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Rights Activist Enters Race for South African Presidency

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By Rush Perez
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Jan. 29 (GIN) – The largest opposition party in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has announced that anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele will be their Presidential candidate for this year’s elections which take place in April. Helen Zille, the president of the DA, stated that there was “no better person” for the Presidential nomination.

Ramphele, who heads her own independent party, has taking on the ruling ANC with scathing critiques, denouncing “a culture of corruption and impunity seeping through every level of government and corroding our entire society”. In particular she cited the state spending on a massive compound for Zuma and his family in the village of Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal.

“Let us be clear,” she said in a press briefing. “These are not just bumps on the road to a better future… They are a betrayal of the founding principles of our democracy; a betrayal of what our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers fought and died for.

It is estimated that South Africa loses $2.75 billion to corruption each year.

Ms Ramphele’s party, “Agang” – a Northern Sotho word meaning “to build” – was founded one year ago in response to various scandals which have dogged the African National Congress (ANC). Its charter calls for a restructuring of the South African economy and education system. However budget problems and a difficulty in branding a coherent message meant that the party made little impact over the past year.

Zille, the premier of the Western Cape, former mayor of Cape Town and a white woman, was once a prominent journalist who refuted claims by the apartheid government that Black Consciousness activist Steve Biko died on a hunger strike while in detention. Her story, in the Rand Daily Mail, showed that Biko in fact died of grave head injuries.

Ms Ramphele is viewed positively by many South Africans for her “struggle credentials” as well as for her relationship with activist Biko. After the fall of apartheid Ms Ramphele was a managing director at the World Bank, a vice-chancellor at the University of Cape Town and a board member of a major mining company. Many analysts have speculated that the nomination of Ms Ramphele is a nod to the DA’s efforts to make in-roads into the Black African majority.

President Jacob Zuma, meanwhile, is seeking re-election at a time of growing disenchantment with the party’s failure to address income inequality, police brutality, labor disputes, and the prevalence of rape.

The ANC will also be challenged by the Economic Freedom Fighters led by former ANC Youth League President Julius Malema – a highly controversial figure who was expelled from the ANC.

Thus this year’s elections may see the political ground finally starting to shift in South Africa.

Black Children Live in Poverty at Higher Rates than Whites

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite living in the world’s richest economy with a gross domestic product of $15.7 trillion, America’s children, especially minorities, live in poverty at alarming rates, according to a new study.

The study titled, “State of America’s Children 2014,” is a wide-ranging annual report on by the Children’s Defense Fund, a non-profit child advocacy group that works to ensure a level playing field for all children at federal, state and community levels across the country.

The report tracks the well-being of children living in the United States analyzing data on child population, poverty, family structure and income, housing and homelessness, child nutrition and hunger, early childhood, education, child welfare, juvenile justice and gun violence.

“The greatest threat to America’s economic, military and national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure, unique among high income nations, to invest adequately and fairly in the health, education and sound development of all of our young,” wrote Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, in the foreword to the report.

In 2012, there were 73.7 million children living in the United States and 13.9 percent or 10.2 million of them were Black and 52.8 percent or 38.9 million were White. For the first time a majority of children under 2-years old were minorities and by 2019 children of color will make up the majority.

Today, children of color already account for the majority of all children in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas and the District of Columbia.

At least 50 percent of Black children living in Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin were poor and “nearly half the states had Black child poverty rates of 40 percent or more,” stated the report. “Black and Hispanic households with children were more than twice as likely as White households to lack access to adequate food in 2012.”

In 2012, 20 percent of Black children lived in extreme poverty compared to less than 6 percent of White children who lived in extreme poverty.

“It is just shocking how bad things are for many of the children in our country,” said Caroline Fichtenberg, research director for the Children’s Defense Fund. “We need to be focusing on all children and particularly children of color as they are our country’s future.”

Programs that serve young children have taken a disproportionate hit in recent years, due to a downturn in the economy and partisan bickering among Washington lawmakers.

“From 2011 to 2012 total federal spending on children decreased 7 percent, and spending on early childhood programs decreased by 12 percent. The sequestration budget cuts eliminated more than 57,000 children from Head Start and Early Head Start in 2013,” stated the report.

According to the report, every 2.5 minutes a Black child is born into poverty and every 4.5 minutes a Black child is born into extreme poverty. Every two minutes a White child is born into poverty and every 4 minutes a White child is born into extreme poverty.

Even though the Black-White poverty gap fell 26 percent between 1964 and 2012, Black children were three times more likely to be poor than White children.

The CDF report found that nearly 9 million children were lifted out of poverty by the safety net and tax credits in 2012, but much more is needed according to child advocates.

The cost of doing less or nothing at all to address the myriad issues that face minority children is crippling the United States.

“Child poverty costs the nation at least $500 billion each year in extra education, health and criminal justice costs and in lost productivity,” stated the report.

The CDF report also found that racial and ethnic health disparities cost the U.S. an estimated $1.24 trillion in medical costs and lost productivity between 2003 and 2006.

Every seven hours a Black child or teenager loses their life as a victim of gun violence, compared to every 10 hours a White child is killed by a gun, according to the CDF report.

“Gun deaths and injuries cost the U.S. $174.1 billion each year, or 1.15 percent of our total gross domestic product (GDP),” stated the report.

The infant mortality gap between Blacks and Whites increased by 14 percent and the child and teen gun deaths gap increased by 111 percent between 1964 and 2012.

Fichtenberg said that until we address disparities in educational outcomes and opportunities, job opportunities and early childhood development learning opportunities in this country by race we’re going to continue to see these kinds of disparities.

“This is exactly why the Children’s Defense Fund is calling for another ‘War on Childhood Poverty’,” said Fichtenberg. “People need to be calling their representatives and demanding this and calling their local elected officials and demanding this. It is what every other wealthy nation does for its children and we as the leader of industrialized nations should be doing that for our children.”

Fichtenberg said that there is a strong bipartisan consensus that early childhood investments are cost-effective and important for the country.

“The challenge is always how we pay for it and that’s where you’ll see disagreements,” said Fichtenberg.

Some child advocates believe that the additional money for early childhood investments should come from cutting corporate tax breaks.

The CDF study reported that for the value of three days of corporate tax breaks, the United States could provide one year of food stamp benefits feeding 737,000 children who don’t have enough eat.

The report continued: “The amount the U.S. spends a year on corporate tax breaks for private jets would pay the salary of 6,400 high school teachers.”

According to the report, the cost of one F-35 fighter jet could cover Head Start for 17,500 low-income children for a year and “all poor infants and toddlers could have been served by Early Head Start if the government diverted just 18 days of defense spending.”

Edelman called on President Obama and America’s political leaders in every party at every level to finish the task President Johnson and Dr. King began to eliminate child poverty.

“To those who claim our nation cannot afford to prevent our children from going hungry and homeless and prepare all our children for school, I say we cannot afford not to,” Edelman wrote. “If the foundation of your house is crumbling you must fix it. Education is a lot cheaper than ignorance.”

Obama Places New Emphasis on Education

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By Jazelle Hunt
National Correspodent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The new year has ushered in a renewed focus on education reform in the Obama administration.

This month’s flurry of activity began with the announcement of the first five “Promise Zones,” an initiative designed to help local communities expand educational opportunities, among other things. The following week, First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama hosted a series of education conferences at the White House, most notably the Education “Datapalooza” for STEM educators and innovators, and the Expanding Educational Opportunity summit for higher education stakeholders.

And the action continues with the creation of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The commission is actually part of Executive Order 13621, which established the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans in 2012. This advisory arm has only existed as part of that document until now, as Obama has appointed the initial commissioners.

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans seeks to improve educational outcomes for all African Americans by ensuring they receive an education that prepares them for college, productive careers, and satisfying lives. Its corresponding advisory commission is charged with overseeing this goal by collecting data and advising the president and the Department of Education on relevant actions and policies occurring throughout the federal government.

As detailed in its executive order, the advisory commission has eight specific objectives, including collecting data on educational challenges and their causes; increasing early childhood education and improving these programs; decreasing disproportionate referrals to special education; and reducing the dropout rate while improving access to college and career training.

The initiative and its commission are the newest addition to a corps of initiative-commissions housed in the Department of Education that seek to reestablish the United States as the global leader in educating its citizens. Currently, the Department of Education supports the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics; the President’s Board of Advisors on Tribal Colleges and Universities; the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities; and the Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

One of the oldest of these is the initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Nearing its 25th year, the commission has learned the ins and outs of wielding its advisory role. Executive Director Alejandra Ceja’s tips for the incoming commission include the importance of basing decisions on data, the necessity of building relationships with and between local agents who serve your community, and the honor of being able to connect that community to vital resources.

“I really think [an advisory commission] is a great way to elevate your issues nationally, using the commissioners and the expertise hey bring from being in the trenches,” she says. “Be clear about your executive order and how you can provide for your community … and ensure that we close that opportunity gap.”

Although all of these initiatives exist to further the goal of effective, comprehensive education for all Americans, each has its distinct tasks and methods. This new commission, for example, is uniquely linked to the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs. (The HBCU advisory board itself stands apart from the other Department of Education initiatives. For starters, it is the oldest; President Jimmy Carter issued the executive order for the initiative’s predecessor in 1980. But HBCUs have maintained a delicate relationship with the federal government since the Civil War and Reconstruction eras).

The Initiative on African American Educational Excellence is designed to complement and support the President’s HBCU advisory board. In fact, to ensure this collaboration, the initiative’s executive order mandates that two members of its commission will also serve on the HBCU advisory board, and vice versa.

The executive order allows for 25 members. So far, Obama has appointed 15 highly-accomplished professionals from varying areas of expertise to the advisory commission: Angela Glover Blackwell, Barbara T. Bowman, Gwendolyn E. Boyd, Walter G. Bumphus, James P. Comer, Al Dotson, Jr., Akosua Barthwell Evans, Jim Freeman, Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, Michael L. Lomax, Bryant T. Marks, Robert K. Ross, Doris A. Smith-Ribner, Ronald A. Williams, and TyKiah R. Wright. A few more appointees are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. The commission has not yet convened.

“These fine public servants bring both a depth of experience and tremendous dedication to their new roles,” Obama said in a statement. “Our nation will be well-served by these men and women, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

Election Commission Urges Voting Reforms

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In order to make sure no voter waits in line more than 30 minutes before casting a ballot, states need to adopt a series of election changes, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration proposed after a 6-month study.

President Obama acknowledged the difficulty that some voters experienced during his re-election speech in November 2012.

“I want to thank every American who participated in this election,” said President Obama. “Whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time.”

President Obama added: “By the way, we have to fix that.”

Fixing that problem is not easy the report stated.

“The United States runs its elections unlike any other country in the world. Responsi­bility for elections is entrusted to local officials in approximately 8,000 different juris­dictions,” it said. “In turn, they are subject to general oversight by officials most often chosen through a partisan appointment or election process. The point of contact for voters in the polling place is usually a temporary employee who has volunteered for one-day duty and has received only a few hours of training.”

Still, the report recommended that all states adopt online voter registration procedures and that states compare voter rolls to maintain accuracy across state lines. It also suggested the use of mail-in ballots and the expansion of in-person early voting opportunities to reduce overcrowding at the polls on Election Day.

In addition, the commission urged states to turn schools into polling centers where one-third of voters already cast ballots. It noted that many of the voting machines in use are at least a decade old, and said that the process of certifying new voting technology has to be updated.

The report said that no citizen should have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote; jurisdictions can solve the problem of long lines. Yet many people had to wait as long as six hours to vote.

“Long wait times at select polling places result from a combination of mismanagement, limited or misallocated resources, and long ballots,” stated the report.

Long wait times plagued Black voters disproportionately. A joint study by OurTime.org, a nonprofit group that organizes young people online for political engagement, and the Advancement Project, a multiracial civil rights group, found that long lines constituted a “time tax” replacing poll taxes and literacy tests that blocked Black and poor eligible voters from casting ballots during the Jim Crow era.

“Florida voters experience some of the longest voting lines in the county, with an average wait time of 39 minutes to cast a ballot. That was three times the national average in 2012, of 13.3 minutes,” stated the OurTime.org/Advancement Project report.

According to that report, Blacks waited 23 minutes to vote in the 2012 presidential election, compared to Whites who waited an average of 12 minutes.

The election commission report failed to address the often racially-charged, phantom pursuit of voter fraud and controversial voter ID laws that some civil rights leaders claim suppress the minority and poor vote.

“Black youth reported that the lack of required identification prevented them from voting at nearly four times the rate of White youth (17.3% compared to 4.7%). Latino youth (8.1%) were also affected at higher rates than White youth,” stated the OurTime.org/Advancement Project report.

As the country grows more diverse, protecting the voting rights of young, minorities will become more significant.

A study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reported that voter challenges, voter caging, voter intimidation, and other deceptive practices often block eligible voters from casting ballots, interrupting the democratic process.

“There is nothing intrinsically wrong with investigating and preventing voter fraud, despite the fact that study after study shows that actual voter fraud is extraordinarily rare. But democracy suffers when anti-fraud initiatives block or create unnecessary hurdles for eligible voters; when they target voters based on race, ethnicity, or other impermissible characteristics; when they cause voter intimidation and confusion; and when they disrupt the voting process,” stated the Brennan Center report. “Unfortunately, ballot security operations have too often had these effects, both historically and in recent elections.”

According to the Brennan Center report, “A federal appeals court recently found that ballot security operations planned or conducted in recent years have by and large threatened legitimate voters.”

The report continued: “The court’s opinion indicates that not only do such initiatives often target eligible voters for disenfranchisement, but they also tend to disrupt polling places, create long lines, and cause voters to feel intimidated. Moreover, these effects are often felt disproportionately in areas with large concentrations of minority or low-income voters, where such operations have typically been directed.”

Despite the absence of recommendations addressing restrictive voter ID laws and voter intimidation, civil rights leaders still praised the report that comes on the heels of the Voting Rights Act of 2014, a bipartisan bill crafted to patch parts of the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 that the Supreme Court invalidated in June 2013. Civil rights leaders remain cautiously optimistic about reforms needed to protect voters under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after the Supreme Court decimated the VRA with their ruling in Shelby v. Holder last summer.

“We appreciate the president’s initiative in forming this bipartisan commission and welcome their thoughtful and specific recommendations to fix the problem of long lines and other voter access issues,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “Overall, these are a series of recommendations that make sense, but we have to analyze them comprehensively both for their civil rights and privacy implications. We welcome efforts to improve election administration in this country, which is woefully out of date in far too many jurisdictions.”

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice said that the commission’s report marks a significant advance in the way we think about voting.

“The Commission makes clear that there are achievable, bipartisan reforms that can be implemented now to transform voting in America,” said Waldman. “Most importantly, it recognizes that we can’t fix long lines until we first fix our outdated voter registration system.”

Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, agreed.

“Especially important is the consensus that we need to modernize voter registration, make early voting available to all Americans, and put systems in place so no one waits longer than 30 minutes to vote. These will be the new benchmarks against which future elections will be judged,” said Weiser.

She continued: “However, more must be done to make sure the voting system works for all Americans. We need to fix the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court eviscerated last year, in order to protect against restrictive and often discriminatory voting laws.”

The report stated that each election presents unique opportunities for reform as new problems are discovered.

“There has never been a perfectly run election in the United States or elsewhere, and perhaps there never will,” stated the election commission’s report. “Any pro­cess that depends on human management of hundreds of millions of people, machines or paper will inevitably produce some errors.”

Moving the Race Conversation Forward

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – George Zimmerman. Paula Deen. And, more recently, Seattle Seahawks star defensive back Richard Sherman. Just the mention of their name ignites a passionate discussion about race.

The good news is that we’re talking about race. The bad news is that the discussions too often fall short of the mark, focusing on the latest incident, but not the underlying causes of racism. At least, that’s the conclusion of a new report by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice and Innovation (formerly Applied Research Center). Race Forward seeks to build awareness, solutions and leadership for racial justice by generating transformative ideas, information and experiences.

As the introduction of the report explains, “’Moving the Race Conversation Forward’ is a two-part report that first, describes some of the major impediments to productive racial discourse in the United States, and second, profiles and provides lessons from several recent interventions and initiatives that are breaking down significant barriers toward racial justice.”

In its analysis of nearly 1,200 race-related content from 14 print and television media outlets across the country, the report finds that just 32.7 percent were “systematically aware.” The report considers an article or TV segment systematically aware if it mentions or highlights policies and/or practices that lead to racial disparities; if it describes the root causes of disparities including the history and compounding effects of institutions; and/or describes or challenges the aforementioned.

According to their findings, only one-third of the sampled media mentioned the root causes of racial discrimination in their coverage of race-related news.

The least likely to do so were Fox News, The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer, and USA Today. The most systematically aware were MSNBC The Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. Media coverage on the economy and criminal justice topics had the highest proportion of systematically aware content.

At the same time, the report finds that coverage of policies, reforms, and racial organizing efforts that actually challenged systemic-level racism was less than 4 percent of all race and racism coverage at each of the outlets.

“There’s a disproportionate level of attention given to incidents like Paula Deen last year,” says Dominique Apollon, research director at Race Forward, and one of the report’s authors. “We get stuck on questions like ‘Who’s racist?’ ‘Did Paula Deen mean to be racist?’ ‘Does she have Black friends, what do her Black customers think?’ We get stuck talking about [that] rather than focusing on the policies and practices that cause racism and disparities in this country.”

Part one of the report also highlighted seven pervasive, harmful pitfalls in the general discourse on racism (in media and otherwise): Individualizing racism; falsely equating incomparable acts; diverting from race, disregarding it in favor of another social construct such as class or gender; portraying government as overreaching; prioritizing intent over impact; condemning through coded language; and silencing history.

These pitfalls and the hollow analysis of racism creates the phenomenon in which the conversation centers on individual overt racist acts, yet neglects to acknowledge or fully examine the impact of institutional racism (which exists within a system, such as the criminal justice system), and structural racism (which exists across institutions and permeates all of society).

Part two of the report attempts to move the race conversation forward by highlighting recent interventions and initiatives that challenge the narrow national conversation on racism. For example, multi-racial civil rights organization, Advancement Project, campaigned against the “Schoolhouse-to-Jailhouse” pipeline, helping reverse the impact of zero-tolerance policies. Other featured initiatives include the film Fruitvale Station and the Migration is Beautiful art series, which recognizes the humanity of the nation’s migrant workers.

Both parts of the report offer recommendations for including systemic awareness in analyses, and improving the conversation around racism overall. Part one offers suggestions for individuals and media professionals: Expanding one’s understanding of racism; focusing on actions and impacts instead of attitudes and intentions; examining race within conversations on class, gender, sexuality, etc.; and featuring the humanity and leadership of people of color.

Part two’s recommendations are for those in the trenches of anti-racist activism. These include the importance of framing issues properly (Fruitvale Station, for example, reclaims Oscar Grant’s story by focusing on his humanity); connecting individual experiences to systematic problems; and alerting media outlets and professions to their racial bias blind spots. Apollon asserts that these recommendations are not just for activists or media professionals, but also for anyone who sees racism in media or in their daily lives.

The report also points out the near-absence of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in discussions of racism and race. Collectively, these groups (not including multiracial Americans) are 5.6 percent of the population, according to 2010 Census data. Yet only 2.36 percent of all the content studied covered these communities.

A video produced by Jay Smooth, activist and Race Forward video and multimedia producer, accompanies the report. In it, Smooth explains the report and its takeaway points. In its first two days, the video garnered more than 39,000 Youtube views. Apollon hopes it continues to reach as many people as possible, and sparks accurate conversations around race.

“It’s important to push back against all the ‘post-racial’ and ‘colorblindness’ rhetoric we hear. Because being silent about it is not going to eliminate the challenges we face,” he says. “Insert race into conversations about class, gender, sexuality. Engage with us and each other about our definition of racism and the deficiencies in our racial discourse.”

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