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The Contrast Between Katrina and Irene

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(NNPA) Oh, what a difference six years can make. Almost to the exact date six years ago Hurricane Katrina roared up the Gulf of Mexico and into the greater New Orleans area. As I write this article from Washington, D.C., Hurricane Irene is coming north with a vengeance. Katrina was a Category 5 but Irene has leveled to a Category 1. However, Irene dwarfs Katrina in size. This monster is as large as continental Europe and is wreaking havoc from South Carolina all the way to Maine. Twenty percent of this nation’s population will be affected.

The biggest contrast is the preparation and recovery by federal, state and local governments. We fell asleep with Katrina. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was in a total “fog”. Applicable National Guard response was initially lethargic and very slow. The Governor of Louisiana was in a state of “ice”. The Department of Homeland Security and the military were equally slow and inept. Our governmental activities concerning Katrina were initially a national disgrace. It was the darkest days of the George W. Bush administration.

This time, with Irene, it is going to be so different. Every state’s governor and major cities’ mayor are totally proactive. Mandatory evacuations have taken place as opposed to the Katrina preparation. Respective National Guard units are in place ahead of the storm. FEMA is everywhere and providing valuable information and recommendations to the general population and elected officials. If needed, the Army stands ready. Power providers have recruited thousands of workers from unaffected states and they are in place ready to start the recovery. This promises to be a very proud endeavor for the nation. President Obama as opposed to President Bush may be positioning for his greatest moment.

FEMA Administrator Charles Fugate is a great communicator and motivator of his people. They are all in a “gung ho” mode over at FEMA. Katrina’s FEMA Administrator Michael Brown was a failure. A terrible communicator and totally unqualified for the critical position, he went down in disgrace.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is certainly on the case. Her hands on approach is contagious to everyone involved. Her commitment is to the safety of all of the people is clear and evident and certainly welcomed. Her predecessor Secretary Chertoff was of the opposite ilk. What is most shameful today about this guy is that he probably made millions of dollars selling full body scanners to TSA at our airports. He set up the process to require them and then, after leaving, started selling them to his old agency. What a racket!

May we never repeat our lack of efficiency demonstrated during the Katrina debacle. It wasn’t the hurricane damage that caused all the pain. It was a total lack of preparation and a very inadequate response afterwards. New Orleans got through the hurricane but the flooding due to the mysterious levy breach is what caused most of the pain and tragedy. Everything ugly appeared and festered.

I remember hearing an accounting of the subsequent activity by an employee of the Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He recalled all of the special operations military personnel and private firms like Blackwater staying at the hotel. They would sleep and rest during the day and at sundown they would go out in full uniform and equipment as if they were going into battle. Through the night you would hear gun fire. In the morning they would return back to the hotel dirty and sweaty. It was a very sad point in America.

Hopefully, the contracting activity resulting from the rebuilding after Irene won’t emulate that of Katrina. I had to fight and fight to get Black businesses into the door. Finally, President Bush stepped in and opened the doors. In the end, we had over three billion dollars in contracts. It wasn’t easy and I had to go vocal and contentious before it happened. Hopefully, not this time as we have learned from the past. We will database every applicable trade opportunity and email all potential Black contractors asking if they are interested in the rebuilding. We will then take that list and put it in the face of every sole source prime contractor and federal agency letting the contracts out. From there, we will weekly track the progress and verify the stated activity. What a difference six years can make.

There will be other disasters. If we do this correctly, we will have a model for future events. Our businesses will be in the mix and our people will not have to share such pain. America will return to its greatness when it comes to responding to hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and other calamities.

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

Fair Wages Are an American Tradition

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By Steven C. Edelstein –

The first Monday of September Americans celebrate the workers who make our country strong. On Labor Day, we are proud of the traditions that brought us the eight-hour work day, paid vacation and sick days, and minimum wage and overtime protections. These basic labor standards helped to make our country the wealthiest in the world by creating a vast middle class able to buy the goods and services that kept our economy growing.

Unfortunately, 129 years after the first Labor Day celebrations, more and more American workers find themselves without some of these basic labor protections. Amazingly, the fastest-growing occupations in the country—personal care and home health aides—are explicitly excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act minimum wage and overtime protections. As a result, the 1.7 million workers who provide loving care and assistance to our frail and disabled family members are among the most poorly paid workers in our nation.

In 1974, the Fair Labor Standards Act was updated to include most domestic workers, such as cooks, maids, and yard workers. However, companions for the elderly were exempted. At the time, long-term services and supports for elders and people with disabilities were primarily provided in skilled nursing facilities. Home care workers were considered the equivalent to babysitters, providing company to elders who were lonely or needed “someone in the house” to assure safety while family members were out working.

Today, the home care industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy. Federal and state policies explicitly promote care at home over facility-based care—and by 2018, home and community-based aides are expected to outnumber facility based aides by 2 to 1. Home care aides provide the same skilled services to their clients as certified nursing assistants provide to nursing home residents. These services include not only personal care such as bathing, dressing, and toileting, but assistance with mobility, oral and injected medications, nutrition, and monitoring of vital signs such as blood pressure. Clearly, these are not “companionship” services.

The Department of Labor recently held two listening sessions to solicit input on revising the companionship exemption, to ensure that workers who provide skilled home care services receive the fair wages they deserve. Industry advocates argued that narrowing the exemption would make care unaffordable for seniors and people with disabilities and would undermine quality. This argument does not honor our tradition of providing workers with fair wages—wages that allow them to support their families and live with dignity. Moreover, it is not supported by the evidence.

First, 22 states already provide minimum wage and /or overtime protections to home care aides. These states have thriving home care sectors that have been growing a pace with the expansion of demand from a rapidly growing elder population.

Second, the biggest challenge facing the industry is attracting and retaining workers. Providing basic labor protections would show that as a society we value the essential services that home care workers provide—and we respect their right to fair wages. Better wages, along with better training and supports, would attract more workers to the field and decrease turnover, thereby reducing industry costs and increasing the quality of care provided to clients.

Finally, leading the lobbying effort to maintain the companionship exemption are for-profit home care franchises experiencing astounding growth, even during these difficult economic times. While it costs on average $19/hour to hire an aide through these agencies, starting pay for aides is less than $9 per hour. Obviously agencies have other business expenses besides worker wages, but profit margins for many are high. This suggests that the additional costs of paying a fair wage would not necessarily need to be passed on to customers.

America’s families are the consumers of home care services. We want our loved ones to have compassionate, quality care provided by someone we trust and respect. Often these caregivers become like “family members.” But they have families of their own to support. We cannot ask the caregivers—usually poor, often immigrant women—to sacrifice their meager wages to make the system of care affordable. Rather we must find solutions that work for everyone. We must begin with the assumption that our nation’s labor laws apply to all workers, including those who provide the intimate caregiving services that allow our loved ones to live independently and with dignity at the end of their lives.

Steven C. Edelstein is the National Policy Director at PHI, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of jobs for direct-care workers and the quality of care for elders and people with disabilities.

Alpha Phi Alpha Brother Brings Dream of King Memorial to Life

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“We build this memorial because…when our nation was about to split in two – black versus white, rich versus poor – Dr. King said we should live together as brothers or perish as fools.”
- Harry E. Johnson, President & CEO, the Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation

(NNPA) On August 28th, the 48 anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will become the first on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to honor a person of color, a non-president and a man of peace. More than 250,000 people are expected to be on hand next Sunday when President Obama delivers the grand opening keynote speech.

More than a quarter century in the making and at a cost of $120 million, the Memorial promises to rekindle global interest in the life and legacy of one of the greatest champions of civil and human rights the world has ever known. In these times of rampant domestic and international turmoil and division, Dr. King’s message of justice, democracy, hope and love is needed more than ever.

The MLK Memorial project was the brainchild of Alpha Phi Alpha, the world’s oldest intercollegiate fraternity founded by African American men. Fraternity leaders conceived the idea in 1984, 16 years after Dr. King’s death and only months after President Reagan signed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday into law. Dr. King himself was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha as were National Urban League legends Lester Granger and Whitney M. Young, Jr., who were also colleagues and friends of Dr. King. I too am a proud Alpha Phi Alpha Brother.

Since 2002, the massive fund-raising effort needed to bring the MLK Memorial project to fruition, has been led by former Alpha Phi Alpha President and Houston lawyer, Harry E. Johnson, Sr. Under Johnson’s leadership, the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation has raised more than $114 million from scores of corporate donors and thousands of citizens who want to ensure that Dr. King’s legacy endures.

Harry Johnson was just eight years old when Dr. King led the 1963 March on Washington where he delivered one of the most well-known speeches in American history. He says that he owes much of his success as a lawyer and activist to the inspiration of Dr. King and the changes he brought about through non-violent action. Johnson is a graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and received his law degree from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law. He served as President of Alpha Phi Alpha from 2001-2004, and for his leadership of the King Memorial project, was awarded the prestigious “President’s Award” at January’s Trumpet Awards Gala in Atlanta.

Carved out of a granite boulder and situated on the Tidal Basin in a direct line between the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the MLK Memorial will be a fitting tribute to Dr. King. According to Harry Johnson, “Drawing from Dr. King’s speeches and using his own rich language, the King Memorial will be a public sanctuary where future generations of Americans, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation can come to honor Dr. King.” We applaud Alpha Phi Alpha and Johnson for their leadership of this important project and urge all Americans to visit this historic new addition to the National Mall.

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

New School Year Begins; We Must Prepare Students For Their Futures

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By Juan Lopez –

The new shoes have been bought. Backpacks are ready by the front door. The entire household is abuzz with anticipation—the new school year begins!

Students throughout the Inland Empire have started a new school year. Their excitement about meeting new friends and greeting old ones is coupled with anticipation and expectations. Students expect that we, their parents, the schools, and the community will provide them the opportunity and the environment to prepare for their futures.

My wife is a public school teacher. My three children attend public schools. I have been the beneficiary of our San Bernardino public schools and of Cal State, San Bernardino, where my wife and I met and earned our bachelor’s degrees. As a father, a husband and a community activist, I believe our schools can do better for our students. That is why I am a candidate for the San Bernardino City Unified School District.

I know that we have caring teachers and staff working with our children. Education takes place in the classroom, and the school board’s efforts must focus on providing an enriching environment in the classroom. Communication is a key element in creating this environment: communication between schools and parents, between schools and the community, between the school board and the parents and schools. However, in this communication matrix, there are voices that are not being heard—the students’ voices.

In November 2006, students who live and attend the seven high schools in San Bernardino spoke out in a letter-to-the-editor in the San Bernardino Sun, asking that the community “elect school board members who will help unite our community and work with us to overcome the huge obstacles we face in school.” In November 2011, five years later, our community will elect four school board members. I can only wonder, did we meet the expectations voiced by the students in 2006?

As an elected school board member, I will propose that the board create a position for a student board representative who will participate freely in all board meetings and discussions.

Rialto Unified School District, under the leadership of Wilmer Amina Carter, established a student board member position in 2001. These students are are recognized as full members at board meetings, receiving all materials presented to board members (except those for closed session). They may question witnesses and discuss issues. Board members and the public are thus able to hear the voices of the students in the district schools through the student representative. This model would enrich communication between all stakeholders in our San Bernardino City schools. I will make this my first action when I join the school board.

As a parent, I am passionate about our schools and believe that our students deserve the best. As a school board member, I will continually push for excellence, ask the tough questions and demand thorough and transparent answers so we can better ensure that our students can be successful and productive citizens. My efforts as a board member would center on serving all of the children in our district; one child is no more important than another. Schools cannot be successful in isolation; we must all be involved in this endeavor.

I am excited at the possibility of serving my family and my community as a member of the San Bernardino City Unified School Board. My goals include:

Support our teachers and staff as they educate our children.

Be responsive and receptive to parents and students, encouraging an open dialogue.

Create a vision and structure that provides the opportunities for students to reach their full potential.

Increase our graduation rates and decrease dropout rates.

Prepare students for college.


Jay-Z and Kanye West: Hip-Hop Empowerment

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(NNPA) This is a well-deserved salute to two global icons of hip-hop culture. Two successful Black men who transcend race and social division have attained the pinnacle of worldwide impact with their artistic genius and empowerment consciousness. Jay-Z and Kanye West, with the release of their latest album, “Watch the Throne," are revealing the sustainable power of hip-hop not only in America, but also throughout the world.

At a time when the prevailing commentary about Black people in America, Africa, the Caribbean, and throughout the Pan African world is too often focused almost solely on the pathology and the negative statistics and realities about our socioeconomic plight, it is refreshing to witness two brothers from different neighborhoods in the United States work together to produce the next level of music and international consciousness. But their recent achievement, in my view, goes way beyond the success of selling millions of music albums. Jay-Z and Kanye West together represent an evolving genre of new entrepreneurial giants that are helping to sustain a new economy and philanthropy for our communities that pushes the envelope on advancing African American economic development.

Knowing and affirming one’s own self-worth is a fundamental key to career success. Everyone is blessed with different skills, talent and opportunities. I am not encouraging everyone to try to be a rapper or poet. But I am encouraging that we all should strive to identify what are your skills and special talents or interests. It is good to a have a career goal and the self-determination, dedication and proper education to attain and fulfill your life goal. The inventiveness and creativity within the hip-hip community continues to be outstanding for those who know the benefit of hard work, study, practice, preparation and diligence. Jay-Z and Kanye West are still on their grind and their productivity is inspiring a younger generations of poets, rappers and other performing artists, designers, videographers, producers, financial managers, entrepreneurs, and developers to take full advantage of all the opportunities at hand.

Jon Caramanica in The New York Times characterized Jay-Z and Kanye West as "two titans" that "share the seat of power." Caramanica observed, “Making relevant socially themed songs in an age of financial and political unrest is a challenge these two artists at least pay lip service to. Like a charitable donation, it’s a combination of maturity and duty.” Jay-Z and Kanye West have become “brothers in the struggle” for freedom, justice, equality and empowerment. Their artistic grind gives rise to a generation of young people throughout the world who are impatient with poverty and injustice, but who have the audacity to speak out and speak up with a bold creativity that will be welcomed by a billion youth across the globe.

Empowerment first takes place in your mind and consciousness. Hip-Hop is about not only having high aspirations or goals and objectives; it is also about having the courage, work-ethic, and the capacity to attain to fulfill your dreams and aspirations. Jay-Z and Kanye West know firsthand what overcoming poverty is all about from the streets of the hood to the corporate suites of power without losing your soul, spirit and sense of self-worth. In this unique collaboration, there is a certain cultural dignity and integrity that penetrates and lifts up all people who cry out for a better quality of life. “Watch the Throne” is an album that shatters the complacency and hopelessness that is currently undergirding the worldwide cynicism of those who prefer to acquiesce to the status-quo of do-nothingness and apathy.

I personally know these two young men. They represent the best of hip-hop and will encourage others to continue to bring to the forefront more gems of creativity as they both “take back responsibility” to give back to their respective communities the best gift of all: transcendent hope and self-empowerment. As we prepare to mobilized the largest youth vote in history for the 2012 elections next year, “Watch the Throne” will help all of us to “Watch the White House” again with massive voter registration, turnout, and civic revitalization. As an OG, I am grateful to Jay-Z and Kanye West for paying the path for generations to come.

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

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