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Mothers' Forum Pushes for Answers to 'Flash Mob' Violence

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By Nathaniel Lee, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

A diverse crowd of concerned parents and residents from a cross section of Philadelphia gathered at the Vare Recreation Center, in South Philadelphia, to discuss possible solutions to the escalating problem of youth violence.

The event was organized by Mothers in Charge, an organization consisting of mothers who lost children in acts of violence.

According to the group’s founder, Dorothy Speight, the forum was held in an effort to engage parents in a dialogue intended to find solutions as opposed to focusing on the problem.

“We had 20 organizations there that provided resources to youth and families. I think many of the parents were frustrated but glad that they came because they were able to access information needed for their children,” said Speight.

Not only did parents and residents have an opportunity to express their concerns during the forum and suggest possible solutions to help prevent flash mob violence in the future, they also were provided with materials outlining some of the services and programs available to them.

One mother, Denea Whitest, who joined Mothers in Charge after losing two of her children to a train accident in 2004, is both a single mother of three, a foster parent and an advocate for children and youth suffering emotional and behavioral health challenges.

After the death of her two children, Whitest began to notice behavioral problems in her other children.

“I knew something was wrong and I went to seek services for them,” said Whitest, who was turned away without help several times and told that there was no help for her children unless they violated the law.

“There are likely other parents whose children are out there who see the problems and seek intervention but the programs aren’t made available to them,” explained Whitest.

Whitest began a personal campaign to find help for her children and in the process discovered a wealth of programs and services she would otherwise not have known existed. This is her concern for those attending the Mothers in Charge Forum.

Whitest was pleased that the forum offered knowledge about many public and private resources for parents with concerns about their youth, but she still believed that the forum — like other responses to the flash mob crisis — leaned too heavily on punishment.

“What I heard was a lot of what we can do to punish but what I wanted to hear more of was what solutions are out there for them. We all really know what to do and what not to do — but teach me how to do it,” said Whitest who suggested another forum be held that would outline a list of strategies and provide more extensive lists of services and programs parents can take advantage of to help their children.

Jordan Harris, executive director of the city’s Youth Commission, saw the forum as a sign of hope.

“We saw the pain but we also saw the promise of doing something about the problem,” said Harris. “One of the things I heard a lot from the community was that they needed someone for their children to look up to, mentor them.”

Harris agrees with others who did not believe that punishment for offending youth was sufficient to eradicate the problem of juvenile delinquency. A combination of parent, community and government working together would, said Harris, be needed for sustained change to occur.

“The only way we are going to get out of this problem is to expose our youth to more than what they are seeing today. When they see more they will want to do more,” said Harris.

New Program to Help Close 'Digital Divide' in Atlanta

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By Adrienne Leon, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

ATLANTA – More than 300,000 low-income students will be able to access broadband in their homes through a new program designed to bridge the digital divide between people with access to technology and people without it, officials announced.

Gov. Nathan Deal, Mayor Kasim Reed and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) applauded the launch of Internet Essentials, part of a 28-county partnership between Comcast and area school districts that aim to provide low-cost internet service, affordable computers and online literacy training.

The program, which has several qualification guidelines, is considered a key step in providing information technology to low-income minority communities and other critically underserved populations.

"The internet is no longer a dispensable item. It's essential in almost every aspect of our lives from our education to our careers," Deal told a throng of reporters at Charles R. Drew Charter School in Atlanta's East Lake neighborhood, one of the targeted communities.

Atlanta Public Schools Chair Brenda Muhammad agreed, adding: "We're excited that children who need it most will get this opportunity." Under the program, Internet Essentials participants will receive:

• Home internet service for $9.95 a month, plus tax
• No price increases, no activation fees, or equipment rental fees
• A voucher to buy a low-cost computer for $149.99 plus tax
• Access to free digital literacy training in print, online and in-person

Eligible households must have a child who receives lunch under the National School Lunch Program, officials said, among other guidelines.

Comcast executive David Cohen said the Internet Essentials program has the potential to be a "great equalizer and a life-changing technology."

"Internet Essentials will help level the playing field for low-income families by connecting students online with their teachers and their school's educational resources," Cohen said. The program also will empower parents to receive digital literacy training so they can apply for jobs online or use the internet to research items of interest, he added.

Empowering people to access information online also can yield a positive economic impact for state and local governments, added House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.

"When you give communities accessibility," she said, "you decrease their dependency on the government."

For years, the so-called "digital divide" between advantaged and disadvantaged communities has been a key issue for civil rights activists concerned that limited access to the internet meant limited access to information and power.

That's why closing that gap is so important, Reed said.

"While America has increasingly become a digital nation, many metro Atlanta families are at a disadvantage because they can't afford internet service at home," Reed said. "Comcast is leading the charge in making broadband adoption a reality for more families."

While the city is proud to pledge its support, Reed said, "we can't do this alone. We need parents, educators, community leaders and other government officials to join in this effort, spread the word and help increase broadband adoption in our community."

Disparities Facing African-American Communities Widen

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By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader –

There are so many disparities facing the Black community today state Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-13th District) said she has lost count. “The number of disparities facing our communities continue to grow with no end in sight and I no longer can keep up with them,” Hunter told the Crusader. “But if I had to list the top three it would the criminal justice system, education and employment.” E. Hardy knows too well the struggles Black men face once they are cycled through the criminal justice system. In 2002, he pled guilty to felony retail theft to avoid a trial and possible incarceration if convicted.

“I did what I had to do to stay out of jail but now I am paying a life sentence for it,” Hardy, 40, recalled. “Every time I apply for a job I get asked if I have ever been convicted of a felony crime. I’m always honest and say yes and then I never hear back from them.” The inability for many Black men to get a job has not only hurt the Black community but society as a whole, said Leonardo D. Gilbert, a community activist and pastor of Sheldon Heights Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago.

“In order to improve the economic status of so many [Black] communities we need to make sure the men from those communities are working,” he added. “God made man head of household but without a job that is hard to do.” Studying disparities in Black communities is something Hunter has been doing for nearly a decade. She was a member of The Disproportionate Justice Study Commission, created in 2008 by the General Assembly to assess the effects of Illinois’ drug laws on racial and ethnic minority populations and the incarceration rates of members of those populations. The commission concluded in a report released earlier this year that an increase in prison populations across the state was attributed, in part, to changes in drug policies that focused on punishment and enforcement opposed to treatment alternatives. Hunter agreed.

“There are a disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated throughout the state. It makes you wonder because it made me wonder, ‘Why were there so many?’” she said. “I visit prisons (all the time) to try to talk to them [inmates] and encourage them. Over at Cook County Jail there are so many African Americans. It’s so overwhelming.” In Illinois, there are 44,000 inmates and more than 24,000 are Black, according to a report in the Chicago Reader. State Rep. Monique Davis (D-27th District) pegs unemployment, education and healthcare as the three top disparities facing Blacks today. Davis was first elected in 1987 and is the second, longest serving Black, state representative in the General Assembly behind state Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st District).

“Healthcare is a major problem for Blacks. On the South Side where most Blacks live there is no adult trauma center. Why is that? There is a trauma center at Northwestern Hospital for folks who live downtown and on the North Side,” Davis said. “And there is a trauma center at Stroger Hospital for those living on the West Side. But for the South Side we must travel north or to the south suburbs to Christ Hospital, which is just as far as the others.”

The third leg of the disparity tripod is education. “Education connects people to jobs. If you do not have a descent education then you are lost,” she added. “The governor wants to abolish the General Assembly Legislative Scholarship because he said it is being abused by state legislators who award them. But this scholarship has made it possible for so many Black kids to go to college.”

Every state representative and senator is allowed to award two to four GAL scholarships each year to students who live in their district regardless of financial need. The scholarship waives tuition and can only be used to attend a four-year, public college in Illinois. Disparities are a fact of life but does not mean Illinois residents have to accept it, said Gov. Pat Quinn.

“We know that disparities exist within the African American community, preventing some from achieving their full potential,” Quinn said. “In Illinois, we want everybody in, and nobody left out. We won’t shy away from examining the root causes of inequality, and working to correct them.”

Community activist Harold Lucas said he is not surprised that both Hunter and Davis list employment and education as top disparities facing Blacks, but concludes it must end. “The disparity and lack of gainful employment or entrepreneurial business development opportunities among African American residents living in Chicago is unacceptable,” Lucas, president and chief executive officer for the non-profit Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, noted. However, he said he is disappointed that the commission will not present its findings and offer recommendations for another two years. “Forming a commission to address the disparities that does not present its findings to the Illinois General Assembly until December 2013, ignores the severity of the extremely serious problems of poverty,” explained Lucas. “The so-called underclass, economically inspired class stratification, political corruption and patronage greed has dominated the city of Chicago for the past 50 years.”

Recently, Quinn signed House bill 1547, which was sponsored by Davis and Hunter, into law. The new legislation, went into effect immediately, will create the Commission to End the Disparities Facing the African American Community. The commission will research the disparities facing Blacks in the areas of healthcare, health services, employment, education, criminal justice, housing, and other social and economic issues. Both Davis and Hunter and will more than likely be co-chairs of the commission, which could hold its first meeting by January 2012, according to Hunter.

The commission will be comprised of a bipartisan group of legislators from both houses of the General Assembly and will also include up to 10 other individuals representing Black communities throughout the state. All members will serve without compensation. Residents interested in being considered to join the commission should contact Davis, Hunter or their local state legislator.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Lawsuit Reinstated by D.C. Appeals Court

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Allegations of financial impropriety within Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. will get an airing in court, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 18, reversing the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by members of the nation’s oldest Black sorority.

Dismissal of the lawsuit questioning $375,000 the sorority leadership gave AKA President Barbara McKenzie was in error, the three-judge panel ruled, reinstating the lawsuit filed by eight members in 2009.

The original lawsuit said the payment to McKenzie was not properly approved by the membership and that the money, which included a $25,000 payout and a $4,000 a month stipend for the president, was used for clothing, jewelry, and a wax statue of McKenzie.

The suit was dismissed in 2010 by a D.C. Superior Court judge, who said the Chicago-based plaintiffs failed to accuse the sorority and its leadership of taking actions prohibited by statute, that the suit wasn’t filed on behalf of the entire membership; and that the court lacked jurisdiction over individual officials who don’t live in Washington.

The panel said that, unlike allegations of impropriety by shareholders of a for-profit organization, dues-paying members of a non-profit group can sue as individuals and aren’t required to file a class action.

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter Tells Black Teens to Quit Embarrassing Their Race

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia may be the first Black politician to address “flash mob” attacks that involve majority Black teens rummaging stores and attacking other races.

“You have damaged your own race,” Nutter said to a group of Black teens, the Washington Times reported. “Take those God-darn hoodies down, especially in the summer. Pull your pants up and buy a belt ‘cause no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt.”

The series of flash mob attacks in Philadelphia involve a group of teens who spontaneously assault random people in the tourist locations.

Nutter then continued: “If you walk into somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, and your shoes untied, and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you? They don’t hire you ‘cause you look like you’re crazy.”

In order to slow attacks, Nutter has moved up the curfew for minors to 9 p.m. on the weekend. Police patrols are also sent to certain neighborhoods.

Each time a child is caught in violation of the curfew, the parent will face an increase fine, according to the Washington Times.

Whyatt Mondesire, president of Philadelphia’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, appreciated Nutter’s comments and said it “took courage.”

“These are majority African-American youths and they need to be called on it,” he said.

Teens use text messaging to organize attacks on bystanders. On July 29, 20 to 30 teens went to Center City at night, then beat and robbed onlookers. One man was hospitalized as he was kicked in the head repeatedly and had a fractured skull.

Philadelphia is not the only city facing the same “flash mob” attacks. During memorial day weekend in Chicago, teens knocked over cyclists and “harassed picnickers,” according to the Washington Times.

In Washington, D.C., 20 teenagers entered a store in Dupont Circle and stole $20,000 worth of merchandise.

Recent flash mob attacks in the U.S. have been compared to riots seen in the current London crisis.

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