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Congressional Black Caucus Seeks GOP Cooperation on Economic Challenges

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGNTON (NNPA) – Working across the aisle with Republicans on criminal justice reform might be the best shot that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has to address the economic challenges facing the Black community before the 2016 presidential election, according to the head of the caucus.

“We are having bipartisan conversations on the whole question of criminal justice reform,” said Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the chairman of the CBC. “There is a group of Republican members that are thoughtful and they are beginning to think through the broken criminal justice system that we have and they are now indicating to us they’re willingness to engage in some type of legislation that will begin to address it.”

As states and jurisdictions weigh the financial burden of mass incarceration against more fiscally responsible criminal justice policies, more lawmakers are considering diversionary programs, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana to decrease the load on their jails and court systems, and making it easier for ex-offenders to find jobs that pay a living wage after they’ve paid their debt to society.

The Vera Institute of Justice, an independent research and policy group, reported that taxpayers in 40 states shelled out nearly $40 billion in FY2010 to cover the costs of housing inmates and running prisons and jails.

Butterfield speculated that some of his Republican colleagues might just be playing politics with criminal justice reform, but he still welcomed their support.

“We’ve got to get smarter on crime and there are some Republicans who get that,” said Butterfield, adding that the U.S. Congress might see a viable, bipartisan bill on criminal before the August break.

The Joint Economic Committee, a bipartisan panel that studies the U.S. economy, laid out the economic challenges facing the Black community in a recent report. The committee is composed of 10 senators and 10 members of the House of Representatives.

“More than half (51.4 percent) of Black families with children under 18 are headed by a single mother, compared to one-fifth (19.1 percent) of White families with children, and nearly 47 percent of families headed by a Black single mother are in poverty,” stated the report.

The report continued: “The median income of African American households is just $34,600 – nearly $24,000 less than the median income of White households. Black Americans are almost three times more likely to live in poverty than White Americans.”

The report said that at the peak of the Great Recession, one 1 in 6 Blacks was unemployed.

“African-American homeowners who took out mortgages between 2004 and 2008 were almost twice as likely as white homeowners to have lost their home to foreclosure by 2011, according to the Center for Responsible Lending, the report stated. “One-in-ten black homeowners who took out mortgages at the height of the housing boom eventually lost their home to foreclosure.”

The report also included a state-by-state analysis of the poverty and unemployment rates for Blacks and Whites.

The poverty rate for Blacks was highest in Maine at 50.7 percent (1.4 percent Black population) compared to the White poverty rate, which was 13.2 percent. According to the report, Blacks living in Hawaii (2.5 percent of the population) had the lowest poverty rate at 5.8 percent and the poverty rate for White was 11 percent.

In Washington, D.C., where 48.8 percent of population is Black, the Black unemployment rate is 15.1 percent, five percentage points higher than the national average for Blacks in the labor force.

The jobless rate for Blacks was the highest in Wisconsin at 19.7 percent (6.2 percent Black population), more than four times higher than the 4.3 percent White jobless rate. Although the unemployment rate for Blacks was the lowest in Utah at 1.7 percent (1.6 percent Black population), the poverty rate for Blacks was 34.5 percent in the state, compared to a 9.9 percent White poverty rate.

Maryland was the only state where more than 30 percent of the population is Black and the unemployment rate was less than the national average. In Mississippi (35.9 percent Black), Georgia (31.2 percent Black) and Louisiana (31.3 percent Black) the Black jobless rate was higher than the national average.

Although Rep. Butterfield said that he wasn’t surprised by most of the findings in the report, the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites was stunning.

According to the report, “White households typically have 13 times more wealth than black households. In 2013, the median net worth of African American households was only $11,000 compared to about $142,000 for white households—a difference of $131,000.”

When it comes to solutions to the economic challenges facing the Black community, Rep. Butterfield said that targeted funding leads the list.

In the CBC’s alternative budget for FY2016, the group advocated for the “the use of the 10-20-30 policy for federal spending.”

The plan called for, “at least 10 percent of the federal funds in certain accounts be directed to certain areas that have had a poverty rate of 20 percent for the last 30 years.”

The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI), a bipartisan program crafted to promote access to capital for businesses and economic growth in low-income underserved communities, determined that 20 percent or more residents in 384 counties, many of them in the South and governed by Republican lawmakers, have lived in “persistent poverty” for more than 30 years.

Under the direction of the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the United States Department of Agriculture developed the “StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity” in an effort to tackle rural poverty, especially in communities where the child poverty rate was roughly 25 percent.

“Since 2010, these efforts have invested over $16.5 billion to create jobs, build homes, feed kids, assist farmers, and conserve the natural resources across twenty states,” according to the USDA’s website. “In 2015, StrikeForce expanded to include Oklahoma and Puerto Rico.”

More than $6.5 billion were invested in StrikeForce states in 2014 alone. Rep. Butterfield wants to see that program expanded to other federal agencies.

If lawmakers can craft similar programs for the Transportation Department, Health and Human Services and even the Department of Defense, Rep. Butterfield said, “We can begin to see a difference.”

But with the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, Rep. Butterfield admitted that finding legislative solutions for problems affecting the Black community is going to be an uphill battle and as both parties rush into 2016 presidential elections those talks may get left behind altogether.

“The tragedy is that we’re now entering the presidential election season and not a whole lot happens during a presidential election season. So our ability to legislate is going to be affected,” said Butterfield.

Rep. Byer continued: “If we are to meet the challenge of the promise of equality in America we need to address these inequities in employment, income, wealth, housing and education through policies designed for inclusive prosperity.”

Butterfield said that designing those policies will take higher levels of civic engagement in the Black community and citizens paying attention to what is happening in the world and connecting it to their lives.

“Once they realize what the politicians are doing will affect their bank account and affect their quality of life, then they will begin to participate in the political process,” said Rep. Butterfield.

“But if we go to sleep in 2016 and don’t have the Obama turnout that we had in ’08 and ’12 and we lose control of the White Hose we’re going to have some painful years ahead that nobody wants to see.”

Blacks Missing Out on 'Obamacare' Savings

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Even as health care costs continue to cause concerns for the poor, nearly 40 percent African Americans and about half of Whites didn’t know that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can help those that need it the most to cover some of those costs.

According to the new report by the Alliance for a Just Society (AJS), a national research network that analyzes health issues including Medicaid, prescription drugs, and insurance industry practices play a major role in coverage savings.

In the report titled, “Breaking Barriers: Improving health insurance enrollment and access to health care,” researchers detailed the stories of 1,200 low- to moderate-income earners, living in 10 states (California, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Texas). Six of those states refused to expand Medicaid programs using federal funds, effectively pushing many poor people into the coverage gap and limiting their access to health care.

The AJS report said that the rejection of Medicaid expansion in those states remained the most significant barrier to health care for the poor and African Americans.

In the report, Linda Quick, the president of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, said, “Trying to convince legislators with economic arguments has NOT persuaded the supposedly ‘business-oriented’ chambers-of-commerce-backed legislators about Medicaid expansion. Their objection is clearly ideological, not practical.”

Most states – 28 and Washington, D.C. – have expanded Medicaid and Blacks accounted for 16.7 percent of the marketplace enrollees and Whites made up 62.9 percent of the enrollees. The second enrollment period just ended in February 2015 and 11.4 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance coverage through marketplace exchanges.

But cost technology and language access created barriers that made it more difficult for some to register, especially poor people of color.

According to the report, less than half of the African American respondents had e-mail addresses (49.3 percent) and only 47.7 percent had Internet at home, below the national average, compared to 64.8 percent of Whites who had e-mail addresses and 77.5 percent with Internet at home.

Antron McKay-West of Upgrade Mississippi, a youth development and community group, said that it’s so rural, most people can’t imagine life there.

“Most people don’t have Internet, if they do, it is very slow, it’s not the technology most are used to,” McKay-West, who grew up in the Mississippi Delta, said in the AJS report. “During enrollment, some people were told to just go to the library and use the Internet. In the neighborhood where I grew up, the library is 15 miles away.”

More than 40 percent of Black enrollees and more than half of White enrollees didn’t know which services were covered under their health plans and which services they would pay for out-of-pocket. The report offered a number of recommendations, including expanding Medicaid in the 22 states that refused federal funding, ensuring that all health plans cover yearly check-ups, immunizations and screenings at no additional cost and measuring results by collecting data on by race, ethnicity, primary language, gender, disability, and sexual orientation. The report also recommended expanding school-based health clinics in underserved communities.

LeeAnn Hall, the executive director of AJS, said, “We will continue to fight to see that disparities are addressed and that these recommendations are put in place.”

Gary Delgado, the author of the report and a longtime civil and human rights leader, said that the Affordable Care Act is a big, new house built on the old foundation.

“We’re still not serving people of color,” said Delgado. “We need to build a more inclusive health care system.”

Gary Delgado, the author of the report and a longtime civil and human rights leader, said that the Affordable Care Act is a big, new house built on the old foundation.

“We’re still not serving people of color,” said Delgado. “We need to build a more inclusive health care system.”

Maya Angelou is the Face of the Newest Forever Stamp

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Less than a year after her death, Maya Angelou has been further immortalized on a U.S. Postal Service commemorative Forever Stamp.

An all-star assembly gathered to witness the first-day-of-issue stamp unveiling ceremony, held at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. The at-capacity audience included First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, musician Roberta Flack; two of Malcolm X’s daughters, Ilyasah and Qubilah Shabazz, and other notables.

Melissa Harris Perry, who first came under Angelou’s wing in the early 1990s as her intern at Wake Forest University, emceed the event. Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young gave the invocation. Singer Alyson Williams, who was introduced as Angelou’s “personal songbird,” performed the national anthem and the Black National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice.”

“The truth is, this Forever Stamp registers the applause of tens of millions of readers over the world where the prose and poetry of Maya Angelou is translated in 17 languages and still counting,” said author and educator, Eleanor Traylor, just before reading a passage from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Traylor was on a short list of featured speakers at the ceremony, which included Oprah Winfrey, journalist, Sophia A. Nelson, and Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez, who each recited original poetry. “On this past Saturday, her birthday April 4th, it would’ve been her 87th birthday,” Winfrey said, adding that she had spent the day reading Angelou’s poetry in commemoration. “I miss her so. I’m honored to be here, to stand as her daughter sister-friend at the unveiling of the Maya forever, Forever Stamp.”

In the middle of her tribute, an area-wide power outage cut electricity to the theater, but Winfrey powered through a recitation of “Phenomenal Woman,” without the microphone.

The image featured on the stamp is a reprint of the oil painting portrait by Ross Rossin on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. The portrait’s unveiling, held the day after Angelou’s 86th birthday last year, was her final public appearance.

“Today, this new Forever Stamp serves as a tribute to Angelou’s humanity, and contribution to our nation,” said Megan J. Brennan, postmaster general and CEO of the USPS. “You will notice that there’s some other words on her stamp: forever and USA. It is the postal service’s way of honoring and remembering those who left an enduring and indelible mark on our society, and who represent the best of America.”

The featured words on the stamp, however—“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song”—have caused a bit of controversy. Although Angelou has used the line in her travels and has become widely associated with it as a result, the quote actually originated with another writer.

The Washington Post was the first major outlet to point this out. It also reported that USPS spokesman, Mark Saunders responded via email: “Had we known about this issue beforehand, we would have used one of [Angelou’s] many other works. The sentence held great meaning for her and she is publicly identified with its popularity.”

Currently, the USPS has no plans to alter the quote. Angelou’s stamp is a commemorative one – as such, it will only be issued once and for a limited time. If the USPS does cease production and reissue the stamps with a different quote, this single batch will become an even more valuable collector’s item.

After the actual unveiling, her son, author Guy Johnson delivered an original ode to his mother.

“I point to the life of a little Black girl from Stamps [Arkansas], whose words and actions we honor here today. With heart in hand she stepped out on His word and believed. She spoke out in clarion tones for justice and truth—and look at what the little Black girl from Stamps achieved.”

Sexism and Racism Take Toll on Black Women's Health

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The effects of living in a patriarchal, racist society measurably erode Black women’s physical and mental wellbeing, an emerging body of research finds.

Over time, this steady drip of double-discrimination can lead to higher maternal mortality and lower birth weight rates, hypertension and heart disease, aggressive cancers, and psychological issues, to name a few effects.

“Although the evidence is somewhat mixed, the consensus is that self-reported racial discrimination is associated with a variety of health outcomes—most prevalent being birth outcomes, cardio health concerns…also depression and psychological stress,” says Amani Nuru-Jeter, associate professor of public health at University of California.

Nuru-Jeter, an epidemiologist who has contributed research on these issues, adds that there are lab-based, literature-based, and anecdotal studies to show the link between discrimination and poor mental and physical health.

While discrimination touches most people at one time or another for varying reasons, Black women experience the double-whammy of racism and sexism—and even the triple burden of homophobia for gay, bisexual, or gender non-conforming Black women.

“In general, we know that African Americans report experiencing [racial] discrimination more than Whites. But with Black women, issues of gender come into play,” Nuru-Jeter says.

Women are much more likely than men to experience “network stress,” she explains—when people close to them express their pains and frustrations, they feel that stress indirectly. Men, on the other hand, are more likely than women to only experience the stress that happens to them. This is likely due to the way boys and girls are raised to fit gender norms, with girls being steered toward empathetic nurturing, even at the expense of their own emotional and mental wellness.

Black women report an overwhelming sense of obligation to those around them, in addition to living at the intersection of societal racial discrimination, and gender discrimination even within their community. Nuru-Jeter says that this sense of obligation leaves little room for Black women to express and deal with the stress of everyday slights against their worth as people.

“One of the ways in which chronic discrimination gets into the body and becomes anxiety, depressive episodes, or low birth weights, is in the ways we cope,” Nuru-Jeter says. “We know from psychological [research] that suppressing emotions is bad for your health.”

When Black women do seek acknowledgement and fair resolutions regarding the racist and sexist jabs they meet, they often run into roadblocks.

“This area of research is met with a lot of criticism because some people…don’t think [race discrimination] exists in this day and age,” Nuru-Jeter explains.

“One question might be, how do we known it’s racial discrimination, and not other stress, because we all experience chronic stress. We have experimental data; we go into a lab and we…manipulate only one thing. Then we can measure cortisol [a hormone triggered by stress], heart health, and so on.”

Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment for the National Women’s Law Center, sees similar misunderstandings in legal situations. When the layered discrimination Black women face is acknowledged, it is often met with disdain.

“For African American girls in particular, there have been a number of cases…that really highlight the harassment and violence and inappropriate response by schools.

So a [Black girl] speaks up about violence in her school, and the school takes disciplinary action against her,” Graves says. “That sends a message that we don’t; believe Black girls’ experiences.” Black women often decide that the best option is to endure in silence.

“People don’t want to risk retaliation. The retaliation is a big deal—people risk their jobs, they risk losing their educational status, there’s retaliation that comes in the form of harassment—so there’s a lot at stake,” says Graves. “What ends up happening is, a lot of people never come forward at all. These are the stressors of discrimination…that people end up holding on to.”

To prevent the slow damage of these stressors, Graves says people who are experiencing discrimination should document what happens to them, and tell others—even friends—about incidents when they happen. This documentation and multiple sources can corroborate patterns and serve as evidence to have issues properly addressed.

Nuru-Jeter advocates practicing self-care as the primary priority, and seeking a listening ear when needed.

“Research is ongoing, but we’re trying to come up with ideas [for prevention],” Nuru-Jeter says. “African Americans in general should not have to experience discrimination at all…. [But] that’s not going to happen tomorrow.”

Anti-Gay Protest Backfires at Howard University

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By Rachel Kersey
Special to NNPA from Howard University News Service

WASHINGTON –Westboro Baptist Church, the infamous unaffiliated church known for its hateful, unorthodox protests, especially against homosexuality, brought its hate speech to Howard University – and the university’s students and staff fought back.

Armed with picket signs, the organization, which has been denounced by the two largest Baptist denominations, Friday, April 10, gathered on 6th Street on Howard’s campus to denounce OUTlaw, Howard University School of Law’s organization for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender and queer students.

“AMERICA IS DOOMED,” “MOURN FOR YOUR SINS” and “GOD H8S FAG MARRIAGE,” the signs read. One sign featured a depiction of anal sex.

“It is a shameful sight to see the way that these young people behave, and the parents teachers and preachers have done that to them,” the church said on its website in explaining why it came to Howard. “They have no chance when they stand before the Great White throne on Judgment Day. We come in hopes that one little lamb is out there and may be called to repentance by the Lord their God.”

Howard students met the signs with their own. Dressed in all-black or rainbow colors, the students held signs that read “HOWARD <3s OUR LGBTQ,” “ALL BLACK LOVE MATTERS” and “GOD LOVES EVERYONE.”

Nearly 100 students gathered at the flagpole and marched to the corner of 6th Street and Howard Place, where they promptly turned their backs on Westboro.

With fists raised in defiance, the sea of students sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and more than one student shed a few tears. Only 20 minutes after starting, Westboro headed down the hill to the taunts of Howard students, who turned around to send them on their way.

“I thought it was perfect,” said Nia Johnson, a junior economics major. “I definitely felt the love and I felt proud. I was actually happy it ended early. Our power showed them that it wasn’t worth it here.”

Amber Mason, president of OUTlaw, agreed.

“This sort of hate filled rhetoric is not condoned on our campus, and we want to show them that through a show of solidarity,” Mason said. “That’s now how we think here at Howard. We are inclusive, we’re accepting and their kind of speaking and behavior will not be condoned.”

Lydia Durfler, the organizer of the student protest, said she did so because LGBT community at Howard is often slighted.

“I don’t think it gets enough outright support from the Howard community, especially where the administration and faculty is concerned,” said Durfler, a senior political science major and an Amnesty International intern.

“And if we had a group on campus saying derogatory things about black folk and we weren’t doing something to build ourselves up in the midst of that, that would seem pretty crazy. The same goes for the LGBTQ community.”

Joshua Narcisse, president of the Chapel Assistants, an interfaith organization with Howard’s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel, said his organization stands against Westboro Baptist Church.

“One of the dominant themes in Christianity is love,” Narcisse said. “So, at the end of the day, whether it be Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, this love or respect for humanity is at the center of the work that the chapel does. And this is really just a part of us affirming that.”

Tyleah Hawkins, a senior broadcast journalism major, also objected to Westboro’s belief and its tactics.

“I’m a Christian, but I’ve always been an advocate for gay rights,” Hawkins said. “I don’t agree with preaching hate. I am a proud Christian. I love Jesus . . . and I feel like Jesus would be out here protesting with me.”

In the end, the protest – both sides – was one chapter of the rich social and political saga of the university, and there is undoubtedly more to follow,” said the Rev. Bernard Richardson, dean of the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel.

“This is Howard University,” Richardson said. “Protests and all the other things are what happen here at Howard. It’s part of our legacy. It’s part of our history.”

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BVN National News Wire