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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.

Program to Fast Track Students, Reduce Dropout Rate

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By Shernay Williams, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

It’s a crisis that in 2010, President Barack Obama declared cannot be accepted or ignored—high school dropout rates. Roughly 1.2 million students renounce school every year, the White House reported, and about half of the dropouts are Black or Latino.

Obama vowed to pour $900 million worth of grants into states and school districts that undergo sweeping reforms to address the issue, and two alternative public high schools in Baltimore City plan to do just that.

The schools may not have ties to Obama’s grant initiative, but this fall, Reginald F. Lewis and W.E.B. DuBois high schools in East Baltimore are launching a joint, accelerated program that will cater to older students that are roughly two or more years behind their peers in academic credits.

The goal is to put the “over-aged and under-credited” students on a faster and more accommodating pace toward graduation—offering flexible bell schedules, combined classes, and non-traditional classrooms.

“If we do nothing, it’s a high probability that they will drop out,” said Reginald F. Lewis Principal Barney Wilson, who is working with W.E.B. DuBois Principal Delores Berry Binder on the endeavor.

The school officials have identified 170 students that qualify for the voluntary program.

Earlier this year, Wilson said, the principals were approached by school district leaders to develop an innovative plan to encourage students that are truant or falling behind academically to remain in school.

“We have to decide as a system to be educational leaders or followers and the city has decided to be leaders,” Wilson said.

High school officials traveled to New York to visit schools with like-minded programs and held focus groups with targeted students and their families to ask what would motivate them to stay in school and earn their diploma.

The students “overwhelmingly” said they would attend the accelerated program, Wilson said, if classes were held in a non-traditional setting and were more engaging.

“In their hearts, they do want to graduate and they do want to succeed,” he said. “And they have ideas; it’s just that no one ever asked them.”

Wilson adds that school officials are serious about considering student input for many aspects of the new program including its future name, mascot, and colors.

Accelerated students will take classes in a separate wing of the W.E.B. DuBois and Reginald F. Lewis’s shared school building. Construction for that division is scheduled for this summer.

Instead of a two semester structure with four or six classes at a time, as is customary, accelerated students could have trimester or even five semester grading periods and enroll in seven or eight classes at a time.

Classes would also be interdisciplinary; courses such as world literature and history would be combined—not only allowing students to earn more credits, but gain a deeper understanding of the content, officials say.

The classroom structure would also be nontraditional—chair rows would be eliminated, students would work in groups more frequently and portfolios and projects would be considered as varying means of measuring student progress.

Participating students would choose whether to begin their school day in the morning or afternoon, giving them the opportunity to have a set work schedule.

Wilson said it will take “out-of-the-box thinking” to successfully tackle the dropout rate.

“We keep using models that we observed and imitated in our own upbringing without taking the time to reinvent and modernize education,” he said. “If what we had in place worked, we wouldn’t have to do this.”

Researchers say varying factors impede teenagers from earning their diploma including the need to work to support their families, fear of walking through troubled neighborhoods to get to school, embarrassment about learning disabilities or behavioral problems, and some might even have criminal records and restrictions on when they can leave their home.

Cameroon E. Miles, founder and director of Mentoring Male Teens in the Hood, who’s worked with young adults at Reginald F. Lewis High School, said that’s why schools can’t approach school with the “one-size-fits-all” mentality.

“Anything the schools can do to help young people get through and get their diploma to move on is a positive thing,” Miles said.

He’s pleased, he added, that Reginald F. Lewis and W.E.B. DuBois leaders are working closely with teens to formulate the accelerated program.

“Too many times we create a program for young people and we haven’t asked them what they want, especially in the juvenile justice system,” he said.

The program is still in the development stages as school officials plan for the fall and search for a program director.

A spokeswoman for the Baltimore City Public School System confirmed the program, and said district leaders will be “putting the finishing touches on it” within the next few weeks.

ACLU Investigating Complaints Against Daytona Beach Police Department

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James Harper, Special to the NNPA from the Daytona Times –

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU) is conducting an investigation of the Daytona Beach Police Department, The Daytona Times has learned.

The local chapter of the ACLU has volunteers scheduled at various venues, passing out copies of a questionnaire on the police practices of the Daytona Beach Police Department (DBPD), according to George Griffin, president of the Volusia-Flagler ACLU.

Griffin said the ACLU is not interested in people seeking it out to complete the survey because they want an objective sampling.

"We will have a table at Juneteenth (at Cypress Street Park on June 18), we will have volunteers at a feeding for the homeless, and we will be at the farmer’s market," said Griffin listing places where the survey will be passed out.

"By having people seek us out to complete a survey, we might skew the results by attracting people who have a "story" to tell," he said.

Number of complaints

Griffin said the ACLU has received a number of complaints about police harassment by DBPD officers.

He says the ACLU has reached out to Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood.

"Last year, we invited Chief Chitwood to an event that was to be tentatively titled ‘An evening with the ACLU,’ meant to be an informal Q&A with local leaders. Mayor (Glenn) Ritchie agreed to participate, but Chief Chitwood would not. Three or four years ago, we held a racial profiling event at Bethune-Cookman and invited the Daytona Beach police to participate. They chose not to," Griffin noted.

Similar to survey done in Orlando

Griffin said the survey being passed out was done in Orlando.

"We’ve heard complaints (about DBPC) since the inception of our local ACLU chapter, roughly seven years ago – everything from police presence during Black College Reunion to tasering policies to the lack of citizen’s oversight.

"Since we have received individual complaints, it seemed appropriate to do a survey similar to the one done in Orlando to see if the concerns raised to us are isolated or widely held," said Griffin.

Once the survey is completed, Griffin said the ACLU will compile the information and present it to the public at least in a press release, then determine what should be the next cause of action.

"That all depends on what we find. We don’t want to pre-suppose what the results will be, but we will definitely make the findings available to law enforcement, the press, and the general public regardless of the results," he continued.

ACLU fighting for ex-felons’ rights

The Volusia/Flagler Chapter of the ACLU is one of 18 chapters of the ACLU of Florida, which is a part of the national ACLU. The goal is to try to protect people’s constitutional rights and liberties, particularly those outlined in the Bill of Rights.

Locally, Griffin said the chapter has been instrumental in changing school board policy regarding harassment and bullying, and most recently helping to get the Human Rights Ordinance passed by the Volusia County Council.

Statewide, the ACLU has just filed two lawsuits against Gov. Rick Scott regarding drug testing of welfare recipients and state employees.

Griffin said the organization is gearing up for a fight for the restoration of rights for ex-felons.

"We have run several workshops to guide people through the process in the past, but since the new Scott administration has made this process more difficult, we have to do all new training as to how the process works," he added.

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BVN National News Wire