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Foreclosure Worries Make For Blue Kwanzaa

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By Chris Levister –

The annual December 26 to January 1 celebration of Kwanzaa represents the harvest of the first fruits and vegetables, a time when African-Americans pause to confront the principles of faith, direction, purpose and self-determination. But the sense of direction is not so clear for thousands of African American homeowners this year who are bracing for a ‘Foreclosure Kwanzaa’.

“People like me aren’t in the holiday mode.” That’s Fontana mother Marcella Berry wrapping and boxing her traditional Kwanzaa candles along with dozens of family photographs, books and Christmas ornaments. “I’m worried about what’s going to happen to my house. How much longer am I going to be able to stay here?”

Berry says that much of the joy of Christmas and Kwanzaa is missing this year as she fights to hang on to her home in Fontana.

The single mother and laid off insurance adjustor may live in an epicenter of the U.S. housing crisis, but she is far from any stereotype conjured up in coverage of the record number of Americans whose homes are in foreclosure.

She is not a real estate speculator, house flipper or rental property investor. She did not lie about her income or buy more house than she could afford. She was not lured into home.

What happened to Marcella Berry could happen to anyone: She got sick, lost her job and fell behind on her house payments.

“Frankly some days it hurts to wake up,” she said. Since January, 2008, life for Berry has been a rollercoaster of nerves and frustration, failed loan modifications, broken promises made by realtors and bankers, hours of financial counseling and at least three legislative hearings like the one she attended in Van Nuys this week.

“You come away feeling pumped. You see others in the same boat. But at the end of the day it’s every man and woman for themselves.” Berry says she’s been turned down twice for loan modification and the realtor who promised to help won’t return her calls.

Berry says it’s not a coincidence law enforcement officers delivered a final eviction notice on the same day President Barack Obama expressed frustration to the leaders of the nation’s banks.

“They are ‘fat cats’,” referring to the comments the President made Sunday on “60 Minutes”.

“I believe Obama really wants to help homeowners, but if the banks are arrogant enough to thumb their noses at him after they got $78 billion in bail out money, there’s not a lot of hope for the people suffering on Main Street.”

Still there are glimmers of hope on the economic and housing fronts. Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo have repaid billions in Tarp funds and Inland Empire home foreclosures in November declined for the fourth consecutive month as banks continued to work with borrowers to avert repossessions.

However, default rates in the region remain among the highest in the nation.

One in every 101 Riverside County homes and 1 in every 104 San Bernardino properties were in some stage of default, according to figures released by Irvine-based RealtyTrac. Daren Blomquest, a spokesman for the online foreclosure tracking service, said overall Inland foreclosurerelated actions dropped 19 percent from October to November. That’s up 6.7% from a year ago.

Berry isn’t ready to throw in the towel however, she remains optimistic she will hang on to her home.

“I’m in talks with a “last ditch” lender.” If all else fails she says, “I’ll light a candle and stake my claim on the Seventh Principle of Kwanzaa: ‘Imani’ – Faith.”

Smart Phone Technology helps African-Americans, Hispanics Close Digital Divide

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By Chris Levister –

When Riverside Community College students Shelia Wellington and Daniel Garrett purchased Christmas gifts for friends and loved ones last week, they escaped the parking lot hassles and holiday crowds at local malls.

Rather, they completed their holiday shopping over a steamy latte at the local Starbucks.

“All you need is Wi-Fi, a mobile device and a credit card.” That’s Daniel Garrett, about to make a major holiday purchase using his cellphone. “Okay I’m on Best Buy’s website. Go to the TV section, click on the one I want to buy, plug in my credit card number and walah! I just spent $682.92 on a Sony flat panel television,” says Garrett. “Christmas Day that baby is going be under my mom’s tree.”

“Goodbye wireline, hello wireless,” says Wellington. “When I want to access the Internet my iPhone is all I need.” This weekend she text messaged her Christmas shopping order from her phone to Victoria Secret.

“The whole process took about 12 minutes. They’ll holiday wrap my order and ship it in time for Christmas.”

Wellington and Garrett are part of a new generation of consumers, particularly young African Americans and Hispanics who are using cell phones, PDAs, smart phones and other hand held devices to access the Internet.

African-Americans are steadily gaining access to and ease with the Internet, signaling a remarkable closing of the “digital divide” that many experts had worried would be a crippling disadvantage in achieving success.

Civil rights leaders, educators and national policy makers warned for years that the Internet was bypassing African-Americans and some Hispanics as whites and Asian Americans were rapidly increasing their use of it.

Once thought to be on the wrong side of the Digital Divide African Americans and Hispanics are “leapfrogging” over wire line technology and instead using wireless devices in unprecedented numbers according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study.

The study describes how wireless connections are helping to narrow the Digital Divide. Wireless technology is enabling many Americans to access the Internet for the first time and for many has allowed them to escape the cost of traditional hardwire phone service and installing personal computing equipment in the home.

Pew found that African Americans and English speaking Hispanics use their mobile devices to access the Internet far more than average. 48% of African Americans and 47% of Hispanics used the Internet from a mobile device, compared to an average of 32% among all adults nationwide. That’s huge, 141% jump from 2007, when only 12% of African Americans used the Internet on their mobiles on a given day.

The study found that wireless Internet use among the population as a whole has skyrocketed. A November 2009 study showed as many as 73% of Americans access the Internet at least twice a week. Much of that online activity is generated with the use of mobile devices.

The falling price of laptops, more computers in public schools and libraries and the third generation of cellphones and handheld devices that connect to the Internet have contributed to closing the divide, Internet experts say.

Those experts warn, make no mistake the Digital Divide persists. In recent years, there has been much discussion surrounding Black participation in digital technology. Shut out at the birth of digital technologies when wealth was created, studies and reports have exposed disparities and helped to close the gap between African-Americans and whites in computer ownership and Internet access.

Young African-Americans like Wellington and Garrett are reversing the “lock out” trend driving an explosion in online entertainment, social networking, shopping and online education. The notion of shopping from Starbucks is particularly encouraging news for retailers sweating over the effects of a sagging economy. This holiday online sales are expected to grow as much as 12% over 2008, outpacing so called traditional “brick and mortar” sales.

Garrett who is majoring in information technology at RCC sees an even greater benefit to closing the digital divide.

“Wireless is the only type of access that many Hispanics and African-Americans have, so embracing every aspect of the technology is critical to creating a level playing field,” he said. It’s not just about shopping, entertainment and social networking. “It’s the way of the future. Entering a global technology-driven workplace without technological skills is a recipe for unemployment.”


Lend More, Obama Tells Bankers

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By BVN Staff –

President Barack Obama challenged top bankers Monday to explore “every responsible way” to increase lending, saying they were obliged to help after being rescued by taxpayers.

In a statement after more than an hour-long meeting with the executives, Obama said he reminded them that much of the financial crisis that took the U.S. banking system to the brink of collapse had been “of their own making.” He also exhorted the executives— both in private and in public—to drop their opposition to an overhaul of the nation’s financial industry.

“If they wish to fight commonsense consumer protections, that’s a fight I’m more than willing to have, “ Obama told reporters at the White House.

He also urged lenders to find creative ways to free up lending.

Obama said banks have benefited from bailouts and should use that strength to lend more money to consumer and businesses.

“But given the difficulty business people are having as lending has declined and given the exceptional assistance banks received to get them through a difficult time, “ he said, “we expect them to explore every responsible way to help get our economy moving again. “

Delay, he said, was not an option he was willing to consider as his administration has focused on digging out an economy that has left more than 15 million Americans out of work. Many Americans resent the help the government gave to wealthy bankers while seeming to ignore their difficulties. Bank of America chief executive Kenneth Lewis pledged to Obama that his bank would lend $5 billion more to small- and mid-sized businesses in 2010 than it did in 2009, the bank said. It said the move is part of the bank’s broader effort to support an economic recovery.

JPMorgan said last month that it would boost such lending by $4 billion.

Obama’s stern lecture came hours after Citigroup said that it was repaying $20 billion in bailout money it received from the Treasury Department in an effort to reduce government influence over the banking giant. The government will also sell its stake in the company.

The slow economy has businesses reluctant to expand—and makes banks more grim about their prospects. Loan applications are down.

Sacramento Students Convene At Capitol To Push For Real School Reform

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Sacramento High School students along with principal P.K. Diffenbaugh and the California state NAACP visited offices of key legislators negotiating California’s approach to Race to the Top - President Obama’s $4.3 billion education reform challenge. The student delegation came to the State Capitol to voice their opposition to ABX5 8. b The delegation met with representatives from the office of Speaker Karen Bass and ABX5 8 author, Assm. Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica). The group expressed concern for the lack of parental rights and cumbersome rules on charter schools in Brownley’s bill and advocated on behalf of the real reform that will take California’s schools to the top offered in Sen. Gloria Romero’s SBX5 1.

Among the group was 11th grade student senator Lenee Washington who watched the Assembly vote down SBX5 1 in favor of a weaker measure targeting charter schools and backed by the teachers union. These students attend Sacramento High School, a charter school turn-around of a state sanctioned, failing school. In its new form, Sacramento High School ranks in the top 10 percent of similar schools and sends over b70 percent of its graduates to four-year colleges.

“Complete education reform will allow struggling students to not only graduate high school, but also have the chance to excel in higher education and make something of themselves” said Washington. “Every student deserves the right to a quality education.” “I made a decision to attend a public charter school rather than a traditional school,” said Jadell Lee, senior student and student body president of Sacramento High School. “It was the best decision I made concerning my future.”

A high-resolution copy of photo below of the students meeting with Speaker Bass’ education consultant as well as .pdf versions of the handwritten notes the students gave to the Speaker and Assemblywoman are available.

Please e-mail or call Carmy bPreston at cpreston@fortuneschool.us or 916-924-8633.

ACLU, Barbers Reach Landmark Racial Profiling Settlement

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By Chris Levister –

Facing civil rights violations and a potentially costly legal battle, The California Board of Barbering & Cosmetology (BBC) and Executive Officer Kristy Underwood agreed to a groundbreaking settlement that protects against racial profiling and places new restrictions on joint inspections with outside agencies.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP outlined details of the agreement during a news conference in Los Angeles today.

“This settlement goes a long way toward ensuring that what happened to barbers at the Hair Shack and Fades Unlimited last April won’t happen to other barbers in California,” said ACLU attorney Peter Bibring.

The settlement comes 7 months after the ACLU filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Riverside alleging Moreno Valley police officers and city code inspectors acting in conjunction with the BBC, conducted a series of racially-targeted warrantless raids on barbershops owned and patronized by African-Americans under the false pretense that the searches were just routine health-code inspections.

The agreement calls for Underwood to provide BBC inspectors with specified training and not later than December 31, 2009, make significant changes in the agency’s policy manual governing barbering and cosmetology inspections.

The conditions include the inclusion of a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy that bars discrimination against or grants preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.

BBC inspectors will only conduct authorized inspections necessary to determine compliance with the licensing, health and safety standards set forth in the BBC Act and Regulations. The agreement states BBC inspectors are forbidden to use health and safety inspections performed jointly with federal, state, or local law enforcement or other government entities as a pretext for conducting warrantless inspections or collecting criminal evidence.

Inspections that pose a possible safety risk to BBC personnel or suspicious criminal activity inadvertently uncovered during an inspection unrelated to BBC operations e.g. the presence of illegal drugs or other illegal substances; weapons shall be deferred to the Division of Investigation (DOI).

The agreement states joint inspection requests with outside agencies shall be investigated by the BBC Enforcement Manager, authorized by the Executive Officer and completed or accompanied by DOI personnel.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Kevon Gordon, Ronald Jones, Raymond Barnes and Quincy Brown alleges police armed with automatic weapons entered the barbershops wearing body armor and asking patrons for identification.

When one barber asked for an explanation, he was allegedly handcuffed and hauled out to a police cruiser where officers ran a criminal warrant check before releasing him.

The complaint alleges officers blocked the entrances, questioned employees and rummaged through the storefront businesses in a manner more befitting a drug raid than a civil code and business license inspection.

The April 2008 raids, first reported in the Black Voice News sparked a nationwide debate on racial profiling and police practices governing unlawful searches.

The barbers named in the lawsuit and their customers remain indignant and humiliated. They say business has fallen off and their reputations damaged.

Gordon, owner of The Hair Shack called the settlement the right thing to do. “I’m gratified by this agreement. It sends a strong message that the inspections were improper. Barbershops are of particular importance in the Black community,” he said. “I think people will now feel more comfortable about returning.”

“The state deserves credit for recognizing that these policy changes help ensure that barbering and cosmetology inspections will be used to enforce the laws of the beauty industry, not as a pretext for criminal law enforcement ,” said Bibring.

Underwood said “the state agency was not told Moreno Valley police were looking for criminal activity when they asked regulators to accompany them during the April raids.” She declined comment on the settlement, did not admit to wrong doing and agreed to pay $62,910 in attorney fees and court costs. The court will oversee enforcement for 3 years. The agreement does not resolve the ACLU complaint against the City of Moreno Valley and the County of Riverside which provides police services to the city.

The lawsuit demands unspecified monetary damages and written policy changes that would prohibit racial profiling, and ban similar kinds of illegal inspections as a way to get around requirements for obtaining search warrants.

Chief Deputy Rick Hall of the Riverside Sheriff’s Department, who was Moreno Valley’s police chief at the time of the raids, insisted race was never a factor. He said the actions were prompted by police who went into a shop and found barbers working without licenses.


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