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A National Project Filled with Black Pride

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(NNPA) It is official! The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall will be about Blacks, designed by Blacks and the construction managed by Blacks. This $500 million project will be totally unlike the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monument which was manipulated and profited by behind the scenes white interests. I am so proud I get “choked up” every time I dwell on the beautiful process.

Let’s first look at the Design/Architectural Team. The Lead Designer is David Adjaye. This brother is a native of Tanzania and now lives in London. He is arguably the best major designer in the world. His portfolio is full of popular buildings from around the world. Some of the work includes the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway, and the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management in Russia. Mr. Adjaye is giving the museum a classic Yoruba (West African) design. They picked one of the best through a competitive process and he happens to be one of us.

Next is the Architect of Record. That distinction belongs to Philip Freelon, CEO of the Freelon Group – a Black architectural firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Some of the projects the firm has performed are the Center for Civil & Human Rights, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture and the Museum of the African Diaspora.

The other principal in the Design/Architectural component of the project is Max Bond who worked with the firm of Davis Brody Bond. Unfortunately, Max Bond died of cancer shortly after receiving the award. However, his firm continues to be active in the major undertaking.

The above reality is proof positive that the age old tradition of architecture and design that began with the erection of the pyramids (which still stand today) continues on as a fine African tradition. They couldn’t take it away from us and we just keep getting stronger.

Now, let’s look at the Construction Management side. Here, too, we find actual bona fide and qualified African American participation. The Sherman R. Smoot Construction Co. is one of the three partners on the Construction Management Team. Smoot is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio with satellite offices in several locations throughout the nation. Another partner is the H.J. Russell & Company based in Atlanta, Georgia with various offices throughout the nation. These two Black and family owned giants are teaming up Clark Construction, based in Bethesda, MD.

This isn’t “window dressing”. These two firms have put up the bonds for the project and bring their financing to it. It is a “real deal” and we should be so proud. The National Black Chamber of Commerce has had a very positive and enjoyable relationship with these two firms and is absolutely confident that Black contractors will get at least their fair share in the building of this giant project provided they bring their “A” game to the competitive table. They will!

The engineering, contracting, sub-contracting opportunities for the project are immense and transparent. Interested up and running businesses should go to this website: www.nmaahcproject.com. This website is established for this project and there is a very sincere effort to include small businesses including minority owned firms who are bona fide and qualified. There will be no “fronting” like on the Dr. King monument. This is the biggest single project in terms of Black participation. That is fitting in that the subject matter is our history.

The funding for the project will be provided via 50% from the federal government (secured by President George W. Bush) and 50% by private donations. That is where we come in. I encourage all of you to become Charter Members of the National museum of African American History and Culture. Membership levels are: $25, $40, $100, $250 and $1,000. Please go to: www.AfricanAmerican.si.edu or email for a membership form at AAHCmember@si.edu. Please give and spread the word to all your friends.

Special thanks and recognition should go to the Honorable John Lewis (D – Georgia). Congressman Lewis was the “Most Valuable Player” in getting this project accepted and funded. He was there at the beginning and he drove it to the finish line with daily devotion and commitment. His proud face was a beautiful sight as he held a shovel at the Official Groundbreaking on February 22. The NBCC is so thankful for his successful efforts that we plan to formally recognize him for that devotion. You know, we ought to build a statue of him right in front of the museum.

Our children and grandchildren will read about this powerful fact of Black business acumen taking place day to day. They will see our legacy and fill their “chests” with pride. God is great!

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

Global Salute to Nelson Mandela

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(NNPA) All of humanity continues to be irreversibly uplifted by the indefatigable leadership and irrepressible spirit of Nelson Mandela. South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), as well as all people throughout the world should pause with the greatest of respect while “Madiba” is still alive to express the highest tribute to him for a lifetime of achievement and commitment to worldwide freedom, justice, equality, empowerment and human dignity.

African Americans and all African people in particular are so inspired by the perseverance and bold courageous example of Nelson Mandela who not only helped to lead the dismantlement of apartheid in South Africa, but also he continues today to stand at the age of 93 as a global role model and force for progressive change, moral integrity and equal justice for all. In short, Mandela represents the best wisdom-consciousness for the affirmation of the oneness of humanity. Even after spending 27 years imprisoned unjustly by a brutally vicious apartheid regime, Mandela came out of prison with the strength and insight to lead South Africa nonviolently into a multiracial democracy and a growing emerging world economy.

While we live in a world where millions of people on each continent are crying out louder and louder by the hour for an end to poverty, injustice and inequality, the Mandela-leadership example of social transformation that transcends race, ethnicity, tribe, religion, and political ideology needs to be highlighted and better understood. In fact the ANC continues to have a long tradition and legacy of leadership icons that first and foremost strive to represent the interests of the masses of African people who struggle for a better quality of life. It is so sad today that in many other places in the international community some rulers use violence and war to suppress the cries of the masses of the people for freedom, democracy and justice.

The recent news that Mandela was hospitalized should engender our prayers of support and concern for his health, as well as our meditation and reflections on his outstanding legacy of leadership. We are pleased that Mandela was just released from the hospital and is now recovering at home from hernia surgery. South African President Zuma reported that Mandela was stable and resting. Again our prayers are with him and his family.

Here in the United States, the 2012 national elections season appears to be focused on who has the most money in politics over against the best leadership to offer the nation and global community progress on the critical issues. Of course America is not South Africa. That is not the point. The point is that while billions of dollars are being spent to hijack the democratic process in the United States, we should learn valuable lessons from how Mandela and the ANC were guided successfully by principles of inclusive, participatory democracy verses the voter suppressive moves and exclusivist views of those want a backwardly divided and regressive future America.

Those of us in Occupy the Dream embrace both the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. and the democratic wisdom of Nelson Mandela. We will soon be in the south to recognize the anniversary of the voting rights struggle in Selma, Alabama with the annual retracing of the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma for the march to Montgomery, Alabama that witnessed the horrible consequence of those who would go to any extent to deny the voting rights of Blacks and others. We have come a long ways since the original Selma voting rights march back in 1965. But we must renew our vigor and commitment to achieve more progress toward making our democracy more equal and just. Income inequality is increasing the ranks of those in poverty. We need a Constitutional Amendment to get money out of politics in America.

We should work to build a global movement for economic justice and equality.

Thank God for Mandela. When we last had the opportunity to meet with him in person in Maputo several years ago, Mandela encouraged us to help increase worldwide awareness that Africa needs empowerment through education, training, employment and economic development. We salute Nelson Mandela for all that he continues to do to make Africa and the world a better place. Let’s also work harder now in America to further transform our society and to make our democracy representative of all of the people.

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.

Community Newspapers: 'The Heartbeat of American Journalism'

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Localism is trending today in the realms of food and finance. The institution of the local community newspaper is also popular, but it wasn't blogged into being - it was born long before videos started going viral. Major-metropolitan newspapers may be a slowly dying breed, but community newspapers prove that American journalism is alive, well and living in the rural areas, small towns and suburbs of our land.

The word "newspaper" may conjure mental images of a big pressroom, delivery trucks and eight-column banner headlines, but 97% of U.S. papers have a paid circulation of less than 50,000. Their combined circulations, though, exceed 109 million - more than 3 times the aggregate total of the big daily newspapers.

These are the community newspapers. They are staffed by professional journalists, but their news coverage is locally-oriented. High-school sports and academics, zoning issues, petty crime, neighborhood events, clubs, services, organizations, festivities and milestones - this is the stuff that the local news beat is made of. It is the sort of focus that big-city papers have increasingly lacked both the time and the inclination to provide.

This single-minded dedication to meeting the needs of their audience has set the community papers apart from their big-city brethren. Major-metropolitan newspaper circulations began declining when they lost touch with readers and advertisers, long before the advent of the Internet. Today, the concentration on consumer demand distinguishes the community newspaper product from that of advocacy journalists and hyper-localists. The faddists are motivated by ideological or topical considerations extrinsic to their relationship with their customers.

The bond between the community papers and their readers is organic.

University of North Carolina journalism instructor and textbook author Jock Lauterer summed up this relationship neatly: "Community journalism... is the heartbeat of American journalism, journalism in its natural state." That heart beats today as robustly as it did in 1953 when the little Tabor City (NC) Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for its expose of local Ku Klux Klan activities. It was the first Pulitzer award ever made to a weekly newspaper.

The category "community newspapers" includes small daily newspapers, whose skeletal structure mimics that of the major-metro papers but which cover little or no metropolitan, state, national or world news. The term is also broad enough to encompass weekly papers that specialize even more narrowly and are often distributed free in street racks, stores, malls or shopping centers. Among the popular weekly forms are shoppers - which publish copious retail advertising by groceries and auto dealerships - and alternatives, which feature anti-establishment editorial and lifestyle content.

A good example of this mix is Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. (CNHI), which used private capital to grow via acquisitions beginning in 1997. Today, it boasts some 90 small daily newspapers and over 200 smaller weeklies in 22 states.

Corporate ownership has arisen to challenge sole proprietorships and partnerships for dominance in the industry. When successful, this has allowed each paper to retain its individuality while enabling the parent enterprise to enjoy economies of scale and scope.

Still, neither corporate ownership nor large size inoculates community newspapers against adversity. American Community Newspapers, Inc. reached well over 1 million households in Texas, Minnesota and Virginia when it was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010. It emerged from reorganization in the hands of its creditors.

From Mankato, MN to Plano, TX; from Vienna, VA to Harrisonville, MO to Walnut Creek, CA, community newspapers stand as testament to the continuing vitality of print journalism. Reports of the death of newspapers may be premature; they are surely exaggerated.

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

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