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Despite Success, Michael Steele Under Fire by Republicans

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By James Wright, Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer –

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's term ends in January 2011, and he has not definitely said whether he will run again for the position. Steele is being criticized by party activists for being ineffective despite the fact that he played a key role in the GOP's success in the recent midterm elections. Steele said that the country came back to the Republican Party after two years of failed policies supported by President Obama.

"The American people signaled that they wanted change on Nov. 2," Steele said to a group of reporters at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Southeast Washington, D.C. "They did not want health care reform, which is the worse piece of legislation passed by Congress. They did not want the policies of Obama, [Sen. Harry] Reid and [U.S. House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi to continue.”

During the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans recaptured control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The GOP picked up 6 seats in the U.S. Senate but the Democrats still have control of that chamber with 51 Democrats, 2 Independents and 47 Republicans.

African-Americans Twice as Likely To Go Hungry

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Special to the NNPA from the SC Black News –

Twenty-five percent of African-American households suffered from food insecurity in 2009 - compared to 11 percent of White households - according to the most recent data on hunger released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food insecure households are those that struggle to put food on the table at some point in the year. Nationally, one in seven - or 14.7 percent - of U.S. households experienced food insecurity in 2009.

"The national figures are record-breaking, but the fact that such a disparity exists between African-Americans and Whites shows that we must call on Congress to do more - especially for communities with the greatest need," said Rev. Derrick Boykin, northeast regional organizer for Bread for the World. "Congress must act now to ensure that programs designed to mitigate hunger are well-funded."

This year, participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly called food stamps) hit record levels. African-Americans comprised 22.6 percent of the 42 million Americans who receive SNAP benefits each month. Ninety percent of African-American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before age 20, compared to 49 percent of all U.S. children.

Nearly 35 percent of African-American children currently live in households that struggle to put food on the table, compared to 16.7 percent of White children.

Congress reconvened this week for a lame duck session with several important unfinished agenda items, including extending tax benefits for low-income working families and reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act, which will improve school breakfast and lunch programs along with WIC and summer food sites.

"In the African-American community in particular, high rates of unemployment have led to dramatic increases in poverty and food insecurity rates over the past few years," Boykin added. "As African-Americans grapple with the ongoing impacts of the recession, Congress needs to ensure that programs like SNAP, the national school meal programs, and WIC are funded at levels to support this time of need."

According to the USDA figures, nearly 27 percent of Hispanics suffer from food insecurity and nearly 35 percent of Hispanic children live in households that struggle to put food on the table.

Maya Angelou, John Lewis Named as Medal of Freedom Recipients

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

Writer Maya Angelou and civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, were among 15 announced recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. It singles out those who have made contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace or other significant endeavors.

“These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place,” President Barack Obama said in a statement announcing the recipients. “I look forward to awarding them this honor.”

The award ceremony will take place at the White House in early 2011.

Maya Angelou, a world-renowned poet, author, educator, and civil rights activist is currently the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. This is the third presidential award she’s received, following the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008.

Lewis, a longtime congressman, was a seminal figure during the Civil Rights Movement. While chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he helped organize the first lunch-counter sit-in in 1959, and was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. In 1965, he led the Selma-to-Montgomery march on what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” drawing a violent, turbulent Alabama police response that prompted the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Also honored was basketball legend Bill Russell. One of the most successful performers in professional sports, Russell led his Boston Celtic teams to 11 NBA championships in 13 years while also winning five most valuable player awards. He was the first African-American to become a coach of a major sports team at the professional level in the United States.

Among the other honorees were President George H.W. Bush, billionaire Warren Buffett, civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez and president emeritus of the AFL-CIO, John J. Sweeney.

Tobacco Giants Push to Increase Cigarette Sales to Africans

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Special the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

As anti-smoking campaigns backed by higher taxes take hold in U.S. cities and around the world, “big tobacco” has turned its eye toward Africa.

Tobacco consumption will double in the next 12 to 13 years in sub-Saharan Africa, predicts Evan Blecher, a South African economist with the American Cancer Society, without major policy interventions.

“As income rises, so does tobacco consumption (nearly on a one-to-one basis) and developing countries are growing rapidly, China and India are growing at more than 8% a year and the average economic growth in Africa is 5% a year.”

Still, an anti-smoking movement is pushing back. Kenya and Niger have enforced national smoke-free policies, and South Africa, which has had smoke-free laws on the books since March 2007, “continues to play an important role in the region, demonstrating that smoke-free laws can work in Africa”, notes the report: Global Voices: Rebutting the Tobacco Industry, Winning Smokefree Air.

This week, activists with the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria plan to release a report from the tobacco industry watchdog-Corporate Accountability International - presenting new evidence of persistent efforts by the tobacco industry to obstruct the FCTC on the African continent.

‘Protecting Against Tobacco Industry Interference’ will be released at this week’s World Health Organization's Convention on Tobacco Control in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit is set to go to trial in a Boston court, accusing Lorillard Tobacco Co. of enticing Black children to become smokers by handing out free samples in urban neighborhoods.

The plaintiff, Willie Evans, alleges that the firm used an illegal marketing strategy to get his mother to begin smoking Newport cigarettes at age 9, which led to a lifelong addiction and her death to cancer.

The giveaways in urban neighborhoods were "designed to attract African-American children and teenagers and to place cigarettes in their hands," the lawsuit states. The company admits to the free handouts but denies it ever offered them to children in a playground.

Chicago's Historic JPC Building Goes Up for Sale

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Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Crusader –

News of the sale of the only Black-owned building in the Loop didn’t come as a surprise to some former Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) employees who shared cherished memories of working at the Michigan Avenue edifice. Recently, officials at JPC released news that the 11 story, 110,000 square foot, 40-year-old building has been sold to Columbia College. In the college’s news release, Chairman Allen Turner, said the building will ultimately house the institution’s library.

Monroe Anderson moved to Chicago in 1972 to work at Ebony as an assistant editor. He recalled the building at 820 S. Michigan as “incredible.” He said it was an innovative, highly regimented but fun place to work. Anderson said the JPC conference room had picture phones, adding it was very rare then. “Cubicles were new things, and we had cubicles.” Anderson was quick to add that no eating was allowed in the cubicles. He said employees took their 15-minute morning and afternoon breaks away from the cubicle and in the company cafeteria -- the same cafeteria where employees got all-you-could-eat soul food lunches for a dollar a day.

“Lunch money” was deducted from the employees’ paychecks. Another innovative amenity was an in-house movie theatre. “We got to screen all the “Blaxplotation” movies as they came out,” Anderson said. And because of the importance of JPC, many of the movie stars visited the headquarters.

The first time Billy Dee Williams stopped by was shortly after he made the movie “Brian’s Song: and a second time after starring in “Lady Sings the Blues”. “Women were following him down the hall then, the same women who had ignored him the first time he was here,” Anderson laughed. Anderson said he still remembers having lunch with Lena Horne.

Cheap food, movie star visits and a view of Grant Park didn’t equate to a relaxed work environment. “Mr. John H. Johnson was very strict about time,” Anderson recalled. “We started at 9 a.m. and Mr. Johnson stood in the entry to see what time you came in and if you got there at 9:01, you were late,’ he said. The former Tribune columnist said a scowl and scolding from Johnson was the punishment for being late.

The Michigan Avenue location epitomized architectural innovation as well, Lee Bey, a former Sun Times architect columnist said. Bey, current director of the downtown business group/think tank Chicago Central Area Committee, said “The grid-like exterior, which was a staple of modernism with the recessed windows makes the building resemble a ladder, which is kind of a perfect metaphor for John Johnson's achievement and the achievements of those his publication wrote about. “The building is interesting in more than a few ways.

The penthouse, built for and occupied by Johnson, had a theater. The building was built with heat absorbing glass, making it energy efficient long before that kind of thing came into vogue. The additional distinction to the JPC headquarters is John Moutoussamy the noted African American architect designed it. Bey, former chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley, described the building as “among Moutoussamy’s most notable works and certainly his most famous.”

Jeff Burns, who headed JPC’s New York City office until 2007, said “The building was especially appealing because every floor was color coordinated and Mr. Johnson loved art… He had a treasure of artwork from major artists.” “There were a lot of sculptures throughout the building. All of his awards were behind a glass showcase so everyone could see them,” Burns said.

Anderson and Burns said they were aware of the historical significance of the JPC headquarters because of the traffic it generated. “Even though I was in New York, whenever someone I knew was going to Chicago, they’d call me and ask who do I need to call at Johnson Publishing so I can get a tour.” Burns said a favorite story about JPC headquarters tourists is of an 80-year-old woman who saved to come to Chicago. “When she got to Chicago, she went to the Johnson Building and told the people I’m here to see the maker” Burns added that once word got to JPC Founder John Johnson, he came to the lobby greeted the woman and then took her to lunch.

Anderson chuckled when he talked about Johnson’s fondness for tours. “He was always having tours and you’d be trying to write a story and people would come by, laughing and talking with you. It was quite a distraction,” he said. One of those tours included a surprise visitor, a former neighbor of Anderson’s and friend of his mother’s who had known him since childhood. “She just couldn’t believe I got a job at Ebony, so she took one of the tours to find out if I really worked there. I think now she has more copies of things I’ve written since than my mother has” Anderson added.

Burns said the building is inseparable from the legacy of its first owner. “A lot of people don’t realize that Mr. Johnson underwrote the civil rights movement. When he put that picture of Emmett Till’s body in his magazine, and that magazine went all over the country, it got people’s attention and got them involved.”

It was that involvement that caused United States presidents to reach out to Johnson. According to Burns, every president from Roosevelt to George H.W. Bush sought Johnson’s counsel, and invited him to the White House. Despite the ties to heads of state, Johnson developed and maintained a strong relationship with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Burns said he was instrumental in getting Howard University to name its School of Communications after Johnson. Johnson noted that a number of JPC employees were HBCU grads, with Howard sending the most.

Anderson said the significance of JPC to the Black community was impressed on him when he chose to leave Ebony after a 20-month stint. “My mother couldn’t understand why I would leave Ebony to go to work for the Chicago Tribune,” Anderson said.

Conrad Worrill, the national chairman emeritus of the National Black United Fund, said he wished there had been a different outcome for JPC. “It is unfortunate that the sale is not reversed (i.e. Johnson Publishing buying the Columbia College building). It is a real breakdown in holding on to historical properties that became as a result of blood, sweat and tears of an African-American entrepreneur,” he said.

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