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Julianne Malveaux

Maxine, Maxine, You are Our Queen

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(NNPA) For as long as I have known her, Congresswoman Maxine Waters has been one of my sheroes, a sister I love, admire, and emulate. When she was in the California state legislature, she was a relentless advocate for the least and the left out, and distinguished herself by divesting California state funds from companies doing business with South Africa in 1986. She was a loyal champion of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1984 and in 1988, and a whirlwind force for social and economic justice in California.

When she transitioned to Congress, it was extraordinarily clear that she would continue her work to ensure that corporate forces would consider the people. I remember her insistent voice on the savings and loan crisis in the early 1990s. She was one of the more powerful forces in insisting that the little people not bear the burden of that debacle. Even more so, she has always been focused on including minority and women businesses in government contracting, whether it means cleaning up the S&L mess, or the current banking madness. She has, indeed, introduced legislation to ensure that new banking regulations include minority and women’s business participation.

Why is she in trouble for doing what she does best, for advocating for minority businesses that suffer more than others in the middle of crisis? The House Ethics Committee says she crossed a line, perhaps advocating for a black-owned bank of which her husband, Sidney Williams, was once a trustee. She says she asked former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for a meeting to deal with all of the minority owned banks imperiled by the financial crisis, and that the bank her husband had an interest in, OneUnited Bank was just one of the 103 members of the National Bankers Association. When she asked for the meeting there was no bank bailout program, just an interest among minority banks to deal with ways they could maintain their businesses when the economy was melting down. From where I sit, Congresswoman Waters did the right thing. The real question is why her attempt to provide access to minority owned banks becomes an issue of ethics.

As the Congresswoman said in an August 19 press conference, the question is not why she called Treasury Secretary Paulson, but why she had to. In other words, the National Bankers Association could not get a meeting because Paulson did not find them sufficiently important. He could not turn a member of Congress down, but he could turn a bunch of Bankers down. Is Congresswoman Maxine Waters being punished because she had the temerity to grant access to those who lacked it? Is she being punished because she chose to do her job? If she were a go along to get along and shuffle along Black woman, would she be called out by the House Ethics Committee? Were her commitment to fairness more muted and more cooperative. Would anybody question her ethics?

Had Maxine Waters never challenged the powers that be, her request that the National Bankers Association have a meeting with Treasury Secretary Paulson might be considered unusual. Because she has been an activist, her call to Paulson must be taken in context. I would expect nothing less of her and would, indeed, have been disappointed had she been silent. So where is the ethics violation?

Congresswoman Waters has had the amazing grace to say that she will not deal with the issue of race bias in this matter. I have not been blessed with as much grace. This stinks to high heaven of racial bias, of a way of punishing a powerful and proactive African American woman who is doing nothing more than supporting her community. If anybody should be investigated for an ethics violation, it ought to be the Treasury officials who ignored the call from the National Bankers Association.

However, the congresswoman may be right. There may be no racism involved in the ethics probe. Perhaps a group of painfully average human beings are the hammer trying to beat down a nail that stands up on the plank. Because face it, folks, Congresswoman stands up and stands out. She is a star, an advocate, a leader, a winner, a champion for social and economic justice, our queen. Whether we are her constituent or not, we are enhanced by her presence in Congress.

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

Young, Gifted and Poor

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(NNPA) The 2009 poverty numbers were released last week, and things are a lot worse than many economists thought they would be. The poverty rate jumped up a full percentage point, from 13.2 to 14.3 percent. This means that one in seven Americans live in poverty, 4 million more than a year ago. This is the third year the level of poverty and the number of poor Americans has risen.

The poverty rate among African Americans rose, too, from 24.7 percent to 25.8 percent. The rate for Hispanics rose from 23.2 percent to 25.1 percent. African Americans have the highest poverty rate of any racial ethnic group. In contrast, the rate for non-Hispanic whites is 9.4 percent, less than half the rate for African Americans.

These data are bad enough, but New York University economist Max Wolff says the data behind the data are even worse. The younger you are in American, says Dr. Wolff, the more likely you are to live in poverty. So while one in 7 Americans is poor, being young raises the poverty rate to 1 in 4. While one in 4 African Americans is poor, being young raises the African American poverty rate to one in 2.5. Some think that young people will lessen their chances of being in poverty as they age, but early poverty experiences are likely to influence future opportunity.

When young people lived with non-relatives, two-thirds of them lived in poverty. This is ominous data for the hundreds of thousands of foster children in our country. In disaggregating the data that were released last Thursday, Dr. Wolff show the extreme vulnerability that urban youth experienced, especially those that drop out of high school. Again, these young people are disproportionately African American.

The health insurance data are no more promising: 50.7 million Americans, 16. 7 percent of the population, do not have health insurance coverage. This data make it clear why it was so very important for President Obama to push hard for national health care. More than 15 percent of whites lack health insurance coverage, compared to 21 percent of African Americans and 32 percent of Hispanics. The percentage of those without health coverage is undoubtedly tied to the percentage of those who are jobless or who have cobbled together part time jobs without benefits.

Another aspect of this poverty data is the rising number of people who are simply hungry in our nation, people, especially children who do not have enough to eat. This week, policy makers will throng to New York to speak of world poverty, which is an important and challenging issue. At the same time, some attention must be paid to the poverty and hunger that exist right here in the United States. President Obama has pledged to end hunger in our country by 2015, but child nutrition legislation (HR 5504), which needs reauthorization, languishes in Congress. At the same time as more people need food stamps, food stamp benefits were cut so that budgets could be balanced.

While my work focuses on the economic status of African Americans and I have been particularly concerned about the growth of poverty in African American communities, the fact is that poverty has a most diverse face in this nation. Eighteen million of our nation’s poor are non-Hispanic whites; nearly 10 million are African American, more than 12 million are Hispanic and 1.7 million are Asian. There is a Rainbow Coalition of poor people in this country, enough to spark a Poor People’s Campaign like the one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. planned in 1968. What would happen if the nation’s poor united to talk about the economic restructuring that is badly needed in this country?

The new poverty doesn’t only exist in inner cities. Some of the new poor are in suburbs, wide-eyed and frightened to be in an economic predicament they never would have expected to find themselves in. Poverty is at a disturbing high in our nation – it is higher than it was in 1960. Its reach is wide, and not a single population has been exempted.

Still, I am especially sympathetic to those who are young, gifted, and poor. What will their lives look like in the future, if they are shackled with poverty now?

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

Nightmare, Dream or in Between

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(NNPA) - I was in a meeting last Saturday when a man referenced “two marches” and I nearly melted down. I was appalled that anyone could manage to refer to equivalence between those who came to uphold Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream 47 years later, and those who came to repudiate it. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and their colleagues need to be ashamed at their feeble attempt to “restore honor”. Restore. Reclaim. Give me a break.

The fact is that Glen Beck threw down when he described President Obama as a racist. Once he uttered that despicable sentiment, he had no business in the “coincidence” of having a rally on August 28. For the record, Glenn Beck, here are some other dates you can’t claim . . .January 15, Dr. King’s birthday; April 4, the date of Dr. King’s death. Beck’s amazing coincidences are repugnant, but somehow the national media gives him a pass, celebrating his turnout without excoriating him for his hubris.

After Beck and company left the Lincoln Memorial on the capital, Rev. Al Sharpton and many others arrived. Their crowd was smaller, but more passionate and more focused. I hope that we will all throng to the capital on August 28, 2013, fifty years after Dr. King brought us all together. And I hope that by then we will have emerged from this nightmare of a civil rights moment and back into a dream.

Nightmare. Glenn Beck has made his mark by calling our president a racist. This weekend he has backed up and said he wishes that he didn’t say it. But he did. Because it is okay for folks to take this President on in the most obnoxious ways, to hold him to standards that many cannot manage. Nightmare. Because Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and their ilk want to take our nation backward in the guise of moving forward.

Dream. Rev. Al Sharpton was true to his heritage, gathering folks to celebrate the 47 years since Dr. King had a dream. Kudos to him, and kudos also to Rev. Jesse Jackson, who managed to gather thousands in Detroit, including Congressional representatives John Conyers and Maxine Waters. “You should have been there,” Bill Cosby told me, referencing the Thursday back to school rally that was part of Rev. Jackson’s weeklong tour of “ground zero” Michigan. (Dr. Cosby joined us at Bennett College for Women on Tuesday, challenging students to do their best this academic year).

Are we in a nightmare, dream, or in between? The economic data remain scary, and the racial climate is challenging. Would people be better behaved if health care reform had happened under a president who was not of African descent? Would our nation prefer a blonde First Lady modeling excellence, behaving as First Mom? What has race got to do with it? Is it the nightmare, dream or in between?

When Labor Day arrives next week, we will all review the data on work and wring our hands because so many Americans are out of work. Some politicians will say we can’t do anything about this because we are already in too much debt. Others will say we can help the unemployment situation by creating jobs even though they cost. Some are living a nightmare, others are hoping for a dream. What is the in between?

It is disturbing to consider the many ways our perspectives on employment, life, and civil rights diverge. I was repulsed by a man who saw “two marches” because I assumed that he invoked a moral equivalence. He may have been annoyed by my strong reaction to remarks he offered as innocent. Still, there is something immutable about the sentiments Dr. Martin Luther King offered on August 28, 1963. The attempt to parse these sentiments is disturbing. Let’s not allow Dr. King’s dream to turn into a nightmare. Here is the real deal. A man who viciously described President Obama as a racist, and who has dined on his viciousness for more than a year, has absolutely no right to claim any dream. His very popularity is a nightmare for those of us who have the audacity to believe, as Dr. King did, “that people everywhere have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, peace and freedom for their spirits.”

Nightmare, dream, or in between? The choice is only ours.

Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is also an economist and author.

Detroit – America's Ground Zero

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(NNPA) - Only one in four young Black men graduates from high school in Detroit. The rest are lost and left out, swallowed by a city where urban blight, industrial desertion, and educational failure define daily life. Detroit is ground zero, exemplifying the absolute worst of urban life. It had a passionate champion in Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who recently lost her bid for reelection. But as passionate as Cheeks Kilpatrick and Senator Debbie Stabenow have been about Detroit, this is a city that won’t bounce back without revolutionary intervention.

Government has intervened for Detroit, bailing out General Motors (now Government Motors) to the tune of billions of dollars. The bailout has yet to trickle down. Instead, we have seen schools closed, hours curtailed, and a man who is more bureaucrat than educator placed in charge of that city’s educational system. Across the nation, millions of students are going back to school. What are they going back to in cities like Detroit? With budget cuts defining everything that is done, are they going back to fewer hours, broke down schools, and chaos? In going back, are they being embraced or repelled by those city administrators who place a higher priority on balancing budgets than educating young people.

The Massachusetts-based Schott Foundation has released a report that speaks to the ways that so many states are failing black male students. Michigan’s black male graduation rate, at 47 percent, is at the US average, and higher than the rate in Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Hawaii, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, DC, Ohio, Nebraska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida and New York. New York’s rate is an abysmal and frightening 25 percent. Aaaugh. Inner cities in several states do extremely poorly, like Detroit. The Schott Foundation report ought to raise alarm among educators and policy makers and raise questions about the work we must do to properly focus on African American students, male and female.

This week, Rev. Jesse Jackson has taken his team on the road to the state of Michigan, with stops in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Flint, Lansing and Detroit. The purpose is to lead up to a Saturday march for Jobs, Peace and Justice, 37 years after Dr. Martin Luther King’s pivotal March on Washington. It is so appropriate that Rev. Jackson is taking it to Detroit, with the help of allies in the labor movement and the civil rights movement. Indeed, to go to ground zero reminds us how important Detroit has been for working class African Americans, and how many ways those who were willing to work were once embraced in a manufacturing economy. Now, willing workers, in the millions, languish waiting for opportunities, while we have exported them in our global economy.

Those who are unemployed are unable to support themselves. How many underwater mortgages are there in Detroit? Who much abandoned housing? Which services have been curtailed because the city simply can’t afford to provide for seniors, children, library users, hungry people, all of that? The deindustrialization of Detroit has led to a colossal urban crisis, and government stimulus has simply bypassed that city. It is important and exciting to gather in Detroit on august 28, both in commemoration of Dr. King's 1963 march, and in recognition of the fact that politics and policy are both local and global.

What would happen if the Obama administration were as kind to Detroit as it has been to automakers? What would happen if someone decided to make Detroit a “model city” and to see how government programs could not only improve lives in a city described as “ground zero” but also model work in other cities? What would happen if there were a renaissance and rebirth in Detroit, one that presaged other urban renewals?

Once upon a time, urban renewal meant black folk removal. Now, the revival of cities will necessarily improve African American economic fortunes. When Rev. Jesse Jackson and thousands of others march in Detroit they spotlight one of our nation’s urban failures. The spotlight must be followed by a focused effort to turn this failure into success. If Detroit can rise up out of its ashes, increasing graduation rates, entrepreneurial engagement, industrial development, and social service efficiency, so can every other challenged American city.

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

In Search of Synchronicity

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(NNPA) - I haven’t seen the movie, Eat Pray Love. I just read the book. After I read it I put it on a friend’s desk and asked if she’d get more from it than I did. The book is a travelogue of Italy, India and Indonesia, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s romp through the three countries in such a way as to find herself after her marriage went bad.

To be sure, there were moments of mmm, and moments of aaaugh, and moments when I absolutely empathized with Elizabeth Gilbert. And there were moments when I reminded myself that 15 million American don’t have work, and that half of those haven’t had work for half a year. They aren’t running around the world finding themselves and having Julia Roberts play them in the reality show. They are simply searching for survival.

Synchronicity. Alignment. They ways that all of our stuff makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to write a book or watch a film about this search for self even as so many search for survival.

Last week, unemployment rates were again released and we learned that, at 9.5 percent, our country’s ability to employ has not improved. More importantly, the unemployment rate for African Americans exceeds 16 percent, and that, too, is something that somehow coexists with this fabulous movie romp through self-discovery. I’m not annoyed (too much) at Elizabeth Gilbert or Julia Roberts, though they ought to break off a little piece of their profits for those who can’t romp as wildly as they do. I am concerned that the timing of the release of their movie has a bit of smug self-satisfaction to it. Will I go see it? Possibly. Without seeing it, but with reading the book, the entire enterprise strikes me as discordant, absent synchronicity.

So if I am mad at Liz and Julia, what about Michelle Obama, our stunning First Lady who took herself to Spain a week or so ago. The pundits say that she was wrong and out of touch and tone deaf to our nation’s economic crisis. One of her best translators, Liz sweet from the Chicago Times says that the vacation was a way of allowing First Lady Obama to connect with friends who’d lost a parent. I say if I have to do discordance, I’ll accept the First Lady’s. Don’t get me wrong. If I were making up a white house schedule, I would have passed on the Spain trip. At the same time, who knows what happens in that house and how the First Mom decides to parse her time. I want to give her hugs, not criticism, for all the work she does, and for all the work she really could do but is not allowed to. The Spain trip is not an Eat Pray Love thing, not even slightly. And the tone and tenor of some of the objections to Mrs. Obama’s trip frankly reek of racial resentment.

Abbey Lincoln once wore a dress also worn by Marilyn Monroe. When she grew into herself she burned it. She died this week, a woman whose fierce voice searched for synchronicity, for authenticity, for that which is real. She died on August 14, a voice until her waning years, an inspiration even at the invocation of her name. Abbey Lincoln was described by some fool critic as a “professional Negro” as if there is something wrong with that. The description came after she used her voice and raised her voice to speak of freedom. Imagine this woman, transforming herself form a Marilyn Monroe imitating ingénue into a tool and an instrument for peace and justice. She, too, was searching for synchronicity, for alignment. One might argue that she found it and embraced it, embracing it for all of us.

I had the phenomenal pleasure of hearing Abbey Lincoln sing a bunch of times, but most recently when she graced an Indianapolis state in the mid-1990s.

I was the guest of a woman whose organization had engaged me to speak, and she was rather insistent that I’ enjoy Ms. Lincoln’s performance. Beyond enjoying it, the moment took my breath away. I can clearly remember her wrapping herself around a microphone to sing, “The world is falling down, hold my hand”. Powerful.

We do not need to hit three continents to find the synchronicity that is necessary. All we need to do is to remember who we are and whose we are. I wish Abbey Lincoln on Elizabeth Gilbert. I wish Abbey Lincoln, born Anna Maria Woolridge, on each and every one of us.

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

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