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Guyana Turns 48 Years Old

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – Guyana is celebrating its 48th anniversary as an independent country with acknowledging that the journey has been “long and arduous” and characterised by “valiant struggles and acts of mass heroism as well as great individual feats”.

In his address to the nation, President Donald Ramotar said that country is marking the milestone of its political history in a world that has grown more complex, more interconnected, but, unfortunately, one which still remains very unequal between the developing South and the developed North.

“International relations today are still dominated and determined by a handful of rich countries. Many of the institutions established, particularly the international financial institutions mostly geared to serve the interest of the most rich and powerful countries.”

He said developing countries have to manage the affairs of their states in a great disadvantageous situation and this is reflected in the growing inequality in relation to access to resources and the huge income gap between the rich and poor countries of the world.

Ramotar said that the richest 85 persons in the world are worth more than the poorest 3.5 billion persons and that almost a half of the world’s wealth is owned by just one percent of the population.

“The struggle, therefore, for socio-economic justice and a more equitable world, continues. One of the major issues is the need to democratise international relations. It is patently evident that the vast majority of countries in the world and by extension the peoples of those countries do not have enough influence on international politics and economics.”

Ramotar said that the situation demands that Guyana continues to build greater solidarity among the developing world while it works in alliance with those developed countries interested in genuine partnership.

He said the country must also continue to take the lead in promoting regional unity and pledge to work tirelessly within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to bring stronger bonds and integration of the peoples of the region.

New Multicultural Coalition Takes on Inequities in Calif. Schools

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By George White
Special to the NNPA from New America Media

LOS ANGELES – As new data on California’s educational inequities mounts, a statewide multicultural coalition is forming to push for legislation that would address disparities in K-12 schools and the state’s universities.

The coalition will unveil its plans at a press conference in late June, said Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Asian Americans Advancing Justice, initiator of the campaign. Thus far, 30 state-based organizations representing community groups, labor unions and civil rights advocates have joined the coalition, Kwoh said Wednesday in a New America Media interview. SEIU California, the California Federation of Teachers, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Advancement Project are among the coalition members, said Kwoh.

Kwoh announced the new campaign at a May 22 forum in Los Angeles organized by New America Media, where speakers discussed a new UCLA Civil Rights Project study that shows that California schools are more segregated than ever by race, class and language. Two directors of the UCLA center that produced the study, civil rights attorney Connie Rice and education activist Michele Siqueiros, joined Kwoh as panel presenters at the forum.

“We need a campaign to expand educational opportunity and ensure that the most disadvantaged are part of that expansion,” Kwoh explained. “We need a movement to do that.”

The coalition plans to call on the state government to assess the impact of Proposition 209, the 1996 voter-approved ballot measure that banned the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions. Some education equity activists argue that the ban is the cause of a steep drop in the number of Latino and African-American students in state universities. If that is found to be the case, the coalition’s statement of principles argues that the state should amend or repeal the ban.

The group will also push for greater state investment in higher education, including the expansion of admissions of California students in the state’s universities. The coalition also aims to give students at schools in low-income communities greater access to high school classes required for college admission.

Kwoh said coalition members would meet with legislators before and after state budget votes in mid-June to press for the changes.

Coalition members must also engage legislators on issues related to the disparity in resources at schools in low-income communities, which are largely black and Latino, said Connie Rice, co-director of Advancement Project, a civil rights organization with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

“It’s a political problem,” said Rice. “Americans don’t want to talk about segregation. We must convince politicians that they have a role.”

Rice proposed that school districts with heavily segregated classrooms convert more of their schools to magnet centers of learning to broaden student demographics and attract better teachers.

Michele Siqueiros, executive director of Los Angeles-based Campaign for College Opportunity, also called for more magnet schools.

“My daughter attends a magnet school and it looks more like [the population] of L.A.,” she said.

“Collectively, we are comfortable talking about race as it relates music, food or festivals. We go to Koreatown for barbecue. We go to Chinese New Year festivals in Chinese communities and we celebrate Cinco de Mayo more than Latinos.”

Siqueiros said fewer Latinos and African Americans enroll in college, partly because many attended high schools that don’t offer classes required under many college admissions standards.

“If we don’t get more Latinos and blacks into college, we are not going to be happy living here,” she said.

All of the panelists agreed that the large number of Spanish-speaking students in the state should be considered an asset in today’s globalized economy. Patricia Gandara, co-director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project, said that all California students should be required to study a second language.

Her colleague at the Civil Rights Project, Co-Director Gary Orfield, added that California’s “linguistic richness” should be considered an asset.

California’s schools have been increasingly segregated by language, race and class since the 1979 vote for Proposition 1, which banned court-ordered bussing of students to achieve integration.

Blacks are Drowning in Swim Help

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In the two weeks leading up the to unofficial start of summer, reports of accidental drowning deaths had already begun, including at least three victims under the age of four, and a 21 year-old Grambling State University senior, Alexandria Shelton.

Like clockwork, a lack of water safety resurfaces each year – especially for African Americans.

African Americans over the age of four are significantly more likely to drown than White Americans. Black children ages 5 to 14 —70 percent of whom can’t swim—are three times more likely than White children to drown. That doubles to six times as likely when teens are added to the picture.

And swimming pools can be particularly deadly—Black youth ages 5 to 19 are more than five times as likely as Whites to drown there. For Black 11 and 12 year-olds, that figure doubles.

“This is the first report to examine racial/ethnic disparities in fatal drowning rates by age and setting. The disparity increased when only drowning deaths in swimming pools were considered,” states the CDC research, released last week. “The disparity in self-reported swimming skills among black children and adults might help to explain the disparity in drowning rates.”

Scholars have found that the disparity is a remnant of segregation, and result of contemporary neglect on the part of city officials.

Swimming became a national pastime in the 1920s and 1930s and again in the 1950s and 1960s. Segregation kept African Americans out of the water (including public beaches). Public pools were then closed to sidestep desegregation, and the swimming boom moved to the suburban private pools and clubs.

At the same time, White neighbors and/or economic factors pushed African American families further inland, away from valuable coastal communities. Finally, public facilities that were opened in Black communities in the 1960s and 1970s were often too small or too grimy for swimming.

Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America and explains the problem in his latest article in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues.

“As a result of limited access…swimming did not become integral to the recreation and sports culture within African American communities. Successive generations of White parents took their children to swimming pools and taught them to swim, because that is what they did as children,” he writes. “No such broad, self-perpetuating swim culture developed among Black Americans, however…. In this way, the swimming disparity created by past discrimination persists into the present.”

Today, this generational effect, plus the allotting of public resources, plays a larger role in whether Black communities learn water safety.

In 2010, Cedric Troupe, founded the East Oakland Swim Club to “restore the culture of swimming” in the Oakland area African American community, especially for young people.

“Growing up in Oakland or in the San Francisco Bay area, when we were young we used to go to the swimming pool and have fun. Our generation is failing the younger generation,” he says.

Troupe, a lifelong swimmer, took up the cause of advocating for Oakland’s high school and recreation center pools when he realized his alma mater pool at Castlemont High School had fallen into disrepair. (In 1976, its swim team won the Oakland Athletic League Championship. It’s said that students had to swim a lap of the pool as a diploma requirement).

“We have a number of obstacles for people of color…and the first part is facilities. Our kids have to travel 8 to 10 miles to swim,” Troupe explains. “We’re coming into summer 2014 and we had a 90-degree day just last week, yet these pools are not available for the children.”

Even in communities where access isn’t a problem for Black youth, there’s often one more barrier – their parents.

As the USA Swimming Foundation reports, children whose parents can’t swim have a 13 percent chance of learning to swim themselves. A parent’s inexperience with or outright fear of water often gets passed down, perpetuating the problem.

Miracle Swimming Institute, based in Sarasota, Fla. (with satellite sites around the country) caters to adults who are afraid in water. Mary Ellen “Melon” Dash, founder of the institute and creator of its methods, asserts that almost all of her students have at least one parent who is afraid in water (a thread that’s even more common than traumatic childhood experiences).

“We go to the community center to give free classes, and we find children who have never been to the beach even though it’s just five miles away. And when we offer to take them, [parents] put up a lot of resistance because they don’t know how we can make it safe for their children,” Dash explains. “[Adults] know that not only are they missing out on the fun, but they’re not safe in water. There’s so much shame about not being able to swim…but people need to know it’s perfectly understandable.”

On the other end of the attitude spectrum, some overestimate their water competency.

The Red Cross measures water competency by proficiency with five tasks: getting into the water over one’s head; returning to the surface and floating or treading water for one minute; turning around in a full circle and finding an exit; swimming at least 25 yards to an exit; and exiting the water (without a ladder if in a pool).

These are the necessary skills for surviving a water emergency. In a national survey conducted last month, the Red Cross found that 80 percent of respondents said they could swim, but only 56 percent felt they could complete all five tasks.

According to aquatics trainer and advocate, Dr. Angela Beale, many people hold inadequate ideas on what it means to be able to swim.

“If I can’t perform basic skills in terms of water safety, now I have to put that in context of whether I can swim. I have to ask myself, ‘Well enough to save my life?’” she explains. “Some swimmers overestimate their ability, especially in different bodies of water. The minute you say ‘I know’ is the minute you stop learning.”

This year, the Red Cross is commemorating 100 years of water safety education with a Centennial Campaign to teach 50,000 people how to swim. The campaign also seeks to cut the national drowning rate in half over the next three to five years by targeting 50 cities across 19 states with high drowning fatality rates. (Florida tops the list, with 18 selected cities).

Incidentally, some of the selected cities have large Black populations. In these cities—such as Birmingham, Jacksonville, and Memphis—both the overall drowning rate and the African American drowning rate are higher than the national average.

“I think a large contributor to the drowning disparity truly is a lack of knowledge in seeing aquatics as a life skill. You can save your own life, as well as someone else’s,” says Beale, who also serves on the Aquatic Sub Council of the Red Cross’ Scientific Advisory Council.

“I hope that everyone would find out where they can access swimming programs…and that every family will make sure that at least one person can swim, until eventually, everyone can,” Beale says. “But make it a priority moving forward—not just for this summer.”

New Report: Blacks are 'Beyond Broke'

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The growing racial wealth gap – $200 in median wealth for Blacks in 2011 and $23,000 for Whites – threatens national economic security in the United States, according to a recent report by the Center for Global Policy Solutions.

“When it comes to the racial gap in liquid wealth, African Americans and Latinos are nearly penniless,” stated the report. “The median liquid wealth of Whites is over 100 times that of Blacks.”

The report said that when retirement savings are taken out of the analysis, the disparities in liquid wealth are even more disturbing.

“Blacks are found to hold a mere $25 and Latinos just $100 in liquid wealth, compared to $3,000 held by the typical White household,” the report said.

During a press conference on the report on Capitol Hill, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said that the racial gap is not some product of changes in the economy.

“It’s our tax policy, designed to help the rich, It’s also our trade policy, off-shoring our jobs and it’s also the attack on unions,” said Ellison.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said that families are living paycheck to paycheck and are drowning in debt from predatory loans and mortgages and decreased home values following the housing crisis.

This great divide in wealth has contributed to many of the problems that are facing communities of color, including lower educational achievement and family insecurity, according to Horsford.

He said that minorities were institutionally restricted from having access to wealth-building tools largely until the Civil Rights Movement and, though explicit institutional racism has somewhat subsided, the wide gap in wealth between families of color and White families is still a reflection of more discreet systematic and social barriers that have limited economic mobility.

The report outlined a number of policy recommendations, including a universal “baby bond” trust program.

Darrick Hamilton, associate professor of Economics and Urban Policy Milano Graduate School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at The New School in New York City said that baby bonds could help close the wealth gap.

“The idea is that as an adult you can engage in wealth building you can purchase an asset so that you have the opportunity to build economic security over a lifetime,” said Hamilton. He explained: “If the average account is $20,000 at birth and we have about 4 million babies born per year, that would make the cost of around $80 billion dollars a year for the program.”

Hamilton said that would be about 2.2 percent of the federal budget and rival what gets spent at the Department of Education.

He said: “If you could design another program like the Department of Education that would help close the racial wealth gap and provide economic security for all Americans I ask, would you do it?”

Maya Rockeymoore, president of the think tank that produced the report, said that the African American community should know that it’s not about them, it’s about the system and how it is structured with policies that deny their opportunity to have equitable chances for growing wealth in this nation.

“We’ve been told that all of the households have recovered from the recession, that’s what the Federal Reserve data shows,” said Rockeymoore, president and CEO for the Center for Global Policy Solutions. “What our study shows is that for every dollar in wealth held by typical White family, African American and Latino families only have six and seven cents.”

We talk about the employment experience, pushing for living wage policies focusing on creating jobs financial literacy and entrepreneurship are a part of the quality educational experience.

There are elements of personal responsibility connected to how we build and grow wealth, but the structural elements outweigh the personal considerations, said Rockeymoore.

“In order to make policy change you have to be politically involved,” said Rockeymoore. “In order to make sure your bank account looks different, there are certain things that you can do as well.”

Whatever it takes, the country can’t continue to go down this road, said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)., noting that in less than 30 years, the majority of people living in the United States will be people of color.

Cummings said: “If you have the majority in this country who are not earning enough money to take care of their families, who are not earning enough to create a savings account and don’t have pensions, who’s going to buy the refrigerators, who’s going to buy the curtains who’s going to buy the cars?”

Cummings added: “We have to make sure that America understands that this is not just a minority problem, this is an economic security problem. If you cut that many people out of the economic mainstream, your country will literally collapse.”

Longer School Days Idea Gets Passing Grade

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Six decades after Brown v. Board of Education, an old idea is being resurrected in hopes of narrowing the education gap between Blacks and Whites – expanding the school day.

“By sixth grade, low-income students have a 6,000 hour learning gap over the course of their lifetime, accounting for these field trips, and summer learning opportunities. That’s an incredible deficit that our low-income students are trying to go through school with,” said Christopher Caruso, senior vice president of ExpandED Schools at The After-School Corporation (TASC), a non-profit policy and advocacy organization.

“If your day is limited to St. Nicholas Avenue and Lennox Avenue in Harlem [New York], or a six-block radius for 15 years, you don’t have that experience, that vocabulary. So the amount of work that you have to do to show competency in testing, is tremendous.”

The idea that more time fosters academic achievement has been around almost as long as public education has. Today, ELT is aimed at closing the opportunity gap and saving underperforming schools. The theory is that if there were more time in the school day, under-resourced schools could provide the same rich experiences, in-depth lessons, and extra tutoring that middle- and upper-class students receive. Allowing more time for these perks during school hours ensures that all students receive them.

“It’s not that schools haven’t worked with students in the past to help them catch up, but…usually you would tackle that in an after-school venue,” says Barbara Pulliam Davis, superintendent of the Greene County School District in Greensboro, Ga. “With extended learning time, because it’s part of the school day, every student gets to participate. There’s no ‘I can’t stay late because my mom wants me home.’”

ELT schools and districts devise a daily schedule or calendar year that adds hours or days to the traditional one. School years are usually elongated by shortening summer vacation, or adding Saturday instruction. School days are extended by combining a variety of tactics, such as: beginning the school day earlier; adding extra blocks of time throughout the day for non-traditional learning; minimizing transitions and other non-instructional moments, and more.

Every school custom builds their program, drawing on best practices at other schools and their own school community’s needs.

Schools generally use this additional time in four ways: remediation for students who need it; advanced lessons and projects for above-average students; peer-development and creative lesson-planning time for teachers; and/or enrichment activities for students. Particularly in the case of enrichment activities, schools partner with organizations, businesses, and individuals to offer a range of engaging, fun activities to students.

For example, students at Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School in New York City create their own public art exhibits and visit cultural gems such as the Museum of Modern Art, thanks to a partnership with arts education organization, Doing Art Together.

“A lot of upper- and middle-income families find ways to put opportunities in front of their children. There’s a whole cottage industry for upper- and middle-income kids that’s driving the opportunity gap, and low-income families don’t have the resources to pay for that,” Caruso explains. “There’s a lot of data that says two-thirds of the achievement gap is a difference of access to those opportunities. But we’re not going to hold back upper- and middle-income families, we have to lift up lower-income families.”

ELT is also used as a “turnaround” method for schools that are doing poorly academically, as measured by state and federal exams. Greene County High School in Georgia, for example, has seen improvement among its students since the district adopted an “increased learning time” schedule.

“It gives us time to time to really focus on the students. So many times we have schools where students are credit-rich but content-poor,” says Ray Hill, Greene County High School principal. As evidence of the program’s success, he cites his students’ performance on the Georgia High School Writing Test, a statewide exam introduced in 2011. After using extended time to prepare for the exam, 94 percent of students met or exceeded expectations on the first try.

He explains, “Once the kids understood it was something that would help them, we got more buy-in from them. It also did improve the self-esteem of certain kids, because they started to realize they could ‘get it’ with a little more help.”

There are more than 1,000 schools across the country that have voluntarily switched to ELT schedules, most of which are public schools. In the case of Greene County (and many others), schools construct an ELT program to comply with Department of Education grants they receive.

Aligning with federal policy in this way mitigates one of the criticisms of extended learning — its high cost.

For starters, extending the school year (as opposed to the length of a school day) means added costs to run the building longer. Enriching activities such as dance and robotics are also costly (without a generous community partner). Then, there is the tricky task of paying teachers for the additional time, while honoring contractual caps on the number of hours worked.

For rural school districts, finding community partners can be difficult. When there aren’t enough partners nearby, or if those partners are less inclined to offer pro bono services over time, schools cannot afford to fill the extra time in a meaningful way. Rural districts also have to convince school bus companies to adopt the same new schedule.

Experts agree that potential ELT success does not lie in the time itself—it’s how the time is used, and whether the program is structured and in line with the school’s particular goals and weaknesses.

“It’s not just packing an extra hour or two in the school day when what you do with the extra time supports the vision of the school overall,” says Jessica Cardichon, director of federal advocacy for the Alliance of Excellent Education, a national policy and advocacy organization for effective high school reform. “It’s not more time to do more of the same things. It’s time to expose students to different experiences and opportunities, and to enhance different skills that they might not have otherwise been exposed to before.”

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