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Julianne Malveaux

Mentoring, Hard Work and the Hook-Up

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(NNPA) How will African Americans improve our situation in 2013? Right now, we have higher unemployment than any other population in our nation, less wealth, higher school dropout rates, and more crime in our communities. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that African American communities had twice the number of negatives and half the number of positives in our country. While the numbers may have shifted somewhat, it is still true that we are more likely to experience negative consequences (teen pregnancy, incarceration, crime) and less likely to experience positives (college graduation, high net worth).

Those of us who focus on public policy will look at past discrimination and ways it manifests itself in the present. We will look at the way race-neutral public policy has a racial impact (for example, changing the terms of the Parent Plus loan hits wealth-poor, credit-challenged Black families disproportionately). We will suggest ways to close gaps, some of which may include ways that government investment, such as job creation and job training, can help close these gaps. And we will be right.

Whether we fall off the fiscal cliff (final negotiations are taking place even as I write this), the focus on the level of debt our nation faces suggests that tax reform will reduce tax deductions, some in ways that may increase income inequality, and that spending cuts are imminent. Many of these cuts will be in social programs and educational spending. Again, some of these cuts will widen, not narrow, the wealth and income gaps.

What does this mean for Black America in 2013? Pretend that it is Groundhog Day, if you saw the movie. The protagonist wakes up every day to the same day when everything happens the same way. If you keep doing what you have been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. For Black American, this means that if we keep looking external without looking internal, not much will change for us.

Yes, it will change for some of us: Those who are educated, middle class, well networked and disciplined are likely to find significant opportunities in our stagnant economy because even stagnant economies churn and create new opportunities. But it won’t change much for those who are less educated, working class, un-networked and undisciplined, or some combination thereof. Education, networks, and discipline can be fixed. But few have an interest in fixing these things in Black America except for Black Americans. So what are we going to do?

Susan Taylor has been a passionate advocate of mentorship in the African American community. She began the work when she editor-in-chief at Essence magazine and left the magazine to expand her reach in that area. She continues to advocate mentorship and to teach us how to be mentors. Her work supports education, networking and discipline.

Similarly, in Southeast Washington, D.C., Cora Masters Barry leads the Recreation Wish List Committee and works with the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center to nurture more than 150 young people year-round (full disclosure – I am treasurer of the Wish List Board). Students are trained in physical fitness through tennis, and are encouraged in their academics through learning. Most board members have hands-on relationships with our young people, who are held to the highest standards. Again, this work supports education, networking and discipline.

Most historically Black colleges do the same thing, bringing corporate partners to campuses and exposing students to the many ways they can access employment opportunities. In many cases, the entire campus offers students engaged mentorship. Education, networking and discipline.

When people tell the story of the American Dream, they talk about the many ways that hard work will help someone transcend class. They talk about hard work. People who earn the minimum wage work hard. People who make ends meet on public assistance work hard. It’s not just about hard work. It’s about hard work – and the hook up.

A corporate leader who is a wonderful friend once said that she could use her position to hook up women and African Americans who needed a hand up. She also indicated that the hook up could help individuals, but we also, and always, need a hook in to public policy decisions that affect our nation.

That means we need a seat around every table where public policy is being made, whether on issues of race, or on issues that seem race-neutral. We should be talking about the deficit, about tax reform, about government spending. We should be talking about international affairs, about world areas of conflict, about our fluctuating currency. As long as we live in this flawed nation, all issues are Black issues.

Even with the hook in, we need to offer the hook up. That means embracing or mentoring a child. That means providing an opportunity to someone who is unemployed. That means supporting education through contributions to colleges, but also by providing help to individuals. It’s the same hymn book we’ve been singing from for more than a century. Now we need to sing with more energy.

Things won’t change in Black America unless some of us do. We need to both hook in and hook up!

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

Passionate about the Wrong Things

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(NNPA) I was in a cab just the other day when the driver chided me for not knowing football. He was a big Redskins (I call them the Deadskins because they need to change their name) fan, and was obsessed with RG III. I must confess that I did not know who RG3 III was until the driver informed me and told me that I was culturally deficient because I lived in Washington, D.C. and did not follow football.

I observed his passion as I would poke and probe at a sociological phenomenon. The brother was intense, focused, and annoyed by the fact that somebody, anybody, was not caught up in the football drama. At some point I became silent, to see how long the rant would last. And it lasted through the whole 20 minutes of my ride, through stalled traffic and long lights. The man was on a mission.

I understand that folks have to have valves to release the tension of everyday life. Maybe it’s sports, reading, or music. Still, I wonder if we could ever garner these passions for our children, for their needs, for ways that education can build a path to the future.

I’d be overjoyed if a taxi driver told me that he was so excited about education that he could not move. I’d be thrilled if one of them questioned me about education as intensely as he did about football. I could imagine the questions. Why are test scores so low? Why are children not going to college? Why are so many young Black men (and women, but men pose a special set of issues) alienated from the system? What can we do to provide job opportunities for them?

What if someone had passion for our eating habits? Nearly half of the Black population is obese because pork, grease, and artificial snacks are staples of some diets. Why don’t we make healthy living a priority and be as passionate about that as we are about football? Why can’t we teach about ways to be healthy?

What about housing? As African Americans are being put out of their homes, there have been feeble attempts to modify loans. Those who are working on this have insufficient resources, and just a fraction of those who qualify. Nearly $200 billion of Black wealth has been compromised by foreclosures, yet too many are silent about promises unfulfilled.

Shootings in Oregon and Connecticut are heartbreaking manifestations of the violence that pervades in our nation. Anybody with an attitude and a gun can shoot into a crowd and cause major damage. Why have a couple of fools targeted an elementary school in Connecticut leaving dozens dead. Why does the National Rifle Association work so hard to maintain the right to bear arms? Why aren’t more legislators working to limit this so-called right? Why do we continue to leave our population vulnerable to nuts with guns? I’d love to see some passion channeled to this issue? Why are we okay with these massacres?

I’m not so angry at the football (baseball, basketball) aficionados, but I am concerned that so much passion is channeled in one direction but not in others. The passion for sports is so rabid that I’ve listened to preachers pray for victory for their teams from their pulpits, never mind that those on the opposing team are God’s children, too. Can a preacher or two not only throw down on education but also provide vehicles for parishioners to get involved in educating our children? Passion and intensity are important elements of our lives. Without passion we fade into the periphery, ground down by the minutia of everyday life. Get kids to school, go to work, come home for dinner, and relax. If that isn’t your pattern, you’ve got one, and the only thing that pulls you out of pattern is passion.

There is nothing wrong with a passion for football. Can we channel some of that passion, though, that can transform our world by generating safety, education and job opportunities? That’s the kind of passion that could rock our world.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C-based author and economist.

What about Kasandra Perkins?

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(NNPA) By now, it’s old news that Kasandra Perkins was murdered by Kansas City Chiefs football player Jovan Belcher, who was her boyfriend and the father of her daughter. By now we’ve read about how great a teammate Belcher was, how dedicated to his girlfriend and daughter. We’ve read his hardscrabble story of moving from the University of Maine, hardly a football powerhouse, to a coveted slot in the NFL. Belcher has been humanized, even enshrined, as his friends have talked about him not having a violent bone in his body.

What about Kasandra? It has been disturbing that the news focused mostly on Jovan (yes, I know, he was the famous one), with a focus on Kasandra only later in the week. Her friends said they did not want her life to be overshadowed by the sympathetic coverage of Jovan.

While Jovan Belcher was clearly a troubled man, the bottom line is that Jovan Belcher murdered Kasandra Perkins. Not just shot her, he murdered her. And then he killed himself. Yes, this is a tragedy, but it is also a murder, so let’s not use euphemisms, let’s just call it what it is. The news reports that Belcher was angry because Kasandra Perkins went to a concert and came home at about one in the morning. But another report says that he was parked outside some other woman’s house in the middle of the night. Go figure.

What do we know about Kasandra Perkins? The 22-year-old woman from Texas aspired to be a teacher and was studying at a local community college. She had a 3-month-old child, Zoey. She made friends easily and worked with other wives and girlfriends of Chiefs players. She enjoyed going out with friends. There is probably lots more to her story, but it has been scantily reported.

Nobody knows what goes on in a relationship except those who are in it. So it is also disturbing to see Belcher’s friends take to the media to describe the relationship as troubled and to suggest that Kasandra is at fault for her own murder. According to some, she provoked her own murder by staying out late at night. Guess what? Belcher’s mother was caring for their infant. Sounds like a control issue to me.

Too often, men beat and even kill women when they step outside their sphere of control. Women are beaten or killed because they didn’t cook dinner, because they raised their voice, because they chose to spend time with friends or family, because, because. This violence does not know race, class or gender, though different groups have different levels of violence. While 1.5 million women experience domestic violence annually, African American women are 35 percent more likely than White women to be battered.

Without mentioning names, the Kansas City Chiefs called for a moment of silence for victims of domestic violence during the game that Jovan Belcher did not play. With football as the focus, they did not have the grace to mention Kasandra Perkins by name. It would have made a difference if they had. Despite the fact that Belcher was a member of the KC team, there is a villain and a victim in this incident.

This type of violence is such an epidemic that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994. The act established an office in the Department of Justice works to prevent violence, and allocated $1.6 billion to work on violence against women issues, including strengthening existing state laws and raising awareness of this issue. Now the law is up for reauthorization, and some Republicans are holding it up because they do not agree with protections for Native American women, immigrant women, and people in same-sex couples. We know that VAWA is effective. Since its passage, intimate partner violence has dropped by about 60 percent, but it didn’t save Kasandra Perkins. If nothing else, her brutal murder reminds us why this act is so important.

Jovan Belcher had a temper, drank heavily, and had at least eight guns. Some say he had suffered multiple head injuries playing football. That’s no excuse for a murder so brutal that he shot Kasandra nine times. And the stories about his supposed nonviolence is contradicted by some of his college behavior, including punching through a window when he was frustrated by a girlfriend who did not want to see him. This man was a serious candidate for anger management!

Kasandra Perkins isn’t the only woman who has been murdered by a husband or boyfriend. According to the Department of Justice, three women are killed by spouses or partners every day. I don’t want to hear about the tragedy of football player Jovan Belcher. I want to mourn Kasandra and the many women like her. And in her name, and in the name of others, we must all fight to get the Violence Against Women Act renewed.

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

The Season to be Careful

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(NNPA) Okay, I’ll admit it. I am truly the Grinch who wanted to steal Christmas. It takes me until about December 23 to get in the spirit, and I only feel obligated to find gifts for children and close family. I like to give, which is why I share with a few charities that are close to me. I like to connect, which is why I have a greeting card ritual. But all this crazy frenzy after Thanksgiving, before Christmas sale stuff truly repels me. And while I don’t want to put a damper on anybody’s sprit, I want to say that this is the season to be careful.

After all, we live in a consumer-oriented society. When we spend, other people get paid. When we spend other people are blessed. But if you spend what you don’t have then you are sliding down your own fiscal cliff, and you won’t have a pillow to protect you. The average American will spend about $900 this year on Christmas gifts and toys, but that means that half will spend more. ‘Tis the season to be careful.

Some of the biggest scams come from charities. They will reach you through email, snail mail, and even text mail. They may ask for a little or a lot. You’ve got to ask where your money is going. Some organizations take as much as 80 percent of your gift, which means that the people you want to help get just 20 percent of your money. Before you send a penny, ask the right questions. Too many charities lean on this time of year to make their money, but if the whole truth is told, they are really leaning on this time of year to make a living. Check these folks out online, and look for their annual reports. If their overhead is more than 15 percent, walk on by.

Another scam is the garbled name scam. You may think you are giving to a worthy program, such as the Police Athletic League, only to find that you are giving to the non-registered Police Athletic Program. You may think you are giving to an African American cause, only to find that a garbled name takes you someplace else. Americans want to give, and African Americans are among the most generous, based on the percent of income we give. But give with your head and not with your heart, and ask solicitors important questions.

One of the other scams is the sale scam. If you buy it now, you will get a sale that will never, ever, in your lifetime be replicated. So standing line all night for the 52-foot TV for $239, while the store has only 10. Find some furniture you like only to be told it is 50 percent off today, but not tomorrow. Retailers are playing on your greed and your panic. If you take your time, you might find an even better deal. And if seems too good to be true, it is.

Scruffy little children will come to your door this time of year, asking for money for their church, for magazine subscriptions, for all form of causes. You may want to slip the child a few pennies, but please know they aren’t going to make more than that with the magazine subscription scam, or with the church solicitation. In fact, most churches run their own solicitations, so maybe ask for the name of the church and call them before you make a donation.

I suppose I am the Grinch because I am dismayed that our holiday season that supposedly celebrates the birth of the Christ child has turned into a commercial orgy with people shopping for a full five weeks. It has also turned into a solicitation orgy with almost every organization you have ever known asking for end of year contribution. In the middle of all this drama, the purpose of the holiday is swallowed.

I am weary of seeing frenzied faces anxious for the next sale, or children (and grown folks) defining their worth by what goodies they pick up. I am weary of the folks who go into crazy debt to prove a point, to buy affection, to shower folks with gifts when they should shower them with love. Can we be careful with our wallets and open with our hearts?

I hope that we will all remember and embrace the meaning of Christmas and not the crassness of consumerism.

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

Not all Public Policy is Created Equal

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(NNPA) Discussions of the fiscal cliff also include discussions about ways to change Social Security and Medicare benefits in order to save money. One of the proposals is to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70. After all, some argue, there is nothing magic about 65 or 67, so why not push the rate up to 70?

The difference is the kind of work we do. I can’t imagine that I will ever stop talking and writing, advanced age notwithstanding. However, someone who is waiting tables, working in a nursing home, or doing private household work might not want, but need, to slow it down after 65, or maybe even earlier. Some people take their Social Security earlier, although they are lower, at age 62. Tired, and with sometimes broken bodies, they’d rather take less money than keep working. Consider the construction worker who has not moved up into management. Will he (or in 10 percent of cases, she) still want to wield a hammer, climb onto roofs, or do other heavy work? Raising the Social Security retirement age hurts these people.

These folk are also hurt because their life expectancy is also lower. People with less education have shorter life expectancies than those who are more highly educated. African Americans have lower life expectancy rates than Whites, (although this gap is closing. Thus, people who have paid into the system, but they will get less out of when they live shorter lives. Again, those at the bottom are disadvantaged by public policy that seems race and class neutral.

Why the gap in life expectancy? Part has to do with higher rates of smoking among less educated (which propels obesity), and the lack of health insurance, especially among those with lower incomes and less education. Obamacare partly solves the insurance problems, but those living in an unreal time warp seem to think Mitt Romney won the election and they are acting accordingly by attempting to repeal health care reform.

Most of us got the memo about the dangers of smoking, but women who lack a high school diploma are more likely than others to smoke. Indeed, among women the levels of smoking have risen, while smoking rates had declined among men. Researchers who study these issues suggest that women are smoking more because of the many pressures women face, including being part of the “sandwich generation” juggling both elder care and child care. I was talking to an elder whose smoking habit spans more than 50 years, and when we talked about the issue, she responded that she was over 70, still living, and wasn’t about to change. We talked a bit about stress and ways that smoking is a tension-tamer for her. I suggested she try yoga, and she just about laughed me out of the room.

The health insurance gap between those who are highly educated and less well educated is growing. Among working age adults without a high school diploma, 43 percent have no health insurance, up from 35 percent a decade ago. On the other hand, only 10 percent of those with a college education lacked health insurance.

While Americans do not like to talk about class, poor and working class people do less well in our society than others. For example, attempting to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood has a greater impact on poor women without health insurance than others whose contraceptive needs are covered by their insurance. Yet the right wing attempts to characterize Planned Parenthood as an abortion center, not a place that offers education on contraception, breast cancer, and other health issues.

Extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealth certainly has a disproportionate impact on the poor and working class, but there are hidden attacks on the poorest in our nation. Raising the Social Security retirement age, eliminating Planned Parenthood, and attacking Obamacare are all implicit attacks on the poor. The class status of our federal elected officials (with median wealth of more than $750,000 excluding the value of their home, compared to just $20,000 for the average person) suggests that Congress just doesn’t get it. But we elect these people. What does that say about us?

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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