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HBCU Morgan State University Shares in $95.8 Million Grant from NASA

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Grant is largest in school's history

Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Morgan State University will receive a landmark $28.5 million portion of a massive $95.8-million, five-year grant from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The grant, which allows the East Baltimore school to conduct research supporting NASA’s Earth and space science projects, is the largest in Morgan’s 144-year history.

Morgan will now play an integral part in the Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research Studies and Investigations (GESTAR) research team. “This grant represents a significant recognition of the quality of Morgan’s academic programs and research in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” says Dallas R. Evans, chairman of Morgan’s Board of Regents, in a prepared statement. “I am proud that NASA has acknowledged the talent of the students on our campus by selecting Morgan as a partner in GESTAR.”

The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) will lead the GESTAR participants, which includes Morgan professors and graduate students. The team will study some of the most prolific and pertinent issues in modern science, including atmospheric chemistry, polar climate change, oceanography and more.

School President Dr. David Wilson, who announced plans to double grants and research at Morgan in 10 years during his inaugural speech, celebrated the grant and its potential impact on students.

“Morgan is committed to its graduates being strong, not just in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields but also in critical thinking and global awareness and that is exactly what this grant will do,” said Wilson in a statement. “I am convinced that through this partnership our students will be provided with even richer experiences and many more opportunities, for example, to do internships at NASA. On the other hand, NASA benefits from having access to a more diverse body of talent from which to recruit in the future.”

It was Morgan’s commitment to STEM disciplines that prompted USRA to select the school for its elite research team. Morgan boasts doctoral programs in bioenvironmental sciences, the state-of-the-art Richard N. Dixon Center for Science Research and the Center for the Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies, which is currently being built.

Baltimore officials reacted to news of Morgan’s historic grant, including Maryland state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who lauded NASA’s partnership with the school. “I am elated to hear that Morgan was selected for this partnership with USRA and NASA,” said Conway in a press release. “This really affirms the University’s stature in the higher education community as one of the nation’s leaders in producing African-American scientists and engineers.”

Among the objectives of the GESTAR team is to “increase the involvement of minority and women scientists in earth science research.”

The Johns Hopkins University and the I.M. Systems Group will join Morgan and USRA as members of the GESTAR team.

Georgia Residents Tell Riveting Stories of Unemployment

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By Kalin Thomas, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

ATLANTA – Thirty-seven year-old Tonya Pinkston was raised by her parents to get a good education, a good job, and to contribute to society. But, something happened while she was climbing that ladder to success – she was laid off three times.

"I have a college degree, but I never dreamed I'd be faced with no job security and wondering how I'm going to feed my family," said the single mother of an eight-year-old daughter.

It's becoming is a hauntingly popular refrain, some observers say.

Pinkston was just one of several panelists who testified at the Speak Out for Jobs event held recently to provide a forum for Atlanta's unemployed and underemployed.

Community activist and WAOK-AM personality Derrick Boazman said the forum – held at Trinity United Methodist Church – was an eye-opener for some observers.

"When you're used to eating three meals a day, you sometimes forget about those who can't," Bozeman said. "But now there are people who had big cars, big houses, and 401-ks who now find themselves in line at Hosea Williams Feed the Hungry," he said. "So, we're all in this together."

Metro Atlanta lost more than 12,000 jobs in 2010, statistics show, and its unemployment rate was 10.4 percent for the first quarter of 2011. That's why the 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women and Atlanta Jobs with Justice decided to sponsor the Speak Out event.

"This event is about unity. If we unite, we can make some changes and help create jobs," said Atlanta Jobs with Justice Coordinator Tony Romano. "We believe everyone deserves a job with dignity."

To get the crowd started, he yelled, "Don't bite your tongues – call a spade a spade. Now, let the Speak Out begin!"

Participants formed long lines at two microphones to give their testimonies. One man said he was unemployed and living in a shelter, but when he goes to fill out a job application, they won't accept it because he can't use the shelter as an address.

Another participant, Dracy Blackwell, tugged at the audience's heartstrings when she told of how four years of unemployment has devastated her husband. “It's been really hard on him. Sometimes he's suicidal," she said. "I want to see him feel like a man again."

Some observers offered solutions and hope. One woman talked about becoming an entrepreneur by selling Avon. And, a former homeless man said he now is working for the Homeless Task Force. "Don't give up hope!" he shouted.

One 17-year old girl noted she'd been looking for work to help her mother, who is a single parent. "Just the other day all of our electricity was cut off," she lamented.

To help relieve the pain, state Sen. Nan Orrock told the audience she's fighting to make Georgia sign President Obama's bill for extended unemployment benefits.

Romano added, "Our next step is to try to defeat the anti-immigration bill, which also affects jobs, and to keep holding events like this so we can videotape testimonies and put them on You Tube. We're hoping this will help us find solutions."

Georgia state Sen. Vincent Ford advised attendees to boycott the lottery. "Lottery ticket money comes from the working poor community," he said, "but you don't benefit from it."

After the program, organizers provided free lunch and free services, including: legal aid, resume help, food stamps, Medicaid applications, career counseling, child care, housing, health screenings, and even free massages and haircuts.

One participant, Alvin McCordy, said he was happy to get a haircut for an upcoming job interview. "The barbers treat people like me with compassion," he said. "I'm going to feel better and look better."

One barber, Siegfried White, said he doesn't mind offering free cuts on a Saturday – the day that barbers usually make the most money.

"Someone did this for me when I was going through my transition and I wanted to give back," he said.

Another barber, Gene Grisby, said participating in the program has become like a ministry for him. "I used to be homeless too," he said, "so I try to give these brothers some hope to let them know if I can make it, they can make it, too."

For her part, Pinkston said despite her dilemma, she remains encouraged and is considering starting her own business. She won't give up, she said, and read a poem that ended with the inspiring phrase: "Faith is everything."

Some in South Carolina Embracing Confederacy-era Values

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By Dwight Ott, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

NAACP is taking a stand against Southern celebrations of the “War Between the States”

The reverberations from down South over the Confederate flag and the 150th anniversary of the kickoff of the Civil War, can be felt even as far way as a Voorhees, N.J. gym.

That’s where the laughter of Sollie Walker, 64, a South Carolina native, can usually be heard above the clank of the weights and boom of voices at the gym just outside Philadelphia.

But, Sollie Walker wasn’t laughing last week as he was asked about the Confederate flag that hangs over his former state capitol building. Nor was he smiling when he talked about the upcoming Fort Sumter anniversary in South Carolina.

“Blacks, in my family as well as others, are really upset,” he said, especially over the cavalier preparations of some Whites for the celebration.

To many, the event commemorates the bombing of and invasion of the U.S. government by insurgents to preserve a way of life involving the buying and selling of human beings — Black human beings.

Last December the celebrations included a gala “Secession Ball” complete with period costumes.

NAACP president, the Rev. Dr. Lonnie Randolph said another celebration is coming up with the commemoration of the firing on Fort Sumter, the start of Civil War hostilities.

“The big event is on April 12 — that is the day Fort Sumter was fired on by the Confederacy. There will be another re-enactment of a firing on a military installation,” he said, adding the Fort Sumter installation is now under the management of the National Park Service.

“The National Park service has been very quiet about all of this,” he said.

Mississippi and South Carolina are the only two states that fly Confederate flags on state house property.

Derrick Johnson, head of the Mississippi state NAACP could not be reached for comment.

In South Carolina, Randolph said the local NAACP was not yet prepared to announce its plans for the commemorations.

In the past, the NAACP has shown its displeasure with the Confederate flag as well as Confederate galas forcefully.

The organization registered its disgust with the location of Confederate flag with the launching of a nationwide tourist boycott against South Carolina to end the practice of flying the Confederate flag over the statehouse. NAACP officials like Randolph, say the boycott has been successful, even though the flag was not moved all the way off the state house grounds.

“The monument on the statehouse ground is a shrine to White supremacy, yet they would not allow a monument to [slave revolt conspirator] Denmark Vesey in Charleston,” Randolph observed.

Vesey, himself a free man of color at the time, was captured and hanged but remains a hero to Blacks in that area.

Meanwhile, according to Randolph, monuments to White supremacists like John C. Calhoun and Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK, dot the urban landscape and the countryside.

Though the flag was not moved all the way off the statehouse grounds, the impact of the NAACP nationwide boycott has been felt in other ways.

The boycott has been particularly successful in dissuading sports events from coming to South Carolina.

Myrtle Beach decided not to apply to host the 2012 Olympic Trials for Beach Volleyball for fear an NAACP boycott on South Carolina will hurt its chances at attracting the event, a decision that has left future sports tourism in question.

The state was previously embarrassed when the ACC baseball tournament was awarded to, and then withdrawn from, Myrtle Beach for 2011 to 2013; it was withdrawn after the NAACP raised concerns.

The boycott has also influenced the NCAA, which will not award predetermined championships to South Carolina. But, John Rhodes has said the boycott has had limited impact on Myrtle Beach because African-American tourists, unaware of the boycott, are still coming.

“People think this is some happy-go-lucky event,” said Randolph about the celebrations. “The Confederacy was a terrorist organization. We don’t re-enact things like Timothy McVeigh [the bomber of Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla.]. We don’t re-enact the people who bombed the World Trade Center and killed all those people on 9/11,” said Randolph.

In neighboring North Carolina, NAACP executive director, Amina Josey Turner, [whose mother, Dorothy Johnson Josey, once wrote for the Tribune and whose husband is a relative of Nat Turner] said she agreed with Randolph’s characterization of Confederates who deliberately bombed and attacked the U.S. government as terrorists.

“We’re decades away from Civil War time,” she said. “But we’re still reliving the wounds from that period, generations of racism and classicism. Yes, we do have an African-American president, but there is also a resurgence of racism and its attendant problems. They’re celebrating what was painful in Black history.”

Sollie Walker and experts agree the Civil War did throw a wrench into the South’s “economic system” that had been based on “theft of services” and the buying and selling of human beings.

After the war, control of the South temporarily passed to federal troops, who occupied the South from the 1860s to the late 1870s. But, after the election of Rutherford B. Hayes as President, federal troops were withdrawn. The old White ruling class and the poor Whites they controlled returned to power.

Utilizing a campaign of terror via groups like the KKK and the Red Shirts as well a system of Black Codes designed to keep Blacks down, they established a new kind of slavery that some say was worst than the first — sharecropping, which reduced former slaves to the level of serfdom. Blacks, though “free,” returned to their “place” on the plantation tilling the land and “sharing” it with the plantation owner.

Though Whites no longer engaged in the legal ownership of Blacks, these people of color remained dependent on Whites, since they had to “buy” their tools and equipment from planters who controlled them through such indebtedness.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that many of the most overt shackles of Jim Crow segregation were broken. Mechanization put an end to sharecropping, though in many cases Blacks culturally and economically still remain dependent on Whites even to this day even in the North.

In fact, some have described modern day prisons as the “New Jim Crow,” since so many young Black males are scooped up from the streets on minor drug violations or manufactured cases and thrown into modern prisons, which employ huge numbers of Whites as well as some Black corrections officers.

The prisoners are not educated or taught useful skills and in some cases their voting rights are taken away. Some refer to this system as the “Prison/Industrial Complex” — a new method of controlling Blacks that has been privatized to make money for eager companies, usually headed by Whites.

And, there is evidence that for many the Civil War is not over.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, despite Obama’s election, the number of hate groups at work in America for the first time has topped 1,000.

Meanwhile, “an anti-government ‘Patriot’ movement expanded dramatically for the second straight year as the radical right showed continued explosive growth in 2010,” the Center stated.

A graph on the front page of the report indicated that South Carolina alone may have as many as 170 neo-Nazi groups, as well as a substantial number of White supremacist groups.

“In South Carolina, we have the second highest number of hate groups in the country, more than the entire state of California,” said Randolph. “It’s not state’s rights these people want; it’s White supremacy,” said Randolph.

The memories of South Carolina disturb Sollie.

“When my grandmother would see that flag she would always say ‘there go my reparations.’ She said, ‘That flag means you got to pay me for all that free labor you got out of my mother and other slaves.”

The Rev. William J. Barber II, North Carolina’s NAACP president, commented about the resurgence of White supremacy in the report on the tea party released months ago.

“We have to have particular concern about supremacy attitudes, violence, hate language, particularly when it’s rooted in notions of restoring or taking back or redeeming the country,” Barber stated. “Because, in the American social-historical-political psyche, we have historical markers that tell us how dangerous this is to be given legitimacy.”

“We know in 1867 when the Ku Klux Klan, for instance, laid out its political purposes, it was about restoring and re-enfranchising, if you will,” stated Barber. “And, then when you go to the Reconstruction Era, you find this same attempt to spew this division, this hate language out … ‘we need to restore America. We need to take it back.’”

Barber moved on to 1963

“When George Wallace used this language and themes of division, very vitriolic hate language,” Barber said, “Medgar Evers was killed in June of that year …we had the bombing of a church (in Birmingham), four girls were killed at Sunday school and then we had a president (John F. Kennedy) assassinated.”

Census 2010: Did Blacks Fill It Out?

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By Cyril Josh Barker, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

As the country begins to take a first look at its population by the numbers, Black Americans are getting a startling story. In major cities across the country, census numbers are revealing a shrinking Black community in the urban cores of places like Chicago, New York, and even Washington, D.C.

Different factors are contributing to America’s “Black flight,” but one obvious question comes into play: Did Black Americans participate fully in the census?

Historically, African-Americans have been one of the most underrepresented groups during the census. Even with aggressive marketing last year geared toward the Black community that included faith-based outreach, forums at community centers, and neighborhood meetings, the numbers don’t add up.

According to the Pew Research Center, one in five people may not have filled out their census forms, citing that many Americans either had a lack of interest or did not trust the government.

In 2010, 12 percent of U.S. residents said that they weren’t sure if they would participate in the census, and 6 percent said that they were definitely not filling it out. One-third of people believed the census was a device by the government to locate illegal immigrants, while one-quarter simply didn’t trust the government or had privacy concerns.

Groups that were likely to not fill out the census were described as being between the ages of 18 and 29, low-income, and less educated.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 74 percent of Americans filled out the census in 2010, up from the 67 percent who filled it out in 2000. New York State had a 67 percent participation rate, with 60 percent participating in New York City. African-Americans saw a 2 percent increase in population in the state.

But questions remain, however, regarding the accuracy of figures for the New York City metropolitan area, which may have significantly undercounted real population increases across the five boroughs and neighboring counties. In Queens, for instance, the census reported an increase of merely 1,343, bringing the county’s total to 2,230,722 over a 10-year period.

Queens is noted for being the most diverse and immigrant-heavy borough in the city, with nearly half of its residents foreign-born.

Brooklyn saw a noticeably small increase in population, with only a 1.5 percent population growth. Brooklyn also has a high concentration of immigrants, especially from the West Indies and Africa. This would not be the first time that Brooklyn and Queens were undercounted, as there were problems with counting during the last census as well. However, there is concern about what the current undercount will mean to the city and to those boroughs in particular.

“Census figures have a direct impact on the services we guarantee all New Yorkers. Any undercount in our state’s population could seriously jeopardize much-needed federal funding for schools, hospitals and transportation, among other vital services,” said Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson. “Meanwhile, upstate, the population decline underscores the need for a comprehensive economic development plan to stimulate job growth.”

Several elected officials are teaming up to challenge the census results, saying that there was a miscount and prove that the city has a much higher population. City Council Member Jumaane Williams said that in his district in Brooklyn, which has a high number of West Indian residents, he was surprised by the numbers because of his office’s work in getting people to fill out the census.

NAACP Presses for Education Over Incarceration

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By Jasmin K. Williams, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

Education over incarceration is the message of a report released by the NAACP. The nation’s oldest civil rights organization is challenging America to re-evaluate its spending priorities in the report, titled “Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incarcerate,” which was introduced at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In it, the NAACP calls attention to the proven fact that excessive spending on housing prisoners undermines education and public safety.

This message will be reiterated in a forthcoming billboard campaign (see below) calling out the fact that one-fourth of the world’s prisons are located in America, while the country accounts for just five percent of the world’s population overall. In short, America’s “tough on crime” policies have failed.

Not surprisingly, most of those housed in the prison system—some 2.3 million—are people of color. Half of all state and federal prisoners meet the criteria for drug abuse or dependency. These inmates would be better served with treatment programs, a more successful and economical alternative to incarceration. It costs money to sustain the prison system—lots of it. The NAACP says that this money can and must be better spent.

Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson said, “I have always been of the mind that, in the long run, if we want to get a handle on crime, we must commit to improving education and job opportunities. Prevention and rehabilitation have to go hand in hand with deterrence.”

Here are some facts from the report:

•In 2009, as the nation’s economy collapsed into depression, funding for K-12 and higher education fell while 33 states put more money into prisons than they had the previous year.

•The Pew Center on the States found that five states spent as much or more on prisons as they did on education, and that 28 states were spending 50 cents on prisons for every dollar spent on education.

•The cost of just two years of incarceration is staggering; by 2010, taxpayers in Texas will spend $175 million on prisoners sentenced in 2008 from 10 of Houston’s 75 neighborhoods, 10 percent of the city’s population. In Pennsylvania, the cost is $290 million to imprison residents from 11 neighborhoods. New York will spend more than half a billion dollars—$539 million—to imprison residents from 24 neighborhoods. While these inmates represent a mere 16 percent of the city’s adult population, the state will exhaust nearly half of its $1.1 billion budget to incarcerate them.

•These high levels of incarceration have a direct impact on education performance in these communities; in Los Angeles, 67 percent of the lowest-performing schools are in neighborhoods with high incarceration rates. In Texas, the rate is 83 percent while in Philadelphia the rate is 66 percent.

With these facts on the table, the NAACP has called for a downsizing of the prison system and for those funds to be reinvested in education.

“The first stage is to move beyond ‘tough-on-crime policies’ that have been a proven failure and adopt ‘smarter crime’ policies that have been a proven success,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “The state of New York has been going down this road for a while, most recently with the evisceration of the Rockefeller Drug Laws last year. But, it’s a trend that’s needed in states throughout the country.

“Over the past decade, New York’s prison population has fallen and crime has gone down about 16 percent, while in Florida the prison population has continued to rise precipitously during that same time and crime has gone up about 16 percent. You can find experiences like that across the country that really debunk this myth that took hold in the ’90s that the best way to reduce crime was to warehouse criminals and law violators, no matter how small the infraction, or how nonviolent the crime,” Jealous told the Amsterdam News. “The first goal is to shift states from failed policies that have resulted in the mass incarceration of citizens toward proven policies that tend to incarcerate less, cost less, and make us safer. We call those smarter crime policies.

“The second is to send the savings to the public university system and the public education system more generally,” he said.

“As you look across the country at various states over the past three to four decades, state prison systems developed these ‘tough-on-crime’ policies that resulted in over incarceration. You see the percentage of the state budget devoted to prisons go up and the percentage devoted to paying for public higher education go down.

“In California, where I grew up in the 1970s, the state spent 3 percent of its budget on incarceration and 11 percent on education. Last year, the state spent 11 percent on incarceration and only 7.5 percent on public higher education. That trend is repeated across the country. When Pennsylvania was faced with a budget crisis, the state took $300 million out of its public education budget and added $300 million to its budget for jails and prisons in a single budget year,” said Jealous.

“Georgia has the fifth largest penal system in the country, three-quarters of whom are low-level, nonviolent drug offenders—the No. 1 source of the prison population, both in growth rate and size over the last three decades. This is why states like New York and others are shifting the priority from incarceration to treatment. South Carolina took that step last year. For example, people convicted for possessing crack are treated the same as those convicted of possessing powdered cocaine, something that the U.S. Congress hasn’t even been able to do,” he continued.

“This moment is exciting for a few reasons. There’s a lot of financial pressure on states. Every decision is a tough one and every decision related to the criminal justice system is now getting full attention in a way that they often don’t. This comes from people on both sides of the aisle as officials look for ways to creatively cut budgets and are willing to do tough things to accomplish that,” said Jealous.

“It’s also exciting because we’ve reached a point where we’ve tried so many ways to deal with the increase of drug abuse in the country and the perceived increase in crime although, in actual terms, crime has fallen in many places. It’s the consensus that these things have failed. People on both sides of the aisle are now willing to look at the evidence and really embrace what works. It worked in New York. It worked in South Carolina. It worked in Virginia, where the governor actually shrank down the number of prisons and increased a portion of his budget devoted to historically Black colleges. In these times when there is so much partisanship, this is a place where bipartisanship is really possible,” Jealous said.

On the implementation of this plan, Jealous said: “If you have a state that is taking this on for the first time, like Georgia is right now, the first thing to do is to impanel a commission to look at the state’s criminal justice system from top to bottom—law enforcement strategies, sentencing strategies and re-entry strategies—and to prioritize writing legislation to replace failed policies with ones that are proven to make us safer. That tends to result in policies that cost less in the way that rehab costs less than incarceration, or in the way that a halfway house, as a first step to re-entry, costs less than incarceration.”

“For decades, law enforcement has been operating on a broken window theory: The best way to stop a more serious crime from occurring is to focus on the smallest infractions in a community. It ultimately is inefficient and ineffective,” he explained.

“The city of Los Angeles is notorious for its aggressive police practices—anything from jaywalking on up. Last year, it was revealed that they had 12,000 unopened rape kits that hadn’t even been processed. There is a need for the public to take an interest in this. Catching violent criminals should be job one, and in many instances that’s just not the case in most departments. The ideal is to focus on what works and what makes us safe. We are calling on states to put together commissions to focus on what works and propose a series of reforms,” Jealous concluded.

Billboards are planned for New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

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