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New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne's Service Fondly Remembered By Many

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By Gregory McDale, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

Following New Jersey Congressman Donald M. Payne’s death, several friends and colleagues reflected on his outstanding legacy and tireless service in the U.S. and abroad.

“Today serves as a reminder to all of us who are blessed to serve the people of our communities, that the time we have on this earth can end much too fast, and that we must constantly be working to improve the lives of those around us,” U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement. “My good friend Donald Payne made that his goal each and every day of his life.”

Rep. Payne lost his battle to colon cancer and died on March 6 at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston. According to the Associated Press, he was flown to Jersey from Georgetown University Hospital on March 2 after his health had starkly declined.

A Newark native, Payne knew early on that he wanted to make a difference in many peoples’ lives. According to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, he once said, “I want to be a Congressman to serve as a role model for the young people I talk to on the Newark street corners. I want them to see there are no barriers to achievement. I want to give them a reason to try.”

After serving as a public school teacher, he later became a member of the Newark City Council in 1988. Shortly thereafter, he made history when he became New Jersey’s first Black Congressional member. He represented New Jersey’s 10th District, which includes Newark and parts of Essex, Union and Hudson counties. In 2010, he was elected into his 12th term.

While serving on the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee, Payne worked tirelessly to improve the lives of children and working families. He provided equitable funding for public schools and worked to make healthcare more affordable. He also worked on the House’s Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and traveled abroad to provide humanitarian aid.

“By any standard, Don lived a full and meaningful life,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. He was a leader in US-Africa policy, making enormous contributions towards helping restore democracy and human rights across the continent. ”

Payne served as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in 1995 and held this position for one year. In 2010, he was elected chair of the CBC Foundation.

The CBCF said in a statement that Payne brought a wealth of knowledge to the organization and brought a unique perspective to everything he did. “We have lost a tireless public servant who embodied humanity, compassion and dignity for all,” the CBCF said. “[We] will carry on his mission to work for justice and opportunity for all.”

Former Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume says that Payne helped him win his election as chairman of the CBC. He explained that their 20-year friendship was filled with memories of traveling the world to assist those in need.

“Don Payne was a friend–that’s the real bottom line,” Mfume told the AFRO. “When people take a look at his life I hope they come to understand that he loved his work and he did so much to represent not only the people of New Jersey but people across the globe. He was passionate about what he believed in and he always believed that tomorrow would be better than today. I’m going to miss him.”

Payne is survived by three children and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements had not been announced at AFRO press time.

Gloomy Outlook for Black America, Scholars Conclude

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By Herb Boyd, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

A group of leading Black intellectuals met at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to discuss the current plight of African-Americans in the United States.

Curiously, at the recent forum, which took place Feb. 26 and was entitled “Black America: A Prescription for the Future,” alongside their programs, attendees were given an article published in the Journal of Negro Education in 1936.

That conference apparently ended without the delegates accepting any of the proposed solutions.

Those participants might have benefi ted from the work of the panelists at the Schomburg, particularly the remedies offered by Dr. Bernard Anderson, Dr. William Julius Wilson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. Richard Kahlenberg.

In 1936, with the solutions seeming unacceptable, the delegates agreed that a next step was necessary and they called for a national Negro congress under the auspices of the great labor leader A. Philip Randolph.

More than 75 years later, Norman Hill provided a living connection to Randolph at the Schomburg as president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI).

Hill’s task was to set the stage for the panelists with an overview of the Civil Rights Movement, and he did that quite elaborately, covering from 1896 to 1965.

Hill delivered his presentation after a general welcome from the moderator, professor Jerald Podair, and greetings from Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO; Clayola Brown, president of the APRI; and a representative from the NFL Players Association standing in for executive director DeMaurice Smith.

To address the problems facing Black America, Hill said the renewed movement would be wise to follow the principles and credo of his mentor, Randolph.

“At the banquet table of nature,” Hill began, quoting Randolph, “there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take and you keep what you can hold. If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything, and if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything.

And you can’t take anything without organization.” A barrage of statistics came from Anderson and Wilson, with only the cogent words of Sharpton providing a pause. An esteemed economist, Anderson’s analysis is often found in the National Urban League’s annual State of the Nation report.

He shared some of that information with a fairly sparse but attentive audience.

On the question of jobs, Anderson said, “Blacks comprise 20 percent of the unemployed.”

And that number may be even higher if you include those no longer looking for work and the underemployed. “When you stop looking for work, you are no longer listed among the unemployed,” he said.

His was a litany of despair as he compared the prospects of Blacks to a train’s caboose. “No matter how fast the train is going, the caboose [Blacks] will never catch up to the engine [whites].”

Sharpton’s main thesis had less to do with comparing Blacks to whites and more to do with the expanded Black middle and upper class and the poor or lower class they’ve left behind. “What we did during the Civil Right Movement was to empower and create a Black upper class while ignoring the Black lower class. Our Black billionaires sold their businesses and cashed out.

“We have to get back to a bottom-up movement,” he continued. “It’s time to get back on track.”

Getting back on track, he insisted, would entail paying attention to the GOP and its aim to suppress the Black and minority vote and, with the help of the Supreme Court, put an end to affirmative action.

“I agree with Dr. Anderson: We must, in the tradition of Frederick Douglass, agitate, agitate, agitate!”

Many of the dismal conclusions recited by Wilson merely confi rmed what Anderson had already presented.

And like Anderson, he said it “will take generation for the Black family to catch up with the white family” in terms of wealth and income.

“Seventy percent of Black children who now live in poor communities will continue to live there as adults,” Wilson added.

The shift in demographics, he explained, has created largely African-American core centers in our major cities. “The Black middle class has abandoned the inner city and now populates the suburbs,” he said.

So what’s to be done? “President Obama, rather than specifying a bill that would target Black Americans, needs to create a bill designed to create public sector jobs,” Wilson said.

Of course, most of the people who would benefit from such a bill would be Blacks.

Kahlenberg’s report was equally depressing as he focused on the gross disparities between Black and white school children.

He observed that since Black primary and secondary students attend schools in poor areas, they are less likely to receive a quality education and not get the same books, new technology or audio-visual equipment as a white school district.

Unlike one of the conclusions reported by Wilson, Kahlenberg said that Black students perform “better when given a chance to attend better schools.”

His solution to some of the problems hindering Black empowerment centers around what he calls “a new type of afirmative action,” one based not on race but on class.

“Blacks would still be the greatest beneiciary of an economic approach, since they are the worst off,” Kahlenberg concluded.

After four hours, with other pressing engagements, it wasn’t possible to hear Velma Murphy Hill’s summary, but it’s conceivable that she arrived at a conclusion very similar to the one in the article back in 1936, which declared that another step is necessary for a better “prescription for the future.”

In other words, past is prologue—or the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Houston Family Showcases Graceful Honesty During Interview with Oprah

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Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American –

In a 90 minute special “Oprah’s Next Chapter” Oprah Winfrey talked with the family of Whitney Houston. Yesterday’s special was the first time the family has publicly spoken since the passing of the music icon at the age of 48.

The interview kicked off with Bobbi Kristina talking about how her mother’s spirit has been an unyielding presence in her life since her mother passed away on Feb. 11 of this year.

“She’s always with me… I can always feel her with me,” Bobbi Kristina told Winfrey while standing in an area of her Uncle Gary and Aunt Pat’s (Whitney’s brother and sister-in-law/manager) home. “She always asked me… ‘Do you need me?’ And I caught myself one day, out of nowhere, I didn’t even know I said it, but… I said, ‘I’ll always need you’. Her spirit is strong… I feel her pass through me all the time… Lights turn on and off and I’m like, ‘Mom, what are you doing?’ I can still sit there and I can still laugh with her… I can still talk to her. I can still feel her saying ‘I got you.’”

According to the family Bobbi Kristina is residing in the place she called home with her mother, but is supervised by her aunt and uncle.

“I still have all her clothes, everything that she has ever given me.”

She referred to her mother as “an angel” and touched upon the swirling tabloid headlines regarding Houston’s alleged lifestyle.

“I saw her hurt. I saw her cry,” she said. People “don’t know who she was. Everything people are saying about her, all that negativity, it’s garbage. That’s not my mother.”

The special on OWN also covered Whitney’s ex-husband, Bobby Brown, who had a tumultuous marriage with the singer. While some have accused Brown of introducing Houston to drugs, leading to the singer’s downfall, sister-in-law Pat Houston said that was untrue, and both Pat and husband Gary Houston, had warm words for Brown.

“I loved Bobby Brown. Bobby was a good guy,” said Gary Houston, Whitney’s older brother. “I don’t know how good they were for each other.”

They also denied that the Houston family had asked Brown to leave her funeral service or didn’t want him to come; Brown showed up briefly but left after a dispute over seating.

“Bobby was supposed to be there,” said Gary Houston.

Pat Houston said Bobby Brown and his daughter have a relationship, but indicated they hadn’t spoken since at least Houston’s funeral.

The special ended with Gary giving a musical tribute to his baby sister with a soul-stirring rendition of “I Look to You” – his smooth tenor vocals held up until emotions took over halfway through the song.

Blacks Still Shoulder Weight of High Unemployment

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Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer –

Despite reports of a rebounding economy, joblessness among African Americans – like gas prices — have continued to dip, then escalate.

According to the latest U. S. Labor Department findings, as of February 2012 the unemployment rate for blacks hovered at 14.1 percent compared to 13.6 for January, and 15.8 percent the month before.

With more 200,000 jobs created last month by the economy, the fluctuations — which likewise impacted Latino workers — have been difficult to explain.

The jobless rate among black teens also increased to 17 percent in February – and overall, the statistics indicate there probably won’t be much change for blacks or Latino job seekers as the year progresses.

Bill Rodgers a Rutgers University economist who studies racial inequities, said in an interview that the labor department’s unemployment data exemplifies a sausage-like quality. He added that it’s better to consider unemployment trends over 12-month periods.

Acording to Rodgers, the black employment outlook is mixed.

Black men appear to have gained jobs since February 2011 in manufacturing, construction and the service sector. And while government employment held steady this month, deep staff cuts in state and local government have hit black women particularly hard. Indeed, government agencies, a sector that has slashed about 500,000 jobs since February 2010, employed just over one-quarter of black women before the recession began. That has caused the number of black women with jobs to fall, although that number held steady in February, Rodgers was attributed to saying in the recent Huffington Post interview.

Fire at Chevron Rig in Nigeria Called 'The Worst in African History'

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A gas fire that burned for 46 days off Nigeria’s coast has been extinguished according to the Chevron Corp of San Ramon, California, but a full clean up is far from over.

The oil company rig exploded Jan. 16, killing two people before it collapsed into the sea. The explosion started a fire on the ocean surface but the damage reached a village some six miles away.

Fishermen in Koluama complained of fumes, dead dolphins on their white sand shore. Drinking water and fish tasted like fuel, they said.

“The gas is inside the fish,” said Bravely Salvage, youth chairman for the village. “After eating the fish you feel like somebody who drunk diesel, you feel dizzy.”

“There are very clear ecological impacts, that are not hidden, that are very visible,” said Nnimmo Bassey, chair of the environmental advocacy group, Friends of the Earth International. He cited dead fish and a beached whale. “If one whale dies, it means several thousands of smaller species have been impacted.” The fire, he said, was “the worst in African history in terms of gas burned.”

Chevron said its tests hadn’t found pollution in the air or water but that it would hire investigators from a nearby Nigerian university to conduct further studies.

The United Nations Environment Program in August estimated it would take 30 years and cost $1 billion to clean up oil spilled over decades into Nigeria’s river deltas. Oil companies and Nigeria’s government should share the cost, the U.N. group said.

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BVN National News Wire