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Republicans Seek Drastic Cuts in Minnesota Human Rights Department

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By Mel Reeves, Special to the NNPA from the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder –

“They [Republicans] seem intent on taking away the state’s ability to fight for equal rights. We believe that it is morally and ethically wrong,” explained Bobby Joe Champion. He was responding to Minnesota House and Senate Republicans, who recently passed the Public Safety Omnibus Bill that included deep cuts to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR).

The House version of the bill included a 65 percent cut, and the Senate version requested a 50 percent reduction in the MDHR budget.

“We need to be doing more, not less,” suggested Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey. According to Lindsey, the proposed cuts would make it even more difficult than it already is to process cases in a timely manner. Presently, Lindsey says that his limited staff takes more than 400 days to complete investigations into charges. “No way can we be effective with this level of cut,” said Lindsay. Presently, the Human Rights Department spends 80 percent of its budget on staff and operating costs.

However, Republicans proposing the cuts suggested that the department spends the majority of its budget on education. “We changed their mission and tied the state funds to enforcement, and if they want to use federal funds for education and outreach, that was fine,” said Tony Cornish.

But according to Lindsey, only six percent of the budget is spent on education. Lindsey said he suspects that the reason that this exaggeration has been used as justification to cut his budget is because it is a part of a national right-wing campaign. It is a campaign whose goal is to cut out or restrict enforcement of human rights statutes across the country.

Republican governors in Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Idaho are among those who have recently sought to reduce the size and scope of their states’ human rights departments.

“What this bill says,” explained Republican Rep. Kerry Gauthier “is that Minnesota — which has an issue in discrimination in employment, the worst in the country — is going to walk away from human rights.” Gauthier was referring to a recent Star Tribune article that cited several studies indicating that Minnesota has the largest Black-White unemployment gap in the nation (20.4 percent for Blacks vs. 6.6 percent for Whites).

Presently, the Department of Human Rights investigates charges of illegal discrimination and ensures that businesses seeking State contracts are in compliance with equal opportunity requirements. It also strives to eliminate discrimination by educating Minnesotans about their rights and responsibilities under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Incidentally, Minnesota was ahead of its time when it passed its Human Rights Act in 1954. The act prohibits discrimination because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, and sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, public services and education.

“Such discrimination,” reads the act, “threatens the rights and privileges of the inhabitants of this state and menaces the institutions and foundations of democracy.”

Champion, in floor debate on the bill, pointed out that the cuts would cripple the department’s ability to carry out its mandate to enforce the Minnesota’s anti-discrimination laws. “What sort of message does that send to our broader society?” asked the local legislator. But, Republican legislator Cornish insisted that the bill “didn’t gouge” the MDHR but only “reduced their budget.”

Cornish also suggested that businesses that are required to show proof that they are compliant with anti-discriminatory hiring laws should be doing more than $250,000 in State contracts. Presently, businesses doing $100,000 in State contracts have to comply with the MDHR and show proof that they are compliant with State anti-discriminatory laws.

Last year, MHDR had 805 charges of discrimination filed. Most frequent were complaints of disability discrimination (325), followed by complaints of racial discrimination and religion (261). There were 207 gender discrimination complaints.

On a more encouraging note, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton insists he will maintain the MHDR’s budget at the same level as in the past biennium. Dayton reaffirmed his commitment last week in his response to the Black Economic Summit held recently in North Minneapolis.

Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to mellaneous19@yahoo.com

The Journey Towards Housing Fairness Continues for African-Americans, Latinos

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New Report Finds Disparities in Maintenance of REO Properties

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

When the Center for Responsible Lending examined the demographics of the housing crisis, it determined that for every 100 African-American homeowners with a mortgage, 11 have either lost their homes or were at imminent risk of foreclosure. For Latino families, the figures were even worse – 17 of every 100 Latino homeowners with a mortgage are affected by foreclosures. From 2009 through 2012 African-American and Latino communities will together lose $350 billion due to depreciation in values from nearby foreclosures.

Just as communities of color were targeted for high-cost subprime mortgage loans, now the high concentration of foreclosed properties in these same communities has led to yet another dilemma: a disproportionate share of neglect among bank-owned foreclosures. Also know as real-estate owned (REO) properties, these formerly-occupied homes are bringing blight and contributing to further deterioration of the quality of life in communities of color.

A new report from the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) in Washington, D.C. describes an investigation of 624 bank-owned properties in four markets: Dayton, Ohio; Hartford, Connecticut; Maryland’s Price George’s County; and Richmond, Virginia. Field staff visited and evaluated the exterior condition of REO properties in these markets based on a 100-point scale. The goal was to determine whether banks and their third-party contractors were equitably maintaining the properties owned.

In three of the four metro areas, properties located in either White or stably integrated neighborhoods were managed substantially better than those in communities of color. In the White or integrated communities, REO properties showed evidence of well-maintained lawns, secured entrances and professional sales marketing. By contrast in communities of color, poorly maintained yards, unsecured entrances, poor curb appeal and appearances of abandonment were evident.

The report notes that while Prince George’s County is a “rare example of a racially and ethnically integrated suburb”, its Black neighborhoods, scored well below those of its integrated neighborhoods.

According to NFHA, “A bank risks violating civil rights laws if it owns a home in an African-American or Latino neighborhood and fails to take the same steps to maintain, market, and sell it as it would take for a home in an area with a largely white population.”

The NFHA report also calls for banks, federal regulators, and local governments to take measurable steps to erase the noted disparities.

“It is imperative that banks take affirmative steps to maintain, market, and sell all REO properties according to fair housing best practices standards. It is also imperative that federal regulators and enforcement agencies examine the ways in which banks and the vendors that they hire conduct this business” advised NFHA. “Lastly it is imperative that local municipalities and residents remain vigilant and ensure that the concentration of REO properties is not impeding fair housing choices.”

The irony is that these findings and recommendation are emerging during the nation’s observance of Fair Housing Month. The month-long observance is intended to commemorate the historic signing of the Fair Housing Act on April 1l, 1968.

Enacted four years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by race in housing sales, rentals, and financing and was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Later in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Fair Housing Amendments which prescribed powers for the Department of Justice along with enforcement penalties and expanded protected classes to include disabilities and familial status.

Yet, despite the passage of time and the enactments, fair housing has yet to reach many Americans of color. The laws may have changed; but discriminatory practices still remain in the housing industry.

The journey towards housing fairness continues.

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.

HIV Positive Former Inmates Face New Obstacles in Society

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By Tamara E. Holmes, NNPA Correspondent –

Life isn't easy for African American men and women re-entering society after incarceration, but the prevalence of HIV in the Black community creates a new set of challenges. Many former inmates may find themselves at an increased risk of contracting HIV once they leave prison, and those who are already infected often have difficulty finding sufficient medical and emotional resources on the outside.

The barriers for anyone leaving prison are great, says Lena Asmar, director of clinical and support services for AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, an organization that advocates for people with HIV and AIDS. Finding affordable housing and getting a job can be frustrating. "All of that coupled with HIV is huge," Asmar says.

Despite urban legends exaggerating the presence of HIV/AIDS in prison, only about 1.5 percent of state and federal prisoners are HIV positive, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. For men and women who don't have HIV, there are inherent risks when they return to their homes and communities.

While it's true that many inmates engage in high-risk behavior--such as unprotected sex, injection drug use, and tattooing--while in prison, it's wrong to assume that former inmates play a huge role in the high HIV-infection rate in the Black community. The data just doesn't support that fact, says Joseph B. Richardson, Jr., Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Maryland's Department of African-American studies. In fact, in many communities where the HIV-infection rate is high, former inmates may have a higher risk of contracting HIV on the outside, Dr. Richardson points out.

One of the biggest mistakes a former inmate can make is assuming that a partner has been celibate while he or she has been in prison. Men, in particular, often assume their partners were faithful while they were incarcerated, says Dr. Richardson. However, that partner may have been engaging in other relationships during that time, and new partners whom former inmates meet "can possibly be engaging in unprotected, high-risk sex," Dr. Richardson adds.

Precious Jackson, a women's-health educator at the Los Angeles-based Center for Health Justice, stresses how important it is for couples to communicate about sex, as well as the risk of HIV after a partner has been released from prison--and suggests that both parties get HIV tests. "You want to make sure that both of you are healthy," she says.

For those former inmates who have HIV, the greatest challenge may be maintaining their health. The prison system is responsible for inmates' care while they are incarcerated, says Edward Harrison, president of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, but once inmates leave prison, they must find health-care coverage on their own. Not doing so immediately could be harmful. "You need to take HIV medications with regularity," Asmar says. "If you don't, they may not work."

Not surprisingly, it can be difficult to find affordable medical coverage or receive help from programs that provide HIV treatment for the uninsured, such as AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs), which often have waiting lists. In addition, the difficulty that a former inmate may face finding a home and a job could also affect his or her health. "What often makes people's health decline after they get out of incarceration is not having stability to take their medication," Asmar says.

If you know someone with HIV who is scheduled to be released from prison, help him or her obtain appropriate care and treatment by following Asmar's tips:

Find an advocate: Local AIDS service organizations, often called ASOs, can provide information about programs and services that may offer financial help. They can also provide contact information for other organizations that can help out with other needs, such as housing and job placement.

Explore local hospital offerings: Some hospitals have community health centers that provide services for free or at a discount. "Look for one that does infectious-disease work and has providers that are not judgmental and know about HIV," Asmar says.

Get emotional assistance: Former inmates often experience feelings of isolation after returning home from prison. "People sometimes come out with no support. Sometimes their families have turned their backs on them and don't want anything to do with them," Asmar says. Look for HIV/AIDS support groups that can find people who are experiencing some of the same fears and frustrations.

The key is for HIV-positive former inmates to start making connections so that they can better handle the challenges that accompany living with HIV. "The problems of isolation and stigma are huge," Asmar says.

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes frequently about emotional health and wellness.

Tax Delinquencies Hampering Black Communites in Pittsburgh

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By Christian Morrow, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

A new audit of the city’s real estate acquisitions and holdings shows that although the bulk of the properties taken for tax delinquency are in predominantly Black neighborhoods, most saw more properties resold.

The audit released last month by Controller Michael Lamb found the City is the major owner of vacant, tax-delinquent properties in the following city neighborhoods: Perry South, California-Kirkbride, Garfield, Homewood North, Homewood South, Beltzhoover, Hazelwood, Middle Hill and Larimer.

“Many City owned vacant and tax-delinquent properties are in our most underserved communities,” he said. “We must make every effort, including working with the citizens in the community in which these properties are located, to get these properties back on the City tax rolls. We also must create a system so these properties are given regular maintenance. They are contributing to neighborhood blight and in some cases are safety hazards.”

Lamb’s audit further notes that the city’s recent practice of only taking properties that have a high probability of resale—rather than taking all delinquent properties—has reduced its holdings and generated new tax revenue.

During the period covered by the audit, July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2010, the city sold 466 properties assessed at nearly $11 million for $3.6 million. Its share of the tax revenue now being generated is just under $118,000 per year.

Of the neighborhoods indicated above, only Hazelwood saw a net gain, of six, in delinquent properties. However, the delinquent properties not acquired by the city remain—just off the books. The audit indicates little can be done about them.

Some can be adapted for reuse and may be given to communities for other purposes than residential use such as community gardens like those in Homewood, East Liberty, or Hazelwood, or like the apiary in Homewood, or for parklets like the one in Polish Hill.

Conveying these properties to other community owners, even for promising uses has also been limited because several such owners are themselves delinquent and are forbidden to take on additional property.

Nonetheless, the report recommends the city increase its efforts to work with neighborhoods schools and other groups to utilize vacant properties for community purposes.

“We have properties that continue to be delinquent, so we have to reach out to communities, even if its’ just to help maintain empty lots,” said Lamb. “The system is working, the side-yard sale program is successful, but it’s not enough. It’s an ongoing struggle.”

Dr. Henry Givens Jr. Retires as President of Harris-Stowe State University

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By Rebecca S. Rivas, Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American –

Dr. Henry Givens Jr. is the longest serving president of any university in Missouri – leading Harris-Stowe State University for 32 years in May.

Last week, Givens told a room of longtime supporters – including elected officials, business leaders, and staff – that the time has come to retire. Givens will stay on board until the university’s national search produces a new president.

Under his leadership, the university has nearly tripled its student population. It has grown from one building with only one degree to what will be eight facilities in the fall and 14 degrees.

“He has overseen the renaissance of this institution over the past 32 years,” said Thelma V. Cook, chairperson of the Board of Regents. “His unwavering dedication and passion for the students at Harris-Stowe, as well as his commitment to providing them with affordable, accessible higher education option is heroic.”

The list of his achievements is exhausting, but Givens said every bit of it has always been for the students. “Without the students we serve, there is absolutely no reason for Harris-Stowe State University to exists,” he told the audience.

What students most love about Givens is his open-door mentality, said Derek Collins, student representative of Board of Regents. In most universities, it would be frowned upon for students to try to cut around the staff and go directly to Givens, he said.

“And, it probably is here as well, but students catch him going to his car or in the hall,” he said. “And, no matter what the issue is that they bring to him, he jumps right on it. He has his ultimate interest in the success of his students and I’ve seen it time and time again. No matter how large or small the issue is, they are able to go to him directly.”

Givens keeps books in his office, just in case students can’t afford them and need to get them on loan. He admits it’s a little selfish, but he loves the students coming to the office.

“When they come, I can hear them outside my door. I pick up the phone and ask, ‘Are there students out there? Let them in,’” he said. “That’s what I love about Harris Stowe. It’s small enough that you can get your arms around them. Rarely are there students that don’t know I’m the president. I keep in touch with them.”

Givens would have never dreamed as a student at Lincoln University in the 1950s that he would become a university president. "It wasn’t my dream because I didn’t think that you could ever do that,” he said.

Yet the impression of then-university president Dr. Sherman Scruggs stuck with him. Givens said Scruggs was sharp, wore a nice hat and knew all of his students. “I thought, ‘Boy I’d love to be just like that,’” he said. “But, it never dawned on me that I would.”

Once he started taking education courses, he didn’t turn back – receiving his master’s at University of Illinois, his Ph.D. from Saint Louis University, and his post-doctoral studies in higher education administration at Harvard University.

His career started a teacher at Webster Groves School District, and then he became a principal at the first prototype of a magnet school in the nation. He became the first African-American assistant commissioner of education in Missouri, where he served for five years. In 1979 he became president of what would become Harris-Stowe State College some years later and a university in 2005.

“He has been a pioneer for our state’s work in education,” said Gov. Jay Nixon.

Selecting education as his career path has been one of his proudest achievement, he said. It comes second to “meeting the right young lady to marry, to raise our family, and to educate our children.”

Belma Evans Givens received two standing ovations at the press conference.

“I want him to be happy,” Belma said in an interview after the conference. “I hope there will be somebody who will have that commitment, who will have that passion that he has had for Harris-Stowe because it has been his life.”

Belma said one of the highlights of their career at Harris-Stowe was in 1987, when their daughter graduated from Harris-Stowe. That same year, the governor asked Givens to serve as the interim president at Lincoln University during its financial crisis.

“I told him that it was okay, but I wanted him to go and get a complete check-up before you go and try to take over two institutions,” she said. “He came out okay, but it was really tough.”

Givens read a long list – which encapsulated everyone in the room – and thanked them for being the “village” that has raised the university’s children.

U.S. Rep. William. Lacy Clay, Jr. has known Givens for most of his life, he said. In 1994 as a state senator, Clay championed the bill to expand Harris-Stowe’s mission by adding more baccalaureate programs.

“Listening to Dr. Givens remarks today, you can tell that his parents at an early age stressed the importance of education, and Henry followed through on their advice by first getting an education and then providing an education for thousands of others,” he said. “This community should be grateful for the service that he’s given.”

His grandson Jarrett Woolfolk, a junior at Harris-Stowe, said he once had a friend who was not sure college was for him, but he wanted to give it a try.

“My grandfather gave him a full opportunity to come to school and get the books,” he said. “And, that’s one of those stories that’s pretty meaningful to me – giving people chances who don’t have it.”

Givens has a knack for reeling in students on the fringe. About 90 percent of the student population are first-generation college students.

“So, once we get them, we work with them,” he said. One of the biggest ways he does that is through scholarships. Last year, he headed the most successful fundraising campaign in the university’s 152-year history, reaching $45 million.

When the Anheuser-Busch School of Business was established, Givens helped to create the African-American Business Leadership Council for business leaders interested in providing support for the school. David Steward, founder of World Wide Technology, Inc, said Givens urged him to chair the council.

“I view him as much as an entrepreneur as an educator can possibly be,” Steward said. “I know what it takes as an entrepreneur myself. I have such admiration for him.”

By example, Givens inspires community leaders to push forward and never give up on their visions, said Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett, who represents the university’s Ward.

“He has created the vision and legacy to educate, empower and inspire new brainpower for our region,” she said.

In January, Givens stepped down as the chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Statewide Celebration Commission, a position he held since its inception in 1986. It’s now the second largest statewide celebration in the nation.

“That is the cause of Dr. Givens’ commitment to the process,” said St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

Dooley also applauds Givens for transforming what was once a one building teaching college on the verge of failing in the 1970s to a full university campus with residence halls, a business school , and early childhood development/parenting education center.

“It’s a great place to be,” Dooley said. “It makes you feel that someone is doing something right. It doesn’t get done by itself. He has been a contributed to the quality of life in the St. Louis area.”

Givens endured and overcame many challenges, particularly in keeping higher education affordable. Historically, Harris Teachers College prepared White elementary school teachers for the City’s public schools and Stowe prepared the Black public school teachers. The two schools merged in 1954, and Givens took his position when the college had become the newest member to the public higher education system.

It takes someone with unique qualities to build such a great institution from a modest base, said Donald M. Suggs, publisher of the St. Louis American newspaper.

“His leadership has been indispensable in bringing to fruition the dreams he had for Harris Stowe three decades ago,” Suggs said. “He has been tireless and totally focused.”

Lea Sutherlin, executive secretary to the president and secretary to the board, remembers five years ago when Dr. John E. Moore, Jr. retired as president of Drury University. Moore sent Givens a card with a bear on it that said being a university president is somewhat like dancing with a bear.

“In the beginning you have the exhilaration that you’re dancing with a bear,” she said. “The problem is when you want to sit down; the bear still wants to dance.”

Every since he got that card five years ago, Givens would come into Sutherlin’s office and say “the bear is doing the watusi today or the bear is doing the twist and I don’t feel like twisting,” she said. “So when it was time for him to retire,” she said, “he looked at me and said, “the dance is over.’”

Dr. Henry Givens, Jr. shares his plans to retire as president of the Harris-Stowe State University on Tuesday, as Board of Regent member Wayman Smith stands in support. The announcement came at a mid-morning press conference in the university's Bank of America Theatre.

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