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Budget Cuts May Imperil Blacks from Checking Out Public Libraries

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) Between the rise of digital media, changing social landscapes, and decreased funding, the nation’s 8,956 public library systems are at a crisis stage. And underserved communities and people of color stand to lose more than other communities.

Public libraries stand in the gap for many Black Americans and their households. In a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 47 percent of African American respondents 16 years and older had visited a library within the past year. Blacks and Latinos were more likely to consider their public library’s services “very important to their lives.”

This is particularly true in the case of Internet access, as Black people are less likely than their White counterparts to have high-speed Internet access at home. In addition to being left behind in a digital age, much of the job market has gone online; many employers no longer offer an in-person application option.

The library is often the only place in a community where a person can receive free technical assistance and help with applying for jobs online.

“The library becomes a social change agent where people of African descent can go, and have a safe space, and empower themselves,” says Princess Black, a Statesboro, Ga. native studying library science at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. “As we’re moving further into the 21st century, the library’s responsibility, especially to African American communities, is to mold and shape itself into whatever the community needs it to be.”

Black points to the Ferguson Public Library as an example. As the demonstrations around Michael Brown’s killing pushed the Ferguson-Florissant school district’s first day of school back a week, the small library became a makeshift school for 200 students, and a safe space for the community during unrest.

“Ferguson [Public Library] is a very small library, it only has one full-time librarian. Given the climate, he could’ve easily said no; however, he allowed them to use the space,” Black explains. The Ferguson head librarian, Scott Bonner, also helped organizers find partners to provide overflow space, food, and school materials. Bonner was one month into the job.

“And so he got rolled into a position of basically being an activist,” Black says. “The library has broken away from the tradition entity it used to be—[they] now play an active role in social justice.”

Black says that because the duty to serve the community is so inherent, libraries and librarians often do not recognize their roles as agents of social justice.

And generally, neither do those outside the library science field. Today, the public library system is facing the challenge to innovate, while also demonstrating its value and purpose.

Currently, public libraries act as a community center and equalizing force, offering free computer, literacy, and language classes, Internet and information access, shelter, child activities and youth programs, life skills workshops, and social connection. Public libraries provide safe space for community organizing, and for students, senior citizens, and indigent people who have few options.

Last year, the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based education and policy think tank, convened a Dialogue on Public Libraries Working Group to explore and create strategies to sustain and elevate public library systems. The 35-member group includes library science professionals, philanthropists, corporate CEOs, government officials, nonprofit executives, and researchers. Last month, the Working Group released a report titled, “Rising to the Challenge: Re-envisioning Public Libraries.”

“One challenge is that often libraries are taken for granted,” says Maureen Sullivan, a Working Group member and former president of the American Library Association. “Libraries are sometimes the first place funding is cut, because policymakers often do not understand just what public libraries mean to their communities today.”

Almost 85 percent of all public library operating budgets are from local sources, primarily taxes. The remaining amount comes from states, and other sources such as grants or donors. Federal funds account for well under 1 percent of public library operating costs.

Because of this, public library budgets contend with the ebb and flow of several factors each year. The Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries, for example, are facing a combined $57 million decrease in funding and 19 percent decrease in staff, according to the Aspen report. Funding is also a serious problem in rural areas, in terms of providing high-speed Internet, services, and adequate staff.

“Further complicating the library funding situation is the increase in government mandates that have affected expectations of public libraries in supporting e-government services,” the report reads. “There has been a noticeable shift in what this requires of libraries—moving from simply providing government forms to providing computers and training to access and navigate. Very often, libraries must deliver services to meet these growing demands without any additional funding to cover the costs.”

“Most libraries are fighting and scuffing for resources because there’s this idea that libraries are not necessary—there’s e-books and the Internet and all these things. When I tell people I’m in librarian school they’re like ‘who needs libraries, Google is the library!’” Black says. “But libraries today…play a central role in every community, regardless of if it’s impoverished or well-off. What the library can do for you is boundless—anything you can think of can emerge from a library if you put it to use.”

As libraries move into the future, the report calls for the strengthening of public libraries as community hubs, and ensuring that libraries can provide content in all formats, from books and publications to e-books, Internet radio shows, and other digital media.

The Working Group also wants to bolster public libraries as a point of access to the digital, globalized world. By linking libraries to each other via the Internet, for example, people will no longer be bound by geography when using library resources.

These predictions are already coming to pass. For example, the Central Arkansas Library System has its own theater where the community can take in plays, films, music performances, and children’s story times. Maryland’s Howard County Library System offers a hi-tech digital media lab where teens participate in STEM classes, trips, and workshops.

For those interested in supporting their local libraries, Sullivan recommends visiting in person, getting a library card, and participating in events.

“I’m hard-pressed to think of another institution in communities designed to serve everyone this way. Every state has great library systems,” she says. “Let the library know about [your] information needs, and tell public officials how the library makes a difference for [you].”

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Blacks "Unbank" at Higher Rates than Whites

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When it comes to cashing checks and other financial transactions, Blacks are “unbanked” at much higher rates than Whites, according to a new report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

The FDIC, an independent government agency that guarantees deposits up to $250,000 at insured banks, conducted the study in June 2013 aided by the United States Census Bureau, and collected data from nearly 41,000 respondents.

For the survey, the FDIC defined households that didn’t have an account at an insured institution as “unbanked” and households that had a bank account at an insured institution but still used alternative financial services (AFS) to perform some banking transactions (i.e. check cashing and payday lending) as “underbanked.”

In 2013 the FDIC estimated that less than 10 percent of U.S. households were unbanked. However, the rate of Black households that go without federally-insured bank accounts dwarfs the national rate.

According to the FDIC report, 20.5 percent of Black households are unbanked, compared to less than 4 percent (3.6 percent) of White households that don’t have a bank account at an insured institution.

And while less than 1 percent of U.S. households were “recently unbanked,” when the FDIC conducted the survey, Blacks accounted for nearly 50 percent of the households in that group.

“Among households that recently became unbanked, 34.1 percent experienced either a significant income loss or a job loss that they said contributed to the household becoming unbanked,” stated the report.

In contrast, 19.4 percent of households that had recently opened a checking or savings account when the poll was taken said that a new job prompted the transition.

Limited job prospects may partly explain, why Blacks who often suffer unemployment rates that are double the national unemployment rate, often go without bank accounts.

The Southern region, where most Blacks live, reported the highest rates for the unbanked and underbanked.

“In fact, while 38 percent of U.S. households live in the South, approximately 44 percent of unbanked and underbanked households lived there,” stated the report.

Almost 60 percent of survey respondents that went without a federally-insured bank account said that they didn’t have enough money to keep in the account or meet the minimum balance and more than 34 percent said that they disliked or didn’t trust banks, according to the FDIC report.

The string of high-profile settlements in cases of lending discrimination and misleading investment practices that involved Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup that followed the housing crisis did little to sway public sentiment. In July 2014, Bloomberg News reported that, “Citigroup Inc., agreed to pay $7 billion in fines and consumer relief to resolve government claims that it misled investors about the quality of mortgage-backed bonds sold before the 2008 financial crisis.”

Nearly 70 percent of all U.S. households had at lease one bank account and had not used an alternative financial service (AFS) over the last 12 months, but only 40 percent of Black households are considered fully banked. More than 75 percent of White households are fully banked.

In a report on the FDIC’s findings, the Center for American Progress (CAP), an independent, nonpartisan educational group, said that people who are unbanked or underbanked, tended to pay more for basic financial services, relied more heavily on “cash and paper checks that can be risky,” and lacked “affordable products for savings and credit.”

Joe Valenti, the director of asset building at CAP and the author of the report, wrote that families that don’t have bank accounts, “may not have access to affordable, responsible credit when looking to purchase household items, cars, or homes. And they may not have a safe place to keep savings in case of an emergency.”

Valenti noted that a recent Federal Reserve survey revealed that almost half of all U.S. households said that they would be unable to come up with $400 in an emergency without borrowing or selling something.

Valenti concluded: “Having access to banking services is a critical first step toward financial security.”

Tension Remains Over Police Shootings of Young Black Males

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By Dr. J. A. Salaam
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call


FERGUSON, Mo. (FinalCall.com) – Tensions over the police shooting of Michael Brown, Jr., 18, by a White police officer here and the unrelated shooting of 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. in nearby St. Louis have not eased—and are unlikely to go away soon.

Recent press coverage and an announcement by the St. Louis police union have some charging a smear campaign is underway given media leaks from secret investigations and major media stories that use anonymous sources.

A widely reported New York Times article used anonymous sources to publish what was allegedly told to “government officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation.” The Times sources were not apparently on the grand jury hearing evidence in the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown nor part of the federal probe. The Times piece said officer Darren Wilson told investigators that he feared for his life after he was allegedly pinned and attacked in his vehicle by young Brown. Two shots were fired in the car and one struck the teenager before he ran away from officer Wilson, according to the Times.

“What the police say is not to be taken as gospel,” Benjamin L. Crump told the Times, dismissing Officer Wilson’s account of what happened in the SUV that fateful day. Officer Wilson should be indicted by the grand jury and his case sent to trial, said Atty. Crump. “He can say what he wants to say in front of a jury. They can listen to all the evidence and the people can have it transparent so they know that the system works for everybody.”

The Brown family lawyer continued, “The officer’s going to say whatever he’s going to say to justify killing an unarmed kid. Right now, they have this secret proceeding where nobody knows what’s happening and nobody knows what’s going on. No matter what happened in the car, Michael Brown ran away from him.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that it obtained a copy of the official autopsy, which has not been released, and a toxicology report that showed Mr. Brown had traces of marijuana in his system. These leaks and anonymous reports, usually followed by analysis that purports to back officer Wilson, have many angry and convinced the bits and pieces for information are designed to lessen reaction to a failure to indict the officer.

Community organizers are concerned there will be chaos if Darren Wilson is not indicted. “To see the evolution of this event it concerns me that law enforcement in place would go to this extreme to protect what everybody sees as being wrong … this individual should have been indicted the day of the shooting. They took it to the grand jury to release the responsibility of that prosecutor’s office. This is not the normal procedure and we can’t expect the normal results,” said Amir of the Peacekeepers, a group that helps keep people safe while protesting.

“We are going to have chaos because the people are dissatisfied with the same system that doesn’t give them justice,” Amir said.

A meeting Oct. 19 in St. Louis included about 20 people, including Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Pastor Ronald Bobo of Westside Missionary Baptist Church, the Peacekeepers and others discussing reactions if officer Wilson is not indicted.

“Congressman Clay what’s your position with the military vehicles being used on the people?” Paul Muhammad of the Peacekeepers asked.

“It was presented to us (Congress) right after 9-11 and we were under the wrong impression of their use, it was intended for a possible attack from terrorists, not civilians in the streets,” said the congressman.

Mourning, questions follow death of a son

Funeral services for Vonderrit Myers, Jr., were held Oct. 26 and Prince of Peace Church in Berkeley, Mo., was full. The young Black male was shot and killed by a police officer working as private security in the Shaw neighborhood in St. Louis. The 18-year-old was one of three young Black males the still unnamed officer approached and ending up chasing. According to St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, Myers, Jr., who was running away, then started aggressively coming back towards the uniformed police officer. The officer warned the young man to “stop, surrender, you’re under arrest,” the police chief said. The officer claimed the young man continued to approach, a physical altercation ensued, the officer pulled a grey sweatshirt off the young man, and noticed a gun, the chief said. The young man ran away. Then he turned, fired three shots at the officer but missed, said the chief. The officer returned fired, discharging 17 shots and killing Myers, Jr., said Chief Dotson.

Later the police union released a report saying the young man, who was wearing a monitoring device and facing a gun charge, had gun powder on his hands and clothes.

According to the police report, the 9mm gun that Myers allegedly used was reported stolen on September 26, 2014. The make of the gun that police now report finding differs from the one that St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson initially mentioned after the incident occurred. Mr. Dotson had said they found a Ruger 9mm, and now they report finding a 9mm Smith & Wesson, like the one in a Myers’ photo, the St. Louis American reported. Jermaine Wooten, one of the family’s lawyers, say that the autopsy results conflict with the officer’s account. According to Atty. Wooten, police reported that Mr. Myers was facing the officer the whole time. Additionally, Dr. Michael Graham, the police department’s medical examiner, said Mr. Myers’ DNA did not appear on the gun he reportedly had, according to the St. Louis American. “If he had been carrying the gun, it would have his DNA,” Atty. Wooten said.

The Myers family, also, had an independent autopsy done. It showed that their only son was shot six times in the back of the legs and once in the side of the head, probably the fatal wound, said Dr. Cyril Wecht, who performed the autopsy.

“His femur bone was shattered and the pain would have been too great.  He would have fallen down,” said Dr. Wecht. Four rounds struck Myers, Jr., entering on an upward trajectory, consistent with him running up a hill in the front yard of a house, he continued.

“As he was running, he was being shot,” Dr. Wecht said.

Another shot entered the side of his left thigh, and would have left him immobile while the fatal wound to the side of his head did not have an upward trajectory, he added.

Abdul Akbar Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, spoke at the funeral of Vonderrit Myers Jr. “Now that the independent autopsy has been done, we know he was shot from behind and the police Chief Dotson lied and is clearly showing that culture of cover up to protect their own,” he said.

“The media is painting the worst image of both Brown and Vonderrit, so that the general public won’t have any sympathy for young Black men. St. Louis has become the epicenter for the struggle of police brutality and our youth. This is the eightieth day since the Brown killing and this is not going away anytime soon,” said Mr.  Muhammad.

In the Land of Diamonds, Botswana’s Ruling Party’s Sparkle Dims

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(GIN)—The ruling Botswana Democratic Party won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections this past week, ensuring a second five-year term for President Ian Khama, whose party has ruled Botswana since independence from Britain 48 years ago.

But the victory was hard-won. The recently united opposition coalition has eaten away at the number of seats held by Khama’s majority party. Of 57 seats up for grabs, the ruling party won 33, the Umbrella for Democratic Change took 14 and the Botswana Congress party nabbed two.

“I am thrilled to be part of this epic moment,” said Duma Boko, presidential candidate of the three-party UDC alliance after casting his vote. Friday’s poll saw a high turnout of the 800,000 registered voters.

Khama, 61, a retired army general, is an ascetic and increasingly authoritarian figure with an undisguised dislike of journalists and a callous disregard for the Kalahari Bushmen, or “San,” who, he says, have an “extinct” and backward way of life.

Of their ancestral homelands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, he said, “Look, this is a game reserve. The whole purpose of a game reserve is to protect and conserve the flora and fauna.

“Just because they have had this way of life for many years, and continue living a very extinct form of life, a very backward form of life, denying them and especially their children opportunities to grow with the mainstream of our citizens, they have to be moved into the modern way of doing things. Give them livelihoods which will allow them and their children to live better lives.”

A landlocked, southern African country of two million people, Botswana is the world’s largest rough diamond producer by value, with production of 23.2 million carats valued at $3.6 billion in 2013, according to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. De Beers, Lucara Diamond Corp. and Gem Diamonds are among the companies with operations in the country.

Diamond sales funded generous social programs over the years, such as old-age benefits and monthly food rations to all destitute residents.

Young people receive 10 years of basic education, following which they can choose one the seven technical colleges in the country, or take vocational courses in teaching or nursing. The best students enroll in the University of Botswana, Botswana College of Agriculture and the Botswana Accountancy College in Gaborone.

The Botswana International University of Science and Technology began accepting students in 2011.

Efforts to diversify the economy—bringing in value-added jobs beyond mining—were championed by the minister of Mines, Energy and Water Resources, Onkokame Kitso Makaila.

Those efforts paid off in the relocation of sorting and sales by De Beers from London to Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, in the direct sales by state-owned Okavango Diamond Company and in an increase in auxiliary services, such as brokers, banks, shipping companies and grading laboratories that have set up shop in Gaborone.

Makaila, however, failed to hold on to his seat in the recent election, losing his constituency by 611 votes. The appointment of a new minister is pending.

Brown Loses Bid to Become Maryland’s First Black Governor

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By Glynn A. Hill
Howard University News Service


COLLEGE PARK, Md.—For weeks, possibly months, the talk had been about how Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown would soon become the nation’s third Black governor. Those dreams were dashed Tuesday night, as Brown, a Democrat, was narrowly defeated by Republican candidate Larry Hogan to win the Maryland gubernatorial election. Hogan’s victory, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 2 to1, was a huge upset.

Brown, Maryland’s lieutenant governor, was heavily favored when the election season began. Hogan, an Anne Arundel businessman, gained momentum in recent weeks, emphasizing his plan to cut taxes.

The defeat ends Brown’s hope, at least temporarily, of becoming the first African-American governor of Maryland.

“Tonight fell short of our campaign goal,” Brown said to a crowd at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center on the campus of the University of Maryland in his concession speech. “But it does not and cannot diminish the work that each and every one of you all has done in our communities.”

Hogan is the first Republican to win the Maryland governorship since Robert Ehrlich in 2002. Before him was Spiro Agnew, in 1967.

Mike Brown, 45, is an electrician who has lived in Maryland his entire life. He believes Brown’s defeat is more about what Hogan did than what Brown didn’t do.

“More people came out for Hogan,” said a disheartened Brown. “I think Brown had a good campaign, but he lost.”

To some, the number of registered voters who went to the polls was the difference.

Holli Holliday, a chief consultant at Holliday Advisors LLC, follows Maryland politics as a political strategist. She said she believed that voter turnout, particularly in Maryland’s most populated counties, was the difference.

“The Brown campaign took Baltimore County for granted,” Holliday said. “There was not a lot of energy focused on the big counties. They should’ve focused on their backyard.”

Brown, who represented Prince George’s County while serving in the Maryland House of Delegates, held Prince George’s County, but lost Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Aisha Braveboy, the chair of the Maryland Black Caucus, said that Brown’s defeat is a wake-up call for Democrats not just in Maryland, but across the country.

“We had a message that didn’t resonate with the majority of voters who went to the polls,” Braveboy said. “Democrats haven’t done well reaching out to their base.”

Brown, the son of a Jamaican father and Swiss mother, attended Harvard University on a ROTC scholarship prior to serving five years of active duty before returning for Harvard for law school. He was elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 1998, but continued to serve in the military.

Brown previously served two terms in the Maryland House of Delegates prior to taking his current post. Under current Governor Martin O’Malley, he’s led efforts to expand and improve health care, support economic development, and to provide better resources and services to Veterans.

Hogan not only criticized Brown for the “botched” rollout of the state’s healthcare exchange program under the Affordable Care Act, but he also made the race about taxes, and tried to convince voters that electing Brown was tantamount to electing Governor O’Malley again.

Clarevonte Williams, 22, a senior at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md., said that Brown’s loss is disappointing because he had supported him since last December.

“Hogan had the numbers,” Williams said. “It’s as simple as that.”

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