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Activists Unhappy with U.S. Inaction on Racial Disparity

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By Saeed Shabazz, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

NEW YORK - Activists here used the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to call out the Obama administration on the persistent issue of discrimination and racial disparity in the United States.

The International Day for Racial Discrimination is commemorated annually on March 21 to coincide with the date in 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 Black South Africans gathered in Sharpeville for a peaceful demonstration against apartheid, the system of racial segregation and White minority rule in the country at the time.

“There are persistent race disparities in almost every sphere of life, especially evident in economic inequality,” noted Ejim Dike, of the Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center, in describing the race divide inside America.

The administration is reluctant to deal with relatively recent disparities that go back to the 1990s, when the U.S. was enjoying a period of prosperity, Dike explained to The Final Call. Even in the best of economic times for the United States, there was uneven progress based on race. “And the worst part of this is that the administration has made no clear acknowledgement that there is a problem,” she said.

The Justice Center listed some disparities: Blacks hit by a high rate of unemployment, 25.8 percent, as result of the recession, while Latino unemployment stands at 25.3 percent and unemployment for Whites stands at 9.4 percent. Poverty for Black children stands at 35.7 percent—while the national child poverty rate is 20.7 percent. For every dollar of net worth possessed by White Americans, Blacks possess only seven cents.

“We need an effort that will include more than enforcing civil rights laws that we have,” Dike added. Human rights organizations in the U.S. want President Barack Obama to adopt a national plan of action to fully implement America's obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, which is also known as CERD.

In 1994, the U.S. ratified the U.N.-sponsored convention, which defines in its Article 1, racial discrimination is “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national ethnic origin, which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” Activists argue that means looking at racial disparity and taking immediate and committed steps to eliminate shortfalls—and not simply responding legally when civil rights violations are charged.

On March 18th, the U.S. government said in Geneva, Switzerland that it supports recommendations made last November during a review of U.S. race relations and racial progress to adopt a comprehensive national plan of action to address discrimination.

Human rights activists, including Ajamu Baraka of the U.S. Human Rights Network, expressed disappointment with the lack of U.S. action since the review. The Obama administration has not established a national human rights institution to monitor rights compliance, they said.

“The initial response from the U.S. government to the UPR (review) process makes for depressing reading,” Mr. Baraka said, in a statement. “It seems that the Obama administration is simply continuing with the policies of the Bush administration when it comes to human rights, despite pretense of being engaged with the international community on human rights.”

U.S. human rights advocates need to take a hard look at what consultations and work with the administration on what has actually been achieved and go back to the drawing board, Baraka added. And, he told The Final Call, the groups should continue to push the U.S. to honor commitments made to eliminate discrimination, racism, and its impact.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, of the Nation of Islam, wisely counseled the government of America in his 1993 book “A Torchlight for America” that it is the wrong time to deny just pursuits of liberty.

“It's a dangerous time to play with people whose hunger and thirst is for justice and truth,” Farrakhan wrote.

“It is the purpose of the wickedly wise to hide the truth so that people won't see a way to get themselves out of their present circumstances, so those who rule can continue to dominate and subjugate the people to feed their own lusts and greed,” the Muslim leader noted.

Saladin Muhammad, national chairman of Black Workers for Justice, attended the review meeting in Geneva. He found a “condescending” attitude by U.S. officials dealing with racial discrimination “quite disturbing.”

Muhammad said the condescending attitude was apparent in the opening statement of Harold Hongju Koh, a legal adviser from the U.S. State Department, who presented the administration's answer to the review: “Our society as a whole is transformed for the better through our work to protect and promote the civil and human rights of its least powerful members. That tradition explains why I, the child of Korean immigrants who came to America to search for a better future, sit before you today to represent our country.”

Koh's next statement, according to participants, seemingly dismissed the importance of the review.

On March 7, a coalition of human rights organizations sent a letter to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of racial discrimination. “People of African descent in the United States continue to face intentional, structural, and de facto forms of discrimination which manifest in unequal access to quality education, housing, health services, employment, electoral disenfranchisement and discrimination in the criminal justice system, among many other issues,” the letter said.

A full text of the letter is available on line at: http://goo.gl/AHmQB.

Some of the organizations signing onto the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, Asian American Justice Center, Center for Constitutional Rights, Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, U.S. Human Rights Network and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“The goal of the letter was to inform the U.N. committee of efforts by civil rights organizations in the United States urging the government to adopt a coordinated approach to complying with the CERD treaty and by doing so ensure that CERD obligations are integrated into domestic laws addressing racial discrimination,” said Marcia F. Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project for the Lawyer's Committee, in an e-mail to The Final Call.

Prior to the Geneva meeting, some activists felt with the U.S. officially responding to questions about racism and discrimination, it was a chance to lead by example, not just rhetoric. That opportunity appears to be squandered.

“I came away from Geneva feeling that unless there are extended struggles on the ground, also developing a strong Black Manifesto, what we did on March 18 will be looked at as just a complaint. And, that means all of our efforts so far won't be impactful,” Muhammad said.

Dike's organization is drafting a petition asking the administration to develp a timeline for creation of a national plan to end racial discrimination in America. It may help highlight the problem, but doesn't appear likely to push America toward finding solutions.

Activist, Scholar Manning Marable Dies at 60

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

Famed African-American studies scholar Manning Marable has died. Marable served as director of the Institute for African-American Studies at Columbia University, which he founded. He was 60.

Marable was famous for his progressive political views and writings penning more than 10 books. He was working on his latest work, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, set for publication a few days after his death.

Active in the political movement, Marable was elected chair of the Movement for the Democratic Society, sat on the board of the Hip Hop Summit Network, and was a member of the New York Legislature's Amistad Commission.

Battling recent health problems, he had suffered from lung disease causing him to get a lung transplant last summer. Last month Marable was hospitalized for pneumonia.

Maynard Jackson Exhibit Opens at Atlanta University Center

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By Sherri Banks, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

ATLANTA – Hundreds of dignitaries and guests attended a reception in the Atlanta University Center recently to honor the city's first Black mayor and launch an exhibit to display artifacts from his years in political and community activism.

The exhibit, called "The People's Mayor: Maynard Jackson and the Politics of Transformation," was unveiled at the Robert W. Woodruff Library last week on what would have been Maynard Jackson's 73rd birthday.

The traveling exhibition and the Maynard Jackson Mayoral Administrative Records collection "offer insight into the fascinating and complex political life of one the country's most impressive leaders," organizers say.

The exhibit explores Jackson's rise to prominence as the first African-American mayor in a major Southern city, and features 560 boxes of photographs, documents, and artifacts spanning 1968 to 1994.

Also presented are speeches, news clippings, proclamations, and campaign material from Jackson's terms as mayor and vice mayor.

"Maynard Jackson engineered a new future for the city and its citizens," said Loretta Parham, CEO and library director.

"Announcing the opening of the collection is truly a celebratory event for the library.

"We're honored to be the custodians of Jackson's administrative records and excited to make the collection available to the public for research," she added. "The traveling exhibition is also impressive, and visitors to the exhibition will find it to be not only educational but also quite engaging."

Noteworthy items in the collection include materials related to:

•The development of MARTA and Hartsfield International Airport (later renamed Hartsfield-Jackson in his honor)

•The Atlanta Child Murders

•The creation of Neighborhood Planning Units

•The city's winning bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympics

Attending last week's ceremony, current Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called Jackson "a man of excellence who shattered race barriers."

Reed also recalled Jackson's commitment to mentoring others, saying that many successful politicians, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders owe their success to Jackson's support – him included.

Ingrid Saunders Jones, senior vice president at the Coca-Cola Company, said Jackson was committed to those he mentored, but held them to high standards.

"He had exacting professional standards," she said, "and to succeed with him as mentor meant that one could succeed anywhere."

Sherryle Puryear, who worked with Jackson in investment banking, recalled that he was a stickler for grammar, both the spoken and written.

"He used to call me Rambo because he admired my determination to produce excellence," she said.

Former Mayor Shirley Franklin, a protégé of Jackson's, also attended last week's event, honoring the man who mentored her and inspired her to become the city's first female mayor and the first Black female mayor of a major Southern city.

Another former mayor, Andrew Young, appeared in a video in which he said his own mayoral candidacy began after he accepted an invitation from Jackson to meet and discuss politics. Young accepted Jackson's challenge to run for office and went on to serve two terms as mayor.

Jackson was elected mayor of Atlanta in 1973 and became the city's youngest mayor at age 35. Re-elected in 1977, he could not run for a third consecutive term, but returned years later for a third term, winning in 1989.

His greatest legacy is widely considered to be in municipal affirmative action programs that set the standard for American cities, especially those with Black majorities.

He also guided the expansion of Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport and fought to ensure that bBlack-owned companies got a piece of the pie at every level.

Jackson suffered a heart attack in 2003 and died at age 65.

Georgia Lottery Boycott Still 'on the table,' Activist Says

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By Stan Washington, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

A coalition of civil rights organizations and community groups are still considering their options – including a boycott of the Georgia Lottery in response to the recent changes in the HOPE Scholarship program, according to a coalition member.

"There were many options that were put on the table, a boycott of the lottery was one of them," said Rev. Dr. Richard Cobble, president of the Concerned Black Clergy (CBC). "We are still examining them all at this time."

Other than the boycott, Cobble would not say what were the other options are being considered.

"We haven't publicized those options until we can agree on them and present a unified front," he said.

The threat of a possible boycott came from state NAACP President Edward DuBose after Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 326 calling for sweeping changes in the HOPE program. The bill, fast-tracked through the General Assembly, contained tough new requirements to receive the HOPE Scholarship, which is funded by the lottery.

The landmark changes, which go into effect this fall, include:

* Only so-called Zell Miller scholars – valedictorians, salutatorians, and students who graduate with at least a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 SAT score or 26 ACT score – will get all tuition covered at public colleges in Georgia.

* Students who graduate with at least a 3.0 GPA will receive HOPE dollars, but the amount will vary from year to year, depending on lottery proceeds.

* The amount for students who qualify and are attending private colleges in Georgia will see their scholarship drop from $4,000 to $3,600. The Zell Miller Scholars will receive the full $4,000.

* Funding for books, fees, and remedial courses is being eliminated.

Critics say the changes will hurt mostly poor, rural, and minority students who attend school systems that are not as well funded as the metro Atlanta suburban school districts.

"It is mainly the poor who play the lottery that funds the HOPE program," Cobble said, "and those changes will hurt them the most."

Clark Atlanta University Provost Dr. Joseph Silver said he understands why the state needs to keep the HOPE program solvent, but doesn't understand efforts to balance the program "on the backs of the very students who need it."

"The data shows that the upper income families do not support the lottery, but it is the lower income people who do and now they will not be among the benefactors of it," Silver said.

"The upper income families have many other options of finding funding for their children to go to college," he added.

Even under the original guidelines, retaining students has become tougher during the recession for four-year institutions like Clark Atlanta, where 90 percent of their students are on some form of financial aid, Silver said.

"Most of our students who leave our institution leave due to financial reasons and not academic ones," he said. "This will put an extra burden on them to find the resources to replace HOPE funds."

Census Numbers Challenged in New York

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

Census numbers released last week for New York City have elected officials asking questions and challenging the results.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, New York City currently has 8.175 million people. However, City Hall estimated the number to be about 8.4 million.

The city’s Black population saw a two percent decrease while the White population grew 0.6 percent. Asians saw the highest spike in population, with a 13 percent increase, especially in Brooklyn. The Hispanic population grew by 8.1 percent.

Breaking the numbers down by borough, Staten Island’s population grew the most during the last 10 years with 5.6 percent, Manhattan grew 3.5 percent, the Bronx saw a 3.9 percent increase, and Brooklyn grew by 1.5 percent.

Probably the most questionable numbers come from Queens, which only saw an increase in population of 0.1 percent in the last 10 years, equivalent to only 1,300 people.

Regarding those numbers, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others say that there was a miscount. Officials are looking to challenge the numbers to prove that they are higher so the city can get its fair share of financial resources. The mayor believes that there were errors in getting the census results for Queens and Brooklyn.

“Our administration has been looking at the census numbers nonstop since they were released last Thursday,” said Bloomberg. “And now we can say we plan to formally challenge the census results of our city under the Count Question Resolution process established by the Census Bureau.”

As a result of the census, New York State stands to lose two representatives on Capitol Hill. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said that the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t know how to court urban populations and that the city was shortchanged.

“These numbers are baffling,” he said. “If you believe them on their face, New York City added only a little more than 160,000 new residents in the last decade—a decade that any New Yorker from any part of the city could tell you saw tremendous growth in both Manhattan and the outer boroughs.”

Many elected officials are concerned about the recent budget cuts looming in government. Rep. Charles Rangel said that challenging the census is needed to make sure every community gets the money they are entitled to receive.

He said, “An accurate census count is so key to not just getting federal funding, but giving community businesses and nonprofits, the kind of demographic data they can use to attract new clients and provide services to residents.”

Census results and challenges have also prompted elected officials to take things into their own hands. Next week State Sen. John Sampson is creating a new taskforce to ensure that his conference’s commitment to redistricting reform is followed. The taskforce will undertake a statewide public outreach campaign to educate people on the redistricting process in hopes to get people interested in the census challenging process.

“Census figures have a direct impact on the services we guarantee all New Yorkers—any undercount in our state’s population could seriously jeopardize much-needed federal funding for schools, hospitals and transportation, among other vital services.

“Meanwhile in upstate, the population decline underscores the need for a comprehensive economic development plan to stimulate job growth,” Sampson said.

In Queens, State Sen. Shirley Huntley said that her district saw a decrease by 4,000 residents and that the data “astounded” her. She claims that there was an increase in people living in Queens.

“It is quite evident that there are more people living in particular areas that were undercounted by the Census Bureau,” she said. “It is important we gather accurate information. These findings should be investigated for their legitimacy because of the importance of receiving federal funding based on population and demographic data."

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