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Dallas County Accidentally Backs Reparations

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

It was a mistake … but it was well executed.

During a meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners Court last Tuesday, officials voted on an item called the “Juneteenth Resolution,” in reference to the annual commemoration of the day U.S. soldiers arrived in Texas to free slaves after the end of the Civil War (June 19, 1865). The only Black commissioner, John Wiley Price, submitted the resolution. The resolution eventually came up for a voice vote and was passed unanimously.

But Price’s resolution talked addressed more than Juneteenth. Price’s resolution addressed everything from the injustices of slavery to Jim Crow laws to predatory lending practices that Blacks have been subjected to.

The final paragraph of the provision, which most of the commissioners overlooked, revealed one more thing.

“Therefore, be it resolved in the Dallas County Commissioners Court that Juneteenth and its historical mimicking of freedom is just that, and that the United States of America is derelict in its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the African-American people,” it read. “Be it further resolved that the dereliction that has caused 400 years of significant [inaudible] to millions and significant suffering to the descendants of those who have been enslaved Africans who built this country, should be satisfied with monetary and substantial reparations to same.’”

Dallas County had unwittingly advocated for reparations for Blacks.

Price also read the entire resolution out loud, but commissioners seemed to not hear him. Later on, they complained about not being given copies of the resolution before they voted on it. They also complained of the resolution not being up on the Commissioners Court’s website and that it wasn’t part of their meeting packet.

Price told a local news station that he was inspired by the recent cover story in The Atlantic, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, that presented a case for reparations for African-Americans. Price told the Dallas Morning News that other groups, such as Native Americans and Japanese-Americans, have been compensated for past wrongs.

“We are the only ones that haven’t been compensated,” Price said.

The only Republican on the court, Commissioner Mike Cantrell, later changed his vote to an abstention and also told the Dallas Morning News, “The reason why I didn’t abstain this morning is that I had not received a copy of the resolution.”

Others, like County Judge Clay Jenkins, kept their vote as a show of solidarity with others over the celebration of Juneteenth. He did advise everyone to read the resolutions next time.

Suspended U.S. Democracy Project Back on Track

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

A U.S. government-funded leadership and democracy project that was suspended several weeks ago has restarted following assurances to the contrary, outgoing American Ambassador Brent Hardt said.

Following almost daily complaints from the Guyanese government about the U.S. meddling in local affairs, the U.S. suspended the $1.2 million project after agreeing to talks with the government, which had said that it was uncomfortable with the project because it had little or no input in its drafting and wanted assurances that it was not aimed at manipulating the local political scene.

In remarks made by Hardt this week, he said that the project has restarted since last week, and its Canadian Director Glenn Bradbury is to be handed back his work permit after it was revoked by authorities in the heat of the row.

Both sides have agreed to an oversight mechanism, but no details about this were given. Bradbury had never left the country during the suspension period that began in early May.

“They are back on track. They have been back on track since last week, and IRI [International Republican Institute] is back at work, and so we are moving forward. There was always a belief in a highly partisan environment, that somehow we were seeking some political outcome here, and I’ve repeatedly made clear we have no interest in what party is ruling Guyana. That’s entirely a matter for the voters of the country to decide,” he said.

Presidential Advisor on Governance Gail Teixeira had openly said that the U.S. was channeling money to the opposition in a bid to remove the Hindu-led government from office, hence the Cabinet’s simmering discomfort with the project, leading to its suspension and several round of talks.

The governing People’s Progressive Party has traditionally been suspicious of U.S. activities in the country, blaming the CIA and other agencies for ousting it from government in the 1960s and for fermenting racial strife between Blacks and East Indians that led to more than 150 deaths during riots, as well as acts of arson and destruction of properties. U.S. declassified documents have confirmed this.

Some of the money from the project has been used to train civil society and non-governmental organizations in leadership and good governance.

The suspension came amid relentless pressure from the U.S. and other Western nations for authorities to organize and hold local government elections that were last contested in 1994. The government has given a plethora of excuses for not doing so, including a suggestion that the population is not ready or interested in these elections. Opposition parties and civil society groups say the government fears losing in the major urban centers and a possible carryover into general elections that must be held by late 2011.

Mobilizing Key Groups Can Change Politics of the Deep South

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As voters’ rights advocates and civil rights leaders commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi, new study by the Center for American Progress finds that shifting demographics in the South can help to accelerate meaningful social and political change.

The report titled, “True South: Unleashing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer,” defined the Black Belt, a region known for its rich soil and history of plantation slavery, as regions in the following Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

According to the report, between 2000 and 2010, “the non-Hispanic white population in the South grew at a rate of 4 percent, while the so-called ‘minority’ population in the region experienced a 34 percent growth, the greatest out of any region in the country.”

Nearly 60 percent of Blacks live below the Mason-Dixon line and Blacks account for about 20 percent of the total population in the South. The report also noted that 40 percent of the Blacks that relocated “to the South since 2000 were between the ages of 21 and 40 years old” and researchers said this group will likely settle and start families increasing the number of Blacks living in the region.

The report continued: “These trends could have a major effect on the region’s politics because voters of color tend to be more progressive and vote overwhelmingly for progressive candidates.”

Changing demographics, frustration with right-wing extremists and the growing number of young voters will play a role in the growing progressive electorate pushing back on “a long history of polarization” in the Black Belt.

Republican state lawmakers in the Black Belt, who may feel threatened by the growing diversity among potential voters, have enacted a number of laws that have a disproportionate impact of the quality of life of the poor, Blacks and other minorities.

According to the report, “nine states have passed laws requiring voters to bring photo identification to the polling booth in order to cast a traditional ballot” and governors in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, “effectively denying health care to millions of their citizens, overwhelmingly the poor and people of color.”

The report continued: “Eleven states have passed ‘right-to-work’ laws, which discourage organizing by unions. They are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.”

During a panel discussion about the CAP report, Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP State Conference and the national co-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary, said that there’s “a deficit of morality in the South, because people are not seen as people they are seen as exploitable cheap labor.”

Johnson added that access to the polls free of voter suppression, access to quality education, access to health care and workers’ rights are the primary issues that civil rights activists must focus on and organize around so that the South can progress.

The report said that today’s civil rights leaders and stakeholders should learn three key lessons from the Freedom Summer of 1964: voter registration can overcome voter suppression, coalition-building is the key to transformative political power, and that a successful movement is a marathon, not a sprint.

Stacey Abrams, House minority leader in the Georgia State Assembly, said people that have never voted hear about voter intimidation and voter suppression, but they don’t know what that means.

“You don’t know if you’re going to stand in line and cause trouble, you don’t know if you’re going to lose your job, you don’t know what that card is that you keep hearing about and you know that you don’t have whatever ID they think you should have,” said Abrams.

More than 800,000 Black, Latino and Asian Americans are not registered to vote in Georgia, said Abrams. It takes less than half of that, just 260,000, to change a statewide election.

“If you change Georgia, you begin to change the South and if you change the South you change the nation,” explained Abrams. “All of those social policies that we like to talk about can be lived in the Deep South and if they are lived and realized they can be exported to the rest of the country.”

Abrams said that voters’ rights advocates and community stakeholders have to start talking about voter identification in a more positive way.

Ben Jealous, senior fellow for Center for American Progress, former president of the NAACP, and author of the report said, “Right now, when we talk about the South, we end up talking about voter suppression. What we really need to be talking about is the need for massive voter registration.”

The report said that “registering just 30 percent of eligible unregistered black voters or other voters of color could shift the political calculus in a number of Black Belt states” and “Registering 60 percent or 90 percent would change the political calculus in an even greater number of states.”

The CAP report cited Maryland, where a number of progressive policy changes are taking hold, as an example of a state where a slavery was once commonplace and now a diverse electorate has had a significant political impact.

“It is easy to forget that Maryland enslaved half its population at the time of the Civil War and that it is the state from which Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass escaped,” said the report. “Yet Maryland sits below the Mason-Dixon Line, and it practiced legalized segregation up until 1954.”

In just a few years, “The Free State” has experienced a number of key legislative reforms including a ban on the death penalty, the legalization of same-sex marriage, decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, and the extension of early voting and same-day registration.

The report continued: “Maryland shows what can happen when people come together across old lines of separation and division to promote progressive values and policies. Maryland is not seceding from the South, instead it is demonstrating what the South’s future can and should be.”

Still, the report suggested that changing politics in the Black Belt won’t an easy battle for pollsters and others seeking to energize potential voters in the South and across the country.

The report estimated that nearly 21 million members of the so-called “Rising American Electorate,” consisting of “people of color, unmarried women, and youth voters ages 18 to 29 years old,” that voted in 2012, might not vote in the 2014 elections.

Organizers and voters’ rights advocates still have a long march ahead.

“What the ‘Freedom Summer’ taught us is that the antidote for massive voter suppression is massive voter registration,” said Jealous. “There is a dormant majority throughout the South that can be unleashed if we can get back to the spirit of the ‘Freedom Summer’ and focus on massive voter registration.”

Family Instability Affects Children's Cells

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – While sticks and stones can break bones, new research indicates that family struggles can hurt children on a molecular level.

The study, published in the July issue of Pediatrics, involved 75 African American families with children age 5 to 15 (out of a sample of 80) in the New Orleans metro area. Researchers found that the more “family instability” a child had experienced over time, the shorter his or her telomeres were.

Dr. Stacy Drury, author of the study, describes telomeres as “shoelace caps” on the ends of a chromosome that keep the strands from unwinding. Chromosomes (our inherited strands of DNA) have to replicate to allow a cell to multiply. Telomeres allow a chromosome to copy itself without errors – but every time a chromosome replicates, its telomeres shorten until the chromosome can no longer copy itself properly. When chromosomes can’t copy, a cell can’t either – so it dies.

Shorter telomeres mean shorter cell life. That means the cells of children under chronic stress are aging and dying faster.

“All of [your] biological systems, when you’re stressed, are put on high alert. When you’re on high alert too long you start to speed up the whole aging process, and cells are showing the effects sooner than the rest of the body,” says Drury, who also serves as director of the Behavioral and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Laboratory at Tulane University. “That’s one things that we were surprised to find. We weren’t sure we’d see this effect in kids this young.”

This effect – chronic stress manifesting as cellular burnout – has long been linked to poor health outcomes. Drury explains that the shortening of telomeres can be seen as the earliest warning sign of these outcomes.

The study, citing other research, states: “Exposure to early adversity increases risk for negative health outcomes across the life course, yet it is unclear whether specific experience or cumulative exposure is the most biologically toxic. Toxic stress likely influences child health and development, particularly risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and mental illness.”

Drury’s team also took into account other factors that could influence a child’s development, such as body mass index, age, maternal education as an indication of socio-economic status, household monthly income, and more. Almost none of these factors had any bearing on telomere length — except for a few peculiarities around gender and age.

Overall, children exposed to instability have shorter telomeres than unexposed children, but this genetic wear-and-tear seems to affect girls more directly than boys. For girls, the link remains strong over time, and is not influenced by other variables, including the type of instability they experience.

(The “family instabilities” examined in the study were family incarceration, suicide of a family member, and witnessed violence. The study breaks down the effects by “witnessed violence” alone; “family disruption,” which is the other two instabilities together; and a cumulative measure of any combination of these experiences over time).

For boys, a few factors can influence the severity of the effects. For example, boys who see violence have the most significant likelihood of shorter telomeres, as opposed to other forms of instability. Yet, maternal education seems to provide a buffer for boys 10 years old or younger. Conversely, the older a boy is as he experiences family instability—cumulatively, or individual instances—the shorter his telomeres will be.

“The effects of this family instability…we saw it in all kids, but we really saw it in girls,” says Drury, adding that the difference persists in adulthood, but there hasn’t yet been enough research to determine how early the difference appears. “One thing that might play a role is the rate of development—whether it’s biological differences, or social interaction, or differences with a child’s place within and outside the family system.”

Another inexplicable tidbit from the study: the children who had experienced the most instability tended to have younger parents and mothers who were more highly educated.

For concerned caregivers who may not be able to control their child’s exposure to life’s hardships, Drury recommends creating a buffer zone with areas that are within your control.

“Telomere length definitely changes, it’s not a static measurement. You have to have early intervention for prevention…better nutrition, talk about holistic health, exercise, and sleep,” she says, adding that communal support helps as well. “If moms and dads with exposure to family struggles are focusing on ways to buffer the impact on their kids, these things become more important.”

President Obama Acts to Ease Student Loan Debt

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGNTON (NNPA) – From 2003 to 2014, student debt in America skyrocketed from $250 million to $1.2 trillion, surpassing credit card debt. As more students, especially Blacks students, rely on grants and loans to get through college, President Barack Obama has stepped up with a series of executive orders to ease the pain of borrowers in college and after they graduate.

A 2012 study by the Center for American Progress, said that 81 percent of Blacks who earned bachelor’s degrees graduated with debt compared to 64 percent of White students.

According to the CAP report, “African Americans, are graduating with more student debt: 27 percent of black bachelor’s degree recipients had more than $30,500 in debt compared to 16 per­cent for their White counterparts.”

Fifty-six percent of Blacks aged 18 to 34, saddled with debt, post-poned buying a home, because of the ailing economy.

President Obama issued the executive orders the same week the White House released a report that detailed the student debt crisis, state-by-state.

Student loan borrowers in California topped the list, owing more than $100 billion. Borrowers in New York owed more than $73 billion, in Texas more than $71 billion, nearly $62 billion in Florida and about $50 billion in Pennsylvania.

There’s no denying the impact of a college education on the lifetime earnings of a graduate.

“The median annual earnings among recipients of a Bachelor’s degree or higher (age 25 and over) with full-time work was $62,300 in 2013, or $28,300 more than their counterparts with only a high school diploma,” stated the report.

Unemployment rates for young Black college graduates are also significantly lower than the jobless rates for Blacks that only finished high school, 13.1 percent compared 34.7 percent, according to a 2014 report by the Economic Policy Institute, but rising tuition costs continue to imperil the dreams of millions of young Blacks.

“Over the past three decades, the average tuition at a public four-year college has more than tripled, while a typical family’s income has barely budged. More students than ever are relying on loans to pay for college,” the report explained. “Today, 71 percent of those earning a bachelor’s degree graduate with debt, which averages $29,400. While most students are able to repay their loans, many feel burdened by debt, especially as they seek to start a family, buy a home, launch a business, or save for retirement.”

The report continued: “For too many low- and middle-income families this essential rung on the ladder to opportunity and advancement is slipping out of reach.”

Many Black families are unable to contribute financially to help cover college tuition, making student loan programs even more critical for those students. However, defaulting on student loans can have lasting consequences, including damaged credit ratings, garnished wages, and can even have a negative impact on future employment prospects, the report said.

Working with the Department of Education, President Obama launched the “Pay As You Earn” program that caps loan payments for students already making payments at 10 percent of their earn monthly earnings.

“This executive action is expected to help up to 5 million borrowers who may be struggling with student loans today,” the report said.

President Obama also partnered with the Department of Treasury in an effort to help Pell Grant beneficiaries learn how to claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit, an initiative started in 2009 “which provides up to $2,500 to help pay for each year of college.”

The president is also working with trade groups and businesses to increase awareness about repayment options and improve financial literacy.

Recently, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has pushed a bill that would have allowed borrowers to refinance their student loans. Earlier this month, the legislation faded in the Senate on a 56-38 vote, largely opposed by Republicans who said that the bill was an election year stunt engineered by the Democrats. The proposal would have saved students about $2,000 over the life of their loans.

President Obama’s executive actions come more than a year after some historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were forced to turn students away, because of the stricter requirements for the PLUS loan program. Other Black schools furloughed faculty and staff and slashed budgets to stay afloat when enrollment tanked. The rule change disproportionately affected Black families, who suffered heavy losses during the most recent housing crisis and the recession that followed.

The president’s most recent actions may help alleviate some of the pain felt by Black students and HBCUs by the PLUS loan program rule changes.

“At a time when a college degree is so critical to the future of today’s students it has also never been more expensive,” said Cecilia Muñoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House. “So, making college more affordable is critically important, but with more than a trillion dollars in outstanding student loans, we also have to do more for people who have already borrowed for college to repay their loans.”

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BVN National News Wire