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Our First Experience with Reparations

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(NNPA) We have often discussed the need for reparations for the 400 years of slavery. The contexts of the discussions continue on as if we never had a chance with any form of reparations. I discovered back in the 1990’s that we indeed had a go with a form of reparations. The biggest problem was that we did not adequately exploit it nor pass it on to following generations.

My curiosity got going when I read up on the first Black congressionally elected officials. They were elected as part of the Reconstruction following the Civil War. One of these giants was Senator Blanche Bruce from Mississippi. People don’t talk much about these trailblazers as they were all Republicans – like that has a negative meaning. Senator Bruce during his short tenure ensured that all freed slaves became immediately eligible for the Homestead Act of 1862 which provided immense opportunity for land ownership and wealth building. In reading up on the Homestead Act, I found that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of the Department of Interior, kept good records on all activity relating to this program.

This program was a “game changer”. Any American citizen could identify government owned land, apply for a claim and then receive the property providing they would live on it and work it (usually farming). More than half the nation was applicable and it was meant to generate population and economic growth. This was applicable to freed Blacks also. I decided to probe deeper. Be careful of what you ask; you may get it. I contacted the BLM and asked for a formal briefing. They set up a meeting with me in Lorton, Virginia and gave me a great overview.

Then the Deputy Secretary asked if my people were from the South. I informed him that my people evolved from Bossier Parrish, Louisiana. They declared that someone in my family benefited from the Homestead Act. I challenged him on that. He asked, “Give me one of your grandfather’s name”. I stated “Thomas Harry Alford. He put the name into their very elaborate database and instantly it “hit”. “Thomas H. Alford received a land grant for 160 acres on March 20, 1916”. I was shocked and my first reaction was that my grandfather had 40 acres, not 160, or so we all thought.

I walked out of there with a photo copy of the deed and a whole different mindset on the history of my people. A trip to the courthouse in Bossier Parrish, LA was in order to verify all of this. I arrived at the Benton, LA courthouse ready to spend hours researching this “controversy”. Sure enough shortly after the date on the deed an entry was found, “Thomas H. and Fannie Alford awarded 160 acres from the US Government”. However, two lines later “Thomas H. and Fannie Alford transfer 120 acres to Mr. Roos”. In my shock I went to the clerk for an explanation.

She chuckled and then said, “It looks like Ol’ Man Roos got to your granddaddy”. She then went on to explain that what I had just detected was one act of some of the greatest land racketeering which prevailed throughout the South. She said, “Follow all activity by Roos and see how he legally connived land from Black folks”. You see my grandparents were illiterate like most Blacks down South. He, and others like him, would approach them and inform them that he could get them free land. Yes, he would make a claim and apply in their name for 160 acres at a time. When it was approved he would give them 40 acres and take 120 acres for himself.

This guy made a fortune doing this. He would even have a strategy of picking up these 120 acre clumps so that they would be contiguous and he, in the end, would have giant masses of land to develop and flip for big money. All this at the expense of my grandparents and many, many others who had a great opportunity before them but couldn’t get the right technical assistance or governmental follow through.

I showed my relatives the documentation and they became angry at me as if I let it happen (kill the messenger). This program lasted for decades and could have taken Blacks to another level of economic power and self-sufficiency. However, this great opportunity came before us and we just couldn’t pull it off.

A few Blacks were educated enough to take advantage of the program. They would become prominent land owners and community leaders. Also, they would become targets for those envious of their acumen and newly claimed power. Life would not be easy as someone was trying to take that land at every opportunity. Many would soon lose what they had earlier won.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

Black American Church Amazing Grace

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(NNPA) America is blessed by the presence of the effective and diverse ministries of the Black church. On February 18, 2012, millions of Americans, as well as millions of others throughout the world, were transfixed and glued to their television sets and laptops as they watched the dramatic yet graceful, transformative dignity of the Black church during the four hour live broadcast from the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey of the funeral celebration of the life and legacy of Whitney Elizabeth Houston. For many this was their first in-depth witnessing of how the Black church functions in the social and religious setting of American society. We all are very grateful to the Houston family for sharing that uplifting and inspirational experience with the rest of the world. In short, that was a global “teachable moment.”

Pastor Joe A. Carter of the 103 year-old New Hope Baptist Church and all of the participants in the service of worship are to be saluted for “having church” in the best and exquisite tradition of the African American church during the funeral ceremony. The prayers, the choir, the solos, the numerous testimonials and the eulogy by Pastor Marvin Winans were all full of the spirit, substance, and power of the tradition of invoking the redemptive service and gift of the unique ecclesiology of the Black church. Professors C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya in their book, The Black Church in the African American Experience, reminded us that the Black church was established as an institution expressly to deal both with the specific salvation theology and empowerment sociology for African Americans and others.

The Black church has not only been the historic backbone of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, this institution continues today to be the mainstay where the spirit and soul of Black America reverberates with the essence of what it means to overcome the snares, pains and difficult realities of Black life. But the Black church is also that place where the joys and passions of our long struggle for freedom, justice and equality are eloquently expressed and strategically organized. That is why today, many clergy leaders are joining together to help build Occupy the Dream as an interdenominational organizing and mobilization effort to address and respond to the issues of income inequality and economic injustice with particular respect to the African American community.

During the past few days, I have had to opportunity to further witness the diversity of the efficacy of the contemporary Black church. In Rahway, New Jersey at the Agape Family Worship Center, I heard the eloquent and dynamic sermon of Pastor Lawrence R. Powell and saw the enthusiastic response from the inspired congregation that goes out to make a positive difference across the state and nation. Later in Cleveland, Ohio, I viewed the young visionary leadership of Pastor Shane K. Floyd at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church lead his church members with community leaders on the issues of options for improvement of the education of our children in the public school system. Then on Sunday morning, I went home to the church of my ordination, Oak Level United Church of Christ, in Warren County, North Carolina under the charismatic and activist leadership of the Pastor Leon White for over 50 years. That evening I went to St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Oxford, North Carolina where African American Episcopalian Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, preached a soaring sermon on the Christian legacy of Absolom Jones and how the post-modern liberation agenda of the church needs to be fulfilled today.

But this is just a small partial list of pastors and churches that represent the best of the living core of the proclamation of Gospel and innovative ministries of the Black church community across the nation. Pastor Jamal Bryant of the 10,000-member Empowerment Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland is the National Spokesperson for Occupy the Dream and is emerging as a major force for the revitalization of Black church in America. Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, under the leadership of Pastor Otis Moss, III continues to provide a board range of engaging ministries that serve to empower people and communities throughout the city and state.

The amazing grace of the Black church in America transforms, sustains, motivates and empowers African Americans and many others who affirm the power of the Christian faith at a time of great change and challenge. Let’s us keep the faith and show support for these institutions that are so vital for the redemption and progress of families and communities.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is President of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and Education Online Services Corporation as well as serving as the National Director of Occupy the Dream and can be reached at drbenjamin.chavis@gmail.com

Beloved Whitney Houston

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(NNPA) The entire world community will continue to be positively impacted by the unprecedented, creative and spirit-edifying eloquent contributions from the gifted-voice and artistic genius of Whitney Houston. While we affectionately mourn her passing with the greatest of sorrow and condolence, we should take this moment forthrightly to affirm the living legacy of Whitney and not be tempted by those who only want to only focus on something negative. As a truly iconic singer, actress, model, philanthropist and committed servant for the empowerment of those who know what the struggles of life are all about, Whitney Houston touched the vortex of the soul with a voice that was blessed by God to uplift and inspire the masses of millions of people throughout the world.

It is unfortunate that we live in a society that routinely under values the cultural and expressive significance of people who have given so much of themselves through their respective art forms to help others grapple with the vicissitudes of life. Arising up out of the historic African American church tradition in Newark, New Jersey, Whitney was destined for greatness in the world of music as she labored and shared her talent across America and to the global community.

New Hope Baptist Church in Newark was the place where she began her faith-journey and a career of outstanding success. Her mother, Cissy Houston, is the renowned gospel singer, choir director and spiritual leader. Her cousin is the renowned Dionne Warwick and her godmother is the renowned Aretha Franklin. Our prayers will continue to go out to the entire Houston family and especially to Whitney’s young eighteen year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina.

Whitney Houston in her short 48 years became a living legend in both R&B and popular music. But she was more than star in the music and entertainment industry. Like so many others in R&B, soul, jazz, the blues and gospel, Whitney Houston also gave of herself repeatedly to help people become empowered. She gave to numerous charities in Newark and across the nation. In fact, Nelson Mandela and the Mandela family considered Whitney as a member of their extended family because of her longstanding support of empowerment in South Africa and in other nations. In spite of the tragedy of her death, Houston’s star still shines and will always shine in the hearts and spirits of people everywhere who have a passion for freedom, justice, love and equality.

One of my proudest moments was at the NAACP Image Awards in 1994 when Whitney Houston was awarded one of the NAACP’s highest honors for her trailblazing achievements and accomplishments. Literally a whole generation of younger artists today is still being inspired by tremendous voice of Whitney that transcended more than five octaves with the highest quality of tonality and vocal power. Jennifer Hudson sang a soaring tribute to Whitney at the Grammy Awards and LL Cool J rendered a heartfelt prayer at the beginning of the Grammy Awards ceremonies. Jennifer Holliday stated, “Whitney always showed that she cared about people. She was a very caring person.”

When someone that we care about dies, it always appropriate to remember the good that was done through the life of the departed. We, therefore, recall and remember the good works and great accomplishments of Whitney Houston. Let us work now to also make a positive and a productive contribution to the uplift of all of humanity. For all who have been inspired by Whitney Houston, let’s pledge to keep her family in our prayers and to continue to push forward to make our world a better place. Long live the spirit of beloved Whitney Houston.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr is President of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and Education Online Services Corporation and can be reached at www.HSAN.org

Africa: A Tale of Two Presidents

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(NNPA) Health and economic issues have never been more important to Sub-Saharan Africa than the last fifteen years. There has been one president who stepped forward and made a positive difference. There is another president, in contrast, that has done virtually little nor shows any concern for this land of over one billion human beings. Ironically, the president with purely European bloodlines and an upbringing from the southern part of the United States has poured his heart into Africa. The president who has direct bloodlines to Africa (Kenya) has displayed a very laissez faire attitude to the tremendous challenges that face this continent.

Here is a review of President Bush’s involvement in Africa by the Africa Growth Initiative:

“Bush’s most important initiatives focused on alleviating major heath challenges facing the African people. In 2003, President Bush launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was then the largest single effort by any nation targeting a specific disease. The program sought to establish and scale up HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programs. According to the PEPFAR program website, “during its first phase, PEPFAR supported the provision of treatment to more than two million people, care to more than 10 million people, including more than four million orphans and vulnerable children, and prevention of mother-to-child treatment services.” Under President Bush, this program was criticized for its emphasis on abstinence based prevention, but on the whole this initiative was an unprecedented attack against the AIDS pandemic.

Bush then targeted another deadly disease with the launch of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) in 2005. The PMI had the initial goal of reducing malaria-related deaths by 50 percent in 15 focus countries. Malaria places a huge burden on Africans—causing millions of adult deaths every year and significant reductions in productivity. Results on the PMI website show that the program has major effect in reducing prevalence of malaria, child mortality and related deaths.

The Bush administration’s African foreign policy did not stop with health initiatives. Bush led the push for the G-8 nations to demand the multi-lateral debt relief initiative (MDRI), which encouraged the IMF, World Bank and the U.S. to reduce the debt burden of highly indebted poor countries. According to the African Development Bank, as of 2009 the MDRI relieved debt for 21 African countries. In 2004, Bush also successfully passed reforms that converted poor country debt into grants. Additionally, Bush tackled security issues. The president was one of the first world leaders to label the conflict in South Sudan genocide. Although, Bush received criticism for not recognizing the indictment of Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court, he did put in place sanctions on oil coming from the Republic of Sudan in order to pressure a peace deal. These sanctions currently remain in place. Bush was also determined to create an Africa-based central command for U.S. forces. However, he did not win the support of African leaders to base the command, now called Africom, on the continent, with the base now resting in Germany. Africom, however, is now an implementing partner for the Department of Defense and PEPFAR, supporting training and testing throughout Africa.

Following the format of Presidents Carter and Clinton, Bush continues to focus on global health beyond his two presidential terms. His global health cause célèbre is the Pink Ribbon Initiative, an organization formed by the George Bush Presidential Center Institute in partnership with the U.N. and the Susan J. Komen Foundation, to expand access to cervical and breast cancer screening in Africa and Asia. Testing for cervical cancer can be done easily with a drop of vinegar quickly highlighting cancerous tissue; however, screening remains unavailable in many parts of Asia and Africa. Both Laura and George Bush will try to build awareness of this issue during their trip this week. Despite the perception that Bush was only involved in counterterrorism, he built an expansive African foreign policy base that bears as much recognition as the Clinton administration’s African Growth and Opportunities Act and Global Health Initiative. “

On the other hand, President Obama has ignored Africa. He went to Ghana in 2009 and gave a condescending speech to elected African leaders talking about corruption. Other than that he has done very little. Many African presidents voice their disappointment with President Obama. According to Patrick Muboko, a Congolese American who recently protested in front of the White House,” We want to tell him it is over if he does not do the right thing for Congo, for children who are crying and dying if he does not do the right thing for democracy, he can count that he has not only lost my vote, but he has lost a lot of votes,” as told to VOA News.com.

Thanks President Bush for all you have done. President Obama, it is not too late.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc. (r). Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

Black Americans and Mitt Romney

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(NNPA) Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s recent statement, “I’m not concerned about the very poor…. We have a safety net…. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it” has caused once again considerable debate about poverty in America. But for millions of impoverished Black Americans the focus should be on encouraging education, self-empowerment and economic development as a means of getting out of poverty rather than waiting on some non-caring presidential candidate to patch a gaping hole in the so-called poverty-prevention safety net.

In a democracy all citizens should have the right to run for President. Of course qualifications and experience are factors that voters should weigh when making a decision about who to vote for and to support. For over 45 million Black Americans, the 2012 elections are extremely important. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and to take the November 2012 elections for granted. I keep emphasizing that it is counterproductive for Black people in the United States to be cynical or non-involved in the national political debate concerning the issues that affect the quality of life in the Black community across the nation.

Mitt Romney’s confession did more than expose his seemingly insensitivity toward the poor. It revealed Romney’s comfort with a certain percentage of the population that will according to his logic always remain in poverty in need of a safety net. Romney rhetorically joined the likes of Fox News commentator Bill O’Rielly who condescendingly reminded a national television audience that in the Bible it says, “The poor will always be with us.” African Americans do not always have to be poor! Again, what Romney said or what O’Rielly said should not come as a shock. Those statements just remind us that if we do not get ourselves up out of poverty, there will be no others that we should depend on to change the situation of poverty that too many continue to face in our communities.

Noted scholar and author Earl Ofari Hutchinson raised an appropriate question with respect to the absence of Black Americans who have some noticeable role in the Romney presidential campaign staff or support. Hutchinson observed, “The scorecard then reads like this: Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul, all have asked for and gotten endorsements and support from African-Americans. There is no record or evidence that the supposed more moderate Romney has asked for or gotten any black support or even taken a photo-op with some dutiful blacks. The question that will loom even larger as Romney closes in on the GOP nomination is. Where are Romney’s blacks?”

Romney’s comments on poverty, therefore, were not a mere slip of a politicians tongue during the heat of a tense campaign. He is not in touch with the reality that most Americans have to endure in 2012.

And in particular, Romney is so far out of the loop of reality when it comes to Black Americans’ state of existence, that it is cause for serious concern. The fact is for Black children and youth the poverty rate is nearly 40% as a direct of the systematic underdevelopment of the African American community during the last 50 years. Too many African Americans live in poverty today at a rate greater than one out of every four persons. Of course our economic and social predicament is not the result of statements by Mitt Romney. The point here is, however, that for the vast majority of Black people in America and throughout the African world, the candidacy of Romney for President raises serious implications about his stated sense of inclusion and of ‘caring’ and empathy for poor people in general and for poor Black people specifically.

Regardless of who emerges as the Republican nominee, Black Americans have to take a proactive responsibility to ensure the largest voter turnout in American history come this November. To all of the “playa haters” some of whom are White and Black who are trying to seduce Black people into the self-destructive lethargy of not voting, copping out, and non-civic engagement: “We will not be put asleep. We will remain wide awake. We are going to mobilize voter participation in record numbers in the face of voter repression in more than 30 states across the nation.”

Please do not underestimate the power and the importance of every vote this year. We have to join with others who share our interests for a better future for ourselves and for all people. The worst form of oppression is self-destruction and the fear of liberation. Mitt Romney has made clear where he stands. Where do you stand? How will you vote?

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is President of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and Education Online Services Corporation and can be reached at www.HSAN.org

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