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White House Seeks to Help Expand Education Opportunity

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Thirty years ago, one year of tuition, room, and board at a nation’s four-year, degree-granting institution cost $8,756 on average (or $3,499, when adjusted for inflation).

As of 2010, that figure had almost tripled to $22,092 – and that’s just for one year.

To meet this economic hurdle, 39.6 million Americans have turned to the student loan market, taking on more than $1 trillion in debt of last year, according to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office. Higher education, once a pipeline to the American Dream, is quickly becoming just a pipedream for low-income and underserved Americans.

On Thursday, President and First Lady Obama invited education leaders and decision-makers to the White House to announce an intervention to allow more Americans the chance at a degree. The Expanding Education Opportunity summit aims to foster collaboration and brainstorm solutions to the dearth of college opportunities for low-income and disadvantaged students. The summit is part of the President’s overall education agenda, which has advanced through Congress in fits and starts.

President Obama addressed the attendees and the press, stating, “The one reason we’re here today is we want to make sure more young people have a change to earn a higher education. Today is a great example of how we can advance this agenda without a bunch of new legislation.”

Without a college degree, children born in the bottom 20 percent of income distribution have just a 5 percent chance of getting into the top 20 percent as adults — and only a 55 percent chance of ever making it out of that income bracket, according to a 2008 Brookings Institute study.

But there was a catch: Those invited could only attend the summit if they put their money where their mouths are. Attendees were required to submit (for review) a concise in-house plan of new actions for 2014 to combat the opportunity gap, and publicly commit funds to execute their plan.

“We do not have a more clear ladder of economic mobility than the attainment of a college degree for someone born into a low-income family. And yet the research shows that if you are born in the bottom quartile, by the accident of birth you have only a nine percent chance of graduating from college,” says Director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, who organized the summit. “We are a country that does not believe that the outcomes of your life should be overly determined by the accident of your birth. Yet these numbers show that to make good on that, we have to do much more as a country to help more people to succeed in college.”

In preliminary efforts, the Department of Education and stakeholders identified four areas of focus that could have the greatest impact in expanding access to higher education: Matching students to their best possible schools and encouraging completion; increasing the pool of college-ready students; reducing inequalities in college advisement and test prep; and making remediation more effective.

An array of secondary institutions are included in the ongoing initiative, such as MIT, College of the Holy Cross, Princeton University, Vassar College, and Navajo Technical University. HBCUs Howard University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, and Spelman College are also making commitments. Notable organizations involved include the College Board, Posse Foundation, and the American Association of Community Colleges.

Participants were required to focus their plans and resources on improving one or more of these areas. A majority of the schools and organizations involved have made pledges around increasing match and college completion.

The University of Chicago, for example, has pledged $10 million for its College Success Initiative, which will reach 10,000 high schools across the next 10 years. Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts has a program that offers full scholarships for low-income, non-traditional age college students. Scripps College in California will increase its financial aid and scholarship endowment by $35 million over the next five years. Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College will allow incoming freshmen to start remediation before their first semester. College Board is setting up partnerships to waive student application fees.

Morehouse is piloting an alternative to the SAT/ACT. Howard is boosting success among low-income STEM students and matching Pell Grants by 100 percent. Morgan State is expanding its pipelining partnership with the Community College of Baltimore College, as well as an initiative to help students who’ve left the university in good academic standing complete their degrees. And Spelman will continue to fundraise to financially support upperclassmen may not graduate due to the recession.

Absent from the summit is the trouble of ballooning college costs. The omission is deliberate; back in August, the president made college accountability, quality, and affordability his personal undertaking. His plan includes the creation of a College Scorecard (by 2015, which will be based on access, affordability, and outcomes), linking student’s financial aid to their class completion, bolstering technology, and more.

The institutions and organizations involved will reconvene next year, when the White House will evaluate their progress and more entities will be invited to join the strategy.

Before introducing the president at the summit, Mrs. Obama shared her own college experience, painting the story of a first-generation college freshman who didn’t know how to navigate a campus and didn’t see anyone with whom she could identify.

“I didn’t even bring the right sized sheets for my dorm room bed . . . I was a little overwhelmed and a little isolated. But then I had an opportunity to participate in a three-week, on-campus orientation program that helped me get a feel for the rhythm of college life,” she said. “And once school started, I discovered the campus cultural center . . . where I found students and staff who came from families and communities that were similar to my own. They were there to answer the questions I was too embarrassed to ask anyone else. And if it weren’t for those resources and the friends and the mentors, I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through college.”

Congressional Black Caucus Faces Tough Battles in 113th Congress

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CBC to Lead Fight for College Loans, Jobs, Judicial Posts

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

In a Congress likely to be steeped in the politics of this year’s midterm elections, the Congressional Black Caucus said it will continue to fight for issues important for communities of color.

“We all know that 2013 was one of the least productive years in the history of the Congress,” said CBC Chair Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) in a press call on Jan. 15. “Yet, the Congressional Black Caucus diligently worked on a number of issues and was successful in influencing policies that benefitted our communities and that would, but for us, be disregarded or completely ignored.”

Many of the priorities on the CBC’s 2014 agenda reflect ongoing concerns from 2013—reducing poverty and closing the income inequality gap, the challenges facing historically Black colleges and universities and increasing diversity in judicial nominations.

Poverty continues to be a scourge in Black communities—almost 10 million African Americans, including 4 in 10 Black children, live in poverty; almost 12 percent of African Americans are unemployed, etc.—cited Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who heads the CBC’s Poverty and the Economy Task Force.

Due to the CBC’s persistent efforts on reducing poverty, however, the issue has “gained momentum on Capitol Hill,” Lee said, and the CBC will continue to build on those gains.

The CBC will continue to advocate for an increased federal minimum wage, or living wage; it will continue to garner support for the Half in Ten Act, legislation – authored by Lee – which would create and implement a plan to cut poverty in half within 10 years, and it will continue to lobby for bills that create more high-earning jobs.

“We know the best pathway out of poverty is a job,” Lee said.

Deputy Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said the CBC will also continue to support the Affordable Care Act, and Medicare and Medicaid. The latter were key contributors to the gains made by the War on Poverty launched by President Lyndon Johnson a half-century ago, he said.

Another key initiative on the CBC’s “War on Poverty” will be its advocacy for the “10-20-30” initiative, which would require that at least 10 percent of federally appropriated money be spent in those communities where 20 percent or more the population has been locked below the poverty level for at least 30 years.

The targeted spending approach was first introduced by Clyburn as an amendment to the rural spending section of theReinvestment Act. It resulted in funding for 4,655 projects totaling nearly $1.7 billion in chronically impoverished counties.

“We believe we have come upon a formula that can be used in our budget to direct resources to communities irrespective of the color or ethnicity of the people that live there,” he told reporters. “We are asking for that ’10-20-30’ approach to be included in other parts of our budget so that we can tackle poverty at the community level.”

Attempts to create income equality must also address education, and, for the Black community, HBCUs play an integral role. But the recent recession and changes in federal policy—such as changes in the credit eligibility criteria for Parent PLUS loans and a 5.1 percent cut in HBCU budgets due to sequestration—are endangering those higher education institutions, CBC members said.

“There is clearly a crisis at HBCUs as a result of Parent Plus loans,” said Fudge.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education made the underwriting standards for these popular loans more stringent and implemented those changes without input from or explanation to HBCUs. Within one year, Parent Plus loan denials skyrocketed by 50 percent for parents with students at HBCUs, Fudge said.

According to the Association for Public and Land-Grant Universities, 14,616 students at HBCUs learned their parents had been denied Parent PLUS loans in fall 2012; and HBCUs lost about $168 million as a result of the large number of students who were not able to start or continue their college education.

Overall, according to Education Department statistics, 101,740 fewer African-American students enrolled in higher education institutions in fall 2012.

In September 2013, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan apologized for the debacle to a group of HBCU presidents, administrators and faculty gathered for the annual National HBCU Week Conference in Washington, D.C.

“I know it’s been hard, it’s been frustrating, and some of you are angry,” Duncan told the group, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “I am not satisfied with the way we handled the updating of PLUS Loans, and I apologize for that.”

Despite the apology—and despite the CBC’s appeals to the department—revisions have yet to be made, Fudge said.

The CBC will continue to agitate for those changes as it will for a less homogenous judiciary, members said.

“We feel that it is pretty important to have African-American judges, both at the trial and the appellate level in every circuit in our country,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). “The problem is that we have Republican United States senators who have been blocking this progress.”

Out of the 55 African Americans nominated to the bench by President Obama, only 42 have been confirmed, Butterfield said. Additionally, 43 seats at the district and appellate levels remain empty.

“The president needs to be more proactive in nominating African Americans to the bench [and] we would hope he would be less conciliatory with those Republican senators who have demonstrated that they are obstructionists,” said the North Carolina Democrat. “What we’ve got to do is continue to put pressure on the White House…and at the same time we need to encourage the Senate leadership to proceed with confirmation proceedings.”

Radioactive Cars from Japan Turning Up in Caribbean

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By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

It certainly won’t be the first thing on the minds of Caribbean people when they wake up every day but there is clear evidence that radioactive material from the area in Japan where a nuclear power plant failed after a 2011 tsunami and earthquake is beginning to turn up among commercial imports to the region.

Last month, customs and other enforcement authorities in Jamaica intercepted and quarantined a 40-foot container of vehicle parts destined for the Caribbean trade bloc headquarter nation of Guyana after tests had shown elevated levels of contamination.

That the levels startled authorities into quarantining the container and preparing plans to return it forthwith to Japan is slowly beginning to bring regional customs officials to the reality that other contaminated imports might have slipped through their monitoring net in earlier months.

But that should not have been the case. In late 2012, Jamaican authorities also discovered a passenger mini bus with similarly high levels of radioactive material on a city pier and impounded it as well but that very incident has only now come to light after the transiting Guyana container made news headlines.

Health and customs officials in Guyana say they were only alerted to the fact that Jamaica had saved Guyanese car dealers and owners from actually and unknowingly handling contaminated parts when local Jamaican newspapers exposed the story in the past week.

The country has no Geiger Counter to measure or test imports from Japan or any other affected country for acceptable radiation levels. Health Minister Bheri Ramsarran said only that “we will look into this serious matter”, while the head of the revenue and customs authority accused local media of sensationalizing the issue unnecessarily.

Thousands of cars, SUVs and other vehicles were washed out to sea or covered in radioactive water after the Fukushima Nuclear Plant was crippled both by the quake and the tsunami. Contaminated water poured into the Ocean for days, severely polluting the area and reducing it to a virtual ghost town.

Russian authorities recently turned away a shipment of 132 cars from Japan after these had also tested positive for high levels of radiation.

Jamaican Customs spokeswoman Velma Ricketts said the island which is a major marine transshipment port, is lucky that the US Department of Energy regularly monitors its work and that the country has sophisticated equipment to test for radiation.

“Once it is confirmed to be outside the acceptable levels, the shipment will not be released. There are a lot of things we are doing that people don’t know. We are very vigilant,” Customs Chief Richard Reese said.

Black Media Seeks Inclusion in Tobacco Settlement

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The National Association of Newspaper Publishers (NNPA) and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB), two industry trade associations whose members reach more than 95 percent of African Americans, filed a friend-of-the-court brief objecting to the exclusion of all Black media companies in a proposed settlement that requires the tobacco industry to run ads and TV commercials to correct their misleading assertions about the harmful effects of smoking.

The amicus brief was filed last Friday in federal court in Washington, D.C. U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler held a hearing Wednesday and postponed making a decision on the merits of the case until Feb. 18 when additional briefs by the various parties would have been filed in connection with the case. After NNPA and NABOB filed an amicus brief, Fox News filed a similar brief arguing the cable network should also be part of the advertising deal.

An agreement was reached Jan. 9 between the U.S. Justice Department, the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund and the four major tobacco manufacturers – Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA – on what “corrective statements” the tobacco industry should be forced to make in ads to address the falsehoods they have been telling about the harmful effects of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking, the dangers of second-hand smoke and claims that low-tar and light cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes.

The Justice Department sued the tobacco companies in 1999, charging that they violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Judge Kessler found them guilty in 2006. The judge ruled that the companies were not liable for monetary damages under RICO, but ordered them to make “corrective statements.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has rejected two industry appeals. The Supreme Court has refused to accept an appeal from the tobacco giants, who are still suing over Kessler’s order to include the corrective statements in “point of sale” displays at retail outlets.

Under the proposed agreement, the tobacco companies must purchase full-page Sunday ads in 35 newspapers and commercials on either ABC, CBS or NBC network four days a week for a year. Target Market News, which broke the story of the settlement proposal, estimates the value of the ad buy at $30 million to $45 million. In her initial ruling against the tobacco industry in 2006, Judge Kessler provided a list of publications where “corrective statements” should be made. Not a single Black newspaper, magazine, or broadcast outlet was included on the list drawn up by the judge.

The Black media trade associations say that was a mistake.

“…The Defendants targeted the African America community with advertising campaigns which were delivered in part by their paid advertisements in African American print and electronic media,” the amicus brief states. “The proposed remedy does not list any media which specifically targets the African American community. To insure that the Corrective Statements reach the population that the Defendants targeted, the Court should require the parties to jointly select alternative newspapers that specifically target the African American community.”

Targeting Blacks with tobacco products has had a devastating effect on the African American community, the brief notes.

“Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both African American men and women, and it kills more African Americans than any type of cancer,” it says. “According to the Center for Disease Control, while adjusting for age, from 2006 through 2010, African Americans had the highest incidence rates of lung and bronchus cancer (64.8 per 100,000 people) of any ethnic group and the general population (61.7 per 100,000 people).

“In 2011, more than 23,000 new cases of lung and bronchus cancer are expected to occur among African Americans and more than 16,000 African Americans are expected to die from the disease. African American teen smokers also have a greater risk of developing long-term consequences from smoking than other ethnic groups, and are in danger of experiencing the negative effects of tobacco earlier in their lifetimes.”

Despite the disproportionate number of deaths, tobacco companies looked to Blacks to replace those who died or quit using their products.

“The record clearly demonstrates that the Defendants specifically targeted African Americans to encourage them to smoke,” the brief observed. “The Defendants recognized that new smokers, who could replace smokers who died or quit, were essential to their continued profits. The Court noted, for example, an internal 1981 Lorillard document commenting that the company “must continually keep in mind that Newport is being heavily supported by blacks and the under 18 smokers. We are on somewhat thin ice should either of these two groups decide to shift their smoking habits.’

“To locate new black smokers, the Defendants used targeted marketing tactics. Tactics included sponsorship for youth sports teams, advertisements featuring black athletes, tie-ins with professional sports teams, tie-ins with record companies, and scholarships for underprivileged youth. One memorandum recommended ‘tie-in with any company who help blacks – We help them, they help us.’ It suggested targeting groups that are 16 and older, and sponsoring Miss Black Teenager contests. It also specifically discussed ‘[h]ow to reach Younger Smokers: P.O.S. [point of sale] material, sampling, Black inner-city newspapers, [and] Tee-shirt giveaways.”

The brief cited data showing tobacco companies “even designed brands with the express purpose of targeting the black community for their use.”

Special efforts to get Blacks to become smokers notwithstanding, the Black press is being ignored in plans to educate the public about the misdeeds of the tobacco industry.

Cloves C. Campbell, chairman of the NNPA said, “It is sad that an industry that sought to exploit our community with a product that is harmful to our health now seeks to further devalue African-Americans by ignoring the Black media when it is being forced to atone for what a federal judge determined was a deliberate effort to deceive the American public.”

A 2012 Nielsen report on African American consumers was cited in the brief to show that 91 percent of African Americans believe Black media is more relevant to them. In addition, 81 percent of Blacks believe that products advertised in Black media are more relevant to them.

If parties to the agreement are serious about reaching Black consumers, they can’t ignore the NNPA’s approximately 200 Black-owned newspapers and NABOB’s 200 Black-owned radio stations, three commercial television stations, and one cable TV network, the brief stated.

It said, “Advertisements with NNPA and NABOB will disseminate the information more comprehensively and more directly to members of the African American community, which was a primary target of the Defendants’ extensive marketing practices to promote smoking. Because the Defendants directly and intentionally targeted the African American community, the publication of the text of the court-ordered corrective statement by NNPA and NABOB members will be a more effective and complete remedy for the Defendants’ harmful conduct.”

New Details Emerge in Aaron Hernandez Murder Investigation

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By Alexis Taylor
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Documents newly released by authorities have provided details on why investigators believe former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez may have been present not just for the murder last June of Odin Lloyd, but also when two individuals were gunned down in a 2012 drive-by shooting.

Search warrant documents filed with the State of Connecticut Superior Court and first published by The Hartford Courant allege that a vehicle owned by the former football star was present when Daniel Abreu, 29, and Safiro Texeira Furtado, 28, were killed in Boston during the early morning hours of July 16, 2012.

The documents do not state that Hernandez was directly involved with the murders, or suggest a possible motive, but represent the clearest link yet between Hernandez and the shootings. Hernandez has been charged with Lloyd’s murder and is currently awaiting trial.

The two victims were among five occupants inside a grey BMW that had just left a Boston nightclub, Cure. The vehicle, driven by Abreu, stopped for a traffic light at the intersection of Shawmut Avenue and Herald Street in Boston’s South End.

According to statements made by 25-year-old Aquilino Freire, who survived gunshots to both arms in the incident, an SUV pulled up on the right side of the BMW. Freire noticed nothing out of the ordinary with the vehicle, and said he observed a driver and a passenger in the backseat who appeared to be laughing moments before gunshots rang out.

Two eyewitnesses, co-workers Donald Gobin and Brian Quon, told police the SUV was either a “Nissan Pathfinder or a silver Toyota 4-Runner” being driven by a “Black male or dark skinned Hispanic male with short hair.”

Seconds before the shooting the two men, who worked at a nightclub in the area, stopped at a light on Shawmut Avenue when an SUV with Rhode Island plates pulled up. They said the SUV then ran the light at which they were waiting, only to stop at the next intersection and open fire on the BMW.

Boston police initially had few leads, and sought the public’s assistance in identifying the vehicle. A break in the case finally came in June 2013, when police began investigating Hernandez for the murder of Odin Lloyd, whose body was found on June 17 in an industrial area near the Hernandez mansion.

“At this time, detectives recalled that in previously viewing the video footage from Club Cure on the morning of July 16, 2012, an individual clearly recognizable as Aaron Hernandez is observed entering the club at approximately the same time as the victims,” police said in court documents.

Within a week, a witness claiming to have “accidentally” come into information linking the two cases contacted Massachusetts State Police. Sharif Hashem, a security supervisor at another Boston nightclub, Rumors, said he learned significant details from a patron about how a double homicide involving an SUV with Rhode Island plates was linked to Lloyd’s death. His information caused detectives to take a closer look at Hernandez’s movements the night Abreu and Furtado were murdered.

“Video surveillance from the Tufts parking garage shows Hernandez arrive at 12:04 a.m., driving a silver 2006 4-Runner, with a clearly visible license plate, 635035,” read the documents.

Hernandez and a male acquaintance then enter Cure and move into a surveillance-free area in the lower level of the club, before returning upstairs where the Patriots tight end “quickly” downed two drinks and made an exit. The two men are seen leaving the garage at 1:17 a.m. in a silver Toyota 4-Runner, but they would return a short time later.

According to court documents, exactly one hour later the same vehicle is visible on multiple surveillance tapes circling the block as the victims prepare to leave Cure. Gerson Lopes and Raychides Sanchez, the other two men in the BMW with Freire, Furtado and Abreu, wait on the sidewalk as Abreu pulls the car around.

“The two loops around the block by the Toyota 4 Runner near the club and the parking garage are captured on two separate video surveillance systems,” authorities state in the court documents. “Other traffic is passing the Toyota 4-Runner due to its decreased speed.”

Within ten days of the Lloyd murder, detectives tracked down the Toyota 4-Runner. The vehicle was determined to be a gift to Hernandez for promotional work he performed for a car salesman, and was found locked inside a garage on a property belonging to Hernandez, with a layer of cobwebs, dirt, and a dead battery.

According to the documents, there is no surveillance footage of the double homicide itself. Police have also not determined the identity of the shooter in that case, although detectives have identified Alexander “Sherrod” Bradley as the man accompanying Hernandez on the night of the murders.

Bradley is currently incarcerated, but has placed phone calls relating to the investigation which authorities believe are suspicious. In their Dec. 11 search warrant, detectives seek access to jailhouse phone calls taped in early October that could possibly reveal more information about the murders.

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