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OAS Pledges Assistance to Haiti Ahead of Local, Legislative Polls

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – The Organization of American States (OAS) has pledged its continued support for the initiatives being undertaken in Haiti to ensure local and legislative elections are held in the French-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country in October.

Haiti’s politicians have put aside their differences and in March signed an agreement ending a political impasse that had threatened to delay the polls.

The accord was signed by President Michel Martelly and Senator Steven Benoit, who was mandated to sign on behalf of the president of the Senate as well as by more than 50 parties of different political affiliations which were part of the talks held under the mediation of the first Haitian Cardinal, Chibly Langlois.

However, three political parties, including the Lavalas Family party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had withdrawn from the talks because they wanted the departure of the entire government. Aristide’s party is also engaged in a movement to try to force President Martelly from power.

OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin, who is expected to meet with CARICOM leaders during their 35th annual summit here, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that the hemispheric body would continue to provide support to all the stakeholders to ensure the October polls are held.

“The relationship between Haiti and the Organization of American States is a long standing one particularly in the context of elections and efforts at strengthening of democracy…and so in this case also we have been constantly in discussions with the government, the executive authorities, with the CEP, the authorities that will have to be responsible for organising the elections.

“At this point in time we all that the elections are long overdue, these elections should be held as soon as possible but under the right circumstances,’ Ramdin said, adding that the OAS was pleased with the fact that for the first time “political parties met to discuss how to move forward

“That was a very encouraging sign, we supported that and this is something that we must not under estimate the importance of this national dialogue”.

Ramdin said as a result of the talks, “there are responsibilities on the side of the government and the side of the legislative authorities” to move forward the process of holding the elections.
“We have always stated that we want these elections to be held as soon as possible. But it is a Haitian election, it is under Haitian leadership and they have to agree on the conditions under which these elections will take place.”

But Ramdin stressed that the elections were important “because in the context of strengthening democracy we need a full fledge complete House of Deputies and a complete House of Senators to be able to move forward with the economic agenda, the political agenda.

“So we hope that President Martelly and the legislative authorities will be able to agree on how to move forward, approve the electoral law and we stand ready to provide technical assistance to the CEP, the elections bureau to make sure that whatever assistance they need that they can count on the OAS and other international partners”.

Ramdin told CMC the OAS was already playing a role in terms of registration of voters and out of that project “there is the electoral list will be extracted”.

He said he OAS had discussed last week with Martelly the need to observe the elections “as we have done in the past.

“So this is the role of the organisation, helping out behind the scenes, accompanying the process in the context of strengthening democracy but providing as well technical assistance and observing the election.”

The first round of the elections is scheduled for October 26 and Ramdin said the OAS is hoping that the CEP would be able to organize the polls within the timeframe.

“There are some political issues the president and the legislative authority need to work out and we are encouraging them to do that as soon as possible. If the CEP is able to hold these elections from an organisation point of view…we will support that, there is no doubt that Haiti needs these elections, the Haitian people need these elections, the constitution prescribe these elections and it is good for Haitian democracy and democracy in general that the election is taking place,” Ramdin said.

Nigeria’s Finance Minister Addresses UK Parliament, Announcing Enhanced Counter-Terror Efforts

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

On July 2, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance, addressed the Parliament of the United Kingdom on the recently launched Safe Schools Initiative, a component of the government of Nigeria’s large-scale intervention program to counter terrorism within its borders and provide strong support to the areas of northeastern Nigeria that have been affected by terrorism.

The Safe Schools Initiative aims to prevent future attacks on schools by installing modern alarm systems and proper fencing, facilitating community participation in protecting the schools and training security guards. The initiative will also fund the reconstruction of schools that have been damaged or destroyed by terror attacks. Lighting for renovated schools is planned to include the introduction of modern and environmentally friendly sustainable systems such as solar power.

To ensure program success, Nigeria will work closely with state governments, local communities and the international community, led by United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. Funding for the Safe Schools Initiative is provided by Nigeria’s contribution of $10 million, with a matching contribution of $10 million from the Nigerian private sector. Additional financial support is expected from the African Development Bank, Norway, the World Bank and the U.K. Department for International Development.

The Safe Schools Initiative is one of three components of Nigeria’s wide-reaching counter terrorism strategy. The other components focus on the provision of emergency relief to affected communities and reconstruction of infrastructure and public facilities in northeastern Nigeria.

Introducing School Children to Dr. King's Friends

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Over the course of a 32-year teaching career, Jacqueline James noticed a glaring problem—Black history was slowly but surely being ignored in the schools where she worked. When it was outright dropped from her required curricula, she got creative, using Black history calendar factoids for penmanship lessons.

“Now, Black history is watered down to them teaching about [Martin Luther King Jr.] in January, then they don’t even do anything else,” says James, adding that teachers today are under so much pressure, they don’t have time to truly teach.

“Even now…I really think children need to know who helped him. Because they think Martin Luther King did everything from free the slaves to help Lebron James. It’s crazy.”

Now retired, she’s on a quest to re-educate the nation’s Black children. In 2009, she founded JAX Publications to write, self-publish, and market a children’s historical non-fiction series of books, called Friends of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The sepia-toned hardcovers feature key players in the Civil Rights Movement who supported and worked with Dr. King. They are written at a middle school level, and each book has accompanying lesson plans and enrichment activities for teachers. James’ lesson plans are also in line with the Department of Education’s Common Core educational standards, which have been adopted by almost every state.

And she’s enriching her own life, too. Through her company, JAX Publications, James is able to avoid the steep percentage cuts of being carried in a bookstore,which typically takes 40 percent, or working with a publisher who might want to own the rights to her work.

But more importantly, the project allows the self professed “historical-accuracy fanatic” to get up-close and personal with the figures she so admires. Take C. T. Vivian, the subject of the first book in the series, for example.

“When I was 17…I saw this man standing, talking to this White racist sheriff. He wouldn’t stop talking, and the [sheriff] hit him and knocked him down. And then he got right back up and kept talking. They picked him up and took him to jail,” she remembers. “Then I saw the same scene years later on [PBS documentary] Eyes on the Prize, and I said, ‘That’s the same man from those years ago!’”

Forty years after that, James was a guest at an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery, Ala. march and Rev. Vivian was also in attendance.

“And I went and introduced myself, saying, ‘You don’t know me but I’ve known you for years. I’m glad to meet you now,’” she says. “We shook hands and talked, and I said, ‘Somebody needs to write a book about you….’ And he said, ‘Well, here’s my number. Call me when you get back to Atlanta and we’ll sit down and talk about it.’”

Since then, she’s become acquainted with other civil rights luminaries such as Dorothy Cotton, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and many more (even becoming good friends with the latter’s daughter, Ruby Shuttlesworth Bester).

“You only hear about Martin Luther King in Birmingham, you don’t know about what this man [Shuttlesworth] did eight-nine years before that. Just talking to him—” she says, expressing how excited she was to get to know him. “And then the next year he was saying, ‘You know I’ve got a brain tumor, right?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean, brain tumor?” And he goes, “Well that’s from all those White people beating up on my head for all those years.’”

A few months after that conversation, Shuttlesworth began having strokes. And a few years after that, his wife called to ask James to rush-deliver his book in the series. A few hours after reading the un-illustrated, unpublished manuscript, Shuttlesworth died at home.

“They had a chance to read it together and that just meant so much to me,” James says. “He couldn’t speak by then, but [his wife] said she could tell he was really pleased.”

James says that if she hadn’t been the kind of voracious reader who has read the newspaper cover-to-cover since grade school, she might have never known about these key figures. In fact, when she first met Shuttlesworth at an awards ceremony, she had no knowledge of who he was or the contributions he had made until he gave his keynote address.

There was also the time a librarian friend had invited her to an author event featuring Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson, author of The House on the Side of the Road: The Selma Civil Rights Movement. Unbeknownst to James at the time, the home of Jackson and her husband, Dr. Sullivan Jackson, served as the safe house and headquarters for all civil rights activity in Selma, Ala. President Lyndon B. Johnson was even known to call there looking for Dr. King and others.

The more James learned as she taught, the more she realized how little Black history was being shared across generations. For example, she recalls learning that Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” had been written on smuggled scraps of paper over time, and that his friend Wyatt T. Walker not only reassembled it later, but had also smuggled in the camera that captured the iconic photos of his imprisonment.

Even in her own childhood, James, now 66, remembers not knowing much about the history taking place around her.

“Our parents didn’t talk about it,” she recalls. “I remember hearing Rosa Parks’ name, and not riding the bus, but I was nine then. And I vaguely remember the dogs on those children in Birmingham. But everything else I found out because of my own nosy self.”

Today, the Friends of Martin Luther King, Jr. series consists of 28 titles, including  A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Height, and more. Her books can be found in Georgia’s DeKalb County library system; in a few schools in Michigan, DeKalb County, Atlanta, and Durham, N.C. and can also be purchased directly from her website, www.jaxpublications.com. In addition to adding to the series, she’s also seeking financial partners to launch a children’s magazine, and dipping her toes in publishing other like-minded authors’ works.

“When I ask students, do you know any of [Dr. King’s] friends…one student told me, ‘I didn’t know he had friends.’ What was sad was when another student asked me, ‘Was Harriet Tubman his friend?’

“We’re the only race on the face of the Earth that would let other people tell our history, let other people take our history, and tell us what we can teach. I don’t take anything from Martin Luther King – he has contributed the utmost. But, we have more history than that.”

Rights Groups Call for Congress to Act on the Voting

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – One year after the United States Supreme Court gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “the right to vote for all is under grave threat,” says Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of nearly 200 civil and human rights organizations.

Last summer, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down section 4 of the VRA, a key provision of the law that defined which states and jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination had to pre-clear any changes to voting rules with the Department of Justice or a federal court.

After the ruling, Republican lawmakers in Texas, North Carolina and other states rushed to pass restrictive voter ID laws that often block poor and Black voters from the ballot box. Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Justice, and civil rights groups countered by filing lawsuits in a number of states across the country.

During a press conference highlighting the one-year anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder case, Henderson  said, “Voting is the language of American democracy: if you don’t vote, you don’t count.”

Henderson added: “Discrimination at the ballot box is unfortunately still alive and well across America.”

A study by the Leadership Conference on recent voting rights violations said, “Between 2000 and June 2013, there were 148 Section 5 objections or other Voting Rights Act violations recorded across 29 states. Texas had the most with 30.”

The report also said that the abuses ranged “from an instance in Kilmi­chael, Mississippi, when the town cancelled a general election for the office of mayor and board of alderman after Blacks had come a majority of the registered voters, to the closure of polling places in heavily minority areas.”

Because local elections operate outside of the national media spotlight, voting rights transgressions often receive little attention, until it’s too late. Then voters and non-profit advocacy groups with limited resources are forced to file costly lawsuits and wait. Last summer’s Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the preclearance coverage formula of the VRA made it more difficult for those groups to seek redress.

Testifying before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary on the one-year anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision, Sherrilyn Ifill,  president and director-counsel NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. said that many discriminatory changes have been enacted, but have gone undetected or unchallenged.

“Some have said that other provisions of the Voting Rights Act are sufficient to deal with discrimination in voting. This is also not true. Litigation is costly, time-consuming, and can only address voting discrimination after it has gone into effect and after the democratic process has been besmirched with the taint of discrimination,” said Ifill. “Moreover, even the assortment of civil rights law organizations that, like my own, are committed to representing voters in such cases, could not keep up with litigating the litany of changes that have been unleashed in just the first year after the Shelby County decision.”

In January, a bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers accepted the Supreme Court’s challenge to update the VRA, by introducing the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014.

While the proposed VRAA covers states with five  violations in 15 years and jurisdictions that show continuous low minority turnout and enhances Department of Justice’s power to monitor elections, it only requires Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi to “pre-clear” changes to voting laws. Voters’ rights advocates have said that North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida should also be covered. The bill also goes soft on restrictive voter ID laws, installing a special rule that separates voter ID laws from other discriminatory practices.

Henderson said that it’s time for Congress to pass modern, 21st century protections found in the VRAA to combat documented discrimination and protect the fundamental right to vote for all.

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, called on Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to “do the right thing” and call for a vote on the Voting Rights Amendment Act.

Although the bill isn’t perfect, most voters’ rights advocates and civil rights groups agree that headed into the 2014 midterm elections, the VRAA is better than nothing.

According to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice, “In 2013 and 2014, at least 10 of the 15 states that had been covered in whole or in part by Section 5 introduced new restrictive legislation that would make it harder for minority voters to cast a ballot. These have passed in two states: Virginia (stricter photo ID requirement and increased restrictions on third-party voter registration) and North Carolina,” stated the report. “ Further, seven other formerly covered states also passed restrictive legislation in 2011 and 2012, prior to the Shelby County decision.”

Lorraine Miller, the interim president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said that her group plans to engage members of Congress and call for House hearings on the VRAA, enlist registered voters to help first-time and elderly voters securing all required documents and identification necessary to vote, work with faith leaders to educate their congregations about voting, and deploy 2.5 million digital activists to support unfettered access to the polls.

“We must act with renewed urgency in advancing the VRAA through the congressional process,” said Lorraine Miller, the interim president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The looming risk of voter disenfranchisement threatens our democracy.”

Miller added: “Failure to advance this legislation gives a free pass to voter discrimination.”

Martin and Coretta King Awarded Congressional Gold Medal

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – During a recent ceremony on Capitol Hill, lawmakers from the United States Senate and House of Representatives celebrated the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King with the Congressional Gold Medal.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did more than help end discrimination in America,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio). “The Civil Rights Act established that legal discrimination would no longer be a barrier to what one could achieve; but that achievement should be solely determined by one’s ability and ambition.”

Fudge added that Dr. King and President Lyndon B. Johnson exemplify the principles on which our nation was founded.

Rep. John Lewis, former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC),  called Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, his brother and sister and said that they taught civil rights activists of the day the way of peace, the way of love, and the way of nonviolence.

“Through their actions, their speeches, and their writings they helped create the climate for the passage of the Civil Right Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” said Lewis, the last living speaker from the historic 1963 March on Washington.

Lewis also said that without the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, there would be no Barack Obama as president of the United States.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) sponsored the legislation that honored the Kings with the Congressional Gold Medal and called on lawmakers to work together to ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans.

“If the Reverend and Mrs. King could speak to us now, if our predecessors who passed the Civil Rights Act could speak to us now, would they not challenge us to come together across lines of party and geography in a great cause?” asked Levin. “Would they not encourage us, for example, to pass legislation restoring the protections of the Voting Rights Act?”

Fudge agreed.

“The Civil Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 established equal opportunity and equal protection under the law for every American. Together we must protect it,” said Fudge. “We must fulfill the promise of the Civil Rights Act by ensuring every American’s right to vote is protected. Let’s pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014.”

Lonnie Bunch III, the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, where the medal will be housed, said that he was humbled and honored to help preserve the legacy of the Kings.

“As a result of their sacrifices and their commitment to a fairer America, many of us have experienced possibilities once unimaginable, said Bunch.

Bunch continued: “There is nothing more powerful than a people, than a nation, that is steeped in its history and there are few things as noble as honoring all of our ancestors by remembering [them]. With the acquisition of this medal, the Smithsonian will ensure that as long as there is an America the courage the impact and the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King will be honored, preserved and remembered.”

Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice A. King accepted the award on behalf of their deceased parents.

The King siblings have sparred publicly in recent years over their father’s documents, including his Bible and his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize medal.  Martin III and Dexter sued Bernice to force her to relinquish the Bible and peace prize medal. The King children have also drawn criticism for reaping millions by licensing their father’s seminal “I have a Dream” speech.

None of the King siblings spoke during the ceremony.

In an opinion piece for “The Hill,” a newspaper focused on Congress, Martin Luther King III said that Americans should be doing more than simply memorializing his parents and their work.

“Instead of recalling the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts that gave this nation its long-promised ‘new birth of freedom,’ why are we not further expanding civil rights and voter participation in this country?” wrote Martin III. “There is no denying that we have made great strides in the 50 years since the Civil Rights Act. This ought to give pause to those who assert that no federal law ever did any good. That is why I hope that by next summer, when we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Congress will have worked with me in seeking federal legislation to make it easier for every citizen to vote.”

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