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Surgeon General Benjamin Urges Med School Graduates to be Socially Conscious

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By Ayana Jones, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

When Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, Surgeon General of the U.S., addressed more than 400 Drexel University College of Medicine graduates, she encouraged them to make a difference.

Benjamin shared some of her personal experiences during the commencement ceremony held last week at the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts.

While an intern fresh out of medical school, Benjamin was instrumental in getting a resolution passed in the Georgia delegation of the American Medical Association that encouraged medical schools across the country to include sexually transmitted diseases in their core curriculum.

“I learned that one person can make a difference, whether it’s in medical policy or in medical practice,” said Benjamin, who received an honorary doctorate of science during the ceremony.

Prior to becoming surgeon general, Benjamin practiced medicine at the Bayou La Batre Clinic in a small, poor Alabama fishing village, where her patients had problems that went beyond the prescription pad. With that in mind, she became more involved in the community organizations in an effort to obtain services for her patients.

She shared the story of “Donna,” a young mother of two small children, whose seizures returned because the pharmacy switched her brand-name prescription to a generic drug. Donna, who could not read, did not realize that the generic medication had caused her seizures to return.

“You’re going to have patients like Donna and others that will need you to be their voice. They will need you to advocate for them,” Benjamin told the graduates.

With that in mind, she encouraged the graduates to become active in their respective communities.

As surgeon general, Benjamin provides the public with information available on improving their health and oversees the operational command of 6,500 uniformed health officers. Her priorities include childhood obesity, breastfeeding support, smoking, HIV/AIDS, youth violence, behavior health, medicine adherence, and health disparities.

As she addressed the graduates, Benjamin underscored the trust that people hold in physicians.

“There is nothing like the look on a mother’s face when you tell her, her baby is going to be okay – whether her baby is three or 33. Our patients truly trust us. If a woman is being physically abused, she will tell you her deepest, darkest secrets before she tells her family, her priest, her minister or her rabbi – because she trusts you,” Benjamin said.

“A mother will put her baby in your hands – a perfect stranger – because she trusts you. Your hands are often the first hands an infant feels when it enters this earth and sometimes your hands will be the last hands that an elderly person feels when they exit this earth.”

As leaders, Benjamin reminded the graduates they never know who’s watching them. She recalled receiving an envelope of letters from second graders who were inspired to become doctors, after they read a news article about her.

Benjamin is the former chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States. In 1995, she became the first physician under age 40 and the first African American woman to be elected to the American Medical Association board of trustees. In 2002, she was named president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama – the first African American female president of a state medical society.

During the ceremony, former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter was presented with an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters for his advocacy on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania and his contribution to the advancement of biomedical research and the improvement of the health of the nation. As ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education, Specter was instrumental in doubling the budget for the National Institutes of Health and increasing funding for education.

Specter encouraged the graduates to become political advocates around healthcare issues.

“In order to be successful at delivering healthcare, you must be engaged not only on the bench in the laboratory or at the bedside with the patient, but you must also engage in the political process,” said Specter. “To be successful we have to maintain great programs - Medicare, Medicaid, embryonic stem cell research, NIH funding and that requires political activism.”

With a total of 443 students, the commencement marked the graduation of the largest class of medical students in Drexel’s history. According to Drexel officials, the university has the largest medical student enrollment of any private medical school in the U.S., educating one in every 71 new doctors in the nation.

Contact Tribune Staff Writer Ayana Jones at (215) 893-5747 or AJones@phillytrib.com.

Fight for Justice Continues for African-American, Hispanic Public School Custodians in NYC

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Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

New York, NY – Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an order requiring a federal trial court to further review an agreement that settled an employment discrimination lawsuit against the New York City Board of Education. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) represents 10 African-American and Hispanic public school custodians who were adversely affected by the board’s discrimination and benefited from the settlement agreement.

This lawsuit, United States v. Board of Education, began in 1996, when the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sued the board for employment discrimination in recruiting and selecting school custodians. African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and women were disproportionately excluded by the Board’s hiring process for permanent positions. As a result, most could only obtain provisional employment. Provisional custodians do the same work as permanent custodians and are similarly qualified, but they lack many of the job benefits that permanent custodians enjoy. For instance, they can be fired at any time and have no ability to obtain transfers and promotions.

In 1999, during President Clinton’s Administration, DOJ entered into a settlement with the board, which agreed to give permanent positions with retroactive seniority to those minority and female provisional custodians affected by the discriminatory hiring practices. After a group of white male custodians challenged the lawfulness of the settlement, DOJ proposed revisions, during President George W. Bush’s Administration, that would have dramatically limited the remedies it previously negotiated. LDF intervened at the request of African-American and Hispanic custodians, whose remedies would have been reduced by DOJ’s change in position.

A federal trial court upheld most of the relief awarded to LDF’s custodian clients under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In its recent ruling, the Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial court and directed it to apply the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Ricci v. DeStefano to determine the lawfulness of the settlement. In Ricci, a narrow majority of the Supreme Court created a new legal standard that places additional hurdles in front of employers seeking to fulfill their obligations under this nation’s core antidiscrimination law.

“We are disappointed that the Court of Appeals did not see fit to bring this long-running dispute to an end,” said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel. “Nevertheless, we are confident that the trial court will ultimately uphold the discrimination remedies for African-American and Hispanic employees who were unfairly denied key job benefits.”

Civil Rights Groups File Motion to Defend Law Ending Prison-Based Gerrymandering

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Voters, Community Groups Intervening in Suit to Ensure All New Yorkers Equally Represented in State and Local Legislatures

Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

Albany, NY – Last week, top civil rights organizations filed a motion in New York Supreme Court asking to intervene to help defend New York’s new law allocating people in prison to their home communities for redistricting and reapportionment.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law and Social Justice, Dmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative, representing 15 rural and urban voters and three statewide nonprofit organizations, are seeking to defend the new law against a legal challenge brought by New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and others. The lawsuit, titled Little v. LATFOR, names the New York State Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) and the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) as defendants.

The new law requires that incarcerated persons be counted as residents of their home communities, in accordance with the New York State Constitution’s provision that incarceration does not change one’s residence. The legislation applies to state and local legislative redistricting, and would not affect federal funding distributions.

Previously, legislative districts with prisons were credited with the population of the disenfranchised people temporarily incarcerated there. This practice, often called prison-based gerrymandering, gives extra influence to voters who live in the district with the most prisons, and dilutes the votes of every resident of a district with no (or fewer) prisons. The new law corrects this bias and assures that all communities in New York have equal representation in our government.

The most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering are in upstate counties and cities. For example, half of a Rome City Council ward is incarcerated, giving the residents of that ward twice the influence of other city residents. Recognizing the distorting effect of prison-based gerrymandering at the local level, 13 New York counties with large prisons – including four in Senator Little’s district – have historically exercised their discretion to remove the prison populations prior to redistricting.

The new law brings consistency to redistricting in New York, prohibiting the state and all local governments from giving extra political influence to districts that contain prisons. Sen. Little’s lawsuit seeks to have the new legislation struck down, the effect of which would require legislative districts – most notably her own, which contains 12,000 incarcerated persons – to include prison populations in their apportionment counts to the detriment of all other districts without prisons. Returning to this practice would not only unfairly inflate the districts of those with prisons at the expense of those without but also violate the New York State Constitution.

The organizations seeking to intervene include:

*The NAACP New York State Conference, the state-level body in New York of the NAACP, a membership organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing the civil rights of African Americans and other people of color. The Conference has approximately 90,000 members statewide. “Persons incarcerated in correctional institutions do not participate in the life of the town or county where they are incarcerated,” said Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference. “Sen. Little and her co-plaintiffs are seeking to reverse one of New York’s most important civil rights advances in the previous decade, which would unfairly dilute the voting rights of New Yorkers in every corner of the state.”

*Common Cause/NY, the New York branch of Common Cause, a nationwide, nonpartisan organization, with 20,000 members in New York State, that advocates for honest, accountable, and responsive government. “The way legislative district lines are drawn impacts citizens’ ability to participate effectively in our democracy,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause / NY. “Prison-based gerrymandering is a fundamentally unfair practice whose end was met with overwhelming applause. Voters in every region of the state would be hurt by a repeal of the new law.”

*Voices of Community Activists and Leaders – New York, or VOCAL -NY, a statewide grassroots membership organization building power among low-income people who are living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, drug use and incarceration, along with the organizations that serve them, to create healthy and just communities. “Many of our members live in communities that are heavily impacted by the criminal justice system and have a disproportionate number of residents sent to state prison,” said Ramon Velasquez, a VOCAL-NY leader. “Every district that has fewer prisons than Senator Little’s district loses representation from prison-based gerrymandering, but the districts that see many of their members counted in prison lose even more.”

President Obama's Speech on Middle East Draws Mixed Reviews

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

President Obama’s May 19th speech on the Middle East garnered a mixed reaction at home and abroad, with the president’s claim it could be time for an “Arab Spring” being met with caution.

In his speech, Obama spoke of the people in the Middle East and North Africa moving toward claiming a free life of their own, in concert with Western values.

“I believe now that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals,” Obama said. “The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.”

Obama’s words were met with optimism by Council of American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Nihad Awad who said it is “significant” that Obama supports the freedom movements that have taken place in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months.

“We appreciate President Obama setting the right tone by applauding the recent freedom movements across the Middle East and North Africa, but the true test of our nation's commitment to freedom and human dignity will be in translating this speech into actions and concrete policies,” Awad said in a statement.

Part of Obama’s speech focused on the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Obama would like Israel to return to using the 1967 borders before the Six-Day War in which Israel invaded East Jerusalem. However, many conservatives have shot down that theory fiercely; including Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who opposed the Obama approach in an Oval Office meeting with the president.

According to The Washington Post, Netanyahu told Obama that the country “cannot go back to the 1967 lines, these lines are indefensible. They don’t take into account certain demographic changes that have taken place on the ground over 44 years.”

Possible GOP candidates for president also slammed Obama’s speech. Former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum characterized Obama’s speech as an incoherent and inconsistent policy for U.S. in the Middle East. The Obama policy, he said, has allowed dictators like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddaffi “to remain in power, while fostering overthrow of our allies in Egypt.”

MLK Memorial Foundation Announces Plans for Memorial Dedication

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Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

Washington, D.C .-- The Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. announced plans for the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, in West Potomac Park, in Washington, D.C.

The official dedication will occur on Sunday, August 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, and Dr. King's historic I Have A Dream speech, beginning with a pre-dedication concert at 10 a.m. The dedication ceremony will commence at 11 a.m. and a post-dedication concert will follow beginning at 2 p.m.

Reserved tickets to the historic event will be distributed through an online lottery system. The public may request up to two tickets by visiting www.dedicatethedream.org and submitting their information into the ticket lottery. Visitors must register by 11:59 p.m. EDT on May 31 to be included in the lottery for the random selection process. Ticket recipients for the seated and reserved standing areas will be notified by email on June 15, 2011. Public standing areas that do not require tickets will also be available.

"We are thrilled that we will be dedicating the Memorial to Dr. King in the coming months, and the Foundation looks forward, with great pride, to presenting this Memorial--this dream--that we've worked to build, to the people. Dr. King, his life, his dream, and his legacy, will be a source of history and inspiration for all people, for all time," said Harry E. Johnson, Sr., president and CEO of the MLK Memorial Foundation.

"I'm very much looking forward to celebrating this momentous event with my fellow Americans and people around the world who understand what this memorial stands for, and the relevance of Dr. King's message."

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial is the first on the National Mall to honor a man of hope, a man of peace, and a man of color. Located on the Tidal Basin, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial creates a visual line of leadership between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. The memorial will be an engaging landscape experience conveying four fundamental and recurring themes throughout Dr. King's life--democracy, justice, hope, and love--and features the use of natural elements including water, stone, and trees. A 450-foot inscription wall will feature more than a dozen Dr. King quotes engraved into granite to serve as a lasting testament and reminder of Dr. King's humanitarian vision. The memorial will include the "Mountain of Despair" and the "Stone of Hope," which will feature a 30-foot sculpture of Dr. King.

To learn more about dedication plans, including events that will take place earlier in Dedication Week, please visit www.dedicatethedream.org. The site will be updated frequently as Dedication planning progresses and offer the latest available information. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Foundation is currently collecting personal stories about how Dr. King affected the lives of Americans and people around the world. All are invited to submit memories of working alongside Dr. King, participating in the March on Washington, and more by visiting www.dedicatethedream.org/mystory.

General Motors Company will serve as the Dedication Chair and Dedication Co-Chair is the Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation. For a complete list of supporters or to make a donation, visit www.buildthedream.org.

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