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Chicago to Hold Banks Responsible for Foreclosed Property

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By J. Coyden Palmer, Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader –

In an effort to combat the problem of abandoned properties in Chicago neighborhoods, the City Council approved an ordinance that will hold lending institutions responsible for the upkeep of properties foreclosed upon. The move comes as community groups have become increasingly vocal over the last few weeks because of an upsurge in crime during the summer months. Residents say the abandoned buildings create a crime haven for drug dealers, gang members and squatters. The buildings also cost taxpayers. As of last year the, city spent $15 million for general upkeep, demolition and board-ups of abandoned properties. “All too often, communities are devastated by foreclosures as vacant properties fall into disrepair and the City takes on an unnecessary financial burden,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “This ordinance will help protect neighborhoods hit hard by these difficult economic times. This issue affects every part of the city… but is concentrated in communities that need all the help they can get to stay afloat.”

Council members say they too have grown tired of fielding complaints from constituents about bank properties not being taken care of. Several aldermen said the problem has gotten so out of control, due to the bad economy, they have had to assign a staff member full-time for just this one issue. “I’ve had to call my ward superintendent several times to have him clean out yards and talk with my police commanders when we have squatters going in buildings. This ordinance will work to ensure that entire communities are not left behind when individual properties are foreclosed upon,” said the alderman who introduced the ordinance, Pat Dowell. “Banks will be responsible for keeping vacant properties from deteriorating while the foreclosure is in process, keeping them secure and keeping our neighborhoods intact.”

The issue of vacant buildings and squatters is a serious one. This past winter, two firefighters were killed and a dozen more injured as they battled a blaze on the South Side. Investigators believe the fire was started by homeless people who were using the heat to keep warm on a cold winter night. Vacant buildings also create other problems, according to Action Now, a community-based group that focuses on social issues in Chicago neighborhoods. Marsha Godard, a representative for the group, worked with Dowell to address the foreclosure issue. A resident of North Lawndale, Godard said vacant buildings pull down the morale of the neighborhood, in addition to creating health problems.

“It’s an eyesore to the community to have grass as tall as me,” said Godard, who added there are four abandoned buildings on her block alone. “It’s not a good feeling when I go home and I feel bad because in this neighborhood you can’t even let your kids go outside to play because you are fearful they can be pulled into one of the vacant properties and beaten, raped or killed. And because of the economy, you can’t move anywhere, so you are stuck in this environment.”

Godard said abandon buildings also become nests for rats, roaches, possums and she has even had a raccoon as a neighbor. She said the wildlife creates health concerns for not just humans, but for pets as well. On her block, neighbors have taken it upon themselves as a community to try to keep the abandoned properties clean. But even that is difficult. “The gang members come and just take over. They drink and just throw their beer and wine bottles all over other people’s property so we are constantly cleaning.”

Currently, lenders and lien holders of vacant properties are responsible for maintenance only after they own a foreclosed property. The ordinance amends the current municipal code. Owners will be required to implement routine maintenance on properties such as boarding entrances to a building; responding to complaints relating to the building; cutting grass and shoveling snow or face fines from

Proposed Federal Budget Cuts Could End HUD Counseling

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By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

As President Obama and Congress strive to resolve different priorities in the nation’s 2012 federal budget, some are proposing an end to the only federal program that provides valuable housing counseling to millions of Americans. Majority members of a House subcommittee seek to zero out the $87.5 million program offering at-risk services has helped serve more than 11 million Americans since 2006. The range of services offered benefit homebuyers, homeowners, renters, and the homeless.

Housing advocates are also warning against the likely scams that will result from the service void.

If allowed to be axed from the new budget, not only will thousands of people not be served; but thousands of housing counselors will be laid off and some local agencies could close their doors. Most importantly, the homeowners now facing foreclosure will no longer have qualified, reliable and free services in their local communities.

In response, housing advocates have only a few days to organize and present an online petition supporting preservation of the counseling services. Although, at press time, over 2,000 people had signed the petition begun by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, (http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-congress-restore-housing-counseling-to-keep-people-in-their-homes), many more signatures will be required to overcome the proposed cut.

While many foreclosures have occurred in urban areas, there are signs that future scams will occur in suburbs as well. Just a few days ago, Supreme Court Justices in Nassau County, New York froze the multi-million dollar assets of two companies that demanded upfront fees in exchange for a promise to secure mortgage modifications. Reportedly, the firms took money from more than 1,000 families across the country.

In suburban Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Marci Polokoff, a counselor told her suburban paper, The Courier Times, “One of my biggest concerns, knowing all this funding is going away, [is that] a lot of scams are probably going to pick up because people aren’t going to get the free services that were out there. They’re grasping for straws trying to find somebody to help them. They’re not going to be educated not to [fall for scams].”

The According to the Coalition of HUD Housing Counseling Intermediaries, the need for housing services already exceeds current funding levels. A significant number of those served were senior homeowners. HUD data shows that 430,000 seniors were counseled on reverse mortgages as an option to preserve their financial independence.

Research from the Center for Responsible Lending confirms that from January 2007-2009, 2.5 million foreclosures were completed and an additional 5.7 million homes are in imminent risk of foreclosure. Additionally, the Federal Reserve Board, National Council on Aging, the Urban Institute, and the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard have all concluded that housing counseling is an important prevention against further foreclosures.

Currently, free federally-funded housing counseling services administered by local service agencies offer:

*Pre-purchase counseling and education for first-time homebuyers
*Post-purchase counseling and education for homeowners
*Reverse mortgage counseling for senior homeowners
*Renter counseling, including for families transitioning out of homeownership
*Counseling for homeless individuals and families seeking shelter or other transitional housing

With demonstrated consumer needs matched by respected research findings, it is indeed odd that some in Congress would prefer cutting proven services. But, this development is also an important reminder that ours is a participatory democracy. As citizens, we must stand up and speak to preserve what works for our nation.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Crisis at B-CU, Florida's Largest HBCU: Part I

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Compiled by the Florida Courier Staff –

The surprising termination of Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) Head Basketball Coach Clifford Reed – after the most successful basketball season at the school in 30 years – is the latest of a series of personnel decisions by B-CU President Trudie Kibbe Reed that has the school lurching from management of one crisis to another.

Here’s what’s happened at B-CU in just the last month:

— After terminating seven instructors in 2009, the Reed administration was placed on the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) list of “censured administrations,” which means that conditions for academic freedom and tenure are unsatisfactory at a college or university. B-CU is now one of only 47 institutions nationwide on the censure list.

The AAUP found that “in many instances critical to academic freedom and tenure, the university had no published procedures, and where it did, the (Reed) administration often failed to follow them, producing a chilling effect on academic freedom.” Notably, Reed’s administration had been previously censured by AAUP under similar circumstances in 2004, when she was president of Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. There, she fired an instructor for insubordination.

B-CU responded dismissively to the AAUP report.

"This (AAUP) report, which concerns the termination of seven faculty members by B-CU in 2009, contains many errors and false assertions and presents a one-sided view of the manner in which the university handled the matters in question,” said Pamela G. Browne, the school’s general counsel, in a statement.

The university released its own report written by civil rights attorney David Honig that justified the terminations and cited support for its decision by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the National Council of Negro Women and Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches.

— Four of the former B-CU professors of the seven Reed fired – Russell Mootry, Trebor Negron, Smart Uhakheme and John Ukawuilulu – filed a lawsuit rebutting allegations that they were having sexual relations off-campus with female students for years. Mootry had taught at the school for some 30 years. Their lawsuit alleges that Reed and the university defamed them, breached their employment contract and tenure provisions, and wrongfully terminated them. They also claim that Reed and the school fired them in retaliation for making her aware of violations of law that were happening under her watch, including alleged embezzlement, theft, and vendor kickbacks.

B-CU was just served with the lawsuit last week and has yet to respond. In its response to AAUP, the university claims that the professors were threats to student safety and were terminated legally and accordingly.

— Last week, B-CU lost the best baseball coach in school history and its entire coaching staff to another historically Black college or university (HBCU). Mervyl Melendez resigned to go Alabama State University – and took his championship staff with him.

Melendez was 379-320 in 12 seasons as head coach and led the B-CU Wildcats to 11 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) titles and NCAA tournament appearances, including six straight regional games.

He also played for the Wildcats. He is the school’s all-time leader in doubles and batting average. Melendez made the first HBCU All-American Team in 1996. He was an All-MEAC and All-MEAC Tournament selection in 1995 and 1996. His parting from B-CU was more amicable than the others.

"Mervyl is pound-for-pound one of the best coaches I have ever been around," said B-CU Director of Athletics Lynn W. Thompson in a statement, "but he is a far greater husband, father, and teacher than that. It has truly been an honor to watch him bloom into a legend, and I wish him well in his search for life's next challenge. We truly hate to see him leave the campus, but he can never leave our family."

Melendez said Alabama State made “an offer I couldn’t refuse,” including a commitment to make financial resources available to improve its baseball program. Alabama State also has a new baseball facility.

— The Alvin Wyatt lawsuit continues and is in the fact-finding phase. The school fired former head football coach Alvin “Shine’’ Wyatt, Sr. at the end of the 2009 season immediately after B-CU lost badly to archrival Florida A&M University (FAMU) at the Florida Classic in Orlando.

Soon thereafter, Wyatt filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against B-CU. Court records indicate that Wyatt has asked the trial court to set a date for a jury trial. He also has moved aggressively to have Reed and B-CU’s top leadership answer questions under oath before a court reporter, a procedure known as a “deposition.” Court records also show that on May 25, B-CU submitted an offer to Wyatt to settle the case.

Wyatt, a Jacksonville native, played for the Wildcats from 1966 to 1969, where he was an all-conference and All-American player. He has the school career records in interceptions (34) and a 100-yard kickoff return. His five interceptions in a single game is still a school record.

After earning his degree from the former Bethune-Cookman College in 1970, he was drafted by the NFL’s Oakland Raiders in 1970. He spent four years in pro football before returning to B-CC in 1975 as an assistant coach under former Miami Dolphin Larry Little.

Wyatt was later named defensive coordinator and helped the Wildcats win the MEAC title in 1984. In 1988, Wyatt's defense helped B-CC gain a share of the MEAC title with FAMU and Delaware State.

He became B-CC's ninth head coach in 1996, won a MEAC title in 2002, and in 2008 became the school’s all-time winningest coach, passing the legendary Rudolph “Bunky” Matthews.

Wyatt also was a girls basketball coach for 18 years, compiling a 260-200 record and winning two MEAC titles.

School successes
During Reed’s tenure, B-CU has had major and minor successes.

Bethune-Cookman College became a university in 2007 and was reaccredited in 2010, which means it meets all university academic and operational standards. New campus facilities are being built.

Students in science, math and engineering recently won first place in robotics in a regional competition. The university was approved to institute a new master’s degree in integrated environmental science. It has successfully applied for modest grants – $50,000 from Home Depot for campus improvements, $64,000 to partner with the local health department to push healthy lifestyles.

But still, on-campus and courtroom drama continues.

No Hollywood ending
Coach Reed and his son, star point guard C.J. Reed, had been lauded nationwide for leading the Wildcats to their first winning season since joining Division I in 1980-81. B-CU went 21-13 overall and 13-3 in the MEAC, winning the regular season crown.

The Wildcats made their first-ever postseason appearance with a trip to the National Invitational Tournament, losing to Virginia Tech in the opening round. Reed was MEAC Coach and National Association of Black Coaches, Coach of the Year for Region 15. C.J. was named MEAC Player of the Year, HBCU Player of the Year and HBCU First Team All-American.

It all came crashing down Monday when B-CU announced in a 51-word press release that after an internal administrative review, Coach Reed would not return, his contract would not be renewed, and his employment was terminated effective immediately.

Why the termination?
The reason depends on whom you ask. The university says it’s because Coach Reed refused to cooperate with a criminal investigation surrounding a rape allegation against his players – with his son as the prime suspect. Coach Reed’s defenders say that as a father, he was required to help his son avail himself of his constitutional right to retain legal counsel when the son became the focus of the criminal investigation.

The salacious facts as listed in a Daytona Beach Police Department (DBPD) report are not in dispute.

A B-CU female athlete accused C.J. Reed of getting her drunk and either raping her himself or allowing four other unknown males to rape her, and taking her to a B-CU men’s locker room where an unknown male washed her off.

The allegation against C.J. Reed was made more than a month after the alleged incident and was prompted when the young woman’s coach saw a passion mark – a “hickey” – on her neck. She started crying and told her coach that she had been raped some 30 days before, according to the police report.

When DBPD investigators pressed her after she made her original police report, the young woman admitted that she had had a months-long consensual sexual relationship with C.J. as well as with one of his teammates, and that she was also having sex with her hometown boyfriend when she returned to South Florida. C.J. and his teammate each knew they were having sex with the young woman.

The young woman asked police to terminate their investigation and no criminal charges were ever filed.

No comment
When asked about the termination, Coach Reed told the Florida Courier, “I have no comment. I was terminated. I thank God for the support that I had and the school for the opportunity.”

The coach added, “It’s time to move on. God will bless me. My life doesn’t stop. I will continue to work hard and be a man of character and discipline. I put mine up against anyone that I have worked for or with.”

Player and coach
Like Wyatt, Coach Reed has deep roots at Bethune-Cookman.

A junior college transfer, Clifford Reed played two seasons for the Wildcats (1990-1991), averaging 21 points per game for his career. He led the Wildcats in scoring in both seasons and made a single-game school record eight three-point field goals and is 17th on the school’s career scoring list. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1991.

Reed spent 14 seasons coaching the Wildcats. He was an assistant coach before taking over with 11 games remaining in the 2000-2001 season, going 6-5. In nine-plus seasons as head coach, Reed went 125-166, including three straight winning seasons dating back to 2008-2009.

His son, C.J, is now sixth on the school’s all-time career scoring list.

B-CU responses limited
When contacted by the Florida Courier, B-CU President Reed said, "I'm on vacation and I'm away and out of operation right now and I really ask you to help me and respect my vacation. I am really out of commission for doing university business right now. I won't be back until the 20th.

“Just to let you know, I've had some upper respiratory problems, came here and got another infection and so I'm just on bed rest. You can call Meredith Rodriguez; she will be glad to help you or my vice president Hiram Powell. Just call my office and ask them to transfer you to Dr. Powell or Meredith. Meredith is our P.R. person."

The representative answering the phone at Powell’s office said he is out of the country. Athletic Director Thompson did not return the Florida Courier’s phone calls or voicemail messages.

Rodriguez said that the Clifford Reed incident is an internal personnel matter and is under investigation and that therefore the university cannot comment at this time.

Next week: B-CU and due process.

Florida Courier reporters Andreas Butler, Ashley Thomas, James Harper and Jenise Morgan all contributed to this report.

Program Helps Men Get Back on Their Feet After Incarceration

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By Charlene Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –

(FinalCall.com) - John Thompson narrowly escaped death by lethal injection after serving 18 years behind bars for a murder and other crimes he did not commit. He was released after evidence revealed that prosecutors withheld a blood test and other information that would have exonerated him and a jury awarded him $14 million compensation but the U.S. Supreme Court stripped him of the judgment. Despite it all, he has dedicated himself to helping others like him get their lives back on track after incarceration.

Thompson told The Final Call he was stunned but mostly saddened after the court's 5-4 reversal. He could have walked out of prison and gone into seclusion but instead, he reaches back every day by working to build Resurrection After Exoneration, a New Orleans, Louisiana-based program that helps men get back on their feet after incarceration.

“The whole thing was facilitated because of what guys had to do to put their lives back together coming home,” Thompson said. The program was initially created for men who were exonerated but broadened to include ex-offenders generally.

“I thought our state should have been responsible, held accountable, meaning help us put our lives back together, too but I've come home to find out it was the opposite. They didn't really care about you putting your life together. Then I started reading and found out what happened to these other guys that had come home before me and it was a sad case. I couldn't go that route,” Thompson told The Final Call.

He explained that the sad case was most of the exonerated men were homeless and some were severely ill with no medical benefits. When he was freed in 1999, there was no compensation bill in place, he said. After regularly meeting with some of the men he was imprisoned with, discovering what they experienced, and what it takes to survive on the outside, they decided to create their own house and program together, he said.

The guidance of people like Norris Henderson, a longtime community activist who was also formerly incarcerated, has helped to mold his life and make him a fighter and a survivor during his younger years in prison, Thompson said.

Part of the result has been Resurrection After Exoneration, which runs out of a fully donated eight-bedroom, three bathroom home that is under renovation. It is fully equipped with two kitchens, a large den and huge backyard for a vegetable garden.

The focus for the past three years has been on men located in Louisiana and Mississippi. To self-sustain the overhead and programs, Resurrection After Exoneration plans to operate several independent businesses like its paralegal training program, a computer silk screening company, and a community space that it leases out.

The men may stay at the house for up to six months to help them work their way back into society, coordinators said. During that time, they are offered a skill trade, such as computer literacy. They are also given trauma treatment and counseling with social workers and psychologists to help them readjust to living outside of prison.

“Sometimes that is the biggest hurdle, trying to readjust and refocus on coming out of an abnormal environment into a normal environment. You know, people fail to realize how violent, how vicious inside a prison is,” Thompson said.

“It's one of the worst places where your manhood is tested 24/7. That means during the course of a day or any given time you have to be on your defenses and it could mean life or death inside the prison and you want me to just turn that switch off when I come home,” he added.

Resurrection After Exoneration is a space for those formerly incarcerated to come home without feeling so isolated and ostracized because most have been in prison so long, their families are already gone, Henderson told The Final Call.

The program isn't looking for a profit—only to put people to work, Henderson continued. The community garden will be used to produce and sell fresh herbs and vegetables to the neighborhood. Development of a lawn care business is already underway and the paralegal training program has 22 enrollees, he said. Graduates of their programs give back by donating 10 hours a year to mentor someone else at the house. A primary key is to help participants successfully resume their lives by making a way for them to become financially independent.

Thompson received some limited compensation from the state after his ordeal but most men don't receive that, Henderson said.

“That was a bad message the Supreme Court sent, ya'll can do anything you want, put people on death row, put people in jail, but no harm, no foul,” Henderson said.

For Thompson, the Resurrection Program has been a labor of love rather than a distraction from the Supreme Court's denial of his award. He said he filed the lawsuit in part for the other men left behind in Louisiana's prisons and jails, to give him and them hope that their lives are valuable.

“You gotta think about what they told my family, that our system could take your father from you and punish him for 18 years and you can't get nothing! To both of my children, to my mom, I was a good father. None of my children were on welfare when I went to jail. I was a hard worker and a little hustler too, now. I was no angel but I wasn't no damn murderer either!” Thompson said.

'Race-based Disparities Hold Us Back'

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By Chris King, Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American –

There is no mainstream institution in the St. Louis region that addresses, head-on, the issues of race more consistently or effectively than the Missouri History Museum under the direction of Robert R. Archibald. With American I AM: the African American Imprint at the museum through September 25, we asked Archibald about the exhibit and his tenacity in hosting shows like this in St. Louis.

The St. Louis American: Tell me about American I AM and why you wanted to show it in St. Louis.

Robert R. Archibald: When organizations were solicited for proposals and expressions of interest, we made sure we had somebody there at the first meeting with their hands up first. We were not the first venue to show it, but we were first on the list.

The exhibit is a journey of 300 or 400 years of African and African-American history. From an object standpoint, there are African art objects that Dr. Suggs tells me are of extremely rare and beautiful quality. It has the African cultural background to the enforced enslavement of African people – for instance, the doors from a castle where people were imprisoned before shipment. There are some macabre instruments of slavery. And there are some just amazing things, like Langston Hughes’ original manuscript and typewriter. It has the real stuff in it.

It also documents the ways African Americans have persisted and achieved and made huge contributions, despite all the obstacles placed in their way. The message of the exhibit is these are really strong people who learned to be strong and had to be strong and who represent in many ways the best of what humans are. For people of African descent, we are looking at something really empowering that underscores all the things we know to be true. For people who are not of African descent, this is an opportunity to stand in the shoes of African Americans and view the world from their extraordinary perspective.

The exhibit is set up with a quote from W.E.B. Du Bois: “Would America be America without our Negro citizens?” The answer the exhibit gives is a resounding, “No!” To be American is to be an inheritor of the African-American experience.

I wanted to bring it here because we are looking at a community that self-evidently is grasping at all kinds of fixes (and I don’t mean to minimize them), whether it be a cargo hub or attempting to attract this business or that business, but in the end we need to create a community where people want to live. And, people want to live in places where there is reasonable equity and people get along reasonably well and civic agendas are pursued with respect for democratic process and there is not a huge discrepancy between the richest people and the poorest people and where the community is not segregated.

And, when we look at St. Louis, deep down in our hearts and souls we know something is wrong that we are even reluctant to talk about, and that thing we are reluctant to talk about is the fact that our disparities too often are based on race and it is those disparities that hold us back. So, my hope in bringing the exhibit here is to make one more little effort to build bridges and get people to stand in each other’s shoes and build a better understanding of people in St. Louis of African descent.

The American: You must sometimes get pushback and hear from the public or from your board members, “Enough with race!”

Robert Archibald: As for pushback, not very much, really. I get crank calls from racists, probably the same people call you as well, but not many.

We come at it at different angles. Last year we did Are We So Different?, which was an anthropological look at the idea of race, at whether skin color makes genetic sense as a basis to make distinctions between people. It wasn’t about people of African descent specifically, but all people. American I AM celebrates a specific people and their history.

Yes, you’re right, they do both deal with race, but it isn’t accusatory, we are not accusing anyone of racism. We are trying to overcome the barriers and boundaries and distinctions between people based on race.

People expect us to be a neutral forum for these debates and exhibits. If we don’t get some reaction, then what we’re doing is not very important. It’s important to deal with difficult topics but never to push people away, because in doing so you lose audience, and when you lose audience you lose effectiveness.

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