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After Hurricane Irene, Questions Remain on Revised Date for Official MLK Ceremony

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By Charles D. Ellison, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

It was one of the most highly anticipated and sure to be star-studded events of the summer. An edgy public, already sweaty and parched from hot, humid, record-breaking heat and the endless drudgery of a Capitol Hill gone mad, seemed eager to usher in the official launch of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

The latest marble and granite addition to Washington’s heralded line-up of monuments appeared on schedule. The performance stage was set-up and visitors were streaming in, the first wave of what organizers estimated would be 250,000 people.

But, Irene had other plans.

Regardless of the event, or the intentions and the stature of the public figure memorialized, Mother Nature always dictates the final terms. By the Thursday ahead of the first gatherings and red carpets, it was abundantly clear that Hurricane Irene’s Category 2 force winds would be felt as far up the East Coast as Vermont. Forecast models showed the swirling monster of rain and wind hitting Washington, D.C., and suddenly organizers were faced with the prospect of a postponed event.

Initially, that prospect became political and controversial, even though it was standard operating procedure prior to a natural disaster. Memorial foundation CEO Harry Johnson was strangely defiant as weather reports predicted the inevitable.

“We’re going forth with our program,” was Johnson’s position that Thursday, even as Amtrak was canceling service south of D.C. “We will bring you back tomorrow to talk about if, in fact, we’ll have any change, but today we’re still confident that we’re moving forward with the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial.”

It became a caustic back-and-forth with Washington’s press corps, with fresh images of an Indiana State Fair stage collapse that killed five only weeks before in the background. At one point, Johnson was walking away, ignoring repeated questions and attempts for some sense of disaster planning surrounding the event. People from afar had already landed, making their way to the memorial and with plans for a weekend of festivities.

Johnson welcomed them in “… come rain or shine,” stubbornly holding up the faith that perhaps Irene would change course.

But, it was a strange week in D.C. A 5.9 magnitude earthquake shook up the nation’s capital and had forced a rearrangement of key events. The gala kick-off that Wednesday was moved from the National Building Museum to the city’s convention center, along with a weekend interfaith service moved from a quake-damaged National Cathedral to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“I’m not sure if it’s just bad luck, or Dr. King himself doesn’t like his memorial,” dryly joked one visitor to the memorial, who asked not to be identified.

Johnson had been managing quite a bit of controversy as the final product was unveiled. Some critics were still hot over the use of Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin and Chinese granite. Others, like the Daily Beast’s Black Gopnik, were calling the memorial too small at 29 feet and too “white,” with the face of King looking too “pale and freckled.” The Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy wrote that it looked far too much like "Han Solo frozen in carbonite from the movie ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,’” and that the King statue was “… a tad pouty.”

Now, with the event indefinitely postponed, questions linger about when it will finally happen. The uncertainty adds to unsettling reports that the memorial foundation still hasn’t met its fundraising goals.

“We haven’t made any final decisions, yet,” said Johnson in a brief interview with the Philadelphia Tribune. “We still have to consult with the White House and National Park Service.”

Johnson seemed confident that a final decision would be announced within the next week or two. On rumors that the event would be integrated into the upcoming Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in late September, Johnson was non-committal.

“That’s a date that’s been put out there,” added Johnson. “It’s still too early to determine.”

As for fundraising, Johnson seemed pleased that the gap was closing — having dropped from what was once a $6 million deficit to a current figure of $4 million.

But, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation spokesperson Muriel Cooper, while enthusiastic, seemed unsure about how a King Memorial event would fit into the CBCF’s program. While it might seem like a natural fit given the typically massive audience draw of the ALC each year, memorial organizers will need to meticulously plan the event around some major headliners that same weekend.

“I too have heard that date being thrown out there,” said Cooper, confirming that CBCF and memorial organizers have met. “But, it would depend on what date they choose or when they do it.” Cooper raised concerns over scheduling conflicts with events such as the Saturday Prayer Breakfast and the Phoenix Awards Dinner.

Democrats Gear Up for 2012 Despite Political Minefields

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By Sommer Brokaw, Special to the NNPA from The Charlotte Post –

While Democrats gear up for their 2012 national convention in Charlotte, their presumptive presidential candidate is wrestling with political realities.

A “year out” rally was held for the 2012 Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena this week, a year to the day before President Barack Obama is expected to claim nomination for a second term. The convention is scheduled to open on Sept. 3, 2012.

“The energy and excitement we feel from the people of North Carolina is really a great fuel for the work we have to do,” said DNC CEO Steve Kerrigan, who led the site selection team that chose Charlotte. “We’re expecting a huge turnout…as a result of the excitement and energy that people feel about the president being re-nominated in North Carolina and in Charlotte.”

However, Obama’s popularity is slipping.

Frank Newport, PhD, who manages and analyzes The Gallup Poll, recently cast a bleak outlook on Obama’s 2012 prospects. Obama’s job approval rating, according to three-day averages based on phone interviews conducted across the nation, slipped after the debt ceiling deal, hitting a new low of 39 percent for Aug. 11-13, and recovering to 41 percent Aug. 22-24.

“Ten incumbent presidents have sought re-election since World War II, and none has won a second term with final pre-election job approval ratings below 48 percent,” Newport said in a Gallup Politics report. “The last two presidents who lost their re-election bids – George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter – had job approval ratings in the 30 percent range in the fall of the election year. Thus, Obama’s challenge is not only to move his rating back above 40 percent, but also to push it close to or above 50 percent.”

In addition to disapproval of his agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling, Obama faces pressure for more job creation after the recession that started at the end of George W. Bush’s second term and budget cuts spurred by the 2010 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. Liberals and African Americans – core Democratic constituencies – have become more vocal in taking Obama to task over jobs, the deficit and his handling of tea party Republicans.

But Kerrigan said Obama’s difficulties haven’t drained convention enthusiasm.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to really showcase the work we’re doing in getting ready for a convention that’s a year away,” he said. “This isn’t just about what happens on the floor, it’s about opportunities across the board with economic development and organizing, and reaffirming who we are as Democrats. The president has been working tirelessly in job creation, it will be exciting to highlight all our hard work.”

Thelma Byers-Bailey, a Charlotte voter who has dabbled in political activism, is excited about the DNC’s impact.

“I’m not concerned about his poll numbers because they fluctuate with emotion and emotion rarely has anything to do with progress,” she said. “I think it’s good for the economy. It’s good for Charlotte image-wise. Charlotte wants to play with the big dogs. This one of the things the big dogs like to do. So it’s good for us.”

Shortly after it was announced that Charlotte would be the site for the 2012 DNC, the Carolina Regional Minority Partnership Coalition formed to ensure that minority businesses are able to equally participate and have timely access to information. “It’s a work in progress, and we’re doing all we can to make sure that minority vendors are fully included this time around,” said Charlotte attorney James Ferguson, chair of CRMPC.

Vice Chair Colette Forrest added: “I think the most important thing that’s lacking is information: How do I bid for a contract? What is the bid process? Who do I submit my bid to? That type of critical information right now hasn’t been made public. I think our organization could serve as that conduit by getting information from the Democratic National Convention officials and providing it to the public and our membership.”

Forrest isn’t worried about polls.

“Over the last 14 years, I’ve been working on campaigns, and I’ve never known anyone, especially a minority, to be called to participate in a poll,” she said. “I don’t really get too caught up with numbers because to me the most important poll is the poll that occurs on election day.”

African-Americans Less Likely to Wear Seat Belts

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By Cyril Josh Barker, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

Labor Day weekend, millions of Americans hit the highways to get to their weekend vacation destinations. However, the lack of a simple task is killing Blacks on the roads at an alarming rate.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the No. 1 leading cause of unintentional injury death for all African-Americans is motor vehicle crashes. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for African-Americans ages 1 to 14. Of those killed while passengers in a vehicle, 52 percent of Black children were not restrained at the time of the crash.

Though wearing a seat belt is the best way to avoid injury, Blacks are still failing to buckle up. The problems have become so severe that it has been declared a public health.

For the last two years, Synergy Enterprises and USDOT have teamed up to bring awareness to the issue and get more Blacks to buckle up and save lives. Project director Karen Braxton and corporate monitor Roy Walker say there are several reason why Blacks aren't buckling up.

"From what we've heard, there are people who don't think it's cool to wear seat belts," Braxton said. "They're also not comfortable for people who have weight issues and deal with obesity."

Braxton added that many parents are often confused about when to stop using car seats for small children. Parents also don't use car seats at all or just don't buckle up if they are just going a short distance. Walker said that fashionable styles of driving are also a factor.

"Some people think it's macho when they are leaning while driving a car. A lot of people also don't have faith in seat belts or they fear that they could be trapped in a crash."

Oftentimes, people purchase cars with seat belts that don't work and never get them fixed or replaced. Many car models have devices that alert drivers when their seat belts are not on with a constant audio signal. Braxton said some drivers go as far as breaking their seat belts to eliminate the noise without any guilt.

And while New York City residents rely heavily on public transportation, cab drivers could do more to ensure riders are wearing their seat belts.

In an effort to get the word out about seat belt safety, Walker said USDOT had partnered with several national Black organizations.

"We are partnering with 15 national organizations, including the National Council of Negro Women, the National Medical Association and the National Urban League," Braxton said. "The NAACP is also looking out for how to get the message out to their membership. Most of the organizations have taken a keen interest in the issues and are very surprised about the stats."

Walker said churches are also playing a vital role in the campaign - June 12 was deemed "Seat Belt Sunday," when Black church leaders spoke to their congregations about the importance of buckling up and provided them with the scary statistics. Announcements were also put in church bulletins.

"Everyone can have a role in being a hero by encouraging someone to do something as simple as buckle," said Walker.

Alphas, Icons and Family Visit MLK Memorial

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Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Daily World –

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Park Service formally welcomed the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial as America’s 395th national park on Aug. 28 – the 48th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The National Park Service also emphasized its commitment to working closely with the Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Foundation to reschedule the ceremonial dedication planned for last week that was unfortunately postponed due to Hurricane Irene.

“Welcoming this memorial to the National Mall honors a heroic man and a critical chapter in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “Martin Luther King Jr. mobilized the power of faith and morality to break the chains of oppression that held our nation back. I commend the MLK Foundation and Harry Johnson for their tireless work in making this memorial a reality, so that we may always be reminded of the work that is yet to be done to achieve Dr. King's dream and a more perfect union.”

“Forty-eight years ago, Dr. King took to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and challenged our nation to fulfill his dream of equality for all Americans,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “On the anniversary of that speech, we are proud to add the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to the National Park System as a lasting tribute to this American hero. We look forward to working with the MLK Foundation to reschedule the formal dedication and hope that many of the tens of thousands of people who had planned to attend will be able to participate.”

In 1996, Congress authorized Dr. King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, to establish a memorial to the civil rights leader in Washington. The group formed the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation and held a competition for the design. A site along the Tidal Basin of the National Mall was chosen for the memorial.

After 15 years of effort, a granite likeness of Dr. King emerges from the memorial’s Stone of Hope and stands resolutely between iconic monuments to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

“From World War II to Vietnam veterans, from Lincoln to Jefferson and now to King, the memorials and monuments along the National Mall are where millions of visitors every year learn about our history,” said Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks. “The National Park Service is honored to serve as the keeper of America’s story, and with this new memorial, to have this incredible venue from which to share the courage of one man and the struggle for civil rights that he led.”

The memorial to Dr. King is part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks and is open to the public. National Park Service rangers provide programs for visitors and answer questions. For more information and photographs, see www.nps.gov/mlkm.

President Obama's Critics Compare Him to Martin Luther King

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By Erica Butler, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

In the midst of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial celebration, a disgruntled Washingtonian protested in front of the Washington Convention Center—which housed most MLK celebration events—and began to chant anti-Obama idioms.

On Aug. 26, right after the “Table of Brotherhood Project” panel discussion, Hassan Shabazz, 45, stood outside of the Washington Convention Center during the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial celebration week on Aug. 26 with a poster that read, “America has betrayed Dr. King's dream” and on the flipside, “No Jobs! No second term Obama!”

Shabazz repeatedly chanted, “Obama, you can’t run forever Obama. You better help the poor Obama,” on the corner of New York Ave., N.W. in Washington, D.C.

His reason: To prove that Obama has put King’s legacy to shame. He is part of a growing chorus of Black criticism, and skepticism, about the link between the Obama presidency and Black America.

Some people say that Obama, as the first Black president of the U.S., has fulfilled a dream African Americans did not think they would see in their lifetime.

But Shabazz said that’s the only “dream” Obama has lived up to. He said the president’s policies and actions have not impacted the Black community enough to say he has lived up to King’s dream of economic prosperity.

“What is he doing for the poor? Is that following Dr. King’s dream?” Shabazz said. “All the poor Blacks are getting evicted in S.E. (D.C.) He’s got to come back to the Black community one day.”

PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley and African American scholar Cornel West have emerged as prominent critics of Obama and recently grabbed the public’s attention as the duo conducted a 16-city “Poverty Tour.” On their website, West said the tour is not an “anti-Obama tour,” but a call for the president and Congress to help Americans who were hardest hit by the recession.

“…it would be nice to hear the president say the word ‘poor.’ To say the word ‘poverty,” Smiley told the Associated Press. “We get conversations about the middle class. Well, the new poor are the former middle class. But we can’t get this president or any leaders to say the words ‘poor’ or ‘poverty,’ much less do anything about it.”

What’s Smiley and West’s inspiration for the tour? A quote from Dr. King, which reads:

“I choose to identify with the underprivileged, I choose to identify with the poor, I choose to give my life for the hungry, I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity. . .”

In an interview with the Tom Joyner Morning Show this week, President Obama reacted to criticism from African-American leaders and said their disapproval is expected.

“…when things are going good, you get the credit, when things are tough, you get the blame, that’s the nature of the Office. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. I think about what we can do to get the economy growing faster,” Obama said.

With U.S. unemployment numbers stagnant at 9.1 percent with no added jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, Obama’s criticism may continue to grow. But the White House is pinning hopes for a public opinion reversal on a major speech Obama will give Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. Professor Harley Shaiken from the University of California, Berkley called the speech “critical.”

“It could be the opening of a renewed effort on jobs that really gets labor excited, or it could be too little too late, which really increases the frustration,” Shaiken told NPR. “It's going to be an important speech, and it will define where labor is on Election Day.”

John Earnest, spokesman for the White House, told NPR that Obama’s speech would define a common ground between workers and employers.

“It's the president's view that there are a lot of aligned interests here,” Earnest said, “that there's an opportunity for us to put in place the kind of economic policies that could be supported by Democrats and Republicans, that could be supported by American businesses and American workers, that there are American communities all across the country that could benefit from these policies.”

Shabazz, a laid-off construction worker, said that the president’s financial bailouts for major companies and other policies have led the poor to believe they are not top priority.

“We know Dr. King was a great man, we know what he represented, but [is the Obama Administration] practicing it?

“I’m not for Obama. I voted for him, but not anymore,” Shabazz said.

Ray Baker, talk show host of Howard University’s radio station WHUR and brotherhood project panelist, called a comparison between King and Obama “unfair.” He said the only connection the two have is Aug. 28, Obama’s “I Have a Dream” speech in ’63 and the day Obama accepted the democratic nomination for president in ’08.’

“Let's remember Dr. King was a preacher first, so everything he did had to make complete sense to his moral conscience,” Baker told The AFRO. “Dr. King had no constituency and no one to answer to but his own morality so he was in a position to take on the establishment and critique power in honest and ultimately life threatening ways.”

Baker said he doesn’t think Obama has let down King’s legacy because their works are in “different lanes.”

“President Obama has elected to do his work inside the metaphorical establishment, so he is either unwilling or unable to make those same unfettered critiques of power that Dr. King made,” he said.

As the president gears up for a possible re-election next year, analysts cannot definitively determine if public backlash from Black leaders could impact the “Black vote,” but leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus said Black voters may stay home next year if unemployment rates remain unchanged.

“The worry should be … are people going to be enthusiastic about getting to the polls, or are they not going to be as enthusiastic,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) told the Wall Street Journal.

“I'm frustrated with the president, I'm frustrated with the Senate, I'm frustrated with the House,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO), who is also chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “The president and his White House team is trying to minimize the discussion of race as it relates to job creation.”

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