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Why I’m Joining StudentsFirst

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By Jovan Agee

As a parent and proud Californian, I am passionate about education. There are few causes more righteous than ensuring that all students are acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in life.

That’s why I am proud to be joining StudentsFirst California as the organization’s State Director, beginning this week.

It’s no secret that education policy discussions are often polarized—and it’s not surprising, given how much is at stake. But amidst the conflict and the name-calling, we should not forget the fundamental belief upon which we all agree: California needs an education system that serves all kids—no matter the color of their skin, where they live, or how much money they have.

If we can have honest conversations about where we have fallen short, I believe we can work together to implement reforms that can make a real difference for kids.

I’ve experienced firsthand how providing a proper education for your kids isn’t as simple as it seems. My wife and I spent years struggling to find the right school for my youngest son. He has bounced between a traditional public school, a private school, and a charter school; it was so difficult to find the right fit.

My wife and I are well-educated and involved parents, and we still had trouble. It’s scary to think about what would have happened if we didn’t have the time or information to make those crucial decisions about my son’s education.

It shouldn’t be that difficult to find a learning environment for a child where he or she can excel. Yet here in California, 65 percent of black third graders – kids who are already a fourth of the way through their public school career – can’t read at grade level. By the time these students are juniors in high school, only 32 percent of them will be proficient or above in English-Language Arts. The dropout rate among African American students is 22 percent; that means that, in a first-grade classroom of 32 black children, seven of them won’t walk across the stage come graduation day.

That’s simply unacceptable. And we have to work together to help fix that.

Some people may find it strange that I am working for StudentsFirst, given my professional background. I have spent the last decade working for the United Domestic Workers/American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 3930—a prominent union that is part of the AFL-CIO. Since some of StudentsFirst’s detractors claim that we are anti-union, it may appear that I have “switched sides.”

I don’t see it that way. As State Director, I will make efforts to work with teachers’ unions, associations representing administrators and school boards. But to be clear: I firmly believe that, at times, what is best for the student may conflict with what ultimately is best for these organizations.

The problem is that we rarely have conversations about what that means for our kids. Especially in education, we frequently resort to oversimplification and name-calling. Instead of talking seriously about how to ensure that our system serves all students, the rhetoric turns to personal attacks and useless competitions. Charter schools versus traditional public schools. Reformers versus unions.

When organizations have to focus on defending themselves against spurious accusations and correcting misinformation, there is little time to have the conversations that truly matter. And our students are paying the price.

I look forward to working with Californians across the state to build the education system our students deserve. Before we do that, we need to promise to take a step back, honestly assess where we are falling short, and pledge that we will work together to take action.

Who’s with me?

New Football Season, Same Offensive Names

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I cannot let a football season open without raising the question of the names of sports teams generally and the Washington “Redskins” in particular. I continue to be absolutely amazed at the resistance on the part of team owners to changing the names of these teams, but also the tolerance by so many fans of these racist names.

I have to pick on the Washington Redskins both because I was once a fan of the team and also because I live in the D.C.-area and have watched this situation close-up. As I raised in a column a few months ago, a poll was released this spring that indicated that most fans wanted to leave the name of the team as it is, despite the fact that it insults Native Americans. For some this was seen as the end of the discussion because it appeared to vindicate the position taken by the team’s owners.

Let’s flip the script for a moment and consider the problem from a different vantage point. It would be worth looking at polls that were taken in the South during the early 1960s to ascertain the level of White support for the continuation of Jim Crow segregation. The mere fact that a majority of people favor or do not favor something does not automatically settle an argument. Rather, it serves as a barometer, telling us about where people stand today but it does not necessarily tell us anything about the morally correct position.

It is unclear why it needs repeating—especially to African Americans—that the preponderance of opinion among Native American indicates that terms, such as “redskins,” are racially offensive. This is not about intent any more than a White person calling one of us a “nigger” should be judged based on intent. The word is so patently offensive that, used by someone of another racial or ethnic group against us, it serves as an act of aggression. Someone can stand before us and tell us that they love us, but were they to name a team the “Kansas City Niggers,” there would not be enough love and sincerity in the world to override our objections.

So, why is it any different for Native Americans? Why do we have to keep going through this silly argument when the morally correct position is clear? Why should it matter whether the team will need to create a new image? That should not concern us any more than we would have been concerned about the work involved in removing “Negro Only” or “White Only” signs from public institutions 40 years ago. It is what needed to be done 40 years ago and it is, today, about what must be done.

Send a note to the Washington Redskins owners. Ask them about the last time that they permitted someone to use terms like “nigger” in the offices of the Washington Redskins. If such terms are objectionable, why do they think that “redskins” is any different?

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Economic Mobility Linked to Strong Middle Class Communities

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(NNPA) Since the onset of the foreclosure crisis, research reports from esteemed universities and policy institutes have documented what went wrong. A new report offers us a different perspective, one that views the creation of a strong middle class as the solution for strong economic growth.

Middle-Out Mobility, published by the Center for American Progress (CAP), relates how high inequality harms the growth of prosperity. It reaches these conclusions after analyzing recent research by Alan Krueger, former chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers; Stanford University, Harvard University, the University of California-Berkeley, the Pew Economic Mobility Project and others.

“Economic growth depends on ensuring that we can make full use of a precious national resource: the American workforce. That means we must cultivate individuals’ talents and make sure that every person can realize their full potential. This is not merely a moral matter, it is an economic imperative: When one person is held back, all Americans are held back,” the report states.

The report also reviewed whether race was a factor in limiting the relationship between the middle class and mobility. Their findings suggest that racial inequities, both social and economic, still persist. Regions with large African-American populations were found to be linked to smaller increases in mobility than in other areas.

“The size of the middle class is a powerful predictor of mobility, yet its reach is limited by our nation’s troubling legacy of racial inequity.”

The report also states that while 97 percent of Americans believe that every person should have an equal opportunity to get ahead in life, children born to low-income parents tend to become lower-income adults. Metro areas with small or few middle class communities also tend to have higher amounts of poverty. Conversely, children of affluent parents tend to remain affluent.

But in metro areas with a strong middle class, better access to quality schools leads to improved test scores, more civic and religious engagement and the enhanced ability for greater mobility among low-income students.

Noting how tremendous economic growth was shared by an expanding middle class from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, CAP identifies another important gap: incomes. While American productivity continued to grow, wages did not. As a result, nearly all of the income gains from the last 40 years have benefitted the nation’s richest 10 percent.

This mismatch of high productivity against stagnant wages is at the center of America’s hopes for future prosperity, according to the report. It is also the basis for the CAP report to refute “supply-side” or “trickle-down” economic theories that promote giving tax cuts to the wealthy as the way to generate economic prosperity and opportunity for all.

“If supply-side theory were right, then we should expect regions with higher taxes to have lower economic mobility. But there is simply no evidence of any such relationship; to the contrary, there is a small positive correlation. In regions with higher state income tax levels, low-income children were slightly more mobile than in regions with lower state tax levels.”

The report concluded, “Giving tax breaks and other benefits to the wealthy will only perpetuate the current era of diminished mobility; to reignite opportunity, policymakers must grow and strengthen a vibrant middle class.”

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Getting Ready for the Third Reconstruction

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(NNPA) On August 27, 1963, the day before the historic March on Washington, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century passed away in his exile home of Ghana. Having been driven out of the U.S.A. through the endless harassment and hounding by the Us.S. government, DuBois, the noted scholar, activist and leading Pan Africanist, was provided a home in Ghana by its President, Kwame Nkrumah. Dubois’s death was mentioned to the marchers and there was a moment of silence, yet many of those in attendance, including many of the organizers of the March, had remained silent when DuBois was subject to the anti-communist persecution that he experienced, particularly from the late 1940s onward.

It is important to remember DuBois today not simply because he died on the eve of the great March on Washington, but because he was a prime mover in the reexamination of the post-Civil War period known as “Reconstruction.” Reconstruction was one of those rare moments in U.S. history where this country could have gone in a very different direction. The slaves had been liberated and, along with poor Whites in the South, had the chance to shatter the legacy of enslavement. Reconstruction was defeated, however, by an alliance of the Southern elite and Northern industrialists in the mid-1870s after the Southern elite accepted a subordinate role to that of the Northern capitalists.

In the 1960s, the U.S. experienced a “Second Reconstruction.” Through struggles of the Black Freedom Movement, along with other movements for social justice such as the women’s movement and the Chicano movement, democracy was expanded. Yet, the ruling elite of this country was only prepared for things to go but so far. Our victories were met with the so-called “White backlash,” especially by many angry men who did not want gender roles to change. We have been on the defensive ever since.

The 2013 commemoration of the March on Washington was actually our chance to announce that our sights should now be set on a Third Reconstruction. A Third Reconstruction is badly needed; it is a movement towards an expansion of democracy; a movement for ecological justice and survival; a movement for the democracticization of the economy; a movement for genuine racial justice and gender justice; a movement for a foreign policy that makes the U.S. a partner rather than a bully. Rather than looking backwards, we need to be paying attention to what it will take to get us to the Third Reconstruction. That may be one of the best ways to honor those who brought us the 1963 March on Washington, and to honor W.E.B. DuBois, all of who many on the political Right would rather that we forget.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom

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"Almost 50 years ago, I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us."

- Rep. John Lewis at the 50th anniversary March on Washington

(NNPA) Last weekend, tens of thousands of citizens from around the country converged at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and to dedicate themselves to a continuation of the fight for jobs, voting rights and a host of other challenges that are having a disproportionate impact on African Americans and other communities of color.

Just as 50 years ago, the National Urban League was on the front lines of last week’s march activities. I had the honor of addressing the multitude from the same location that Dr. King and Whitney Young did during the 1963 March. Approximately 5000 Urban Leaguers and friends marched with us to the Lincoln Memorial in a pre-march rally. We came in full force.

Our participation was shaped by our determination that the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as well as of Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech, would be both a commemoration and a continuation of the unfinished work of building our more perfect union. To that end, we convened a Redeem the Dream summit on Friday, bringing together civil rights legends and new generation leaders for spirited discussions of the work that lies ahead as we confront both the progression and regression of equal opportunity in 21st century America. We, along with a coalition of civil rights, social justice, business and community leaders – the African American Leaders Convening (AALC), also introduced our 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom joined.

While the agenda was developed during meetings in Washington in December 2012 and January 2013 with the help of the dozens of leaders that compose the AALC, the effort was led by the presidents of the National Urban League, the National Action Network, NAACP and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. This growing coalition has produced a domestic policy agenda that lays out five urgent domestic goals for the nation:

- Achieve Economic Parity for African Americans

- Promote Equity in Educational Opportunity

- Protect and Defend Voting Rights

- Promote a Healthier Nation by Eliminating Healthcare Disparities

- Achieve Comprehensive Criminal Justice System Reform

The civil rights and legislative successes that followed the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom laid the foundation for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and decades of progress. But, recently we have witnessed concerted efforts aimed at turning back the hands of progress in numerous areas from voting and civil rights to workers’ rights and criminal justice. In addition, high unemployment and other economic, social and legal disparities that continue to plague African Americans and low income and working class Americans underscore the urgency of our demand.

We cannot wave the flag of victory when so much work remains to be done. These injustices have, in fact, sparked the flame of a revitalized 21st Century Civil Rights Movement. The AALC will hold future meetings to discuss strategies and tactics in support of the agenda. We will also be calling on elected officials and candidates to commit their support for the agenda and to work for its implementation. Until we meaningfully confront these challenges, we jeopardize our ability and potential as a nation to fully live up to our ideals of liberty and justice for all.

To read the full text of our 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom visit: http://iamempowered.com/21st-century-agenda-for-jobs-and-freedom.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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