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Congressional Black Caucus Fights to Preserve Voting Rights

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By Stacy M. Brown
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

Voting rights continues to be the most pressing issue facing the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members have ramped up efforts to craft legislation that would restore key components of a 1965 bill which the Supreme Court struck down last year.

Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chair Marcia Fudge, (D-Ohio), met with civil rights leaders from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union on May 2 to discuss strategies to push new legislation forward.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), also attended the summit in which officials discussed legislation introduced by State Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and State Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), which would require that any state with past voting violations be subject to federal approval before being allowed a change in their election laws.

“If you think about our voting rights, they are under vicious attack and you have legislators passing laws that are supposed to be anti-fraud, but we know that there is no fraud to speak of,” said Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, a veteran of the House of Representatives for more than 32 years and a CBC member.

Cummings said voting rights laws must be restored and the CBC has urged Republicans to help craft and pass a satisfactory bill before the congressional legislative session ends next month.

“Our values are expressed through our votes and if you cut off our voice, we have no way to express what our values are,” said Cummings, 63.

“I do believe that we are in a revolutionary period in this country where there is a tremendous effort to turn back the clock 100 years and I think we all have to be on guard.”

Since 2011, nearly 180 restrictive pieces of legislation regarding voting laws have been proposed in 41 different states and more than a dozen have passed bills that are detrimental to the rights of African Americans and other minorities, Cummings said.

At least 12 states have new requirements for voters to show proof of citizenship and, at least 13 states have laws limiting voter registration mobilization efforts and other opportunities, trends that trouble the CBC, he said.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The provision, found in Section 5 of the law, provided a formula by which to identify states requiring federal oversight because of a history of discrimination against blacks and minorities.

In their 5-4 decision, the justices declared the rules supervising the original law to be outdated. The court suggested that Congress draft new provisions, but lawmakers have so far failed to act on that recommendation.

“We’re in the most intense national struggle over voting since the 1960s,” said Wendy R. Weiser, a program director for the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.

The New York Times reported that nearly every new and reputable study shows that voter identification requirements disproportionately affect black and Latino voters, college students and the disabled – groups that vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

T&T Government to Acquire New Helicopters, Drones

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

(CMC) – The Trinidad and Tobago government says it will spend nearly TT$600 million (One TT dollar = US$0.16 cents) to purchase six helicopters and four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones) for the National Operations Centre (NOC).

National Security Minister Gary Griffith told reporters that the UAVs will be of significant value to add to national security apparatus for remote sensing, reconnaissance, surveillance, deterrence and early warning purposes.

Griffith said the UAVs will be the first of its kind in this country and “we are moving with the times” noting that in the past there were “blimps, defective radar, defective fast patrol vessels, defective offshore patrol vessels, defective interceptors they will now have UAVs, ensuring no blind spots in the radar system, effective 50-metre patrol vessels, effective long range patrol vessels and high tech interceptors.

“So with the use of the UAVs it is going to play a phenomenal role in ensuring real time information, intelligence gathering, monitoring what is happening and being able to assist as well in our border protection,” he said.

He added that the four aircraft now in operation in Trinidad had been provided by three different manufacturers and the new helicopters will be provided by a single manufacturer.

AARP Board Unanimously Selects Jo Ann Jenkins as New CEO

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The Board of Directors for the AARP, one of the nation’s largest and most powerful nonprofit advocacy groups, has unanimously selected Jo Ann Jenkins as its new chief executive officer.

Jenkins, who replaces longtime CEO A. Barry Rand, assumes her new post on Sept. 1.

“After an extensive, thoughtful and deliberative national search, the AARP Board unanimously selected Jo Ann Jenkins as our new chief executive officer,” said Gail Aldrich, chair of the AARP Board of Directors. “Jo Ann is a seasoned leader and innovator. She has an obvious passion for AARP and she fully embraces the social mission. Jo Ann is an inspirational leader who proactively engages at all levels of the organization and is comfortable operating in the public eye.”

Jenkins, who came to the AARP in March 2013, from a longtime post she held at the Library of Congress, currently serves as executive vice president and chief operating officer of AARP.

In this position she has streamlined the organization’s strategic planning, technology and digital operations to enable AARP to devote greater resources to its core mission. She has led the development of the new enterprise-wide strategy that includes defining and facilitating operational priorities, as well as maximizing AARP’s mission.

A native of Mobile, Alabama, Jenkins earned her B.A. degree from Spring Hill College in Mobile. She is also a 1998 graduate of the Stanford Executive Program, offered by the university’s Graduate School of Business.

Jenkins, who will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree on Saturday, May 17 when she addresses graduates at Washington College’s 231st commencement, said she’s grateful to have been selected for her new job at AARP.

“I truly believe that for every member of our society, age and experience can expand your possibilities in life,” said Jenkins. “I feel a great deal of responsibility for ensuring that AARP is here as a trusted ally for people 50+ and their families and that we protect the most vulnerable among us.”

Insufficient Vitamin D Linked to Prostrate Cancer in Blacks

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) — The relationship between melanin and vitamin D—the nutrient that sunlight provides—may explain why African American, Caribbean, and men of African ancestry have the highest rates of prostate cancer than anyone in the world, according to a new study.

The study by a team of researchers at Northwestern University, which appears in this month’s issue of Clinical Cancer Research, finds that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of diagnosis among Black men—but not among White men.

“Our report is the first to describe the association of vitamin D deficiency and outcomes of prostate biopsies in high-risk men with an abnormal [blood test or clinical exam],” the study states. “If vitamin D is involved in prostate cancer initiation or progression, it would provide a modifiable risk factor for primary prevention and secondary prevention to limit progression, especially in the highest risk group of African American men.”

Among American men, prostate cancer is the most common cancer, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. One in seven American men will develop it in their lifetime. However, Black men are 60 percent more likely than Whites to be affected, according to the American Cancer Society. Although the mortality rate is among the lowest of all cancers, it is more than twice as high for Black men than White men. (The incidence of prostate cancer is low among Latino and Asian men).

It’s especially a concern for men over 50, as the risk of onset rises steadily over time; cancer (in general) is the number one cause of death for Black men age 65 to 84 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study tested the vitamin D levels of nearly 700 men in the Chicago area undergoing their first prostate biopsies, which is the usual recommendation after an abnormal test result or clinical exam. Researchers found that while severely low vitamin D levels were associated with more aggressive tumors, across race, African American men with even moderately low vitamin D levels had higher odds of being diagnosed after that initial biopsy. There was no similar link among the White men studied.

Vitamin D primarily allows the body to absorb calcium, but it also plays a role in regulating cell growth and creation.Although the nutrient can be found in a handful of foods—most significantly in fatty seafood, such as wild-caught salmon—the body primarily creates its own vitamin D by absorbing sunlight. Melanin, which naturally blocks the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, alters this process.

“The darker the color of the skin, the less effective sunlight is in producing vitamin D in skin,” says Dr. Donald Trump, president and CEO of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the first cancer center in the nation. (Trump was not involved in this particular study). “An African American person is more likely to have lower levels of vitamin D than a European person, because the same amount of sun exposure doesn’t generate the same amount of vitamin D for darker skin as it does for lighter skin.”

Additionally, people who are overweight are more likely to have low vitamin D levels. According to 2011 data from the Office of Minority Health, 70 percent of African American men 20 years and older are overweight or obese.The National Cancer Institute asserts that studies have shown obese men to be at greater risk for aggressive prostate cancer than men at a healthy weight.

“The fatter I get, the lower my vitamin D level goes, because it gets absorbed into body fat instead of my blood. That could be one possible explanation for the [racial] disparities in data,” Trump said. “So maybe vitamin D is just a surrogate or marker for obesity. You see a few of these confounding factors in the vitamin D literature.”

Although the association between vitamin D and cancer has already been discovered and is still being explored, this study takes a targeted look at how this link manifests differently between Blacks and Whites. There is still controversy in the medical community regarding how significant this link is, or if it has real-world treatment orprevention implications. Further complicating matters, a study released last year in the New England Journal of Medicine asserts that Black people generally do have sufficient vitamin D levels—it’s just a different, more readily-available form than the one measured by the standard test.

“We know a lot about the fact that in a lab test tube or animal, the active form of vitamin D can moderate, slow, or stop prostate tumor cells, and at high doses can even kill them. We don’t know yet whether treating people with vitamin D will reduce the chance of getting [cancer],” Trump said. He recommends a vitamin D-level test for his patients who are diagnosed with prostate cancer. In his experience, at least 70 percent diagnosed men are deficient, and he does prescribe supplements.

“We don’t know for sure that it makes a difference, but I believe it does” Trump said. “I think there is a distinct possibility that low vitamin D levels might contribute to the severity of prostate cancer in African American men—but we don’t have proof of that at the moment.”

Mentoring Groups Worry about Funding for 'My Brother’s Keeper'

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A controversy last week over potential funding linked to President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative underscored concerns that groups led by people of color have expressed over access to public and private sector resources.

At the heart of the confusion was a request for proposal (RFP) issued through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for a youth mentoring program grant. In March, the grant required groups that wanted to apply be active in 30 states. By April, that requirement had been revised upward to 45 states, placing the grant far beyond the reach of most minority-led groups that mentor underserved minority youth in the United States.

A paragraph in the RFP connecting the grant to the president’s My Brother’s Keeper program seemed to complicate the matter.

In a letter dated April 28, addressed to Robert Listenbee, the administrator for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Michael Brown, president of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., said that the rule change, “not only effectively eliminated our organization from meeting the eligibility requirements for funding, but also dashed any hopes that such venerable institutions as the National Urban League, the NAACP and each of nine Historically Black Greek Organizations may have had for competing in this significant funding opportunity.”

In a separate letter, Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, wrote that his group was “surprised,” “greatly disappointed and deeply concerned” about the rule change.

“The Department’s stated commitment to ‘include mentoring opportunities for young men and boys of color in order to build resilience, encourage empowerment, and facilitate community engagement and participation’ is directly undermined by the reframing of the national program that by definition, removes organizations such as the National Urban League from even competing for funds,” wrote Morial.

Both letters were later posted on Politics365.com.

By May 1, however, 100 Black Men of America seemed to step back from their criticism of OJJDP, offering a brief statement through their Twitter account that said that they met with the Department of Justice and found that their concern “was not related to My Brother’s Keeper which is still moving forward.”

Last week, all media inquiries for 100 Black Men of America were referred to Greg Heydel, vice president and group director of reputation management at Matlock Advertising and Public Relations in Atlanta, Ga., who e-mailed the 100 Black Men of America’s May 1 statement to reporters.

The OJJDP removed the language about My Brother’s Keeper from the grant application.

Broderick Johnson, White House cabinet secretary and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, said, “The Department of Justice readily admitted that it led to a misunderstanding that’s been corrected and we made it clear to other agencies that they shouldn’t put things out like that with regards to their solicitations.”

George Garrow, executive director of Concerned Black Men, a national organization that works to enrich the lives of young Black males, said that the mistake was unfortunate for the president’s fledgling project.

“They are people that are out there that don’t want to see this [My Brother Keeper’s program] happen at all and will take those types of things and use that against all of us. That little dust up that happened on Politics365.com, that could have been cleared up with a phone call,” said Garrow. “The next thing you know, it’s a bunch of mess.”

The task force’s report, that will be ​released in less than a month, will offer a review of best practices and evidenced-based strategies focused on early learning and literacy, pathways to college and careers, ladders to jobs, mentors and support networks, and interactions with criminal justice and violent crime.

The crisis facing boys and young men of color as they transition to adulthood has been chronicled for decades.

Black males are more at risk to be suspended than their White peers, suffer a disproportionate number of expulsions and more than 40 percent of referrals to law enforcement while in school.

A 2012 study titled “The Urgency of Now” by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, reported that barely half (52 percent) of Black males graduate from high school in four years, compared to 78 percent of White males.

Research by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., found that 9 percent of male high school dropouts, ages 16–24, are incarcerated or in detention. For young Black male dropouts of the same age, that number is 23 percent.

And when one high school dropout can cost the nation more than a quarter of a million dollars, over their lifetime in lost earnings, taxes and productivity, allowing Black males to dropout in droves threatens the country’s economic security.

“If you say that you want to increase the high school graduation rate, you can do some generic things with generic young people, but if you’re really going to impact the high school graduation rate, you need to develop strategies that are specifically focused on Black boys, because Black boys account for a disproportionate number of students graduating at low rates,” Garrow said.

He said that he’s hopeful that this effort, with the president putting his weight behind it.

“To really have a lasting impact on Black kids you have to get those multi-year funding bequests to sustain a program over a lengthy period of time. That’s when you see positive outcomes for our kids, when you’re able to stay the course,” he explained.

Garrow also expressed concerns that some groups, that have worked for years to help young Black men, don’t have the infrastructure to independently evaluate their programs and present concrete data that their programs work. The very type of evidence-based strategies that President Obama called for in his speech on the My Brother’s Keeper program in February.

“If you’re going to foundations and seeking federal funding you have to have those evaluation pieces in place, because you’re going to have to show people that you’re having a measurable impact and seeing positive outcomes in the population that you’re serving,” said Garrow.

Johnson said that it’s critical to work with people who are on the ground and in the neighborhoods doing the hard work and that the My Brother’s Keeper program isn’t viewed as something crafted by people who run national organizations that are based in a handful of cities.

“This is a long-term project and it’s important that people understand that the president didn’t get into this for a 90-day report or a 90-day project or short-term grants for FY2014, or ’15,” said Johnson.

“Throughout his administration and beyond, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ will exist to make a difference for a long time.”

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