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Julianne Malveaux

Black Women and Organizations

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(NNPA) During Black History Month, the focus is often on individuals. The founder of the month (once Negro History Week) was Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and he chose the week that encompassed both the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. When other luminaries are mentioned, they are mostly men, but this year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has declared that women will anchor the month. It is great to lift up the many black women luminaries, including Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, Elizabeth Keckley, Cathy Hughes, and so many others.

Yet the real untold story of Black History Month is the story of the organizations that have made a real difference in the advancement of African American people. The NAACP, founded in 1909, and the National Urban League, founded in xxx are the most visible organizations, but in 1935 both the National Council of Negro Women (led by Dr. Height from 1957 to her death in 2010) and the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs were founded. Even earlier, in 1896, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs was established. Mary Church Terrell was the organization’s first president and this group, still operating, is the oldest organization that works for the benefit of black women and families.

Until 1960, most African American women worked as maids, domestics, or private household workers. The National Domestic Workers Union was founded in 1968 by Dorothy Lee Bolden, who started working at age 12 for about $1.50 a week. The organization was dedicated to professionalize domestic work, providing training and advocating for fair working conditions. This was yet another example of African American women coming together to improve their lives and those of their families.

There is a rich history of African American sororities and fraternities. Among the sororities, Alpha Kappa Alpha was founded at Howard University in 1908. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated was also founded at Howard in 1913 by women who broke off from AKA to emphasize their commitment to scholarship, service, and sisterhood. Delta women marched in the Women’s Suffrage March in 1913, despite discouragement from white women who did not want to mix race matters with suffrage issues. (Full disclosure – I’m a Delta). Two other black women’s sororities, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho, are organizations that also focus on service. All of the black women’s sororities are committed to uplifting the community and to providing scholarship assistance to students.

In so many ways, the history of organization is a tribute to the human spirit that transcends stories of individual accomplishment. Organizational development reminds of the ways and the reasons that people come together for uplift and for good, to improve lives, to pay it forward, to pass good things on. Black history month is often the story of accomplished individuals but the story of organizations is equally compelling. As a nation and a world, we are better off for the efforts of the National Council of negro Women, now led by Dr. Avis Jones DeWeever, for Delta Sigma Theta, led by Cynthia M. A. Butler-McIntyre, by the Children’s Defense Fund, led by Marian Wright Edelman, and by the National Mentoring Cares Movement, led by former Essence editor Susan Taylor. As we cheer on individuals, we must also cheer on the enduring legacy of organization founded and led by African American women.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women and author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History.

Who Gets Food Stamps?

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(NNPA) Newt Gingrich is playing racial politics and he is playing to win. First he says that black children should get jobs as janitors (why not suggest they get the same consulting contract he did at Freddie Mac – I’m with Mitt Romney here, what did Gingrich tell Freddie Mac that was worth more than a million dollars). Then he says that he wants to tell the NAACP that we should demand jobs, not food stamps. He so bristles at Fox commentator Juan Williams that he gets a standing O in South Carolina. And he has repeatedly described President Barack Obama as a “food stamp” President. It’s race baiting, pure and simple, and few have called him on it.

The true food stamp story goes something like this. In 2006 just 26.5 million Americans received food stamps. By 2011 the number had spiked to more than 45 million people. This has been the result of the Great Recession that has left at least 13 million people officially unemployed for an average of 40 weeks. Those are the official numbers, but they may be twice as high when we consider the people who have part time work and want full time work and those who have dropped out of the labor market because it costs too much to look for work. President Obama is not a food stamps president; he is a president who inherited an economic crisis. Newt is being extremely disingenuous and extraordinarily racist in his food stamps rap.

While about 14 percent of all of us – one in seven – gets food stamps, in some states the number is as high as one in five. In South Carolina, for example, poverty is greater than it is in the nation and 18.2 percent of South Carolinians get food stamps. The number in Maine is 18.6 percent, in Louisiana 19.2 percent, in Michigan 19.7 percent, in Oregon 20.1 percent, and in Mississippi 20.7 percent. Given the racial dynamics in South Carolina, did Newt decide to show out in a state where there is more poverty than elsewhere, and when the racial resentments (remember I said Confederate flag waving) don’t need much fuel to turn to fire. He got a standing O by pandering to racial stereotypes. And that pandering may well have propelled him into victory.

Newt has managed to paint food stamps as a black program, partly by describing our president as a “food stamps” president, and partly by putting food stamps in context with the NAACP. But Mr. Gingrich, often touted for his intelligence, must be bright enough to know that most food stamp recipients are not African American. Indeed, according to the Associated Press, 49 percent of food stamp recipients are white, 26 percent are African American, and 20 percent are Hispanic. Indeed, some of the folks who gave Newt a standing O are food stamp recipients, but they chose to bond with Newt’s racially coded messages instead of their own economic reality.

Poverty has a different face than it has ever had before. People who used to have big jobs and fancy cars are now struggling to make ends meet. People who always struggled are now strangling. More than 2 million families have doubled up in the past year because they needed a family lifeline to save their lives and their worlds. More than 40 percent of African American children live in poverty. Newt Gingrich would blame the poor for their situation, but the economy that President Obama inherited is an economy that has thrust people into despair. Food stamps are a lifeline for many. How dare candidate Gringrich attack President Obama for providing relief to 45 million Americans!

Most food stamp recipients are people who used to work, and they would, frankly, rather be working than receiving assistance. But they have downsized their lifestyles, their dreams, and their expectations. They are waiting for the job market to roar back. Half of the 45 million are white, and some of them stood to applaud Gingrich. Do they really think that a man who disdains the poor will provide them with a lifeline? Do they really believe that a man who is selling wolf tickets to the NAACP is really concerned with the well being of the least and the left out. The poverty that too many Americans experience is repugnant. The extent to which politicians trivialize such poverty is character revealing. Who will put American back to work? Who will alleviate poverty?

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina.

African Americans Lose, White Others Gain

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(NNPA) The unemployment rate is falling for the third month in a row, and in December about 200,000 private sector jobs were created. The monthly unemployment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that unemployment has declined by six tenths of a percentage point since August. Already, some economists are saying we can expect another decline next month.

I am surprised, however, at the very tepid language that the Employment Situation report uses to describe the increase in African American unemployment. A rise of .3 percent among African Americans, the second rise in as many months, is described as having “changed little”. It has changed enough so that while some are celebrating gains, African Americans are losing. Indeed, the African American unemployment rate increased from 15.5 to 15.8 percent.

Black women, it turns out, are losing more than most. While the unemployment rate for adult African American women, at 13.9 percent, is still lower than the male rate of 15.7 percent, African American men gained jobs this year, while African American women lost them. Why? Nearly one in four (23%) African American women works for government, and federal, state, and local governments are releasing workers, not hiring them. And while some governments will attempt to get the economy moving by creating construction and redevelopment opportunities for men, teachers, nurses and social workers, mostly women, are walking on eggshells in fear of job losses. Even when we know that smaller classroom size gives a better yield in terms of educational results, school districts are being forced to shoehorn another student or two into already-crowded classrooms because of cost issues.

The data that comes from the Employment Situation report is, probably much lower than the reality of African American unemployment. When we include those marginally attached to the labor force (stopped looking, etc.), as well as those part time workers that want full time work, the unemployment rate for the total population is not 8.5 percent, but 15.2 percent. And the estimate of the African American unemployment rate would be not 15.8 percent, but a whopping 28.3 percent. More facts – though the number of officially unemployed people is dropping, it is still high enough with 13.1 million actively looking for word and not finding it. And the average person has been out of work for 40.8 weeks, six weeks longer than a year ago. The headlines blaze optimism, the reality is different.

Add to this a recent report that says that the wealth gap between Congress and their constituents is growing. In 1984, the average member of Congress had wealth of $280,000, excluding home equity. In the twenty years since 1984, Congressional wealth grew by two and a half times, to $725,000. Again, this doesn’t include home equity. In contrast, the median wealth of an American family actually dropped slightly to around $20,500, again, not including home equity. It is very likely that when home equity is added, the gap is even larger.

This wealth gap perhaps explains why Congressional representatives are more interested in tax cuts than in creating jobs. It explains, perhaps, why Republicans so resisted President Obama’s plan to extend the Social Security tax cut and also to extend unemployment rate insurance. Congress is operating in their own self-interest, they aren’t thinking about their jobless and economically challenged constituents.

If these members of Congress got calls from bill collectors, lived with less money than month, had to deny their children a new pair of shoes or an after-school trip because of dollars, or actually had to visit a grocery store on a budget, they might have not so hesitated before they eventually capitulated to President Obama’s determination. Still the growing wealth gap perhaps explains why so few are alarmed at some of the unemployment rate data.

To be sure, it is exciting to see unemployment rates drop, even slightly. It suggests that some of the Obama policies are working. But someone has to explain why these policies aren’t working for African Americans, especially for African American women. If this trend continues, the Obama Administration will have to consider targeting some relief to those who aren’t benefitting from the unemployment downturn. Some analysts, myself included, have been advocating programs targeted toward the inner city, toward service employment, toward unemployed youth, for quite some time. The unemployment rate gap, the fact that there are clear winners, and also clear losers in the current changes, make targeted employment programs far more imperative.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC.

Robert Champion: Drum Major for Change

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(NNPA) Most parents of college students look forward to December, when their students come home for the holidays. Some are so excited to see their offspring home that they actually come to their colleges to pick them up. Others prepare special treats and goodies as an antidote to the oft complained about cafeteria food.

Robert and Pam Champion won’t have that opportunity. Their son, Robert, died on November 19. His death has been ruled a homicide and he is allegedly the victim of hazing. Florida A&M University , one of our nation’s most respected HBCUs, is in the headlines now, not because of its excellent academic programs, but because its celebrated marching band has apparently had a culture of hazing.

Robert and Pam Champion are to be commended for turning their pain into a force for change. In a recent media interview, they indicated that they have set up a Facebook page in honor of their son, who they describe as a “drum major for change” because they will use his story to help other victims of hazing. Mrs. Champion also indicated that she would set up an anti-hazing hot line so that young people can, anonymously, deal with issues of hazing. The younger Robert Champion has apparently not been the only victim of hazing in the FAMU Marching Band. In the past, one student has had her hip broken, and two have been hospitalized with kidney damage. And these are only the cases we know about.

The FAMU Marching Band isn’t the only organization that hazes. Sororities and fraternities, whether part of the African American Divine Nine, or part of the larger Greek-letter organization atmosphere, seem to think hazing is part of the culture. Whether it is yelling and screaming at pledges, to the use of actual physical violence, hazing is prevalent. The National Study of Student Hazing, which got results from more than 11,000 students at 53 colleges indicated that "8 percent of women in Greek life have experienced hazing”. This study didn’t focus on HBCUs, but it would not be surprising to learn that our numbers mirror these. Two questions – why is membership in a group so important that you’d risk your life; and why must people verbally and physically abuse those who want to join their group.

Our young people are no better than what we show them they can be. I have heard sorority women make the distinction between “pledging hard” and “pledging soft”, with the implication that the brutal former is better. Young men and some not so young men, sport brands, some of which have been infected, as symbols of their fraternity and their “manhood”. Many of those branded were either willing or subject to coercion. When elders show their sons these brands, they may well co-sign the continuation of a brutal trend.

What is hazing about? It’s bullying, it’s coercion, and it’s descent into groupthink in the worst way. I’ve got something you want, and I’m going to make you suffer to get it. In order to join a band you ought to be able to play music, not survive a beating. How does the beating make you a better band member? Actually, it allows some folks to play a game of false superiority to the detriment of others.

The bottom line, though, is that it has to stop. The college experience should not be a brutal experience, or an experience where coercion and intimidation are ingrained into the process of joining a group. To be sure, there are bonding opportunities in ritual – in learning songs, history, steps, or chants. And there may be penalties when band members or pledges don’t toe the mark in learning things on time. But the penalties should not be physical abuse, and that abuse has become too acceptable.

What do we do about it? Some parents whose children have been hazed have brought criminal charges or civil lawsuits. Others have pushed for systemic change. Leaders in higher education must assert zero tolerance for hazing and enforce zero tolerance policies with appropriate actions. Four members of the FAMU band have been dismissed from school, but only after young Robert Champion’s death. Had they been expelled sooner, might Champion still be among us?

Robert and Pam Champion are to be commended for turning their pain into change. But if hazing cannot be stopped, those organizations that allow it simply need to be disbanded.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

When a Child Kills Himself: Bullying and its Consequences

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(NNPA) I hope you watched Extreme Home Makeover on December 2, as I did. For me it was an opportunity of pride, as Bennett student Dominique Walker was featured, with her family, for a trip to Los Angeles, and a home upgrade. Why? Because her family remained in pain because their 11 year old brother killed himself after vicious bullying.

Carl Walker-Hoover was hazed because folks thought he was gay. He was bothered, bullied, and besieged. He tried to talk to folks, but he eventually found out that no one wanted to hear what he had to say. He hung himself at home, and the family avoided his b3edroom because they were in pain.

Our pain. The child was bullied and badgered and he couldn’t take it. He was like more than 1 in 6 young people who say that bullying is part of their life. Many manage, and many manage by becoming bullies themselves. Many don’t manage. They are left out, dropped out, worn out, pulled out with parents so oblivious to the effect of bullying that they think it is just a childhood thing. A game young people play with each other. Not.

The worst of it is that the Internet compounds what used to be simple schoolyard chatter. Now, young people put rumors and nonsense into cyberspace about each other. And cyberspace doesn’t simply whisper, it yells. Young people’s reputations are on the line because bullying has taken on an Internet space.

Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11 year old, was “outed” as gay when at 11 he probably was only different. Young people decided to play with him in the worst way, picking at him and on him and around him and through him. One day he awakened and told himself he couldn’t take it anymore. Now his life can be our light and his family can be a symbol against bullying.

What is it about us, human beings that allow us to batter each other? Does it make us feel better? Do we grow when others shrink? Do we flourish because they shrivel? While we pay lots of attention to yo0ung people and their bullying, shouldn’t we also pay attention to the adult among us, those who thing that we gain because others lose, we rise because others fall, we use our tongues in a way to diminish, not flatter? As I watched the pain of the walker family on Extreme Home Makeover, I realized that perhaps few meant harm, but many contributed to the utter tragedy that family had to manage.

We are all indebted to ABC and the Extreme Makeover team for deciding to help this family. They remind us that pain and passion reverberate. I say lots of ads following the special, and into the next few days, of young people talking about the effects of bullying. Carl Walker-Hoover’s suicide puts a face on bullying and reminds us that there is a possibility of an anti-bullying movement. The ads tell the story, but can the people tell more?

Here’s the bottom line. We have all been bullied, one way or another, with a friend or colleague with a vicious, ugly mouth. And because we have all been bullied, we have all been bullies in our space. Humanity requires us to understand that the behavior we model is behavior that young people replicate. It requires us to understand that everyone can’t meet a bully, face to face, eye to eye, and resist the nonsense that can be called hazing.

For whatever reason, Carl Walker-Hoover could not stand up to his bullies. He had enough. He shared how much of enough he had with his suicide. Who knows what he might have been – an author, a scientist, a leader. When he died he was a young black man whose life spread out before him, a life he chose to end because he could not endure bullying. How many more lives will we lose? How can we learn to value every life, and to kick bullying to the curb?

I am so proud that Carl’s sister, Dominique, is a Bennett student. We hope to use her knowledge to help us grapple with the many ways we choose to hurt ourselves. She is a survivor of this bullying nonsense, as so many are. She is one of the leaders we have been waiting for!

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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