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Occupy the Dream

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(NNPA) The issue of income inequality in the United States demands our attention and social action. In particular in the African American community, the economic inequities are so real and institutionalized; we are more and more aware of how the devastating impact of income inequality continues cause a downward spiral of the quality of life African Americans and others who are entrapped in the deep mire of poverty, pain and hopelessness. The dream of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is just as relevant today as we move into 2012 as it was back in 1963 at the March on Washington.

Dr. King’s dream was the American dream of freedom, justice and equality for all. Yet we all should be reminded that by the beginning of 1968, Dr Martin Luther King Jr was very concerned and focused on the questions of poverty and systemic economic injustice. The Civil Rights Movement, with the historic coalition between the Black church, organized labor, liberal whites, Latinos, students and peace activists, and many others from a diversity of organizations, had reached a transformative stage in its evolution. The time had come to expose and challenge the diabolic connection between racial injustice and economic inequity.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) under Dr. King’s leadership boldly called for a “Poor People’s Campaign” to plan a massive “occupation” of Washington, DC in 1968 to challenge the prevailing and pervasive stranglehold of economic injustice not only for Black people, for all of “God’s children.” Rev. Andrew Young at that time was one of Dr. King’s most trusted assistants. With respect to the call for the Poor People’s Campaign, Young stated, “We intended to arouse the conscience of the nation around the issues of poverty as we had challenged the nation to reject segregation. We hoped the process of training and mobilization would empower poor people in a new social movement that transcended race.”

Today, in just a few months time since their initial demonstrations, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been successful in staging major non-violent civil disobedient protests from New York City to Los Angeles and throughout the United States around the issues of income inequality and economic injustice. But beyond the growing number and size of the Occupy Wall Street protests, their greatest accomplishment thus far has been the raising of awareness on a national level about the contradictions of present-day income inequities and injustice.

That is why I am so grateful for the vision and responsible outreach of Russell Simmons, Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant, Zach McDaniels, Bishop John R. Bryant, Rev. Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr., and many other Black clergy leaders from across America who have affirmed, “Occupy the Dream” as ecumenical coalition of church leaders who are joining with the brothers and sisters of the Occupy Wall Street movement to push for economic justice for all in the legacy of the dream of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We are part of the 99% who are challenging the 1% who increasingly control the wealth and future prosperity of the nation.

The Black church in America continues to be the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement and all successful movements for change in this nation in last 100 years have involved the presence and the visionary activism of the Black church. Now with the increasing poverty, disproportionately high home foreclosure rates and loss of property, unemployment, the lack of the best quality education for our children, absence of good health care delivery, discriminatory and unjust intergenerational incarceration, fiscal crisis for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); deterioration of our communities and business, and a growing sense of despair among millions of our youth, it is imperative that African Americans should not wait passively for someone else to speak out and take action for the economic recovery of Black America.

Occupy the Dream is the revitalization and revival of the spirit, consciousness and activism of the Black church community working in strategic coalitions with others to demand and acquire economic justice and equality. Thank God for the Occupy Wall Street movement and for reminding us of our challenges, responsibilities and opportunities today to make a big sustainable differences in the quality of life in our communities and for all people who cry out for a better way of life. On January 16, 2012, we will be calling on the Black church and other people who believe in freedom, justice and equality to come out and demonstrate with us in front of Federal Reserve Banks across the nation in both a symbolic and substantive visible protest against the growing massive income inequality in America.

Occupy the Dream is about building the “Beloved Community” that Dr. King envisioned. Dr King said it best, “Change do not roll on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we much straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” Yes, we must straighten our minds, backs, money, spirits and souls. We have to work for economic justice….. We have to work for the empowerment of all people. Occupy the Dream! Stop income inequality. The American Spring is coming in 2012. The freedom train is rolling…. Get on board today. Occupy the Dream.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is Senior Advisor for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).

Child Poverty: A Moral Outrage and Wake Up Call

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“A country that does not stand for and protect its children – our seed corn for the future – does not stand for anything.” Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund

(NNPA) Last week the Census Bureau delivered disturbing news about how the Great Recession and its aftermath are affecting the most vulnerable among us – America’s school children. Out of a total of 3,142 counties in the United States, 653 saw significant increases in poverty among school-aged children from 2007-2010 – an increase of 20 percent. Nationally, 19.8 percent of school children are now living in poverty.

This poverty increase has hit large, urban school systems the hardest with 96 of the 100 biggest school districts reporting increases in the number of poor children. In Detroit, 47 percent of school children are poor. In New York, the poverty rate rose to 29 percent, up from 26.6 percent in 2007. This is a moral outrage. While the debate drags on in Washington about the right balance of spending cuts and taxes, a real and preventable tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. Through no fault of their own, millions more children whose parents have lost jobs, are in need of free school lunches, are going without health care and, as depicted in a recent “60 Minutes” segment, are homeless and even living in cars.

The new Census Bureau report comes on the heels of news in September that the number of poor people in America has risen to 46.2 million – that’s 15 percent of all citizens and the largest number in 52 years. Many previously middle class families are finding themselves standing in line at food banks and homeless shelters. And, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, one in three African American and Hispanic children are living in poverty. This should be a loud and urgent wake-up call to Congress and policy makers.

By the end of this year, only weeks away, if Congress fails to act, already struggling families face the end of the payroll tax cut. This would add about $1000 to a family’s tax bill. The extension of unemployment benefits is also in jeopardy. According to the non-partisan Center for Budget Policy and Priorities, unemployment benefits together with supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit are keeping 7 million people out of poverty.

Beth Davalos, who runs Families in Transition in Seminole County, Florida, was interviewed for the “60 Minutes” segment on children living in cars. She explained in stark terms the impact poverty is having on a kindergarten child she was trying to help: “That little 5-year-old was so troubled over where she would be sleeping, she was not thinking about 2 + 2.” The fact is, we should not even be talking about child poverty in the richest nation on earth. We have the means, we simply need to summon the will to end it. If we can find the money to bail out Wall Street and give tax breaks to the wealthy, surely we can find the resources to provide food, shelter, health care and a good education for our children.

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

FAMU is Obviously Different from Penn State

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By Lucius Gantt, Special to the NNPA from the Florida Courier –

As a 19-year-old Georgia State University student, I became a member of my fraternity’s pledge club. As a pledge, I was beaten unmercifully, ridiculed, taunted and more as was the tradition in a variety of campus groups.

Once I crossed "the burning sands," so to speak, and became a founding member of the GSU chapter of the fraternity, I was elected founding president by my founding brothers.

One of my first acts as president was to prohibit hazing! Yes, my brothers put stress on future pledges, but more often than not we required them to wash cars, run errands, do homework, raise money or volunteer in the community, for instance.

Hazing everywhere

If you don’t know, hazing is a crime. Despite that fact, hazing goes on essentially at every college campus in every state and in most cities.

You tell me the name of any former or current college student that has ever been a part of a fraternity, sorority, band, athletic team, military unit or secret campus society that has not been hazed or does not know if hazing exists! Hell, you don’t even have to be a college student to know that hazing possibly exists.

Earlier in 2011, a criminal act was allegedly committed at Pennsylvania State University. Once it was learned that university officials and administrators were aware of suspicious acts involving possible crimes against a young person, the athletic director was fired, coaches were fired, assistant coaches were fired and even the president of Penn State University was fired.

'Convenient' termination

The only person fired so far in the aftermath of the FAMU hazing tragedy has been the university band director. How convenient.

The band director almost immediately demanded his reinstatement on grounds that he went to proper administrative channels, informed university officials that hazing was taking place in the band. But the fired band director said no one sought to terminate hazing or suspend or expel students involved in hazing from the band or from the school.

Who is responsible in a court of law when hazing results in a death? Obviously the school and the state that operates the school are liable, but there is a limitation on damages injured persons can received from the state. Any amount over the limitation must come in the form of a "claims bill" and be voted on by state legislators and signed by the governor.

Real money

The deepest pockets involved in universities most likely are the pockets of the members of university boards of trustees.

What do trustees have to do with it? University faculty, staff and administrators must be trained on ways to protect students by preventing activities that could be criminal or harmful to the students that attend the school.

Seems to me, if university trustees vote on university budgets and part of that budget contains dollars for training, the trustees should have no problem discussing in court whether state-funded training dollars were used for the necessary and required training on how to recognize and stop hazing!

If hazing was allowed to persist because university employees were not trained on stopping hazing, perhaps the university trustees are personally liable for lack of institutional control of public taxpayer dollars or voting for training budgets when employees were inadequately trained. (Interested lawyers can review the 1992 federal case of Brown vs. City of Oakland, Cal.)

Crime 'pecking order'?

If a crime has been committed and no one is liable or responsible for the death of a student, should we be concerned? Or is there a pecking order of college crime where some crimes are reported to police, some crimes are ignored, some are covered up and some are just bottled up for years by silent accomplices?

At Penn State, people with knowledge of possible criminal activity along with ultimate responsibility at the school, and those administrators that had the biggest university paychecks, were fired.

But not all schools are alike.

Buy Gantt’s latest book, "Beast Too: Dead Man Writing" on Amazon.com and from bookstores everywhere.

Sell-Out in Philly, Again

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(NNPA) Judas sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Some of our locally elected Black officials may sell-out their constituents for a much higher price. Still the same, they have a price and construction unions have made a science of finding out just what that price may be. How can a sector of a major industry be so racist and discriminatory but yet have the congeniality, loyalty and cooperation of elected officials who owe their offices to Black folks? Black folks who construction unions have so rigidly blocked from employment opportunities and Black businesses which construction unions will seek to kill on sight. Let’s look at this gigantic contradiction.

President Lyndon B. Johnson established workforce affirmative action with Executive Order 11246 in 1965 as an enforcement tool to the recently signed Civil Rights Act. The US Department of Labor has the responsibility of monitoring and enforcing this law. It requires employers to send in detailed employment reports on the ethnicity and gender of people on their current payroll lists. It also tallies the hours worked by these employees. From these reports one can gather how many Blacks, Hispanics, etc. as well as males and females are working at a particular company. The USDOL also has the responsibility of certifying construction unions. Thus, it also can easily report on the racial demographics of a particular union hall and the utilization of those workers.

Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) are agreements between an owner, such as a city, county, state, etc. and a coalition of construction unions (all trades). Excluded out of contracting will be nonunion shops or nonunion shops that refuse to abide by the local union rules. As a result there will be very little Black, Hispanic, etc. work utilization. 98% of all Black owned construction companies are nonunion. Obviously, if you find a working PLA you will find virtually none of us.

The city of Philadelphia along with the Philadelphia School System agreed to Project Labor Agreements a few years ago. The exercise was a total disaster in terms of diversity and it eventually ended as a result of public outrage. Remember, Philadelphia is 55%+ Black and 10%+ Hispanic. Why on earth was the city agreeing to a PLA? It’s the power of the construction union lobby and the knowledge of what “price” to offer campaign coffers. During this horror the Black community of this city paid greatly. Definitely, the unemployment rate, crime rate, despair rate and any other terrible rate you can think of was accelerated.

So it comes with great surprise that Mayor Michael A. Nutter (Black) signed a new executive order to “re-establish project labor agreements for the bidding process”. Insanity has been compared to doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The Mayor is not insane. But when he states “This new PLA policy will aim to ensure stability, efficiency, quality and diversity for every major public works project in the city. These contracts will also have provisions to ensure that city residents, minorities and women are included in all of the city’s major construction projects.” We just can’t believe that and certainly anyone of such intelligence knows it deep, down inside also. Blacks in Philadelphia have just entered new and more dangerous economic ground.

The Mayor, City Council or anyone else of authority could simply ask the regional Department of Labor office to provide a detailed report on the ethnic and gender demographics of the local union halls. By viewing this inventory of workforce one could easily determine that the overwhelming majority of these crafts cannot possibly meet the goals of 32% minority workforce and 50% city residents. You can’t make “5” out of “2”. Why are they trying to sell this falsehood? The activists of Philadelphia should track this and make those responsible to “bleed” politically. The majority of the population of a large American city has just been sold-out once again. Watch the increase in murder, robberies, car jackings and poverty caused by the unemployment this is going to cause. There will be a terrible social and economic price for the local citizens to pay because of this. All this, for the love of money –oops! I meant to say unions.

They will come up with “pre-apprentice programs”, “third party monitoring”, “oversight committees” and “public outreach” and other such public relations gimmicks to deter the public’s view of this atrocity. Remember, construction unions have had 46 years (1965 – 2011) to adequately integrate. They aren’t going to do it now. Why should we play with “fire” without expecting to get burned? Construction union only projects are racist and none of us should entertain the evil concept.

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

Small Businesses Must Be Included in the California High Speed Rail Project

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Black Voice News Publisher Hardy Brown says, “Blacks cannot afford to be left standing at the station,” in regards to who will pay and who will build a high speed rail system in California (November 10).

Indeed this is a concern. I believe, however, that our concern is for an even wider constituency: the small and disadvantaged business community. According to the Press Enterprise, “Businesses with fewer than 100 employees are responsible for creating two-thirds of the jobs in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.” (1-13-10) As a small business owner myself, I understand that small businesses are often left out of the bidding process.

The highspeed rail project is projected to cost $98 billion. In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 1A bonds to provide partial funding ($9 billion). Prop 1A also specified that no taxpayer subsidies will go to operations and maintenance of the operating system. Other funds are expected to come from the federal government, although the amount and timing of these funds is not certain. Private investment is expected once the first phase is operative in 2033. This means a big payday for somebody, but California workers and California businesses may be left out of the picture.

The California Assembly has been active in introducing legislation to encourage the purchase of high-speed train rolling stock and related equipment that are manufactured in California, and to encourage the participation of small businesses in Rail Authority contracts. Good legislation that did not make it out of committees in 2011.

There is recent news with the potential to become good news for small businesses in the Inland Empire. The High Speed Rail Authority approved an addition to its business plan: a new Small Business Policy outlining contracting requirements that will include the participation of Small Businesses, Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises, Disadvantaged Business Enterprises and Micro-Businesses in the Authority’s procurement process. The policy requires the Authority to meet an overall 30 percent Small Business Participation goal. The Authority’s intent is to ensure that firms that participate in the construction of the high-speed train system reflect the diversity of the business community in our state.

I recently co-sponsored the Inland Empire Procurement Expo, along with the California Public Utilities Commission and ADF Networking Consultancy, Inc. We learned that to do business with public agencies, small businesses must be certified. This can be done online at www.getcertified.dgs.ca.gov. The High Speed Rail Authority’s website has a section dedicated to small business resources. You can access it at http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/sb-resources.aspx. The resources include links to Small Business Certifications and State of California Disadvantaged Business Certification; help with Surety Bonding; the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, U.S. Department of Transportation.

I encourage small businesses in our region to become involved in the small and disadvantaged business opportunities for contracting with public agencies. The economic recovery is slow and incremental, we are told. And in our region, we see evidence of this slow recovery every day: home foreclosures; long lines at food pantries whose shelves are bare; and shuttered businesses. The time line for the High Speed Rail Project extends into the next two decades; economic benefit will not be revealed immediately. But together, we can begin to include small businesses in the recovery and to create the jobs that hold our families together and create communities.

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BVN National News Wire