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Report Card on School Dropouts: Progress Made; Challenges Ahead

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Special to the NNPA from TheDefendersOneline.com –

In the last decade, a coalition of public school educators, parents and civic activists across the country have charted substantial progress in deterring tens of thousands of students from dropping out of high school, according to a newly-published study.

Among other things, the study showed there were 120,000 more high school graduates in 2008 than in 2001 (holding population constant) – a result fueled by overall graduation-rate increases in 29 states and significant graduation-rate increases among African-American, Latino-American and Native-American pupils.

It also resulted in the closing of more than 200 “dropout factories” – high schools that fail to graduate 40 percent or more of their students, giving the 400,000 students who would have attended them a better chance to earn a diploma.

These successes in pushing the national high school graduation rate from 72 percent in 2001 to 75 percent in 2008 show that the U.S. “is turning a corner on meeting the high school dropout epidemic,” write Colin and Alma Powell in introducing the report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic.

The detailed, 88-page document is the latest in a series of studies from the Powells’ organization, America’s Promise Alliance, which has sought to build a broad-based coalition to eliminate the dropout crisis of American public high schools. Today, according to the report, more than a million public high school students, each year don’t graduate with the class in which they entered high school; many of them have dropped out. Taken together, nearly 40 percent of minority high school students don’t graduate with their entering Class.

Earlier America’s Promise reports determined that while dropping out is a widespread phenomenon, the dropout epidemic is concentrated in a relatively small number of urban, suburban and rural high schools that over time have become dropout factories. A decade ago, they numbered about 2,000. Now, through strategies that ranged from transforming individual schools to closing individual schools, the report declares the number has been pared to 1,746.

Nonetheless, the report warns that despite the successes, “the rate of progress over the last decade … is too slow to reach the national goal of having 90 percent of students graduate from high school and obtain at least one year of post-secondary schooling or training by 2020.” It goes on to match on a one-to-one basis the “progress” made since 2001 with the “challenges” in that area which remain to be overcome.

For example, while 400,000 fewer pupils attend dropout factories, there are yet 2.2 million high school youth in the dropout factories that still exist. And, while the Class of 2008 graduated 120,000 more students than the Class of 2001, the Class of 2020 needs to graduate 600,000 more students than the Class of 2008 (holding population constant) in order to reach the goal of a 90-percent national graduation rate.

The report concludes by noting that “while the results of the past decade have been mixed, with progress in some areas, and limited improvement in others, these efforts have laid the groundwork for more rapid and systematic progress in the next decade.”

Those future initiatives, however, could be significantly undermined by something the report does not discuss: the impact of budget deficits at the federal, state, and local level on funds available for public school initiatives.

Groundbreaking Verdict in Cigarette Death Trial Against Tobacco Company

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Special to the NNPA from TheDefendersOnline.com –

In a groundbreaking judgment, a Massachusetts jury recently found the Lorillard tobacco company responsible for inducing a Boston woman to smoke as a child and ordered it to pay her family a total of $152 million.

The jury levied compensatory damages against the tobacco giant of $71 million and punitive damages of $81 million.

The woman, Marie Evans, started smoking cigarettes at 13, and despite trying to quit many times, became a lifelong smoker. She died of lung cancer at age 54 in 2002.

During the trial Lorillard’s attorney claimed that Ms. Evans’ numerous futile attempts to stop smoking as an adult were evidence that the company was not responsible for her admitted addiction to cigarettes. A Lorillard spokesman said they would appeal the verdict and attorneys familiar with such litigation said the case will likely be tied up in the courts for years.

Experts told the Boston Globe that the case was the first to attempt to hold Lorillard responsible for its practice of heavily marketing its Newport brand of menthol cigarettes in predominantly Black communities in the 1950s and 1960s.

Menthol cigarettes have long been the overwhelming cigarette of choice among African Americans who smoke, and studies have shown that the large majority of Black smokers, like smokers in general, start smoking in their teen years or even earlier.

Ms. Evans, whose son Willie Evans, pressed the case on her behalf after her death, stated in testimony videotaped shortly before she died that when she was a child living with her family in a public housing project in Boston’s predominantly Black Roxbury neighborhood, Lorillard company workers would come and hand out cigarettes to children as if they were candy. Lorillard denied that it used such tactics.

But Legacy, a nonprofit public health organization dedicated to smoking prevention efforts, called the Evans jury verdict “a sad reminder of the tobacco industry’s long history of marketing their products to our nation’s kids, luring them into a deadly addiction.”

A statement from the organization added that the verdict underscores the need for the Federal Drug Administration to ban menthol flavoring from cigarettes – a matter currently under its consideration – as a means of reducing youth smoking rates and tobacco-related health issues.

Virginia Union University Names Renowned Theologist As Chair of Board of Trustees

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By Jeremy M. Lazarus, Special to the NNPA from the Richmond Free Press –

Dr. Franklyn W. Richardson already is juggling a heavy schedule. The broad-shouldered minister heads a 4,000-member church with congregations in New York and Florida. He is also chairman and chief spokesman of the revived Conference of National Black Churches, an umbrella group of nine historically Black denominations that addresses national issues and promotes church involvement in education and health care. And, he’s actively involved in a variety of other organizations, including the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Still, the former pastor of two Richmond-area churches is ready to take on another challenging leadership job: Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Virginia Union University, his alma mater.

The 61-year-old Philadelphia native was elected to the post recently in a telephone poll of the 23-member board, according to Dr. Benjamin J. Lambert III, the Richmond optometrist and former state senator who heads the VUU board’s nominating committee. A longtime board member and current vice chairman, Dr. Richardson will succeed Dr. Frank S. Royal, the prominent Church Hill physician who has held the chairmanship for 30 years. Dr. Royal announced last month that he wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren and would not seek a new term as chairman, though he will remain on the board. “This is the highest honor of my career,” Dr. Richardson told the Free Press after being reached at the Miami airport where his travel had been stalled by a snowstorm farther north. “This is an opportunity to give back to the institution that invested so much in me,” he said. “I have had a stellar career in the ministry. But, I would not be where I am today without the education I received at Virginia Union.”

He said he would make time for his work for VUU and planned to use his wealth of contacts in the church and corporate worlds to assist the president with “resource development for Virginia Union,” which traces its roots to a school created in Richmond after the Civil War to educate newly freed slaves. “I believe I can open some doors that wouldn’t be open otherwise,” said Dr. Richardson, who was saluted as the 2010 Alumnus of the Year during homecoming last October.

Dr. Richardson will assume the chairmanship Feb. 4, when the 145-year-old, Baptist-affiliated school celebrates Founders’ Day. Dr. Richardson said he is taking over at a time of optimism for the school under current President Claude G. Perkins. He noted that VUU was just re-accredited, has been able to increase enrollment and has improved its campus. It also is upgrading academics and looking to restore a degree in the fine arts it dropped several years ago. Dr. Richardson “has such tremendous credentials” and will be a “worthy successor to Dr. Royal,” said Dr. Lucille M. Brown, a retired Richmond schools superintendent and longtime VUU board member.

She served on the nominating committee and said Dr. Richardson is well known for his loyalty to the school, noting that his church, Grace Baptist of Mount Vernon, N.Y., and Port St. Lucie, Fla., donated the stained glass windows at VUU’s Coburn Hall. The minister’s ties with Richmond go back 43 years, when he left Philadelphia to come to VUU after his pastor, the Rev. John Hamlin, recommended the school. Dr. Richardson had already accepted the call to ministry and had preached his first sermon. He said Dr. LaVerne Byrd Smith helped him improve his reading skills, enabling him to succeed in class. He also was president of the freshman and sophomore classes. His ministry career quickly began soaring. In 1969, still an undergraduate, he was called to lead Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church, then located in the city’s Fulton neighborhood. He became busier when he also became pastor of Saint James Baptist in Varina and did not complete his VUU degree until 1979. He went on to earn his master’s in theology at Yale and his doctorate from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He left Richmond in the mid-1970s to go to Grace Baptist, which now includes celebrities among its membership. He has been on the national church stage since the 1980s, when he served as general secretary and chief operating officer for the 33,000-congregation National Baptist Conference USA during Dr. T.J. Jemison’s 12-year tenure as president.

Dr. Richardson and his wife, Inez, are the parents of two adult children.

Conference of National Black Churches Moves Forward on Comprehensive Strategy

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Nine denominations work together with broad-based partnerships to tackle core issue

By Floydetta McAfee, Special to the NNPA –

ATLANTA (December 20, 2010)---During the first national meeting of the newly formed Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC), bishops, pastors, and lay leaders began rolling out the strategic plans for improving the lives of African Americans and underserved communities. The organization, which represents nine of the largest historically Black denominations with 30 million people and more than 50,000 congregations worldwide, focused on working in a unified voice on four key issues and developing strong strategic partnerships. Participants traveled from across the country and as far as South Africa to attend the three-day meeting recently held in Washington, D.C.

“This initial CNBC national consultation was a success because it was more than inspiration and information, it focused on implementation of tactical programs,” said Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, CNBC chairman and senior pastor of the historic Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York. “We have a comprehensive strategic plan with specific programs and benchmarks to address our core issues---education, health, social justice, and economic empowerment.”

Along with the Ford Foundation and JP Morgan Chase Foundation, CNBC identified other companies, organizations, and programs with common values and interests, multiple resources, and proven track records to collaborate with around the core issues. For example, the education strategy includes partnering with the Children’s Defense Fund and United Negro College Fund (UNCF). CNBC will work with Marian Wright Edelman, founder of The Children’s Defense Fund, to launch Freedom Schools for grades K-12 in local churches. CNBC will partner with UNCF by supporting the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and providing them access to a pipeline of top high school students seeking a college education.

The health strategy includes working with The Balm of Gilead founder Pernessa C. Seele on education and advocacy around a variety of health topics and developing a “Healthy Sunday” series. One Sunday a month, 10-minutes of time from the pulpit will be devoted to education and awareness on a specific health-related issue. CBNC will partner with three organizations known for their social justice efforts - the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Action Network - to leverage support on issues of “prophetic responsibility” and mutual concern as part of the social justice strategy. The economic empowerment partner will be The Vestal Group, owned by multicultural advertising executive Don Coleman. The partnership goals include leveraging the collective consumer dollars of African Americans and increasing financial literacy and discount purchasing power through cooperative economics.

“All participating in this effort demonstrated their gift of servant leadership and commitment to the collective call to action,” said Jacqueline Burton, president of the Conference of National Black Churches. “The strength of this CNBC movement will be in the many denominations working as one.”

Other highlights of the gathering included a standing-room-only National Ecumenical Service at Israel Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. with a sermon by Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. of the Church of God in Christ and luncheon remarks given by Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on “The Possibility of Partnerships.” The consultation concluded with the Black Leadership Dinner where former Ambassador Andrew Young; Balm in Gilead founder Pernessa C. Seele; and Earl G. Graves, Sr., founder of Black Enterprise magazine, were recognized for their leadership, legacy, and activism in the areas of health, business and universal equality and fairness.

For more information on the organization, visit website www.thecnbc.org.

Guineans Swear in First President To Be Democratically Elected

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Numerous African heads of state and government officials arrived in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, to take part in the swearing-in ceremony of Alpha Conde, a long-time opposition leader, as president of the West African nation.

"I say loud and clear: poverty and underdevelopment in the Republic of Guinea does not have to be our destiny," said the 72-year-old Conde, who narrowly defeated his rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo, in the November vote.

"I will try in my small way to be Guinea's (Nelson) Mandela and unite every son of Guinea," Conde said after taking his oath. "The restoration of social cohesion and national unity requires a collective look at our painful past."

Conde's election marks an end to half a century of despotism and military rule in the nation, which is extremely poor despite rich mineral wealth, and remains ethnically divided.

The ceremony included a minute's silence in memory of the 157 opposition supporters murdered by forces loyal to former junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara at a stadium in the capital in September 2009.

Conde has already promised a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission to examine atrocities ranging from the recent violence to the use of starvation cells to execute dissidents under Sekou Toure, Guinea's first president.

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