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Two Groups Announce Plan to Boost Spending Among Blacks

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The U.S. Black Chambers (USBC) and the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators, and Developers (NABHOOD) are formally partnering to make sure that a significant portion of the $40 billion African Americans spend each year on travel and tourism remains in Black hands.

The partnership was launched last week at the start of USBC’s professional development conference, held at the Marriott Marquis in the District of Columbia. The newly-opened, four-star hotel, next to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, was jointly financed by Capstone Development, a private, Black-owned development firm.

“Today is about more investment in the hotel and travel industry,”  Ron Busby Jr., USBC president,  said at a press conference. “As African Americans, we have conferences, events, weddings, and vacations, always with White-owned establishments. I think we can bring some that money back to us.”

A Nielsen study conducted in cooperation with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) found that African Americans spent 40 billion each year on the travel and tourism industries last year.

But Andy Ingraham, president and CEO of NABHOOD, few of those dollars turn over in the Black community.

“I’d rate [concerted Black patronization] as pretty nonexistent,” he said. “We have to create awareness, because most people who come in contact with this idea think it’s a damn good idea.”

Interestingly, Nielsen finds that Black Americans are 28 percent more likely than other groups to read financial magazines such as Forbes and Fortune, yet have low levels of participation with mainstream financial products such as purchasing stock or mutual funds.

Although Black Americans have yet to truly wield their power as consumers, prominent brands have taken notice, including. Marriott International.

“We see the power of the African American wallet, spending, and economic value,” said Apoorva Gandhi, vice president of Multicultural Markets and Alliances for Marriott. “It’s really important to us that we are consistently authentic in how we employ – through recruitment and developing executive professionals –  and also how we market to, and do business with this segment.”

The hotel brand has been named one of Black Enterprise’s top 40 companies for diversity for eight consecutive  years. Marriott has also maintained decades-long partnerships with m major Black organizations such as the National Urban League, NAACP, the National Black MBA Association.

“One way we try to reach the African American segment is through our multicultural and diversity partners,” Gandhi says. “One, because these are great organizations doing great things. But also, they are gateway groups to their demographic. We work to support their goals because, frankly, they’re our goals too.”

Marriott says it was the first hospitality company to establish a diversity and inclusion program. Today, it is also one of a handful of big-name hotels working to cultivate Black executives and owners.

Interestingly, Norman Jenkins, NABHOOD treasurer, and founder of Capstone Development, the company that co-financed the Marriott Marquis in D.C., is also a former Marriott executive. Under his leadership, the brand boasted of at least 500 minority-owned or minority-franchised Marriotts around the world in just three years under its Diversity Ownership Initiative.

Jenkins represents the other angle of Black economic power: gatekeeping and ownership. By owning a business, African Americans can solve many of their own community problems.

“Black businesses still struggle to find funding, either through equity or debt, to let them grow to what they could be,” Busby says. “But we know Black business is the key to the unemployment that is wreaking havoc on our communities.”

As Ingraham explained, more business at Black-owned hotels results in more hires and more corporate promotions of other African Americans working within the establishment, who can eventually become executives or owners. More business also means that hotels have to buy more goods from suppliers, and can choose to patronize other Black-owned businesses in the process.

NABHOOD counts more than 500 Black-owned hotels and hospitality venues in the United States, and nine abroad, mostly in the Caribbean, with the exception of one  in Ghana and another in Liberia. The organization has a listing of these Black-owned properties on its website, www.nabhood.net.

The two organizations will continue their partnership for the long run, with the next collaboration at the 18th Annual International Multicultural and Heritage Tourism Summit and Trade Show this weekend in Miami.

“We’re trying to sign as many agreements as possible for people to give us a chance to provide the level of service they are accustomed to,” Ingraham explains. “The opportunity exists for each of us to play a role in change the economic tapestry. If we could just revise our conscience level and agree to do business with each other, we can all benefit.”

Labor Group Withdraws UNCF Support Over Koch Gift

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has discontinued supplying scholarships to the United Negro College Fund because it accepted a $25 million donation from ultra-conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch and UNCF President Michael Lomax apparent support for the brothers’ right-wing ideology.

Saunders, an African American, said in a stinging letter to Lomax that he was “deeply troubled” when the UNCF accepted the donation from Koch Industries, Inc. and the Charles Koch Foundation in June, but was even more shocked when Lomax later attended the Koch brothers’ event in California.

“This was a betrayal of everything the UNCF stands for. The avowed purpose of this private event was to build support — financial and political — for the Koch brothers’ causes. Your appearance at the summit can only be interpreted as a sign of your personal support and the UNCF’s organizational support of the Koch brothers’ ideological program,” Saunders wrote.

He explained, “The Koch brothers and the organizations they fund have devoted themselves for more than a decade to attacking the voting rights of African Americans. They support voter identification laws. They seek to restrict early voting and voter registration. They support laws that threaten organizations that register voters in the African American community.”

For nearly a dozen years, AFSCME provided annual scholarships and aid packages worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to UNCF, according to officials with the labor group.

When Koch Industries acquired Georgia-Pacific in 2005, they continued a long-standing relationship between the manufacturing giant and UNCF that spanned decades. Since then, according to UNCF’s website, both Georgia-Pacific and Koch, have continued to support UNCF programs.

Charles and David Koch have been criticized for also supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council, the driving force behind voter identification laws in the United States. ALEC also worked with the National Rifle Association on “Stand Your Ground” legislation that gained notoriety worldwide following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen in Sanford, Fla.

In response to Saunders letter, Lomax and UNCF issued a statement touting UNCF’s  successful efforts in sending underprivileged students to college, while recognizing the incredible need for resources that often goes unmet.

“This year alone, UNCF awarded $100 million in scholarships to more than 12,000 students at 900 schools across the country, yet had to deny 9 out of every 10 qualified applicants due to lack of resources,” the statement read.

Lomax wrote that although he was “saddened by AFSCME’s decision, it will not distract us from our mission of helping thousands of African American students achieve their dream of a college degree and the economic benefits that come with it.”

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh accused AFSCME of operating similar to a plantation with UNCF as its slave.

Lezli Baskerville, the president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), an umbrella group that represents both public and private Black colleges, said that Lomax, as the head of UNCF, carries  a heavy burden.

“He has to raise scholarship money for all of these institutions and figure out how to get our kids to and through college,” said Baskerville. “I certainly stay up at night trying to figure that out as well.”

Black families, still reeling from housing and job losses during the Great Recession, suffered another setback when the Obama administration abruptly changed the eligibility requirements for the Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) program, stifling college dreams for thousands of Black students. When enrollment dropped at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the nation, the schools were forced to cut programs and staff.

In a press release about the new Koch Scholars Program, UNCF said that grant will not only cover “nearly 3,000 merit-based awards to African American undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctorate students,” but the money will also be used to “offset funding shortfalls as a result of recent changes to the Parent PLUS loan program.”

Advocates for HBCUs and Black students defended Lomax for accepting money from the Kochs, but said that UNCF should have managed the public relations around the partnership better.

“For all of those people in our community who were upset with the Koch brothers or anyone else who takes a tough position against the administration and our Black president, the reality is that our schools were compromised by a decision that was made by this administration, and our Black president was leading it,” said Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an organization representing public HBCUs. “And if someone else came up and offered money to help offset the losses that our schools experienced I say, ‘Good for them.’”

Taylor said he understood why people didn’t approve of the partnership, but he wasn’t as troubled by it, until he found out that Lomax had attended the Koch summit also featured Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, a book that asserted that Blacks were intellectually inferior to other races, partly because of genetics.

“There is no person in America whose work is more opposed to the fundamental mission of the UNCF than Charles Murray,” Saunders pointed out in his letter to UNCF. “For decades, he has dedicated himself to promoting the notion that the over-representation of African Americans among America’s poor and in America’s prisons is the consequence not of our history or of the types of public policies the Koch brothers promote, but rather is a consequence of our genetic inferiority.”

UNCF officials said that Lomax was at the Koch-sponsored event “simply to discuss the new Koch Scholars Program and the importance of a diverse and divided Nation coming together in pursuit of equity in education for all.”

Taylor said, “If you’re going to go into that environment and be used, then you have to ensure that when you walk away it is not unclear to anyone what your mission is or the communities you serve and why this unexpected audience should be more sensitive in making some of the decisions that it’s making. That would have been so much more compelling.”

Still, Taylor said that Blacks that don’t give and just sit back and criticize are part of the noise and he encouraged them to be a part of the solution.

The Nielsen Company predicts that Black buying power will eclipse $1 trillion in 2015, yet top 10 HBCUs, ranked by endowments, combined for less than $2 billion, compared to the top 10 majority-White institutions that combined for more than $150 billion in 2013, according to the National Association for College and University Business Officers.

“For all the people that are screaming bloody murder about this gift, the question is: How much have you given to an HBCU?” asked Taylor. “If you haven’t, I’m not so sure you have the right to have an opinion about this gift.”

Marches and Protests Predated 1964 March on Washington

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although many are nostalgically reflecting on 50 years ago when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, there was no universal agreement on what tactics to deploy in the fight for equality, according to a report on the movement by the Economic Policy Institute.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), both based in Atlanta, were born during the movement and favored direct-action over lawsuits, commonly used by the older National Association for the Advancement of Colored People led by Roy Wilkins.

“There were differences in philosophies and tactics. Eventually younger, more militant protestors, many of them associated with SNCC, broke with the nonviolent creed and tactics of Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC and embraced ‘Black Power,’” stated the report titled, “Looking Back on the Fight for Equal Access to Public Accommodations.”

The path to the 1964 landmark civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s has been a long, tortuous one.

In fact, there were strong laws on the books more than 100 years before passage of the 1964 law. There were Civil Rights Act of 1866, which supported Black citizenship, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 that guaranteed all American citizens access to public accommodations. However, Southern state largely ignored them.

The United States Supreme Court also played a pivotal role in maining racial segregation.

In 1883, the Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875. In 896, the Supreme Court backed government-sanctioned segregation when it upheld Louisiana’s  “separate but equal” rail travel policies in Plessy v. Ferguson, and “set the course of Southern race relations for the next 58 years.”

The report focused on about a dozen cities and towns across the South that faced significant direct-action protests: Greensboro, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; St. Augustine, Fla.; Louisville, Kentucky; Atlanta; Albany, Ga.; Baltimore; Danville, Va; Orangeburg, S.C.; Cambridge, Md.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Jackson, Mississippi.

In 1960, four college students launched the “sit-in movement” in Greensboro, N.C. that quickly to Nashville and across the South. That protest was followed by Freedom Riders who desegregated intrastate buses traveling through the South and efforts to desegregated restaurants, theaters, libraries and other public facilities.

The report chronicled the Atlanta student movement, one of the longest in the nation.

“First, it used modern technology, including two-way radios, to assign and move demonstrators. Second, the masses of black Atlantans broke with their more timid older leaders and supported the students in a very effective boycott of downtown merchants,” stated the report. “And third, it produced a ‘poster boy’ of the movement, Julian Bond.”

Adult civil rights leaders in the Black community urged caution, as college students initiated a “sit-in blitz in downtown Atlanta,” blanketing lunch counters, restaurants, government buildings, train stations, and downtown department stores.

Despite the increased pressure from outside forces, Atlanta’s lawmakers failed to desegregate lunch counters and restaurants and agreed to limited desegregation in other public spaces at a snail’s pace. Lunch counters and restaurants remained segregated until September 1961.

Birmingham, Ala., was known as “Bombingham” because the homes of civil rights leaders were dynamited, including Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of the SCLC. In 1962, Black students at Miles College launched a boycott of restaurants and shops in downtown Birmingham and reached an agreement with some of the store owners to desegregate their businesses on a limited basis, but Birmingham’s Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor trumped up building code violations, intimidating the business owners who eventually abandoned their efforts to desegregate the lunch counters and drinking fountains, according to the report.

During the spring of 1962, children were infused into the Birmingham protests.

“On May 2, children ranging in age from six to 18 left the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, adjacent to downtown, and marched into the streets of Birmingham. Bull Connor, policemen, and firemen greeted them with snarling, biting police dogs and high-pressure water hoses,” stated the report. “The youngsters as well as adults in the march were knocked to the groch, killing und and against buildings and trees by the force of the water. Several were also struck by police billy clubs. Hundreds were arrested, adding to those already incarcerated. As the jails overflowed, some protesters were imprisoned at the city’s state fairground.”

Following the May 2 protests, King negotiated a deal with White businessmen in Birmingham to desegregate “lunch counters, restrooms, fitting rooms, and drinking fountains in large downtown department and variety stores, as well as the hiring of an unspecified number of black sales clerks.”

But schools, theatres, hotels, restaurants remained segregated, said the report, and White violence continued.

On Sunday, September 12, Birmingham’s most famous bomb detonated at the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four Black girls attending Sunday School: Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14).

The EPI report said that brutality and oppression in Birmingham “viewed nightly on television around the world,” combined with pressure from Black leaders, ultimately forced President John F. Kennedy to act, first in helping get Dr. King out of jail and later when he nationalized the Alabama National Guard to protect two Black students who desegregating the University of Alabama in June of 1963.

The Civil Rights Act of 1963 was introduced in Congress, but Southern Democrats and Northern Republicans worked together to block the bill. It was only after Kennedy’s assassination and the violence and racial tension cooled long enough for the nation to mourn the fallen commander-in-chief that President Lyndon Johnson was able to use his political prowess to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress and signed into law.

Although the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is often credited with proving the impetus for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EPI report noted that it was the accumulation of much smaller, grassroots movements that started the groundswell of support.

Today, there is ample evidence that neither the law nor the march were sufficient to eradicate the stain of racism.

“Still, more than 50 years after the March on Washington, the hard economic goals of the march, critical to transforming the life opportunities of African Americans, have not been fully achieved,” stated the report.

A disproportionate number of Blacks continue to live in poor, segregated neighborhoods, lack access to high quality education and suffer unemployment rates double the national rate.

The report stated, “As we continue to press for achievement of these goals as well, there are important lessons to be learned from places such as Greensboro, North Carolina, and Birmingham, Alabama, about how individuals and communities can leverage their collective power to set new standards and effect change.”

Baby Boomers and Unemployment Straining Disability Funds

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Another partisan battle is brewing on Capitol Hill as Social Security in general, and disability insurance in particular, nears a budget squeeze.

“Any of us could suffer an accident or illness we’re not expecting,” said Rebecca Vallas, associate director of Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The Center hosted a press conference last week to release a reported she co-authored titled, “Social Security Disability Insurance: A Bedrock of Security for American Workers.”

Vallas explained, “We have this amazing program there for us if that happened. Very few people have enough savings to deal with that, and without [disability insurance] most of us would fall into poverty.”

Two separate funds feed the two types of social insurance: Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), and Disability Insurance (DI). Collectively they’re called OASDI, or Social Security. Income taxes, and interest from bonds bought with these taxes, anchor these trust funds.

Disability Insurance benefits Americans who cannot earn a living because of  physical or mental injuries, illnesses, or disabilities, as well as their dependents, spouses, and caregivers. For many, it is the difference between getting by and abject poverty.

Close to 2 million African Americans are receiving DI benefits. The Social Security Administration reports that as of December 2010, 28 percent of African American recipients were under the poverty line. Without disability insurance, that figure would rise to 57 percent.

Approximately 31 percent of Black disability recipients also receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks, which provides additional assistance for low-income families of Americans with disabilities.

DI also serves nearly 2 million children, 1 million veterans, 4.5 million women, and 154,000 spouses of Americans with disabilities.

But the system is poised to be stretched beyond capacity as millions of Baby Boomers enter high-disability and retirement years. In addition to this population bubble of aging workers, there’s the fact that women have entered the workforce and become eligible for benefits, on par with men. Additionally, the recession has resulted in lower taxes from fewer workers who have to support a sizable population of aging beneficiaries.

With the convergence of these factors, Social Security funds are already plateauing and in danger of declining into inadequacy.

A brief from the National Academy of Social Insurance explains, “At some point in 2016, the DI trust fund’s reserves would be depleted and current taxes coming into the trust fund would not be enough to pay all benefits owed to disabled workers and their families. Funds would be sufficient to pay only about 80 percent of scheduled amounts.”

And the Social Security Administration reached a similar conclusion, reporting that “the Trustees estimate that [both] trust fund reserves will be exhausted by 2033”  –  and that’s if steps are taken to ease the crunch now. “At that point, payroll taxes and other income will flow into the fund but will be sufficient to pay only about 75 percent of program costs.”

Every year since 2010, the DI fund has paid out more than it collected in taxes and has had to rely on its reserve funds (from past surpluses) to pay beneficiaries on time and in full.

Some elected representatives believe spending on these programs takes too big a chunk of the federal budget. Indeed, Social Security and Medicare accounted for 38 percent of federal spending in 2012, according to Social Security data. From 2012 to 2013, OASDI paid out $826 billion to 53.6 million beneficiaries. Even so,, OASDI has always been less than 5 percent of national GDP.

Disability insurance in particular has become a target for cuts to the program. The “Mack Penny Plan” from Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.), for example –  which proposes cutting one penny of every federal dollar spent for the next six years –  would ultimately cut more than $1 trillion from social security through 2022, according to nonpartisan fact-checking group, Politifact.

“Opponents of Social Security would praise ‘good Social Security,’ which is the retirement trust fund their grandmothers get, and attack ‘bad social security’—that’s disability insurance,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), keynoting the Center for American Progress event. Senator Brown serves as chairman of the Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee.

“Many claim to sympathize with low-income workers, but then discuss beneficiaries as lazy, looking for a hand-out, or looking to game the system. That simply isn’t true.”

Congress is already making cuts amidst the political sparring.

Since 2010, the Social Security Administration has closed 64 field offices and 533 temporary mobile offices, and has downsized around 11,000 employees and counting in the last three years, according to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. There’s also a huge backlog in disability applications; as of last year, claimants could expect a yearlong wait.

Additionally, there’s a steady flow of misinformation in the political discourse, which confuses Americans on the facts.

Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), for example, told a constituent that “nearly 70 percent of all federal spending will go towards Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid” this year, according to Politifact. In 2011, House Speaker John Boehner told media that the trust funds were “facing imminent bankruptcy.”

Historically, whenever the system faced tough times, there has been a simple fix.

Since the funds are structured in such a way that they can neither borrow money, nor go into default, OASDI woes have been balanced through tax reallocation. With this solution, Congress tweaks the distribution of the program’s 6.2 percent payroll tax contributions between the two trust funds.

Last year, for example. 5.3 percent went toward OASI and 0.9 percent toward DI—this year the split is 4.8 and 1.4 percent, respectively, according to the Center for American Progress.

The American public is usually on board for this solution. In a National Academy of Social Insurance survey of 2,000 Americans, for example, 82 percent of respondents (a majority that held steady across party affiliation) believe Social Security programs should be preserved even if it means increasing current taxes.

Congress has voted for OASDI reallocation 11 times since the program’s inception; it is considered a routine, bipartisan Congressional procedure. But if the current rhetoric and the partisan stalemate that resulted in a 16-day government shutdown last year is any indication, the stopgap may not come so easily.

All of this has taken its toll on the American public. In the aforementioned NASI survey, 57 percent of respondents say they have little faith in the future of the program.

“There’s such a huge contrast between what the American people say and think and what people say in the media,” says T.J. Sutcliffe, director of Income and Housing Policy at The Arc of the United States, a disabled advocacy organization. “The controversy doesn’t seem to be there when you talk to average Americans.”

NAACP, CBC Lament High Rate of Black Unemployment

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

While the nation appears to be in an economic recovery, leaders of the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus bemoan the high number of unemployed blacks.

The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report the national unemployment rate decreased to 6.1 percent in June; however, the unemployment rate for blacks was 10.9 percent, more than double that of Asians and whites.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad Sr., director of the NAACP’s economic department, said increasing job opportunities for public sector jobs is the key to higher wages for more Americans, particularly blacks.

“The 288,000 jobs added this month indicates that the economy overall is beginning to recover,” he said. “However, black unemployment continues to improve at a much slower pace as public-sector employment lags, in large part due to austerity budgeting. Public workers are a key element of the middle-class economy.”

Rep. Marcia Fudge, Ohio Democrat and caucus chairman, said her organization will continue to advocate for strong job training programs and increased job opportunities.

“The CBC remains committed to ensuring the decreasing employment rate reflects a diversity of workers in jobs with incomes that allow them to provide for their families,” Fudge said. “The benefits of a strengthening economy should be felt by all Americans. No one should be left behind.”

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