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More Americans Living in Poverty Now than when Eisenhower was President

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from The Amsterdam News

Let’s add 3.8 million people to the list of impoverished Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Last Thursday, the Bureau released a report that stated that one out of every seven American citizens lived in poverty last year. It’s the highest rate since 1959. It wouldn’t be until 1964 that then President Lyndon B. Johnson would launch his “War on Poverty” initiative.

About 43.6 million people in America lived in poverty in 2009. The poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, which is an increase from 2008’s rate of 13.2 percent. It’s also the highest level since 1994. The U.S. government classifies an annual income of $21, 756 for a family of four as impoverished. A record high 50.7 million Americans went without health insurance in 2009 amidst the heated debate regarding President Barack Obama’s health care reform.

And according to a couple of analysts, things might not get better until the end of the decade.

According to a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, Isabel Sawhill, the poverty rate is slated to hit 16 percent and stay at that level during the 2010s. She also came to the conclusion that the poverty club will add 10 million people this decade, which includes 6 million children.

Robert Greenstein also has a similarly dismal outlook for America. The executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington noted that in the country’s last three recessions, poverty rates don’t decrease until a year after drops in the unemployment rate.

As for the numbers concerning New York? They look even bleaker than the rest of the country’s.

According to Census Bureau statistics, the poverty rate in New York State rose from 14.2 percent in 2008 to 15.8 percent in 2009, essentially upping the number of people in poverty from 284,000 to just over 3 million. The only time that New York State suffered a poverty jump this high in a 12-month span was from 1989 to 1990.

All of this feeds right into the desires of one civil and human rights leader to mark jobs as the next big issue facing Washington.

Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition wrote an open letter to public officials calling on a more efficient way to tackle the issue of poverty in the richest nation in the world.

“As people of conscience, as elected leaders of the greatest democracy in the world, we ask ourselves, is there not a need for a new war on poverty or a Great Society plan similar to that enacted by President Lyndon B. Johnson?” read Jackson’s statement.

“Dr. [Martin Luther] King's cry for a Poor People’s Campaign has come full circle. There must be a sense of urgency to address this moral and economic crisis. In Stimulus I, we have watered the leaves. We need Stimulus II to water the roots.”

“In Iraq and Afghanistan, we had a plan for security, stability, investment reconstruction, and rebuilding infrastructure,” said Jackson. “Our people, our cities, our nation deserves nothing less.”

Jackson suggested that the American government enact a “modern-day homesteading program” where unemployed urban citizens can reclaim lost homes and learn carpentry, plumbing and green jobs skills in order to rebuild America.

David R. Jones, Esq., of the Community Service Society of New York, expressed distress at what America has become and hopes that the poor of the country will not be forgotten like he feels they usually are. “We are seeing a new poor—previously middle-class or working-class people who had jobs and were able to make ends meet,” said Jones in another released statement. “Many have been jobless for so long that they are queuing up for public welfare benefits. We are wasting lives, and we cannot afford to do so. Many communities—both urban and rural—now mirror a third world country, with adults sitting around with no jobs and no future for them or their families.”

Both Jackson and Jones believe that jobs sponsored by the government are the solution to the economic downturn, but both suggest that the time to debate is over and the time to act is now.

“It is up to our leaders, both in government and the private sector, to move away from old habits and patterns of thought and respond to this national crisis,” said Jones. “Unless we change our priorities, we will be creating generations mired in chronic poverty. The eventual result will be the economic downgrading of America to second-class status.”

“We can begin to work our way out,” said Jackson. “Congressional leaders, take the bold step of committing to reducing poverty by 50 percent over the next 10 years—half in 10! America, give us a listening ear…There is no time to waste. It’s time for a change.”

Aretha Franklin's Son Beaten, Undergoes Surgery

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Special To The NNPA By AFRO-American Newspapers –

Soul icon Aretha Franklin’s son was recently brutally beaten at a Detroit gas station, E! Network reported.

Eddie Franklin, 52, was allegedly assaulted by two men and a woman. Authorities said Franklin described one of his attackers as being approximately six feet tall with dreadlocks and a dark complexion. He said the female was around 19 years old.

Initially, authorities were unable to garner details or talk to Franklin about the attack, saying he had “checked himself out of the hospital” before they could begin questioning him.

Gwendolyn Quinn, a spokesperson for Aretha Franklin, confirmed the attack in a news release. In the statement, she said Eddie Franklin underwent emergency surgery after the attack.

Aretha Franklin issued a statement, describing Quinn as a “former publicist” and blaming the police for insinuating that her son was being uncooperative.

“After observing my son…, it was clear that he was unable to communicate with anyone after such a traumatic attack and with his jaw wired,” Aretha Franklin said in a statement, according to The Detroit News. “The officer probably would not have been able to give a statement, if he had been attacked by three men the very next day either and it was totally unreasonable to expect Eddie to do so as if he were not being cooperative.”

Following Franklin’s statement, Detroit officials responded to her complaints.

“Our department has been in contact with the Franklin family and we are actively investigating this crime,” Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said in a statement, according to the News. “Whenever a citizen becomes a victim of violence, it not only affects their family, but the entire community.”

A spokeswoman for Sinai-Grace Hospital told USA Today that Eddie had been treated for his injuries but said he did not undergo surgery.

According to E! Network, Detroit police are investigating the attack but have not named any suspects or listed a possible motive.

Following in his mother’s footsteps, Eddie Franklin is also a singer. His most notable work appeared on his mother’s cover of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” to which he contributed guest vocals earlier this year.

In 2002, Eddie Franklin was named a suspect in the fire of his mother’s Detroit home, but was later cleared in the case.

After Moving D.C. in the Right Direction, Mayor Fenty Rejected by Voters

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By George E. Curry, Special to NNPA –

(NNPA) After sweeping every ward four years ago en route to becoming the youngest person ever elected mayor of Washington, D.C., Adrian Fenty was decisively ousted on Tuesday, largely by African-American voters who perceived him as arrogant and unconcerned about issues of greatest concern to them.

It was the second time in three months that black voters turned their backs on a high-profile black candidate thought to be placing the interest of whites over African Americans. In June, Alabama Rep. Arthur Davis lost his bid to become the Democratic nominee for governor by losing seven of the twelve counties that make up his district to a white candidate. He lost every predominantly black county in the state, some by margins as wide as 70 percent, and failed to carry his own polling place.

Fenty’s defeat came in the city’s Democratic primary which, given the city’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, is practically the same as the final result.

In Fenty’s case, he was booted out of office even though polls showed that most residents thought he was moving the city in the right direction. His aloofness and failure to do enough for blacks apparently trumped his efforts to improve public schools, lower the crime rate and create more recreational facilities in the city.

“Mayor Fenty’s inaccessibility, even to those who had helped him gain office, his reported vindictiveness and his callous disrespect for the people of the District, felt most acutely in the African American community, apparently amounted to gross disrespect resulted in his being rejected vehemently,” said Ramona Edelin, a longtime city resident.

Askia Muhammad, a newspaper columnist and local radio host, said African Americans deeply disliked the one-term mayor. “People hated him because he was a figment of his own creation. That is, he believed his own press releases,” Muhammad explained. “He seemed to believe that white people have colder ice than blacks… Nobody liked him but white people.”

In a city sharply divided by race and class, approximately 80 percent of voters in the white, affluent wards in northwest Washington voted for Fenty. For blacks living east of the Anacostia River, it was the opposite pattern, with 80 percent of them giving their vote to District Council President Vincent C. Gray.

Even in the most racially homogeneous parts of the city, there was a racial divide. Fenty carried the white wards by a 4-to-1 margin. Gray, on the other hand, carried the black wards by the same margin.

How did things change so drastically for the 39-year-old mayor, who had raised $4.9 million to his opponent’s $1.15 million?

The skepticism began almost immediately after Fenty took office. After he announced the launch of a national search for key cabinet officials, blacks saw the top administration of Chocolate City become increasingly, vanilla. Fenty’s choices for city administrator, police chief, fire chief, attorney general and school chancellor were all non-black. In fact, the Washington Post observed that among those who arguably hold the 10 most influential positions in city government, only one was black.

The most controversial cabinet member is Michelle Rhee, a hard-charging Korean-American engaged to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star. In order to reform the District’s failing school system, Rhee has insisted on performance-based teacher evaluations, ordered teacher layoffs, and closed nearly 30 schools as test scores and enrollment began inching upward. She has often been praised and condemned in the same breath.

A poll taken shortly before the election found that 54 percent of Democrats thought Rhee was sufficient reason to vote against Fenty. Vincent Gray, 67, has not said whether he plans to keep Rhee, who openly campaigned for Fenty.

Many residents complained that the mayor expended too much energy on things such as creating new bicycle lanes, a move popular in newly-gentrified sections of the city, and placed too little attention on building affordable housing and expanding jobs.

The mayor is under investigation by the City Council for allegedly steering construction contracts to his friends. He was also seen as petty when he withheld free baseball season tickets from council members. And it didn’t help that, in the eyes of many voters, he did not appear at enough community functions.

Even though pre-election polls showed Fenty trailing his challenger by double-digits, the mayor was reluctant to alter his public posture, saying in effect, that he had done a good job as mayor and the public shouldn’t be concerned about how he brought about change.

But the public was concerned, especially African Americans. Though the mayor was still heavily supported by whites, a Clarus poll showed black voters favoring Gray over Fenty by a margin of 62 percent to 17 percent.

Just five days before the election, Fenty became so desperate that he called the White House in hopes of getting an endorsement from President Barak Obama. That endorsement never came.

In a major shift, instead of proclaiming that he had done no wrong, a humbled Fenty unleashed a series of television commercials in which he acknowledged he had made some mistakes as mayor and that he was eager to correct them. His wife, Michelle, who grew up in London as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, rarely appears at political events with her husband. But, in an effort to humanize her spouse, the Howard University-trained lawyer met with reporters to fend off charges that her husband is remote or unconcerned about the plight of the poor. With her British accent, she made a tearful defense of her husband. By then, however, it was too late.

Donna Brazile, a political strategist, asked rhetorically: “On the last Sunday before the election, where was Fenty? Out running a marathon and not in church where most politicians go seeking last-minute converts. The message here is simple: Never lose contact with those who backed you in the first place.”

Virginia Governor Unveils Civil Rights Activist Portrait in State Capitol Ceremony

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By Christian K. Finkbeiner, Special To NNPA from The Richmond Free Press –

She was only 16, but her role in the Civil Rights Movement was one of great importance. And now the commonwealth of Virginia is again ready to honor Barbara R. Johns for heroically leading a school strike in 1951 that led to the abolition of segregated schools in the Old Dominion and across the country.

Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell recently unveil a portrait of this heroine at the State Capitol, once a ruling seat of white supremacy. Ms. Johns, who died in 1991, will join former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder as the only African-Americans with portraits hanging in the historic Capitol that was built in part by slave labor. Her portrait will be displayed in the Capitol rotunda. The new honor for Ms. Johns contrasts with Gov. McDonnell’s controversial declaration of April as Confederate History Month , which saluted those who fought to keep Black people enslaved — a proclamation that attracted national criticism. However, in his January inaugural address, the governor twice cited Ms. Johns as an educational role model, saying at one point that she was “willing to risk everything for the simple opportunity of a good education.”

Her likeness is already displayed on a statue in the Civil Rights Monument that was erected in 2008 on Capitol Square near the Executive Mansion, in Richmond, Virginia, during the administration of Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine.

Ms. Johns was a junior in high school when she took her bold action that shook the state and its segregationist regime. But, the teenager was fed up with the separate and unequal education treatment she and other students endured because of the vicious, government-backed bigotry in her hometown of Farmville, Virginia. She was angry that she and 450 other African-American students were being crammed into the aging and leaky Robert R. Moton High School that county officials built to accommodate 180 students.

With the backing of her family, Ms. Johns recruited other student leaders for a protest against the school’s inferior condition. On April 23, 1951, she led an unprecedented student walkout and strike to demand a new school. The two-week student protest drew the attention of a trio of legendary Richmond civil rights attorneys: Oliver W. Hill Sr., Spottswood W. Robinson III, and Martin E. Martin.

They filed suit in federal court against county officials –– a case that eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court and became part of the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS. The Supreme Court’s ruling in that landmark case threw out the doctrine of “separate but equal” in declaring enforced racial segregation of public schools unconstitutional. In defiance of the court ruling, Prince Edward County later closed its public schools rather than integrate them as part of Massive Resistance promulgated by the Virginia Democratic Party. It took five years and another ruling to get the schools reopened.

Ms. Johns’ parents, who feared for her life after the strike, sent her to live with relatives in Montgomery, Ala. She later married the Rev. William Powell, raised five children and worked as a librarian until her death at age 56.

U.S. Education Chief Says NC School District is Worth Emulating

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By Michaela L. Duckett, Special to the NNPA by The Charlotte Post –

The nation’s education system is in crisis. A country that once outranked the world’s other industrialized nations, now trails significantly behind as school drop out rates continue to rise and proficiency scores in the core subjects of math, reading, and science are plummeting.

The problem is far worse for African American students, who continue to lag behind their White and Asian counterparts in achievement. As for black males, half are expected to drop out before completing high school.

Although statistics paint a dismal picture, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is optimistic about the future, and believes Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is “on the cutting edge of innovation," setting an example for the nation to follow.

“I am a big fan of (CMS) Superintendent Peter Gorman and his leadership team here. I think the school district here is making real and sustained and meaningful progress. It’s great to see so many high performing schools,” said Duncan. “As a country, as we think about turning around chronically underperforming schools and schools that for too long haven’t worked for kids and haven’t worked for the community. This school district is trying to do it at a scale and in a systematic way that, I think, is going to shape the national conversation.”

Duncan made those remarks during a recent trip to Charlotte, when he visited Sterling Elementary School with N.C. Governor Beverly Perdue and State Board of Education Chair Bill Harrison to see innovation in action.

Sterling Elementary School was chosen because of its participation in the district’s Strategic Staffing Initiative, which provides a mix of financial and hiring incentives to place strong principals in underperforming schools. The principals make a three year commitment and are allowed to choose an assistant principal, academic facilitator, and as many as five teachers to join them on their new assignments.

First year program results at Sterling showed end of grade reading test scores increased from 34.6 percent to 58.9 percent. Math scores increased from 52.4 percent to 83.7 percent, during the same time.

In fact, academic performance, as measured by proficiency on state tests, has risen at nearly every school participating in the Strategic Staffing initiative. More schools are being added each year.

“If we are serious about closing the achievement gap in our country, we have to close the opportunity gap,” said Duncan. That work, he said, begins with “figuring out how to get your hardest working, most committed teachers and principals in communities that need the most help.”

The problem, he said is that “there are far too many places where [people] in their heart don’t honestly believe that poor children or children of color can be very, very successful. And we need folks who are willing to challenge the status quo.”

Duncan believes initiatives such as CMS’ Strategic Staffing can be powerful in making a difference.

“We have to keep getting better year after year after year, and this district right now is doing that,” he said. “What I see happening here in Charlotte is pretty remarkable.”

Perdue said turning schools around is the responsibility of the entire community, not just that teachers and educators.

“America has one shot at changing the future,” she said. “It’s very incumbent upon all of us, as parents, as faith leaders, and as citizens to step up in a very powerful way for schools. We all have to be involved.”

Perdue said improving the quality of our schools will be to the benefit of all citizens because it is key in attracting the businesses that keep the region vital and make the nation as a whole more globally competitive.

“If we don’t make this happen now, it may never happen,” she said. “We are committed for the long haul. It’s not about more resources, but more courage.”

Duncan said it all begins with a child’s first and most important teachers – parents.

“The most important thing we can do is to be a good, full and equal partner with our children’s [school] teachers,” he said. “I think parents have to turn those TV’s off at night. They have to read to their children. They can’t just show up once a year at a parent-teacher conference to exchange home phone numbers with that teacher. They have to work through good times and bad.”

In the fiscal year 2011 budget, Duncan is asking that the amount allocated for parent communication be doubled to $340 million. “We think that it is just that important to invest in those places that are engaging parents in very creative ways,” he said.

After two consecutive years of deep budget cuts, CMS is expecting a larger shortfall next year when they will face a “funding cliff” as stimulus stabilization funding comes to an end. School board member Trent Merchant asked Duncan if he could provide any commitment, such as setting aside endowment type funds that are protected from the recession to help the district as they work on compensation reform.

Duncan replied: “The government is in this for the long haul, and our resources are helpful, but at the end of the day, I think that our resources are much less important than your courage, your commitment, and your capacity to deliver.”

Duncan said that although teacher compensation is a part of the equation, it is not the sole solution.

“If you pay teachers an extra $40,000 or $50,000 to go into a dysfunctional situation, they’re not going to do it. Great principals, great schools are hugely important in attracting and retaining great talent in tough communities.”

Duncan said that like CMS, the vast majority of school districts across the nation are being forced to do more with less. “These are just tough times… There are no easy answers. That’s reality, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. We can either cry about it or we can figure out how to use every single dollar wisely and how we can create innovative partnerships and bring in the philanthropic community, the business community, and how we engage parents in different ways,” he said.

Duncan believes the challenge will drive districts to be more productive and efficient. It will also force difficult conversations about programs and strategies that may look good on paper but do little in making a difference in improving the quality of education and changing lives.

“In education, we are very good at starting new programs, but we’re much less good at stopping things that aren’t working,” he said.

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