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Michelle Obama, Subway Team Up for Healthy Eating Campaign

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

First lady Michelle Obama was in good company when she visited a Subway restaurant in the nation’s capital on Jan. 24 to announce a joint venture with the nationwide chain.

Accompanied by Olympic gold medalists Michael Phelps and Nastia Liukin and New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, the first lady announced a three-year deal with Subway and the Partnership for a Healthier America to promote healthy eating among kids.

As part of the initiative, which is tied into Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign against childhood obesity, the restaurant has agreed to align its kids’ menus with the federal standards of the national school lunch program.

A $41 million media campaign will also push healthier options to children with a strong focus on fruits and vegetables.

“I’m excited about these initiatives not just as a First Lady, but also as a mom,” Obama said in a statement. “Subway’s kids’ menu makes life easier for parents, because they know that no matter what their kids order, it’s going to be a healthy choice.”

As part of the new partnership, advertising in Subway locations targeting children will be solely focused on the healthier options available.

“Subway restaurant’s commitment today builds on the brand’s already strong track record of offering healthier choices to kids, for which it has been lauded by families and health advocates alike,” Dr. James R. Gavin III, chairman of the Partnership for a Healthier America, said in a statement. “The new and significant investment it is making today will not only help make fruits and vegetables fun for kids, it will also offer busy moms and dads easy, healthy choices for their families when they’re on the go.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, being obese is not the same thing as being overweight according to height. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention claim that the consequences of childhood obesity can be severe and far-reaching. According to the CDC, approximately 35 percent of adults and 17 percent, or 12.5 million, children are obese.

Of the children who present signs of obesity, 70 percent also exhibit signs of cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

“With this partnership with the Partnership for a Healthier America, we will now reach millions of kids as part of a healthier eating education campaign, making it our largest outreach campaign to date,” Suzanne Greco, vice president of R&D and Operations for Subway, said in a statement. “From a sign on each restaurant’s door that says ‘Playtime Powered by Veggies’ to a video collaboration with Disney’s The Muppets, we will build upon our ongoing efforts to create even better choices for families. We hold ourselves to the highest standards in the industry when it comes to speaking to children and their families. Now we are letting everyone else know what that standard is.”

Airport Workers and Supporters Arrested at MLK Protests

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By Stephon Johnson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

They gave you fair warning in December. Beware.

Airport workers, supporters, clergy members and elected officials kept their promise to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Together, they held a protest in favor of paid sick leave on Martin Luther King Day for contracted passenger service workers at Newark International, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports. A crowd of almost 1,000 individuals blocked the bridge on 94th Street and Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, Queens, that leads to LaGuardia Airport to bring attention to not only the fight for paid sick leave on MLK Day, but overall working conditions and low wages for airport service employees.

Airport workers and supporters arrested at MLK day protests

Of the 1,000 protesters, 32 were arrested by New York Police Department officers after they sat in the middle of the bridge leading to LaGuardia, including Rep. Charlie Rangel, New York City Council Members Inez Dickens, Ydanis Rodriguez and Ruben Willis, New York Assembly Members Keith Wright and Walter Thompson Mosley and 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James were also on hand to show their support for the workers, but they were not arrested.

“The thousands of New York area airport workers who have no health insurance, paid sick leave or the right to organize deserve better for their tireless work,” said Mark-Viverito in a statement. “Millions of New Yorkers pass through our airports every year, and it’s the hard work and dedication of the workers who help make that possible. It’s time to take care of the workers who help New York City maintain its position as an international gateway.”

Rangel and Figueroa were glad they were arrested, as it brings attention to the workers’ plight.

“There can be no better day to stand up for living wages and benefits for workers who, unfortunately, are a perfect example of the kind of inequality that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for at the end of his life,” said Rangel. “When thousands of workers work full-time but can’t put food on their families’ tables without food stamps, when they can’t get health benefits, when they can’t get paid sick days, then we must do whatever we can to stand up for them.”

Airport workers and supporters protest on MLK day

“It is an honor to stand with these courageous men and women who are asking only for decent wages, good benefits and to be treated with dignity and respect,” added Figueroa. “You can be sure that this is not the last time you will see us. We are not going away after this. We will continue to fight for these workers.”

Everyone arrested was taken to the nearby 115th Precinct, issued summonses and released.

Last month, hundreds of contracted area airport workers delivered a signed petition to Port Authority headquarters on Park Avenue South demanding better wages, benefits and paid sick days and holidays. They asked for a gesture from the Port Authority that showed that their suggestions were being taken seriously.

The gesture, according to Lenora McKeever, an ID checker for PrimeFlight at LaGuardia, wasn’t taken seriously.

“We are fighting for our very lives out here,” said McKeever. “I spend so much time in housing court, trying to keep from being evicted. It’s a struggle just to keep a roof over my head.” McKeever has never received a raise in her nine years as an employee at the airport. She’s only received pay decreases.

Legislation Introduced to Update Voting Rights Act

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Attempts to Restore Protections Weakened by Last Year’s Disappointing Supr. Ct. Decision

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

A bipartisan, bicameral group of congressional lawmakers has introduced legislation to update the Voting Rights Act, one of the central victories in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.) recently introduced H.R .3899, the Voting Rights Amendment Act, in the House. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will file a companion bill in the upper chamber.

The legislation arose out of a June 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder that struck down Section 4 of the VRA. That key provision determined which jurisdictions would be covered by Section 5 of the law, which requires states with a history of discrimination against minority voters to obtain federal pre-clearance before implementing new election laws.

“Through months of negotiation and compromise, Congressmen Sensenbrenner and Conyers and I have agreed on a bipartisan and bicameral proposal to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were weakened by the Supreme Court’s decision last summer,” Leahy said in a statement. “Our sole focus throughout this entire process was to ensure that no American would be denied his or her constitutional right to vote because of discrimination on the basis of race or color. We believe that this is a strong bipartisan bill that accomplishes this goal and that every member of Congress can support.”

According to the new nationwide coverage formula set out in the bill, a state will be covered by Section 5 if it commits five voting violations in the last 15 years and at least one of the violations is committed by the state itself. A political subdivision within a state can be covered if it commits three voting violations in the most recent 15 years or commits one violation in that period and has had “persistent and extremely low minority voter turnout.”

The state or subdivision will be covered for 10 years unless they obtain a “bail-out.”

Civil rights groups hailed the bipartisan effort to update the historic legislation.

“We are highly gratified that Congress has worked so diligently in a bipartisan manner to address the issues that allows us to modernize Section 4 and other parts of the Voting Rights Act,” said Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington bureau chief and senior vice president for advocacy and policy.

Shelton told the AFRO he believes “strongly” that the bill “would pass constitutional muster.” However, he added, activists do have some concerns.

While most of the 16 states wholly or partially covered by Section 5 hail from the South, “as we watched the last few elections we saw big problems in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania that were not covered by the law,” he said. “We’d like to continue working with lawmakers to amend some parts of the bill to expand coverage [to such jurisdictions.]”

First signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, the VRA has been reauthorized four times in the intervening years, usually with bipartisan support.

Conyers, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a cosponsor of the original VRA legislation, said he was glad to again do his part to bolster voting rights in America.

“After being sworn in as freshman member of the 89th Congress, the first vote of consequence that I took was for the Voting Rights Act,” he said in a statement. “Although the Shelby County v. Holder decision struck at the heart of the Act, today, it is with much pride that my colleagues and I are introducing a strengthened and renewed Voting Rights Act to reaffirm our constitutional commitment to the cornerstone of our democracy: the right to vote.”

Under Growing Pressure, Arizona State Bans Racially-Insensitive Fraternity

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By Floyd Alvin Galloway
Special to the NNPA from The Arizona Informant

PHOENIX – As most citizens across the country were celebrating the life and stellar accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. over the federal King Holiday Weekend in a respectful way – some by attending special programs and others by volunteering for community service – a band of students at Arizona State University had less honorable things in mind.

Pictures of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity members holding a so-called “MLK Black Party” reflected almost every demeaning stereotype of African Americans imaginable, including White students drinking from watermelon cups, guests dressed in basketball jerseys and some flashing gang signs.

The embarrassing behavior brought back memories of the early 1990s when the state of Arizona was boycotted for its failure to observe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday, costing the state an estimated $200 million. In 1991, the NFL pulled the Super Bowl out of Tempe for that decision. When the King decision was reversed, the boycott was cancelled and Phoenix hosted the Super Bowl in 1996.

The off-campus party on Jan. 19 wasn’t sanctioned by Arizona State University administrators – or anyone else who believes in common decency. Once the offensive photos surfaced on social media, they were met with disbelief and outrage by the Black community.

At January 22 press conference in front of Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism on campus, several African-American community leaders demanded action against the offending students and fraternity.

“It was just a raucous, racist rally, and they used Dr. King’s holiday as a mask for racial villainy and harassment,” explained local civil rights activist Rev. Jarrett Maupin.

India Purnell, president of Arizona State University National Pan-Hellenic Council, said, “For those that have taken part in the party, I urge you really reflect what you have done and on how you have represented yourself and the community.”

In the face of such obnoxious behavior, Purnell urged Black students to model Dr. King’s dignified behavior.

Ja’han Jones, president of African American Men of Arizona State University, wrote in an open letter to the campus. At the press conference, he said, “I extended a welcome for us to sit down and talk about the issue. I question why they would be willing to tarnish a legacy which spans beyond of 115 years for such a party.”

The fraternity, already on probation since 2012 for excessive hazing and other infractions, was subsequently banned from ASU and some students face possible expulsion.

”We regard the behavior exhibited as completely outrageous, extraordinarily offensive and wholly unacceptable,” said James Rund, ASU’s senior vice president for Educational Outreach and Student Services. “This kind of behavior is not tolerated by the university, and we intend to take swift and immediate action. We just don’t have room at the university to tolerate that kind of conduct.”

ASU determined that the fraternity violated the school’s Student Code of Conduct, including violating the of terms of the previous suspension; violating rules or applicable laws governing alcohol, including underage consumption; distribution of alcoholic beverages; and engaging in discriminatory activities, including harassment and retaliation.

Alex Baker, a spokesman for the national fraternity, said the group does not condone racist or discriminatory behavior.

“It is with embarrassment and regret when a few individuals within our organization make decisions that do not align with the values and principles of Tau Kappa Epsilon,” Baker said in a statement.

ASU is continuing to investigate the actions of individual fraternity members and other students who may have violated the ASU Student Code of Conduct. Upon conclusion of that investigation, ASU will take additional disciplinary action, if warranted.

“I think it’s pretty ignorant of them. Some these kids should think before they go making crazy decisions and posting stupid pictures. Leave the day to reflect such a great man and historical figure,” said Gabriel Rodriquez, an ASU junior.

Jocelyn Henderson also a junior, agrees with the revocation of the fraternity and those that participated in the party. “All the students that took part in it should be expelled.”

The incident drew national attention, adding pressure on the administration to take some action. Local Black leaders had threatened a boycott of ASU sporting events if swift action was not taken to address the controversy.

Rand, the ASU senior vice president, said: “When students gather as part of a university recognized organization, whether it is a varsity sports team, the student newspaper, an academic club or a fraternity, students are expected to conduct themselves in manner that reflects the core values of ASU, which include respect for all people, races and cultures.”

'Disrespected' Obama Appointed the Most Black Judges

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite the unprecedented levels of obstruction from Republicans in the Senate, President Obama has managed to get a higher rate of Black judges confirmed than any other president in history, according to a court watchdog group.

Research compiled by the Alliance for Justice, a national organization dedicated to progressive values and the creation of a just and free society, shows that so far during the Obama administration, Blacks have accounted for 18.7 percent of the federal judicial confirmations, a sharp increase over the George W. Bush administration, where 7.3 percent of the judicial confirmations were Black. During the Clinton administration, 16.4 percent of the federal judicial confirmations were African American.

During the Obama administration, 41 percent of the federal judges that have been confirmed are women, compared to 22 percent under George W. Bush and 29 percent for Clinton.

President Obama has also managed to get more Asian Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and gays confirmed to the federal bench than either Bush or Clinton.

“This is the best slate of judicial nominees I’ve seen from any president since I’ve been at the Lawyers’ Committee, since 1989,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit group that works for equal justice under the law. “I’ve never seen a more diverse slate, I’ve never seen a more highly-rated slate, I’ve never seen a slate with this kind of deep diversity.”

Yet, the current slate of judicial nominees has faced unparalleled delays in the Senate. President Obama’s judicial nominees have waited an average of 115 days between judiciary committee vote and confirmation, more than double the average wait time of President Bush’s nominees. Forty percent of President Obama’s district court picks have waited more than 100 days for a vote on the Senate floor, compared to 8 percent of President Bush’s nominations. Sixty-nine percent of President Obama’s circuit court judicial nominations have waited more than 100 days for a vote on the Senate floor. Only 15 percent of President Bush’s circuit court nominations waited that long.

Meanwhile, the problem of judicial vacancies is getting worse. During President George W. Bush’s sixth year, there were only 48 judicial vacancies. By 2013, however, there were 91 vacancies.

The slow churn in the Senate’s judicial confirmation process continues to strain resources. By 2010, civil litigants were waiting more than two years (25.3 months) for a jury trial. That same year, the federal government spent $1.4 billion to house prisoners before the start of their trial, due in part to the lack of judges to hear cases, according to the Justice Department.

“It’s been a countdown process since the president took office. They were counting down his first [term] in hopes that he wouldn’t have a second [term]. Now they’re counting down his second [term] because they know he can’t run again,” said Arnwine. “And that’s the game they’ve been playing.”

Arnwine added: “This political gaming results in damage to the American public.”

Senate Republicans are gamming the judicial nomination process, utilizing a tradition that began nearly 60 years ago, when a segregationist led the Senate Judiciary Committee. The “blue slip” policy enabled a senator’s objection to a president’s judicial pick from his or her home state.

GOP Senators from Georgia have used the “blue slip” practice to delay some of President Obama’s nominees for Georgia’s northern district for years.

In an effort to fill those judicial vacancies in Georgia’s northern district, President Obama worked with Republican Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, striking a deal that has drawn sharp criticism from some of President Obama’s long-time supporters and Democrats from the state.

According to Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) and other Democrats who objected to President Obama’s judicial selections for Georgia district, a deal was struck without consulting with civic groups that normally vet judicial nominees in that state.

Scott expressed his concerns about the nominees in a recent letter to Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Scott wrote: “If confirmed, the federal bench in Georgia will not reflect the current demographics of the state for at least another generation. There will soon be only one active African-American district court judge in Georgia. In addition, the views of some of these nominees reflect the regressive politics of the past. I want to share some very important and critical background information with the Committee before these nominations are considered.”

Scott added: “It is an abomination that these nominees for lifetime appointment were drafted in secret, not vetted by any legal groups among the President’s supporters, and announced on a holiday weekend. We must not allow lifetime appointed judges to be rammed through the hearing process without sufficient input from the people who will be affected by their future judicial actions.”

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) Lewis, former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a former Atlanta-based civil rights group, said he and other Black leaders object to some of the Obama appointment of federal judges in Georgia.

“The group cites serious concerns that the proposed candidates do not adequately reflect the diversity of the northern district and that the selection process lacked meaningful community input,” Lewis said in a statement. “Additionally, the coalition finds it troubling that several nominees include persons who have advocated in favor of Georgia’s voter ID laws and for including the Confederate Battle Emblem as part of the Georgia State Flag.”

Mark Cohen defended Georgia’s restrictive voter ID laws that some civil rights leaders say discriminate against the poor and minorities. As a Georgia state legislator, Michael Boggs voted in favor of keeping the Georgia state flag that was based on the Confederate flag.

Georgia’s Black population is 31 percent, twice the national average. In Alabama Blacks account for nearly 27 percent of the state’s population and roughly 17 percent of Florida’s state population. Only one of the judges currently serving on the 11th circuit court responsible for those states is Black and only one out of six of President Obama’s nominees for that circuit is Black.

After years of blocked nominations and procedural delays employed by the Republicans, who are in the minority in the Senate, Democrats, headed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed the button on the “nuclear option” last November that that allowed them to cease debate on a particular issue with a simple majority. The historic move cleared the way for some of President Obama’s judicial nominations and executive-level positions to be confirmed.

“The [Obama] administration has really had a difficult row to hoe because of the difficulties in the Senate,” said Arnwine of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Senate has accorded this president less respect, less deference, and less cooperation than any president I’ve seen.”

The Obama administration’s success in the federal judiciary has not come without sacrifice. President Obama has been forced to withdraw five Black judicial nominations, most recently, William Thomas, an openly gay Black judge in Florida, because of a lack of support from Republican senators.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are calling on Senator Patrick Leahy, who chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, to reform the “blue slip” process.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said that the “blue slip” process is being abused and that is having a chilling effect on qualified Black judicial candidates.

“The reform that we pressed so hard for in the filibuster reform process itself will be still-born if the ‘blue slip’ process is not also reformed,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington, D.C.).

Rep. Butterfield said that no one is letting the president off the hook, because more diversity is still needed in the 11th circuit where Cohen and Boggs, two White male judges, were just nominated.

Butterfield said that the 11th circuit serves a large population of African Americans, that’s why the region needs more Black judges on the bench.

”It’s the Deep South and we must have some movement,” said Butterfield. “If it means repealing the blue slip process that has been observed for years, then the blue slip needs to be discarded.”

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