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Julianne Malveaux

A Pledge to Keep to our Youth

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(NNPA) As young people graduate from high school, or finish the school year as sophomores and juniors, they begin to search for summer jobs. For the past several summers, the jobs have not been there, and this summer will be no different. It is true that economists are projecting a better employment situation for the college graduates who are entering the labor market now. At the same time, those high school graduates who must save money for college incidentals or for other needs will have a hard time finding work.

The Brookings Institute says that in our nation’s top 100 metropolitan areas, the employment prospects for teens and young adults dropped drastically. Indeed, Brookings used the word “plummeted” to describe changes the employment situation between 2000 and 2011. White youth had an official unemployment rate of 15.9 percent in April, while African American youth have a rate of 36.8 percent, more than twice the white rate. These are just the official numbers. The unofficial numbers would suggest that a third of White youth, and about 70 percent of Black youth, are out of work.

Many choose to focus on adult unemployment. And certainly, the ability of adults to support their families is of greater concern. But in addition to earning money, the 16-19 year old population benefits from summer jobs because they learn work habits, such as promptness and appropriate dress, when they are exposed to the labor market. Many who do not find summer employment will find that later an employer will prefer someone who has worked to someone who had not.

In the past, some city governments have provided resources to help put young people to work. In economic hard times (though some say they are improving), it is often easier for young people to find unpaid opportunities than those that generate income. That’s fine for those who can afford to work for free, but there is a definite class bias when unpaid internships are considered. Those whose parents are moderate earners are more likely to be willing or able to work without pay. Yet, unpaid internships are often stepping-stones to lucrative paid employment opportunities.

The youth employment situation is dire, and it is all the more dire when our rhetoric about valuing youth is examined. How often have you been to an event focused on youth issues that played the Whitney Houston song, The Greatest Love of All? The song begins with the words, “I believe that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” What are we teaching our youth when we fail to provide opportunities for them?

We have made it more difficult for young people to find summer work, and more difficult for them to attend college, but very easy to fast track them into the criminal justice system. We are determining our nation’s future tomorrow by our actions today.

All youth are not in the same position. Race, class, and ethnicity shape the opportunities presented to young people. The offspring of the top 1 percent certainly don’t have to worry about summer jobs or college costs. And some children of the 1 percent can murder with impunity. A Texas teen got probation for killing four people when he was so drunk that his blood alcohol was three times the legal limit. His defense said he suffered from “affluenza,” which means he had too much money to have any sense. The judge bought the bizarre argument.

This summer, some will complain that young’uns playing with fire hydrants will bring water pressure down (fix that by opening the pools), or that youngsters gathering in the street are a nuisance (so open a playground). We’ll hear about literacy challenges (keep libraries open longer hours), and other ways that the young people who are out of school occupy themselves. Job creation, summer programs, and other links between school and work possibilities are all ways to connect our young people to opportunities. It costs money now, but as a dear friend, the late Charles Franklin said, “you have to pay, but if you wait too long, you will pay penalties and interest.”

Our beloved ancestor Maya Angelou wrote, “A Pledge to Rescue Our Youth” at Essence former editor Susan Taylor’s request and it was read at the 2006 Essence Music Festival. These are the last lines of her charge, “You are the best we have. You are all we have. You are what we have become. We pledge you our whole hearts from this day forward.”

We can’t afford to discard that pledge.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Remembering Maya Angelou

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(NNPA) Many people will remember Maya Angelou for her phenomenal career. She was a true renaissance woman – an author, teacher, dancer, performer, radio personality and a producer. I will remember her a sister friend, a wise “auntie” who didn’t mind pulling your coat. She was a generous spirit who made time for virtually any who asked, a gentle and kind spirit.

If you dropped by when a meal was being served, she asked you to sit down and enjoy the assembled company. If you came and it was not the meal hour, she never hesitated to offer a cup of tea and a snack. She knew before you did that you needed a hug an encouraging word. I’ve seen her take the hat off her head and give it to someone who admired it,

She shared her work. It was not unusual to sit at her working table and listen to a poem or some wisdom she was sharing. Sitting at her table one day, I decided to put some of her words in my cell phone, thinking that I’d like to review them one day. She very gently took the phone from me and told me, “Just listen. You don’t have to write everything down. I am giving you my undivided attention and I want the same from you.” Properly chastened, I left the phone on the table for the rest of the visit.

Sister Maya loved people, genuinely and unconditionally. When asked about the greatest virtue, she said that it was courage, the courage to love. She loved everyone, the pauper and the princess. She would often list the way she loved, mentioning the Black and White, the Asian and Latino, a one-eyed man and the woman who is missing a leg. And if you had the privilege of attending her Thanksgiving dinner, you saw exactly that – a rainbow of the peeped she loved.

Each year that I served as president of Bennett College in North Carolina, she visited the campus and gave a lecture to students. Once, I asked her to spend time with the honor students and she told me, sharply. “I would rather spend time with the students at the bottom. They are the ones who need encouragement.

She opened her home, the sculpture garden and the pool to a group of pre-teens from the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Washington, D.C. Escorted by Cora Masters Berry, the former first lady of Washington, the girls could not stop talking about her generosity and the words she shared with them. I wondered how a woman whom most consider an icon would take the time to entertain five 11-year-olds for a couple of hours.

That was Maya.

The first time I remember sharing a meal with her was in 1989 when the women who appeared in Brian Laske’s “I Dream a World” were gathered for a reception. When two women I accompanied left as soon as the program was over, Auntie Maya (which she asked me to call her) graciously invited me to dine with her friends. My 30-something self basked in the attention.

Mid-reception, a man attempted to get everyone’s attention (and with a room with Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni and others, you can imagine who difficult it was). The gentleman whistled and Auntie Maya, gathered herself to full height, chided the man with a rebuke and also an impromptu poem. “You will not whistle at Black women,” she said. “We had enough of that when we were chattel. You will respect us as the women that we are.” She went on and by the time she was finished, not a word was uttered by anyone else.

“We have already been paid for,” she frequently said, recounting the horror of slave ships, the harsh conditions of slavery, the inequalities of Jim Crow, and contemporary instances of inequality. She spoke so vividly that you could see the people crowded into a ship, with not even enough room or facilities to attend to bodily functions. She frequently quoted Paul Lawrence Dunbar: “ I know why the caged bird sings.”

The last time I heard the song was at dinner with San Francisco’s Rev. Cecil Williams, and his wife and poetess, Jan Mirikatini. We loved up on each other and told stories, released and enjoyed the conversational flow. We ended the evening with laugher and fellowship. It was the kind of evening in which we reveled. Good food, good talk, good friends.

As I got my walk on the next morning, I was flooded with appreciation and memories. I was in a rich space and I had been fed. I paused to appreciate Auntie Maya. I was so very grateful to know her, not as an icon, but as a friend.

At the end of her life, Auntie Maya was frail. “Getting old ain’t for sissies,” she said. As Blame Bayne wrote on my Facebook page, “No longer caged, she forever sings.” Ache Auntie Maya, Ache.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C. Parts of this column appeared in USA Today on May 29.

Dishonoring Our Vets

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(NNPA) The last Monday in May, Memorial Day, was designed to honor those who died in service to our country. It is tragically ironic that around the same time we are honoring and remembering the dead, we are learning about deficiencies in the Department of Veteran’s Affairs that negatively affects the quality of life for those who were injured during their term of service.

Allegations that many veteran’s hospitals and medical centers do not assist those veterans needing medical care within the mandated 30 days are troubling. Some say that the lengthy waits may have been a factor in the deaths of as many as 40 veterans. The access problem is compounded by poor record-keeping at some veteran’s hospitals, making it impossible to verify how many veterans waited for medical attention and the length of their wait.

The controversy has led to calls for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to resign, but it is unclear whether his resignation will serve any but a symbolic purpose if the medical treatment of veterans does not change substantially. In this highly partisan environment, it makes no sense for the White House to offer Shinseki’s head on a platter to satisfy the hyper partisanship of growling Republicans. Veterans, and those who represent them in Congress, come from all parts of the political spectrum. It ought to be in everyone’s interest to improve access to health care for veterans.

There are other issues regarding fair and compassionate treatment for veterans that must be considered. The recent killings at Fort Hood, Texas suggest that there is insufficient focus on mental health issues for our military, with the rate of Army suicides doubling between 2004 and 2009. Many veterans say that one of their stressors is the inaccuracy involved in evaluating their disabilities that have come from their service. Missing limbs, impaired mobility, extreme stress and insomnia are all factors included when a monthly disability check is calculated. Many take issue with the evaluation, and challenge an evaluation may take several months (or years). Even inaccurate claims are difficult to obtain for some veterans. More than 611,000 claims were backlogged (which means veterans had waited for more than four months for their claims to be processed.) The number dropped this year to 344,000 claims, which is still too many veterans waiting too long for help.

The recent exposure of long waits for medical treatment just scratches the surface of the way that veterans are welcomed back into our society. Military skills are not easily converted to civilian labor force skills, unemployment rates for recent veterans (those serving since 2001) are often high – 9 percent for veterans, compared to 6.3 for the entire population. President Obama has urged private sector employers to give priority to hiring veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, but unemployment rates, though falling, remain high. Minority and women veterans had even higher unemployment rates, and often greater challenges.

More than 58,000 veterans are homeless, representing about 12 percent of the homeless population. More than half have disabilities or mental health problems. As many as 70 percent have substance abuse problems. There would be fewer homeless vets if the mental and physical health needs of veterans were addressed when these soldiers leave the military.

When our soldiers return from fighting for our country, they face a new fight – a fight to be treated fairly. That means shorter waits for medical attention, more focus on mental health issues, more assistance in reentering the job market, and more counseling to help families adjust to new household dynamics. Veterans should not have to fight for this kind of assistance. Haven’t they fought enough?

Regardless of whether we agree with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we often thank our military for their service. Thanking a homeless veteran, or one who has waited more than 30 days for medical attention is lip service if the “thank you” is not accompanied by the assistance that so many veterans need. Memorial Day ought to be a day to commemorate the dead, and improve the ways we treat the living.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

60-Year Journey from 'Brown'

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(NNPA) Because I was a horribly ill-behaved child, I found myself shipped from San Francisco to Moss Point, Miss. in August 1969. My mother’s plan was that I’d spend my junior year in high school there and live with my schoolteacher aunt, Annie Mae Randall, who was somewhat affectionately known as the “kid breaker.”

It was legend that if you did not understand rules, she would beat them into you, but her method was unlimited interrogation, not physical correction (much). In any case, I landed in Moss Point 15 years after the Supreme Court ruled that legal segregation was illegal. However, by ruling that the Brown decision should be implemented with “all deliberate speed,” many towns in Mississippi saw this as a signal to “take your own sweet time.” I ended up attending all-Black Magnolia High School, while the all-White Moss Point High School was in rather close proximity. A year later, Magnolia became the town’s junior high school, and Moss Point High was the school for everyone.

Until 1970, though, the city’s educators had come up with truly bizarre ways to give a polite nod to integration. For a period, Black teachers went to teach in White schools, while White ones taught in the Black schools. To this day, I can’t figure out the proportional representation that had Black teachers in the White schools about a third of the time, with White teachers in the Black schools about half of the time. My numbers may be wrong, but both Black and White students were short-changed when they were robbed of the continuity of instruction.

On the days that Auntie Annie Mae had to go to the White schools, she woke up muttering that this was not integration, and mumbling that “all these years after Brown” integration had not happened in Moss Point schools. Since the “kid breaker” didn’t really yell, she took her frustration out on anyone who would listen, talking legalisms, history, and the way it ought to be. Occasionally Auntie would say, “at least we aren’t in Virginia,” then she would talk about the schools that actually closed rather than admit Black students. In that state developed a plan of “massive resistance” that denied funds to integrated schools that had the effect of denying education to Black children for at least four years.

In 1969, most African Americans had experienced de facto segregation, but few Californians had experienced the de jure segregation that Brow ended. Without the Mississippi experienced, I would have thought that segregation was as much a fairy tale as Santa Clause, or as distant as “the old days. Neither fairy tale, nor distant fact, de jure segregation is alive and well today.

Today, schools are segregated by income and zip code, not by race. Cash-strapped urban school systems, largely funded by eroding property taxes, have fewer resources than well-funded suburban schools. There are also oases in urban public schools where higher income parents come together to fund activities at their neighborhood schools, such as sports and music that have been eliminated from other public schools for financial reasons.

K-12 school segregation transfers into an advantage for students from the best-financed schools. These young people have the advantage of Advanced Placement (AP) and international Baccalaureate (IB) classes that are not often offered in those urban school districts struggling to provide bare basics. When colleges give students with advanced classes extra admissions consideration, they implicitly disadvantage those who did not have the opportunity to take advanced classes because of where they live.

There are dozens of other consequences to defacto segregation, including the racial achievement gap and unequal access to scholarships, internships, networking, and employment opportunities. Brown opened the door and, by ending de facto segregation, changed the terms and conditions of African American life. It got us to the starting line, but now, 60 years later, we are still a long way from the finish line.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

A Slow Response to Nigerian Atrocity

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(NNPA) Long after completing his 8-year presidency, William Jefferson Clinton acknowledged that he should have intervened in the conflict in Rwanda. Hundreds of thousands perished from the genocide that shaped the country. In his zeal for international peace President Clinton intervened in Ireland, the Middle East and Bosnia. He acknowledged that had the United States intervened in Rwanda, at least 300,000 deaths may have been prevented.

Now nearly 300 Nigerian girls have been kidnapped from their school by an extremist group that calls themselves Islamic (I don’t know of any legitimate Islamic group that approves of this kind of activity). Beyond the 300 stolen from their schools for the sole purpose of marrying them off, or selling them, it is not clear how many others have been taken from their schools. This extremist group opposes “Western education and uses their beliefs to justify their action.

Some have shrugged that this is a “cultural” or internal matter that Nigerians must settle among themselves. The United States and the United Nations are nodding on Nigeria if they choose to do little more than offer lip service in this crisis situation. It has been documented in Bosnia and Rwanda that rape was an instrument of war. What about Nigeria?

Dozens gathered outside the White House and outside the Nigerian Embassy to plead that the powers that be “bring back our girls.” First Lady Michelle Obama has also carried a sign to that effect. Nearly a month after the girls were seized the international community has begun to pay attention to this vile kidnapping. Again, this capture may well be the tip of the iceberg. Who knows how many girls have been captured from their homes or their schools.

Women have too often been tools in genocide, yet too often this form of genocide has been ignored. The United Nations spews pithy pronouncements and declares one year or another the year of human rights. But as former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has often declared, “women’s rights are human rights.”

Now, every woman in the United States Senate has called for relief for kidnapped girls in Nigeria, President Barack Obama, referencing his own daughters, has offered relief. There have been “high level” meetings to talk about the ways that U.S. can intervene in this repugnant situation.

Our intervention is spot on, but why did it take so long? Were these Bosnian women would there have been so much “deliberation?” As grateful as I am for U. S. intervention, the pace of it saddens me. Were we nodding on Nigeria?

The status of women and girls should be a global concern. Nigeria is one of the countries that visibly impose inequality. We have intervened in human rights that have no gender component all over the world, but have been notably silent when the African continent is involved. We say that these are “internal matters” that countries must settle on their own, but when human rights activists are massacred in China, we manage to get involved.

To again quote Hilary Clinton, “women’s rights are human rights.” To suggest that women deserve any less is to deny our humanity all over the world. We cannot fight for social and economic justice by taking weapons from half of the army. The women who have experienced direct subjugation are often, also, the most passionate spokespeople.

Our country has been a champion of human rights all over the world, and when we nod on Nigeria we are suggesting that women’s rights do not matter. We know about 300 Nigerian girls today. How many will we learn about tomorrow? How many in another country. How many will be swallowed in world patriarchy because we refuse to act?

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

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