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Power in Action: President Barack Obama Addresses National Action Network Confab

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

President Barack Obama went to New York last week with a renewed vigor to address the National Action Network’s annual gala. He hit on several key points as he praised the organization’s 20 years of existence. The now-confirmed candidate for the 2012 presidential election gave a rousing speech that was well received by the nearly 1,200 people (mostly Black) in attendance.

After a gracious introduction from the Rev. Al Sharpton, the president received a standing ovation. He opened his speech by acknowledging Rep. Charles Rangel, former Mayor David Dinkins, and the 20th anniversary of NAN, praising its continuing relevance.

“The National Action Network has not changed its commitment in the last two decades,” he said. “Not only in the lives of African-Americans,” but for the broader American family.

Making little mention of his 2012 run, Obama highlighted his own achievements along with commending his supporters for their work and loyalty to him. “If you stand with me and believe in what we can do together, if we put our shoulders to the wheel of history, we can move this county to the promise of a better day,” he said. “What I could commit to was telling you the truth even when it was hard. You made our campaign your own,” he said.

The president also highlighted some of the things he has been criticized for, and that many forgot the good that he’s done. When it came to jobs, he noted how General Motors recently announced its plans to rehire all of the people the car manufacturer had laid off, showing signs that the economy is on its way back.

Obama noted that a half million jobs were created in the first three months of this year.

“We’re making progress, but we are not there yet. I will fight for jobs and I will be in the fight for opportunity,” he said before getting a rousing applause. “We are going to keep fighting until every family gets a shot at the American dream.”

Specifically noting the joblessness rate in the Black community, Obama also mentioned the passing of his health care and Wall Street reforms, which, he says, were beneficial to Black Americans.

Obama topped off his speech by speaking about education, citing that every child deserves the right to a good education and that race should not be a factor when it comes to education reform, because it’s an American problem. He also set a goal to make every child a college graduate while reinvesting in HBCUs and community colleges.

In his parting words, Obama gave inspiring words to the audience about the future.

“The American dream is in reach for everybody,” he said. “I know there are times when the work is frustrating and it’s hard, and change can seem slow to come by. I am living testament that change is possible.”

Several notable people were in the audience for the speech, including many elected officials. Most agreed that the president’s speech was effective.

“I think this speech help set the record straight, because if you watch the media, you would have thought the deficit started in 2009 and the deficit started in 2001 when President Clinton left,” said former New York Gov. David Paterson.

State Sen. John Sampson described Obama’s speech as “phenomenal,” and said it served as a reminder of the work Obama has done and will continue to do.

Said Sampson, “Don’t forget what his presidency has done over the last two years. It has put America back on track and he deserves another term.”

Activists Unhappy with U.S. Inaction on Racial Disparity

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By Saeed Shabazz, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

NEW YORK - Activists here used the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to call out the Obama administration on the persistent issue of discrimination and racial disparity in the United States.

The International Day for Racial Discrimination is commemorated annually on March 21 to coincide with the date in 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 Black South Africans gathered in Sharpeville for a peaceful demonstration against apartheid, the system of racial segregation and White minority rule in the country at the time.

“There are persistent race disparities in almost every sphere of life, especially evident in economic inequality,” noted Ejim Dike, of the Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center, in describing the race divide inside America.

The administration is reluctant to deal with relatively recent disparities that go back to the 1990s, when the U.S. was enjoying a period of prosperity, Dike explained to The Final Call. Even in the best of economic times for the United States, there was uneven progress based on race. “And the worst part of this is that the administration has made no clear acknowledgement that there is a problem,” she said.

The Justice Center listed some disparities: Blacks hit by a high rate of unemployment, 25.8 percent, as result of the recession, while Latino unemployment stands at 25.3 percent and unemployment for Whites stands at 9.4 percent. Poverty for Black children stands at 35.7 percent—while the national child poverty rate is 20.7 percent. For every dollar of net worth possessed by White Americans, Blacks possess only seven cents.

“We need an effort that will include more than enforcing civil rights laws that we have,” Dike added. Human rights organizations in the U.S. want President Barack Obama to adopt a national plan of action to fully implement America's obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, which is also known as CERD.

In 1994, the U.S. ratified the U.N.-sponsored convention, which defines in its Article 1, racial discrimination is “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national ethnic origin, which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” Activists argue that means looking at racial disparity and taking immediate and committed steps to eliminate shortfalls—and not simply responding legally when civil rights violations are charged.

On March 18th, the U.S. government said in Geneva, Switzerland that it supports recommendations made last November during a review of U.S. race relations and racial progress to adopt a comprehensive national plan of action to address discrimination.

Human rights activists, including Ajamu Baraka of the U.S. Human Rights Network, expressed disappointment with the lack of U.S. action since the review. The Obama administration has not established a national human rights institution to monitor rights compliance, they said.

“The initial response from the U.S. government to the UPR (review) process makes for depressing reading,” Mr. Baraka said, in a statement. “It seems that the Obama administration is simply continuing with the policies of the Bush administration when it comes to human rights, despite pretense of being engaged with the international community on human rights.”

U.S. human rights advocates need to take a hard look at what consultations and work with the administration on what has actually been achieved and go back to the drawing board, Baraka added. And, he told The Final Call, the groups should continue to push the U.S. to honor commitments made to eliminate discrimination, racism, and its impact.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, of the Nation of Islam, wisely counseled the government of America in his 1993 book “A Torchlight for America” that it is the wrong time to deny just pursuits of liberty.

“It's a dangerous time to play with people whose hunger and thirst is for justice and truth,” Farrakhan wrote.

“It is the purpose of the wickedly wise to hide the truth so that people won't see a way to get themselves out of their present circumstances, so those who rule can continue to dominate and subjugate the people to feed their own lusts and greed,” the Muslim leader noted.

Saladin Muhammad, national chairman of Black Workers for Justice, attended the review meeting in Geneva. He found a “condescending” attitude by U.S. officials dealing with racial discrimination “quite disturbing.”

Muhammad said the condescending attitude was apparent in the opening statement of Harold Hongju Koh, a legal adviser from the U.S. State Department, who presented the administration's answer to the review: “Our society as a whole is transformed for the better through our work to protect and promote the civil and human rights of its least powerful members. That tradition explains why I, the child of Korean immigrants who came to America to search for a better future, sit before you today to represent our country.”

Koh's next statement, according to participants, seemingly dismissed the importance of the review.

On March 7, a coalition of human rights organizations sent a letter to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of racial discrimination. “People of African descent in the United States continue to face intentional, structural, and de facto forms of discrimination which manifest in unequal access to quality education, housing, health services, employment, electoral disenfranchisement and discrimination in the criminal justice system, among many other issues,” the letter said.

A full text of the letter is available on line at: http://goo.gl/AHmQB.

Some of the organizations signing onto the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, Asian American Justice Center, Center for Constitutional Rights, Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, U.S. Human Rights Network and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“The goal of the letter was to inform the U.N. committee of efforts by civil rights organizations in the United States urging the government to adopt a coordinated approach to complying with the CERD treaty and by doing so ensure that CERD obligations are integrated into domestic laws addressing racial discrimination,” said Marcia F. Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project for the Lawyer's Committee, in an e-mail to The Final Call.

Prior to the Geneva meeting, some activists felt with the U.S. officially responding to questions about racism and discrimination, it was a chance to lead by example, not just rhetoric. That opportunity appears to be squandered.

“I came away from Geneva feeling that unless there are extended struggles on the ground, also developing a strong Black Manifesto, what we did on March 18 will be looked at as just a complaint. And, that means all of our efforts so far won't be impactful,” Muhammad said.

Dike's organization is drafting a petition asking the administration to develp a timeline for creation of a national plan to end racial discrimination in America. It may help highlight the problem, but doesn't appear likely to push America toward finding solutions.

Activist, Scholar Manning Marable Dies at 60

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

Famed African-American studies scholar Manning Marable has died. Marable served as director of the Institute for African-American Studies at Columbia University, which he founded. He was 60.

Marable was famous for his progressive political views and writings penning more than 10 books. He was working on his latest work, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, set for publication a few days after his death.

Active in the political movement, Marable was elected chair of the Movement for the Democratic Society, sat on the board of the Hip Hop Summit Network, and was a member of the New York Legislature's Amistad Commission.

Battling recent health problems, he had suffered from lung disease causing him to get a lung transplant last summer. Last month Marable was hospitalized for pneumonia.

Maynard Jackson Exhibit Opens at Atlanta University Center

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By Sherri Banks, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

ATLANTA – Hundreds of dignitaries and guests attended a reception in the Atlanta University Center recently to honor the city's first Black mayor and launch an exhibit to display artifacts from his years in political and community activism.

The exhibit, called "The People's Mayor: Maynard Jackson and the Politics of Transformation," was unveiled at the Robert W. Woodruff Library last week on what would have been Maynard Jackson's 73rd birthday.

The traveling exhibition and the Maynard Jackson Mayoral Administrative Records collection "offer insight into the fascinating and complex political life of one the country's most impressive leaders," organizers say.

The exhibit explores Jackson's rise to prominence as the first African-American mayor in a major Southern city, and features 560 boxes of photographs, documents, and artifacts spanning 1968 to 1994.

Also presented are speeches, news clippings, proclamations, and campaign material from Jackson's terms as mayor and vice mayor.

"Maynard Jackson engineered a new future for the city and its citizens," said Loretta Parham, CEO and library director.

"Announcing the opening of the collection is truly a celebratory event for the library.

"We're honored to be the custodians of Jackson's administrative records and excited to make the collection available to the public for research," she added. "The traveling exhibition is also impressive, and visitors to the exhibition will find it to be not only educational but also quite engaging."

Noteworthy items in the collection include materials related to:

•The development of MARTA and Hartsfield International Airport (later renamed Hartsfield-Jackson in his honor)

•The Atlanta Child Murders

•The creation of Neighborhood Planning Units

•The city's winning bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympics

Attending last week's ceremony, current Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called Jackson "a man of excellence who shattered race barriers."

Reed also recalled Jackson's commitment to mentoring others, saying that many successful politicians, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders owe their success to Jackson's support – him included.

Ingrid Saunders Jones, senior vice president at the Coca-Cola Company, said Jackson was committed to those he mentored, but held them to high standards.

"He had exacting professional standards," she said, "and to succeed with him as mentor meant that one could succeed anywhere."

Sherryle Puryear, who worked with Jackson in investment banking, recalled that he was a stickler for grammar, both the spoken and written.

"He used to call me Rambo because he admired my determination to produce excellence," she said.

Former Mayor Shirley Franklin, a protégé of Jackson's, also attended last week's event, honoring the man who mentored her and inspired her to become the city's first female mayor and the first Black female mayor of a major Southern city.

Another former mayor, Andrew Young, appeared in a video in which he said his own mayoral candidacy began after he accepted an invitation from Jackson to meet and discuss politics. Young accepted Jackson's challenge to run for office and went on to serve two terms as mayor.

Jackson was elected mayor of Atlanta in 1973 and became the city's youngest mayor at age 35. Re-elected in 1977, he could not run for a third consecutive term, but returned years later for a third term, winning in 1989.

His greatest legacy is widely considered to be in municipal affirmative action programs that set the standard for American cities, especially those with Black majorities.

He also guided the expansion of Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport and fought to ensure that bBlack-owned companies got a piece of the pie at every level.

Jackson suffered a heart attack in 2003 and died at age 65.

Georgia Lottery Boycott Still 'on the table,' Activist Says

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By Stan Washington, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

A coalition of civil rights organizations and community groups are still considering their options – including a boycott of the Georgia Lottery in response to the recent changes in the HOPE Scholarship program, according to a coalition member.

"There were many options that were put on the table, a boycott of the lottery was one of them," said Rev. Dr. Richard Cobble, president of the Concerned Black Clergy (CBC). "We are still examining them all at this time."

Other than the boycott, Cobble would not say what were the other options are being considered.

"We haven't publicized those options until we can agree on them and present a unified front," he said.

The threat of a possible boycott came from state NAACP President Edward DuBose after Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 326 calling for sweeping changes in the HOPE program. The bill, fast-tracked through the General Assembly, contained tough new requirements to receive the HOPE Scholarship, which is funded by the lottery.

The landmark changes, which go into effect this fall, include:

* Only so-called Zell Miller scholars – valedictorians, salutatorians, and students who graduate with at least a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 SAT score or 26 ACT score – will get all tuition covered at public colleges in Georgia.

* Students who graduate with at least a 3.0 GPA will receive HOPE dollars, but the amount will vary from year to year, depending on lottery proceeds.

* The amount for students who qualify and are attending private colleges in Georgia will see their scholarship drop from $4,000 to $3,600. The Zell Miller Scholars will receive the full $4,000.

* Funding for books, fees, and remedial courses is being eliminated.

Critics say the changes will hurt mostly poor, rural, and minority students who attend school systems that are not as well funded as the metro Atlanta suburban school districts.

"It is mainly the poor who play the lottery that funds the HOPE program," Cobble said, "and those changes will hurt them the most."

Clark Atlanta University Provost Dr. Joseph Silver said he understands why the state needs to keep the HOPE program solvent, but doesn't understand efforts to balance the program "on the backs of the very students who need it."

"The data shows that the upper income families do not support the lottery, but it is the lower income people who do and now they will not be among the benefactors of it," Silver said.

"The upper income families have many other options of finding funding for their children to go to college," he added.

Even under the original guidelines, retaining students has become tougher during the recession for four-year institutions like Clark Atlanta, where 90 percent of their students are on some form of financial aid, Silver said.

"Most of our students who leave our institution leave due to financial reasons and not academic ones," he said. "This will put an extra burden on them to find the resources to replace HOPE funds."

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