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Obama Hosts First African-American Policy Conference

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By AFRO Staff, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

President Barack Obama held the first ever African-American Policy in Action Leadership Conference at the White House on Nov. 9 to coincide with the release of a report, “The President’s Agenda and the African-American Community.”

In front of a gathering that included Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, the president used the conference to lay out his policy achievements three years after winning the Oval Office with the solid embrace of Black Americans.

He also called for “persistence” in the face of tough times. He restated his belief that the 15.1 percent unemployment rate among African-Americans is “way too high” and touted the administration’s accomplishments in spite of the political resistance the administration has faced. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Obama said.

“Now, some of these strategies are longer term -- all the good work that we’ve done, for example, in education,” Obama said in the first White House gathering of his administration to be devoted to policies directly affecting African Americans. “The payoff is not going to be tomorrow. It’s not going to be next year. It’s going to be five years from now and 10 years from now as we steadily see improvement in the performance of our public schools.”

The conference was convened in the wake of a stream of criticism of Obama from Black pundits such as TV talk show host Tavis Smiley and African American scholar Cornel West who say his policies haven’t touched African Americans in the way many Black voters expected.

National Urban League (NUL) President Marc Morial, who was invited to the conference but was not able to attend, hasn’t been part of the chorus of critics of Obama but said a conference of this magnitude should’ve happened much sooner. "Many of us would have preferred it if this had been held earlier," Morial told The Root. "But that's not the most important thing. The most important thing is that there's a commitment by the White House to strengthen the dialogue with a broader group of leaders who are very interested in the direction of the country, and who represent communities that have really taken for the worse in the recession."

Obama says that we’ve been through tough times before though and with a little persistence, America can rise from this recession too.

“Our parents have been through tougher times; our grandparents have been through tougher times,” Obama said. “We know tough times. And what we also know, though, is that if we are persistent, if we are unified, and we remain hopeful, then we’ll get through these tough times and better days lie ahead.”

Unions Rally with Occupy Detroit

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By Eric T. Campbell, Special to the NNPA from the Michigan Citizen –

DETROIT — UAW and AFL-CIO members joined Occupy Detroit protestors during a Nov. 6 march and rally to collect winter supplies. The demonstration highlighted a continuing alliance between the region’s labor unions and Occupy Detroit activists.

According to organizers, more than 500 union members and protesters participated in the rally at Hart Plaza and march to Grand Circus Park. Occupy Detroit Labor Work Group member, Writer L. Bush, told the Michigan Citizen that monetary donations reached almost $5,000. He said a truckload of donated supplies — blankets, gloves, batteries, tarps, flashlights, etc. — allow occupiers to consider continuing their protests through the winter months.

“The rally was extremely successful in terms of getting more labor activists in lockstep with the movement,” Bush said. “The movement cannot survive without labor.”

Beyond much-needed supplies, Bush says the support of labor provides a new group of volunteers and buffers the encampment against police actions.

Chris Michalakis, legislative and political director of the UFCW and secretary treasurer for the metro Detroit AFL-CIO, has spent several nights in Grand Circus Park.

He says labor has supported the Occupy movement from the beginning, but the Nov. 6 rally was a significant indication of solidarity.

“It’s good for the Occupy movement to see labor’s contributions,” Michalakis told the Michigan Citizen. “It’s also good for the labor movement’s rank-and-file members to see the occupation for themselves and see a lot of the contributions being put to good use.”

Labor is part of a wide-ranging coalition, according to Michalakis, and not in a leadership capacity. He says that gives the movement the best chance to grow organically and create positive political change for all working people.

“The camp is the symbolic center of the Occupy movement and the General Assemblies will be going on well into the winter — committee groups are meeting and putting together a lot of great actions,” says Michalakis. “This is really the beginning of what’s going to be a very politically charged election cycle next year.”

Martha Grevatt, member of UAW Local 869, says considering the anemic job market, there is very little distinction between the labor and Occupy movements. She says autoworkers have responded accordingly.

“I work on the auto shop floor, and working people really identify with the fact that people are standing up to the banks,” Grevatt said at the Nov. 6 rally. “They’re standing up to the bosses, they’re saying no more cutbacks, no more givebacks. We demand jobs.”

Grevatt, who also works with MECAWI (Michigan emergency Committee Against War and Injustice), says union participation has graduated beyond pronouncements and vocal support.

“It means everything that labor is involved. There are people who are union members, and union leaders who have been camping out, who have been here every day,” Grevatt said.

AFL-CIO’s Michalakis says observers should refrain from narrowing the political framework of the Occupy movement.

“While this movement isn’t political specifically — it doesn’t endorse candidates and its not about partisanship — we hope they are going to raise a lot of issues that we hope our elected officials take up in the next election,” said Michalakis.

He added that the city, including the police, has been fair in its hands-off approach and he hopes that will continue through the holiday season.

20 Years after Magic – HIV/AIDS is Still an Issue

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By Wendell Huston, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Crusader –

Hall of Fame basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson brought his HIV/AIDS awareness campaign to Chicago this week to celebrate the 20 years he has lived with the deadly disease. And although Johnson did not come to Chicago his presence was felt loud and clear at a South Side Walgreens where free HIV testing took place.

Charles Jenkins, 56, said he is a regular customer at Walgreens, 11 E. 75th St., so it only made sense to get tested while there. “I’m an old man now but back in my younger years I was a ‘player.’ I slept with my fair share of women and did not always use condoms,” he recalled. “Back then AIDS was not considered a big deal because mainly gay men had the disease. Every year I get tested just to be on the safe side. And like every year since I started getting tested five years ago, this was a good year because I am HIV negative.”

Free education about HIV/AIDS was what attracted Oliva Barber, 19. “I want to know as much as I can about HIV because it has hit my generation hard,” she said. “I have not made a habit of sleeping around but I have had unprotected sex before. And it is for that reason I came here to get tested and educated more about the disease.” On Monday the National Basketball Association’s all-time assist leader simultaneously kicked off a 16-city, HIV/AIDS awareness campaign called Point Forward Day, which is sponsored by the entrepreneur’s Magic Johnson Foundation.

From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Walgreens provided free testing by taking a mouth sample from participants who were able to get their results back in 20-minutes, said Carlos Meyers, executive director of Beyond Care Inc., a Chicago, non-profit social service organization, which administered the free HIV tests. The goal, said Meyers, was to test up to 500 people. “We are not there yet but getting there,” added Meyers. “I would say about 60 percent of the 300 people we have tested so far were middle-class, Black women. I hope before we finish we get more Black men and youth tested because those two groups usually do not get tested enough to know if they have been infected.”

At Crusader press time, no one had tested HIV positive. And counselors were on hand to assist anyone whose results were positive.

The MJF arranged for free testing from the West Coast to the East Coast in predominately minority communities where HIV education and testing is needed the most, said Amelia William-son, interim president of the Magic Johnson Foundation.

“It is time for the Magic Johnson Foundation to communicate the impact we have had in urban communities across the US. Point Forward Day is about getting involved and giving back like Magic has done,” Williamson said. “It is time for all of us to stop spectating and start doing! Through our continued work in educational empowerment, it is our hope to cyclically cultivate, inspire and help to achieve self sufficiency in underserved communities.”

Besides Chicago, other cities that participated in the Point Forward Day were Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and New Orleans. In 1991, Johnson, a point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, shocked the world when he announced he had tested HIV positive. “Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today. I just want to make it clear, first of all, that I do not have the AIDS disease,” he said during an emotional news conference. In Chicago, Blacks are disproportionately affected by HIV, according to the city’s Health Department. Additionally, city health officials said Blacks represent only 36 percent of the city’s population yet account for 55 percent of recently diagnosed HIV infections. Of the 22,650 people living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago, 54 percent are Black, 27 percent are White, 16 percent are Hispanic, and 3 percent are of another race.

Nationally, the problem is much worse. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at the end of 2010, more than 1.1 million adults and adolescents were living with HIV infection in American and HIV continues to be a leading cause of death. In 2005, HIV was the fifth leading cause of death among people aged 35 to 44. The impact is greater on Blacks and Hispanics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV was the third leading cause of death for Blacks aged 35 to 44, the fourth leading cause for Hispanics 35 to 44 and the fifth leading cause of death for Whites 25 to 44.

Gary Celebrates Indiana's First Black Mayor

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Special to the NNPA from the Florida Sentinel Bulletin –

GARY – Karen Freeman-Wilson was elected the first Black female mayor in Indiana on Tuesday night.

“It’s great to make history,” the Gary attorney said just before the celebration began at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary for hundreds of her supporters.

Freeman-Wilson, a Gary native, received a law degree in 1985 from Harvard University. Ebony magazine named her one of the country’s 50 leaders of the future for the Black community a year after then-Gov. Evan Bayh named her director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, the first of many of her public responsibilities involving social and racial equality.

She became Gary city judge in 1994 and Indiana attorney general in 2000. She ran unsuccessfully for Gary mayor in 2003 and 2007.

She now must confront a city government hobbled by high tax rates, declining tax revenues and the need to provide services to a population in which a significant number of people are below the poverty line and unemployed.

U.S. to Head Zimbabwe 'Blood Diamonds' Monitoring Group

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By Fungai Maboreke, Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Nov. 8 (GIN) – The United States has captured the chair of the Kimberley process certification scheme, allowing Washington to have a major role in whether Zimbabwe may sell its diamonds on the world market starting in 2012.

The Kimberly Process is an international government certification scheme set up in 2003 to prevent the trade in so-called “blood diamonds” that fund conflicts.

Opposition to Zimbabwe diamond sales came regularly from human rights groups who claimed there were abuses against illegal miners, that smuggling was rife and that certain mines remained in the hands of Zimbabwe's military forces.

But monitoring teams sent by Kimberley concluded the country had met minimum regulatory standards and sales were finally permitted this year.

Zimbabwe is a major exporter with potential to constitute about 20 percent of diamonds traded on international markets. At current production capacities, Zimbabwe could rake in excess of US$2 billion from diamond revenues each year.

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BVN National News Wire