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Closing The Digital Divide: A Worthy Task For Our Community

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By Rev. Mark E Whitlock II –

Scripture teaches us to “Love Thy Neighbor.” For many of us, that means checking in on a senior, dropping off a meal to a family with a newborn, watching a child for a single working parent, helping with chores when someone is ill or offering a word of encouragement when someone has lost a job. But would you ever imagine that caring for your neighbor means helping them get access to the Internet?

It does. And let me explain why. The Internet now dominates the way we communicate, obtain information, seek employment, education and healthcare, find products and services and use entertainment.

For the vast majority of our neighbors, quick and easy access through a high speed broadband connection is a way of life. But for the 30 percent of California who have no access to the Internet, there exists a digital divide that cuts off people from pursuits far more consequential than email and online shopping. It means that for millions of our neighbors, there is no way to apply for a job, to find government services, to expand their educations, to apply for benefits or even to find a doctor. Black and Hispanic households are far less likely than White and Asian households to have broadband Internet access.

Why, you may reasonably ask, is a pastor talking about access to the Internet? It’s simple: this is not just a matter of convenience or frivolity. If you think about it, this is about social justice.

Those on the other side of the digital divide are often the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, the handicapped, the unemployed, and the uneducated. The people most in need of financial assistance, employment and educational opportunities, government services and healthcare are the ones least likely to find it because they are cut off from the main artery of information in American life. And in 2011, that’s just not acceptable.

President Obama has made it our nation’s goal to connect every American to affordable high speed broadband internet by 2020. Those of us in the faith community are uniquely suited to help this worthy campaign. We know how to reach those of us in the faith community are uniquely suited to help in this worthy campaign. We know how to reach those who are vulnerable, isolated or struggling to make ends meet. We know families wi th chi ldren yearning to learn and teenagers seeking financial aid for college, low-income working families who would benefit greatly from social services.

That’s why my congregation has joined the Race to Close the Digital Divide, a federally funded program that helps provide computer education, equipment and low-cost broadband Internet access to our congregants. Costs have fallen dramatically and the technology is easier than you might imagine. We can learn and move forward together as a community.

The church that enrolls the most new subscribers will win a free computer lab and training. But more importantly, we will have the satisfaction of knowing we have not only helped our neighbors, we have empowered them by providing an essential tool of modern American life.

I encourage you and your congregation to join us in the Race to Close the Digital Divide.

Rev. Mark E. Whitlock II is the pastor of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, CA. For more information about the Race to Close the Digital Divide, please call toll free 1-888-235-1541 or email gc2day@gmail.com

The NAACP is Right: Public Schools Should Be Supported

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(NNPA) Last month, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)) filed a lawsuit in New York on behalf of students and their parents. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO, the lawsuit was filed because “Students are being grossly mistreated, their parents are being deeply disrespected and the entire community stands to suffer.” As a member of the Black Leadership Forum, I fully concur with NAACP’s educational position in New York.

The issue at hand is whether public school students in New York (and in other jurisdictions” are being treated as “second-class” students to charter school students).

For starters, and contrary to charter school advocates, public schools are not equal under the law. Public schools receive funding from the public sector (i.e. federal, state, and local government). Conversely, charter schools receive money from private investors, who profit from the success of schools.

With such a backdrop, charter school students in New York seem to be favored over public school students who are stigmatized as “regular students.” For example:

• Charter students are placed in public school buildings causing extreme challenges for space
• Public students must eat lunch at 10:00 a.m. so that charter students may eat lunch a 12 noon
• Public schools are restricted to four hours of library time compared to seven hours given to charter students
• Public students in some New York schools are forced to learn in basement hallways in order to make room for charter students

In addition to the issue of imposing charter schools within public schools the New York Public School system has failed honor the law by informing public school parents prior to making changes within the school district such as school closures.

I further agree with the NAACP and Benjamin Jealous when he asserts, “When one set of students is perceived as getting preferential treatment over another, or the city refuses to work with parents to fix problems at a school before closing it, the inequity leaves all our children suffering.” Yet, the educational issue in New York is much deeper.

The United States of America has never fully embraced a strong public school system. When public schools were established in 1853, the wealthy elite in many instances opposed public schools. After all, their children were educated in private academies.

Over the years, opposition for public schools has never waned. During the Reconstruction Period, following the American Civil War, public schools were burned and terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan on their un-Godly view that African Americans should not be educated. In 1954, southern Whites opposed the racial desegregation order of Brown v. Board of Education by creating private academies that only allowed Whites to attend. Twenty-five years later when the Brown ruling was enforced with mandatory busing of public school students, mass opposition to public schools reared its ugly head in American cities such as Boston, Massachusetts when African Americans and Latinos were bused to mostly White school districts. In each historical era, in this nation’s history, public has been under constant attack.

The broader American policy question is whether all students—regardless of race or resources—have a right, rather than a privilege to a high quality education. More particularly, the federal government must take a righteous stand against the privatization of public education by 1) Increasing the federal allotment to public education from the current 9 percent; and 2) Enshrining the right to high quality education for all American students in the U.S. Constitution.

As long as privateers pervert public education via charter schools while the federal government stands idly by, and public students and their parents are inferiorly treated, American education system is in need for remediation.

Gary L. Flowers is the Executive Director & CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

The Argument Against Double Standards in Education

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New York City has become the latest battleground in the national fight for education equality. In some schools, hallways serve as a stark dividing line. Classrooms with peeling paint and insufficient resources sit on one side, while new computers, smartboards and up-to-date textbooks line the other. One group of students is taught in hallways and cramped basements, while others under the same roof make use of fully functional classrooms.

New York City has increasingly resorted to colocating charter schools inside existing public school buildings as way to cut costs. When handled improperly, co-location can lead to visible disparities, division and tension among students. In many instances, traditional students are forced into shorter playground periods than their charter school counterparts, or served lunch at 10 am so that charter students can eat at noon. The inequity is glaring, and it is certainly not lost on the students themselves.

Throughout our history, the NAACP has fought for equal educational opportunities for all Americans. When we saw inequality in school districts from Los Angeles, California to Topeka, Kansas, we never hesitated to fight for what was right. Today, the fight continues in the nation's largest school district.

The struggle of black parents to create a better life for their children is one we cherish. We know that a good education is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. There is no greater anguish for a parent than to live in a community where there are often little to no choices of a quality school. As a father, I personally know the yearning to give my daughter the best education possible. This is what makes us responsible, loving parents. Our commitment is to continue the historic fight for a quality education for all, but even as we wage that important effort, we support parents who are able to find a good education for their child – whether at a traditional or charter public school.

Last month, after a year of attempts to negotiate with the New York City Department of Education to correct these inequalities after they lost to us in court, the NAACP was forced to go to court again to compel them to comply with state law.

Our return to court has triggered a smear campaign against the NAACP. In recent days we have faced a coordinated media attack designed to distort the conversation and inaccurately cast us as opponents of charter schools, which we are not. Unable to dispute the facts of the case, they've chosen to cast aspersions on the NAACP, to question our motivations, and to sling mud at our legacy. This is a tactic meant to silence the NAACP, but we will not be silenced.

The NAACP will always work for the day when all students can access high-quality public education. We will not tolerate the neglect of the hundreds of thousands of families depending on traditional public schools, nor will we stand by as public schools are illegally closed, communities are ignored in defiance of the law and student success is left to chance. And we will never be silenced by attacks on our reputation.

As the largest public school system in the United States, New York City is often viewed as a trend-setter on issues of education. Co-location schemes are being considered in other states and counties nationwide, from Florida to Texas. The city is acting irresponsibly by allowing blatant inequality and lax enforcement of the law. We are determined to stand against this bad precedent before it spreads to other school systems. The NAACP has always believed that educating children in a separate and unequal system that provides a quality education to the lucky few at the expense of the many is the wrong kind of education. We will continue to fight, as we always have, for equal opportunity for all.

Benjamin Todd Jealous is President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Proposed Mortgage Qualification Rule May End Homeownership As We Know It

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“A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.”

(NNPA) Homeownership, as we know it, could be a thing of the past if a proposed Qualified Residential Mortgage Rule (QRM) takes effect. In a letter I sent last week to the heads of the six federal agencies charged with developing risk retention regulations under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, I pointed out that the proposed rule would be especially damaging to the home owner aspirations of minority and working class citizens. Here’s why.

The rule would require prospective borrowers to present a 20 percent down payment, spend less than 28 percent of their monthly gross income on housing and have total monthly household debt capped at less than 36 percent. Most people can’t afford to put 20 percent down. And, when coupled with an additional requirement of near pristine personal credit standards, these proposed requirements could end the standard 30-year fixed mortgage and replace it with a new class of “high risk” borrowers, formerly known as the responsible middle class borrower.

Housing industry experts agree. In April, a coalition of trade groups including the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Homebuyers and the Mortgage Bankers Association issued a joint report, saying in part that it would take 14 years for the typical American family to save enough money for a 20 percent down payment. They added, “A 20 percent down payment requirement for the QRM means that even the most creditworthy and diligent first-time homebuyer cannot qualify for the lowest rates and safest products in the market.”

John Taylor, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition calls this a civil rights issue. He said, "What has been proposed essentially creates a separate and unequal system of finance for people of color and for blue-collar, working-class people where regardless of your creditworthiness, of whether you're someone who has a great credit score and pays your bills on time and plays by all the rules, if you're not well-heeled enough to come up with 20% or if your household debt to income ratios are high … you're going to go into a separate and unequal category of financing where you're going to have to pay more,” We agree.

Adding high minimum down-payment requirements will only exclude hundreds of thousands of consumers – including legions of minority renters – from homeownership. And any rule or action that further stifles an already severely depressed housing market for first-time buyers, including many minorities, will also negatively suppress the entire housing industry – realtors, builders, retailers, suppliers and many others. Clearly, what is being proposed is anti-jobs, anti-growth, and in absolute contravention of the American Dream.

The American home, by definition, reflects much more than mere property. It represents the ability to build wealth for all those with a stable income and a demonstrated history of financial responsibility. It is the foundation of family and community and represents the collective promise of the chance to build prosperity that lasts through generations.

The National Urban League believes this promise must be reaffirmed and protected in whatever form the new housing finance model ultimately takes.

Marc H. Morial is the President and CEO of the National Urban League.

Your Take: Threat to Blacks in the Public Sector

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Radical conservative politicians want to slash city, county and state jobs -- and undercut the economic security of African-American families, says this union official.

When I was growing up in Cleveland, some of the most respected people in my neighborhood were the folks who worked for the city, county or state. My father was a city bus driver who took great pride in getting people safely to and from their jobs every day. My mother was a community college teacher who loved preparing her students for success.

It turns out that my family was far from unique: Twenty-one percent of all black workers are public employees, making the public sector the largest employer of black workers, according to a recent University of California, Berkeley study (pdf). The wages that African Americans earn in the public sector are higher than those we earn in other industries. Furthermore, there is less wage inequality between African-American workers and nonblack workers in the public sector than in other industries.

The author of the study, Steven Pitts of Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education, emphasizes that his analysis is based on the national workforce. In cities where African Americans are a larger proportion of the population, "the importance of the public sector to black employment prospects" is even greater.

Another recent finding makes Pitts' conclusions even more significant. According to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., although the economy is showing some signs of recovery, African Americans in 2010 had unemployment rates of at least 15 percent in severely depressed states -- levels not seen since the Great Depression.

These revelations mean that the plans by radical governors to rob public employees of their rights, shrink pay and benefits, and cut jobs will have a disproportionate impact on black families and communities. In other words, white America's bad cold has turned into pneumonia for black America -- and it will get worse if ultraconservative politicians cripple public-sector unions, making them incapable of protecting their members.

Both of my parents were active union members because they knew that the labor-rights and civil rights movements were the way for African Americans to achieve upward mobility and equality.

In fact, labor unions and civil rights organizations have worked hand in hand in just about every fight for equality and economic justice that our nation has known.

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, he was in Memphis, Tenn., on behalf of 1,300 sanitation workers, members of AFSCME Local 1733. They were on strike for more than a bigger paycheck; as their "I am a man" signs made clear, they wanted respect for the work they did. King stood with them because he recognized that freedom requires that workers have a voice, the ability to provide for their families and the power to shape their destinies.

Not only do public-sector jobs mean economic security for black families; they are also jobs that are vitally important to communities across this nation. Whether they are teachers, bus drivers, sanitation workers, snowplow operators, emergency medical technicians, nurses or librarians, public employees perform jobs that towns and cities of every size and description depend on.

Their work strengthens neighborhoods and supports basic American values like looking out for one another, preparing our children for the future and ensuring that there is a safety net for the most vulnerable members of our country.

But if you believe the radical governors and legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and other states, many of these jobs are unnecessary, and the workers who provide them are "coddled" because they have the right to a voice on the job.

Since January 2009, state and local governments have laid off 429,000 workers, and these layoffs have already had dire effects on families across the country.

And yet instead of joining with us to find solutions and protect the rights of workers, these governors are inflicting more pain. Their only interest is in attacking our jobs, crippling our unions and dismantling public services. At a time when we should be pulling together, their tactics and rhetoric are ripping us apart.

Because so many black families have built careers in state and local government, what these corporate-backed politicians are also doing is undercutting the economic security of black families.

Ask if this is their intention, and of course they will deny that it is. But even the best of intentions (and their intentions are far from the "best") can have unintended consequences. And there is no denying that the path they've chosen will have dire consequences for many black families.

That's one of the many reasons African Americans, whether public employees or not, whether union members or not, are standing with the workers who are fighting back. If 21 percent of black workers are public-sector employees, that means that one out of every five black workers is employed by a state or local government.

Our financial well-being and the economic security of the neighborhoods we live in are at stake. It is up to all of us to fight for our future.

Lee Saunders is secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

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