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Smiley Convenes Dialogue on America's Future

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By Dorothy Rowley, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

Public Broadcasting Service personality Tavis Smiley is on a mission to help America hold on to its legacy as a global leader.

After suffering through two costly wars, a faltering economy, failing public education, and continued job losses, Americans are worried about the country’s ability to hold on to its greatness, according to Smiley.

To zero in on these and other problems, Smiley recently brought his nationally-televised town hall meeting format to the nation’s capital with a group of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial panelists to ponder America’s future.

The conversation, which was held at George Washington University, was broadcast by C-SPAN on several occasions. The event followed Smiley’s lauded series of “State of the Black Union” presentations.

Prior to the event, Smiley told the AFRO that the dialogue—which brought together Democrats and Republicans—was about efforts to put the country back on the right track.

Citing a recent poll in which more than half of the Americans interviewed said they felt America’s better days are behind it, Smiley said, “it’s all just unacceptable.”

Smiley added that, as far as he knows there are no Black people who are better off today than they were two years ago, and said President Obama’s stimulus package should have been much larger.

“When he controlled the House and the Senate, he didn’t get a bigger package and he should have fought for that,” Smiley said of the president. However, stimulus funding from Washington has mostly been dished out to states when it should have gone straight to the cities to help alleviate poverty-in urban communities, according to Smiley.

As for the state of Black America, Smiley said. “This is our last chance to get it right…and if we can’t count on Barack Obama to help us get it, we’re in trouble.”

Economic Punishment Vote May Determine 2012 Campaign

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By Tom Risen, NNPA Correspondent –

Frustration with the economy is former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s main explanation for Republican losses in 2008 and his prediction for 2012, as he considers a run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Pawlenty is currently on a multi-city media blitz for his book “Courage To Stand”, which outlines the loss of “strong-back jobs” that do not require college degrees as key to voter decision making in 2012, during his appearance in the nation’s capital at the National Press Club (NPC).

Pawlenty had been considered as the running mate for Republican presidential candidate Arizona Senator John McCain in 2008. However, he does not believe the result would have been different had he been chosen instead of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. “After the economy cratered in 2008, I think whoever the running mate had been was going to lose,” Pawlenty told the crowd. “And, I think we’re going to see more of that this time around.”

Pawlenty appealed to “restore American common sense” by not increasing government spending, which he feared could increase taxes and damage businesses. In his book, Pawlenty contended an increase in the “socialist” spending mentality under President Barak Obama’s Administration -- expansion of federal programs such as health care --could lead America to the same high unemployment and budget troubles now faced by European economies. “Just because we followed Greece into democracy doesn’t mean we need to follow them into bankruptcy,” said Pawlenty. “As government pushes in, industrialism, responsibility, accountability, family, neighborhood, and so on, get pushed out.”

Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Il) is also expecting more “punishment politics” in response to the economy in 2012. Davis, who is running for Chicago mayor, considers himself “a fiscal conservative” and attributed the Democratic Party’s recent loss of the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama to Republican Mark Kirk as a prime example of such backlash against incumbent Democrats. Davis cited unemployment as the defining complaint among Black voters and expressed understanding of why Republicans are wary of budget increases.

“Although I agree that in reality meeting people’s needs doesn’t mean wasting resources, a lot of the government spending on education and welfare that I may call ‘investments’ others would call ‘giveaways,’” Davis said. “There are some issues in Black life that relate to moral standards, but the bigger issues seem to be “get a job” ensure there are opportunities to get to college or experience a certain economic state of well-being with the rest of society.”

NPC President Alan Bjerga called the timing of Pawlenty’s book tour, immediately following his term as governor, “a path to presidential nomination.” President Obama also released a book prior to his bid for the presidency as did Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan – all of whom announced their candidacies at the NPC.

In a hint of what might come with a Pawlenty presidential campaign, the Minnesota Republican said the conservative message against government spending coming from political movements, like the Tea Party, could provide a solid message for the conservative movement “for years to come.”

While Pawlenty placed great importance on education and gave high praise in his speech to Michelle Rhee for “speaking truth to power” as chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools, he also cautioned against increasing federal role in education, welfare, and public housing. Pawlenty declined to detail how he would appeal to both spendthrift Republicans and Black voters.

“I don’t want to focus on identity politics,” Pawlenty said. “I want to look at every aspect of the different social programs and do what’s right for the country.”

Scott Sisters Free at Last

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By Ben Wrobel –

Last week, Jaime and Gladys Scott walked out of prison 16 years after they first entered. Their double-life sentences were criticized as indicative of the egregious sentencing in our criminal justice system, and their release by Governor Haley Barbour was hailed as a long-overdue victory for justice, as well as an example of a governor using his commutation powers to right a wrong.

“I have no doubt that the reason the governor let them out is that this is a grave injustice,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, who advocated strongly on the sisters’ behalf. “We need more days like this in Mississippi. We need more days like this in this country.”

The sisters’ release marks the end of a grassroots campaign led by a coalition of concerned individuals and groups, including the sisters’ family Evelyn Rasco and Nancy Lockhart, their attorney Chokwe Lumumba, the national NAACP, the Mississippi NAACP State Conference and other organizations. Supporters from around the country brought attention to the sisters’ imprisonment and petitioned Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour for their freedom.

“This is a result of all of the individuals across this state and across the country who saw injustice in what was taking place and gave voice to it,” stated Mississippi NAACP State Conference President Derrick Johnson. “This is a great day to let us know that if we stick together, work together, we can make mighty things happen.”

Jamie and Gladys were each condemned as teenagers for a first-time offense in which no one was hurt and court records maintain that little more than $10 was stolen. The sisters were convicted of luring two men to be robbed by three teenage boys. The boys each received eight years and served less than three.

The sisters’ case has become increasingly tragic and urgent over the years. While in prison, Jamie lost use of both her kidneys.

“They have served more time than they should have served," Lumumba said.

After leaving prison, the sisters returned to Pensacola, Florida, where their mother and children live. Jamie has three children, ages 23, 20 and 17, and two grandchildren, ages five and three. Gladys has two children, ages 22 and 15 and two grandchildren, ages seven and four.

Jealous said that the NAACP will continue to ensure that the sisters receive the best medical care available, and Lumumba said that he would help the sisters seek a full pardon.

“Our next step is to ensure that the sisters get the health care that they need, and ultimately, the full pardon they deserve,” stated Jealous.

According to Jealous, the sisters’ release speaks to the urgent need for the work the NAACP and their allies are doing to encourage governors to use their clemency powers to advance justice. He says that for more than a century the NAACP has pushed governors and presidents publicly and privately to use their clemency powers to advance justice.

“The case of the Scott sisters gives hope to others who are unjustly imprisoned,” stated Jealous.

“During the past few weeks, two governors released black Americans who had been railroaded by our nation's criminal justice system. One week before the Scott sisters were released, New York Governor David Paterson commuted the sentence of John White, a man who was defending his family. We hope that this trend continues in other cases, such as the case of John McNeil, a Georgia man who was given a life sentence for defending his home.”

Republicans Strip D.C.'s Voice and Vote in House Action

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By Dorothy Rowley, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

One of the first orders of business for the Republican-controlled House was to strip D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of her limited voice on the floor of the House.

Shortly after the chamber convened Jan. 5, 2011,Republican leaders of the 112th Congress withdrew Norton’s right to vote when the House is convened in what is known as the Committee of the Whole, when the chamber assumes the form of a massive committee to consider legislation or other issues.

The measure was part of an opening day rules package that stripped Norton, Dels. Donna Christiansen (D-Virgin Islands), Eni Faleomavaega (D–American Samoa), Madeleine Bordallo (D–Guam) and Gregorio C. Sablan (D-Northern Marianas) and Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) of the partial vote granted them in 1993 when Democrats ruled the chamber.

Norton and the other delegates to Congress were allowed to vote in committee but not allowed to take part in legislative floor votes. In 2009, Norton had championed a bill which would have given D.C. a voting representative in the House. The bill passed the Senate but failed to clear the House that year. Norton countered with a measure that would delay stripping of the delegates’ vote until a House commission could study the issue, but the proposal was defeated in a 225-to-188 vote. The delegates still have the right to vote in committees in which they are members.

The action came after D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray at a Jan. 4 rally urged lawmakers “to preserve what little democracy we have.” Norton also attended the rally, which was organized by D.C. Vote, an advocacy group centered around acquiring a voting representative for the nation’s capital.

Gray added later that the decision to rescind Norton’s partial voting rights was "the most outrageous insult imaginable.” Shortly after the GOP’s vote, Norton said she told attendees at the rally not to go quietly into the night now that attacks on their rights had already begun. “Yesterday was day one, showing that residents have no intention of slipping away without protest,” Norton said. “Today I continued on the House floor what our residents, our mayor, and DC Vote began.”

Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, described the GOP’s action as a shameful start to the new year. “It’s about political power and they are determined to deny political power, it seems, to D.C. residents,” Zherka told the AFRO. “Congressional Republican leaders have professed in the last few years to support representation for D.C. residents, but of course their method of achieving representation is often the kinds of things we are pursuing like amending the Constitution,” he added.

Zherka called the GOP’s action ironic, given both newly elected House Speaker John Boehner and his peers profess to support the Constitution, but have argued that the delegate vote is unconstitutional. “When in fact, federal courts have held that the vote is constitutional,” said Zherka. He cautioned that the action to rescind Norton’s voting rights might only be the first effort by the GOP to roll back the gains D.C. residents have made during the past 10 years.

Racism at CBS Television, Sony Entertainment and Bell Dramatic for 37 years

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Actress Victoria Rowell and other Black industry insiders are denied equal opportunity to some of America’s most popular daytime dramas

By Brandon Brooks and Sam Richard, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

Pioneering actress Victoria Rowell is not new to the acting world and she certainly is not new to the millions of fans of the daytime drama “The Young and The Restless”. The veteran actress was part of the cast as Drucilla Winters for more than 17 years. However, the millions of fans and corporate sponsors of the longtime No. 1 daytime drama may be surprised to discover that in her 17 years and even worse, in the show’s 37 year history they have never had a single African American writer, director or producer, despite the fact that African American viewership for “The Young and The Restless” is estimated at more than 35 percent and some have estimated it is as high as 45 percent, which is causing many in the civil rights community to call for boycotts and demonstrations of the show and its advertisers.

Rowell told the Los Angeles Sentinel in an exclusive interview for all National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) newspapers across the country that she has attended several meetings in an effort to help diversify daytime soap operas behind the scenes and in front of the camera. Rowell believes that several examples of discrimination exist. The most egregious being the lack of Black writers, directors or producers for more than 37 years.

The Sentinel contacted Jim Kennedy, executive vice president for Global Communications at Sony Pictures Entertainment, which co-owns “The Young and the Restless,” along with The Bell Family regarding the lack of African American participation behind the camera. Kennedy stated, “With regard to “The Young and the Restless,” we are proud of the fact that five African American actors play important roles on the program, and we are especially grateful for the diverse audience it has every day. And, in light of that, Sony Pictures has over the course of the past year undertaken an initiative designed to have us be more representative of the global audience we work to entertain.” While in the statement, which was sent via email, Kennedy did talk about diversity, he did not address why “The Young and The Restless” has not hired a Black producer, director, writer or crew member in 37 years which leads many industry insiders and civil rights leaders to believe that CBS has no interest in making real change without pressure.

For years many industry leaders, and community organizations including the NAACP, The Urban League and The Los Angeles Brotherhood Crusade have raised concern about what they say is a lack of diversity in front and behind the camera.

To demonstrate the lack of diversity on television and to help bring about change in the industry, the NAACP commissioned a report titled “Out of Focus - Out of Sync: Take 4.” The report pointed out that the number of African-Americans in regular roles and on air in a prime time scripted series — in the 2006-2007 season — were 20 African Americans on Fox, 19 on NBC, 17 on CBS, and 15 on ABC. The report did not track African Americans on cable channels, which in recent years have become a much larger part of the television viewing format. The figures, provided by the networks, are the latest numbers available.

“All four major broadcast networks have made important strides in increasing diversity,” the report stated, but it also added: “Progress has been slower in areas that arguably could have the greatest impact: writing and producing.

“White males have always dominated the entertainment industry and that continues to be largely the case. While African-American writers represent the largest share of minorities employed in television, they still only averaged about 5.2 percent of the total number of writers employed. That translates to 161 African-American writers out of 3,088 during the 2005-2006 television season, according to the Writers Guild of America.”

Other African Americans Weigh In

Other African Americans and Black organizations are looking into the issue of diversity in daytime soap operas, including the National Urban League and NAACP. The Sentinel obtained two letters from Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, addressed to Howard Stringer, president and CEO of Sony Corp., and William Bell Jr., president of Bell Dramatic Serial Co. The letters, dated Sept. 23, contended: “Through a preliminary review we have learned that there are few African American actors, producers, directors and support personnel in the ‘Day time Soap Opera’ industry despite the fact that African Americans are a crucial significant portion of the loyal audience of viewers for ‘Daytime Soap Operas.’ The letters pointed out that this is unacceptable in 21st Century America.”

Emma Young, head writer and associate producer for an online African-American soap opera, “The Proud and the Privileged,” said that she knows several actors who complain about having “no” African Americans behind the scenes. Young added that it is important to have Black producers, writers and directors. “It’s very important to show African Americans not only in a positive light, but in a true light,” Young said. Also that someone might not do that if he or she is not Black because they would be unfamiliar with African American life experiences and their experiences would come from stereotypes.

Darryl Manuel, producer and director of “The Proud and the Privileged,” agrees, but thinks it is important to have diversity in all genres of entertainment. “There’s just a wealth [of information] and a rich point of view that the general audience misses out on, by not having a true representation of that point of view,” he said. “I mean it’s only going to make those stories better; it’s only going to bring more to the pot, you know… put more meat on the bones, into the stew, when you have this story that has an authentic and a rich story line.”

Davetta Sherwood, an African American who also played on “The Young and the Restless,” said at first she had a good experience being on the show. But, that eventually changed. “The experiences that I had with the lack of diversity, the lack of acknowledgement of the Winters family and just our ethnic background, was really disappointing,” she said. Sherwood said people on the show were strategic about choosing her. So, she thought they would treat her “carefully” on the set. But “I felt disregarded at times; I felt unappreciated at times,” she said. Sherwood said she confided to Rowell, telling her that she felt something was “a little off” on the show. “And she shared with me some of the issues she had had in her … years on the show,”.

Sherwood, echoing similar sentiments that Rowell had, said, “There has never been a Black crew or director or writer in the history of “The Young and the Restless.” So, that was really disappointing considering how successful and how profitable the show has been for CBS and the Bell family.” Later she added: “Right now … it’s about speaking out and making people aware so that we can create a change right now. There’s no more time to wait. We don’t have 20 more years to revisit this conversation again. This is something that has to happen immediately.”

Dawn Stern, another African American who played on “The Young and the Restless,” also contends that the show had never hired a Black writer or producer. “They could have had a Black writer; they did: Victoria Rowell was her name,” Stern said. “But they never gave her the credit for doing what she was doing, they never gave her the title, they never gave her the money.”

Ellen Holly, the first African-American actress to integrate daytime soaps, played on “One Life to Live”, wrote a book "One Life The Autobiography of an African American actress.” which included her negative experiences in the soap opera industry. Holly said that she is concerned about what some young actors are going through. They’ve read her book, she said. And “they still come to me … and to this day say to me, ‘The things that you went through … you’re writing what’s happening to me right now.’ And, that’s very upsetting to me.”

Pushing for Diversity

Rowell said she has always been concerned and always wanted to find solutions to tell Blacks’ stories with integrity and to the best of her ability. One instance in which Rowell sought to bring change took place when she was told her character would be illiterate. She requested the illiteracy story line be played out to its fullest extent and expedited so that — while it could be shown that adult illiteracy existed — the story line be moved along. “Then I presented the classical ballet story line, proving that dance and arts belong to everyone no matter what the socio-economic bracket, no matter what the race,” Rowell said.

Her story line demanded more African-American cast members since her character would have to have parents, a sister, love interest and others on the show, she said. More Blacks came on board. Doing that was “quite unique,” but her efforts to do so, she believes, generated “push back.” Rowell — who first came on the show in 1990 and continued on for several years afterward — was nominated for Emmys and won several NAACP Image awards for her work on “The Young and the Restless,” along with other Black actors on the show. She contended, however, that although some of the African-American actors on the show have won awards they appear on a small amount of the shows.

Rowell told the Sentinel that she’s asking for “one thing” from all the tenure she has as an actress: to reinvest in African-American talent as writers, producers and directors in daytime drama, including the “The Young and the Restless.” “What could possibly be impossible about that?” she asked. CBS responded to some of Rowell’s contentions: “We have great respect for Victoria Rowell, but strongly disagree with her statements about diversity. CBS is very committed to diversity and inclusiveness throughout the company — including Daytime, where we feature diverse talent in all programming.” But, again CBS did not address the 37 years of not hiring any African Americans as writers, directors or producers.

The company said that, through the CBS Diversity Institute and other outreach programs, CBS mentors aspiring writers and directors, and sponsors talent showcases, including an “unprecedented casting initiative specifically for daytime dramas.”

Letters and phone calls from Urban League President Marc Morial to William Bell, Jr., President of Bell Dramatic Serial Company and Sir Howard Stringer Chairman, President and CEO of Sony Corporation received the height of disrespect: they have not been responded to, nor has Bell Dramatic Serial responded to the Los Angeles Sentinel’s request for this story, which has many in the civil rights community furious. “If the Chairman of CBS would not respond to Urban League President Marc Morial for a meeting what does that say about their commitment to inclusion and diversity? Maybe the racism starts at the top” stated Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., Chairman of NNPA (Black Press of America).

“Meetings are great, but access and results are greater,” stated Rowell.

Sentinel interns Biko Poindexter-Hodge and Robert Gillard contributed to this report.

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