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Mitt Romney and Affirmative Action

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By Stephanie Jones

NNPA Columnist

Much was made of what Mitt Romney said and didn’t say during his recent speech to the NAACP’s annual convention in Houston. His boo-evoking swipe at “Obamacare” got most of the coverage, while his failure to address voter ID laws was also widely noted.

But another omission got little play, even though it is a topic of great importance to that audience in particular and the nation as a whole: Affirmative Action. Romney’s avoidance of the topic in his NAACP speech is not surprising because he has rarely mentioned it during his public life. On the few occasions he has spoken about it, he’s done so in vague language. For example, in 2008, he said, “I do support encouraging inclusiveness and diversity, and I encourage the disclosure of the numbers of women and minorities in top positions of companies and government – not to impose a quota but to shine light on the situation.” Not exactly a profile in courage comment, but his tepid expression of support does leave some room for hope.

In an earlier, saner time, support for affirmative action would have been a no-brainer for Romney for two reasons. First, he is a businessman, an established and respected member of a group that tends to support affirmative action. Having learned first-hand that making diversity an integral part of our educational system and workforce strengthens our society while improving their bottom line, many business leaders have joined with the civil rights community to fight off efforts to dismantle affirmative action.

Second, Romney’s own life experiences should help him appreciate a fundamental goal of affirmative action: to expand opportunities to talented, deserving people who might otherwise not have the chance to succeed and thrive. Although he never lacked for opportunity, Romney took full advantage of the oldest form of affirmative action we have in this country – the kind enjoyed without shame or apology by wealthy, well-connected White men. In fact, he was able to launch the very enterprise that he now claims makes him qualified to sit in the Oval Office – Bain Capital – because someone took a chance on him.

“We put Mitt in charge,” Patrick Graham, Romney’s mentor at Bain & Co., recently told the Washington Post. “He’s an outstanding guy. He’s a leader. He didn’t have any financial expertise, by the way. But we just wanted to give him a bigger challenge.”

Unfortunately, Romney doesn’t seem to have reached back to extend such opportunities to minorities and women in his business and government career. For example, he was accused of running a “White boys club” after it was revealed during his 1994 Senate campaign that Bain Capital had no Black or Latino employees. And, just six months after becoming governor of Massachusetts in 2003, Romney quietly gutted the state’s longstanding affirmative action program in what the former deputy director of the state affirmative action office called “a cloaked and unilateral move that eradicated years and years of civil rights advances and history.”

Romney needs to reconcile this record with his stated support for diversity and inclusion. And, given his record, he should explain just how affirmative action would fare in a Romney administration. Does he understand that, although we’ve made progress, the American playing field is still not level and that government and the private sector must continue to take affirmative steps to foster the diversity and inclusiveness he claims to seek? Would he actively support and enforce opportunities for minorities and women like his fellow business leaders have called on previous administrations to do?

Or, would he appoint judges like Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who professes support for racial diversity but bizarrely insists that it’s unconstitutional to consider race when trying to achieve it? Would a Romney presidency give us more Supreme Court justices like the Clarence Thomas, who owes virtually every professional success in his life to affirmative action but is now hell-bent on wiping it out for everyone else?

These are important questions that must be answered; Romney is now the standard bearer of a party overrun by ideologues who – loudly and in increasingly nasty and divisive language – slam diversity and inclusiveness as insidious attempts to catapult unqualified minorities and women past deserving but victimized White men. Romney’s continued silence in the midst of such wrongheaded and cynical accusations could lead some to believe that he agrees with them – especially given how little he has actually done to diversify his own space when he had the chance. Mitt Romney says he supports diversity and inclusiveness. It’s time for him to tell us just how he would bring them to pass in today’s America.

Stephanie Jones is a former journalist, attorney, law professor, Capitol Hill staffer and executive director of the National Urban League Policy Institute. She is president and CEO of Stephanie Jones Strategies, which specialize in diversity, strategic planning andcommunication.

Pushing Children Out of School—A New American Value?

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By Marian Wright Edelman

In 1642 the Massachusetts General Court passed one of the very first laws about education in what would become the United States. It ruled that because it was apparent “the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any Common-wealth,” all parents and guardians were required to make sure children received “so much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, & knowledge of the Capital Lawes.” Educating children well enough to read and understand the laws of the community was considered so critical that local selectmen were put in charge of making sure it was done—and they would be able to tell children hadn’t been educated properly if they became “rude, stubborn & unruly.”

For generations to come the power of education to develop good character and put young people on the right path remained a cornerstone of American thought about teaching our children. Building good citizens stayed right up there with reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic as a key goal of education and was one of the early justifications for providing public schools for all, as leaders continued to argue that if educating every child benefitted the whole community neglecting education was dangerous for everyone.

Thomas Jefferson, a strong advocate for expanding educational opportunity across classes (at least for Whites), said in an 1818 letter: “If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.” A few decades later education reformer Horace Mann, considered the “father” of the common school movement in America, made a similar point: “Jails and prisons are the complement of schools; so many less as you have of the latter, so many more must you have of the former.” For many more years teachers remained deeply respected community members who were often revered for being strong positive role models. This was considered especially critical when teachers were filling this role for children who otherwise might not be getting it at home.

But today something has changed. We still say all of the same kinds of things about the power good schools and teachers have to radically transform a child’s chances in life. We’ve now measured the connection between how much education a child receives and future success. We know the dangers of dropping out, especially for the most vulnerable children and youths who have fewer high quality schools and resources than affluent children and fewer positive options for spending unsupervised time away from school. Politicians and celebrities do public service ads urging children to stay in school. But as soon as a child gets in trouble, too often the very first thing schools do is to kick them out of class. A public school student receives an out-of school suspension every second and a half during the school year. I’ve never understood how it makes any sense, for example, to suspend or put a child out of school who is absent, truant, or tardy and is not coming to school. Wouldn’t it make more sense to find out why they are not coming to school? And when as many as 7.5 million children are chronically absent, as a new report by Johns Hopkins’ Robert Balfanz says, shouldn’t we have more vigilant policies to determine why and tackle the causes?

Data released this spring by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights showed in 2009 that 6.9 percent of all students received at least one out-of-school suspension; the out-of-school suspension rate went up to 14.7 percent for Black students. We may continue to talk about education as the great equalizer, but when it comes to pushing children out of school we are failing Black children most, especially Black males. One in five Black boys and more than one in ten Black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Black students were over three-and-a-half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their White peers. We need to get to the root of these racial disparities.

The findings are even more troubling for the most serious school forms of discipline: Over 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or who are referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or Black. Zero tolerance school discipline policies only add to the problem. The stories of six-year-old kindergartener Salecia Johnson, who was arrested in handcuffs at her Milledgeville, Georgia elementary school in April and driven to the police station in a squad car for throwing a tantrum, and Desre’e Watson, who underwent the same ordeal several years ago as a six-year-old kindergartner in Avon Park, Florida, were horrifying reminders that even our youngest children are at risk of being poorly handled. I find it hard to believe that one, two, or three adults can’t manage a six-year-old during or after a temper tantrum without calling the police and arresting them. Sometimes I think we adults have lost our common and moral sense! Instead of educating children well enough so that they will not become “rude, stubborn, & unruly” we now reject them at the first sign of any disobedience using widely subjective catchall phrases and offenses like disrespectful or disruptive. Most suspensions are for nonviolent offenses. Too many schools are pushing children into the juvenile and criminal justice systems to make them someone else’s problem. It should be little surprise when so many of the same children who are punished by being pushed out of school go on to become the same ones who drop out and stay away for good. A public high school student drops out of school every eight seconds during the school year. And it should be even less surprising when many of the young people who drop out are the same ones whose behavior we continue to complain about and fear and for whom we pay to build costly prison cells later. It’s called the cradle to school to prison pipeline.

States are spending on average two and a half times more per prisoner than per public school pupil. I think this is a very dumb investment policy which hurts children and the nation’s future workforce.

If giving all children an education still benefits an entire community, and if not educating children still makes it more likely their future “ignorance and vices” will “cost us [dearly] in their consequences,” every time a child is excluded from school by adults or is chronically absent without any actions to determine why, we are failing the child and undercutting the importance of education. Hundreds of years after Americans first made that connection, what will it take for us to get it again today?

Geoff Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Dr. Robert Balfanz, and a distinguished panel of educators will be discussing the importance of closing the achievement gap for poor children at CDF’s national conference on July 24th. The first step to educating children is keeping them in rather than putting them out of school.

________________________________________ Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Auto Safety for Our Children Must Know No Restraint

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By Dr. Victor Garcia and Latondra Newton

“If I only knew.” The words of an anguished mother involved in a car crash in which her young child died haunt us, but also inspire us each day as we work to help make sure that every person – regardless of age – is safe on the road. While cars and trucks today are safer than they have ever been, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of injury-related death for African American children. Adding to this tragedy is that so many of these deaths are avoidable. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that our kids are significantly less likely to use seat belts or properly installed car seats. In fact, in crashes involving fatalities in children under 14, seat belt use is lower among African Americans than among all other race or ethnic groups and 52% of black children in fatal crashes were unrestrained. The causes for these results are complicated and wide ranging, but they can be – and they need to be – addressed.

This is why trauma specialists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and vehicle safety experts at Toyota teamed up to create Buckle Up for Life, a community-based safety education effort with results that are unparalleled. It is the only national program of its kind. Building on Buckle Up for Life’s initial success, we are now doubling its reach to four new locations across the country, each with substantial African-American populations: Houston, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Orange County, CA. These locations join Buckle Up for Life programs already established in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Antonio and the Cincinnati area, where the program began. This significant but preventable disparity in child passenger safety in the African American community is driven by a multi-faceted set of challenges. Some are economic: certain families have difficulty affording child safety restraints or drive older vehicles in which it is harder to install car seats. Some barriers are cultural, for instance a lack of family history in terms of buckling up. And sometimes the hurdles are about access to information: quickly finding the right guidance to help ensure that all passengers are safe. Regardless of the key drivers, we refuse to allow these issues to be overlooked. We know this problem is a complex one – that combines health literacy, economics and socio-cultural concerns. But we also know it is a challenge that can be met with great impact through education, local partnerships and innovative thinking.

Community crises demand community-based solutions. That’s why Buckle Up for Life works in neighborhoods – at the grassroots – with local churches and hospitals to reach families in places they trust, are comfortable and feel safe, right where they live. Over a six-week period, Buckle Up for Life’s medical experts and trained specialists work closely with participants of all ages – parents, caregivers and children alike – to deliver critical, interactive safety information in ways that resonate personally. Participants are also eligible to receive free car seats, and they are matched with certified child passenger safety technicians to help install these car seats and ensure that children are properly restrained. There is, of course, a lot to accomplish but we are seeing real results. One Buckle Up for Life program, for example, nearly tripled the number of children buckled up among families who participated. And the positive results have sustained over time. That’s the power in linking up with trusted partners in local neighborhoods, in working with the community to develop culturally relevant information and education, and in delivering a powerful message that drives change and empowers people to take even greater charge of their and their families’ well-being. Together, all of us in the African-American community have an opportunity and a responsibility to make a tangible difference. We need to reinforce at every turn that safety is a driver’s paramount concern; that buckling up is not an option; and that properly securing oneself and one’s children needs to become as ingrained a part of the driving experience as opening the car door or turning on the ignition. Because when it comes to our kids, our community’s collective commitment to automotive safety must know no restraint.

—Dr. Victor Garcia is founding director of Trauma Services, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center —Latondra Newton is vice president of Toyota Motor North America

More information on Buckle Up for Life is available at www.toyotainaction.com/buckleupforlife.

BLACK CAUCUS HOSTS ANNUAL AFRICAN AMERICAN YOUTH LEADERSHIP TRAINING CONFERENCE AT STATE CAPITOL AND CSUS

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Sacramento, CA – More than 50 top African American high school juniors and seniors from throughout the state have traveled to Sacramento for a week-long youth leadership training program sponsored by the California Legislative Black Caucus -The African-American Leaders for Tomorrow Youth Conference.

The students are housed in dorms at California State University from July 21st - 28th where they participated in various workshops during the week on community advocacy, college preparation, cross-cultural collaboration, entrepreneurship and campaign development.

They also met with various elected officials and community leaders and organizers including State Senator Curren Price, Chair of the Black Caucus and senior staff from the offices of Governor Jerry Brown and Senate pro Tem Darryl Steinberg.

A large portion of the week will be devoted to preparing the youth for Leg Day at the Capitol, to be held Friday, July 27, 2012, where they will participate in a mock day at the Legislature during which they will present and argue bills in the Senate Chambers and also vote to pass their own version of the State Budget.

This Summer, Saving Energy Is Easier Than You Think

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I live with my 80-year-old mother in her two-bedroom house in the Inland Empire. We’re hoping for a mild summer, but preparing now for heat waves that could come our way, especially since California state officials are saying that we may have limited power supplies in Southern California. It's important that we all do our part to maintain electric service reliability and stay informed, and I’m doing that by taking three key steps:

1) The greenest energy is the energy we don’t use, so I’m making some quick changes around the house. That includes keeping the thermostat on my air conditioner set to 78°F and turning my appliances and electronics off when not in use.

2) I’m going to pay attention to when the state issues a Flex Alert, which is a statewide call to reduce energy. When that happens, I know it’s critical that I conserve immediately.

3) I’m going to enroll my mom in Southern California Edison’s Medical Baseline program, since she is dependent on the use of electricity for mobility, electrically-operated life support medical equipment for specific medical reasons. I’m also going to take note of where the nearest cooling center is, in case our power gets disrupted.

It may take a little work, but I don’t want to get caught unprepared if the power goes out.

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