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Civil Rights Leaders Submit Agenda to President

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A group of civil rights leaders met with President Obama and several members of his cabinet last week to discuss the “1963-2013: 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom,” a formal document with more than 90 legislative policy and priority recommendations.

In a statement released after the meeting, Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network, said that it was one of the most substantive meetings he has had with any president.

“We covered a broad spectrum of concerns from the civil rights community including unemployment, minimum wage, and job training; as well as concerns about restoring and protecting our voter rights, and state laws that we feel threaten our civil rights such as Stand Your Ground which is in 23 states,” said Sharpton.

Even though some have called it the “Black Agenda” civil rights leaders want people to know that they have been working with the president on many of the policy priorities since he took office.

Right after the president’s re-election in 2012, Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said that he and other civil rights leaders felt the need to develop a set of formal, written policy priorities to be presented not only to the president but also to his cabinet and Congress.

The agenda focused on five primary objectives:

1. Achieve Economic Parity for African-Americans
2. Promote Equity in Educational Opportunity
3. Protect and Defend Voting Rights
4. Promote a Healthier Nation by Eliminating Healthcare Disparities
5. Achieve Comprehensive Criminal Justice System Reform

Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation said that discussions surrounding the “1963-2013: 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom” will stretch far past the White House. The goal is to use the agenda to engage other government agencies and departments as well, said Campbell.

“This administration is always looking for new ideas,” said Campbell “The agenda was just a comprehensive way of presenting those ideas.”

Those ideas range from job creation and training programs to updating programs that fund historically Black colleges and universities to financial assistance to care for people with mental health disorders.

Contrary to criticism from some members of the Black community that wonder why it took the civil rights organizations so long to craft the document, Campbell reiterated the fact that the many of the groups have engaged the president, collectively and individually, on a number of key issues.

Morial said that the agenda reflects the idea that the civil rights groups have to be much more collaborative and much more unified than ever before.

The National Urban League also crafted a document that showed how many of the priorities outlined in the president’s State of the Union address align with recommendations spelled out in the agenda.

The 21st Century Agenda calls for a higher minimum wage, funding for urban infrastructure projects, full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and support for early childhood education.

“What people do not know is that those are the things that we have been encouraging for the last several years,” said Morial.

Morial continued: “Before income inequality became a mainstream, hot button issue, Black civil rights organizations back in 2010, 2011 and 2013 were encouraging the president to increase his focus on it. This State of the Union this second term agenda reflects an embrace of some of the recommendations that we have been making over the years.”

Morial also noted that Attorney General Eric Holder has taken on criminal justice reform in a way that is unprecedented. Holder called for states to reform or repeal laws that banned ex-felons from voting during an event at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. The attorney general expressed support for sentencing reform and new guidelines for prosecutors at public events last year.

“The criminal justice reforms highlighted in the 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom have long been a concern to the civil and human rights community,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Our community has raised these issues repeatedly and loudly, and we’ve refused to be ignored. What we’re seeing now – after many years of activism – is a harmonic convergence of economic, political and moral interests coming together to increase momentum in support of common sense reforms to make our criminal justice system more fair, humane, and just.”

Morial called for the Black community to discuss, comment, praise, criticize, add to the “21 Century Agenda” in meaningful ways.

“We are firmly convinced the president will fight for jobs, training, minimum wage and voting rights as well as explore the other areas of concern,” said Sharpton “We are determined to build this country and make it work for everyone equally and fairly.”

St. Lucia's 35 Years of Independence Finds the Country With Challenges

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But none that it can’t handle effectively and with poise

By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Seen from the historic Brooklyn Borough Hall in New York City or the Connecticut state capital building in Hartford where St. Lucia’s national flag will flutter in the breeze later this week, the picture of the Eastern Caribbean country would attract admiring glances but words of caution.

That mixed bag isn’t unique in the Caribbean and it is certainly explainable.

The island of 174,000-plus souls is feeling the fall-out caused by the global financial crisis that spawned the serious economic problems now gnawing at some of St. Lucia’s neighbors – Jamaica, Barbados, St. Kitts-Nevis, Puerto Rico and Grenada. Also true, the country is working hard to get recover from the extensive damage done to homes, roads, bridges and government facilities by an unexpected act of nature — heavy rains and flooding just before Christmas. As if those problems weren’t enough it is searching for solutions to another Caribbean nightmare: a relatively high incidence of serious crime.

Flip the coin over to its other side and the scene which emerges would much more heartening. For one thing, St. Lucians at home and abroad are getting ready to celebrate the 35th anniversary of their birthplace’s independence from Britain. With parades and other colorful events taking place to celebrate the milestone, it’s obvious that the country which gave the world two Nobel prize winners, Prof. Sir Arthur Lewis in economics and Derek Walcott in literature is far more resilient than some people may have given it credit for. There is another reason: in the more than three decades since independence came, St. Lucia has dramatically improved its roads, schools, health facilities and the level of its amenities which has placed it in a position to respond quickly and efficiently to crises.

That may explain why Dr. Kenny Anthony, the country’s Prime Minister, praised the country for its collective “strength, courage and resilience” in the aftermath of the recent troubles and he was quick to urge the people to keep such strong qualities in motion because “if we can continue to help one another, then we can counter any further misfortune.”

It will need all the strength it can muster. St. Lucia, noted for its breath-taking beauty and picturesque twin peaks of Picons is suffering from a combination of widening budget deficits, high unemployment, estimated at more than 20 per cent and a large debt burden that when combined put the government in a straightjacket. As a result, the country which relies heavily on tourism can’t undertake the kinds of economic reforms which are necessary to stabilize the finances.

When a government has a deficit – the difference between government revenue and expenditure – of almost 10 per cent of gross national product it can’t simply narrow the gap by raising taxes.

“Further taxation is not the solution to our problem,” Dr. Anthony said the other day. “The solution lies in reducing expenditure and improving revenue collection.” That’s a realistic and indeed necessary stance to take but it is not always politically palatable because cutting expenditure invariably means laying off government employees and reducing the amount of money, the government spends buying goods and services from the private sector. It’s often enough to bring demonstrators out into the streets, something St. Lucia has avoided but which the government and the people of Greece were unable to do. Of course, St. Lucia is far from experiencing the kind of nightmare the Greeks had to tackle last year.

When Anthony met St. Lucians in Brooklyn almost two years ago, he was quite candid about the poor state of economy he had inherited and he talked about it again in a national address. The problems he described are not unique to St. Lucia and they require tough measures.

The issue of crime is more complex. Although police crime statistics for 2013 show a slight three per cent decline in the number of cases reported to the police last year, Anthony understands only too well there is link between the economic hurdles people are confronting and the criminal behavior of many unemployed adults and young people. Illegal drugs are also fueling the crime picture and unless and until the United States and Europe provide more help, not only to St. Lucia but the rest of the Caribbean, the specter of crime will remain a serious headache.

In the decades since independence, St. Lucia has undergone an economic and social transformation that many skeptics initially didn’t think possible. It has more college and university educated people than ever before and it achieved that by expanding educational opportunities for young people. The lifespan of St. Lucians has increased significantly and it has boosted the child survival rate while keeping a lid on the growth of its population. Interestingly, although St. Lucia remains a solidly Roman Catholic country, women have not been prevented from controlling their own fertility. They have ready access to information and services that help them limit the size of their families. Just as important the presence of women in leadership positions in government and the private sector is much stronger than 20 years ago.

Clearly, St. Lucia is going through tough times but progress is evident. It remains a vibrant and effectively managed society and is well represented in international councils at the United Nations, the Organizations of American States, the Commonwealth of Nations and elsewhere.

Undoubtedly, it has earned the praises which are being showered on it at this time.

Caribbean Contribution to Black History

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Law, government, Literature, Politics, science and economy, indeed in every area of life

By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

When the U.S. Postal Service recently issued a stamp commemorating the life and accomplishment of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black women elected to the U.S. House of Representative, it put the spotlight on people from the Caribbean.

Chisholm, who scored many firsts in her illustrious career as a public figure, including the first Black person to seek the presidential nomination of a major American political party paved the way for the Rev. Jessie Jackson and eventually President Barack Obama to seek to become the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party. The stamp was issued to coincide with the beginning of Black History Month.

But a perusal of history’s pages would provide solid evidence of the diverse and important contributions of Blacks from the Caribbean to global economic and social progress. The prosperity of the United States owed much of its success to the blood sweat and tears of Blacks, among whom were Caribbean immigrants. The chapters in American and global history featured the work of African-Americans and West Indians. Take the case of the Carolinas in the 17th and 18th centuries when that part of the country was a “colony of a colony” meaning a British colony that was developed by African slaves and white planters from the Caribbean especially from Jamaica and Barbados and it was done in subservience to Caribbean “interests.”

A handful of examples:

Crispus Attucks, the first to die in the American Revolutionary war in 1776 in Massachusetts was a West Indian. The struggle ended in the independence of the United States from England. Prince Hall, who established free masonry in the United States was a political figure in Black Boston in the 18th century and pressed the Massachusetts legislature to provide publicly-funded education to Blacks and he succeeded in getting Boston to provide schools for free children of color in 1797. Hall’s roots were in Barbados.

Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican was the leader of one of the largest mass movements of the 20th century. His campaign for the dignity and honor of Blacks was a spark for the discontented across the U.S. Jan Ernest Matzeliger, the inventor from Suriname revolutionized the mass production of shoes. Eric Holder Jr., the United States Attorney-General, the first Black person to occupy that position, their origins to Barbados.

Michaella Jean was Canada’s first Black Governor-General or viceroy representative of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, the country’s head of state. Jean is of Haitian descent. Jean who was born in Port au Prince in 1957 immigrated to Canada with her parents in 1968 and after a highly successful professional career as a radio personality in Montreal, she was appointed and installed in office as the Governor-General in 2005.

Julius A. Isaac, served in Canada’s Justice Department for 17 years before becoming the country’s first Black Chief Justice of the federal court. He was born in St. David, Grenada in 1928 and arrived in Toronto in 1951. He was 82 when he died in Regina in Ontario.

They are but a handful of the examples of West Indian influence and they illustrate how people from the Caribbean have made a substantial difference on the global stage. That’s important because as we celebrate Black History Month they help to remove the Eurocentric cloud that has obscured the contributions of people of color to human development.

Prof. Keith Sandiford, history professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba in Canada, put it well when he complained that “while white performers are idolized by the Western media, Black innovators remain curiously concealed.”

Black History Month celebrations are helping to change that.

Financial Marketplace Pressed to be More Inclusive

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

NEW YORK (NNPA) – After people of color were excluded last year from the two largest bond issuance deals in history –Verizon Communications, which sold $49 billion of debt, and Apple, Inc., which sold $17 billion of debt – the Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project is stepping up efforts to expand opportunity for African Americans, women and other disadvantaged groups.

“For many in the minority investment arena, a feeling of frustration exists because for almost two decades there has only been gradual progress in opening capital markets to more comprehensive diversity practices,” says a report issued last week by the organization led by civil rights leader Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. “Many firms face constant challenges (undercapitalization, limited access to corporate decision-makers, arbitrary caps on utilization) and this one presented by the limited access to debt capital markets opportunities, only adds to the list.”

The report, titled, “Minority Inclusion in Debt Capital Markets: A Ranking of Corporate Issuers,” is part of an effort to compel large corporations to improve their record.

Released at the annual convention of the Wall Street Project in New York, the report analyzes 70 percent of the debt deals over a 45-month period. It divides firms into five tiers, with Tier 1 having the best record of using minority- and women-owned firms in debt deals. Only four companies were ranked in the top tier: Citicorp, General Electric Company, JP Morgan and Toyota Motor Credit Corp.

In Tier 2 were 17 companies: AIG, Ally, AT&T, Bank of America, Bank of New York, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Ford, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, IBM, MetLife, Pepsico, Southern Company, Verizon Communications, Inc., Walmart and Wells Fargo & Company.

Forty-eight companies were listed in Tier 3, including Altria, Boeing, Capital One, Caterpillar, CBS, Federal Express, General Mills, Home Depot, Kellogg, Kraft, Kroger, McDonalds, Pfizer, Starbucks, Walt Disney, Time Warner and Viacom.

Tier 4 consisted of 37 companies, including Campbell Soup, CVS, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott International, Procter & Gamble, and Allstate.

At the bottom, in Tier 5, with the worst record of diversity were 55 companies, including Aetna, Apple, AutoZone, Bristol Myers Squibb, Costco, Cox Communications, Exxon, Halliburton, Hertz, Hewlett Packard, HJ Heinz Co., John Deere, KeyCorp, Liberty Mutual, Lockheed Martin, NewsCorp, Nike, Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp., Oracle, Safeway, Tennessee Valley Authority, Coca-Cola Co., Waste Management Inc. and Wellpoint.

As part of the effort to increase diversity, companies need to revisit policies that restrict minority allocations to 1 to 2 percent, maintain fixed rotations of select minority firms on deals or excluded minority firms altogether.

There were some industry variations, according to the report. Because of the nature of their services, for example, financial firms have more debt deals than others sectors; roughly half of deals and communications and the utility sectors were concentrated in Tier 3 and more than 80 percent of energy companies were in Tier 5.

According to the report, there is a correlation between diverse corporate boards and successful diversity efforts.

“7 companies in this analysis were on Black Enterprise’s list of 75 companies without Black Board Members (Sept. 2013),” the report stated. “Not surprisingly, they were ranked in the lowest two tiers.”

Of the companies ranked in Tier 4 and Tier 5, neither CVS, Duke Energy, Ebay, Google, Apple, Hewlett Packard nor NewsCorp had a Black board member.

“This ranking of corporations casts a direct spotlight on those corporations that are best positioned today, to offer minority firms more economic parity,” the report concluded. “With this foundation of information, the Wall Street Project is positioned to challenge current corporate conventions and seeks to ultimately challenge the status quo.

“The goal is to ensure that future Apple and Verizon debt deals will include a broader array of firms, who can equally participate in the economic rewards, manage their firms for long-term sustainability and ultimately, have a positive impact on the economic vitality of our country.”

Blacks in Florida still Victimized by 'Stand Your Ground'

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Two years ago, 14-year-old Trayvon Martin was returning from a trip from a nearby 7-Eleven store in Sanford, Fla. to purchase a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona tea when he was confronted by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman.

Instead of making it back to the house to watch the tip-off of an NBA All-Star game, the unarmed Black teenager was fatally shot in the heart by Zimmerman, who was later acquitted of first-degree murder charges.

The not guilty verdict triggered protests across the country and calls for a review of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law that justifies the use of deadly force by anyone who believes their action was necessary to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm’ to them. The killer gets a free pass even if the person on the receiving end of a deadly bullet is unarmed. Even if that person is not breaking any laws. Even if that person happens to be a frightened Black teenager. Especially if that person is a frightened Black teenager.

Wednesday, Feb. 26, will mark the 2-year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death. Two years after the fatal slaying, Florida and more than 20 other states still have Stand Your Ground statues in place, which have led to other incidents with racial overtones.

Standing on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Zimmerman, who identified himself as Hispanic, was acquitted July 13, 2013 of first-degree murder.

On Saturday, six months later, a jury failed to reach a first degree murder verdict against Michael Dunn, a White computer programmer, in connection with the death of Jordan Davis, a Black teenager, at a Jacksonville, Fla. convenience store. Upset over the loud music coming from of a vehicle occupied by 17-year-old Davis and his friends – whom Dunn instantly characterized as “gangsters” and “thugs” – an enraged Dunn fired 10 shots into their Dodge Durango SUV. He continued to shoot into the vehicle even after it sped away, according to witnesses.

A jury composed of four White males, four White females, two Black females, a Hispanic male and an Asian female found Dunn guilty on three attempted second-degree murder charges, which could land him in jail for at least 60 years. However, a verdict could not be reached on first-degree murder charges, the most serious offense.

Al Sharpton called for the civil rights community to redouble its efforts in Florida, a state he described as “ground zero” for the battle against Stand Your Ground laws. Sharpton stated, “From Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis enough is enough.”

But the Stand Your Ground law in Florida is not enough when the assailant is Black.

For example, in 2010, a year before Trayvon Martin was killed by Zimmerman, Michael Giles, who was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, and some friends were attending a party at a local nightclub in Tallahassee when a fight broke out between Florida A&M University fraternities.

Giles, who was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, went to his vehicle and retrieved a pistol and stuck it in his pants pocket. Giles testified – and other witnesses confirmed – that he was punched in the face. Lying on the floor and fearing for his life, Giles drew his gun and shot his alleged assailant one time in the leg; two others were injured by stray bullet fragments. For that, Giles, who had no criminal record, received a 25-year sentence for attempted murder, which he is still serving.

And it’s hard to forget the case of Marissa Alexander, the Florida woman who was sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in prison after she fired a warning shot to hold off her abusive husband. No one was injured yet Alexander received a mandatory 20-year-sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life law. After serving three years, she was released shortly before Thanksgiving after an appeals judge vacated the verdict, ruling the jury had been improperly instructed. Her new trial has been set for March 31.

In 2005, Florida was the first state to adopt Stand Your Ground legislation, nicknamed “The Shoot First” law. It states, “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

Blacks see a double-standard applied when Blacks who fire into the air or shoot an assailant in the leg receive serious prison time yet Whites and Hispanics who kill Black teenagers are not found guilty of first-degree murder.

Moreover, according to the Urban Institute, an independent nonpartisan think tank focused on economic and social problems affecting Americans, “White-on-Black homicides were most likely to be ruled justified (11.4 percent), and Black-on-White homicides were least likely to be ruled justified (1.2 percent).”

When the Urban Institute looked a justifiable homicides matching many of the common details found in the Martin-Zimmerman case, the institute found that rate of justifiable homicides is almost six times higher in case with attributes that match the Martin case.”

The Urban Institute report on Stand Your Ground laws stated: “With respect to race, controlling for all other case attributes, the odds a white-on-black homicide is found justified is 281 percent greater than the odds a white-on-white homicide is found justified.”

What should be done to hold Florida accountable the same way Arizona was punished with a national boycott in 1990 after it refused to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday?

Following the not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial, Sharpton’s National Action Network and other civil rights groups called for peaceful protests in 100 cities.

Sharpton said, “We gave people a way to express themselves and not just explode. One of the things, going back to Dr. King, media never gives credit to people when there is organized protests it in many ways channels to make sure that justice can be achieved but also gives order in society so that you don’t have mass bedlam.”

Longtime activist Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, said there should have been a national boycott of Florida similar to the one mounted against Arizona.

After Arizona voters blocked observance of Dr. King’s birthday with a ballot initiative, local businesses reported losing more than $200 million as a result of the boycott. The National Football League refused to consider holding a Super Bowl in the state because of the vote. In 1992, voters reversed their decision and in 1996, Arizona hosted Super Bowl XXX.

At a panel discussion last summer at the National Urban League’s annual convention in Philadelphia, Jesse Jackson expressed support for a boycott of Florida, but failed to follow-up with a national movement. Sharpton said he could support a support of a boycott of Florida if it were limited. And Urban League President Marc H. Morial did not express an opinion. The National Urban League is holding its national convention next year in South Florida.

“We lack a spirit of resistance in Black America,” said Daniels. “Here was an opportunity for us to not only get justice for Trayvon Martin, but it was also an opportunity to imbue a spirit of resistance in Black America that we could use to go state by state and roll back these laws.”

Sharpton said when he and other civil rights leaders raised the possibility of a boycott with Florida state legislators they found that a boycott would not help them get the votes that they need to repeal the law.

“The governor’s race in Florida ought to be around the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws in the same way we made the mayor’s race in New York about ‘Stop and Frisk,’” said Sharpton. “That’s how you get laws. You have to be able to pinpoint and punish somebody or reward somebody based off of what you want.”

All sides agree that the only way to get a different verdict in high-profile cases is to have more Blacks participate as jurors, which requires them to be registered voters.

“For the justice system to work, people have to respect each other diversity and cultures. We also got to make sure that we educate our community and let them know that jury selection is an equal justice issue,” said Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s parents. “If we don’t sit on these juries, then shame on us, because no one is going to understand Trayvon like someone from his community.”

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