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Are Schools Preparing Black Boys ... For Prison?

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By Starla Muhammad, Staff Writer –

(NNPA) A Chicago mother recently filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education alleging a Chicago Public School security guard handcuffed her young son while he was a student at George Washington Carver Primary School on the city's far south side. In the lawsuit, filed Aug. 29, LaShanda Smith says the guard handcuffed her son March 17, 2010 which resulted in “sustained injuries of a permanent, personal and pecuniary nature.”

According to media reports, Michael A. Carin, the attorney representing Smith says the youngster was among several six and seven year olds that were handcuffed by the guard for allegedly “talking in class”. The students were also allegedly told they would never see their parents again and were going to prison.

In a another incident April 13 of this year in Queens, New York a seven-year-old special education student in first grade was handcuffed and taken by ambulance to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation after he reportedly became upset because he did not like the color of an Easter egg he decorated. The school says the child was spitting, would not calm down and was “threatening”.

In New Orleans, Sebastian and Robin Weston were plaintiffs in a 2010 class action lawsuit alleging their then six-year-old son was handcuffed and shackled to a chair by an armed security guard after the boy argued with another student over a chair.

“This must stop now. Our children are not animals and should not be treated this way,” Weston said in a statement.

Are these incidents, in which young Black boys are treated like common criminals in America's schools subconsciously, preparing them instead for life behind bars in the criminal justice system?

“The school system has been transformed into nothing more than a prison preparation industry,” says Umar Abdullah Johnson, president of National Movement to Save Black Boys.

“The job of the school district is to prep the children for prison just like a chef preps his food before he actually cooks it,” Johnson, a nationally certified psychologist, told The Final Call.

“Yes We Can: The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education” states Black Male students are punished more severely for similar infractions than their White peers. “They are not given the same opportunities to participate in classes with enriched educational offerings. They are more frequently inappropriately removed from the general education classroom due to misclassifications by the Special Education policies and practices of schools and districts,” says the report.

In Chicago Public Schools, Black boys make up less than 25 percent of the student population but made up 57 percent of expelled students in 2009 according to Catalyst Chicago an online news magazine that reports on urban education. “In Chicago, Black Boys are 51 percent of those suspended at the elementary level,” noted Catalyst Chicago.

Johnson says a false image has been created that suggests Black boys are not interested in being educated, which is not true he argues. The emotional and psychological effects on a six and seven -year-olds from unfair and out-of-control disciplinary action like handcuffing is setting them up for criminality he explains.

“The first thing that type of behavior does is it socializes the boy at a very young age into criminal consciousness. He is nurtured by the school into an understanding that his role in society is that of a criminal,” says Johnson, a Pennsylvania certified school principle, lecturer and motivational coach. These methods and practices of handcuffing young Black boys takes away the stigma, sting and fear of incarceration he adds.

Overly harsh disciplinary policies sets the tone for students to become bored and frustrated with school which leads to increased drop-out rates and in many cases leads to greater involvement in the criminal justice system say youth advocates. Johnson agrees.

“When you put handcuffs on a six or seven year old there's no need for that six or seven-year-old to fear incarceration when they're 17 and 18-years-old,” he says.

Schools are the number one referral source to jail and juvenile hall for Black children and teens. Therefore, Johnson urges parents to meet and establish a relationship with their child's teacher. “Once you meet with a teacher, just the vibration from that teacher - be they Black or White - are going to let you know whether they're there to get a paycheck or whether they're there to teach your child.”

The Psychology of Black Unemployment

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Impact felt deep in the African American psyche

By Cynthia E. Griffin, Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly –

As she watched President Barack Obama lay out his jobs plan for the nation and repeatedly challenge Congress to address the issue immediately, Madelyn Broadus was thinking “finally, somebody is for the people.”

“It seems like for the past 12 years, (the government) is always for corporations and big fat cats. I really feel like he said it right for how we can begin again, the hard-working American people,” explained Broadus, one of the 14 million unemployed people that the president was speaking of during his speech.

A sheet metal worker who specializes in installing heating and air conditioning in commercial and industrial buildings, Broadus has not worked a job since November 2009.

“I went to a five-year apprentice program, and when I was about to come out that’s when the construction industry went flat,” said Broadus, who has existed on unemployment since her last job.

Broadus is not alone as she struggles through long-term unemployment; nor is her situation unique . . . in the Black community.

In fact, a look at employment numbers back to when the United States Department of Labor (DOL) first began segmenting out statistics by race (1972), yields the data that shows the Black unemployment rate has consistently been at least double the national average. In 1982 and 1983, for example, Black unemployment ranged from 17 to 21 percent, while the national rate for that same period ranged from 8.6 to 10.8 percent.

And these numbers, just as today’s 16.7 percent rate for Blacks probably understated the number of jobless, believes sociologist Michael Hodge, Ph.D. He said the numbers do not count those who have just stopped looking.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics produces a report called U6, which is a broader measure of labor underutilization. For example, in June of last year, the DOL unemployment rate was 15.7 percent in July of 2010 while the U6 rate (which includes the officially unemployed, discouraged workers, the marginally attached who have fallen out of the labor force and those working part-time because they cannot find full-time work) was 23.6 percent.

The historically high Black unemployment rates even prompted researchers at UC Berkeley to develop a Black Employment and Unemployment Data Brief that is published each month, shortly after the labor department releases its unemployment figures.

The idea behind the brief said Steven C. Pitts, Ph.D., a labor policy specialist with the Center for Labor Research and Education is to make it easy for people to access all the numbers when it comes to Black unemployment. Pitts said the labor department puts out the basic numbers, but Berkeley’s data briefs drill deeper to look at various segments within the Black community.

“The Data Brief has been out 16 months now, and I think what it has done is give people a quick way to get the numbers themselves. It has allowed people to talk with some authority about Black unemployment. It’s also been able to expand the conversation around Black unemployment and economic issues.”

Some of that expanded talk has been about the impact on Blacks in public-sector employment, where Pitts said about 20 percent of Black folk work.

The long-term nature of African American unemployment is one of the reasons Hodge believes there are some deeply embedded causes for the problem in the Black community.

“There are some structural issues that are causes of the high rate of Black unemployment,” said the chair of the Morehouse College Department of Sociology. “I don’t want to discount discrimination, because (it) is still a factor in the high unemployment of African Americans, but there are some structural factors at work as well. One of which is education. We have a lower rate of high school completion and college graduation, and that is particularly true among Black men today.”

Hodge said the lower educational attainment is directly tied to a lower rate of employment.

Another structural challenge is the shifting of the U.S. economy away from a manufacturing to a service one. He noted that these were the types of well-paid jobs African American males could get without a college degree.

But the economy’s service-ward shift, combined with off-shore outsourcing, discrimination, and inadequate education have left Blacks, especially men, in the precarious position of not being able to find decent jobs that enable them to support families.

And this definitely has an impact on the entire African American community and contributes in unexplored ways to many of the challenges and ills that are prevalent, believe researchers.

“Black America has always had an alternate vision of work and work opportunities . . . and has had an informal, underground economy that’s always been a factor in their lives,” points out Alford Young Jr., a professor of sociology and African American Studies and chair of the sociology department of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

This alternative work often leads to constant thoughts about how to supplement your income, noted Young.

“This is very much a stressor and provides an interesting spin on the long-standing notion that Black people, particularly lower income folk only live for today . . . and have an inability to think about the long run and are not prepared for delayed gratification,” said Young.

In actuality, the sociologist said these individuals are in almost continual survivor mode.

Young added that in this situation there is a cognitive dissonance when it comes to understanding mainstream work.

“When, for a good portion of your adult life, you exist on the margin, you lose our sense of understanding of the work environment, and what social ties matter most for work,” Young said. Consequently, if they do get a job, in order to preserve their dignity on the job such individuals may take actions that are antithetical to keeping the job.

Hodge, of Morehouse, said the other long-term impacts include an increase in crime, and with more people interacting with the criminal justice system, that means more people accruing a record which exacerbates the problem of obtaining a job.

“You see a decline in the value of the community . . . people are losing their homes. Renters move in, who tend not to take care of homes like homeowners.”

But the impact goes even deeper than that, say researchers.

“We are still gender-oriented . . . . Males are supposed to be the breadwinners. When they can’t perform . . . stress is created in a household,” said Morehouse’s Hodge. This can lead to high rates of divorce and domestic violence.

According to Professor Barbara Carter, Ph.D., at Spelman College, economically unstable Black men are less likely to enter into formal marriages and create stable families.

“The pattern of high male unemployment helps to promote single-female-headed houses with fewer economic resources. (Women earn less than men in part because the ‘gendered’ jobs they occupy typically pay less.)

“Many Black women simply don’t assume that Black men will be able to support them (even if that is still their ideal), and families often socialize their girls to expect to be economically independent. Other women choose to raise their children alone rather than have an official/legal marriage with an economically unstable man,” noted Carter, who is in the Anthropology and Sociology Department at Spelman.

All three researchers also talk about the impact on the psyche of unemployed Blacks, particularly males.

“What you see around you, impacts how you think, and impacts your way of thinking about the world. It creates this cycle that can perpetuate itself; that can be generational and that can be problematic,” said Hodge. “Cornel West, I think, talked about this sense of community hopelessness. And when he talked about that, he talked about how unemployment, no jobs, a low graduation rate and all types of things like this perpetuate this sense of learned hopelessness. And so once that happens, it’s very difficult to pull a community out of that downward cycle.”

And because Black America has not escaped the ethos of work concept that permeates the national psyche, Hodge adds, lack of employment impacts one’s emotional state.

“I’m not going to say that people have less respect, but we react how we are reacted to. When larger society does not treat you well, there is an attitude not so much of lack of respect but of ‘I’ll get mine the only way I can get mine.’”

Young believes the impact is different at the various economic levels.

Many in the lower socioeconomic levels, who live and operate in communities where joblessness is abundant, are often wholly divorced from work and work opportunities.

“For those in the stable working class, they are in a precarious category,” Young said. “There is a lack of comfort and security at work. At one point you focused on how to have your children advance beyond your status, but now the Black middle class has abandoned that notion. Instead now they are struggling to figure out how to retire.”

According to the Los Angeles UCLA Black Worker Center, the demographic of the working class is probably the most invisible in the African American community, and that creates problems when it comes to looking at issues of work and jobs.

For the Black professional class, there is a gender imbalance, which is particularly troubling for women who are interested in connecting in marriage with someone of their same race.

Young also noted that for the professional class, there is a sense of isolation, and that for the lower income there is an emerging concern about how to make sense of a work world that is increasingly more technology-based.

The University of Michigan professor also noted another future impact that is beginning to manifest itself—the “monitoring” of a growing mass of older African Americans who have never been connected to stable employment and now must be incorporated into the conversation about social security, Medicaid and healthcare.

While the state of unemployment in the African American community is extremely challenging, researchers retain their optimism for the future in part because of the past resiliency and creativity of the African American community. That includes “hustling” (whether legitimately or illicitly) to bring in money. They are also optimistic because of actions that new generations of Blacks are taking.

One of those sets of actions is what Hodge sees among the young college students he observes.

“The Black male students I see have a hustle they are trying to create while they are in school. They set up entrepreneurship opportunities for themselves and their colleagues. They do things to promote themselves.”

And they are doing this in large part by harnessing the power of technology, adds Hodge. Their goals, like those of Black entrepreneurs of the past are to give back to the community, partially in the guise of jobs.

On the other end of the spectrum—the mass worker side—are organizations like the Los Angeles UCLA Black Workers Center, which Pitts said are doing much like the legendary A. Phillip Randolph: helping to empower Black workers as a group.

“A. Philip Randolph and the movement of sleeping car porters not only built power—meaning developing leaders such as Ed Nixon who could stand up to employers and make the demands of workers and who knew their individual fate were linked to the collective—but Randolph also was a strategist and used research and analysis to understand the political landscape and the dynamics of the power that he was up against. He made sure that the porters understood the railroad industry and how it worked; that they understood the boss, his values and motivation; he explored what political tools he had to fight with and those that were needed; he knew the political landscape of the Black community and the labor movement and where they were willing to go. All of that led to their success,” said Lola Smallwood-Cuevas of the UCLA Black Worker Center.

“Today Black workers are on their own and in the dark, like so many American workers, and they are struggling in a complex economy overlaid with enormous systems of oppression and greed,” continued Smallwood-Cuevas. “At the Black Worker Center, we believe the organization and development of worker/leaders, community strategic alliances, and smart analysis, strategies as well as an agenda out of the grassroots is what is needed.”

Researchers also believe that what is needed is to take the conversation about Black unemployment well beyond job training and creation and deep into an understanding of the future world of work as well as how to meaningfully connect youth and adults (including the formerly incarcerated) to this new and ever-changing employment landscape.

The Black Worker Center, also believes the discussion needs to include looking at the labor market and repairing the structural policies and procedures that facilitate creation of “bad” jobs and employment inequities.

British Archbishop Seeks Meeting with Mugabe Over Religious Persecution

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

The Archbishop of Canterbury is seeking a closed door meeting with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe over reports of “bullying, harassment and persecution” of members of the Anglican church.

The visit by Archbishop Rowan Williams is set for October. Mugabe has not yet offered to meet the cleric.

Zimbabwe’s Anglican church split in 2007 over the ordination of homosexual priests. One-time Bishop of Harare Nolbert Kunonga, opposed to gays in the clergy, left the church and declared himself an “archbishop”. He was excommunicated a year later.

In a media interview, Dr Kunonga was quoted as saying he aimed to take control the 3,000 Anglican churches, schools, hospitals and other properties serving 600,000 Anglicans in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Malawi.

After a High Court ruling giving Kunonga interim custody of church properties, evictions were started against the sitting bishops, including The Rev. Dzikamai Mudenda, his wife and extended family.

“Kunonga was given custodianship of Anglican properties when he is no longer a member of our church and province and he is now evicting Anglican priests and we don't know who he is going to put in these houses. God help us," said the Rt Rev. Dr. Nicholas Chad Gandiya, whose own home was vandalized by thieves taking computers and cellphones.

Angolan Beauty Crowned Miss Universe

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

Out of a field of 98 contestants, Leila Lopes of the Republic of Angola is this year’s winner of the coveted Miss Universe prize.

At the Sao Paulo, Brazil, event, Leila came in first place, while the second and third places went to Ukraine and Brazil respectively. Previous African winners were from Botswana and Namibia.

The 25 year old native of central Benguela province is currently a student of business management.

Her selection by the judges was due in part to her answers to test questions. Asked what she would change on her body if given a chance, Leila replied, “Nothing, I’m satisfied with what God has given me,” adding that "I consider myself a woman endowed with inner beauty. I have acquired many wonderful principles from my family, and I intend to follow these for the rest of my life.”

Asked about racism, the tawny beauty queen answered simply: “It’s not normal in the 21st century to think that way.”

In her previous post as Miss Angola, she said: “I work with poor kids. I work in the fight against HIV. I work to protect the elderly, and I have to do everything that my country needs---I think now as Miss Universe I will be able to do much more.”

A lot of bloggers believe that Leila’s new found fame will help bring the Portuguese-speaking African country into the spotlight.

Reversing the Alarming HIV Increase Among Black Gay Men, Part 1

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By Rod McCullom, Special to the NNPA from the Black AIDS Institute –

The first of a two-part series examining what can be done to reverse the high rates of new HIV infection among Black gay and bisexual men.

The number of new HIV cases in the United States has remained fairly stable at about 50,000 per year between 2006 and 2009, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was published in early August in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE.

Predictably, the epidemic continues to affect Black America disproportionately: Forty-four percent of all new infections occurred among African Americans, who make up only about 13 percent of the population. And gay and bisexual men, who make up only an estimated two percent of the population, accounted for 61 percent of all new HIV infections in 2009. Young Black gay and bi men--"men who have sex with men" (MSM), in public health jargon--ages 13 to 29 experienced the greatest increases, with infection rates skyrocketing by more than 48 percent.

But government researchers described the soaring seroconversions among young Black MSM as "alarming." "The data is not surprising because we've been talking about young Black gay and bisexual men for some time," says A. Cornelius Baker, a member of the Presidential Advisory Council HIV/AIDS (PACHA), the senior communications consultant at AED Center on AIDS & Community Health and board chair of the Black AIDS Institute. "Now we have an opportunity to make some progress with bold and comprehensive strategies."

Viral Loads "Off the Chart"?

It's unclear why seroconversions are increasing.

"It's not just individual risk behavior. It's probably behavior plus late testing practices," says David J. Malebranche, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta and an expert on qualitative HIV behavioral prevention. "We see late testing across the Black community, such as in cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure. Plus, the heightened stigma of HIV certainly delays testing."

Experts estimate that African Americans make up 56 percent of all "late testers"--people who learn of their positive HIV serostatus so far along in their illness that the disease progresses to AIDS within one year of diagnosis. "That means their viral loads are off the charts," Dr. Malebranche adds. The presence of high amounts of HIV in the body makes a person significantly more infectious.

Once people become aware of their HIV-positive status, not only are they more likely to take steps such as using condoms to avoid infecting their sexual partners, but research now shows that beginning treatment soon after diagnosis makes people with HIV/AIDS significantly less infectious.

But Black HIV-positive gay and bi men are least likely of all MSM to be aware of their serostatus. Among HIV-positive Black MSM under age 30, 71 percent were previously unaware of their infection. So not only does their own disease progress unimpeded, but they may unknowingly pass HIV to others.

"We also have higher rates of STDs that can lead to higher risk for HIV," says Dr. Malebranche. "We have to look at sexual networks among Black gay men, especially in Black gay enclaves in large urban centers and rural areas. We tend to sexually partner with each other more so than other races." A significant body of research has shown that sexual networks can play a critical role in facilitating the spread of STDs, including HIV.

The apparent rise in new HIV infections could also reflect the success of recent efforts to aggressively test Black gay men, rather than an increase in new infections themselves, Dr. Malebranche adds.

New CDC-Sponsored Social-Marketing Campaign Targets Black MSM

For years HIV/AIDS activists have criticized the CDC for responding inadequately to persistently high increases in new infections among Black MSM. Today, however, the CDC is receiving high marks for a new social-marketing and public-awareness campaign to encourage HIV testing among Black MSM. The campaign, titled Testing Makes Us Stronger, debuted in August at the 2011 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta and will officially launch on Sept. 27 in Atlanta, Houston, New York, Baltimore and Oakland, Calif.

The new data "underscores the urgency of reaching young Black men who have sex with men," Kevin Fenton, M.D., Ph.D., director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, told reporters during a telebriefing. "We cannot allow the health of a new generation of young Black gay and bisexual men to be lost to essentially preventable diseases."

The testing message is a critical component of the new campaign.

"Knowing one's status is important in order to get medical care and treatment for their infection," says Richard Wolitski, a deputy director in the CDC's HIV/AIDS Prevention Division. "The CDC has shown that people who know their status engage in behaviors that significantly reduce risk for others of contracting HIV."

"Testing Makes Us Stronger builds on the strengths of young Black gay and bisexual men," adds Wolitski. "We wanted to show Black gay couples who are loving and supportive and, at the same time, document a diverse range of strong men in [the] community."

The program will include transit, magazine and online advertising--and outreach across Facebook, Twitter, blogs and "hookup" websites popular with Black MSM.

"The young men we are targeting are on these sites," says Daniel Driffin, a 25-year-old prevention specialist at the Atlanta-based National AIDS & Education Services for Minorities. "It makes perfect sense for [the] CDC to be there--especially because the first place many men [my age] get information is [the] Internet."

Kali Lindsey, the 30-year-old senior director of federal policy at Harlem United, was part of a CDC advisory group on the messaging. "The process was refreshing. They brought in about 19 or 20 of us who had expertise in delivering messages to Black gay men," he says.

Venton Jones, senior program associate for communications at the National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition, also participated in the work group. "It's great that [the] CDC took our responses and made sure that the campaign portrayed the diversity of images of Black gay men," says the 27-year-old about the photography of the critically acclaimed Duane Cramer, a San Francisco-based Black gay photographer who snapped a variety of Black men for the campaign. "One or two images cannot fully represent who we are," Jones adds.

"The campaign is a step in the right direction to raise awareness in the community," says Harlem United's Lindsey, and "to encourage dialogue to where people are regularly engaging in conversations about HIV."

Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News and NBC, and his reporting and analysis have appeared in Ebony, The Advocate, ColorLines and other media. Rod blogs on politics, pop culture and Black gay news at rod20.com.

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