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We Need Pathways Out of Poverty

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Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif), NNPA Special Commentary
The economic crisis is having a devastating effect on millions of Americans and has resulted in record levels of unemployment.  For the first time since 1983, that national unemployment rate has reached 10.2 percent.  In my home state of California the unemployment rate has topped 12.2 percent.  Just last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that nearly to 14.6 percent of American families struggled to find food last year, the highest rate since 1995.  These numbers are painful reminders resulting from the economic policies of the former Bush Administration.

They underscore the need for Congress and President Obama to continue to work together to create jobs in our economic recovery efforts.

Sadly, once again communities of color, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, are experiencing the worst of these job losses.

According to the Department of Labor, although the national unemployment rate was 9.8 percent in September, the rate for African-Americans was 15.4 percent and for Hispanics it was 12.7 percent. As disproportionate as those numbers are, the evidence indicates that the gap in unemployment rates for communities of color is widening. As a result, the pipeline to poverty is being filled with minority children and families at an increasingly alarming rate.  That is why in August the Congressional Black Caucus, along with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to the Speaker that called for the extension of unemployment benefits.  People need help during this economic crisis, American workers, the unemployed and families are hurting.

I’m pleased that earlier this month Congress sent President Barack Obama legislation fulfilling our request giving an much needed economic lifeline to help those who’ve been laid off.

But the truth is that addressing the unemployment gap for minority communities will not happen through an extension of unemployment insurance alone. Millions of Americans are grasping to maintain their quality of life during this turmoil. This crisis is particularly acute among African-Americans. More than 24 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line and African Americans are 55 percent more likely to be unemployed than other Americans.

The Congressional Black Caucus, in its continued role as the Conscience of Congress, has a moral obligation to address inequality and injustice as never before in history. We are aggressively advancing the role of government to empower and protect American families by collectively pursuing a legislative agenda that addresses the priorities of our constituents.

We believe that we have a responsibility and obligation to eradicate poverty by utilizing the full constitutional power, statutory authority and resources of our government to provide opportunities for all and to develop pathways out of poverty. Some of these opportunities and pathways include economic opportunities, job training, livable wages, education, mental health services, affordable housing, health care, child nutrition and a responsible foreign policy.  To that end, we need a concerted effort from the Federal government to expand access to education, job training and economic opportunities to provide a pathway out of poverty and ensure that people of color can compete for jobs on a level playing field.

In addition, we must ensure that banks improve their lending to small, minority and disadvantaged businesses to ensure that jobs are created in our neighborhoods.  The legacy of the Bush Administration is failed policies that have weakened our economy and two wars that have sapped resources that should be directed to domestic needs.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are working together along with congressional leaders and President Obama to fix our economy and create jobs to address the true depth of this recession.

U. S. Rep. Barbara Lee is chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The Shocking Surge in Police Killings

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The Thanksgiving holiday weekend ended tragically for the nation and the law enforcement community when four officers from the Lakewood (Wash.) Police Department were executed by a lone gunman as they worked on their laptops in a coffee shop prior to reporting for duty Sunday morning.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and colleagues of the slain Lakewood officers and the Washington law enforcement community.

This horrific and targeted ambush comes less than a month after Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton was shot to death and another officer wounded as they sat in a parked patrol car. The suspect in that case also allegedly firebombed four police vehicles in a maintenance yard nine days earlier.

Everyone, law enforcement and community members alike, should be alarmed when those whose job it is to fight crime on a daily basis are being targeted and slain. After falling to their lowest level in nearly five decades in 2008, line-of-duty deaths among U.S.  law enforcement officers are suddenly on the rise. The latest data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund shows 66 officers died in the line of duty between January 1 and June 30, 2009, compared with 55 deaths during the first six months of 2008.

We are outraged that the suspect in these killings is a parolee who nine years ago had a 95-year sentence commuted by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and was subsequently released by the Arkansas Parole Board.  This is the second time in less than a year that four police officers have been murdered by a convicted felon freed on parole.

With California poised to embark on a mass release of convicted felons from state prison, we implore our state political leaders to seek alternative ways of cutting the state budget.

Surely, the murders of four Lakewood police officers, four Oakland police officers and other murders by parolees – such as the recent tragedy of Lily Burk - should cause the idea of a mass release of parolees in California to be abandoned.

On behalf of the more than 9,900 officers of the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Police Protective League extends its deepest condolences to the families and colleagues of the Lakewood Police Department officers killed Sunday.  For information on making donations to assist the officers’ families, visit the Lakewood Police Independent Guild’s website at www.lpig.us.  To our officers in the field, there has never been a more urgent time for police officers everywhere to remain vigilant - please be careful, even while performing the most routine duties.

Formed in 1923, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) represents the more than 9,900 dedicated and professional sworn members of the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPPL can be found on the Web at www.LAPD.com

There is Nothing Good About 'Good Hair'

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George E. Curry, NNPA Columnist
While new movies such as “Precious” and “The Princess and the Frog” are stirring intense debate among African Americans, no recent movie or documentary has hair stylist Bo Bogard more riled than “Good Hair.” To Bogard, the owner of Bo26, an upscale salon in northwest Washington, D.C., there is nothing good about “Good Hair.”

He asked, rhetorically: “What was the point?” And then he lists the major points that made him hotter than a hot comb poised for action. Bogard was most perturbed by the scenes showing how sodium hydroxide, a chemical used in hair relaxers, can eat through the skin of chickens and dissolve aluminum cans.

“When Chris Rock presented sodium hydroxide in the movie, he was showing it in its purest form,” explained Bogard. “When you show almost anything in its purest form, it can be dangerous. However, when sodium hydroxide is in a relaxer, it has been diluted with all of the other elements in the relaxer. So, it pissed me off when he was showing the cans inside the cylinders being dissolved.” Bogard was further irked after a White friend who had seen the movie asked: “Why would Black women subject themselves to that?”

That’s a question many viewers asked after seeing the documentary that was inspired when one of Chris Rock’s daughters asked him why she doesn’t have good hair. For Americans bombarded with images of Europeans as the standard of beauty, straight hair was widely viewed as being “good hair.”

Bogard argues that is only one reason Black women straighten their hair.

“There was a time in history when Black women felt they needed to straighten their hair in order to fit in,” he stated. “I will acknowledge that.  Today, in 2009, I think if a woman chooses to straighten her hair with a relaxer, I don’t think it’s just to fit into society or to be like their White counterparts.

They’re doing it now because of style – it’s a look.”

For some, straight hair is not enough – it must also be long. Chris Rock made a big deal of Black women purchasing fake hair – sometimes at a cost of $1,000 to $3,500 – and having it woven into their heads. One salon owner featured in the movie offered a layaway plan.

Although Bogard said he has had less than five women come to him for weaves over a 17-year-career – each time he referred them to someone else – the typical African-American customer has no interest in weaves.

“I wish he had balanced that with Black women who are very proud of who they are and they don’t need to wear weaves in order to fit into society,” Bogard said. He conceded the movie featured women with natural hair and even one interior decorator who is bald. But he said those examples were easily overshadowed by the overemphasis on weaves, something that did not go unnoticed by moviegoers.  “I have a client, a very beautiful lady, who is an attorney,” Bogard recounted. “After the movie came out, she went to work and a Caucasian coworker said, ‘Girl, I didn’t know you had a weave.’ She said, ‘I don’t have a weave. Why would you assume I have a weave?” The woman said, ‘Chris Rock said when you see Black women with long hair, they have a weave.’ This opens up another door. If you’re a Black woman and your hair is long, it must be a weave.”

The movie noted that in India, 10 million people have all of their hair cut each year as an offering to the Hindu gods. With Koreans and Chinese merchants functioning as middle men, much of that hair ends up on the heads of African American women.

“Another thing that annoyed me was the economic aspect of the business,” Bogard stated. “They were saying this is a $9 billion industry and we don’t have anything to show for it.  Well, how many movie studios are owned by Blacks? How many car companies are owned by Blacks? Is that something we should strive for? Sure.  But don’t pretend that this is the only industry like that.

“Living in America, unfortunately, we don’t own a lot. On another level, there are a lot of Black-owned salons, which brings me to my next point. It seemed like he picked all the mom-and-pop salons he could find. There are a lot of Black-owned salons that are upscale that don’t put weaves on layaway.  Their clients can afford them.”

After combing through most of the flaws the “Good Hair,” Bogard found another one—the definition of good hair.

“Chris Rock made it seem like if hair is straight, it’s good hair,” Bogard said. “One of the things we teach in our salon is that if the hair is not healthy, it isn’t good hair. Good hair is healthy hair, whether it’s straight, kinky, curly or wavy.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a key note speaker, moderator, and media coach.  He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Dating Disappointments during War of the Sexes

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Richard O. Jones
Dating is an enjoyable activity when participants share mutual interests and are honest about their true intentions. For many single seniors, dating is a risky screening process in search of a monogamous relationship, especially for the females. However for many single male seniors dating is a conquest to establish a casual friendship with intimate benefits, especially for the emotionally insecure. Each party to the dating process proceeds as two opponents strategically poised at chess or checkerboard or some other parlor game watching and waiting for the others’ next move. The weapons of the game are sex appeal, with the aid of cosmetics, perfumes, wigs, weaves, provocative clothing, and sometimes implants, being a favorite of women, and the appearance of chivalry, prosperity and/or honorable ambitions, being the weapon of choice for men. This is War of the Sexes.

The stakes are high in the War of the Sexes. For reasons of nostalgia, men want to feel like a stud and women want to feel irresistible, which equates to vanity and/or insecurity.  Nevertheless, the outcome is crucial because the male sexual prowess and female sex appeal respectively is rapidly approaching the end of the game. Thus women move evasively around the dating checkerboard as to not give up any of her chips, attributes, or bargaining power too soon. Men are trying to jump her and take as much as he can, thus winning the game, without sacrificing too much commitment.  In the process, some women are so-o precautious their opponent loses interest, and though she retains her valued chips, he defaults and moves on, although his intentions were monogamous. However, if the woman was impressed by his early antics and allowed him to seize a few of her valuables, (emotions, heart, sensuality) he might have moved on regardless, it’s the risk of the game.  As life would have it, people date and move-on. All dates were not meant to last into the next year or years beyond. Dating in its rawest form is a screening process. The object of the game, for seniors especially, is to eliminate ASAP, those that are not settling-down material.  Men on a conquest of sexual exploits can be exposed early in the game.

For example, if he’s not willing to invest his time in a woman as a person and not merely a date then (though he might be a nice guy) he’s not seeking a relationship of longevity. In the event a woman becomes emotionally involved in such a guy and is relaxed by his chivalry to the point of surrender, she should not count it a lost if he moves on. The faster he moves on the better. She could compare him to a trip Disneyland. She enjoyed the day but now its time to go home – back to reality. The woman must be strong and not allow that experience to harden her against new players at the parlor game table or make her weary of entering another amusement park. Senior men, on the other hand, in the race against virility while in pursuit of exploiting women will find themselves at the gate of a Ferris Wheel with no tickets in their hand – and no reality in which to return.

A Thanksgiving Prayer to End Poverty in Our Time

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By Marian Wright Edelman, NNPA Columnist –

Thanksgiving is a time when many Americans pause to be grateful for all we have. In the current economic downturn when the gap between rich and poor is at the highest level since the Great Depression and the unemployment rate is 10.2 percent, millions of our neighbors, including many families with children, are struggling hard to count their blessings.

The latest Census Bureau numbers show the number of children living in poverty ($22,050 for a family of four) increased by almost 750,000 in 2008 to 14.1 million; the number of children living in extreme poverty ($11,025 for a family of four) increased by more than 500,000 to 6.3 million children.  This is the biggest child poverty increase since 1992 and it comes at a time when our national safety net is full of holes.

When parents lose their jobs, lose their homes, lose their health care, children suffer, and all of us lose.

Each year we keep 14.1 million children in poverty it costs our nation over half a trillion dollars in lost productivity, higher crime, and poorer health.  What kind of nation, blessed to be the wealthiest in the world, lets 1 in 5 children be poor with its children the poorest age group among us? This indefensible and preventable child poverty reflects a spiritual and values poverty far deeper than the eye can see and threatens the very meaning and future of America. So I offer a Thanksgiving prayer for us to commit to end poverty in our time — beginning with children.

God help us to end poverty in our time.  The poverty of having a child with too little to eat and no place to sleep, no air, sunlight and space in which to breathe, bask, and grow.

The poverty of watching your child suffer and get sicker and sicker and not knowing what to do or how to get help because you don’t have a car to get to the emergency room or health insurance.

The poverty of working your fingers to the bone every day taking care of somebody else’s children and neglecting your own, and still not being able to pay your bills.  The poverty of having a job which does not let you afford a stable place to live and being terrified you’ll become homeless and lose your children to foster care.  The poverty of losing your job and searching and searching and searching for another amidst an epidemic scarcity of work.

The poverty of working all your life caring for others and having to start all over again caring for the grandchildren you love.  The poverty of earning a college degree, having children, opening a day care center, and taking home $300 a week or even month if you’re lucky.

The poverty of loneliness and isolation and alienation — having no one to call or visit, tell you where to get help, assist you in getting it, or care if you’re living or dead.  The poverty of having too much and sharing too little and having the burden of nothing to carry.

The poverty of convenient blindness and deafness and indifference to others, of emptiness and enslavement to things, drugs, power, money, violence, and fleeting fame.  The poverty of low aim and paltry purpose, weak will and tiny vision, big meetings and small action, loud talk and sullen grudging service.

The poverty of believing in nothing, standing for nothing, sharing nothing, sacrificing nothing, struggling for nothing.

The poverty of pride and ingratitude for God’s gifts of life and children and family and freedom and country and earth and not wanting for others what you want for yourself.  The poverty of greed for more and more and more, ignoring, blaming, and exploiting the needy, and taking from the weak to please the strong.

The poverty of addiction to drink, to work, to self, to the status quo, and to injustice.  The poverty of fear which keeps you from doing the thing you think is right.  The poverty of despair and cynicism.  God help us end poverty in our time in all its faces and places, young and old, rural, urban, suburban and small town too, and in every color of humans You have made everywhere.

God help us to end poverty in our time in all its guises — inside and out — physical and spiritual, so that all our and Your children may live the lives that You intend in the richest nation on earth.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

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