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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.

Standing with the Occupy Wall Street Movement

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(NNPA) I have been noticing a number of commentaries that in looking at the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Together movement (OWS for short) conclude that African Americans are not particularly interested, or that this movement is irrelevant to the Black Experience. I disagree.

The OWS movement has been an exciting development on the US political stage. It has shaken this country in ways that it needed to be shaken raising the matter of wealth and income inequality and the depravity of the rich. It has called into question the policies of Wall Street, but also the political allies of Wall Street--both Republican and Democrat--who are more concerned with protecting the rich than they are with the common person.

Yet, it is true that these "actions" have been largely white. My first response: so what? I am actually quite pleased to see white people challenging a system that is crushing us all.

But my second response is a bit different. The reality is that spontaneous movements in the USA tend to be unbalanced racially. The student movement against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, for instance, was very white. This did NOT mean that Blacks were absent. What it often meant, however, is that African Americans formed their own organizations through which they participated in the student movement and/or the anti-war movement.

Where I have seen this play out differently, however, is in some sections of organized labor. I have seen some serious trade union demonstrations and actions that are very multi-racial/multi-ethnic. But part of what makes this possible is that there is a critical mass of a particular group--in our case, African Americans--who can see themselves in the actions. In other words, when they look at an action, they see a critical mass of us.

In OWS many of us, regardless of whether we support the cause, do not necessarily see ourselves represented. While some of us will nevertheless participate, others will sit back and support from the sidelines. My suggestion is that we need to organize our participation. Here are a few examples. We could ask our minister, priest, Imam, etc., to organize a delegation from our religious institution to participate. What the OWS is doing is completely consistent with religious doctrines that overwhelmingly speak to the poor and the dispossessed. A second thing would be to have one of our organizations, such as the NAACP, a black student union or a chapter of a labor union in which we are active, to participate together.

There is something else that we can do. We can organize our own actions that protest not only the income inequality but the growing RACIAL inequality that is crushing working people of color.

Let's stop worrying about whether white people reach out to us. We have our own reasons to be integrally involved in movements like OWS.

Sound like a plan?

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of Solidarity Divided. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

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