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Gay Bullying and Suicides Hit Black Community

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

Recent anti-gay attacks and suicides among gay youth have ignited a conversation about a problem that those in the LGBTQ community say is nothing new.

As the case of what many are calling one of the most brutal anti-gay crimes unfolds, three of the 11 suspects accused of participating in an attack in an abandoned house in the Bronx have been set free. Brian Cepeda, 17, Bryan Almonte, 16, and Brian Cepeda, 17, were all cleared on charges after the Bronx district attorney’s office said there was a lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, one of the latest suicides took place in the city when 26-year-old Black gay youth activist Joseph Jefferson took his own life on Saturday. Jefferson worked with HIV/AIDS charities and was an assistant to promoters of Black LGBTQ events.

“I could not bear the burden of living as a gay man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called ‘social mainstream,’” Jefferson posted on his Facebook page the day he killed himself.

Those in the Black gay community plan on celebrating Jefferson’s life this Friday at the LGBT Center. The event is being put on by the organization Gay Men of African Decent. Funeral services for Jefferson will be held in Brooklyn at Pone Funeral Home on Sunday.

To address the issue of bullying and suicides, several LGBT organizations are rallying on Thursday at 5 p.m. at Washington Square Park.

Last Thursday, dozens of LGBTQ youths of color, along with several elected officials, gathered on the steps of City Hall to speak out against anti-gay bullying and the recent suicides.

The rally, led by the organization Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment (FIERCE), declared October as LGBTQ Youth Empowerment Month and also addressed the need for a 24-hour LGBTQ youth center in the West Village.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, openly gay City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and gay City Councilman Daniel Dromm support the themed month.

“We are thrilled to have the mayor and Speaker Quinn and other elected officials’ support of LGBTQ Youth Empowerment Month,” said John Blasco, organizer of FIERCE. “It is crucial that we continue working together to create even more spaces for LGBTQ youth to take leadership in the communities and in the fight for justice.”

At the press conference, several LGBTQ youth told stories of abuse and abandonment they had experienced in the city by being who they are. Gay youth of all racial backgrounds have a higher rate of suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because they feel conflicted or ashamed about their sexuality. Family members often throw many gay teens out of their homes when they come out.

“We chose empowerment because to us, empowerment means being seen, heard and having the power to make the changes we need immediately,” said FIERCE member Veronica Tirado. “We need policy changes that ensure safe spaces in our schools and jobs.”

Likewise, gays in the Black community are also the subjects of bullying. One of the most recent and notable cases involving a Black gay man occurred in 2006, when Michael Sandy was killed after being hit by a car while he was trying to escape attackers in Brooklyn on Plumb Beach.

After meeting a man in an online gay chat room, Sandy and the man arranged a meeting. When Sandy arrived, he was confronted by four men who robbed him and chased him onto the highway. Sandy was then hit by an oncoming vehicle and died from brain injuries.

Last week, City Councilman Lew Fidler dedicated a bench on Plumb Beach in honor of Sandy.

The Power of the Black Press: Used or not Used to Rock the Vote

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By Othor Cain, Special to the NNPA from The Mississippi Link –

In Stanley Nelson’s award-winning documentary, ‘The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords,’ former Columbia University journalism professor Phyllis Garland stated: “The Black press was never intended to be objective because it didn’t see the White press being objective. It [the Black press] often took a position. It had an attitude. This was a press of advocacy.”

In 1981, Garland became the first African American and first woman to earn tenure at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

“A press of advocacy” echoed throughout the early mission of the Black press, from the publication of the Freedom Journal, the first African-American newspaper in 1827 to the more than 200 black newspapers that exist in America today. The pioneers of the Black press have given voice to stories and events that would not have been otherwise published.

Fast-forward to 2010 and the mission is more important than ever before. v“We are reaching out to the Black press in our efforts to highlight the importance of African Americans voting in these mid-term elections,” said Mike Blake, senior advisor for African American Outreach with the Democratic National Committee (DNC). “This medium is of extreme importance and I think we are highlighting what has been known all along and that is the power of the African American community.”

Blake acknowledged that the DNC is playing an active role in the state of Mississippi and has focused a lot of efforts in North Mississippi. “We clearly recognize what the Republicans and the Tea Party folk are doing,” Blake said. “Our efforts are working because they continue to pump millions of dollars in areas that we are on the ground in.”

For his part, President Barack Obama engaged in a near 30-minute press conference last week via telephone with members of the National Newspapers Association (a coalition of African-American owned newspapers) and acknowledged, ‘I still need you.” It was during this discussion that Obama was pressed on providing more jobs in the Black community and the need to advertise with the Black press.

Blake stressed the stakes are high in these mid-term elections. “Even though President Obama isn’t on the ballot, his vision, his goals are,” Blake said. “We must prove to everyone that we know our power. I think with the election of President Obama more attention is placed on the power of the Black vote and the power of the Black press.”

Blake said, “It is important for people in Mississippi to know and people all over the country for that matter, that in 2008 we voted to change the guard and in 2010 we must vote to ‘guard’ the change.” “The African American vote can make or break this election and I don’t think we want to go backwards.”

Number of Black Republicans May Emerge As Part of the New Congress

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers (DC) –

With 14 Black Republicans running for voting seats in the House - and a Black GOP candidate for a non-voting seat representing the U.S. Virgin Islands - the stage is set for the largest number of Black Republicans since Reconstruction to compete for the House.

Facing little opposition in his home state of South Carolina, Tim Scott appears poised to earn a seat in the Nov. 2 mid-term elections, and is at the center of the Republican Party’s attempts to place a record number of African-Americans in Congress.

Scott, a South Carolina state representative is running for that state’s 1st congressional district seat, a district with a 21 percent Black population. Scott defeated Paul Thurmond, the son of the late Senator Strom Thurmond in a Republican run-off election in June. He would be the state’s first Black congressman since Reconstruction. He may also be among the first African-American Republicans in the House since 2003.

The Black candidates are part of a surge of Black GOP activism triggered by the emergence of President Obama. If the Republicans regain control on Capitol Hill, it could be two long years for the Obama administration.

For Black Republicans to win, however, they have found that they can’t just appeal to Black voters. The Obama victory made it clear that Blacks could win White votes. Scott is close to core Republican values of limited government and conservative fiscal management, values which may help him win over the party’s White majority.

“I think the issues are very simple,” Scott said, “Limited government, simplified tax code, lower taxes, and less government spending.”

Another Black Republican, Star Parker a former welfare mother, is challenging incumbent Laura Richardson (D) in California’s 37th congressional district. Richardson is also Black. But Parker has raised more than $1.1 million for her campaign, surpassing Richardson, who endured real estate woes when her home was recently the subject of foreclosure.

While only 16 percent of the district’s voters are registered Republicans, 68 percent of the district is Hispanic/Black. Parker has promised voters she will, if elected, mount a three-prong plan that includes tracking private sector jobs, building up non-profit organizations, and strengthening schools in the public and private sector.

Other Black GOP hopefuls are running strong late in their race. Allen West is in a pitched battle for the seat in Florida’s 22nd congressional district, a district with only a 3.8 percent Black population. A Sunshine State Poll conducted by Voter Survey Service Oct. 17-19 put West ahead 47 to 44, within the margin of error. Nine percent were undecided and the candidates are targeting them.

“I ran in 2008 and raised half a million dollars, and the state party didn’t support me and the national party didn’t support me,” said West. “But we came back and we’re running and things are looking great.”

He is running with the endorsement of GOP icon Sarah Palin, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the support from South Florida Tea Party members. Various veterans groups also have endorsed West, a former U.S. Army officer.

In Colorado, Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier is mounting a Republican Party-backed challenge of two-term incumbent Ed Perlmutter (D) for the 7th district seat. He is running in a district with only a 5.8 percent Black population and whose voters are divided evenly among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Frazier had a one percentage point edge in the latest poll, 40 to 39 over Perlmutter.

Republicans' Health Care Reform Repeal Impact on Blacks

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers (DC) –

Promises by House Republicans to overturn health care reform measures passed earlier this year would disproportionately affect the Black community, according to one prominent health care expert.

One central proposal of the current Republican agenda, called the “Pledge to America,” would repeal the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, the comprehensive health care reform bill passed by Congress and signed into law earlier this year. Republicans seek to replace the law with less sweeping measures.

A successful attempt to overturn health care reform would end the African-American community’s chances of addressing long-running health care disparities, said Dr. Lesley Russell, a visiting fellow specializing in health care for the left-leaning public policy think tank Center for American Progress.

Russell believes that, if implemented, the pledge would fail to improve access to health insurance coverage for African-Americans and would ensure that Blacks continue to receive poorer care and live in poorer health than the rest of the nation.

“The people who stand to gain the most from health care reform would lose the most,” Russell told the AFRO. “We’ve learned that the African-American community has less access to health care services, although they’ve been helped by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. But, people who don’t qualify for those programs struggle to buy health care for themselves and their families because their average incomes are considerably less than the average American family.”

The “Pledge to America” would repeal most of the president’s health care reforms and replace them with other general measures that would lower costs for families and small businesses and strengthen the doctor-patient relationship. But, the Pledge fails to provide specifics about what Republicans would do to control health care spending, improve its quality, or pay for reforms, according to Russell.

Between the Covers of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

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By Lance Hill, PhD, Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

New Orleans is the beachhead for a national movement to convert public schools into privately managed "charter" schools-on the argument that competition and the "business" or "market" model will produce better schools for the same taxes. New Orleans has 60 percent of its students in charter schools-publicly funded but privately managed schools-more than any school district in the United States.

But one of the nation's most respected education historians and policy analyst, Diane Ravitch, is raising grave doubts about the wisdom of the model that New Orleans is using. "Our schools will not improve if we expect them to act like private, profit-seeking enterprises," writes Ravitch in her new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining the Education. Ravitch should know: only a few years ago she was one of the nation's premier advocates of school privatization.

What made Ravitch come full circle on charter schools? More importantly, what does Ravitch's book say about the course that has been imposed on New Orleans schools?

Though Ravitch's focus is on the perils of charters (she refers to as "choice"), school privatization, and the high-stakes testing program that determines if a student will progress in grades (the LEAP test in Louisiana), and her book reads like Edward Gibbons definition of history in general: "little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind."

Ravitch takes the reader through a variety of school reform movements in different cities including New York and San Diego. In virtually every case, school reform sweeps in on a wave of optimism and the promise of change. But once the reform advocates depart and hand over the keys to the school data to new management, suddenly the community discovers that little has changed. Student performance had not increased-instead the tests were made easier. Schools did not improve because of new teaching strategies-instead the schools simply raised average test scores by excluding students with the greatest learning problems and concentrating them in schools where little learning was possible. The lesson learned too late was that good schools were simply made by creating bad schools.

New Orleans appears to be proving Ravitch's theory: While charter schools have increased their test scores, students in the remaining public system - the Recovery School District (RSD) schools - are failing the 8th-grade LEAP test at a startling rate of almost 80 percent a year for the last four years.

Though Ravitch does not address the issue, the problem of getting to the truth about school privatization has much to do with the fact that the people who control the flow of information, the media, think-tanks, foundations, are private sector enterprises owe their existence to the profit system. Many people tend to believe that what brought about their own success will do the same for others. But that may not be the case for education.

Ravitch warns that charter schools driven by competition will result in a two-tiered system of haves and have-nots. Charters will "enroll the motivated children of the poor, while the regular public schools will become schools of last resort" for children with learning disabilities, deficient skills, and encumbered by troubling home circumstances.

Ravitch's book is a window into the future of education in New Orleans and the nation as a whole. We don't have to wait 10 years to find out what mistakes we have made. Ravitch marshals substantial research to prove that the reforms of "market based" school competition, high-stakes testing, and state takeovers have already proved to be failures. The problem is that charter schools, as Ravitch observes, divide a community into competing consumers narrowly concerned with getting the best deal for their child, rather than uniting citizens around solving our common problems by establishing equitable "school systems that foster academic excellence in every school and every neighborhood."

The new school reformers ask us to entrust our children to the "magical powers of the market." But not everyone wins in the business world: competition creates losers as well and we have to ask ourselves if we want one child to succeed at the expense of another? "Deregulation contributed to the near collapse of national economy in 2008," Ravitch reminds us, "and there is no reason to anticipate that it will make education better for most children."

We can now add the BP oil spill as another example of how competition and the lack of direct public oversight can be a recipe for disaster.

School reformers thrive on nightmares and miracles. First they promote the idea that a school system is a nightmare that can only be transformed into a happy dream by handing it over to miracle workers. In the end, the nightmare may be true, but Ravitch makes clear is that there are no miracles. Effective education reform takes time and enormous effort. There are volumes of research that point the right way; we only need to avail ourselves of this knowledge rather than settle for the marketing spiel of educational entrepreneurs. It probably also means that we will have to spend more, the last thing tax payers want to hear. "Children who have grown up in poverty need extra resources," Ravitch warns. They need small classes for extra instructional time and they need preschool, medical care, and social services.

The solution to the education crisis is a good dose of reality-not another spoonful of miracle tonic.

Every person in New Orleans should read Diane Ravitch's book because she is talking about our city's future. She mentions New Orleans only once in her book, but readers will recognize in her case studies of other cities all the familiar ingredients of long-term failure and profound inequality that have been assembled in New Orleans.

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