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Why is Obama Closing Minority Business Development Offices?

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By William Reed, NNPA Columnist –

Black Americans continue to stand by President Barack Obama, despite how he and his minions treat us. Nine of every 10 African-American voters have “got the president’s back” but there is still discussion as to whether President Obama has got the backs of Black Americans in return. At this stage of the Obama presidency it is quite obvious how the people running things at the White House view Blacks’ economic betterment.

Representatives of the Obama administration recently told members of Congress that they plan to close all five of the Minority Business Development Agency’s (MBDA) regional offices. Unless something happens, MBDA offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and New York will close by September 30 and the San Francisco office in March of 2013.

Black Americans would be wise to pay attention to these matters and how they are resolved. House Small Business Committee member Rep. Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) said that the regional closings “might be the beginning of the demise of the agency.” Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said the Obama administration’s actions “sends the wrong message to entrepreneurs and businesses in our community at this time when we need to have an expansion.”

Rush is right. Black Americans should find it unbelievable that the Obama administration would allow programs that are vital to the creation of jobs and infrastructures for minorities to fall or fail. Proponents of minority business development need to step to the fore and demand that instead of downsizing the MBDA, Obama and his people need to be increasing its reign and clout. The political climate among African Americans should be to not let the only federal agency created specifically to foster the establishment and growth of minority-owned businesses to be put on the path toward death and dismantlement.

Blacks need for President Obama do more on this current presidential watch to ensure that all U.S. businesses have a proportionate share of the jobs and opportunities created by federal government. Obama heads the world’s largest purchaser of goods and services. The federal government spend more than $500 billion a year in contracts and has facilities in all 50 states that include 2,500 offices that have “authority to buy.” But, Black-owned businesses have historically been marginalized in federal contracting. Under the nation’s first Black president Black-owned businesses have done no better than they did than they did before, having received a paltry 3.5 percent of federal contracts funded between February 2009 and November 2010 compared to the 81.3 percent White-owned business enjoyed during that period.

President Richard Nixon started the Office of Minority Enterprise in 1969 with a mandate to increase Blacks’ percentage of federal business. That percentage of federal contracts peaked at six percent during the Reagan Administration. During Fiscal Year 2010 there were 64,880 Black-owned firms in the federal procurement database, but just 3,990 of those firms received contract activities. What would be wrong with President Obama showing that he’s on our side? The federal government has an ongoing need for an array of goods and services. Millions of federal government contracts are awarded each year, but minority entrepreneurs continue to be stymied in getting public sector contracting opportunities. To remedy this situation, Obama administration officials need to put more impetus on the MBDA to focus on federal procurement and procedures that will offer Minority Business Enterprises fair and proportional opportunities. Instead of disbanding MBDA, Blacks should petition the president to have the agency do more to help entrepreneurs navigate the federal bureaucracy’s purchasing venues.

Black voters need to take a long hard look to gauge the value officials in the Obama Administration place on Blacks and their businesses. Let’s lift our voices to say: “Instead of disbanding it let’s give the MBDA a broader portfolio” to provide more opportunities for minority businesses; to have ongoing dialogue around issues like how to access to contracts; to offer mentor-protégé opportunities with major corporations and help Black and minority firms compete for large contracts.

William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects via the BaileyGroup.org

HBCU 'Equality' Lawsuit: Proving the Maryland Higher Education Hypocrisy

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Summer Ruling Expected in Bias Suit

Todd Beamon, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

Earl S. Richardson envisioned a plan that would have allowed both his predominantly Black Morgan State University in Baltimore and largely White Towson University 15 miles away to jointly offer a high-quality MBA program that would have the additional benefit of making their universities more racially diverse.

Richardson, who retired as president of Morgan last year after 26 years of service, recounted the effort Thursday the last day of testimony in the landmark $2.1 billion suit to make Maryland’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) “comparable and competitive” to the state’s majority White universities.

“Morgan proposed a three-plus-two program that would be a collaborative effort between Morgan State and Towson State. What we said is that students in their third year and their fourth year of Towson could begin to take courses in the MBA program at Morgan that could then be used to satisfy part of the requirements for the baccalaureate at Towson, as well as go toward the MBA at Morgan, and they would end up in five years with both the baccalaureate and the master’s degree or the MBA,” said Richardson, who returned to the stand as a rebuttal witness.

“We also said that the faculty of Towson would be admitted to the graduate faculty at Morgan, and they could teach in the program. We were told that Towson’s faculty did not want to teach at Morgan, that its students did not want to come to Morgan, that Towson was not a feeder school, [that] it was not a community college.”

Instead, Towson proposed a program that would add the University of Baltimore to the mix and ultimately grant Towson the ability to award MBA degrees, state authorization that Morgan and Bowie State University had at the time. After Morgan rejected that proposal, the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) approved a MBA program in 2005 operated jointly by Towson and the University of Baltimore.

After its MBA program was allowed to be duplicated by the two predominantly White universities, Morgan’s White enrollment in its MBA program dropped from a high of 50 to about two, according to Richardson’s testimony earlier in the trial.

That was just one example of what the lawsuit called “the unnecessary duplication of HBCU academic programs by geographically proximate TWIs [traditionally White institutions].”

The lawsuit filed against MHEC alleges that Maryland “systematically engaged in policies and practices that established and perpetuated a racially segregated system of higher education.”

Consequently, the state’s four HBCUs – Morgan State University, Bowie State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore – have never received their fair share of resources.

The suit was filed six years ago by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc., a community-based group made up of alumni of public HBCUs in Maryland and other interested parties. It is seeking $2.1 billion to upgrade the state’s four HBCUs. Attorneys for the plaintiffs include Michael D. Jones a partner of Kirkland & Ellis law firm, Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Aderson B. Francois of the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic.

The six-week bench trial before U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake in Baltimore ended Thursday. The final ruling is expected early this summer.

Following the trial phase, both sides have 70 days to file briefs and another 30 days to reply to the other side’s filings. Sometime after the 100 days, the attorneys will make their closing arguments before the judge.

In his opening statement, Attorney Jones said, “Maryland has not eradicated the vestiges of segregation.” He said from 1990 to 2009, the state provided its HBCUs $2.19 billion less in unrestricted revenues, and $644 million less in state appropriations.

David Wilson, who succeeded Richardson as president of Morgan State, testified: “The maintenance budget is woefully inadequate. You’re constantly moving things around to patch a leak here or install an air conditioner there. A university cannot effectively carry out is programmatic mission unless it has the funds to do that.”

University of Wisconsin Education Professor Clifton F. Conrad, testifying as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, said that Maryland continues to operate a segregated higher education system.

He said: “The dual education systems remain. There continues to be substantial differences – severe differences – in terms of the number of programs and the quality of programs. Those students who enter Maryland’s historically Black institutions – whether Black, White, or other races – do not have an equal educational opportunity as those students who attend the state’s traditionally White institutions.”

Jones, for the coalition, said after the trial: “In some ways, what the testimony showed was Maryland’s blatant hypocrisy in talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Outside the courtroom, Maryland acknowledges that HBCUs need substantial extra resources to attract a diverse student body and create unique academic programs.

But in court, they argued that the HBCUs are overfunded – even more than the TWIs. There’s a big disconnect between what they presented in court and what’s in their own reports and what they’ve been saying out in public.”

David Burton, a 1967 Morgan graduate who is president of the coalition that brought the suit said: “We are very, very gratified that we have reached this point in the lawsuit. We have made the case, connected the dots and demonstrated that, going back to the de jure era, the state has undermined the competitiveness of the HBCUs.”

Roland Martin Takes Hits from Black Media Family

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

Tom Joyner, host of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” this week administered a public spanking to Roland Martin, one of the show’s senior analysts, over inflammatory statements Martin tweeted during the Super Bowl.

In a public letter, Joyner urged Martin to “make things right” by issuing a “sincere” apology to GLAAD (The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and suggested Martin could suffer some repercussions if he didn’t.

“As head of the family, I’ve sat back as long as I could, hoping I wouldn’t have to say anything. But now the time has come,” Joyner wrote. “…When people are offended by something we say or do, it doesn’t matter what our intentions are. The job of the offender is simply to apologize and learn a lesson about what to say or do going forward.”

GLAAD took issue with statements Martin made on his Twitter page that urged his followers to “smack the ish” out of any guys that got excited about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad. He also suggested that a New England Patriots fan that was bedecked in a pink suit has earned a visit from #teamwhipdatass. The gay rights group demanded that CNN fire Martin, one of their analysts. And, after some deliberation, the network decided to suspend Martin for an indefinite period.

After the public outcry, Martin issued an apology to the gay community and said he would meet with GLAAD. Joyner, however, seemed to think Martin’s apology was lacking. He suggested the analyst’s actions, “or lack thereof,” had begun to “detract” from the company’s goal, which is to “entertain and empower Black people.”

“Your mission is greater than your principal. It’s no longer about you. Now it’s grown into something bigger than you are, but only you can make it right,” Joyner wrote. “We’ve gone through this with another family member who refused to turn around. I sure would hate to see pride silence another important voice.?“Make it right, Roland, so we can move forward.”

On Twitter, journalist Morris “Mo’Kelly” O’Kelly suggested that Joyner was having “another Tavis Smiley moment,” adding “let the beef begin!” Joyner had publically blasted Smiley, a well-known television and radio personality and TJMS alum, over Smiley’s criticism of President Obama and Smiley left the program.

Political analyst Raynard Jackson last week condemned the Black leadership’s lack of support for Martin, an outspoken and well-loved media personality and rare Black face in mainstream news. In a column published Feb. 13, Jackson lambasted Joyner for his public letter, saying he couldn’t allow Martin to be “thrown under the bus alone.”

“Tom, in your letter, you said you were ‘head of the family.’ So, as head of the family, have you had a direct conversation with Roland since this issue surfaced?” Jackson questioned. “Why would you put out your statement on Friday, when Roland had already apologized and agreed to meet with GLAAD? What was the purpose of the letter after 5 days of silence? Did it really take you that long to think of a statement, or did GLAAD force your hand like the rest of the liberal Black community?”

Though Martin has not issued a comment on Joyner’s letter, on Feb. 13 he retweeted a post by Bishop T.D. Jakes that hinted at his feelings.

“Never use a public forum to address an issue with or about someone with whom you have private access #stopgrandstanding” #stopgrandstanding,” the post read, and Martin responded, “AMEN.”

Meanwhile, other Black leaders remain largely silent on the issue. NAACP Chairman Roslyn Brock spoke briefly to Eurweb.com on the matter, reiterating the importance of Martin’s voice in the mainstream media and expressing the wish that Martin, CNN and GLAAD could resolve their differences.

Tubman Collection Highlights Groundbreaking for Museum

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By Bobbi Booker, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –

The groundbreaking at the construction site of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. begins this week, notable since it is the last full week of Black History Month 2012.

One of the most talked about donations is the Harriet Tubman collection, a gift to NMAAHC from Charles L. Blockson — writer, historian and former board member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. He also is founder and curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection of rare texts, slave narratives, art and other historically significant artifacts. The items came to him after the death of a Tubman relative.

“I inherited her belongings, and for eight months, I kept them with me in my bedroom, but they belong in this museum,” Blockson said of the Smithsonian’s African American museum. “Harriet Tubman is one of the most important women in the history of America, and her story needs to be heard by generations to come.”

Blockson’s family story is intertwined with Tubman’s. His research shows he is the descendant of Jacob Blockson, who escaped slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with Harriet Tubman and settled in St. Catherine, Canada. Tubman, born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, gained international acclaim as an Underground Railroad operator, Civil War spy and suffragist.

“Several of my ancestors escaped with Harriet Tubman, came to Philadelphia, met with (Black abolitionist) William Still and later went on to Canada,” explained Blockson.

Among the items shedding light on the private life of Tubman are family photographs, a hymn book published in 1876 and signed in pencil by Tubman, and a lace shawl (circa 1897) given to her by England’s Queen Victoria. Among the photographs of Tubman’s funeral March 11, 1913, is one showing her lying in state at A.M.E. Zion Church in Auburn, N.Y., and surrounded by seven members of the board of directors of the Harriet Tubman Home.

“She died in Auburn, N.Y., and when I came back, I stood over her grave under the evergreen tree and my emotional armor erupted,” recalled Blockson. “I started to cry, and asked, ‘How did she do it?’ Of all the people in our history, she sort of reigns supreme. Wherever I travel and talk, everyone seems to know of Harriet Tubman. She is paramount — her blood, her soul force — she is the Moses of our people, as we were taught, and here she delivered us to the promised land. To me, the groundbreaking for the NMAAHC is history, and Tubman is the proper one to be the leading soul force.”

The NMAAHC collection holds nearly 10,000 items ranging from fine art, historic photographs and manuscripts, to items documenting the slave trade, the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights era.

“There is something both humbling and sacred found in the personal items of such an iconic person,” said Lonnie Bunch, director of NMAAHC. “It is an honor to be able to show the private side of a very public person, a woman whose very work for many years put her in service to countless others. This donation by Charles Blockson is a selfless gesture that ensures that her story will be enshrined forever within the Smithsonian Institution.”

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was established by an Act of Congress in 2003, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, art, history and culture. Scheduled to open in 2015, the museum will be the first green building on the National Mall on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument.

President Barack Obama will deliver remarks at the NMAAHC groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The event is by invitation only, but will be webcast at http://nmaahc.si.edu/Events/Groundbreaking. For more information, visit the museum at nmaahc.si.edu.

First African American Woman Architect Succumbs

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Special to the NNPA to Our Weekly –

Memorial services were being set for Norma Merrick Sklarek, a celebrated African American architect who accomplished numerous firsts in the field.

Sklarek died Monday at her home in Pacific Palisades. She was 85.

Born Norma Merrick in Harlem to Trinidadian parents, she attended Hunter College High School, then Barnard College and acquired her architecture degree in 1950 from Columbia University School of Architecture, where only one other female student was among the graduates. She was the first Black woman to be licensed as an architect in the United States, with certification in the state of New York in 1954 and in the state of California in 1962.

After receiving her degree, Sklarek was unable to find work at an architecture firm, so she took a job at the New York Department of Public Works. Later she spent four years at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. She became the first African American director of architecture at Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles in 1966, and she also worked with the Jon Jerde Partnership.

Sklarek became the first Black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1985, she became the first African American female architect to form her own architectural firm: Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, which was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the United States.

Sklarek was known for coordinating major projects. Among them are San Bernardino City Hall, the Fox Plaza in San Francisco, Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport, California Mart, Pacific Design Center, and the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, Japan.

Following her retirement, she served on the California Architects Board. She also served for several years as chair of the AIA National Ethics Council. In her honor, Howard University offers the Norma Merrick Sklarek Architectural Scholarship Award. Sklarek is also an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

She is survived by her husband, Dr. Cornelius Welch, a son David Merrick Fairweather and three grandchildren.

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