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Emergency Preparedness Plans Marginalize Blacks

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – This September marks the 10th anniversary for National Preparedness Month. And when it comes to emergency situations, Black communities tend to be among the most vulnerable and least prepared.

Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., professor of urban and regional planning, and founding director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo, believes that emergency preparedness efforts sometimes reflect the marginalization of low-income and communities of color.

“The reality is that a person grappling with decisions like survival, making ends meet…is not going to be thinking about terror attacks or explosions or ice storms and how to prepare for that. They have to prepare for basic things, like, where is my next meal coming from, or how will I get my kids to school. They’re not going to be able to [get prepared] on their own,” Taylor explains.

“When you combine that with [the fact that] the authorities and people involved in disaster preparedness planning do not understand those neglected communities, and have little meaningful relationships with those inside it, it’s clear why they’re not equipped with this information. There isn’t a system in place to work with residents…even the formation of these plans has nothing to do with them.”

This hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2007, the Office of Minority Health convened a National Consensus Panel on Emergency Preparedness and Cultural Diversity, tasked with creating guidelines to help state and local officials include and accommodate communities of color in their preparedness efforts.
Suzet McKinney, deputy commissioner for Chicago’s Bureau of Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Response, echoes many of the panel’s findings.

“You really have to know your community, and know what the populations are that exist in the city,” she says, adding that finding and creating provisions for those who are elderly or disabled, have language barriers, limited means of transportation, or lack access to social services, is a monumental task.

“In areas where communities are socially isolated…we could have issues with trust,” McKinney continued. “We recognize and understand that, so we try to identify the advocates and groups where trust is already established, who can help us in government and other officials to reach those in insolation.”
The 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax threat placed our nation’s unpreparedness at. center stage. The intervening years have underscored this need, bringing disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the H1N1 pandemic flu, a string of mass shootings, two major blackouts in New York City, a barrage of extreme weather events, and more. In response, the federal government launched resources, Ready.gov for citizens, FEMA preparedness grants for state and local governments, and more recently, the Tribal Climate Resilience Program for Indian country.

“Preparedness is a live process. I am of the belief that a plan is never complete, because when going from one emergency to another, there are always going to be some nuances that require us to alter our plans or responses in some way,” McKinney says.
Ordinary citizens are a large variable in the process as well. In recent years, the work of being prepared has been framed as a civic duty, a call to arms, and a collective effort.

“We’re encouraging [citizens] to be resilient, to be resources for one another, because we’ve realized that government entities cannot be everywhere at the same time,” McKinney says. “We want people checking on their neighbors, making arrangements in case of emergencies…we’re encouraging people to return to those behaviors that we remember when we were growing up.”

The national Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program hinges on this concept. Through this free program, disseminated by FEMA but administered by local groups and governments, ordinary citizens can take a course on basic first responder, rescue, and emergency skills. At the end of the course, participants can opt to join a citizen corps of auxiliary first responders, who can be deployed in their communities in the event of a non-terrorism emergency.

“These trainings are about empowering our residents to stand up and be great in their neighborhoods. People with this knowledge and information can do good for all the people around them,” says Charsaree Clay, Washington, D.C. CERT program officer. She offers three recommendations for people looking to become more disaster-ready.

“Know yourself. What are the names of the medications you take? If you only take [public transportation], how would you get out of the city if you needed to? If you had to walk out of the city, could you?” Clay prompts. “Network and connect with people; you want to create a web of intermeshed people who help each other out in times of crisis. Lastly, learn—and not just by taking [CERT] training. Get online. And your community is also a resource, people in your building might know things.”
McKinney offers similar advice for whole communities, sharing that connections—between trusted officials, advocates, and organizations (such as churches)—are key to filling the gaps in government capacity.

Taylor advises people to heed, and quickly respond to all official warnings. He also recommends knowing simple but vital things, such as all of the routes out of one’s home, even in pitch darkness; the locations of the community’s safest structures; and the items needed to aid vulnerable relatives and neighbors.

“It takes all of us to be able to make this work; we can’t say the responsibility of being resilient lies in just one place,” Clay says. “It lies in our connectedness, our ability to communicate, our ability to support each other, and our ability to work together toward a common goal of having safe communities, resilient communities. Really being able to contribute…makes this sort of ripple effect. Each person that knows this information adds to our national resiliency.”

Obama's African Legacy Already Being Debated

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – President Obama showed a deeply personal side of him rarely seen in public as he toasted African leaders at a State Dinner at the White House at the recently-concluded U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington.

“Tonight we are making history, and it’s an honor to have all of you here,” he said on Aug. 5. “And I stand before you as the president of the United States and a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of a man from Africa. The blood of Africa runs through our family. And so for us, the bonds between our countries, our continents, are deeply personal.”

It was precisely because of those special bonds that Africans and African Americans had such high –some say unrealistic – expectations of what Obama would do for Africa when he was first elected president in 2008.

Now those expectations have faded with the passage of time.

Since his election, Obama has made only two trips to Africa, not counting his brief trip to Johannesburg in December 2013 to attend a memorial service following the death of Nelson Mandela. His first trip as president was July 10-11, 2009 to Ghana, where he met with the president, addressed the Ghanaian Parliament and toured Cape Coast Castle, where enslaved Africans were kept before being taken to the West.

He took a three-nation trip June 26-July 2, 2013, visiting Senegal, where he toured Goree Island; South Africa and Tanzania.
Obama visited Kenya, his father’s place of birth, prior to assuming office.

As Obama noted in his toast to African leaders, “Of all the incredible moments of our trips to Africa, one of the most memorable was being able to bring Michelle, and later our little girls, to my father’s hometown in Kenya, where we were embraced by so many relatives.

“We’ve walked the steps of a painful past – in Ghana, at Cape Coast Castle; in Senegal, at Gorée Island – standing with our daughters in those doors of no return through which so many Africans passed in chains. We’ll never forget bringing our daughters to Robben Island, to the cell from which Madiba showed the unconquerable strength and dignity of an African heart. We’ve been inspired by Africans – ordinary Africans doing extraordinary things…”

With slightly more than two years left in his two-term presidency, scholars and activists are already debating what will be the African legacy of the first African American elected president of the United States.

The legacies of Obama’s two immediate predecessors on the continent are clear. Although, by his own admission, Bill Clinton should have done more to end the Rwandan genocide, fight the AIDS epidemic and end famine and war in Somalia, his legacy is the passage and signing of the African Growth and Opportunity Act – AGOA – into law in 2000.

AGOA was designed to help economies in sub-Saharan Africa develop stronger economic ties with the U.S. It does that by providing trade preferences for certain goods to enter the U.S. duty free, including textiles. The law, renewed once since passage, is up for renewal again in 2015.

It is universally agreed that George W. Bush’s African legacy is what he did to curb HIV/AIDS in Africa.

A White House fact sheet noted, “President Bush has made a historic commitment to the fight against global HIV/AIDS. In his 2003 State of the Union Address, President Bush announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to combat global HIV/AIDS. Later that year, President Bush signed the initial 5-year, $15 billion authorizing legislation that had been approved with strong bipartisan support. This President views this commitment as a central part of our foreign policy to help alleviate the despair that allows extremism to take hold.

“PEPFAR is the largest international health initiative in history to fight a single disease. This effort has helped bring life-saving treatment to more than 2.1 million people and care for more than 10 million people – including more than four million orphans and vulnerable children – around the world.”
What is Obama’s signature contribution to Africa?

Bill Fletcher, Jr., former president of TransAfrica, an advocacy group, summed up Obama’s African legacy in two words – “good speeches.”

He explained, “When he [Obama] was a senator, he introduced legislation in connection with the Great Lakes Region, peacekeeping and economic development. In the six years he has been in office, I’ve seen no evidence of any kind of U.S. effort to engage in peace and reconciliation.

“For example, the U.S. should be trying to resolve Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara. But there are no special envoys working in the Great Lakes Region. The U.S. ignores the corruption of Equatorial Guinea. The response to the Nigerian Boko Haram crisis ends up being basically military and very little else. So, I don’t feel there’s anything particularly innovative in Obama’s approach toward the continent.”

Mel Foote, president of Constituency for Africa, an Africa support group, disagrees.

“His biggest legacy is going to be these young African leaders initiative,” a reference to a pre-summit gathering here hosted by Obama. “You can’t stop them. They are the powers to be in their own countries.

“He had young people from Zimbabwe here, he had young people from Cameroon here –countries that have dictators. These are the best and the brightest that have been identified by U.S. embassies, not by the governments of those countries.”

Foote and Fletcher agree that Africa’s problems extend beyond the need for additional U.S. trade.

Africa has the youngest population in the world, with nearly 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. In most African countries, that group makes up more than 20 percent of the total population, according to the African Development Bank. By 2045, the number of young people is expected to double.
With those growing numbers comes the challenge of providing a sufficient number of jobs.

As a Brookings report explained, “Young people find work, but not in places that pay good wages, develop skills or provide a measure of job security. With the exceptions of Botswana, Nigeria and South Africa—all of which have alarmingly high youth unemployment rates—less than one-fifth of Africa’s young workers find wage employment. Over 70 percent of youth in the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-employed or contributing to family work.”

The Brookings study notes there is also an education crisis.

“In the midst of an increasingly knowledge-based global economy, 30 million primary school-age children in Africa – one in every four – are out of school, along with 20 million adolescents,” the report stated. “…Many of Africa’s children are denied an education because they are working as child laborers.”

The continent has other pressing issues as well, including the need for more energy.

Another Brookings study, titled, “Top Five Reasons Why Africa Should Be a Priority for the United States,” observed: “The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that there are 590 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in rural areas, without access to electricity, representing nearly 6 in 10 people in the region. In addition, 700 million people, or 70 percent of the population, rely on traditional, non-commercial sources of energy, such as biomass, for cooking.”

In his speech to African leaders, Obama acknowledged that even with Africa’s challenges, it is a continent on the rise.

He said, “Even as Africa continues to face enormous challenges, even as too many Africans still endure poverty and conflict, hunger and disease, even as we work together to meet those challenges, we cannot lose sight of the new Africa that’s emerging.”

PLUS Loan Fix Comes Too Late for Some Students

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A few weeks before thousands of Black college students returned to college campuses to begin the fall semester, the Department of Education issued updated standards for the PLUS loan program, but the changes may come too late for students already forced to delay their dreams of a college education, according to activists.

Since the summer of 2011, groups working to increase graduation rates among Black students have railed against changes that the Education Department made to PLUS loan requirements that disqualified families with shaky credit histories, because they seemed to ignore the damage that occurred as a result from the economic downturn that followed Great Recession. In an effort to keep parents from taking on more debt, the department effectively slammed the door on the college dreams of thousands of Black students.

In August, the department announced it they would relax those rules, but the changes won’t take effect until next school year.

The changes include decreasing “the time period a borrower’s credit history is reviewed from the last five years to the last two years for charge offs and collections to determine adverse credit history” and adjusting “the combined outstanding balance adverse debt threshold of $2,085 as necessary.”

Until the final rules are published in November, parents that failed to qualify for PLUS loans under the 2011 requirements can go through a reconsideration process.

In a press release about the proposed changes, Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund,IDENTIFY said that the proposed reform with a 2015 effective date, doesn’t help the students forced to withdraw two years ago or the students hoping to begin their college career this fall.

“The Education Department repeatedly ignored proposals from higher education leaders that would’ve substantially mitigated the damage done to children from lower and middle-income families devastated by the Great Recession,” said Taylor. “This reform is too little, too late. We are literally watching some of our best students and colleges suffer needlessly as a result of this continued delay. I am urging HBCU leaders, advocates, students, and alumni to comment on the [PLUS loan] reform and speak out to help the tens of thousands of students denied college access.”

During a meeting with journalists on July 23, Jim Shelton, deputy secretary for the Department of Education and executive director of the task force for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, said that since the 2011 rule changes that affected the PLUS loan program, Education Department officials “were able to get 76 percent of students enrolled into the colleges that they applied to originally” and “over 90 percent of students” that didn’t receive PLUS loans into other Title IV schools through the reconsideration process and other programs designed for financially-strapped students.

However, Taylor accused the Department of Education of being disingenuous when it calculates the number of students it claims to have helped.

“It’s gamesmanship at its best,” said Taylor, adding that the reconsideration process did not prove to be very effective, largely because it assumed that once rejected, every parent would be willing to go through the process. “Families that had already been rejected, you’re talking about first generation people, many of these kids had to convince and cajole their parents and grand parents and aunts and uncles to do this. So once rejected, they couldn’t get that person to go back through the process.”

Taylor explained that other parents were concerned that going through the reconsideration process meant that they would also have to go through a second credit check. Parents in that situation felt that if it wasn’t going to work anyway, they didn’t want the second inquiry on their credit reports which could lower their overall credit score in the short run. Some parents were lost during the process and couldn’t be contacted.

Said Taylor: “[The Education Department] goes around touting this 90 percent success rate and we would say, ‘90 percent of what?’”

Taylor said, “Nothing has changed for the fall of 2014, period,” said Taylor. “Many of these schools, especially the private schools, will not be able to survive without the PLUS loan program.”

After the 2011 rule changes went into effect, PLUS loan rejections skyrocketed at Grambling State University in Louisiana. During the 2011-2012 school year, GSU officials reported 1,350 PLUS loan denials and 937 PLUS loan approvals and the school received $8,420,931 in tuition for students through the program. The following school year, 1,848 loan requests were denied and only 413 were approved. The school brought in $3,869,402 in tuition through the PLUS loan program that year.

Last school year, 1,642 PLUS loan requests were rejected and 443 were approved and the school received $4,638,631 in PLUS loans for students.

In the three years, since the rule changes, PLUS loan approvals at GSU have been cut nearly half.

Cynthia Warrick, interim president of Grambling State University, said that as a result, kids that are in college are being sent home and students who want to go to college can no longer afford to go.

“I don’t think that’s the outcome that the [Education Department] wanted to see,” said Warrick. She aid that Black students from low-income families are often forced to work to support themselves while they attend college.

According to a report by the National Urban League on factors that influence graduation rates for Black students, “The majority of African American undergraduates (65 percent) are independent” and “that African American independent students tend to be employees first, balancing work and family responsibilities while going to school.”

Black independent students were more than twice as likely (48 percent) to be single parents than their White peers (23 percent).

“You have students that are working and going to school and then they are not doing well in a class, so they drop the class,” said Warrick. “Then they drop another class and before long, they figure out that they didn’t meet the 67 percent rule for progression,” that affects a number of aid programs including Pell grants and PLUS loans.

When those students don’t complete 67 percent of attempted credits, they lose that financial aid and have to go through an appeals process to get it back.

Warrick said that she would be in favor of rolling back the PLUS loan program to the “pre-2011” rules.

“The main point is that when these students are not provided enough financial support, they don’t go to college, so the whole point of building this workforce of the future is lost,” said Warrick. “[The Department of Education] is pretty much shooting themselves in the foot.”

Warrick added that it’s not just an Education Department issue, because Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) produce more Black STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates than majority-White schools.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, HBCUs graduate nearly twice as many Black female bachelors in STEM than all colleges and universities in the United States. Even though less than 20 percent of Black students graduate from HBCUs, almost 30 percent of Blacks that major in STEM fields graduate from Black schools.

“If you need STEM graduates for the [Energy Department] and the [Defense Department] and the [Agriculture Department] and Health and Human Services, all of these agencies need to step up and provide support to HBCUs so that we can keep these students in school,” said Warrick. “New programs can be developed through other agencies that can provide additional support through training and research. These other agencies need to step up where the Department of Education has stepped back.”

Now What? The Country Waits for Developments in Michael Brown, Ferguson Case

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By Herb Boyd
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

The shots fired by Officer Darren Wilson that cut down Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 9 are still echoing. The fact that they were caught on audio both clarifies and complicates the scenarios surrounding the unarmed teenager’s death.

On the audio, which was inadvertently recorded by a resident who lives near where the incident occurred, a quick volley of shots is heard, followed by a brief pause, and then several more shots.

According to a forensic expert who analyzed the audio, at least 10 shots were fired—a cluster of six, followed by four more. Two autopsies, one independently completed for the family, conclude that Brown was shot six times.

That pause is certain to be of critical importance to the case in which a grand jury has already begun weighing the evidence. Attorney Lopa Blumenthal, representing the man who recorded the shots, expressed her concern about the pause. “It’s not just the number of shots,” she told Don Lemon on CNN. “It’s how they were fired. And that has a huge relevance on how this case might finally end up.”

Blumenthal refused to release her client’s identity, but she did explain that the recording was made during a conversation he was having with a friend on a video chat service. A mutual friend of theirs facilitated getting the recording to the lawyer and she, in turn, with his consent, reached out to the FBI.

Much will depend on how the pause in the audio is interpreted. It would seem to support indictment, because the pause, whatever the length, should have given the officer ample time to evaluate the situation after the first round of shots.

The audio will be added to the mounting pile of evidence and the competing narratives from witnesses about what happened on that fateful day.

Meanwhile, Brown was put to rest Monday after stirring remarks from the Rev. Al Sharpton, an account of which appears elsewhere in the paper.

Push to Recruit Black, Latino Nurses

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Heart Association Teams with Macy’s for Scholarship Program

By Stacy M. Brown
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

Arihanna Venable enjoys talking with her patients as she performs physical exams, takes their blood pressure and, sometimes administers medicine to help soothe wounds or illnesses.

However, when Venable looks at so many other registered nurses, she finds a glaring and often troubling trend.

“Not many of them look like me,” said Venable, 33, of Southeast. “We just don’t have a lot of black registered nurses and I think if we can somehow change that, a lot of our patients will feel more at ease and they’ll be more likely to come in and see a doctor before they encounter serious health problems.”

Venable counts among the 5.4 percent of African-American nurses in the nation. A small minority, considering there’s an estimated 2.5 million registered nurses in the United States. Latinos also are in the minority as just 3.6 percent hold those positions.

Because of the lack of minorities who serve as registered nurses, the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign and Macy’s department store have continued its three-year partnership in which 16 scholarships of $2,500 each are awarded annually to help increase the number of diverse health care professionals.

Health care officials said the need for the scholarship program can be found in the fact that tuition hikes at colleges and universities and dramatic cuts to graduate medical education funding across the nation have forced many students to find new ways to pay for college.

In an effort to ease the burden and increase the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine, the American Heart Association and Macy’s, the association’s national sponsor, offer aspiring registered nurses the “Go Red Multicultural Scholarship Fund.”

Registration for the scholarship and more information about it can be found at www.GoRedForWomen.org.

“At Macy’s, we are deeply committed to supporting diversity throughout everything we do,” said Holly Thomas, Macy’s group vice president of media relations and cause marketing.

“As the founding national sponsor of the American Heart Association’s ‘Go Red for Women’ movement, we are able to extend our reach into an underserved population,” Thomas said. “This includes raising awareness and creating long-term impact by helping increase diversity within the next generation of health care professionals who we know provide life saving support to a multicultural population.”

The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Northeast show 11,030 registered nurses working in the Greater Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area with an average annual salary of $77,550.

However, there aren’t many blacks or Latinos among them, officials said.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Eva Gomez, a registered nurse and scholarship judge for the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign, which has raised more than $50 million since 2004.

“As the demographics change and more ethnically and racially diverse populations grow, there will definitely continue to be a need for health care providers who mirror these patients,” she said.

Gomez said having diverse providers makes it possible to deliver health care that’s meaningful, culturally appropriate and patient and family-centered.

Deidre Woods-Walton, a registered nurse and president of the National Black Nurses Association in Silver Spring, Maryland, echoed Gomez’ comments about having a diverse pool of nurses.

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