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Response to State of the Union Address: We Cannot Be Silent

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President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address is a testimony to the power of we: we, who dared to dream breaking the centuries-old color barrier at the White House was possible; we, who continue to fight for expanding voting rights; we, who battle tirelessly every election to maximize voter participation and minimize voter intimidation. His first State of the Union address is a paean to those who have joined together throughout history to change our country for the better.

We are in crisis today. The greed of fat cat bankers has unleashed a torrent of predatory lending and a trickle of permanent loan modifications that together are turning homeowners into the homeless. The unemployment rate for Americans of all colors is over 10 percent, Black and Brown American unemployment hovers above 15 percent.

The jobless rate among African- American men in many cities is over 50 percent. Approximately 50 million Americans lack health insurance. More than 50 million people in America -- disproportionately children -- don’t get enough to eat.

The President unveiled new polices to support working families. He reiterated his commitment to rein in some of the worst excesses of Wall Street, and pledged his enduring dedication to bring health care to millions of uninsured Americans. He expressed his forceful and compassionate commitment to the people of Haiti -- a swift, comprehensive response to the human tragedy that stands in stark contrast to his predecessor’s reaction to the thousands victimized by Hurricane Katrina President Obama outlined the right agenda-- one that is pro civil rights, pro human dignity, and pro the American Dream for every American.

However, he cannot do it without us.

Predatory banks, profit-driven health care CEOs, and those big business leaders who would see our country and our families go bankrupt before they would pay their own way (or even a living wage) are committed to funding a fierce battle for the status quo.

The Supreme Court, still dominated by those who helped steal the election in 2000 and their protégés, has unleashed unlimited amounts of corporate dollars into the political landscape with its ruling this month on campaign finance reform. President Obama has vowed to fight. He has pledged to reverse the worst impact of the Supreme Court decision. Yet without each of us fully engaged, loads of greedy multi-national corporate treasure will be used to crush his agenda and those who support it for simply daring to do the people's will.

Still we can win. Organized people ultimately trumps organized money.

But without you and all your friends and neighbors back on the battlefield, sowing and reaping the power of we, there is no guarantee progress will continue. Like every great wave, the one that made it possible for a black family to live in the White House must be regenerated, or it ebbs. More importantly, our communities’ and families’ fates, which are in perilous condition, will ebb with it.

We can be proud of the progress President Obama has made —implementing policies to stem massive job losses, extending health care coverage to millions of children, stabilizing the economy, increasing women's ability to ensure fair treatment in the workplace, rebuilding the Justice Department and EEOC's ability to protect Americans' basic rights, and restoring our nation's ability to protect its food and water. These are our victories.

Some argue that our president has not pushed hard enough for the change we need. But just as this Administration’s greatest accomplishments lies in the hands of the idealists and organizers, so too must we claim the shortcomings.

In too many instances in the past 12 months we have powered down, left the field for the bleachers, and chosen to play armchair pundit rather than continue to build and lead. If our president is not bold enough, it is up to us to build the next wave for bolder action. The great Frederick Douglass once said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation… want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

We cannot be silent. The change we seek is in our hands.

Benjamin Todd Jealous is President and CEO of the NAACP

A Good Start for Obama, But Much More to do

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After one year in office, America's first Blackberry President has found that in the age of tweeting, texting and daily polling, there is no shortage of those eager to judge his performance based on fragments of information that may not always be accurate. We will resist the urge to join the fray. No grades from me for Mr. Obama. But that does not mean we have no opinion on his first year as President.

Any assessment of President Obama's first year must take into account the big mess he inherited on day one - two wars, a great and growing recession, the imminent collapse of our financial system and auto industry, a dysfunctional Justice Department, an unsustainable health care system and job losses that were being measured in the hundreds of thousands each month.

Clearly, our ship of state was spinning dangerously out of control.

And clearly, President Obama has kept it from sinking.

Our financial system is on the rebound. The auto industry was saved.

The Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, is now focused more on protecting citizen rights than political privilege. And while solutions to rising unemployment continue to elude us, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, during 2009, monthly job losses moderated substantially. They shrank from an average of 691,000 a month in the first quarter to an average loss of 69,000 a month in the fourth quarter.

So, I suggest we slow down and not judge the President based on one year of emergency course corrections. In my view, he should be judged at the end of his first term by the famous question Ronald Reagan posed during his 1980 campaign: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" One thing is clear: We won't be better off if we don't all roll up our sleeves and remember that "government of the people," means we all have work to do.

We won't be better off if the minority party in Congress continues to vote strictly down party lines in opposition to everything the President wants to do - from passing a stimulus plan to health care reform. We won't be better off if we don't take decisive steps to reduce rising unemployment which now stands at 10 percent overall and 16.2 percent for African Americans.

We won't be better off unless we heed the words of New York Times columnist Bob Herbert who recently wrote, "Without a dramatic new intervention by the federal government the poverty rate for African American children could eventually approach a heartstopping 50%. . .already a third of Black children are living in poverty."

One year ago, the election of America's first Black President was a symbol of this country's evolving racial maturity. But symbolism is not substance. While we applaud the President for moving the country from the brink of disaster, we have a lot more work to do before he and all of us can claim that we are better off than the day he took office.

Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Help Haiti Now

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My faith in the essential goodness of the American people and our government has been strengthened as I have witnessed the extraordinary mobilization of relief efforts on behalf of the nation of Haiti following the devastating January 12 earthquake that has taken the lives of perhaps as many as 100,000 or more of its citizens. As I watch the screaming, tearstained scenes of death and anguish unfolding on the nightly news, I cannot help but recall that only five years ago, my own hometown of New Orleans might have disappeared into the abyss of forgotten history were it not for the compassionate outreach of millions of people in this country and around the world. As President Obama said, it is times like these that remind us of our common humanity.

But, as governments, the United Nations, and relief organizations scramble to rescue an already distressed nation from a crisis of biblical proportions, there is still a desperate need for all of us to donate whatever dollars, supplies and expertise we can. As in New Orleans, this tragedy also challenges the United States and other countries to change long-standing policies that have contributed to Haiti’s status as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. But, first things first.

As recovery and relief efforts intensify, we recommend the following:

It is clear that right now, cash donations are the best way to help. We are urging everyone to donate to the Haiti Support Project’s Haiti Relief Fund at www. ibw21.org. Headed by noted political scientist and scholar, Dr. Ron Daniels, IBW, or the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, is committed to an enhanced quality of life and the overall development of Black people and the Global Black Community. The group’s Haitian Support Project provides humanitarian and economic assistance to Haitian non-governmental organizations seeking to ameliorate the dire conditions of the Haitian people, most of whom live on less than $2 dollars a day. You can also go t o www.whitehouse.gov/HaitiEarthquake to choose another organization to contribute to.

While we applaud President Obama’s swift response and commitment of $100 million in immediate emergency relief, we urge the government to take further steps to rectify years of U.S. trade and immigration embargoes that have had adverse consequences for the people of Haiti. We are pleased that, in the wake of this disaster, the Obama Administration has halted deportations and has granted Temporary Protected status to 100,000 Haitian nationals who, prior to January 12, 2010, have been living in the United States illegally. This will allow them to continue living and working here for the next 18 months.

For years, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the IBW and others have been fighting for more aid and engagement with Haiti. CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee has made an impassioned plea that we take this opportunity to bring more of those efforts to fruition. We agree. In our view, the United States has both a moral and political obligation to lead a comprehensive plan for the reconstruction of Haiti, like the Marshall Plan, to ensure that the physical infrastructure and human lives are permanently rebuilt.

Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Letter to the Editor: D.A. Kamala Harris

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This day is very personal for me. As many of you know, I am a child of the civil rights movement. My mother marched for racial justice and equality when my sister and I were young girls being raised in Oakland. What my mother had, she gave to us in abundance: love, education, inspiration and hope. In the optimism of her struggle, she taught us to fight for what is best about our state and our nation— that though we may stumble and sometimes fall, this is a place where more often than not, we are given the chance to rise again.

Both my sister and I dedicated our lives to work every day for the civil rights of Californians. I made this decision so that I could fight for our essential civil right to live free from crime and fear in every neighborhood. I believe that our children have a right to safe schools and a quality education and that women and seniors have a right to live free from abuse in their homes. Homeowners have a right to protection from predatory lending and mortgage fraud, and workers have a right to organize and to have access to quality health care and safe working conditions.

The brave career of Dr. King ensured that fundamental civil rights were guaranteed by the courts. But while those rights have largely been secured in the law, they have yet to be fully realized. In order to achieve true equality for all, it is up to us to see that those laws are enforced. It is our duty to make sure that Dr. King’s dream is ultimately achieved.

Dr. King’s tireless work also reminds us to never forget those that are suffering across the globe. Please consider helping relief efforts in Haiti by contributing to one of the charities on the White House Haiti Relief Page.

Coretta Scott King once said, “Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.”

Our generation is fearless. We are tireless, and I am confident that we will work not only on this day, but every single day until the full promise of justice and opportunity is secured for our children and our children’s children.

Today we celebrate Dr. King in name, but we must also strive to honor him every day in action.

– Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney

Weasel Moves of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Redlands

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The City of Redlands has a rich history and is affectionately known as the Jewel of the Inland Empire. It is blessed with a myriad of people who are warm and hospitable with the ability to make you feel welcome anytime you enter into their community. Redlands is a safe community filled with people who will seek to help you, not seek to harm you.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Redlands (BGCR) was established in this community in 1967. BGCR’s past leadership did well in emulating the fundamental nature of the city in which it was founded. Since their inception BGCR has expanded their operation into the surrounding communities of Loma Linda and Mentone, effectively bringing programs to communities that were previously underserved.

But, there have been some recent choices made by the present leadership of the BGCR that strays from the roots and values of the city in which it was launched. Also, these choices, I’m certain, are in opposition to the integrity of the organization they supposedly represent, the Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA).

The present leadership of BGCR embarked on some questionable decisions with little or no regards to the organization that exists directly to the west, the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Bernardino (BGCSB). BGCSB was also founded in 1967 by Jack Brown, C.E.O. of Stater Bros; Patrick Morris, Mayor of San Bernardino; the late Art Townsend, founder of the Precinct Reporter; and Bruce Varner, attorney and member of The Regents of the University of California.

Motivated by their desire to obtain funds at any cost, the BGCR decided to make a few weasel moves.

A weasel move by definition is an action that is treacherous, underhanded or sneaky in manner.

Weasel move #1. Because of the past association with the Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino (HACSB) through the Brockton site in the Redlands Public Housing area, the BGCR opened up a site in the Waterman Gardens with the assistance of the HACSB.

Why would an organization which serves three communities with a population of around 100,000 including 26,000 kids under 18 want to expand into a city that is already being served by another area club? Why would an organization which serves households with a median income of about $50,000.00 choose to expand into a neighboring locality without notifying the local area club of their intent to set up shop in their city? The answer is simple, greed. Weasel move #2. On the BGCR website homepage they display serving the communities of Loma Linda, Mentone, Redlands, and San Bernardino. If you go to the BGCA website and go to the ‘Find a Club’ page, then enter 92410, the zip code for Waterman Gardens, the nearest site will be the BGCSB. The Waterman Gardens site is not recognized as an official site of the BGCA. Yet they shout it out loud and clear on their homepage – very deceitful.

· Please note: During construction of the BGCSB webpage it mistakenly stated ‘serving the county’ instead of ‘city of San Bernardino’. BGCR was outraged and contacted BGCSB. Shortly thereafter, the word county was corrected to read city.

· Also note: The BGCSB was contacted to expand into the city of Riverside. The organization declined due to the natural county boundaries.

Weasel move #3. The Inland Empire is made up of numerous Boys & Girls Clubs in a multitude of cities. Yet if you go to www.bgcie.org, www.bgcie.net or www.bgcie.com all of these sites will refer you to the BGCR webpage. Some call this a shrewd move. In light of all the other weasel moves, I call it very underhanded. Weasel move #4. Boys & Girls Clubs count on the generosity of foundations, corporations, businesses, individuals and the community for their support. They also receive grants from various sources. The BGCR has the audacity to apply for a Community Development Block Grant from the City of San Bernardino. Where are they going to use this money? Not in San Bernardino! Waterman Gardens is wholly funded by HACSB!

The true reason the BGCR is in Waterman Gardens is to use the median income numbers from the low housing development to strengthen grant proposals that they intend to write. This is nothing but exploitation in its worst form.

The Boys & Girls Clubs mission is “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” What kind of example is the BGCR setting to its young people by seeking to obtain the all mighty dollar through any means necessary, no matter what person or group they use, step-on or abuse to get it?

Rikke Van Johnson
Chairman of the Board
Boys & Girls Club of San Bernardino

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