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Rep. West Muses on D.C. Statehood, and Congressional Black Caucus

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By James Wright, Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer –

Rep. Allen West (R-FL) is the first Black Republican to represent his state in the U.S. Congress since Josiah T. Walls, who served during the Reconstruction Era.

One of the two Black GOP members of the U.S. House of Representatives said he is open to ideas regarding D.C. statehood and that he will be a full contributing member of the Congressional Black Caucus, despite his minority status politically in the group.

Rep. West, in an interview conducted by the Informer in his office in the Longworth House Office Building, said that he “does not know” whether the District of Columbia should become the 51 state in the Union.

“I have seen the license plates that say there should be no taxation without representation,” West, 49, said. “I have to do more research on the issue. The District of Columbia was designed to be the home base of the federal government so I would have to see what the Constitution says.”

West said that if District residents have obligations that other Americans have but do not have voting representation in the U.S. Congress then a tax exemption should be considered.

“If you live in the District, perhaps an exclusionary zone should be set up where District residents do not pay federal taxes,” he said.

West was elected to represent the 22nd district of Florida on Tue., Nov. 2, 2010. He defeated incumbent Democrat Ron Klein by nine percentage points in a district that is 82 percent White and three percent Black, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. West lost to Klein in 2008 by nine percentage points.

Before West got into politics, he spent most of his career in the United States Army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He retired in 2004 after an investigation of his conduct during the interrogation of a suspected terrorist detainee in Taji, Iraq.

West, along with Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), are the only Black Republicans in the 112th Congress. They are the first Black members of Congress from the GOP since J.C. Watts of Oklahoma stepped aside in 2003. West and Scott are products of the Tea Party movement, which calls for less government regulation and less taxation. The Tea Party movement was a driving force in the success of the Republican Party in the 2010 general elections.

West is a harsh critic of President Obama, saying that the president should be a “true” leader on race relations and that he should go to the theaters of combat when visiting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. A popular speaker on the Tea Party and conservative circuit, West is scheduled to be one of the key speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which will take place this week in the nation’s capitol.

West gained national attention after the general election when he said that he would join the Congressional Black Caucus. Most political observers were surprised at his move, noting that Watts declined to join the group because he did not want to be affiliated with a race-specific organization while a member of Congress.

West, who was born and raised in Atlanta, said he is puzzled about why people question him on joining the CBC.

“Why would I not join?” West asked rhetorically. “My parents would be upset with me if they knew I did not join. The CBC deals with issues I care about.”

West was welcomed into the organization by then CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) after a discussion by its members. The last Republican to join the CBC was Gary Franks of Connecticut, who served in the House from 1991-1997.

West wants to make sure that his liberal and moderate colleagues in the CBC understand that he wants what is best for Black people, but sees things differently.

“I would say that many Black people were raised during my time with conservative principles such as faith, getting an education, and individual responsibility,” he said. “I remember growing up in Atlanta and seeing Auburn Avenue with all of its vibrant businesses. The sad thing is that is not the case now and no one in the CBC is talking about that.”

He said that everyone in the CBC wants quality health care but they differ on the methods. Many CBC members feel that the government should play the chief role of facilitating and delivering health care while West feels that the free market can do a better job.

The participation of West in the CBC was praised by George Mason University political scientist Michael Fauntroy.

“I was slightly surprised when I heard it, but I think it is a good thing,” Fauntroy, 44, said.

Fauntroy said that West, like his colleague, Scott, is in a difficult position because they are freshman members of the ruling party of the House, whereas the other Black members of that body are Democrats, the minority party.

“Many years ago, Black lawmakers like Adam Clayton Powell and William Dawson would receive letters from Blacks all over the country because they were the only Blacks in Congress at that time so they were expected to produce for Black people,” he said.

“West and Scott are in a similar position in that they have to be the ones to produce for Blacks because they are part of the Republican majority but they have junior status so there is little that they can do.”

West said one of his goals is to widen the political reach of Blacks.

“We need to open up the conversation because Blacks cannot expect to have power in this country when they vote 90 percent Democratic,” he said.

“You cannot put all of your trust in one political party. I know that Blacks will not change overnight or become Republicans in large numbers overnight, but we have to have the conversation about this.”

Will the Fall of Egypt Affect Black America?

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By Yussuf J. Simmonds, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

There are many people who claim that Egypt is in the "Middle East" and contrary to that belief, Egypt is in Africa, period. The events that have taken place--the mass protest--during the past week have a direct bearing, not only in the Middle East area and its neighbors, but also in Africa and in the United States of America. The events in Cairo and Alexandria will affect this country politically, economically, diplomatically, and militarily.

Besides Israel, Egypt is the recipient of the largest amount of economic aid in the region, and it is a close ally of America in the fight against terrorism. However, it appears that the masses of the people there do not benefit from the close relationship ... only the few that are in power--the ruling class; the masses remain forgotten and untouched.

Strategically, Egypt is of vital importance to America for several reasons: it controls the Suez Canal, the super waterway that is critical to the flow of oil; it is a friend of the U.S. and of Israel; and it acts as a buffer against some of the other states in the region that is unfriendly and even hostile to the U.S.

In trying to analyze, interpret, and understand the events beyond the sound bite and the media's version ... what will the fall of Egypt mean to and fro Black America? The Los Angeles Sentinel reached out to some who may have intimate knowledge about the situation in Egypt.

Speaking to Hesham El Swify, who is as close as one can get to what's really happening without being there in person, was born and raised in Egypt and is now a businessman in America. He often travels back home (to Egypt). Last week, El Swify said, "I've been talking to Egypt all day long ... I've been talking to everybody." He added, "The situation now is that Mubarak must stay for now for one reason. If Mubarak leaves Egypt, civility--law and order--the whole area will go down (explode). Egypt has 80 million people. Hezbollah in Lebanon ... all the Shiites will know, it they get Egypt, the whole Muslim world will follow."

Getting an understanding from an individual who have lived most of his life there gives one a different perspective from what the overseas public gleans from the television, radio and/or internet. In the short term, "It is better for Mubarak to stay and restore order, put in a new government, and then he leaves," El Swify continued. "His term is over in November, so he needs to stay to restore order; and once he makes sure that everything in Egypt is safe, and there is a new government, then with dignity, he can leave ... no problem."

Former California Congresswoman Diane Watson knows a bit about the diplomatic and political challenges that Egypt in chaos represents. She has been a frequent visitor to Egypt and has spoken with President Mubarak and Mrs. Mubarak. She explained, "These bright young college students and all the others want a different life in their country, and that's what it's all about. The old dictatorial ways don't meet the challenge of the youth today. In fact, we were going to Egypt on April 11, and I had asked Nancy Wilson, if she would do a concert at the pyramids."

After pausing a while, Watson continued, "You know, the culture is there in Egypt and that's why the whole scene is so disturbing ... and particularly when mobs went into the museums and started to attack the antiquities ... how can we tell our history. We have to tell our history from what we have found. And, it takes the generation at present to deal with those and that's the idea of lifting people up to leadership; and we who have given leadership can go in to provide it in a different setting."

Imam Abdul Karim Hasan of Masjid Felix Bilal said emphatically, "I'm with the people ... I'm with the suppressed and the oppressed ... I'm with them. They are denied their basic freedom and their basic rights, and I think it's about time for them to have basic freedom and basic rights. So I'm with them. We had the same problem here in the United States ... so we appreciate our own struggle, we have to appreciate their struggle." In responding to the notion of a Million Man March, Hasan said, "they are calling for a million people; they want men and women in the streets."

Furthermore he added, "they are not ignorant to American history ... they are not ignorant to that anywhere in the world. They are talking about something that we've already struggled to acquire."

At press time, thousands of people marched in support of President Hosni Mubarak Wednesday morning (Egypt time) hours after he made a defiant speech promising to serve out the last months of his term and "die on Egyptian soil."

Meanwhile President Barack Obama is reportedly prodding the Egyptian president to quickly loosen his grip on power--as an ally speaking to an ally, who happens to be in a jam--at the same time, telling him that the time to transition from the presidency "must begin now."

Recent developments made clear the administration's determination that long-term backing for the Egyptian president was no longer tenable. The administration also appeared to be attempting to reach out to Mubarak's possible successor, Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, a former Egyptian diplomat and chief of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog program. ElBaradei may be more amenable to a western-style change since he lived in the U.S. for about 15 years. There is also concern that any unknown successor who may come from an Islamist group or others might be hostile to Israel and unfriendly to U.S. interests. That is what's really at stake.

Philanthropist Calls African Leaders out for 'Mismanaging Resources'

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

On a speaking tour at several African venues, telcom magnate and founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for Good Governance, philanthropist Ibrahim scolded African leaders for misusing valuable national resources.

Citing Nigeria for its rampant corruption, he observed: “Africans do excellently well when they are in Europe and United States, but they refuse to return home to develop and invest due to bad governance.”

The Sudanese-born foundation chief said, "It is time for us to accept that in a globalized marketplace, many African countries are sub-scale - are economically unviable," he said.

"The regional economic integration of Africa is vital if we are to survive, let alone compete. The GDP of all of Africa is less than that of Brazil. It is time to wake up." Still, in an interview with The Africa Report, Ibrahim said Africa was a better place to make money than the U.S. “I made millions and billions investing here,” he said. “If you want to waste all your money in American real estate, that’s your business.”

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation rewards good governance and great leadership in Africa. Dr Ibrahim has been a vocal critic of the fragmented nature of the African continent which, he says, makes Africa less likely to survive with small and economically isolated countries.

"Who are we to think that we can have 53 tiny little countries and be ready to compete with China, India, Europe, the Americans? It is a fallacy.”

Near Total Media Blackout for Egyptian 'March of a Million'

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Images of a historic popular uprising in Egypt against the 30 year rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak have been all but blacked out by hostile media in the U.S.

A Comcast deal to carry the Middle East news wire Al Jazeera English was scrapped in 2006 and no other U.S. cable company-approved network offers it. The world class reporting by Aljazeera can, however, be seen in Canada and in a small number of American cities in Ohio, Vermont, and Washington D.C.

A similar blackout was taking place this week in Egypt as Pres. Mubarak pressed the telcom Vodaphone to turn off the internet, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. "We have been working round the clock to make sure we are broadcasting on alternative frequencies. Clearly there are powers that do not want our important images pushing for democracy and reform to be seen by the public," a Jazeera spokesman was quoted to say by the Reuters news agency.

According to Reuters, at least one million Egyptians took to the streets last week in scenes never before seen in the Arab nation's modern history, roaring in unison for President Hosni Mubarak and his new government to quit.

Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian-born columnist, in a radio interview, said: “I’ve never seen anything like it… Mubarak shuts down the internet, shuts down the train system, and shuts down almost the entire country and still they come,“ referring to the widening street protests.

Meanwhile, the managing editor of The Root, a popular Black website, wondered aloud at the silence of African Americans in a piece titled “Where Are the Black Voices on Egypt and Tunisia?”

“African Americans have traditionally been the conscience of the country on foreign policy issues,” wrote Root’s managing editor Joel Dreyfuss. “That's what makes the silence today so startling.”

He rebuked the Congressional Black Caucus for their hesitancy, and suggested that the role played by Gen. Colin Powell and Condoleeze Rice shifted the African American role from outsider to insider. “The result has been the diminution of an American voice that gave people abroad hope that at least some of us were sympathetic to their struggles,” he said.

But this silence may not matter much now, he continued. In Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, they’re on the move – with or without help from America’s political establishment.

Despite Naysayers, Black Colleges Still Relevant

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

(FinalCall.com) - The nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have served this country since 1837.

They educated freed slaves, offering educational opportunities not afforded to Blacks at White institutions during the days of legally mandated segregation.

Many highly successful CEOs, doctors, entertainers, educators, lawyers, engineers, and politicians graduated from these institutions.

Today, Black students have many more choices—leading again to questions about the relevancy, value and role of HBCUs and their future in a so-called post racial America.

“I don't understand how someone can even question the relevancy of HBCUs. HBCUs are vitally important to the entire spectrum of the educational system in America,” Dr. Julianne Malveaux told The Final Call. She serves as president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

President Obama has set a goal for the country to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020 and publically stated HBCUs are essential to achieving the target. There are 105 private and public HBCUs in the U.S., concentrated mostly throughout the Southeast, servicing over 300,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

"People try to measure the relevancy of HBCUs, but do you factor in that we're receiving a lot of first generation college students? Do you factor in the academic deficiencies coming onto the campus? We service students on Black campuses in a way that other schools don't,” added Malveaux, a noted economist.

“HBCUs will unfortunately never outlive their usefulness and relevancy until America lets go of its obsession with racism. We have witnessed that racism with the election of President Obama and we're years away from it going away. So, HBCUs are necessary,” said Dr. Lee Jones, a former dean at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater.

Dr. Jones also founded the largest organization of Black male Ph.D.-holders called the Brothers of the Academy. “Without the contributions of HBCUs, where would this country be? People cannot overlook the significant individuals that these schools produce every year,” Dr. Jones told The Final Call.

Howard University film student Akilah Muhammad greatly opposes the notion that HBCUs have become extinct. “I chose to attend a Black institution because of my family and it has met all of my expectations. Being here has given so many of us a sense of self,” Ms. Muhammad told The Final Call.

“Those who think HBCUs have lost their impact must not be interviewing students on our campuses. And, for those who think that we are missing out on diversity by attending a Black college should come see the diversity that exists within Black students from around the world,” said Muhammad, who is from Houston.

“There are so many generational stereotypes of Black colleges that are totally false. There are things you get on these campuses you can't get anywhere else, and I'm happy I chose a HBCU,” said Keiser Johnson of Brooklyn, a freshman psychology major at Howard.

“HBCUs are as relevant today as they were at their inception. Students still get a world class education without the burden of diversity that they would find at majority White schools. Plus there is still a great deal of racism,” said Jarrett Carter, a 2003 graduate of Morgan State University.

Carter's displeasure with how HBCUs have been improperly portrayed in mainstream media motivated him to create the informational website HBCUdigest.com in January 2010.

“We don't tell our stories well enough or consistent enough. We have HBCU graduates doing extraordinary things in science, entertainment, and the arts. But, how will we know that if we don't communicate it?” asked Carter.

Measuring HBCU effectiveness

Late last year, in a column titled “Black Colleges Need a New Mission,” Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley argued HBCUs have become ineffective.

“Black colleges are at a crossroads. At one time black colleges were an essential response to racism. They trained a generation of civil rights lawyers and activists who helped end segregation. Their place in U.S. history is secure. Today, however, dwindling enrollments and endowments indicate that fewer and fewer blacks believe that these schools, as currently constituted, represent the best available academic choice,” wrote Riley.

Members of the National Association for Equal Opportunity responded to the column: The group noted that HBCUs confer 22 percent of all bachelor degrees earned by Blacks, 24 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded to Blacks in science and engineering and nearly 35 percent of all bachelor's degrees in astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics.

“The data demonstrate clearly that HBCUs are doing the heavy lifting of educating Black students, especially, in growth and high need disciplines. Increasing numbers of other students who want to attain a degree in a smaller, richly diverse environment, are enrolling and matriculating at HBCUs,” said the group, which represents the interests of HBCUs across the country.

Hampton University president Dr. William Harvey said, “Clearly, historically Black colleges and universities do not need ‘a makeover' or ‘a new mission.' What is needed are major publications, such as the Wall Street Journal to conduct solid and sincere research so it can better appreciate the value and contributions HBCUs make.”

A 2009 Associated Press study analyzed the six-year graduation rates of 83 four-year HBCUs, finding that only 37 percent of Black students obtained degrees within six years. That's four percent lower than the national college graduation for Blacks students. Black males lag behind with a 29 percent graduation rate within six years compared to 45 percent of Black females.

Last December, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released its own report, “The Educational Effectiveness of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”

The report listed some HBCU challenges and triumphs. “Though only about 20 percent of African-American college students attend HBCUs, 40 percent of all African-American engineers received their degrees from an HBCU. Similarly, of the top 21 undergraduate producers of African American science PhDs, 17 were HBCUs,” the report noted.

The commission found Black students report more contact with HBCU faculty than Black students at non-HBCUs.

The study noted HBCUs have less funding, less support, and fewer resources for students than comparable majority White schools. Despite having less money and fewer services, the report found no significant differences in academic success when measuring HBCUs against wealthier White institutions.

According to a 2006 National Center for Educational Statistics report, the short term economic impact of HBCUs is $10 billion annually, providing more than 180,000 full and part-time jobs.

Harvey points to success stories such as Xavier University in New Orleans educating nearly 25 percent of the approximately 6,000 Black pharmacists practicing in the country, and ranking first in the nation in placing Black students in medical schools.

The nation's top producer of Black bachelors and doctorates in engineering is North Carolina A&T and nine HBCUs cumulatively graduate more than 30 percent of all Blacks who receive engineering degrees.

“This short list of some of the research and academic activities at HBCUs refutes the assertion that HBCUs are inferior. In fact, it illustrates that some HBCUs are superior,” argues Harvey.

The role of HBCUs in 2020

Last year, the Obama administration allocated $850 million during 10 years in federal funding for HBCUs. William Foster IV believes the allocation is far less than what is needed.

“We're talking about $85 million a year split between 105 schools. That is nowhere near enough money,” said Mr. Foster, who started the HBCU Endowment Foundation in 2007, after discovering that only 20 percent of Black colleges and universities have endowments.

Dr. John Wilson, executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, pointed out that government assistance goes beyond the budget outlays.

“We're aware that it is not enough but that's not all that we have or will do. However, the HBCU presidents were quite grateful for that assistance. But, that amount was in addition to the Title III funds that HBCUs receive. Also a quarter of a billion dollars has funded research programs,” said Wilson, a graduate of Morehouse College, a prestigious historically Black men's school in Atlanta.

Wilson was appointed in 2009 by President Obama, who signed an executive order last February renewing White House commitment to HBCUs.

The five key tasks of The White House Initiative has five new tasks for HBCUs, including improving the identity, visibility, and distinctive capabilities and overall competitiveness of HBCUs; forging national dialogue regarding new HBCU programs and initiatives; improving the ability of HBCUs to remain fiscally secure institutions; elevating the public awareness of HBCUs; and encouraging public-private investments in HBCUs.

“HBCUs have made it possible for millions of people to achieve their dreams and gave so many young people a chance they never thought they'd have—a chance that nobody else would give them,” said President Obama during a National HBCU Week reception at the White House with HBCU officials last September.

“We cannot reach that goal without HBCUs. We can't get there unless all of you are improving your graduation rates. We can't get there unless all of you are continuing to make the dream of a college education a reality for more students,” said President Obama, speaking to Black administrators and educators.

“In order for the nation to reach its educational goal of making America number one globally in college graduation, then HBCUs cannot be excluded,” added Malveaux.

Schools need Black support

“African American people need to embrace, accept and celebrate HBCUs. Not just football games and the marching bands but the education. Alumni should donate back to their school. However, even if you did not attend an HBCU, if you're Black in America you still should financially support our institutions,” said Malveaux, who also just released a new book titled “Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History.”

Carter agrees that financial support should be made by the community. “Some people don't give because they say they can't afford to give hundreds of dollars a year. But, how about you pool your dollars with someone else and give together? We can't forget that's how we elected President Obama, by giving in small amounts across the country. We can do the same thing for HBCUs,” said Carter.

Sean Walton, Jr., a law student at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, has been able to connect HBCUs from across the country via his online community TheFreshXPress.com.

“The HBCU is the pulse of young Black America and that's what our site is all about. We not only provide thought-provoking content through virtual roundtables but we engage students on the yard. The HBCU culture is very much alive from the campus to cyberspace,” said Walton, 25.

“We as HBCUs have to take responsibility to raise our games as well. We need to be a part of more cutting edge conversations regarding technology to engage our students,” said Malveaux.

According to Walton, recent polls taken by his staff revealed “HBCUs are still popular because students have a more real relationship with professors who can keep it real about what Black people face in the world.”

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