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UNCF: A Mind is 'a Wonderful Thing to Invest In'

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – For the first time in 42 years, the United Negro College Fund has altered its signature phrase. Now, a mind is not only “a terrible thing to waste,” but “a wonderful thing to invest in.”

The change is part of a UNCF’s campaign to provide emergency support in the face of a financial aid crisis facing Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their students. UNCF President Michael Lomax selected the National Press Club as the venue to call for renewed financial support for the 37 HBCU member institutions.

“Today our member schools are facing a financial crisis as severe as any in UNCF history,” Lomax said. “The irony of this situation is that the financial crisis comes at a time when interest by African American high school students in attending HBCUs has been on the rise for over a decade.”

Between 2001 and 2013, UNCF member private colleges have seen a 78 percent rise in applications. But this rise in interest, plus lack of funds for scholarships and increased need among families who are just now recovering from the recession, have converged to form a perfect storm that threatens students’ ability to attend.

In his remarks, Lomax condemned recent changes to the Direct PLUS loan as one of the largest stumbling blocks for current and aspiring HBCU students. The Direct PLUS loan is a low-interest, credit-based, federal loan for parents to fund their children’s college education. The newly-required credit check bars only those with significant “adverse” credit issues, such as a tax lien, home foreclosure, or 90-day-late debt payment. The PLUS loan was particularly beneficial to families of color with little to no credit, as well as those with too much income to qualify for need-based aid, but too little to foot the bill.

In October 2011, the Department of Education toughened its definition of adverse credit, in response to an internal report warning against granting loans to those who may be incapable of repaying them. Now, parents with any accounts in collection within the last five years; any unpaid collection accounts (ever); any loan defaults, (ever, even if the claim has been paid); and any defaulted contracts or leases, are ineligible for a Direct PLUS loan.

Consequently, many Black colleges are complaining that they are losing students who otherwise would be on campus.

Parents and colleges were neither consulted during decision-making, nor informed of these changes in advance. Many families who had been initially awarded funds for the 2011-2012 school year were surprised to find themselves suddenly no longer eligible for the 2012-2013 year.

“We were blindsided by the changes that, literally, from one day to the next, made many thousands of these parents ineligible for parent PLUS loans,” Lomax said. “The impact on students who depended on PLUS loans was immediate, and devastating. Many who arrived at their college dorms after summer break, in fall 2012, were literally turned away at door.”

According to Lomax, approximately 28,000 HBCU students were affected, accounting for more than half the PLUS loan denials that school year. UNCF member schools reported a $155 million loss in revenue. As a result of public outcry, largely led by HBCUs and the Congressional Black Caucus, the Department of Education pledged a review of its credit requirements, and established a process for parents to appeal their loss of eligibility.

In the meantime, there is not enough money to go around among private aid organizations. UNCF, for example, has raised $3.6 billion in it existence to send more than 400,000 students to college. But for every student it awards today, nine more applicants are denied.

Those who are awarded are likelier to graduate, compared to African Americans students in general. According to a report, “Building Better Futures: The Value of the UNCF Investment,” 70 percent of UNCF scholarship awardees in 2006 were likely to graduate within six years.

Lomax elaborated, “The [national] six-year graduation rate for African Americans is 40 percent. If we could increase that rate by just 7 percentage points, we would graduate close to 16,000 more African Americans with bachelor’s degrees each year.”

Additionally, 94 percent of African American freshman who were awarded loans in 2006 re-enrolled the following year. Nationally, the retention rate was 78 percent for all students.

In addition to scholarships for Black students, HBCUs themselves are also valuable. African American students, particularly first generation and low-income students, tend to view HBCUs as a more affordable and more welcoming option for quality higher education. On average, tuition at UNCF member HBCUs is 30 percent less than that of comparable institutions.

And there are more intrinsic draws, Lomax said.

“First, [high school students] say [HBCUs] feel like home – they feel like family. Second, they believe HBCUs will help them explore themselves as an individual, rather than as a statistic. And finally, at an HBCU, they feel they can learn more about where they come from,” he explained. “This is a powerful set of motivations…but desire and high motivation however, are not the same as scholarship funding.”

Lomax also discussed the preparation level of today’s incoming freshmen, the value (and lack thereof) of for-profit colleges, and the balance between trade schools and college.

Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) were also in attendance at the National Press Club event. Both Congressmen are HBCU alums, and took the opportunity to speak in support of renewed investment.

“If it hadn’t been for these colleges and universities, I wouldn’t be standing here today,” Lewis stated. “Without these colleges and universities, we wouldn’t have a modern-day Civil Rights Movement. These colleges and universities bring about a non-violent revolution, a revolution of values, a revolution of ideas.”

Mixed Record on Progress of Black Women

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite the stubborn persistence of racial disparities in health, there is cause for Black women to celebrate.

“Overall, our life expectancy continues to rise, while teenaged pregnancy rates have dropped dramatically. And most recently, the rate of HIV infection among Black women has fallen tremendously, down over 20 percent in just two years’ time,” says a new report, “Black Women in the United States, 2014: Progress and Challenges,” presented by the Black Women’s Roundtable, a division of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

But not all of the news about Black women is good.

Their homicide rate is more than triple that of White women. Black women are twice as likely as White women to be the victims of violent crime, robbery, and aggravated assault. And Black women are also significantly more likely to be a victim of stranger rape than White women.

The report, issued in the waning days of Women’s History Month, takes a comprehensive inventory of the Black women in America. The 86-page report features white papers on a range of topics, including such as the economy, violence and the justice system, and retirement.

In a section on health, the authors compile all the stark realities of Black womanhood in one place. For example, one in four Black women over 55 years old is diabetic, while four in five are overweight or obese. African American women living in the 12 southeastern states with the highest incidents of stroke are the group most likely to have high blood pressure.

Further, childbirth remains a particularly dark spot for African American women; the maternal mortality rate is three times higher than that of White women, and a baby born to a Black woman is 2.3 times more likely to die than one born to a White woman.

The section on education paints the picture of dogged determination against racial and gender disadvantages.

Among young African American women, the dropout rate is on a decline and high school graduation rates have tripled in 60 years. In the 2009-2010 school year, Black women earned 66 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by Black Americans, 71 percent of master’s degrees, and 65 percent of doctorates.

Black women also comprised the majority of the Black demographic across law, medical, and dental schools. And despite being underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math careers, they are closer to their male counterparts in degree attainment and even outpace Black men at the doctoral level.

The major educational challenges lie in childhood, where African American girls have an out-of-school suspension rate six times as high as their White counterparts, starting as early as pre-K. Black children are three times as likely as others to attend a school in which less than 60 percent of teachers are fully licensed and certified, and go on to a high school that doesn’t offer a range of college prep courses.

“All told…Black women continue to demonstrate a strong and consistent commitment to self-empowerment through the pursuit and successful acquisition of education,” the authors write. “Yet, the educational journey of Black women has not been one of universal success.”

The report paints a similar picture of Black women’s economic standing.

According to the report, Black women have the highest labor force participation rates among all women, and are starting their own businesses at six times the national average rate. They are only second to Black men in labor unionization rates (comprising 12.3 and 14.8 percent of all unionized workers, respectively) – and those who are unionized enjoy higher wages and better benefits compared to all non-union women.

But hard work doesn’t pay off as much for African American women.

The report states that Black women earn 90 percent of what Black men earn, and just 68 cents per dollar earned by White men. It cites another study that found that half of all single, African American women had no, or negative wealth. Black women are also more likely than any other group to be working poor (16 percent of Black women, compared to 11 percent of Black men and 5 percent of White women.).

These gaps translate to the retirement crisis affecting most Americans, but particularly African Americans.

“Sharply stated, Black America suffers a severe retirement gap, and Black women bear the brunt of that circumstance,” the report states. “In fact, as retirees, Black women experience a poverty rate that is over five times that experienced by white men (16 percent versus 3 percent).”

More than one section of the report was devoted to the power of the Black female vote.

Despite being just 12 percent of the electorate, African American women can be political game-changers when they vote en mass. In the 2008 presidential election, for example, 68.1 percent of voting-age Black women reported voting compared to 67.9 percent of White women, 51.8 percent of Hispanic women, and 47.5 percent of Asian women, according to Census data.

They flexed their electoral muscles again in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race. Despite being just 11 percent of all Virginia voters (who are 72 percent White), their support was enough to put Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, in office by a narrow 2.5 percent margin. It was also enough to break a 32-year trend in which the party of the current sitting president usually loses the Virginia gubernatorial race.

Black Women’s Roundtable plans to begin expanding its Power of the Sister Vote initiative, which aims to mobilize Black women across the country as a steady and influential voting bloc.

The report is the first in what is expected to be an annual series of reports on Black women.

“In these pages are the triumphs and tragedies surrounding Black Women’s lives across a variety of different indicators and areas of inquiry,” writes Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable. “And though, we find that on many accounts, significant progress has been made since key historical markers such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education, and the onset of the War on Poverty, there are many areas that remain in need of dire national attention and urgent action.”

Black Preschoolers' Suspensions Triple that of Whites

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Even before they typically learn to read, Black preschoolers – some as young as 4 years old – are taught a disgusting lesson: They are three times more likely to be suspended from school than their White classmates, according to a recent study by the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Education.

“Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5 percent of White students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of Black students,” the Department of Education study found.

Black children account for 18 percent of the nation’s preschoolers, but nearly half of students in that age group suspended more than once, compared to White children who represent 43 percent of preschoolers and 26 percent of students suspended more than once, according to the report.

Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, told the Associated Press: “Just kicking them out of school is denying them access to educational opportunity at such a young age. Then, as they come in for kindergarten, they are just that much less prepared.”

Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and South Carolina reported the widest gaps in the racial disparity suspensions between Black and White students. New Jersey, New York and North Dakota reported the smallest gaps.

Black students also account for nearly 30 percent of students referred to law enforcement in what many civil rights advocates have called the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Black students represent 16 percent of student enrollment, 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement, and 31 percent of students subjected to a school-related arrest. In comparison, white students represent 51 percent of students enrolled, 41 percent of referrals to law enforcement, and 39 percent of those subjected to school-related arrests,” stated the report.

For the first time in 14 years, the Education Department collected data from all 97,000 public schools and its 16,500 school districts, responsible for 49 million students.

“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain. In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press release. “As the President’s education budget reflects in every element – from preschool funds to Pell Grants to Title I to special education funds – this administration is committed to ensuring equity of opportunity for all.”

The Education Department report comes on the heels of research funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Open Society Foundations that showed that implicit bias contributes to racial disparities in student suspension rates from kindergarten to the 12th grade.

In a study titled, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” researchers from the University of California, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the University of Pennsylvania, concluded that after 9 years old, “Black children and adults were rated as significantly less innocent than White children and adults or children and adults generally.”

A majority of the survey participants were White women, the same group that is also over-represented among public school teachers.

Researchers found that Black boys may be perceived as more than 4.53 years older than their actual age, which meant that a 13 year-old might be “misperceived” to be an adult by law enforcement officials.

The report continued: “These outcomes are particularly worrisome for Black children, who are 18 times more likely than White children to be sentenced as adults and who represent 58% of children sentenced to adult facilities, the report stated.

In recent speeches Attorney General Eric Holder has urged school administrators, lawmakers and parents to work together to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline that often has far-reaching consequences for young people that get swept up into the criminal justice system.

Holder said that the report was critical and showed that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool.

“Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed,” Holder said. “This Administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities.”

Judge Upholds Election of Kevin Johnson in Black Mayors' Rift

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After intense internal fighting, court battles and competing board of directors that have characterized Sacramento, Calif. Kevin Johnson’s term as president of the National Conference of Black Mayors since last May, his first month in office, a judge has ruled decidedly in Johnson’s favor, effectively firing Executive Director Vanessa R. Williams and nullifying all actions of the rump board challenging Johnson’s right to remain in office.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher S. Brasher issued his ruling in Atlanta last week.

”We’re gratified that the court has validated the election of our leadership and vindicated our efforts to take the necessary steps to restore accountability and fiscal integrity to this venerable and critical organization,” Johnson said in a statement. “Now we can move forward by taking the actions that will address any outstanding problems we have in order to ensure that the NCBM will benefit current and future mayors and their constituents.”

In some ways, it may be a Pyrrhic victory for Johnson. He is limited to one term, which expires in May. Johnson is also vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and is a leading candidate to become president of the group in June.

When he was elected president of the Black mayors last May, many members thought he was just what the group needed. After all, it was still reeling from its previous president, George L. Grace, Sr. of tiny St. Gabriel, La., being sentenced to 22 years in prison for stealing from the organization. Grace, who set up secret NCBM bank accounts in his name in Louisiana, was convicted of bribery, obstruction of justice, mail fraud, wire fraud, making false statements and violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ACT (RICO) and use of an interstate facility in the aid of racketeering.

In addition to illegally diverting money from the Black mayors’ group, Grace was also found guilty of extorting businessmen seeking to do business with the city and demanding kickbacks from operators setting up temporary housing in his city for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Former President Robert Bowser, who had preceded Grace in the top job, was called back into temporary service to help stabilize the organization, Bowser, mayor of East Orange, N.J., was initially convinced that Kevin Johnson provided the fresh face and name recognition that would help the organization recover from George Grace’s disgraceful conduct.

And Bowser was not alone. Johnson was unanimously elected president by voice vote on May 30, 2013. The former Phoenix Suns point guard vowed to “shake up things” and called a business meeting for the next day. It was clear that unlike presidents who viewed their role as largely ceremonial, Johnson was going to be different.

According to minutes of the meeting, “Upon a motion made by Mayor Johnny Ford, which was seconded by Mayor Oliver Gilbert, the Board of Directors voted to delegate to the Special Task Force, the power of the Board for the following purposes: (1) to comprehensively investigate facts concerning NCBM’s 501 ( c ) (3) status, any litigation involving NCBM, and the financial and business affairs, obligations and duties of NCBM; (2) to supervise the management of the ordinary affairs of NCBM; and (3) to engage Ballard Spahr LLP, as its counsel, and such other professionals, and to take such other actions as the Special Task Force deems necessary and appropriate to accomplish these purposes.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Realizing that they had ceded their power to the Special Task Force headed by Johnson, board members loyal to Executive Director Vanessa Williams, whom Johnson made no secret about his intent to fire, began a counterinsurgency movement.

On June 13, just two weeks into Johnson’s term, General Counsel Susan “Sue” Winchester sent a memo saying that acting on a request from Otis Wallace, the parliamentarian, she had examined the record of the May 30th election and determined that it was invalid because it did not comply with the organization’s bylaws.

Specifically, Winchester said several provisions of the bylaws were violated, including the establishment of a nominating committee, the requirement for secret balloting and making sure that only eligible members voted.

Winchester wrote in all capital letters: “THE BOARD AND OFFICERS OF NCBM UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF PRESIDENT MAYOR BOWSER IS STILL EFFECTIVE AND VALID.”

And for more than eight months, two boards held themselves out to the public as the sole governing body.

Johnson and Treasurer Patrick Green of Normandy, Mo. went to court to force Vanessa Williams and Mayor Bowser to turn over documents needed to conduct a forensic audit. When Williams refused, Judge Brasher issued an injunction compelling her to comply.

With records in hand – and leaked to the local news media – supporters of Johnson found not just a smoking gun but what they consider a whole gun show. Williams, the executive director, had written numerous checks to herself, to her husband and to a Christian academy for her son’s tuition. And there were checks to high-end stores: Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom and St. John Knits. There were repeated ATM withdrawals, money spent on toys and nail salons.

A memo written by an accounting firm hired by the Special Task Force noted on Aug. 14, 2013: “Our analysis identified a number of expenditures that appear to be questionable business expenses of NCBM. In summary, based on our analysis of the above-referenced banking records, we identified approximately $623,000 of questionable payments….”

Auditors said that amount “does not include significant amounts of payments we identified for travel, fuel, restaurants, general merchandise stores (including Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, etc.), grocery stores, specialty retailers (Hobby Lobby, Haverty’s Furniture, Best Buy, Apple Store, etc.) or purchases for less than $100 at locations not identified above (including Apple iTunes, Hollywood Video, bookstores, drug stores, etc.).”

Williams has contended that NCBM owed her a considerable amount of back pay. In lieu of paying her, Williams asserts, the board allowed her to use the association’s credit card for personal expenses until the charges equal her back pay.

On Sept. 6, 2013, the board headed by Mayor Johnson fired Williams “due to your failure over a sustained period of several years to fulfil core duties and responsibilities of the Executive Director of NCBM and your recent admissions regarding your use of the bank accounts of NCBM and the NCBM Title Company for personal expenditures totaling at least $632,000 without board approval.”

But the other board that did not recognize Johnson as president voted to retain Williams and ignore any actions taken by the group headed by Kevin Johnson.

As both groups remained divided, it created awkward moments. At a world conference of mayors in Colombia last year, both factions were claiming to legitimately represent the Black mayors. A conference planned for Bermuda next October was cancelled because of the conflict.

“NCBM Executive Director Vanessa Williams spent five days in Bermuda earlier this month on a fact-finding mission to ensure that the Island had suitable facilities to host the conference,” the Royal Gazette newspaper reported. The island paper continued, “The trip was paid for by the Corporation [of Hamilton], which held a reception at City Hall in Ms. Williams honour…

“A spokesman for the NCBM has since confirmed to The Royal Gazette that Ms. Williams was dismissed by the NCBM Board last year, and that she no longer has any association with the NCBM. The spokesman added that the NCBM had no knowledge of any conference being held in Bermuda.”

The story continued, “And last night Mayor Graeme Outerbridge acknowledged that the success of the conference hinged on the participation of the NCBM – and that, with Ms. Williams’ credibility now under question, the future of the conference was in doubt.”

Mayor Browser lost his re-election bid in East Orange, N.J. As of Jan. 1, 2014, he was out of office and thus ineligible for continued membership in NCBM. Even if he had been recognized as the duly elected president of the organization, he would have been forced to resign when he was defeated in New Jersey.

Unless reversed, Judge Brasher’s ruling will settle the dispute between the two factions for good.

“The record shows that Mayor Johnson was both nominated by the Committee on Nominations, and from the floor by an eligible member,” the judge wrote in his opinion. “No other nominations were made. Though it is possible that ineligible members voted, a sufficient number of eligible voters voted, a sufficient number of eligible members also voted in an oral vote presided over by the Chair of the Nominating Committee. Mayor Bowser could have required that the vote be cast by secret ballot, but he did not. In the end, Mayor Johnson was unanimously elected President of the NCBM.”

He also said, “Through his actions, Mayor Bowser, indeed the entire electorate, waived compliance with the Bylaws’ requirement that a secret ballot be held to elect the new President, and that an election supervisor handle the election…The Court finds that Mayor Johnson was validly elected as President of the NCBM on May 30, 2013.”

Conservative Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly Blasts Black Caucus Members as 'Race Hustlers'

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

In his March 24 “The O’Reilly Factor” broadcast, O’Reilly supported Ryan’s latest apparent put-down of Blacks and came out firing against Ryan detractors, calling Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) a “notorious race hustler.”

“There is a cultural problem…. And that problem holds certain Americans back from competing in the marketplace.

“But as you may know, if you say that, you become a target. You are called a racist, as I have been many, many times,” O’Reilly said.

George Will, author and Fox News contributor who was a guest on O’Reilly’s show, added, “It’s a reflex on their part to call people racist, just as it was for Joe McCarthy to call people communist in 1954. People stopped listening to him. People stopped listening to these people.”

Ryan has been vilified for statements he made about poverty and the culture of inner cities in an interview on Bill Bennett’s “Morning In America” radio show on March 12.

“We have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work. And so, there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” Ryan said, according to a recording of the show.

CBC members immediately fired back, saying Ryan’s comments were uninformed and repugnant.

Lee characterized Ryan’s comments as “a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated.

“His assertions about the racial dynamics of poverty are not only statistically inaccurate, but deeply offensive,” she added in the statement.

The next day, Ryan denied any racial insinuation, saying only that his wording was “inarticulate.”

“After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make,” he said in a statement. “I was not implicating the culture of one community—but of society as a whole. We have allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people into our communities [and] the predictable result has been multi-generational poverty and little opportunity.”

Still, CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), another CBC member, sent Ryan a letter assailing him about his assessments.

“The problem many people in poverty face is not isolation, but rather the lack of resources to help ensure all people have the opportunity to succeed and contribute to society, such as adequate transportation, infrastructure, job training programs and other resources to search for jobs and become gainfully employed,” the letter read.

“A serious policy conversation on poverty should not begin with assumptions or stereotypes. Poverty in our nation is a critical problem that must be approached with diligence and the utmost respect for those who are trapped by poverty’s grasp,” the Black lawmakers said.

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