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Happy New Decade!

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Marc H. MorialAs we say goodbye to 2009, one thing is clear: The first 10 years of the 21st century have been as tumultuous and noteworthy as any in American history. The decade began with a Presidential election in which the man with the most votes lost, and the horror of 9-11, when nearly 3000 people died in the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil.

The decade ends with the first African-American in the Oval Office, the first Latina on the Supreme Court and the nation in the grips of a Great Recession even as Congress nears a final vote on historic health care reform. And while the goal of “Peace on Earth,” remains as elusive as ever, we are ending a major war in Iraq, setting the stage for the return of our troops from Afghanistan and celebrating Barack Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. During the past decade we’ve experienced an almost equal mix of tragedy and triumph. But as the National Urban League prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2010, I share the belief of millions that America’s best days are yet to come.

If September 11, 2001 will be remembered as the day of terror in America, August 29, 2005 will forever be known as the day of Katrina. More than 1800 people in the Gulf Coast and my hometown of New Orleans lost their lives in the storm, hundreds of thousands were displaced, and property damage exceeded more than $100 billion. But while the levees failed, the spirit of New Orleans remains unbroken. The city is rebuilding and with any luck, in a few weeks, you will see our New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl.

The past decade also included a number of breakthrough achievements by African Americans and women. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 tops the list, but there have been other notable “firsts.” In the business world, Dick Parsons, Ken Chenault and Stan O’Neal became the first African American Chairmen and CEOs of Time Warner, American Express and Merrill Lynch respectively.

And in May of this year, Ursula Burns became the first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she took over the reins at Xerox.

In politics, Colin Powell was appointed the first African-American Secretary of State in 2001. Deval Patrick became only the second elected African-American governor when he took office as Massachusetts’ chief executive in 2006. David Paterson was sworn-in as New York’s first African- American governor in 2008. Nancy Pelosi made history as the first woman Speaker of the House in 2007. And in 2009, Eric Holder became the nation’s first African American Attorney General.

During the past decade words like Facebook, YouTube and IPod became a part of our everyday lexicon. But one simple word - Hope—has defined the American spirit since our beginning, 234 years ago. As we begin the New Year, it is my fervent hope that we will find the courage to build on our successes, meet our many challenges and create an even better tomorrow. Happy New Decade!

Marc Morial is president and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum.

The Curse of High Expectations

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Julianne Malveaux, NNPA ColumnistI went to Copenhagen as part of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Commission to Engage African-Americans in Climate Control. 

The Commission – led by Carolyn Green formerly of Sonoco - included environmental justice guru Robert Bullard, Dillard University professor and environmental justice leader Beverly Wright, Frank Steward of the Association of Black in Energy, Leslie Fields of the Sierra Club, and me. 

We spent a week alternating between exhilaration and frustration, exhilaration at connections and opportunity, frustration at long lines (6 hours for me on Monday to get a credential that soon proved worthless), the marginalization of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations like the Joint Center), and further frustration at the way negotiations were progressing. All of us waited with bated breath to hear President Obama speak to the issues. We were heartened that he had come to present the United States position, and excited that he not only spoke, but was actively involved in negotiations for several hours.

Part of the Joint Center group gathered at Klimaforum09, which is described as “the people’s climate summit”. It’s a large, sprawling space with dozens of meeting rooms, and on Friday, a big screen television where hundreds of people gather to watch the Obama speech. The space has flava, too, as a group of folk rehearse for entertainment that they will present in the early afternoon, and another television screen shows a panel of leaders who are meeting even as President Obama speaks.

We have gone to Klimaforum 2009 because we want to hear our President in the company of others. Some of our group are part of other groups and some have been asked to sign statements or letters condemning the United States' position, even as we see a President who has gone further than anyone else has on this issue of climate change. He has not gone far enough for some, and I suppose this is the cufrese of the high expectations that President Barack Obama has brought to the international stage. 

He is so much better than our leadership of the past. He is not, however, the progressive icon, nor should he be expected to be.

My sense of the Obama speech is that our President is frustrated, maybe even angry. There is none of his lofty rhetoric in this speech. He is straight up, firm, almost biting. He says it is time to stop talking and move to action. 

He has gone out on a limb, but he can go no further without Senate approval. We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship. He wants to move the process of a climate change agreement along, and so he makes promises that he can keep, and ignores the ones he cannot keep. He says that we will commit to help raise $100 billion a year to help developing countries with climate change, but he doesn’t say how much the US will give, or exactly where the money will come from. The $100 billion falls short of numbers I’ve heard developing countries request – as much as $400 billion. This tepid agreement is an imperfect one, but it is a step forward.

The group at Klimaforum09 receives the Obama message differently. There is mild applause, and there are boos. We from the Joint Center are sitting in the front row in a section, and immediately behind us there are three White activists from California booing. We ask them why, and one says that Obama is “no better than Bush”. 

Would Bush have been here, in Copenhagen, with no results guaranteed, but fighting for what is right? Hardly. The California group consists of two men and one woman, a lawyer whose mouth is drawn into a taut line. She doesn’t even bother to engage with our group, grabbing her backpack and rushing out, her two colleagues following and shaking their heads. As I walk out of the hall, I talk with a British woman who shares that she had also booed. She says President Obama has not met her expectations. She thought he would flex his muscles and push G20 countries closer to what the developing world needs. We speak for an intense 10 minutes, and I explain that our President cannot override the Senate, which is why the agreement is nonbinding. She nods and says she understands, but she stands by her booing.

Daily, the Copenhagen Post distributes the COP15 Post, the Daily Climate Conference news. For the last three days of the conference, an ad appears from the Advocates from Environmental Human Rights in New Orleans (www.ehumanrights.org). 

They urge our president to take 10 key steps to protect our human right to live in a healthy environment. Rooted in the reality of New Orleans dislocation, this is a message that supports President Obama and reminds why a climate change treaty is important. We know that President Obama knows how and why to do the right thing. And we know, all too well, that his ratings have plummeted because he is not superman. He can’t do everything, not given the political realities. He moves the agenda forward, and he deserves applause for that.

Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. She attended COP15 as an NGO observer, as did Bennett sophomore Hershelle Gaffney.

The Importance of Education in the African American Community

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The saying is cliché but it is undeniably true: knowledge is power. This holds true especially in our modern capitalistic society of the United States. In order to get a decent job that pays well, the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree. African Americans have certain fields that we have excelled in such as music, entertainment, and sports but the common African American will not be a professional basketball player or the next great movie star. These African Americans must have another plan in order to reach their goals, which must be accompanied by education. Through time, African Americans have gained so much through the access to education, but the road to get here as a people has been a long one.

African Americans have come from literally the very depths of American society to become one of the most respected groups in American history. African Americans sadly started out in the United States as slaves. In American society we were viewed as nothing more than property and were treated as such. This sad revelation helps to explain why African Americans education in America started out so rough. It was illegal to teach a slave to read and write during the time of slavery so many African Americans were completely illiterate. Some slaves found ways to learn how to read, but there were not many places that could be called institutions for them to learn. Not only were there not many ways to learn how to read and write, but many slave masters would punish their slaves severely if they found that they had acquired the ability to read or write. Slaves were kept ignorant to the fact that there were ways in which they could be freed because they didn’t have the resources they needed educationally. The nation of the United States looked at Blacks as inferior because they were not educated and because they only viewed them as property. Though the constitution proclaimed all men are created equal, this phrase excluded Blacks from the equation. Many of the founding fathers of our nation were slave owners and some viewed Blacks as intellectually inferior to whites such as Thomas Jefferson. All these factors helped to perpetuate the view that Blacks were ignorant and incapable of being educated citizens. This is not a justification for the rights that were denied to Blacks but a view of how Blacks were viewed during the time of slavery.

After the Civil War, slavery finally ended in the United States. Even though slavery was over in the United States, education for Blacks was still very hard to come by. Education in the South was very poor, especially when compared to the North. The education that whites received was not as accessible to Blacks as it was to whites. This made it very hard for Blacks to go find jobs. The era after the Civil War was marked by the great educator Booker T. Washington. Washington did what no one had done before him; he helped create an educational system for Blacks in the South. He helped to found the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute and was the main voice of the Black community until his death in 1915. The Tuskegee Institute helped to create many teachers and skilled craftsman who could hand down their skills to younger generations. Booker T. Washington’s vision for the future was very brilliant in seeing that the main way for Blacks to gain more freedom was by obtaining more education in their community. By creating the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington helped African Americans become stronger and more powerful in the United States economically. Not only did African Americans grow more economically stronger, but the Tuskegee Institute helped to sow the seeds of change. A new generation of activists for change grew to become more educated and helped to inspire change after Booker T. Washington such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and W.E.B. Dubois. These men would have never had the opportunities they had if it were not for the things that Booker T. Washington did for the African American community’s education. This new generation eventually became the civil rights movement, which turned the entire United States segregationist movement on its back and changed America forever. This new America became an America where Blacks had the same opportunities as whites to go to just about whatever school they wished to go to. With this came the creation of affirmative action. Affirmative action was the creation of opportunities in employment, health programs, and education for all minorities. This furthered the ability for African Americans to reach their goals through education, especially when it came to higher education in colleges. The place that education is at now for African Americans in education is the best that it has ever been in history.

When Barack Obama was elected the president of the United States it did great things for African Americans in many different ways. Educationally Barack Obama has become the nail in the coffin for those who wanted to prevent African American achievement. He has also given many people hope because his story is that of the American dream. He has reached where he has gotten because of the great education he has received at the several institutions, including Harvard, which he has attended. His education would never have been possible without all the things that his predecessors did to get African Americans where we are today. Obama has also shown America what an African American can do when he or she gets a great education. Barack Obama has also eliminated the excuses that some African Americans use to explain why they don’t succeed in America. Many people use excuses that because they are Black; they are never given the opportunities that others receive. This idea has been completely destroyed because Barack has shown that anyone can be what they want to be with a good education and the drive to match History has proved that the acquisition of education has changed the fortunes of African Americans in the United States. My name is Jehrid Mosley and I am a sophomore at Cal State Northridge. Luckily for me, I learned that education is the key to success during high school. I did not do well in high school my first two years because I didn’t have the drive to be a great student. My big turning point was during my junior year when I started working at McDonalds. When I was working there, I kept asking myself, “Why do I work so hard and get paid so little?” I also noticed that the managers did far less work then I did, but got paid much more than I did as well. I thought why this was and discovered that the only difference between me and them was that they were more educated then I was. At this point, I decided that the only way I would ever get what I wanted was by getting an education and that not going to college was not an option. From then on, I worked hard in school and graduated with honors. I was accepted into many Cal states and decided to go to Cal State Northridge. Thankfully for me I discovered the ultimate truth early: knowledge is truly power.

Green Jobs for Black America

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Marc H. Morial, NNPA ColumnistLast week, representatives from some 192 countries convened in Copenhagen to try to reach an agreement on worldwide reductions in greenhouse gases to mitigate the devastating effects of global climate change.

At the same time President Obama, prodded by the National Urban League and others, announced new measures to tackle record unemployment that has reached epidemic proportions across America, especially in urban communities of color. What do these two issues have in common? It is becoming increasingly clear that the “green movement” is not only critical to the health of our planet and its people; it can be an engine of economic recovery and growth that brings desperately needed jobs and development to our cities.

That was the message of the National Urban League’s Green Jobs Summit held in Washington, DC on December 3rd. Under the auspices of our new Council of Green Advisors, headed by Walter A. Bell, chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corporation, we brought together top corporate executives as well as experts in the green and renewable industry movements and other advocacy leaders to begin formulating specific recommendations to ensure that urban America has a central role in the Green Jobs/Clean Energy revolution.

Many in our communities have not yet made the connection between the greening of America and jobs. That is why our initial focus will be on educating and training communities for job opportunities designed to foster a cleaner environment and reduce energy costs.

This includes the construction and installation of wind turbines and solar panels, as well as the retrofitting and weatherizing of homes and businesses. “Green jobs” is also a major component of the National Urban League’s sixpoint plan for Putting Americans Back to Work, as outlined in a letter I recently sent to National Economic Council director Larry Summers and Congressional leaders. We are calling for the creation of Green Empowerment Zones in areas where at least 50 percent of the population has an unemployment rate that is higher than the state average.

Manufacturers of solar panels and wind turbines that open plants in high unemployment areas will, for a period of three years, be eligible for a zero federal income tax and a zero capital gains tax under the condition that they hire and retain, for a minimum of three years, at least half of their workforce from the local area.

The National Urban League’s more than 100 affiliates are on the frontlines of the job crisis every day and we see the devastating effect the 15.6 percent Black unemployment rate is having on the families and communities we serve. That’s why in addition to a focus on green jobs we are calling on the federal government to make targeted, temporary and timely investments to create 3 million new jobs now.

We are also seeking an increase in job training for the chronically unemployed, greater access to credit for small businesses and additional counseling relief for those caught in the backlog of the foreclosure process. We bailed out Wall Street. Now it’s time to bring relief to Main Street and urban America. Green Jobs must be a part of the solution.

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


Where Do We Go From Here? An Active and Vocal Movement

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Rev. Jesse JacksonEditor’s Note: Upon the 25th year of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s first run for president of the United States, we asked him to write his thoughts on the state of Black America at this point in history, focusing on the question, Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s been big month. A jobs summit, the beginning of another escalation in Afghanistan a Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, a climate change conference in Copenhagen, a possible end game for the Senate on health care, and a jobs summit and what I hope will be the start of an effective national jobs program that puts America back to work.

December 10th also marked Human Rights Day, the 61st anniversary of the day the post-WWII world adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is an appropriate day to consider “where we go from here.”

I’m always reminded that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. authored the essay, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

An ascendant civil rights movement organized the1963 March on Washington, the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery – a movement that led to passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. But by January 1967 when he wrote the “Where do we go from here” essay, the civil rights struggle was on its heels, searching for direction and strategy.

His query is especially appropriate right now. It is even more auspicious, as President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize this December 10th, 45 years to the day that the 35 year-old Dr. King was so honored. In a way, we’ve reached another apex in our movement, the culmination of a 54 year civil rights journey from the 1954 Brown decision ending legal segregation, winning civil and voting rights in the 60’s, organizing our Rainbow campaigns of the 1980s through to the historic election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Eight years of failed Bush Administrations left the economy on the brink of disastrous depression. One year ago, people in the U.S. voted for change and a new direction. In so doing, they inspired and unleashed the power of hope around the world to break down old barriers of cynicism, doubt and disbelief. But just one year after President Obama’s election, stiff winds of resistance are blowing from all directions. It’s been some time since we’ve witnessed such a sustained, ideologically inspired campaign to smear and vilify a President, to drown out rationale public debate and discourse, and circumvent the people’s desire for progressive change. Wall Street has rebounded from the brink of collapse. But the sub-prime mortgage crisis ballooned into a full-scale foreclosure crisis. Student debt is soaring and jeopardizing the education of our youth. Unemployment is up, and so is global warming. Hope is up, too, but unfortunately so is poverty. Yes, it’s mid-day in our politics, but midnight in our economy. We must have the clear vision and strong will to ride out the storms of the long night until the sun rises and we reach the dawn of a new day.

Where do we go from here?

Perhaps we should go to our Biblical mission statement: bring good news to the needy, to feed the poor, heal the brokenhearted, care for the sick, and set the oppressed free. Bring good news to the needy by creating a Stimulus II that targets the zones of pain. Stimulus I focused on the zones of gain. They’ve watered the leaves of speculation while the roots of investment have withered. Wall Street now is paying bonuses, but the big banks still aren’t lending to the real economy. We need direct, targeted jobs programs, and the expansion of lending to spur small business development. It is time to focus on helping those who are the victims of, not the cause of, the crisis.

Care for the sick by enacting comprehensive, accessible and affordable health care for all Americans. Republicans have taken a stand to crush the health care bill. Blue Dog conservatives have taken a stand to circumvent and undermine it. So must progressive stand up and fight for inclusion of the public option and create public support the President and Congress need to pass a comprehensive health care bill before year’s end. In our Rainbow campaigns of 1984 and 1988, I campaigned from coast to coast for comprehensive health care for all at a time when “only” 37 million Americans were without health insurance. Twenty years later, that number has risen to a totally unacceptable 45 million. We must do better, and now is the time.

House the homeless by confronting the home foreclosure crisis threatening to tear the heart and soul of America’s communities. A record high four million families will face foreclosure this year alone, but another 13 million homeowners will face foreclosure in the next five years. To date just 4 percent, or 10,000 of the 728,000 homeowners seeking assistance, have received permanent loan modifications under the administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program. That’s like dipping a spoon in the ocean, as foreclosures continue to outstrip modifications. We need a comprehensive, effective foreclosure prevention/save our homes program to “save homes for the holidays” - to protect not just the most distressed families in their time of need, but also to protect their neighborhoods, the community tax base, the public services which depend on having a healthy housing infrastructure.

Where do we go from here?

Heal the broken hearted by addressing the employment demands of the 8 million workers who have lost their jobs in the last 18 months. Decades of misguided urban policies undermined our nation’s manufacturing base - we export capital and jobs, and import drugs and guns. We’ve decimated whole cities. The hope of the recent jobs summit is that it will invest immediately and directly in job preservation and creation.

None of this can happen unless we strengthen and enforce civil rights and fair lending laws. This crisis took place in large part because predatory lending and reckless gambling were celebrated, not policed. Laws against discriminatory lending were ignored. Consumer protection laws were diluted, as subprime lenders, payday operators and credit card loan sharks had their way. The administration has sensibly called for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, but while the banking lobby descends on Congress, the administration should be using the powers it has to enforce the law. Furthermore, as world leaders gather in Copenhagen to grapple with the real dangers of global warming, we need to get serious about a new alternative energy economy, about green jobs and weatherization, about replacing coal and oil with wind and solar. Free the oppressed with a Stimulus II, a new war on poverty to set the oppressed free. Eight million families and 40 million Americans, or 13%, live in poverty; fourteen million children under 18 were in poverty. In 2008, 49 million people lived didn’t have enough to eat, including 17 million children. In 2002, 35 million went hungry, a number that has increased by 50% since then. In the end, this administration and our nation will be judged by how we treat the least of these. The “other America” which shocked President Kennedy still exists, hemmed in by stunted hopes, circumscribed lives, broken dreams.

Where do we go from here?

The President’s new policy of escalating and expanding the war in Afghanistan is risky and expensive, and, despite a projected date to begin troop withdrawal, there is no end in sight. The war on terror a real one, but it’s a 21st century problem that cannot be “won” by using 20th century strategies of military conquest. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Dr. King made these time-tested remarks, ”...Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time—the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.” We hope the President’s plan is successful, and pray for the earliest return home of the 100,000 troops who will be sent to war in Afghanistan… but doubts abound.

Where do we go from here?

We stay true to the principles that Dr. King lived and died for, and we rebuild our grassroots movement to press for serious change, structural reforms, peace and justice. Progressives have been far too silent, too passive in face in face of winds of resistance and vitriolic reaction. It’s time to stand up and be counted, to assert our progressive principles, and put a focus on policies and direction, not personality.

We celebrate last year’s election, which ended the years of regression, repression and recession brought on during the Republican-dominated Bush years. But we can’t stop there.

I’m reminded of the apocryphal stories of FDR and the labor movement in the 1930s, and LBJ and the civil rights movement in the 1960s. As the stories go, the movement leaders met with these presidents and presented their demands, to which these FDR or LBJ, in effect, replied: “I support you—now go out and make me do it. I agree with you, but I don’t have the votes in Congress, so go get them!” We need to build a movement on President Obama’s progressive flank that is impossible to ignore.

We need to give political voice to our better ideals.

Isaiah speaks of beauty from the ashes, where ashes abound beauty must abound even more. Where hatred abounds, love must abound even more. Where fear abounds, love and hope must abound even more. Fear limits us – hope unleashes creative genius. Those hit the hardest by this crisis – those in the zones of pain - must organize. Often, the malnourished children, the homeless, the jobless, those families forced from homes to shelters are largely hidden from sight. It’s time to rise up and be seen. By acting collectively, the poor express their humanity. They create a forum to tell their stories. It is time to act, to come together and march together. Human lives are being crushed by this crisis. We need bold action now. We must act together to make our voices heard, in the streets and in the suites.

Absent an active and vocal movement, we cannot make our hopes for change a lasting and concrete reality.

It’s where we must go from here. Keep Hope Alive.

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