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Sudan Seeks Debt Forgiveness Before Independence for the South

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Sudanese authorities hope to unload much of the country’s $38 billion foreign debt before Southern Sudan becomes independent in July.

Sudan has been barred from taking new loans from the World Bank since 1993 because of unpaid obligations on the old loans. This could leave the south, one of Africa’s poorest regions, ineligible to borrow from the bank.

A region the size of Texas with just 30 miles of paved roads, Southern Sudan has no steady power supply, large farms or factories. Half of its eight million people live on less than $1 a day and need food aid, according to the U.N. Money earned from oil extraction makes up 98 percent of the budget.

Of the $38 billion owed, $20 billion is interest, payable to lenders in England, the World Bank and affiliated institutions, Arab oil-producing states, the U.S. and other countries.

Meanwhile, the U.S. lost no time in coming to the aid of the new South Sudan. An electrification project in the village of Kapoeta, funded with U.S. aid, has installed power lines, electricity poles, and street lamps not far from rusting tanks and shot-up buildings.

The Kapoeta project is one of many USAID initiatives in the region. Another top project is the funding of a $200 million highway from Uganda to Juba, the southern capital of newly independent southern Sudan.

"The development needs of Southern Sudan are absolutely enormous," Barrie Walkley, the top U.S. diplomat in Southern Sudan, said at the opening last week of the electricity project. But, Juba activist Lorna Merekaje urged caution towards the incoming flood of American dollars.

"It is a great support to Southern Sudan but it needs to be managed well because if people are not careful then we end up implementing the donor agenda and not the agenda of the people."

President Zuma Gets Calls for Jobs on Twitter and Facebook

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

In a novel experiment with social media, South African President Jacob Zuma urged users of Facebook and Twitter to send input for his State of the Nation speech slated to take place later this week.

"How can we improve the lives of all South Africans? This is your platform, the president is listening," Mr. Zuma, known informally as “JZ” asked on social networking sites.

Hundreds of tweets and Facebook entries responded. Feedback ranged from “create jobs”, “fix potholes” to “end corruption” and “improve the schools.”

Zuma was told to get rid of the shacks in which 1.8-million South African families still live, and to crack down on graft and poor government services. "JZ - all we need is just water & electricity, the rest is fine. Our area is more than 30 yrs without Electricity," one citizen pleaded. "Jobs is what we NEED, I have a diploma and I'm unemployed".

This being an election year, Zuma is under pressure to show that earlier promises have been fulfilled. Unofficial estimates put the percent of workers without jobs at 40% or higher.

Meanwhile, newly-appointed labor minister Nelisiwe Oliphant outlined proposed rules intended to bring South Africans “decent work.” One rule would eliminate “labor brokers” or “temporary employment services” that provide short-term contracts, which Zwelinzima Vavi of the labor federation COSATU said “have condemned so many to new slavery by human traffickers."

Also proposed are new rights for unions, improved unemployment benefits and the criminalization of employer actions that defy the new rules.

Zuma’s speech will be broadcast live on television, on radio, on big screens and streamed live on Parliament’s website.

Vigilante Desegration: Ohio Mom Jailed for Sending her (Black) Children to a Better (White) School

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By TaRessa Stovall, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

While various states and the federal government play policy ping-pong on the issue of school desegregation/diversity, the plight of one mother has starkly symbolized the obstacles that often confront less-than-privileged parents who seek quality education for their children.

When Kelley Williams-Bolar, a single Black mother living in public housing in Akron, Ohio, was sentenced to 10 days in jail for sending her daughters to the Copley-Fairlawn school district outside of her educational jurisdiction, the issue of what parents—especially Black, low-income parents—will do to get their children a better education burst into the national consciousness.

“This is not the first time that a family has lied to get their children a better, safer education,” writes Lisa Belkin on The New York Times Parenting Blogs. “Throughout the country, financially strapped school districts have been increasing surveillance in the weakened economy … reluctant to spend money teaching students who are not legally entitled to be there.”

Williams-Bolar’s father lives in the Copley-Fairlawn district and in November, 2009, she was arrested and charged with two felony counts of tampering with official records for putting her father’s address on her daughters’ school records. “She was also charged with grand theft—the school wanted $30,000 in tuition for the two girls—but the jury could not reach a unanimous decision,” reported Newser.com.

“Williams-Bolar is not even the first parent accused of sneaking into this particular district during the particular years in question,” Belkin wrote on the Times blog. “As … noted in The Beacon Journal during the trial, ‘….school-district officials testified that some 30 to 40 similar residency issues had arisen with other families during the two years at issue in Williams-Bolar’s case. No one else faced criminal prosecution or civil court action, the school officials said.’”

The Superintendent admitted that similar cases are normally resolved without legal intervention. Ironically, the beleaguered mother was a semester away from completing an education degree at the University of Akron. She worked as a special needs teaching assistant at a local high school, but as a convicted felon, could no longer qualify for that position.

For days, the blogosphere was aflame with updates and opinions from all sides. Many debated whether race was an issue. Several wondered why the charges were so harsh but in spite of several pre-trial hearings, “the state would not move, would not budge, and offer Ms. Williams-Bolar to plead to a misdemeanor,” the Akron Beacon Journal stated.

The activist blogs Colorofchange.org and Change.org gathered more than 100,000 signatures on petitions in support of Williams-Bolar.

On January 27th, the notorious mother was released a day early, facing two years of probation and 80 hours of community service. In early February, Williams-Bolar met with the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton about her case. A rally is being planned in Ohio, and Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. “is working to secure a Constitutional Amendment to guarantee all children access to an equal and high-quality education,” according to Newser.com.

On February 1st, Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, issued a statement saying he was “really struck” by the issue. “Karen and I work hard to make a better future for our girls so when I first heard about Ms. Kelley Williams-Bolar’s case last week it really struck me, as it has many other people … Our laws exist for a reason and they must be enforced, but the idea that a woman would become a convicted felon for wanting a better future for her children is something that has rightly raised a lot of concern with people with people, including me.”

From the school district’s perspective, it boils down to dollars and cents. The school district spent about $6,000 to hire a private investigator to follow Williams-Bolar and her children and bring them to trial, according to NewsNet5 in Akron. “Copley-Fairlawn Superintendent Brian Poe said the district has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because of children illegally enrolled in its schools. ‘If you’re paying taxes on a home here…those dollars need to stay home with our students,’” Poe reportedly told NewsNet5.

Which raises the question: what about those 30 to 40 other cases?

At the heart of the controversy is a parent’s drive to seek the best for their children, and the question of what parents will risk for better opportunities “I did this for them, so there it is,” Williams-Bolar told ABC News . “I did this for them.”

TaRessa Stovall is Managing Editor of TheDefendersOnline.

Upcoming Court Date Set in Medgar Evers College Case

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By Cyril Josh Barker, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

As the saga continues at Medgar Evers College, a judge recently granted a temporary restraining order stopping the City University of New York from evicting the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions at the college. The college had said that the center had to be out by Dec. 30, but a judge overturned the eviction, giving more time for the plaintiffs to prepare their case.

The four plaintiffs in the case, including Eddie Ellis and Dr. Divine Pryor, maintain their stance against CUNY's attempts to dissolve the center. In operation for the last seven years at Medgar Evers College, NuLeadership helps formerly incarcerated individuals through the use of education.

Ellis said he feels optimistic about the case and that CUNY will not be able to show just cause to shut down the program.

“I think it's going very well. I think we were encouraged by the fact that they did grant the temporary restraining order,” he said. “We have a good solid ground and there needed to be a full examination of the issues. All of the elements are in our favor. There is no legitimate reason why our center was evicted. We have been in Medgar Evers for seven years.”

According to the Medgar Evers College Coalition, the school's administration has also reduced support mechanisms and faculty resources, including the elimination of the Writing Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the reduction of tutors and staff of the library computer lab and learning center.

The coalition held a public information meeting with students, faculty, and the community recently to discuss the coalition’s demands, the ongoing petition drive and next steps.

CUNY did not return a request for comment on the case. The Center for NuLeadership will appear back in court this week.

Study: Blacks in Illinois Five Times More Likely to Get Prison Sentences

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

A commission convened to examine the impact of Illinois’ drug laws on racial and ethnic groups released its findings Jan. 31st, during a news conference at the James Thompson Center.

The results of the study show African Americans in Cook County were eight times more likely than Whites to be sentenced to prison if convicted of a Class 4 possession, low-level drug crime. Statewide, the data also indicated that sentencing was racially disproportionate based on the rate of drug arrests in 62 of the state’s 102 counties. The findings of the study prompted several recommendations to close the disparity gap.

“We need to change certain policies and practices so that justice is administered fairly across racial and ethnic lines, said State Sen. Mattie Hunter, of Chicago, who served as co-chair of the commission. “We need to divert non-violent drug offenders from expensive incarceration to rehabilitation programs, such as court-ordered drug treatment.”

The study also found that Afri- can American families are being affected by the sentencing laws, especially when it comes to Black males. Based on testimony during community hearings from family members and social workers, the study shows that families are affected when their loved ones return from prison and have a hard time finding legitimate employment.

“There is a public safety issue here, but we also have to look at the families that are being destroyed because their parents are not in the household,” Hunter said.

An unnamed local business owner suggested to the commission the creation of a special class of contracting provisions, similar to current minority- and women-owned business provisions, for employers who hire formerly incarcerated people.

Social service providers who testified for the study also said the problem of drug crimes need to be addressed on a more holistic approach. They say there is too much focus on law enforcement and punishment rather than treatment for those struggling with addiction, as was recommended by the commission.

Pamela Rodriguez is the president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC). She said the yearly cost of incarceration for one inmate is more than $25,000 whereas a drug treatment program for the same time frame is only $7,000. She said with the state being in such a financial crunch, not only is it a more effective and ethical way of looking at the problem, but it is sounder from a financial aspect as well.

“As a community-based agency that has worked with thousands of criminal justice clients since 1976, TASC strongly supports the recommendations presented in this report,” she said. “One of those recommendations is that there is a need for better data collecting because we need a more complete picture to see how widespread this problem is. And the solutions need to be as comprehensive as the problems.”

Rodriguez added the cost savings of alternative sentencing reduce the disproportion of ethnic minorities being sent to prison, in addition to saving money. She believes the current drug laws are ruining Black and Latino communities across the state, but stopped short of blaming any one entity. She said instead it is a “system failure” that needs to be addressed.

The commission also recommended that drug seizure monies, which currently go to local law enforcement agencies after the successful prosecution of a bust, have a fixed portion go to support treatment and diversion programs. The Crusader asked Sen. Hunter what amount of money Illinois law enforcement agencies receive from these drug seizures.

“We have no idea,” Hunter responded. “That is one of the best kept secrets around. When it comes to those forfeiture funds it’s kind of like ‘hands off’ to us. That is going to be a battle to find out that amount and how it is used. But, we hope to sit down with a lot of people to discuss this report while moving forward and perhaps then we can answer that question.”

Attorney Standish Willis, who also served on the commission, said there is a direct correlation between the findings in this report and how African Americans are more likely to be sentenced to the death penalty in Illinois. Earlier this month the state legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, but Gov. Pat Quinn has yet to sign the bill.

“African Americans and Latinos are filling the prisons so some of the problems pointed out in this report will address many of those questions of arrest and prosecution in more serious offenses,” Willis said. “But we need more data. We cannot fashion policy to address the issues of the death penalty or drug crimes without the right data.”

Dr. Terry Solomon serves as the executive director for the Illinois African American Family Commission. She said one of the significant recommendations of the commission that needs to be implemented is not using felony drug convictions for employment opportunities. She said by doing so society is not allowing people who paid their debt to reestablish themselves among the working class, thus forcing them back into a life of crime, poverty or both.

“Drug use is a mental health issue so we need to start using mental health approaches to treat these issues as opposed to just incarcerating people,” Solomon said.

Illinois State Sen. Mattie Hunter talks to the media about the state commissioned study on how drug sentences are given out based on race.

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