elected officials were somehow responsible for the gun rampage… ,” the MediaMatters analysis observed.

“On Fox, hosts and guests were sure who was to blame for the tragedy; not the gunman necessarily, but political and community leaders like President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Mayor Bill de Blasio and MSNBC’s Al Sharpton. Why? Because the men, to varying degrees, have spoken out about the troubled relationship between law enforcement and the black community, and raised concerns about two recent high-profile cases, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, in which unarmed black men were killed, and police officers responsible were not indicted.”

The watchdog group continued, “…former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik told Fox News, ‘I personally feel that Mayor de Blasio, Sharpton and others like them, they actually have blood on their hands.’

“’Let’s talk about the president as well,’” responded Fox’s Jeanine Pirro, suggesting Obama and Mayor de Blasio were to blame. “’The two of them have undoubtedly created racial tensions that worsens, not betters the situation for law enforcement.’”

“Appearing on Fox News, former New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani insisted the message from recent Obama ‘propaganda’ was that ‘everybody should hate the cops.’ (No such Obama ‘propaganda’ actually exists.)”

MediaMatters noted, “Yet in stark contrast, as Media Matters has documented, Fox News has routinely paid very little attention to breaking news stories that feature right-wing, or anti-government, gunmen who target law enforcement officials as a way to deliver their warped political messages.

“And critically, when they have touched on those deadly attacks, Fox talkers have stressed that it’s not fair to blame politics. Note that in 2013, after racist skinhead Michael Page started killing worshipers at an Oak Creek, WI., Sikh temple, and then murdered a police officer, Fox’s Andrea Tantaros stressed that the killing spree was an isolated event that didn’t have any larger implications. ‘How do you stop a lunatic?’ she asked. ‘This is not a political issue.’

“At Fox, that has been the pattern: These kind of deadly right-wing attacks are treated as isolated incidents that are mostly void of politics. Instead, the perpetrators are portrayed as lone gunmen (and women) who do not represent any cultural or political movement.”

To buttress its assertion, MediaMatters stated:

“On a September night this year, 31-year-old marksman Eric Frein was allegedly laying in wait outside the Blooming Grove police barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania, preparing to assassinate state troopers. That night, state police officer Bryon Dickson was shot and killed as he walked towards his patrol car.

“…In the two weeks after the shooting, as a massive manhunt unfolded in the mountains of Pennsylvania, Fox programs mentioned Frein’s name in just six reports, according to Nexis transcripts. One of the reports mentioned Frein’s hatred of law enforcement, but none mentioned Frein’s vocal anti-government leanings.

“When Frein was finally captured in late October, Fox News covered the stories a handful of times. Again, there was no emphasis on his possible anti-government motivations and why the “survivalist” set out to assassinate law enforcement officers.

“Another police assassination attack unfolded in June. Claiming to be acting under the bloody ‘banner of Liberty and Truth,’ Jerad Miller and his wife Amanda entered a restaurant Las Vegas executed two local policemen while they ate lunch.

“…Fox News primetime hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity both ignored the shocking cop-killer story the night after it happened; Megyn Kelly devoted four sentences to it.

Fox has plenty of company on the right.

According to MediaMatters, the “Worst 2014 Smears From Right-Wing Websites” included:

The Daily Caller suggested that Obama’s statement expressing his condolences to the parents of Michael Brown was calculated to boost Black turnout in the midterm elections.” [Media Matters, 8/12/14]

In November 2014, Breitbart.com criticized the media for not mentioning that President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, “was one of the Clintons’ Whitewater defense attorneys.” But Breitbart.com targeted the wrong Loretta Lynch – the woman they named, a defense attorney for the Clintons, is a California based attorney who has worked on several prominent political campaigns, and is White. The nominee Loretta Lynch became a federal prosecutor in 1990, two years before the other Lynch participated in the Whitewater investigation, was appointed by President Clinton as a U.S. Attorney in 1999, and is Black.” [Media Matters, 11/9/14]

Yes, Black lives matter. And so does the truth.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Police Shooting Victims Lives 'Worth' Less than a Ham Sandwich

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(NNPA) In Tom Wolfe’s best-selling The Bonfire of the Vanities, New York State Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously said “a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich, if that’s what you wanted.”

Given the recent failure of grand juries to indict Darren Wilson, a White police officer in Ferguson, Mo., for killing Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American, and a similar course followed by a New York City grand jury in connection with the choke-hold death of Eric Gardner in Staten Island, the criminal injustice system has essentially said Black lives are worth less than the value of a ham sandwich.

At issue is a grand jury system in the United States that even Arnold Burns, deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, called a “foolish anachronism.”

Essentially, it is a one-sided proceeding controlled by prosecutors that delivers indictments 99 percent of the time – unless an unarmed Black person is killed by a White police officer, as was the case in Ferguson and New York City.

Unlike a trial, grand jury proceedings are secret. Attorneys for the victims are not allowed to attend. Witnesses are not cross-examined to gauge their veracity. Even evidence that might cast doubt on a person’s innocence is not required to be placed before the grand jury.

The United States is one of the few nations that still use the grand jury system, which is rooted in British colonial law. But Britain discontinued the use of grand juries more than 80 years ago. Traditionally, the grand jury system has been used by the federal government and some states in capital murder cases or major felonies.

In addition to protection against self-incrimination, the Fifth Amendment states, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger…”

For prosecutors, the grand jury serves as a rubber stamp.

According to the Legal Times, “Justice Department statistics recently obtained by Legal Times, which reveal that 99.9 percent of the defendants called before federal grand juries are indicted, buttress the belief –  and concern – that prosecutors today almost always get what they want from a system originally set up to protect citizens from governmental overreaching.”

It also found, “From fiscal years 1994 through 1998, federal prosecutors secured 122,879 indictments, according to DOJ records. During the same period, prosecutors failed to get indictments in only 83 cases.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled though a grand jury is the sole charging instrument for the federal government in serious cases, defined as imprisonment of more than a year, that requirement does not apply to states. In Hurado v. California, a case decided in 1884, the court ruled that states are not constitutionally obliged to use a grand jury to charge a person in a crime.

Consequently, only 19 states require that all felonies be prosecuted through grand jury indictments, 23 reserve it for capital offenses and 30 make it optional, according to a study by Gerald D. Robin, a professor emeritus at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

Just as Britain did, it is time to abolish the grand jury system. At the state level, we have demonstrated that’s not the only way to initiate criminal charges. This should be an ideal issue around which liberals concerned about civil liberties and conservatives concerned about an overreaching federal government should be able to coalesce around. The procedure is fundamentally flawed.

Short of total abolishment, there should be major changes made to the way grand juries operate.

In 1997, California Gov. Pete Wilson, a conservative, signed into law a bill requiring prosecutors to inform grand juries of any evidence that could be considered exculpatory or likely to prove the innocence of the accused. Several states have allowed a witness’ lawyer to accompany a client into grand jury proceedings and provide counsel before a witness answers a question.

Reforming the grand jury system will have a greater influence on developing a fair criminal justice system than requiring police officers to wear body cameras. Because if those serving as grand jurors refuse to believe their eyes, as they did in the case of Eric Gardner, all the body cameras in the world won’t help.

And the problem may be worse than we think.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that hundreds of police killings went unreported from 2007 and 2012.. It said, “A Wall Street Journal analysis of the latest data from 105 of the country’s largest police agencies found more than 550 police killings during those years were missing from the national tally or, in a few dozen cases, not attributed to the agency involved. As a result: It is nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police each year.”

Reforming the grand jury system will make it easier to prosecute cops who kill unarmed people who pose no threat to their safety.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

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