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Minority Mentoring: The True Value of a Hand Up

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By Tarice L.S. Gray, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

Long before terms like workplace diversity, affirmative action, and inclusion became American standards, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson conspired to change their game of baseball.

Rickey, then the president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, wanted two things for his team: a World Series Championship, and a racially-integrated ball club. In Jackie Robinson, Rickey found a man who was not only receptive to both ideas and also prepared to deal with those who didn’t want him in the game.

By the 1940s, no Black player had crossed Major League Baseball’s color line for nearly half a century – until Rickey, who embraced the philosophy of tough love, told Robinson he thought he was the man to do it. Rickey understood that on the diamond and in the public eye, Robinson would face extraordinary pressure; he would succeed or fail on the strength of his own ability. But Rickey was also determined to help him as much as possible — to prepare him to succeed by becoming his baseball mentor.

Like so many things about America’s mythic past time, the relationship of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson dramatically illustrated in the broadest possible terms the impact a mentor can have on an individual and the larger society. That remains especially true for people of color in all fields of endeavor today.

Appropriately, one of the organizations which has used the techniques of mentoring to great effect is the Jackie Robinson Foundation, founded by Robinson’s widow, Rachel, a year after his death in 1972. Since then it has extended the ladder of upward mobility to thousands of the best and brightest young people in minority communities by awarding them generous four-year scholarships to college. But there’s a catch: JRF requires all their students to participate in their mentoring program.

As Della Britton Baeza, president and chief executive of the foundation, puts it. “They can’t just take our money.”

What JRF scholars receive in addition to college financing is a cultural tutorial – a how-to guide, on not just surviving but thriving in the world of big business. The JRF staff calls the tutorial “life skills,” and it includes teaching the students such things as how to manage personal finances and how to eat at a four star restaurant. JRF even foots the bill for an evening at the opera.

It can all be considered carry over from Robinson’s historic moment of inclusion, Baeza said. Although it’s more common these days to see successful minorities in corporate America, those that continue to follow in already formed footsteps have to be prepared. “It’s a bigger challenge for [people of color] to be successful,” she remarked, “because, let’s be honest, we are not post- racial and [they] are facing a real hostile culture in some situations. So mentoring is absolutely vital.”

Despite their value, finding mentors still proves elusive to many who need them. A recent Harvard Business Review exploration of diversity in corporate America found that although big-business companies professed their commitment to seeking out and promoting top minority talent, many of those smart and capable employees of color often left their respective companies “frustrated.” Minority men and women who did excel had a “strong network” of mentors and sponsors that offered more than just instruction, they nurtured their careers. Their business journey was made successful by someone else lighting the way.

Karen Thompson understands the consequences of trying to get ahead without a mentor. Before joining NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund (LDF) as director of its, scholarship program, she was an associate at a respected law firm. Although she found success as an attorney, her road was tougher, she believes, because she did not have a mentor.

“It felt very lonely to me,” she said, “and I really felt like I taught myself how to be a good lawyer.” As she rose higher in the ranks, she saw less people like herself in the offices. Last year, Thompson moved to LDF as Director of its scholarship program and has made building the program’s mentoring component a major goal. Part of that effort involves the creation of something called an “ol’ boy, ol’ girl network” among the program’s alumni in order to ensure that they don’t have to navigate corporate waters alone. She said that commitment to mentoring needs to be ongoing, beyond undergraduate and graduate school into the workplace. The minority corporate veterans need continual guidance and feedback to help them reach their full potential.

Management Leadership for Tomorrow works to that end at the very top of the corporate structure. The mentoring-based organization, founded nearly a decade ago by John Rice, brother of Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, helps veteran workers reach the Corporate Suite, home of the top positions of Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer and the like.

According to MLT, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans collectively comprise roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population. But, they make up only three percent of senior leaders in corporations, non-profits and entrepreneurial ventures. Patricia Price, Managing Director for Executive Programs for MLT, said that their initiatives are designed to halt the revolving-door dynamic that drains companies of Black, Latino and Native American talent because these mid-level career workers feel their careers have hit a plateau. They believe the mentoring programs, often thought necessary only for adolescents and undergraduate and graduate students, need to be re-fashioned for people trying to climb the corporate ladder. Price said MLT wants to make sure when they get to a place where they are “comfortable” they keep going. “Ultimately, we’re trying to raise the number of leaders, in the country.”

One of the mentoring tools Price said minorities need to have in the corporate world harkens back to Robinson-Rickey relationship: the ability to smoothly respond to your critics. Price said, “being able to listen actively and respond reflectively instead of reactively to negative feedback [is one of the things] that’s very important to leaders.” She added that minorities tend to struggle with that kind of criticism because many feel singled-out and alone. Price also said too many African Americans become “shy” when it comes to hiring African American staff when they’re promoted to head company units or divisions. MLT urges them to embrace “similarity bias” – the practice of hiring people from similar backgrounds, including similar racial backgrounds, because that, too, is part of the mentoring dynamic. That philosophy also drives up the value of a committed minority mentor, or someone who gets it.

As Della Britton Baeza, of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, said “it’s all about somebody taking you under their wing, pulling you by your coat tail, and tough love.”

Tarice L.S. Gray is a freelance writer and blogger with GrayCurrent.com.

Fight Over Africa Mounts Between U.S. and China

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

The daggers are starting to come out between the U.S. and China as the Asian giant displaces the U.S. as Africa’s number one trading partner.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at a recent forum on trade in Zambia, made slighting references to China’s growing African role.

"We are concerned that China's foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance,” she said. “(China) has not always utilized the talents of the African people in pursuing its business interests.”

"It is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave. And, when you leave, you don't leave much behind for the people who are there,” Clinton continued. “You don't improve the standard of living. You don't create a ladder of opportunity. We don't want to see a new colonialism in Africa.”

But an editorial in the state-run English-language China Daily newspaper took issue with Secretary Clinton, pointing out that China had never colonized any nation in Africa. “On the contrary, it is well known to African people and the world that China has helped Africa build many schools, hospitals and other infrastructure, which has benefited many African people.

“China has also been regularly reducing and canceling the debt of poor African countries and continues to provide preferential loans and credit support for them,” the piece titled “Africa Ties Benefit Both” said.

In a final one-two punch, the state-run newspaper added that African people were wise enough to be able to identify their true friends, writing: “They don't need lectures in this regard.”

U.S.-Africa Trade Bill Comes Up Short for Africa, Kenyans Say

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

A highly-touted U.S.-Africa trade bill comes up for renewal in 2015 and some Kenyans are demanding to see better results for Africa.

The Kenyan officials were speaking at the close of the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum in Lusaka, Zambia, last week. AGOA, as the bill is known, was designed to provide preferential access to Africa’s products in U.S. markets.

In the spirit of “trade not aid,” Kenyan Trade Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere criticized foreign countries for showering African countries with aid. "If you look at the amount of money [given as Aid] that has been pumped into Kenya and Africa, it has not been effective,” he said. “If you give money to people there is no sustainability. But if you have a business, it is a bit more dignified. It is good for employees, but also the business and the economy."

He faulted strict U.S. rules that limit the export sector in Kenya. "(Our farm) products are accepted in Europe but not in the U.S. If they are accepted in Europe, where they are consumed by Americans, why not in the U.S.?" Mwakwere asked.

U.S. Trade Secretary Ron Kirk opened the AGOA meeting in Zambia, saying: "The United States is committed to promoting Africa’s economic growth through trade, and AGOA is a critical pillar in growing the U.S. economic relationship with sub-Saharan nations."

While agriculture remains the pillar of Africa’s economy, trade data shows that agri-related exports from sub-Saharan Africa to the U.S. under AGOA account for only one percent. The most common export is still a barrel of oil.

Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band Dies at 69

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, famed saxophonist of singer Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, died June 18, a week after suffering a stroke at his home in Florida. He was 69.

“His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly 40 years,” Springsteen said in a statement posted on the band’s Web site. “He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”

Members of the E Street Band were told June 12 to travel to Florida as soon as they could because the famous musician was “seriously ill.” Sources later told New York Fox affiliate WNYW that the illness left Clemons paralyzed and he had received two brain surgeries to ease swelling from a blood clot.

The following day, the TV station reported the musician was showing hopeful signs, his vitals improved and he became more responsive. Clemons also was reportedly able to squeeze with his left hand.

According to AOL Web site Spinner, Clemons had suffered from several health issues in the past. Most recently, he was afflicted by a spinal ailment and a condition that forced him to receive double knee surgery, restricting him to a wheelchair for the past several years.

The musician first linked with Springsteen in the 1970s when he appeared on his debut album, “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” In addition to his work with Springsteen, he collaborated with a string of other artists including Aretha Franklin and Lady Gaga.

While Mortgage Lenders Pay Millions, Black America Loses Billions

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By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

In recent months a series of settlements by the federal Department of Justice signal that charges of discriminatory lending not only have validity; but occur with amazing similarity in different locales. In the past week, a lawsuit against mortgage lending practices in the St. Louis metropolitan area ended with a $1.45 million settlement to resolve charges of discriminatory patterns and practices. Midwest Bank Centre agreed to open a full-service branch in a majority African-American area of the metro. Additionally other terms of the settlement call for $900,000 to increase the amount of lending to majority African-American neighborhoods;$300,000 for consumer education and credit repair programs; and $250,000 for outreach to promote their products and services to prospective customers.

In a separate but related action, Nixon State Bank, of Nixon, Texas will pay nearly $100,000 to settle a lawsuit that charged with bank engaged in discriminatory practices on the basis of national origin. Latino borrowers, according to the complaint, were charged higher prices on unsecured consumer loans, a violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

If these settlements sound familiar, you’re right. Earlier this year, a similar settlement focused on Detroit and the practices of Citizens Republic Bancorp and Citizens Bank of Flint, Michigan. In this settlement, the banks agreed to open a loan office in a Detroit African-American neighborhood and invest approximately $3.6 million in Wayne County.

In December 2010, Prime Lending, a national mortgage lender with 168 offices in 32 states, agreed to pay $2 million to end a lawsuit that alleged African-American borrowers were charged higher annual percentage rates of interest for prime fix-rate home loans and for home loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs. Terms of this settlement required Prime Lending to begin in 2011 to implement policies to prevent discrimination.

Beyond these four DOJ settlements, two additional lawsuits are still pending on behalf of residents in Baltimore, Maryland and Memphis, Tennessee. Both of these cities have alleged that Wells Fargo Bank violated fair lending laws that resulted in a higher number of unnecessary foreclosures in their respective locales. Both cities allege that disproportionate foreclosures and resulting economic losses were caused by steering Black consumers into high-cost, unsustainable mortgage loans.

In Brooklyn, New York, eight African-American homeowners were awarded more than $1 million in a jury trial against a developer, United Homes. While the defendant already announced plans to file an appeal, plaintiffs maintain that their respective purchases of renovated and flipped homes were all appraised at inflated values reflected in significantly higher sales prices.

It seems ironic that despite a series of laws enacted years ago to prevent these kinds of practices that in 2011, some of America’s lenders seem to be thumbing their noses to fair lending for all Americans. Million-dollar settlements are not enough to compensate communities of color for all the devastating financial harm that their illegal practices have wrought.

According to the recently-released 2011 State of the Nation’s Housing by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, nearly half of foreclosure auctions in 2010 were located in just 10 percent of the nation’s 65,000 census tracts. According to the new report, homeownership rate declines for African-Americans (3.8 percent) and Latinos (2.1 percent) have outpaced those for white households (1.5 percent). As a result, these homeownership declines have erased the homeownership gains of the past two decades.

CRL’s own research previously found that $350 billion of wealth has been lost to African-American and Latino families due to foreclosures and their rippling effects on neighborhoods.

In the 19th Century, newly-freed slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule. In the 20th Century, African-Americans were joined by progressive organizations and individuals to fight and win civil rights. In 2011, our silver rights are the issue.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

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