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Obama Aims to Reconnect with Loyal Black Voters

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By Starla Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

CHICAGO - In 2008, Barack Hussein Obama was elected with overwhelming support from Black voters. More than 90 percent of Blacks voted for him in the presidential election and his victory was a source of pride.

However, while the president's approval ratings are still high, recent polls show a decline in popularity. Announcing his plans for re-election in April, maintaining strong support among Black voters is key. Unemployment among Blacks is still high at 15.5 percent despite the overall unemployment rate decreasing.

Critics say President Obama may be taking the Black vote for granted as members of the Democratic Party have been accused of for years. “Where previous Democratic administrations have treated Black communities with benign neglect, Obama's policy is best described as depraved indifference,” wrote Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report in a recent online posting.

With that perception in mind, the Obama administration recently launched a series of town hall meetings targeting Black communities across the U.S. Almost simultaneously, the White House launched http://www.whitehouse.gov/africanamericans, as a way for Blacks to get information on policies, programs, and initiatives the administration says help the Black community.

The town hall meetings, themed, “Winning the future,” are open forums, which allow the public to ask questions directly to White House personnel. Michael Blake, director of African American and Minority Business Outreach from the White House Office of Public Engagement was in Chicago, in mid-April, for a town hall meeting on the city's South Side.

Along with Mr. Blake, the event featured and Congressman Danny Davis Jr. (D-Il) and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and was moderated by radio host Matt McGill of WVON 1690 AM. Hundreds packed a standing room only overflow room at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church to voice opinions about the White House agenda for the Black community.

One area of success shared Mr. Blake, was the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) through the U.S. Commerce Department being awarded $7 billion in grants to advance the growth of minority owned businesses. However, this includes Black, Latino, and women-owned businesses. What remains unclear is what dollar amount was received by Black-owned businesses.

Questions remain as to why information has been so slow reaching the Black community. One problem could be that the Obama administration has not allocated enough resources to spread word of their accomplishments, which directly impact Black people, even Mr. Blake admitted that this “office of African-American affairs” is comprised only of himself and an intern. Additionally, Mr. Blake said, he only sees President Obama “every few weeks.”

Congressman Davis reminded the audience President Obama took office when the country was about to go to “hell in a hand basket.” Mr. Davis told the audience he was not present to be an apologist for the White House or President Obama but said were it not for steps taken by the administration; he is not sure whether the banking system would have survived.

“If we didn't do the health reform that people are trying to erode and wipe out, just in my congressional district alone the health reform bill improves healthcare and access for 350,000 people,” said Rep. Davis to applause.

Blake said though there is a long way to go, progress has been made he said that has benefited the Black community. “People are still hurting right now and we're not where we need to be and we're trying to get to where we need to be, but as Congressman Davis will tell you, it's hard right now working with some folks that don't want to work with you,” a clear reference to the Republicans, he told the audience.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan warned President Obama prior to his election about the forces that govern domestic and international politics. He has also encouraged President Obama to use his prominent position to speak for the weak and speak for the poor who supported him overwhelmingly. In a previous interview with WVON's Cliff Kelley, Farrakhan said that as a Black man, President Obama does not wish to address the concerns that God wants the American government to address, such as the lack of justice for the weak, poor, and Brown, Red, Black and poor White.

A vocal group attempted to pose questions to Blake regarding President Obama's decision to go to war with the North African nation of Libya, however, the meeting was ended abruptly before they could receive answers.

Before ending the meeting Blake urged audience members to contact his office at 202-456-4772 or email him at africanamericans@who.eop.gov to share their concerns.

Sharpton-West Feud Highlights Black Frustration with Obama

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

A war of words between the Rev. Al Sharpton, Black civil rights advocate, and Black scholar Cornel West has revved up recently after West made comments criticizing President Obama.

In an MSNBC special news program, West, a Princeton University professor, claimed that Obama is no longer working in the best interests of African-Americans, but is instead protecting the interests of the financial sector.

“I worry about you, brother, because you can be easily manipulated by those in the White House who do have the interests of Wall Street oligarchs, who do have the interests of corporate plutocrats who you opposed,” West said to Sharpton. “But you end up being the public face and Barack Obama ends up being another Black mascot.”

Sharpton countered that West needed to put the same pressure on his friends in Congress who have not pushed hard for a jobs bill and that any criticism of Obama was “hogwash,” leading to a shouting match that ended the show.

TV and radio talk show host Tavis Smiley, a close friend and colleague of West, also offered harsh criticism of Obama.

“The president knows his base in Black America is shaky,” Smiley said on his radio show recently. “You can't play that history card more than one time.”

David Swerdlick, a political analyst and journalist, said that the criticism of Sharpton and Obama is unfair given the challenges the president had to face.

“After firing his top general in Afghanistan for insubordination, enduring the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ controversy, and dealing with the Gulf oil spill, Somali pirates and a banking collapse that was waiting in his inbox on Day 1 of the job, President Obama is running low on juice,” Swerdlick wrote.

The Obama administration, perhaps sensing frustration, has launched whitehouse.gov/africanamericans, part of a concerted effort to show what the White House is doing to address the needs of African Americans ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

Nigerians Anxiously Await Final Count in Third National Poll

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Nigerians cast ballots recently for state governors and legislators. It was the last election scheduled for last month since presidential and regional polls held earlier. Parliamentary polls were held April 9 and a presidential election took place April 16, which was won by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Results are expected within 48 hours of the 5 p.m. local time closure of polling stations, according to the West African nation’s Independent National Electoral Commission.

Polling went off quietly, unlike the earlier vote for president when some 600 people lost their lives in violence sparked by irregular voting practices that even drew criticism from international observers. So far, local news reports note numerous cases of ballot-box snatching in northern Katsina and Kano states, as well as several states in the south, including Akwa Ibom, Imo, Delta, and Rivers.

In Bayelsa state in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, violence and the hijacking of election materials led to the arrest of 13 people, authorities said. Six ballot-box snatching cases were reported in the main northern city of Kano, said electoral official Abdullahi Umar Danyaya.

While voting may be peaceful, published vote totals may be the spark for retaliation from groups seeing their numbers undercounted. Forensic exams of the ballot papers have been sought by the candidate of the Congress for Progressive change in Enugu State, Rosita Okechukwu.

“No electorate throughout history rewards a political party which failed to provide common infrastructure like electricity,” said Okechukwu. “It will be inconceivable that the Nigerian electorate rewarded PDP for decade stretch of failed promises. On Forensic Test and Biometric Technology we depend to prove our case; not on propaganda.”

Zuma Family Upstages the UK with African Wedding Befitting Royalty

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

With British commentators still discussing the nuptials of Prince William and Kate, South Africa was already in full marriage regalia, celebrating the wedding of Duduzile Zuma, daughter of South African President Jacob Zuma, with businessman Lonwabo Sambudla.

The glittering affair was called “the mother of all parties.” It featured a convoy of 12 Lamborghinis driving through Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve, just off the southern coast, carrying the 28 year old Zuma and her entourage. Elephants roamed the grounds in the background as the couple exchanged vows.

In keeping with the latest styles of the rich and famous, no expense was spared in making this a ceremony worthy of kings. Wearing a white off-the-shoulder gown that sparkled with Swarovski crystals, the bride turned heads with a custom-made diamond necklace worth 1.5-million rand ($225,000 U.S.). She and her bridesmaids were collectively decked out in more than 1000 diamonds worth 4.5-million rand ($674,000).

The service was conducted by Pastor Alph Lukau, from Alleluia Ministries International, and guests were entertained by Nigerian gospel artist Uche Agu.

One of five children, Duduzile actually has 20 siblings – step brothers and sisters from her father’s five wives and several fiancées. A twin brother, Duduzane, is reportedly on his way to joining the growing number of South African Black billionaires, having shares worth about 1 billion rand from a 9 billion rand Black empowerment deal.

Freshening the Food Supply in Minority Communities

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By Kenneth J. Cooper, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

The rap on corner stores in low-income, minority neighborhoods is they’re high on prices at the cash register and low on variety on the shelves, except for candies, snacks, and just about everything else that’s bad to eat.

As unlikely as it might seem, a loose national network has set out to transform the tiny shops into part of the solution to the health disparities afflicting African Americans and Hispanics. Backed by foundation grants and government funds, including federal stimulus money, local organizations that have joined the Healthy Corner Store Initiative offer willing shopkeepers incentives to stock more fresh produce and share best practices on how to make fruits and vegetables sell well.

It is a hyper-local approach to bringing produce to urban “food deserts” that supermarket chains have largely abandoned for more prosperous suburbs. Stocking corner stores also costs less than city governments granting financial breaks to lure grocery stores back to the ’hood and barrio.

The local health activists and officials leading the effort say making fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains more available in neighborhood shops can help reduce the higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease that African Americans and Hispanics suffer. While it’s too early for measurable reductions in those chronic conditions, a study in Hartford, Conn. found an eight percent decline in junk food on sale at 40 participating stores.

The corner store initiative reflects a recent shift in expert thinking about the causes and solutions to minority health disparities. Rather than focus solely on individual lifestyles— each person’s diet, exercise, and medical care—activists are also attempting to treat whole neighborhoods that tend to have too few supermarkets and recreational facilities, and too many fast food joints and environmental hazards. One expert at the Harvard School of Public Health, David R. Williams, argues the clustering of such conditions in racially- or ethnically-segregated neighborhoods is the “fundamental cause” of disparities.

Philadelphia is a forerunner in transforming corner stores. There the nonprofit Food Trust began making grants in 2001 to store owners to buy refrigerated coolers for fresh fruit and vegetables. One Hispanic shopkeeper in North Philadelphia, who received $60,000 to renovate his convenience store in 2008, reported a sudden 40 percent increase in business, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The need in Philadelphia was apparent. A 2000 study found the city had the second fewest supermarkets per capita among major cities, after Boston. The Food Trust hasn’t given up on attracting chain grocers, though, even as it has worked with corner stores. A public-private partnership it joined has leveraged financial incentives to open some supermarkets in Philadelphia.

About 500 of the city’s corner stores, including some Hispanic-owned ones known as bodegas, have joined the initiative. That sounds like a big number, but the city has an estimated 2,500 neighborhood stores. The current plan is to expand participation to 1,000.

The initiative has spread from Philadelphia across the country, including The Bronx in New York, Newark, Cleveland, Chicago, Louisville, Ky. and Oakland, Calif. In the last several years, the idea has grown in popularity and prompted more than 500 online inquiries to the Healthy Corner Store Initiative.

The federal stimulus bill has made new funding available through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, not all of what’s needed to persuade corner stores to sell fruits and vegetables takes a lot of money. Activists and food consultants advise owners to place fruits and vegetables in front of the store, display unrefrigerated produce in attractive baskets instead of cardboard boxes and avoid putting too close together certain vegetables that cause each other to spoil faster.

Boston has recently joined the nationwide initiative, recruiting a handful of corner stores in the mostly Black neighborhood of Mattapan and heavily Hispanic East Boston. Collaborating are the Boston Public Health Commission, which has a $2.4 million grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a community group in each neighborhood and a citywide health alliance the commission has formed. The project goes by the catchy name, “Healthy on the Block.”

A 2009 survey conducted in six Boston neighborhoods, including Mattapan and East Boston, found that most corner stores do stock a limited supply of produce, says Rebecca Franckle, the project director. But, the fresh food turns over slowly and sustains high spoilage rates. “Some of the store owners we talked to consider it a cost of business,” she says.

Mattapan is Boston’s only neighborhood without a chain supermarket. Another survey identified more than 14 corner stores in the neighborhood, but only two on Blue Hill Avenue, a main drag, signed up for “Healthy on the Block,” says Cassandra Cato-Louis, neighborhood coordinator for the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition.

Asked why most corner stores owners in Mattapan declined to join, Cato-Louis says: “The first thing they say is, ‘People don’t buy produce here. There’s not a market for it.’ But, the kind of produce they have is the kind people don’t want. It’s old.”

Meanwhile, a survey of food shoppers who live in the neighborhood found that “the vast majority of them requested fresh food and vegetables” in corner stores, Cato-Louis says.

One store recruited has been stocking fresh fruits and vegetables since last fall, many geared to the neighborhood’s large West Indian population. More than 20 varieties of fruits and vegetables are on sale, some in plastic bins and others in a refrigerated cooler, to either side of the front entrance. The fruits include bananas, oranges, lemons, limes and mangos, while among the vegetables are potatoes, cassava, Caribbean yams and pumpkins, lettuce, tomatoes, and ginger.

Mama Supermarket, as it is known, doesn’t have annual sales anywhere near those at a chain supermarket. But, multiply sales of fresh fruit and vegetables at participating stores across the country, and a dietary problem behind some serious health conditions could start to ease—without providing public subsidies to supermarket chains not inclined to do business in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods anyway.

Kenneth J. Cooper, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, is a freelancer based in Boston. He also edits the Trotter Review at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

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