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Sharpton, Congressional Black Caucus Join Forces on Voter Suppression

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By Lauren Victoria Burke, Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer –

In an effort to spur activism and create a political tipping point on the issue, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are joining forces with National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton, against voter suppression. Rev. Sharpton will lead a march from Selma, Ala. tracing the historic steps of Dr. Martin Luther King. He will be joined by several members of the CBC.

The march will begin on Sunday, March 4 in Selma, Ala. and end on March 9 in Montgomery. One goal is to recreate three historic voting rights marches held in 1965. As a result of those efforts, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965.

“We will stay in the same encampments that Dr. King and the marchers stayed at in 1965,” Sharpton said. Alabama’s immigration laws will also be a focus of the effort.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in this country but we are going backwards when people — based on what they look like — become suspects,” Sharpton said referring to Alabama’s immigration laws.

“In this day and age, when states like my own are now promulgating voter ID laws that actually suppress and discourage folks from voting, something needs to be done,” said Freshman CBC Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.).

Sharpton said the march is a kickoff to turn the political table against present voter ID laws in 34 states with a “national mobilization” effort. The National Urban League, the NAACP, LaRaza and NOW will also be part of Sharpton’s march.

Sharpton views the march and rally effort as a chance to resist laws already passed and galvanize critical mass against them rather than simply accept what is now law. “We don’t want to accommodate that until we have to get there,” Sharpton said answering a reporter’s question on whether his efforts would help voters navigate existing laws.

“We don’t want to give anyone the notion that we are trying to accommodate this lie,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.) also told reporters. “The bar should be very high to disenfranchise someone,” she added.

Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Michigan all have voter ID laws.

In addition to the Sharpton march, the Congressional Black Caucus is planning a voter protection tour that would include voter registration and education while providing voter IDs.

The first individual efforts by a CBC member will be a voter symposium hosted by Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). Clay will be joined by Rev. Al Sharpton for an event on March 16 in his St. Louis district on voter suppression. There will also be voter registration and education at the event. The Missouri legislature is considering a new voter ID law that could pass in time for the November elections.

Sharpton, who hosts Politics Nation on MSNBC and the nationally syndicated radio program Keepin’ It Real, will broadcast from Alabama the week of the march. He and many members of Congress believe the voter suppression effort is an attempt to systematically roll back the gains of the Civil Rights movement.

“The drama of going back to Selma and staying every night where they stayed in 1965 creates a irrevocable picture to America that they are uprooting and undermining what was achieved in the Civil Rights movement,” Sharpton said.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), speaking on the tie between the march and the larger Civil Rights movement, recounted a story of how her father taught her how to deal with the Ku Klux Klan.

“We cannot go back. Too many people fought and died like my daddy so that I could vote. So that I could exercise the right to vote and I refuse — I refuse to go back,” Wilson stated. “I will march with Rev. Sharpton, I will march with anyone who is trying to stop the clock from going back,” she declared.

Wilson also said she served in the Florida legislature for 12 years and no voter ID laws passed.

“All of a sudden after the 2008 election, these [voter ID laws] miraculously appear. Why? Because we have a Black President in the White House. It’s to stop all of the people of color from standing in line and from coming out to vote,” Wilson added, putting a strong tone of urgency on the issue.

In November 2011, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Charlie Gonzalez made a similar point.

“We are revisiting that horrible period in the history of this country,” Gonzalez said, referring to new strict voter ID laws in Texas. “What this law will do is disenfranchise a certain segment of our community in Texas. Need I tell you what that segment may be… it’s gonna be minorities, of course,” he said.

A reporter from the Birmingham News asked Sharpton if the President or any Obama Administration officials would attend his march. “We have not asked the Administration to march. We are doing this as civil rights groups and today announcing Congressional support,” he answered.

“A lot of these laws are being proposed by Republicans across this country,” Sharpton said. “Isn’t it interesting that they did not ask for voter ID for any caucuses and primaries,” he said.

The wrong candidate, Mitt Romney, was declared the “winner” of the Iowa Caucuses only to have Rick Santorum be declared the winner three weeks later.

“One of the things this march will do is put a lot of visibility and pressure on everyone to do whatever they can do… we intend to meet with and have asked to meet with the Attorney General and the President on this issue, he added.

Also attending the press conference with Sharpton were Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx.), Hansen Clarke (D-Mi.), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Karen Bass (D-Cal.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Il.).

Lauren Victoria Burke is Politic365 Chief Congressional Correspondent, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus.

African-American Museum Groundbreaking Held on the National Mall

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By Dorothy Rowley, Staff Writer
Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer –

President Barack Obama was among a slate of dignitaries who helped celebrate Wednesday’s groundbreaking for the nation’s only museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, art, history and culture.

The $500 million construction project, which Congress will provide half of the costs, will be erected near the Washington Monument. Upon its completion in 2015, it will showcase stories told by families and individuals, some rarely shared. Among the exhibits will be a Jim Crow-era segregated railroad car, Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and galleries showcasing military and sports history.

“This day has been a long time coming,” said President Obama. “The idea for a museum dedicated to African Americans was first put forward by black veterans of the Civil War. And years later, the call was picked up by members of the civil rights generation – by men and women who knew how to fight for what was right and strive for what is just,” he said. “This is their day. This is your day. It’s an honor to be here to see the fruit of your labor.”

Obama added, “At moments like this I think about my daughters. When our children look at Harriet Tubman’s shawl or Nat Turner’s Bible … I don’t want them to be seen as figures somehow larger than life; I want them to see how ordinary Americans can do extraordinary things.”

While the idea of the museum was first floated some 100 years ago by black Civil War veterans, it wasn’t until an act of Congress, signed in 2003 by President George W. Bush, paved the way for the museum to become a reality.

Since then, museum staff has been fastidiously planning exhibits and scouring historical artifacts from across the country in preparation for the historical edifice that will highlight history, culture and community. The seven-level building will boast more than 323,000 square feet.

Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) said, however, the whole story of the past 400 years begs to be told and it should be recalled without anger or apologies. Former first lady Laura Bush said it was particularly fitting that land for the museum was earmarked for the Mall.

“This museum will pay tribute to the many lives known and unknown that have immeasurably enhanced our nation,” said Bush. “The National Museum of African American History and Culture began as a nonpartisan effort through legislation sponsored by representatives John Lewis and J. C. Watts and Sen. Sam Brownback . . . and my husband, President George Bush, was proud to sign it into law.”

In crediting slave labor with the construction of both the White House and U.S. Capitol, Bush added that President Abraham Lincoln “was horrified by the sight of the slave pens,” that could be seen from the Capitol. She also said she was glad the museum will “stand next to the monument to our first president, George Washington, who freed his slaves in his will.”

The 90-minute ceremony, marking the start of a public fundraising campaign to construct the museum, was hosted by Phylicia Rashad. The acclaimed actress of “The Cosby Show”, who said in an earlier interview that African-American history is interconnected with many other groups.

“What makes America really great and unique is that there are different peoples living here who come together as one people,” she said, adding that she hopes to be surprised by what the new museum can offer.

“I would like to see some stories I’ve never imagined. I’d like to see some stories that aren’t so well talked about, but that have documentation to back them up.”

Several other celebrities have also thrown their support behind the project which so far has raised $100 million. They include Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey whose foundation has provided $1 million.

Shevry Lassiter contributed to this article.

More Children Living in High-Poverty Communities Than 10 Years Ago

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By Maria Morales, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

BALTIMORE — Nearly 8 million of America’s children live in high-poverty areas, about 1.6 million more since 2000, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Baltimore-based organization does research and funding to programs nationally that focus on disadvantaged children and families.

About 7.9 million, or 11 percent, of the nation’s children are growing up in areas where at least 30 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level of $22,000 per year for a family of four, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), which covers 2006 through 2010.

African American, American Indian and Latino children are six to nine times more likely to live in high-poverty communities than their white counterparts.

Washington, D.C. ranks 10th out of the top 10 U.S. cities, with 32 percent of its children living in impoverished neighborhoods, a decrease since 2000. Baltimore falls toward the middle of the top 50 cities, listed at 22nd place, with 25 percent of its children living in poor neighborhoods.

The state of Maryland has one of the lowest numbers of poor children in the country, with just three percent of its children reportedly living in high-poverty areas.

According to the ACS, almost all states saw the number of children in high-poverty neighborhoods climb.

In 2000, 6.3 million kids, or 9 percent, were living in areas of concentrated poverty.

Such communities often lack access to resources that are critical to healthy growth and development, including quality education, medical care and safe outdoor spaces, said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the Casey Foundation.

“Kids in these high-poverty areas are at risk for health and developmental challenges in almost every aspect of their lives, to their chances for economic success as adults,” Speer said.

“Transforming disadvantaged communities into better places to raise children is vital to ensuring the next generation and their families realize their potential.”

Not all children living in these high-poverty neighborhoods are poor themselves, Speer clarified. “Nearly half of the kids living in these neighborhoods are in families above the poverty line, although they may be just above the line.”

But the outcomes for children in those communities are relatively the same, despite income, Speer said. The study found children of all income levels that lived in poor communities had higher stress levels, more social and emotional problems, struggle in school or drop out, especially children of color. “Kids living in a poor neighborhood are more affected,” she said. “It really is double jeopardy.”

Speer said that children in low-income families that live in higher income neighborhoods have a greater chance of success.

“When a low-income child goes to school in a higher income area, they do better for the most part,” she said.

The survey also showed that three out of four children in these neighborhoods have at least one parent in the home who works. “Most people think incorrectly that these are families where no one is working,” Speer said. “But what we found is that the adults in the home may be working and need a better job, or are actively looking. These communities need to create economic opportunities that parents and children can take advantage of, from schools to jobs.”

Why is Obama Closing Minority Business Development Offices?

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By William Reed, NNPA Columnist –

Black Americans continue to stand by President Barack Obama, despite how he and his minions treat us. Nine of every 10 African-American voters have “got the president’s back” but there is still discussion as to whether President Obama has got the backs of Black Americans in return. At this stage of the Obama presidency it is quite obvious how the people running things at the White House view Blacks’ economic betterment.

Representatives of the Obama administration recently told members of Congress that they plan to close all five of the Minority Business Development Agency’s (MBDA) regional offices. Unless something happens, MBDA offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and New York will close by September 30 and the San Francisco office in March of 2013.

Black Americans would be wise to pay attention to these matters and how they are resolved. House Small Business Committee member Rep. Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) said that the regional closings “might be the beginning of the demise of the agency.” Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said the Obama administration’s actions “sends the wrong message to entrepreneurs and businesses in our community at this time when we need to have an expansion.”

Rush is right. Black Americans should find it unbelievable that the Obama administration would allow programs that are vital to the creation of jobs and infrastructures for minorities to fall or fail. Proponents of minority business development need to step to the fore and demand that instead of downsizing the MBDA, Obama and his people need to be increasing its reign and clout. The political climate among African Americans should be to not let the only federal agency created specifically to foster the establishment and growth of minority-owned businesses to be put on the path toward death and dismantlement.

Blacks need for President Obama do more on this current presidential watch to ensure that all U.S. businesses have a proportionate share of the jobs and opportunities created by federal government. Obama heads the world’s largest purchaser of goods and services. The federal government spend more than $500 billion a year in contracts and has facilities in all 50 states that include 2,500 offices that have “authority to buy.” But, Black-owned businesses have historically been marginalized in federal contracting. Under the nation’s first Black president Black-owned businesses have done no better than they did than they did before, having received a paltry 3.5 percent of federal contracts funded between February 2009 and November 2010 compared to the 81.3 percent White-owned business enjoyed during that period.

President Richard Nixon started the Office of Minority Enterprise in 1969 with a mandate to increase Blacks’ percentage of federal business. That percentage of federal contracts peaked at six percent during the Reagan Administration. During Fiscal Year 2010 there were 64,880 Black-owned firms in the federal procurement database, but just 3,990 of those firms received contract activities. What would be wrong with President Obama showing that he’s on our side? The federal government has an ongoing need for an array of goods and services. Millions of federal government contracts are awarded each year, but minority entrepreneurs continue to be stymied in getting public sector contracting opportunities. To remedy this situation, Obama administration officials need to put more impetus on the MBDA to focus on federal procurement and procedures that will offer Minority Business Enterprises fair and proportional opportunities. Instead of disbanding MBDA, Blacks should petition the president to have the agency do more to help entrepreneurs navigate the federal bureaucracy’s purchasing venues.

Black voters need to take a long hard look to gauge the value officials in the Obama Administration place on Blacks and their businesses. Let’s lift our voices to say: “Instead of disbanding it let’s give the MBDA a broader portfolio” to provide more opportunities for minority businesses; to have ongoing dialogue around issues like how to access to contracts; to offer mentor-protégé opportunities with major corporations and help Black and minority firms compete for large contracts.

William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects via the BaileyGroup.org

HBCU 'Equality' Lawsuit: Proving the Maryland Higher Education Hypocrisy

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Summer Ruling Expected in Bias Suit

Todd Beamon, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

Earl S. Richardson envisioned a plan that would have allowed both his predominantly Black Morgan State University in Baltimore and largely White Towson University 15 miles away to jointly offer a high-quality MBA program that would have the additional benefit of making their universities more racially diverse.

Richardson, who retired as president of Morgan last year after 26 years of service, recounted the effort Thursday the last day of testimony in the landmark $2.1 billion suit to make Maryland’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) “comparable and competitive” to the state’s majority White universities.

“Morgan proposed a three-plus-two program that would be a collaborative effort between Morgan State and Towson State. What we said is that students in their third year and their fourth year of Towson could begin to take courses in the MBA program at Morgan that could then be used to satisfy part of the requirements for the baccalaureate at Towson, as well as go toward the MBA at Morgan, and they would end up in five years with both the baccalaureate and the master’s degree or the MBA,” said Richardson, who returned to the stand as a rebuttal witness.

“We also said that the faculty of Towson would be admitted to the graduate faculty at Morgan, and they could teach in the program. We were told that Towson’s faculty did not want to teach at Morgan, that its students did not want to come to Morgan, that Towson was not a feeder school, [that] it was not a community college.”

Instead, Towson proposed a program that would add the University of Baltimore to the mix and ultimately grant Towson the ability to award MBA degrees, state authorization that Morgan and Bowie State University had at the time. After Morgan rejected that proposal, the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) approved a MBA program in 2005 operated jointly by Towson and the University of Baltimore.

After its MBA program was allowed to be duplicated by the two predominantly White universities, Morgan’s White enrollment in its MBA program dropped from a high of 50 to about two, according to Richardson’s testimony earlier in the trial.

That was just one example of what the lawsuit called “the unnecessary duplication of HBCU academic programs by geographically proximate TWIs [traditionally White institutions].”

The lawsuit filed against MHEC alleges that Maryland “systematically engaged in policies and practices that established and perpetuated a racially segregated system of higher education.”

Consequently, the state’s four HBCUs – Morgan State University, Bowie State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore – have never received their fair share of resources.

The suit was filed six years ago by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc., a community-based group made up of alumni of public HBCUs in Maryland and other interested parties. It is seeking $2.1 billion to upgrade the state’s four HBCUs. Attorneys for the plaintiffs include Michael D. Jones a partner of Kirkland & Ellis law firm, Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Aderson B. Francois of the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic.

The six-week bench trial before U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake in Baltimore ended Thursday. The final ruling is expected early this summer.

Following the trial phase, both sides have 70 days to file briefs and another 30 days to reply to the other side’s filings. Sometime after the 100 days, the attorneys will make their closing arguments before the judge.

In his opening statement, Attorney Jones said, “Maryland has not eradicated the vestiges of segregation.” He said from 1990 to 2009, the state provided its HBCUs $2.19 billion less in unrestricted revenues, and $644 million less in state appropriations.

David Wilson, who succeeded Richardson as president of Morgan State, testified: “The maintenance budget is woefully inadequate. You’re constantly moving things around to patch a leak here or install an air conditioner there. A university cannot effectively carry out is programmatic mission unless it has the funds to do that.”

University of Wisconsin Education Professor Clifton F. Conrad, testifying as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, said that Maryland continues to operate a segregated higher education system.

He said: “The dual education systems remain. There continues to be substantial differences – severe differences – in terms of the number of programs and the quality of programs. Those students who enter Maryland’s historically Black institutions – whether Black, White, or other races – do not have an equal educational opportunity as those students who attend the state’s traditionally White institutions.”

Jones, for the coalition, said after the trial: “In some ways, what the testimony showed was Maryland’s blatant hypocrisy in talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Outside the courtroom, Maryland acknowledges that HBCUs need substantial extra resources to attract a diverse student body and create unique academic programs.

But in court, they argued that the HBCUs are overfunded – even more than the TWIs. There’s a big disconnect between what they presented in court and what’s in their own reports and what they’ve been saying out in public.”

David Burton, a 1967 Morgan graduate who is president of the coalition that brought the suit said: “We are very, very gratified that we have reached this point in the lawsuit. We have made the case, connected the dots and demonstrated that, going back to the de jure era, the state has undermined the competitiveness of the HBCUs.”

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