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Just in Time: Obama Targets HBCUs for Increased Spending

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As the proud graduate of an Historically Black University and having worked in one for most of my academic career, I approve of President Barack Obama having broken his pledge not to govern by race or ethnicity just in time to increase spending for HBCUs. These institutions are still vitally relevant to the production of a Black middle class because, while they only constitute 3 percent of all institutions of higher education, they graduate 20 percent of all Black undergrads.

Announcing current increases in the FY 2012 Federal Budget was Dr. John S. Wilson, the new executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, who said that the President’s budget includes a $17 billion increase in Pell Grants, $400 million of which was earmarked for HBCUs. Last year, there was an uproar when it was discovered that the President took $85 million from the HBCU budget, but this year, rather than mandating it for two years as the Bush administration had done, this sum is included in the President Obama’s budget for 10 years.

There is also $98 million in new money proposed for HBCUs that would fund such things as financing for capital costs such as the repair and replacement of educational facilities and equipment, and the building of physical infrastructure. There is also proposed $65.4 million for the enhancement of graduate programs.

Wilson indicated that there is also $400 million of additional funds in the Education budget for institutions whose description was close that of HBCUs some of which he intends to attempt to acquire.

One of the greatest areas of lack of growth in the federal budget however has been in the funds generated by the government which goes to research at institutions of higher education. Some of it, in such areas as energy, defense, or agriculture, requires sophisticated engineering or scientific research facilities that most of these institutions do not have, but other grants in the social, administrative, and economic areas should be achievable.

This funding increase is also welcome news in light of the current economic crisis that threatens to continue the laggard growth of the Black middle class. The unemployment and home foreclosure crises put at severe risk the kind of capital that has enabled Black families to fund college enrollment in the previous generation and so many in this generation have a far more difficult time acquiring enrollment, remaining enrolled and potentially graduating. While some observers have been focused on academic performance as the major factor in Black college retention rates, economic factors have always been as important.

The general increase in higher education funding will help those in non-HUCU institutions as well. The other shoe to drop has been the fact that most Black youths are in state supported institutions, either four-year institutions or community colleges, and state governments have chosen to cut education budgets deeply to balance their budgets. This has caused a rise in the tuition rates, teacher furloughs and curriculum reductions at many institutions.

In most states, the education budget is the largest funded item and cuts in places such as California have recently drawn very visible protests from students and faculty. Federal funds given to states from the bank bailout (TARP) have disproportionately gone to support K-12, such that while the latter has suffered a 3 percent decrease in funding in California, higher education has suffered a 5 percent decrease.

While states are grappling for solutions to the problem of overall funding, I would suggest they should look at the amount of spending involved in holding non-violent offenders in prisons. Some states are now beginning to look at alternatives to incarceration more seriously than when they were just theoretical possibilities and some are actually letting prisoners go.

The State of California is typical of many where funding for the prison system has now overshadowed funding on education, a situation that is not sustainable in terms of future economic development of the State or balancing its budget. While the Governor says that now California spends 10 percent on prisons and 7 percent on higher education, the most alarming trend is that higher education spending has been declining since the tax limitation wars of the 1970s. It is time to break out of Republican-think about taxes and raise some revenue to fund higher education so that localities are not as dependent upon the Federal government.

Meanwhile, Mr. President, thanks for the help for HBCUs in this crisis.

Dr. Ron Walters is a Political Analysts and Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland College Park. His latest book is: The Price of Racial Reconciliation (University of Michigan Press)

The Trouble With Our Public Schools

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One of America’s biggest challenges is providing an adequate educate for our children. A solid education was a given when I was growing up and why isn’t it a simple thing now? It appears that we complicated a simple process to the point of making public education more of a “cash cow” than a vehicle to ensure our freedom and economic standing in this competitive world. Our corporate leaders consider it a very serious crisis and rightly so. Let’s look at some of the obvious reasons.

The grades Kindergarten through Sixth Grade are the most important years. This is where the mold is set. You drill, drill and drill into the heads of our little angels the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. In the early years, this was known as the “3 R’s”. If a child can master these three areas they will be ready to journey into other areas such as science, history, health, etc. The 3 R’s allow you to comprehend the more sophisticated subjects and gives you the rational to reason and perform logic on other tasks.

That’s all we need to do during K – 6 grades.

Bad behavior will not be tolerated. These children must learn immediately to respect authority. Fighting for whatever reason is automatic suspension requiring a parental visit and a pledge to never do it again. Do it again; you will never return to that particular school. Talking back to a teacher is also a very bad thing and should be treated accordingly. Manners and respect for your elders should be paramount in order to maintain a learning environment. Dress codes must be in place.

Why are we providing free breakfasts at schools? This is a family matter and the government, if it wants to get involved, should deal directly with the family not a public school. Stop feeding these students free breakfast. School is for education only. Students should pay for their lunch or bag it. There should be no federal program dipping into the time for education.

The same goes for daycare. Schools are for education not babysitting. There should be no daycare activities on the grounds of a public school. Let’s concentrate on education only!

Perhaps the worst thing to happen to inner city schools was the “Busing” programs.

This was an attack on our communities.

Why would we wake up our children in the wee hours to put them on a bus and take them to a school where they weren’t wanted? It disrupted local community pride and alienated potentially great students. It gave them a feeling of inferiority. To answer my question, it was the bus manufacturers and unions, who wanted the driver jobs. They saw big bucks in this and therefore ordered the NAACP to push for it.

This was perhaps the most damaging thing done to our communities from an educational standpoint. Central High, Crispus Attucks High, Booker T. Washington High, etc. soon disappeared and community pride and spirit went away.

The procurement process of many school districts involves serious money.

With that comes much corruption. The books, learning tools and equipment are many times decided via kick backs, etc. instead of what is best for the student.

There should be major cleansing at all inner city school systems – they are all corrupt. Also, there should be intern and training programs demanded of corporations who do business with a particular school. They should recruit new applicants or train the very students they are making money from.

This creates a visible future for the students and inspires them to study hard and perform well.

Teenage pregnancy is a big distracter.

If a student becomes pregnant she and the soon to be father must be removed from school and home schooled during the pregnancy. No student should be walking through the halls of a school pregnant.

Many of the public schools actually have on campus daycare centers for the children of the students. This is not school business and should not exist at all. Teen pregnancy should be discouraged not encouraged.

When my family moved to Washington, DC we decided not to go the route of public schools. We were lucky to get our twins into one of the best private schools in the nation. Funny, the teachers there were not certified like public school teachers are required and most did not have degrees beyond the bachelor level in addition they received about one half of the pay. However, they loved the kids; discipline was a must; the classrooms were small (12 students or less) and the students were always taught that the sky was the limit for each and every one of them.

Bureaucracy, busing, corruption, federal intervention, lack of discipline, unions, low standards during K – 6 and poor social morals have destroyed our public school systems. Let’s rebuild them now.

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

Michelle Obama: Let's Move on Childhood Obesity

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Michelle Obama has now challenged Americans to deal with the growing problem of obesity in children.

Childhood obesity has tripled in the last thirty years. Nearly one-third of US children are now overweight or obese; nearly one in three will eventually suffer from diabetes. In the African - American and Latino communities, the proportion is almost one in two.

This is, the First Lady said, possibly “an even greater threat to America’s health than smoking” with staggering costs. A recent study put the health care cost of obesity related diseases at $147 billion a year. Obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers from military service.

Michelle Obama has made this her centerpiece initiative, called Let’s Move.

She is sensibly focusing on the conditions that lead children to eat bad food, and to not exercise. “Our kids did not do this to themselves,” she said. “Our kids don’t decide what’s served to them at school or whether there’s time for gym classes or recess. Our kids don’t choose to make food products with tons of sugar and sodium in super-sized portions, and then to have those products marketed to them everywhere they turn.”

So the first lady has put the focus on changing school lunches, altering the fast food environment (like shutting down the junk food machines outside the school cafeteria door), educating parents, providing access to affordable healthy food (like ending the “food deserts” in our urban areas that are deprived of access to a grocery store with fresh vegetables), and encouraging exercise.

Her initiative combines both personal responsibility and public action. She wants clear labeling to help parents understand what is in the food that they buy. She’s enlisted athletes for public service ads and promotional events to encourage exercise. The President has convened a national task force to coordinate changes in everything from our national food programs to the nutritional materials given out to our citizens.

The First Lady wants to make this a campaign, one that might challenge all of us to change our habits, while creating institutional supports for the change.

This is just common sense. For all the focus for getting a sensible health care plan in place, the even greater priority is creating good health care habits. Childhood habits are the most important; and our children now are increasingly at risk.

Sensible eating, regular exercise, drinking lots of water – this common sense too often is ignored by all of us.

You dig your grave with your teeth, goes the old saying, and too many folks don’t drink enough water even to nourish the flowers.

Michelle Obama is right to get athletes engaged in teaching our young. She might want to enlist some “afterletes” too, the retired champions who have let themselves swell up, shortening their life expectancy by continuing an athlete’s eating habits without an athlete’s exercise regimen.

This incredibly important initiative won’t be easy. The First Lady will face powerful corporate lobbies that make their money off of peddling junk food. She’ll be attacked for being an elitist for presuming to tell us how to eat and exercise.

She’ll be scoured for talking about eating right, when many folks are struggling just to eat at all.

In our polarized politics, no good deed goes unpunished. Already right-wing attack machine has geared up, mocking the notion that obesity is a national security challenge. Michelle Malkin, one of the legions of poisonous rightwing columnists, says this is just an effort to displace parents, “cede the children, feed the state,” and favor “SEIU union bosses,” whose members serve lunches in schools. On Redstate.com, a rightwing blog site, a screamer named Streiff, in a blogpost titled “Hey Fatso, Gitmo for You,” warns that we’ll “see foods being banned, states acting to remove obese children from their homes.”

I’m glad the First Lady ignored the many obstacles, the naysayers and the haters, and decided to go forward full force. If we all join – engage schools, public education, personal responsibility, responsible corporations, institutional changes and pubic action – millions of children might be saved – and the country would surely be the stronger for it.

Black History Within Plain View

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By Ruth B. Love, NNPA Guest Commentary 

Black History Month is a specific time in the calendar year designated to pause and pay homage to the vast contributions of African-Americans in and for this country. When we stop to celebrate the struggles and achievements of Black people, we are reminded of the imperative of teaching and weaving these achievements into the fabric of school curriculum throughout the year. If the instructional information and program in all schools do not include more than a few smidgens about the contributions that are part of African-American history and culture, we are denying all children of valuable information necessary to become educated citizens. For Black children, we are denying them of their birthright.

Black history has been characterized by many African-Americans as “sacred narrative” because of its evolution, its vitality and significance. My position is that Black history is within our midst in plain view as Americans, young and old, go about their daily lives. But who know it when they see it?

A few examples in plain view: the 3- way stop signal, first invented by Garrett Morgan in 1923. As you stop to drop letters into a mailbox, think of P.B.

Downing, who invented and patented the street letterbox in 1891. When you buy a pair of shoes, a Black American, Jan Matzeliger, first developed shoe lasts for the right and left foot. As you watch a golf game, recall that George Grant, a Black American, invented the “golf tee.”

Omvtrfon;u, at a time when many African-Americans were not permitted to read, write or hold a book, an African- American invented the “pencil sharpener (J.L. Love, 1897) and the fountain pen (W.B. Purvis, 17890).

The vast contributions of African- Americans can be found in the field of music, science, technology, art, education, sports, poetry, fashion, literature, etc. Students may hear about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but do they know about Dr. George Washington Carver, whose discoveries of products made from the yam and peanut are patented and in wide use today; or Carter G. Woodson, whose brilliant idea conceived of Black History Week?

Historically, African-Americans worked disproportionately in homes and in agricultural fields where they invented and devised devices to help in the arduous, hard work. Inventions such as the ironing board, curtain rod, hair brush, kitchen table, lemon squeezer, ice cream mold, law and water sprinkler, lawn mower, folding bed, window lock, are just a few of the practical outcomes of the creative and inventive minds of African- Americans.

Why study Black history? African history goes back to 400 B.C. Given the fact that Africa is the ancestral birthplace of African-Americans, education is incomplete without teaching and learning the history and culture of both the Continent of Africa and African Americans in the Diaspora. The critical question is not “Why study Black History”? Rather, the question should be “Why not study Black History?”

Dr. Ruth B. Love is former superintendent of schools in Oakland, Calif. and Chicago. Currently, she is professor of Educational Leadership in Equity Doctorate Program, Univ ersity of California - Berkeley and president of RBL Enterprises.

Avatar and Tarzan

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By Gary L. Flowers, NNPA Columnist --

Most Americans over 45-years old remember the movie Tarzan, King of the Apes. For those younger, Tarzan, the movie, was set in the jungles of Africa and falsely depicted natives as primitive and backward. That is, until baby Tarzan is raised by the natives and taught their social mores and cultural rituals.

As Tarzan grows older he become “one of the natives” and eventually “king of the natives.” Such a scenario was not far fetched for the racist-tinged times of the 1950’s and 1960’s. However, evidence that the United States of America is not “post-racial” may well be found in the racially and ethnically stereotypical movie, Avatar released in 2010. While Avatar shifts the motion picture paradigm brilliantly with respect to special affects the essential story line is: Good hearted Anglo soldier signs up to infiltrate native culture and convince them to vacate their homeland in order to permit imperialist nation to mine natural resources for national use. Mid-way through mission soldier is conflicted and “joins” natives, only to become their leader against super power. Tarzan and Avatar are lamentably linked together by the cross of religious disrespect and cultural condescension. For example, the opening scene of Avatar features highly charged soldiers being briefed by a blond-haired, blue-eyed thunderouslytestosteroned military commander who in a barrage of bigoted bursts refers to the indigenous natives as “savages… who shoot arrows.”

Such a reference is eerily similar to references by then president Andrew Jackson of Native- Americans during the American historical era known as “Jacksonian Democracy” or “Manifest Destiny.” During the 1840’s and 1850’s United States Calvary soldiers were essentially given approval to “remove” Native Americans in order to secure land and the minerals (gold) underneath. In fact, the life of the indigenous peoples of the American west were so devalued that the phrase “an Indian’s life was not worth ‘one red cent’”. The value placed on greed and military might over sharing and moral right in Avatar is based on the predicate of cultural disrespect. Equally shameful to the military commander’s bigotry is the highly educated civilian director of operations who—as many “liberal-minded” analysts do today— decries that, in spite of the natives’ rich cultural, ecological, spiritual, and moral society, “…we give them education, money, and a new place to live.” In a religious context, the director of operations’ Christian references of “Jesus Christ” belittles the holistic religious practices of the native people. In one scene he says: “…my God, these ‘people’ are primitive and worship trees…” Sound familiar to today’s American occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan? Sadly, far too many social commentators paternalistically view “gifts” of education and social programs to the denied and dispossessed as consideration for exploitative and imperialist actions. Even the professorial character of Sigourney Weaver’s pursuit of scientific truths is negated by her acceptance of the might is right paradigm. She ignores the unrighteousness of the military mission only for her “scientific discoveries.”

In addition to the movie Tarzan, Avatar cuts and pastes from previous movies such as Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai. In each, a nice White guy is anointed as king of the natives to save them. If we are to truly be the United States of America, popular culture in movies must reflect cross-cultural respect. Inclusion and a shared ethos must be the order of the day. Specifically, the Motion Picture Association should, not withstanding First Amendment rights, incentivize movie directors to at least base movies on the concept that, in the words of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, “difference does not mean deficiency.” African-Americans and most people of color in the United States are undervalued for their intelligence, culture, and world view. If not, American society is doomed to the same fate of the “sky people” in Avatar.

Gary L. Flowers is executiv e director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum.

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