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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

Your Pharmacy May be in Danger

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(NNPA) The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering whether to allow a corporate merger thatcould result in great strides backward for African Americans and others suffering from economic and health ills.

Stick with me, because it gets a little complicated.

Express Scripts, Inc. (ESI) and Medco Health Solutions are giant, multi-billion dollar corporationsthat control prescription drug benefits for hundreds of millions of Americans. Known aspharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), these companies decide which pharmacies people can visit,what prescription drugs are available for purchase, and how much these medications will cost.They also decide how much community pharmacies will be paid for filling prescriptions.

The potential merger affects so many people, and raises so many antitrust issues, that the FTC isreviewing it to see if it should be allowed at all, and if so, under what conditions.

If these two companies are allowed to join forces, they will control the majority of the prescriptionmarket—and decision-making—in several key areas, including mail order and specialty pharmacy,and will dwarf the remaining PBMs in size and prescription volume. The increased level of market control will give the merged company the power to increase prices and push out rivals,including community pharmacies.

Don’t just take my word for it. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. When it comes to antitrustmatters, he is an expert. In a letter to Jonathan Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, Kohl asks that the agency carefully scrutinize the merger. He cites concerns that the merger will reduce competition,raise prices for consumers, and threaten community and chain drug stores.

Kohl believes “the stakes for American consumers, health plan sponsors, and our nation’s networkof local pharmacies arising out of this transaction are very high…” He is right. And the stakes areeven higher for African Americans than for the average American consumer.

If prices go up, as expected under this merger, and community pharmacies are no longer able tocompete in the hostile climate created by the PBMs, African Americans throughout the countrywill lose access to needed medications and other pharmacy services.

This is disturbing in light of existing health disparities. African Americans are more likely to beafflicted with life-threatening diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer than whites. Infantmortality is higher. We are less likely to be immunized against common, easily-preventableillnesses. So the convenient, localized services provided by community pharmacies in our neighborhoods are especially important.

On top of that, consider the devastating effects of the recent recession on African Americans. Theunemployment rate for blacks in January 2012 was 13.6 percent, nearly twice as high the 7.5% unemployment rate among whites. Many African-Americans have lost their homes during the recession. And, even having a much lower household of wealth to begin with, blacks have lost agreater percentage of net worth, according to the Pew Research Center.

This means that the people most in need of quality health services are least able to affordthem. The ESI/Medco merger will make matters worse by increasing prescription drug pricesand causing community pharmacies to fail, including, notably, a number of minority-owned businesses.

One of the PBM companies, ESI, is already dropping popular pharmacies from its network, pre-merger. Yes, this is the same Express Scripts that recently dumped Walgreens, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, eliminating access for the many people of color who live near these stores. But ESI does not care whether community pharmacies remain in its network, or even survive. Infact, CEO George Paz told Senator Kohl at a Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about the merger, “Ican’t stop certain pharmacies from going out of business.”

The other company, Medco, is requiring many of its customers to use mail-order pharmacies instead of retail pharmacies, deciding for patients in Big Brother fashion which pharmacy servicesthey can use. This also threatens community pharmacies. But don’t look to the company forsympathy. Medco CEO David Snow believes his pharmacy robots are better than your localpharmacist down the street, and if he has his way, you will no longer have a choice.

Viewed in light of existing health disparities and economic difficulties, and the indifference of thePBM executives, there are no benefits for African American consumers in allowing the merger toproceed, and there are many risks.

If the FTC gives the merger the “most serious review” requested by Senator Kohl, it is difficult tosee how they could possibly allow it to move forward.

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

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