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Equal Credit Elusive for Minorities, Says Assistant Attorney General

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By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Federal regulators and lenders convened November 6-9 in Baltimore to review and analyze whether the goals of the nation’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and fair lending laws are being observed. The annual event, now in its 15th year, attracted sell-out attendance to hear a series of expert presenters’ insights and analyses.

For Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, the annual colloquium became the occasion for a keynote address that reminded the audience that for communities of color, fair lending remains elusive. “Regrettably, we have found” said Perez, “that all too often borrowers are judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their creditworthiness.”

As head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division since October 2009, Perez noted that more than half of the 2010 referrals received from other federal lending regulators involved discrimination on race or national origin.

Through the creation of a dedicated Fair Lending Unit at DOJ, over $30 million in direct compensation for individuals whose rights were violated has been secured. Also in 2010, the unit reached settlements or filed complaints in 10 pattern or practice lending cases. Of these ten cases, nine have been settled since last year.

Much of this enforcement, according to Perez, is accomplished in collaboration with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. With representatives from DOJ and other federal agencies, as well as state attorneys general and local law enforcement, the task force investigates and prosecutes a wide range of financial crimes.

“Without a credible enforcement program,” said Perez, “we can never achieve full compliance with the law or fully level the playing field between responsible lending institutions and unscrupulous lenders.”

In 2011, a record number of cases have been filed under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Currently, there are seven authorized lawsuits and more than 20 active investigations involving redlining claims, pricing discrimination, and product steering based on race or national origin.

In an effort to address the devastation of neighborhoods and home values, the Civil Rights Division is including innovative provisions to address the full scope of damage done, in addition to settlement terms stipulating more traditional remedies such as a marketing campaigns or establishing a physical presence in under-served communities.

For example, in a St. Louis settlement with Midwest Bank, the decree calls for assistance to help residents repair their credit and provide access to low-cost checking accounts. Similarly, in the metropolitan Detroit decree with Citizens Bank, the lender must provide home improvement grants to current homeowners living in neighborhoods hard-hit by foreclosures. Both Citizens and Midwest agreed to find solutions that would allow them to remedy the harm done while also reaching new customers.

In cases where African-American and Latino borrowers were charged more than similarly qualified white borrowers, the Civil Rights Division examined loan origination practices, guidelines on how fees or interest rates were set, and whether there was any documentation to explain differences in prices.

Summarizing goals for both current and future efforts, Perez called for transparent transactions, prompt decisions, fair lending, and open communication with all borrowers.

“It is the stubborn persistence of race as a factor in the pricing of loans” concluded Perez, “even after you account for relevant creditworthiness factors that we seek to address through our enforcement actions. The disparity grows as you move up the credit score ladder. All too frequently, equal credit opportunity remains elusive for minorities, even upper-income minorities who are creditworthy.”

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org

'People's Economic Movement' Shelved Until 2012

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Black banking program was confusing, exec says

By Bekitembe Eric Taylor, Contributing Writer
Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Voice –

ATLANTA – A highly touted black banking initiative, conceived by nationally syndicated talk show host Warren Ballentine as a powerful community development tool, is being shelved until next year, according to the president of the National Bankers Association.

Confusion about the mission, goals and consumer benefits of the People's Economic Movement (PEM) warrant the delay, said Michael Grant, president of the Washington, D.C.-based organization.

"When he (Ballentine) went on CNN stating that the banks would match consumer deposits into a community development fund, some customers felt as though when they deposited $300, they would get $300 added to their accounts," Grant said in an interview with The Atlanta Voice. "No bank can afford to do that."

Repeated attempts to reach Ballentine by email, telephone and via his social networking page went unanswered over the past several weeks.

The program was patterned after a 2010 project at Farmers and Merchants Bank in North Carolina, where for every deposit into a new account, the bank would match the deposits and invest in a community fund. The bank raised $1 million and donated $10,000 of that to North Carolina A&T University.

Ballentine, whose syndicated radio talk show airs daily in 20 top markets – including Atlanta – announced the new partnership with the National Bankers Association in July, touting the banking initiative as a potent community development and economic empowerment tool.

Since then, he has devoted several segments of his show to the project, urging listeners to open accounts in black banks in several of the nation's largest cities – a call that hundreds of listeners appeared to heed.

But as the initiative became more popular throughout the summer, many listeners appeared unclear about how the program would work, Grant said.

Many new customers apparently believed that for every dollar that they deposited into a black bank, that they themselves would receive matching funds in their own accounts instead of accumulating a community fund, Grant said.

Such confusion could not continue, he said.

"I think Warren did an excellent job in announcing our program, but we are going to re-launch the PEM after the beginning of the year," Grant said.

"If that member bank wants to match funds to go to a college in the community or invest in any other way," he said, "we will leave that up to the banks that will participate."

George Andrews, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Capitol City Bank & Trust Company, said he agrees with the goals of the program, but has seen virtually no new business as a result of the People's Economic Movement.

Still, he likes the concept. He said the dire state of blacks economically makes it pivotal for blacks to reinvest in African-American banks.

"The unemployment rate among African-Americans is somewhere around 17-18 percent, which is nearly double the national average of 9.1 percent," he said, "with African-American males accounting for 40 percent of that number."

The key to new investment, he said, is education – especially for young people.

"When you educate the children on how to manage money well through the student banking initiative," he said, "it becomes a tool to attract the parents."

Atlanta-based Citizens Trust Bank, meanwhile, reportedly saw growth from program, Grant said. A bank spokesman confirmed that fact, but could not provide details.

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.

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BVN National News Wire