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The Power and Force of Black Music Month

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By Nicole C. Lee, NNPA Columnist –

Music has been an important piece of my life. As a political activist I have used music to motivate myself and inspire others.

I have seen the power of the lyrics move people to great heights. Melodies backed by instruments have been a source of continuous encouragement and a vehicle which crystallizes ideas. Apart from humming to myself to a favorite tune or tapping on desk to a wonderful melody, music has also given me food for thought. This is why I join people all over the country in celebration of June as African American Music Appreciation Month a.k.a. Black Music Month.

Music has inspired African-Americans for centuries. From the daily drums on the African continent to James Brown shouting, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.”

Over 30 years ago Stevie Wonder emphasized to us what was in our hearts that songs are “in the key of life.” His masterpiece album gave us a history lesson, inspired us to treat each other with love and challenged us to liberate our minds.

Wonder commences his musical journey by stating that “Love’s In Need of Love Today.” Although this was in 1976 he could be talking about today as we deal various forms of intolerance: from racist immigration policies to worldwide policies that discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. The song “Black Man” is a history lesson of the contributions of various peoples that make up the United States. Wonder recounts the contributions of people such as Crispus Attucks, Benjamin Banneker, Caesar Chavez and Thomas Edison. Stevie Wonder challenges us as he says in “Pastime Paradise”:

Let’s start living our lives
Living for the future paradise
Praise to our lives
Living for the future paradise
Shame to anyone’s lives
Living in a pastime paradise
African-American musicians have consistently used music to challenge us to confront the truth. This was clearly evident in Billie Holiday’s rendition of “Strange Fruit”, with vivid lyrics and pain in her voice she laments the horrors of lynching without using the word but you knew all too well she means:

Southern trees bear strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South, The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh, Then the sudden smell of burning flesh! Here is fruit for the crows to pluck, For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop, Here is a strange and bitter crop. The heritage of challenging the status quo is conveyed in Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” At the height of the Vietnam War Gaye eloquently provides us a peace song as he says:

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying.

You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today—ya
Father, father, father we don’t to escalate
You see war is not the answer

Music played an important educational and mobilizing tool to support the liberation movement in South Africa. During the movement against apartheid in his song “Johannesburg,” Gil Scott-Heron asked us:

What's the word?
Tell me brother, have you heard from Johannesburg?
What's the word?
Sister/woman have you heard from Johannesburg?
They tell me that our brothers over there
are defyin' the Man
We don't know for sure because the news
we get is unreliable, man
Well I hate it when the blood starts
flowin' but I'm glad to see resistance growin'
Somebody tell me what's the word?
Tell me brother, have you heard from Johannesburg?

As we celebrate African American Music Month let’s embrace the total power of this cultural instrument. Through music we are taught history and challenged to make a better world.

Nicole C. Lee is president of TransAfrica Forum.

California Teachers Association Responds to BVN Editorial

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In response to your May 26, 2010 column “California Teachers Association Threatens Black Newspaper” The California Teachers Association has been a long-standing supporter of the Black Voice News and other ethnic media because we value the role that these publications and broadcast media play in the community and in the discussion of what is best for our children and the future of our state. This commitment is why ethnic media is always part of CTA’s advertising and media outreach. It is also why we run a special parental involvement campaign targeted to diverse communities every year. This campaign runs in 11 different languages. We are the only teacher or parent organization that makes this effort.

It’s unfortunate that miscommunication and misunderstanding would turn into the article that ran last week in the Black Voice News. California teachers are committed to helping all children succeed and have led efforts to help struggling schools improve, including many schools that serve a higher percentage of African American and Latino children.

Through the work of CTA, and the Quality Education Investment Act, these schools are receiving an additional $3 billion over seven years to help reduce class sizes, provide training to teachers and principals, hire additional school counselors to assist students and bring more experienced teachers to these classrooms.

After just one full year of implementation, the program is already documenting success. On average, student test scores at these schools were five points higher than other schools. The program has also spurred more parental involvement as parents are part of the program’s decision-making process.

CTA believes that every child has the right to attend a quality public school in their neighborhood. But unfortunately, wrapped around the words of “parental choice,” some of the reform ideas coming from Sacramento would actually shut down neighborhood schools or turn them over to private operators that have a history of excluding some students.

CTA looks forward to continuing its long-standing relationship with the Black Voice News and its readers, and we welcome engaging in any dialogue on issues that impact students and our public schools.

Mobilize for Jobs

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(NNPA) There are two bills in Congress now that could potentially put considerable new resources into communities with high unemployment around the country to create jobs. The first is the $118 billion bill, H. R. 4231, that is essentially designed to extend unemployment insurance and provide tax incentives to companies to create jobs. That is being put on the fast track to pass before politicians leave for the recess in June to campaign for re-election.

The second bill on the horizon however, is H. R. 4812 the Local Job Creation Act, a more far reaching bill that is the subject of a major effort by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC ) to get groups mobilized to support it. It is an important piece of legislation because it sends funds to localities targeted to places with high levels of unemployment and poverty.

A major recipient of such funding will be local government, not state governments, and a unique recipient will be non-profit community organizations that engage in local job creation.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights recently sponsored a forum on Capitol Hill in collaboration with the CBC that featured mayors and economists, but also representatives of the unemployed, poor and homeless who told their stories. It built a strong foundation for the support of H.R. 4812.

The importance of this legislative proposal is that it breaks with 30 years of ineffective urban policy. When Ronald Reagan came into office, cities were put on the backburner of public policy because they were associated with Blacks who were becoming majorities and producing local officials.

So, the conservatives did not want to re-create President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society approach of funding Model Cities or a War on Poverty. Most of the money went to corporations large and small, to train inner city residents and employ them. In return, they became exempt from billions of dollars of taxes for creating jobs in what became known as Empowerment or Enterprise Zones. While Bill Clinton sent $100 million to six big cities (Chicago, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Atlanta), businesses received $17 billion (2002-2009).

However, in 2005 a critical study by Harvard University for the U. S. Department of Commerce surveyed these programs and found that they produced very little economic development in cities that benefited disadvantaged populations. There has been substantial agreement with its findings by researchers at the Brookings Institution, the Urban Institute and other authoritative organizations since 2005.

It is time for the White House Office on Urban Affairs to go back to what worked. Lyndon Johnson’s approach of direct funding for job creation helped to create a new Black middle class which cut the poverty rate from 50% in 1960 to 30 percent by the end of that decade. But like any bill that has the hint of spending money on people who need it most, the Blue Dog Conservative Democrats are opposing it unless it is paid for, that it means it must abide by the “pay-go” rule. However, Rep. Barbara Lee, is leading the CBC in trying to have this effort declared an “emergency” so that it does not have to conform to the Pay-go rules.

Blacks and others who live in the Congressional Districts of conservative Democrats must finally challenge them. For example, I previously have mentioned John Barrow, a leader of the Blue Dog coalition in the House, whose district (Georgia 12) has a 45 percent Black population. But there are other Blue Dog districts with over 30 percent Black population, such as: Jim Marshall Georgia 13, John Spratt S Carolina 5, and Bob Etheridge N Carolina 2.

With these healthy Black populations, how is it that they are unable to put pressure on these representatives to support H. R. 4812?

This legislation represents a prime target for all of those organizations, the churches, Greek letter, civic and others who would become active in helping the Black community to pull out of this crisis, not only in the short term, but potentially in the long run. The force of this struggle must be large enough to break through the conservative strangle hold on human needs public policy to show that there is a much larger constituency for the pain being felt by most Americans right now and that they do not privilege the size of the deficit over that pain. They never have.

Dr. Ron Walters is a political analyst and Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland College Park. His latest book Co-edited with Toni-Michelle Travis, is: Democratic Destiny and the District of Columbia.

Kamala Harris for Attorney General

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San Francisco District Attorney Kamala D. Harris is a candidate California Attorney General. When DA Harris won election as San Francisco’s District Attorney in 2003, she became the first African American female to ever hold the post of District Attorney in the history of California. If elected to the office of California Attorney General, Kamala would become the first woman and the first African American in California to hold the post. The last time an African American was elected to a statewide office was 31 years ago.

For a young woman born to two parents active in civil rights in Berkeley during the 1960s, Kamala grew up amidst the chanting and singing of the Civil Rights movement. The selection of a career as a prosecutor may have seemed curious to her family at the time, but following the footsteps of the great lawyers of the civil rights era, she found her voice in the courtroom.

From the public schools of the East Bay, Kamala moved to Washington, D.C. to attend college at Howard University, the nation’s oldest historically black university, and then back to San Francisco to attend Hastings College of the Law. Her first job was as a prosecutor in the Alameda County D.A.’s office – the same office in which Earl Warren served prior to becoming a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

In 1998, she moved to the San Francisco District Attorney’s office where she prosecuted career criminals before being recruited to lead the San Francisco City Attorney’s Community and Neighborhood Division. After a long race for District Attorney, where she started at six percent in the polls, Kamala unseated a two-term incumbent in November 2003.

From the day she took office as District Attorney, Kamala Harris had a new vision for law enforcement. Rejecting the false choice that we must choose between being “tough on crime,” or “soft on crime,” Kamala aimed to make San Francisco “Smart on Crime.” That means ensuring consequences for those who commit crime in our communities, and she has done that – felony conviction rates are at the highest level in fifteen years. In addition, she has created new prosecution units focused on child assault, public integrity and environmental crimes.

But Kamala’s approach is also about being innovative in finding ways to keep the city safe – both stopping the cycle of crimes and preventing crime before it occurs. As she enters her seventh year as San Francisco's District Attorney, the "Smart on Crime" approach Kamala has pioneered continues to serve as a model for the nation to reform our criminal justice system.

For example, California has one of the highest rates of recidivism in the entire country.

California releases 120,000 inmates a year -- seventy percent of them return to prison within three years. In response, Kamala launched an early intervention program called Back on Track. Kamala's Back on Track initiative has achieved nationwide recognition for its successes in taking first-time, low-level, nonviolent drug offenders off the streets, giving them an education, job training and other important life skills, and re-entering them back into productive society. The program is paying off -- the recidivism rate for the participants of Back of Track has been reduced from 54 percent to less and ten percent.

And her fight against school truancy provides hope to children who too often feel that our educational system does not care about them. These are a few models of successes that Kamala Harris hopes to bring to the state of California as Attorney General.

As Attorney General, Kamala will bring her innovative approach to address the state’s criminal justice problems and continue to use her twenty years of prosecutorial experience to take on the perpetrators of financial crimes, mortgage fraud, identity theft and elder abuse.

Kamala has been endorsed by California’s elected, law enforcement and community leaders, including United States Senator Dianne Feinstein, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Diane Watson, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congressman, Lt. Gov., Senator and Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (Ret.), Former San Francisco Mayor and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Ambassador and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, California President of the California NAACP Alice Huffman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, California Legislative Black Caucus, Senator Curren Price (D-Los Angeles), Senator Kevin Murray (Ret.), Assemblyman Sandré Swanson (D-Oakland), Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), Assemblyman Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles), Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D-Compton), Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (Ret.), Los Angeles Chief of Police William Bratton (Ret.), San Diego Chief of Police William Lansdowne, San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón. She has also been endorsed by every major California newspaper endorsing in the race.

For more information about Kamala Harris’ candidacy for California Attorney General, visit www.kamalaharris.org.

In Opposition to Proposition 15

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By Hardy L. Brown –

This week, the California Black Media owners met with supporters of Proposition 15 and they made some valid arguments to support their position.

They referenced Arizona State Representative Leah Landrum, who used the Public Finance option they were supporting to make their point. So I called Arizona State Senator Cloves Campbell who just opted out of the public campaign program. The same is true for Senator Landrum and both of them are African Americans from the state of Arizona. Rep. Campbell said a public financing law like Proposition 15 sounds good, but that is the same program that has elected so many extremists in Arizona to allow the controversial illegal immigration law and other anti civil rights bills that are working their way through the legislature.

They claim it is the will of the people, but it is many of these elected officials who are passing these laws. Rep. Campbell said the immigration law can be triggered if your yard is uncut or a car is parked on the lawn. “That could be grounds for officials to enter your house and conduct a search for illegal immigrants.

And now that we have Blacks from other countries here in Phoenix I could be stopped and asked for papers of citizenship,” said Rep. Campbell. We can see California moving in the direction of Arizona with the passage of Proposition 15 and the Black community suffering worst of all. How many Blacks do you know will have the time or money to pay people to get 7,500 signatures and collect $5 dollars from them to run for office? Usually, these people get paid to collect signatures even though they do not fully understand the reason behind the cause. I have nothing against people who gather signatures, but the practice can be manipulated by people wanting to get into office with public money.

Rep. Campbell said Prop 15 benefits people who are new or not known in the community. He said he refused the funding because of the constraints. It also provokes signature problems. Some of the elected officials who are not familiar with the process won the seats and were kicked out because of technicalities.

Reporting processes are more rigorous and the restrictions on what you do with the money doesn't even allow you to donate to a church.

Nothing in this bill will prevent the rich or well connected from seeking office the way they currently do.

Remember, term limits were placed to give access to people seeking office, and we are in worse shape than we have ever been because of it. It was for these reasons and others that Rep. Campbell and Senator Landrum opted out of public financing and went back to the traditional fund raising techniques.

If you think that a rich extremist is bad for public office, wait until you get a poor, uneducated, misinformed extremist elected doing the will of the people.

Therefore I am sticking with my original position of NO on 15.


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