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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.

Prophetic Genius of Gil Scott Heron

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(NNPA) Gil Scott Heron (1949-2011) was more than a legendary entertainer. He was a social and political visionary that helped to inspire generations of young gifted and talent poets, spoken word artists, rappers, and a global cadre of musical and cultural satirists that have contributed to the irreversible, progressive transformations of the mindsets of hundreds of millions of young people from Harlem, New York to Soweto, South Africa; and from the Delta in Mississippi and the bayous of Louisiana to Trench Town in Jamaica to the barrios of Brazil and deep into the crucible neighborhoods of the South Bronx and South Central LA as well as throughout what is culturally referred today as the “Dirty South.”

Heron was a contemporary of Bob Marley in the essence of their mutual penetrating and relentless critique of human oppression, racism, and suffering. Gil Scott Heron was urban, rural, Pan African, and global, all at the same time. What James Baldwin did with his consciousness evoking novels, Heron did with his musical compositions and literary genius. Gil Scott Heron was a determinative and inspirational “bridge” artist between the culture revolutions of the 1960’s and the 1970’s up to the evolution of the hip-hop generation in the 1980’s. That is why many referred to Brother Gil as one of the “Godfathers of rap.”

Gil was born in Chicago in 1949, but was raised in the Bronx. He not only wrote poetry and music from the 1970’s through 2010, he also became an accomplished novelist. Yet, it was his on-stage performances and his off-stage advocacy as a champion of African American and Pan African liberation that gave him an endearing intergenerational following for more than four decades. Today in 2011, there are some who question how the music and lyrics of the current superstars of hip-hop are related to past generations of poets and spoken word artists. The answer to that question is fully displayed in the life and career of Gil Scott Heron.

Like the phenomenal Langston Hughes of the famed Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Gil Scott Heron attended a famous Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. While at Lincoln University in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Heron refined his artistic abilities and began to branch out across different genres of music including the blues, jazz, soul, R&B and liberation music. During the fight against apartheid in South Africa, Gil Scott Heron’s voice was heard and felt by millions of people throughout the world. About Gil, Dr. Cornel West said, “His example has been a profound inspiration to me and many others in terms of fusing the musical with the prophetic and being willing to take a risk or pay a cost in order to lay bare some unsettling truths with such artistic sophistication.”

Yes, Gil Scott Heron was my close friend and consistent comrade in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. We shared together many forums, mass organizing rallies, grassroots mobilizing campaigns in the major large cities, but also in many rural towns and villages. While I was imprisoned most of the 1970’s, as a member of the Wilmington, NC Ten, it was Brother Gil who produced music about “Free the Wilmington Ten and all political prisoners.” Heron’s music made you dance, clap your hands, stomp your feet, and raise your clenched fists into the air to shout “Power to the People!” But most of all, Gil’s poetry and music would make you uncomfortable with injustice.

After you listen to Heron’s music, it will make you want to join the movement for change where ever you are located. Gil Scott Heron once told me, “Hey man, each one of us has to play a role in making the revolution for freedom real. If someone merely gives you what you might think is your freedom, then it is not really freedom; it is just an illusion of freedom…. But, if you fight for your freedom, no one can ever take it away from you, can you dig it?”

Yes, we can “dig” what Gil Scott Heron represented. A prophet just does not predict the future. To be prophetic really means to discern what it is that God is calling for you to do in the present.

Gil Scott Heron answered God’s call with the genius of his music and lyrics. Now, Heron has passed the torch to the generation of poets, musicians, and lyricists of today. Please keep that torch lit with the fire of freedom for all.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is Senior Advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Education Online Services Corporation.

'Maids' Deserve Protection Against Sexual Assault

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(NNPA) On Saturday, May 16, 2011, the western world was shocked to learn that a world banker, Dominique Strauss Kahn, had been arrested for allegedly attempting to rape a woman and sexually assaulting her in an upscale hotel room in Manhattan, New York. However, the reporting of the story rang all-too familiar for working-class and immigrant people in the United States and around the world.

Nearly every report on the incident provided a career biographical sketch on Mr. Straus Kahn, but referred to the nameless victim as merely a “maid”, “chamber maid”, “cleaning woman”, or other less than dignified titles. The effect of such titles on the victim reduces her to a status lower than mother, daughter, and human being.

One thing we know about her is the victim is a 32-year old single mother from West Africa, who falls into the economic category of “working poor.” Regrettably, the history of colonizing countries such as France, England, and the United States includes countless instances of poor Black women being routinely raped by wealthy White men. In most cases, the Black woman was portrayed as a “jezebel”, “prostitute”, or some type of wanting whore.

On the other side of the story most White wealthy rapists have been somehow given victim status. Immediately after his arrest, Dominique Straus Kahn was portrayed in French newspapers as a potential “victim of a political set-up”, notwithstanding that Straus Kahn was widely known as “The Great Seducer” in French tabloids. In France, and many other European countries media outlets glorify sexual promiscuity of elected officials, who are rarely brought to justice.

Currently the International Monetary Fund—Straus Kahn’s former employer—has very loose regulations on sexual assault by high-ranking diplomats on employees, with no mention of “lowly chambermaids.”

However, there is an eerie irony in world history for the impunity of rape by White men against Black women, predicated on the false notion of White supremacy; and the inferiority of Black women (and women of color). During the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, African and African American women were routinely raped within prevailing law.

Conversely, imagine if a wealthy Black man stood accused of raping a White hotel employee? First, the woman would not be called a “chamber maid”, but rather referred to by a more dignified title. The Black man, of course, would not be allowed to post bail and live in a luxury condo while awaiting trial.

Therefore, the United States Congress and the United Nations should pressure the International Monetary Fund to: 1) Elect the first woman to head the IMF; and 2) Establish strict policies and regulations against the sexual brutalization of women. Out of this tragedy perhaps new rules with be enacted.

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

Fighting Cuts to Child Care

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By Marian Wright Edelman, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) New York City parent Yvonne works as a home care attendant to help support her three-year-old son Darnell. While Yvonne is working, Darnell is enrolled at Franklin Square Head Start, part of Union Settlement in East Harlem, where he receives quality child care and is thriving. Earlier this year Yvonne received a letter saying Darnell would be dropped from the program on September 2, 2011. Yvonne can’t afford a private preschool and she can’t leave Darnell home alone. Without other affordable options, when September comes Yvonne will have nowhere for Darnell to go while she works.

On New York’s Lower East Side, Macology’s father MacDonald drops her off at the Lillian Wald Pre-School every morning after his night shift and her mother picks her up in the evening on the way home from her job. MacDonald and his wife are enrolled in school and working to support their three children. Quality child care like the Lillian Ward Pre-School, where Macology gets to participate in dance, music, and gym, is essential to their family. If Macology loses her preschool place in September her parents don’t know what they will do.

Darnell, Macology, and their parents are among thousands of families in limbo in New York City since Mayor Bloomberg announced a draconian cut earlier this year of 17,000 child care slots effective September 2nd. These cuts would hurt many working families with children. The city had already cut 14,000 slots since 2006 and currently only serves 27 percent of the children eligible for child care subsidies. Cutting another 17,000 spaces would make this sizeable shortfall even worse. Thousands of nurses, cashiers, home health aides, and small business employees would be in a bind as families who work hard and pay taxes wouldn’t be able to go to work because they were losing their child care. So the Children’s Defense Fund-New York (CDF-NY) joined dozens of other organizations to form the Emergency Coalition to Save Children and released a report protesting the Mayor’s drastic cuts. In early May, Mayor Bloomberg released a revised budget proposal that restored $40 million of the original $91 million that had been cut in funding. While a positive first step, this budget will still result in at least 7,000 fewer low-income children having access to early childhood opportunities next year. In addition, the budget increased the cut to after-school programming, leaving almost 16,000 youths without after-school services.

New York City’s debate reflects what’s happening across the country as states and cities try to balance budgets by cutting child care services for working families. In 36 states and the District of Columbia, the annual cost of center-based child care for a four-year-old exceeds the annual in-state tuition at a public four-year college. As costs continue to rise and families continue to struggle in this fragile economy, it is time for state and local governments to expand rather than cut access to early learning opportunities for children making it harder for parents to afford and find appropriate care. As Mayra Delgado, another New York City parent of a three-year-old and a legal assistant in a law firm, put it: “If the city takes my son out of child care, I won’t be able to keep my job and support my family. In tough times, the child care that working families depend on should be the last thing the Mayor and City Council cut.” I agree.

Read the report “When There is No Care: The Impact on NYC Children, Families and Economy When the Mayor Eliminates Child Care for 17,000 Children” and join the coalition in standing up for children and families.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Africa: Richest Natural Resources, Poorest People

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It sounds depressing but there is a big silver lining to it. Once we organize the people and have them manage their God given resources, the sky will be the limit. Africa is blessed with a great future and the question is when will they, the people of this great continent, get organized and start managing this blessing. Of course slavery and colonialism were great distractions. Now, it is corruption and the lack of democracy and free trade. Sometimes it seems like a spinning wheel. Remember when President Clinton claimed Cote D'Voire to be an example of stability but now it is in total chaos.

Rwanda was the setting of genocide and appeared to be on the oblivion. Now, it is a very stable nation with a path to greatness. Such is the case of this continent. It is a spinning wheel where the Devil appears off and on and in very places. We, the children of Africa, need to form a winning strategy that will bring stability to the continent and nation by nation we overcome the evils of corruption, outside manipulation, and exploitation of the precious minerals.

First, we need a Strategic Plan for the emergence of Africa as a first world conglomerate of nations. This won’t come from the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, USAID, World Bank or even the African Union or other groups that profess to be in the best interest of the people of sub-Saharan Africa. Scrap all of them and start with a new entity independent and self-sufficient.

The first challenge is corruption. We could use the model of India which is also plagued with corruption. Yes, Asia, South America as well as Africa are plagued with full scale corruption. In India, the government official who receives corrupt payments will be fined double the amount of the money transferred. The person who gave him the proceeds will not be prosecuted, if he brings the evidence forward and assists in the evidence. This is making a difference. A nation cannot achieve economic empowerment without killing the corruption industry. It defies all potential progress and will leave a nation powerless in its quest for prosperity. The key here is a government that resolves to crack down on this hideous and immoral phenomenon.

Clearing out the corruption activity will pave the way for great improvement. Africa, it is blessed with rare metals, perhaps the largest in the world. Right now China controls 97% of all the precious metals in the world. They are manipulating the markets. An example is lithium light bulbs. They hold the lithium and General Electric wants to introduce the light bulbs to the world. China tells General Electric it will sell the lithium to them but the company will have to build the plant in China. Thus, the new light bulbs that will become a requirement for all of us will come exclusively from China. The sad thing is Africa has all the lithium we need but it is not excavated and processed for us. This is a great opportunity for our Motherland. To garner our natural resources and process them for the free markets – trillions upon trillions of dollars and jobs will flow and the nations of Africa will become centers of enterprise. Think of cell phones, computers, batteries, etc. the key precious metals are abundant in Africa but yet neither we nor anyone else has bothered to mine and harvest them.

There is enough African talent that has already graduated from the greatest universities of Europe and America and is ready to return to their respective nations to participate in new and thriving economies. All we need is good governance and democracy. Thus, we must be prudent and without leniency to those who transgress from good governance. The era of aid to Africa should come to an end. Aid and easy credit loans is a drug to our Sub-Saharan nations. Feasibility studies and strategic plans should be in place along with investment from nations with the expertise of helping change African nations into a self-sufficient “bread basket” with the best innovation in Agri-business and the harvesting of its own God given resources.

This land “burps” oil and has diamonds laying casually on the surface of its land. Platinum, coltan, gold, lithium, and other precious metals are abundant and they are the key to modern world technology. Africa, you have been blessed and the time for your to take advantage of that is now.

Let us stop any exploitation of Africa and prevent those who wish to take the resources without adequately compensating Africa for them. Africa is a diamond and it should not be taken as a piece of glass. It is time for strong African leaders to rise and face this madness. You own the “diamonds” but you let them treat you like “glass”. ENOUGH ALREADY!

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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