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Obama Becoming More Outspoken on Race

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By George E. Curry

NNPA Editor-in-Chief

Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When President Obama returns to Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. Friday to eulogize Rev. Clementa Pinckney, it will cap a period in which he has become increasingly outspoken on race, even uttering the N-word to make a point about the slow pace of progress in race relations.

Commenting on the Charleston tragedy on June 18, President Obama said, “The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.”

He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. following the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

“The good news is I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome. That, certainly, was Dr. King’s hope just over 50 years ago, after four little girls were killed in a bombing in a black church in Birmingham, Alabama,” Obama recalled.

“He said they lived meaningful lives, and they died nobly. ‘They say to each of us,’ Dr. King said, ‘black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely with [about] who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream.

“‘And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.’”

In many respects, it is surprising that Obama will travel to the church where nine people were murdered during Bible Study. He was harshly criticized for not traveling to Ferguson, Staten Island, North Charleston, S.C. or any of the other venues where an unarmed African American had been slain by a White police officer.

It should be noted that he sent Attorney General Eric H. Holder to Ferguson. Holder’s successor, Loretta Lynch, fresh on the job, visited Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. While that gesture was appreciated, protesters longed for Obama to visit.

Obama is returning to church where White supremacist Dylann Roof admits killing nine innocent people.

Friday’s trip to Charleston is less controversial than had the president chosen to go to Ferguson. He runs no risk of being attacked for being anti-police by the notoriously vocal Fraternal Order of Police. And though some conservatives refuse to acknowledge the racial component of the murders, there is broad public sympathy for the victims of the senseless massacre.

Obama was in the eye of the storm because of his affiliation with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. After distancing himself in 2008 from Wright, the Chicago pastor who led him to Christ, Obama largely shied away from discussing race during his first term.

In fact, Daniel Q. Gillion, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, produced research showing that in Obama’s first two years in office, he made fewer speeches and authored fewer executive policies on race than any Democratic president since 1961.

But there was a string of deaths of unarmed Blacks – including Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; Freddie Gray in Baltimore; Natasha McKenna in Fairfax County, Va.; Tamir Rice, Cleveland; Rekia Boyd in Chicago; Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C.; Eric Gardner in New York and Eric Harris in Tulsa, Okl. – that seems to have aroused a willingness to address race more forcefully.

No-drama-Obama stunned practically everybody recently when he used the N-word.

In a podcast interview with comedian Marc Maron released this week, Obama said, “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n—-r in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

Speaking in less graphic terms on June 19, President Obama reminded America of the Black experience in his Juneteenth remarks.

“We don’t have to look far to see that racism and bigotry, hate and intolerance, are still all too alive in our world,” he said. “Just as the slaves of Galveston knew that emancipation is only the first step toward true freedom, just as those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago knew their march was far from finished, our work remains undone.

“For as long as people still hate each other for nothing more than the color of their skin – and so long as it remains far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun – we cannot honestly say that our country is living up to its highest ideals.”

Earlier in his tenure, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, declared, “This president runs from race like a Black man runs from a cop.” Lately, however, President Obama seems to be running toward the issue of race.

3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets

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By Dwight Brown

NNPA Film Critic

Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, parents of Jordan Davis at rally.

Jordan Davis was born Feb 16, 1995.  Contrary to his belief, he was not named after the basketball legend Michael Jordan.  His mom, Lucia McBath, insists she named him after the crossing over of the Jordan River, symbolizing a new beginning.

For his mom and dad, Ron Davis, Jordan was their new beginning. Their lives were changed forever November 23, 2012, the day after Thanksgiving, when shots were fired at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida.

Ten bullets hit a car full of teenage boys. When the violence is over, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, an African-American, has been killed by Michael David Dunn, a middle-aged White software developer in town for a wedding. The boys had been playing loud rap music; Dunn requested that they turn it down. They did for an instant, and then they turned it back up. What happened next depends on whom you talk to.

The 1950 film Rashomon, directed by the legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, depicts the accounts of the witnesses, suspects, and victims of a rape and murder. All have different viewpoints, recollections and interpretations of the same encounter. “Rashomon effect” is a term that means contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people. It’s a dynamic that pervades just about every trial, where suspects and victims recount the same experience, differently. That’s what’s on view in this so-called “loud music” trial; the surviving boys have a different recollection than Dunn.

Producer Minette Wilson initiated this project, and collaborated with documentary director/cinematographer Marc Silver (Global Protest, Who is Dayani Cristal?) and executive producer Orlando Bagwell (Eyes on the Prize). They received open access to the parents of the victim, his friends and the trial. The viewer sits around the dinner table with now divorced Lucia McBath and Ron Davis, is invited to prayer circles, hears anecdotes about Jordan from his pals (he was a mediocre basketball player, but quick on his feet) and gets to know the brassy suburban kid who was killed.

What the documentary doesn’t do is get inside the head of Michael Dunn. We don’t find out how Dunn became the adult who dared to ask a carful of teens to turn their loud music down.  Nor why on a Friday night while stopping to pick up wine and chips at a convenience store, he was carrying a gun in his glove compartment. Nor what he ever expected to do with a loaded firearm. Without these details, this documentary sheds light on only one side of the tragedy.

The film calls into question stand-your-ground laws that have been drafted in many states making self-defense with a gun when a “threat” is perceived, legal.  Echoes of the Trayvon Martin case are in this documentary. In fact Trayvon Martin’s dad calls Jordan’s dad and says, “I want to welcome you to a club that none of us want to be in.”

Though the film focuses on this crime in particular, it also brings into view a pattern of young Black men being devalued and murdered, which spurs many to think that this country has a chronic social/racial problem that has to be solved.

The gut-wrenching subject of the film carries the movie.  Security footage from the convenience store re-plays the dramatic pop, pop, pop sounds of the gunfire. The court proceedings are riveting. Arguments for stand-your-ground and against it cause debate. Semi-private conversations between Dunn and his girlfriend are as intriguing as the conversations between Jordan’s parents.  Both couples are common people who have been thrust into a media spotlight by an incident that none could have fathomed when they woke up that Friday after Thanksgiving.

What the documentary the filmmakers have assembled is educational, eye opening, often emotional, sad and galvanizing. As the 98 minutes of footage roll by, it becomes apparent that Jordan’s tragedy is a chapter within a much longer book.  It is also clear that stand-your-ground laws are on trial as much as Michael Dunn was. Notes Judge Russell L. Healey, who presided over the case; “There is nothing wrong with retreating or de-escalating a situation.”

Black Graduates Face a Tough Job Market

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By Freddie Allen

NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

College graduates facing tough job market (NNPA Photo by Freddie Allen).

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – College graduates will enter a job market this year that is better than it has been in recent years, but they will still face a tough climb. That climb will be especially difficult for Black college graduates who will grapple with a jobless rate that is still in the double digits, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a Washington, D.C.-based research and education group focused on low- and middle-income workers.

Alyssa Davis, a research fellow focused on the labor market, poverty and education; Will Kimball, a research assistant with EPI; and Elise Gould, director of health policy research co-authored the report for the Institute’s “Raising America’s Pay” research and public education initiative.

“Things are starting to look up for young grads, but we’re not quite where we want to be yet,” said Davis.

Even though, the unemployment rate for Black college graduates improved to 11.4 percent, it is still nearly three points higher than it was in 2007 (8.1 percent) before the Great Recession. The jobless rate for White college graduates has peaked at 9 percent in 2011, and the current unemployment rate at 5.8 percent is less than a percentage point from the 2007 rate of 5.1 percent.

“This suggests other factors may be in play, such as discrimination or unequal access to the informal professional networks that often lead to job opportunities,” stated the report.

Increasing college costs coupled with mountains of student loan debt may also make it harder for students to stay in school to earn advanced degrees.

“The cost of higher education has risen faster than typical family incomes, making it harder for families to pay for college,” stated the EPI report. “From the 1983–1984 enrollment year to the 2013–2014 enrollment year, the inflation adjusted cost of a four-year education, including tuition, fees, and room and board, increased 125.7 percent for private school and 129.0 percent for public school.”

Meanwhile, the median family income rose less than 17 percent over the same period.

Over the past decade (2004-2014), the number of borrowers has increased more than 90 percent and the average debt per borrower increased by 74 percent, according to the EPI report.

Those who can’t afford college are forced to compete in a weak labor market with older more experienced workers.

More than 23 percent of Black high school graduates fall into the gap between having a job and going to college, compared to 14.2 percent of their White peers.

“When you have a period of sustained economic weakness like this and you have these lower wages, and you have all of these people idle, it can affect their jobs opportunities and earnings for up to a decade into the future,” said Davis.

High school graduates also struggle to find work.

The unemployment rate for Black high school graduates rose to 42 percent in 2011 and is now roughly 30 percent and the jobless rate for White high school graduates is about 17 percent.

Researchers suggested that because the majority of workers aged 17-24 years-old have less than a college degree, including more than 90 percent of Black workers, policymakers need to focus on providing them with access to good jobs and stable employment that “allows them to build a career or pay for further schooling.”

President Barack Obama’s “America’s College Promise” proposal to provide students with free tuition to attend community colleges for two years may also give high school graduates a boost.

Kimball also agreed that high school graduates that didn’t have jobs lined up could benefit from President Barack Obama’s plan to provide students with two years of free tuition at a community college.

Nearly half of college graduates younger than 27 yearsold are still working jobs that don’t require a college degree and those jobs “are of lower quality now than they used to be,” the report said.

Gould said that, on the individual level, it may or may not be a good investment for people to go to college, because of increasing college costs and flat wages.

“Making college more affordable, changes that equation,” said Gould.

Ultimately, the EPI report found that the down economy affects young workers in many of the same ways that it affects older workers and because the causes of their job struggles are the, same so are many of the solutions.

“The bottom line is that policies that will generate demand for U.S. goods and services and therefore demand for workers who provide them, policies that will bring down unemployment, policies that will give workers more power,” the report stated, “And policies that will raise workers’ wages are the keys to giving young people a fighting chance as they enter the labor market during the aftermath of the Great Recession.”

Researchers said that targeted jobs programs and investments in infrastructure would drive the economy toward full employment.

Kimball said that there are plenty of labor standards that policymakers can work on that can boost the bargaining power that workers have, including raising the minimum wage, updating the overtime salary threshold and ensuring greater access to paid sick and parental leave for workers.

Davis said that the problems that young graduates face in the job market are not unique compared to the overall economy and that the fates of young graduates are tied to the overall economy. That’s why any solutions aimed at supporting graduates and helping them find jobs in today’s market will also help other workers in the labor force.

“When we raise the minimum wage it usually translates to wage growth for everybody,” said Davis.

Kimball added that a minimum wage increase would also help those that are working their way through college.

Gould said that the idea that millennials are choosing to sit on the sidelines, complaining about not getting the job that they want, is misguided, because recent graduates are entering the labor market with an economy that is still recovering from a historic recession.

“[Millenials] are likely to fair poorly in the labor market and that is going to have long-term effects for them,” said Gould. “Things have improved from the depths of the Great Recession, but for young workers, it’s still going to be slow going.”

Unrest Sows Seeds for Future Leaders, Opens Eyes of Youth

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Richard B. Muhammad


BALTIMORE (NNPA) – Unrest in a city known yesterday for crab cakes, row houses, marble steps, downtown tourist spots and sports stadiums—alongside struggles with decay, violence and heroin—has captured global attention.

Powerful images of Black children hurling rocks at police officers in riot gear, crouched behind shields, captured an urban intifada inside America. It was a rebellion against oppressive police practices, stifling poverty, subpar education and frustration over bleak futures.

But the children some called thugs and lawbreakers, comments retracted by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, are tired. They are tired of being pushed around and tired of having nothing.

“I just felt like it shouldn’t end after a week of fighting, it should like go on. We shouldn’t just look at this like a month later and everything be just completely gone,” said 15-year-old Jerome Lyles. “We should use this and use Baltimore as an example for the nation and try to actually make some change.”

The city resident was clad in a t-shirt with a photo of Trayvon Martin, the Black 17-year-old who died from bullets fired by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., in 2012.

Jerome’s stepfather brought him to “Bmore Youth Rise,” a day devoted to young people and support for local organizations. The day started with a reverse town hall meeting at Baltimore City Community College, where panelists asked youth in the audience questions and for solutions. The day included a May 9 march past their new mural dedicated to Freddie Gray, the unarmed Black man whose death following an encounter with police sparked outrage and national protests, and other victims of police killings. His back was broken and spine nearly separated from his head in what police called an arrest without force. Six police officers have been charged in connection with his death.

Jerome would like to see continued protests and efforts to change living conditions and government in the city.

Whether in street organizations, official groups or simply joining rallies, marches and protests, young people are having experiences that are awakening them to injustice, racial oppression and social conditions. Many are asking questions, seeking and offering solutions and trying to have an impact.

Yo’Nas Da LoneWolf of National StopTheKilling.com organized B’More Youth Rise to connect the struggle in the city with youth voices and youth leadership.

In less than a week, she pulled together groups across 30 local communities for B’More Youth Rise to complete a mural in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood and offer young people a platform.

“It was an opportunity for the youth to talk, and talk about what really happened, their feelings on how police are dealing with them—and how they see change in their community,” she said. “You can’t do anything in the community without dealing with the people. You have to listen to the people first.” In Harlem Park, the day closed with a rally that included national and local leaders and hip hop artists.

When rapper DBoi Da Dome, a popular local artist, called into The Glover Report, which aired over www.wpbradio.com, talk focused on youth and street level efforts for justice, peace and progress. The rapper wants to help promote change and open the eyes of young people. He wants youth to make better choices, enjoy better circumstances, better opportunities and services and he wants more access to young minds.

Young people are suffering and Freddie Grays’ happen daily in Baltimore, said the hip hop artist. He created a song dedicated to the uprising and police wrongdoing and killings in Baltimore. His powerful anti-police murder song “F–k 12,” may be raw in language but it captures, the pain, anger, fearlessness and daily pressures of life in an urban anthem. “F–k 12, f–k 12! We ain’t about fear!” the song goes. “They killing us without justice!” “Twelve” refers to Baltimore police officers and the song’s narrative expresses outrage over the killing of Mr. Gray and other Blacks across the country. Hands up means don’t shoot, but cops are killing Black people anyway, the song notes. The video includes protests, city officers in riot gear, unrest and scenes from the city’s remaining public housing projects and marches through the streets. Some may not like the curse words, but the police killings and police abuses are real, said DBoi Da Dome. His song is one of several local artists produced in the wake of the Gray death.

“We have to make change happen as a unit and it doesn’t matter who gets the credit,” he said. And DBoi Da Dome added, those with resources and power should not keep those who can reach young people away because of past problems.

My life shows young people alternatives to street life, fast money and fast death, said the rapper. But powerful people are playing games, he said. “We are losing family members in the midst of their game,” the rapper added.

There is great pain affecting youth, especially young Black Baltimore, said Faraji Muhammad of Peace By Piece Baltimore, a group of young activists committed to social justice and work in low income communities.

Peace By Piece is just a few months old, but Faraji is an up and coming leader in the city. The organization plans to work with a high school in the community where Freddie Gray lived and died to develop leaders and community advocates. Peace By Piece also connects with gang members, those out of school and on the streets to help them with education, jobs and services, said Faraji.

The larger problems and patterns of police brutality are systemic and work with young people will range from neighborhood clean ups and clothes giveaways to community education and advocacy, like pressing state lawmakers to pass legislation that holds police officers accountable, he said.

Ronnae Cooper, a 16-year-old student at St. Francis Academy, felt the initial battles between police officers and students were “ridiculous.” It started from Mondawmin Mall, where she stood after school.

The day the clashes erupted police shut down transportation at the major hub, closing a subway station and pulling young people off of buses without explanation, she said. That “just made things worse. They were trying to leave.”

“This whole stereotype about us, African American kids in the city, of us being thugs, I just think it’s unfair. Because it’s not everybody, it was a small group of kids who decided to act idiotic,” Ronnae said.

“It was just the whole cop thing that got me hyped,” she continued. Ronnae feels the officers were wrong for not strapping Mr. Gray into the police vehicle for his safety and questioned why he was arrested.

Like other young people interviewed, some who were denied entry into the mall, she said the relationship between youth and police is non-existent. “The cops don’t really acknowledge the young people anymore. They are more like, ‘you just do this, you do that’ and stuff like that. They’re not really showing us the way. It’s like authority, authority, authority. It’s not really a friendliness atmosphere around them. That’s why (young people) feel like they can’t really be around them. They have to run every time they come around,” said the high school sophomore.

“It’s not like the cops really, like my sister said, acknowledge the young people. It’s like the kids are more afraid of them than they are of each other—if one is more dangerous than the other,” said Rodney Cooper, 16, standing next to his twin sister. “It’s like if you see a cop run, that’s why Freddie Gray made eye contact with that cop and he tried to get away. He got nervous.”

“It just says he didn’t want to be near that cop. He didn’t want to be suspect for anything. He didn’t do anything wrong,” the high school student added.

Rodney doesn’t really fear police but, he said, many young people do. He would like to see changes in the way police deal with people.

The word on social media April 27 was that students were going to protest, said Rodney, countering police reports that a violent purge was planned. His mother picked him up and he turned on the news at home to see “young people doing damage.”

He doesn’t approve of the destruction, but it had an impact. “They (youth) showed their feelings and I think the cops will listen. I think they will be like, ‘Be careful.’ ”

If Rodney has an encounter with police he hopes officers won’t prejudge him and draw their weapons. He has never been in trouble—but he still has that fear.

Destiny Broadham, 17, shared some thoughts while walking in Mondawmin Mall. “It was a terrible thing that happened, raiding the places you go every day,” she said. The mall was looted during the uprising. She believes there are good and bad officers. But, she said, there is a problem. “Policemen take their jobs for granted because they have so much power and they think they can get away with stuff,” she said. “Like killing people, you’re not supposed to kill people.”

Black Unemployment Dips Below 10 Percent

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

 

WASHINGNTON (NNPA) – The Black unemployment rate fell to single digits (9.6 percent) in April, for the first time since President Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

Despite the improvement, the Black jobless rate is still double the unemployment rate of White workers, which has remained flat since February at 4.7 percent.

Valerie Wilson, the director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank focused on low- and middle-income families, said that said that the gradual decline in the Black unemployment rate is the result of strong job growth over the past year.

As the economic recovery in the United States continued its slow, uneven climb in April there were still clear disparities, even among adult Black workers.

Wilson said that, since December, Black men have enjoyed most of the larger employment gains compared to Black women.

The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 years old was 11 percent in December 2014 and 9.2 percent in April 2015, while the unemployment rate for Black women increased 0.6 percent over the same period.

Since last April, the labor force participation rate, which is the share of the population that is either employed or looking for work, increased from 66.5 percent to 68.7 percent in April 2015 among Black men. The labor force rate for Black women only increased 0.7 percent since April 2014.

Wilson said that a renewed focus on targeted jobs programs and infrastructure investments would enable the economy to get closer to full employment, but cuts to public sector employment, especially at the state and local levels, may prolong the sluggish recovery.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy group that designs policies aimed at reducing poverty and inequality, the economy has shed nearly 570,000 government jobs, more than 360,000 jobs in local government alone, since February 2010.

“The other part of that is that wage growth isn’t anything to cheer about,” said Wilson, adding that wage growth is still below any indication that the economy has really heated up.

According to the Labor Department, average hourly earnings have only increased 2.2 percent since April 2014.

During recoveries in the past, falling unemployment rates meant that companies were forced to raise wages to compete for available workers

This recovery is different, Wilson said, in part because there’s still a decent amount of slack in the labor market.

In a state-by-state analysis of the unemployment rates, Wilson found that the African American unemployment rate was “lowest in Virginia (7.4 percent) and highest in the District of Columbia (15.8 percent) in the first quarter of 2015, surpassing Michigan, which had the highest black unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2014.”

Wilson also noted that, “although 7.4 percent is the lowest Black unemployment rate in the country, it is still over 1 percentage point above the highest White unemployment rate (Tennessee). Virginia was one of only eight states where the African American unemployment rate was below 10 percent in the first quarter of 2015.”

Wilson’s research also revealed that the Black unemployment rate, “is at or below its pre-recession level in six states: Connecticut, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee. But this numerical recovery must be put in proper context because each of these states also had Black unemployment rates that were among the highest in the nation before the recession.”

The national unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in April down from 5.5 percent in March and the economy added 223,000 jobs in April for a three-month average of 191,000 jobs per month.

In a recent blog post for EPI, Josh Bivens, the research and policy director at EPI, wrote that returning the labor market to pre-Great Recession levels is too unambitious a goal.

“After all, 2007 could hardly be described as a year with the kind of high-pressure labor market that would boost wages across the board,” said Bivens.

Bivens continued: “Instead, we need to target the kind of high-pressure labor market that we haven’t seen since the late 1990s. Anything less than this will leave the majority of American workers frozen out of sharing in economic growth through wage gains.”

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