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Guyana: No Politics in Rodney Commission of Inquiry

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – President Donald Ramotar has said that there is no politics in the convening of a commission of inquiry into the death of political activist, Dr Walter Rodney.

“This is purely a Presidential Commission. I responded to the heartfelt cry of Mrs Rodney [widow of Dr Rodney], who is advancing in age, and who wants to get some answers,” the President said Thursday.

Dr Walter Rodney – at the time a leader of the political group, Working People’s Alliance – died in a mysterious bomb blast outside the Georgetown Camp Street Prisons on June 13, 1980.

His widow currently lives in the United States.

Ramotar convened the Commission of Inquiry to probe the circumstances leading to the death of Rodney, in what is regarded by some as an assassination.

“This is not a political issue at all,” he said. “At no time did we discuss the Commission at any level of the [governing] People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C)”.

The hearing before the Commission began on April 28 and is now adjourned to June 23.

The President is confident that the Commissioners, comprising Barbadian, Sir Richard Cheltenham as Chairman, Jacqueline Samuel-Brown of Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Seenath Jairam, are professional and will preside over the Inquiry with judicial impartiality, fairness and professional integrity.

All Students Benefit from Minority Teachers

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite the cry from people of color for more teachers who look like them, both Whites and Blacks benefit from a more diverse teaching force, according to a study by Center of American Progress.

“… A study of the relationship between the presence of African American teachers in schools and African American students’ access to equal education in schools found that fewer African Americans were placed in special-education classes, suspended, or expelled when they had more teachers of color, and that more African American students were placed in gifted and talented programs and graduated from high school,” stated the report.

Teachers of color also have, “an affinity for infusing their classrooms with culturally relevant experiences and examples, setting high academic expectations, developing trusting student-teacher relationships, and serving as cultural and linguistic resources—as well as advocates, mentors, and liaisons—for students’ families and communities.”

A study titled, “Teacher Diversity Revisited” reported in May 2014 that learning from and networking with a multicultural teaching staff is also important for preparing White students for a workforce and society where they will no longer make up the majority.

students to interact with people who look and act differently than they do in order to build social trust and create a wider sense of community,” stated the report. “In other words, the benefits of diversity are not just for students of color.”

CAP researchers said that male teachers of color are more than twice as likely to ditch the classroom for another career than female teachers of color.

Black male teachers also told researchers that feelings of isolation or being the only Black male on the faculty increased their, “desire to leave their current schools.” When male minority teachers get certified in their main subject, they “are only half as likely to leave the field as are other teachers.”

In an effort to address the lack of minority teachers and to retain the ones currently in our nation’s classrooms, CAP report suggested states should “develop innovative approaches to teacher preparation in both university-based and alternative-certification programs.”

Researchers also proposed higher benchmarks for teacher-training programs.

The CAP report also cited the Education Department’s recruitment campaign aimed at preparing 80,000 Black teachers for classrooms across the country by 2015 to provide students not only with high-quality educational experiences, but also to present them with role models with a variety of cultural experiences, as well.

“There is a need for more teacher-preparation programs to embrace calls for higher quality and candidate expectations—indeed, to marry the call for quality and diversity,” stated the report. “Improved preparation will go a long way toward minimizing the number of new teachers that enter our schools ill-equipped and quickly exit through the revolving door.”

The report concluded that policymakers needed to shift their focus to retaining effective minority teachers, while supporting the efforts of minority professionals seeking to enter the field.

“States and school districts have the power to remove barriers to the retention and success of teachers of color. Those that do not address these barriers—by, for example, supporting high-quality teaching and reforming school conditions—will continue to face high turnover, destabilized faculties, and unsatisfactory student achievement levels,” the report stated. “Communities of color must advocate for effective teaching and encourage their children to prepare to enter a rigorous and demanding profession.”

The report calls for “access to not only high-quality education opportunities, but also a high-quality and an equally diverse teaching force.”

The CAP report said that effective teachers play a pivotal role in producing high performance students, and conversely that less experienced teachers often contribute to achievement gaps between Whites and non-Whites.

Minorities account for nearly half of the students in public schools in the United States, but less than 20 percent of teachers are non-White.

According to a 2011 study by The National Center for Education Information (NCEI), more than 80 percent of teachers are White and less than 10 percent are Black. At 70 percent, White females account for the majority of all teachers. Only 2 percent of all teachers are Black men, underscoring the paucity of Black male role models in U.S. public schools.

A 2014 report by the Children’s Defense Fund said that more than 80 percent of Black students can’t read at grade level and in 2010 less than 70 percent were graduating from high school in four years. Black students also received 1 in 6 out-of-school suspensions, compared to their White peers who received 1 in 20 out-of-school suspensions.

U.S. Political Views not Rigidly Defined

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Politically, the nation is less sharply divided collection of red and blue states, and more a rainbow patchwork of  political ideologies, according to the Pew Center.

The report, “Beyond vs. Blue: The Political Typology” (and its supplemental reports) breaks American politics down beyond primary colors. Political typology, a system the Pew Center devised 27 years ago, groups people based on their attitudes on key issues as opposed to their limited partisan labels.

“More Americans today hold consistently liberal or consistently conservative values across a wide range of issues, Democrats and Republicans are further apart ideologically, and more partisans express deeply negative views of the other political party,” the report reads. “But the typology shows that the center is hardly unified.”

This year’s typology survey revealed eight attitude categories. The highest share of African Americans (accounting for 30 percent of the group) fall into a category called the “faith and family left.” Religion “is a very important part of life” for 85 percent of this group’s members. They are, or lean, Democrat, favoring robust social programs, while also holding conservative attitudes on moral and religious issues such as same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization, and abortion. For Republicans looking to draw Black voters from the left, this would be the fount—fully 37 percent of the faith and family left consider themselves conservative.

The faith and family left is the only category that is majority-minority—it also encompasses the largest share of Latino and foreign-born voters. And yet, the views on racial issues are murky within this group. While 74 percent support affirmative action, only 28 percent believe the government should continue making changes to give Blacks equal rights. At the same time, 57 percent believe that “blacks who are unable to get ahead are responsible for their own condition.”

According to the report, this is now the prevailing attitude in the United States.

“While the public is divided over whether additional societal changes are needed to further racial equality, most do not believe that discrimination is the main reason why many blacks can’t get ahead today,” it states. “By more than two-to-one (63 percent to 27 percent), the public says blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.”

In fact, racial inequality is one of the most divisive topics on the left. Among “solid liberals” (just 15 percent of voters, 69 percent of whom are White), 80 percent say that discrimination holds Blacks back. This is compared to 31 percent of the faith and family left who believe the same. People under 50 who skew liberal are even more skeptical about racial inequality.

As the report explains, “The Next Generation Left are young, relatively affluent and very liberal on social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. But they have reservations about the cost of social programs. And while most of the Next Generation Left support affirmative action, they decisively reject the idea that racial discrimination is the main reason why many blacks are unable to get ahead.”

Only 19 percent of members of this group attribute the African American plight to racial discrimination. Fully 67 percent believe that the U.S. has made enough changes to even the racial playing field, and 77 percent believe that anyone who wants to get ahead can do so through hard work. Black Americans account for 7 percent of the next generation left.

Black voters account for less than 5 percent of “steadfast conservatives” and even less of “business conservatives,” the two Republican-leaning groups. Among political “bystanders,” those disenfranchised or unregistered by choice and/or pay little to no attention to politics, 10 percent are Black. Black voters make up a significant share (20 percent) of “hard-pressed skeptics” who identify as Independents. (This group is still largely White, making up 61 percent of the ranks).

“Deeply financially-stressed and distrustful of government, Hard-Pressed Skeptics lean toward the Democratic Party but have reservations about both political parties,” the report explains. “They want government to do more to solve problems, but have doubts about its efficiency.”

This group has a half-hearted interest in following government (43 percent pay attention “most of the time”), is largely under- and unemployed, and has the lowest incomes and education levels.

In turn, members of this group overwhelmingly harbor negative opinions, including: immigrants are a burden on the country; government benefits don’t go far enough; hard work does not guarantee success; and the country’s best times have passed.

Despite all of these differences, the average citizen is not nearly as politically unyielding as the behavior of elected officials might suggest.

The report explains that “Overall, more Americans say they prefer elected officials who make compromises with people they disagree with than those who stick to their positions (56 percent vs. 39 percent),” with the exception of “steadfast conservatives” who prefer their candidates—well, steadfast. Similarly, the faith and family left are about evenly divided on the merit of candidates who can compromise.

And so, it’s going to be a nail-biting election season for a deadlocked two-party system struggling to capture and represent the ideological diversity among voters, the report concludes.

“Beyond the ideological wings, which make up a minority of the public, the political landscape includes a center that is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else,” it explains. “As a result, both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.”

Blacks Unemployment Best in 6 Years

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Black unemployment rate hit a six-year low in June, dipping below 11 percent for the first time since August 2008.

Last week, the Labor Department reported that the Black jobless rate was 10.7 percent in June, compared to the White unemployment rate, which was 5.3 percent. The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 years-old fell from 11.5 percent in May to 10.9 percent in June, compared to White men who saw their jobless rate decrease from 5 percent to 4.9 percent over the same period.

The jobless rate for Black women over 20 years-old continued to improve, dropping one percentage point, from 10 percent in May to 9 percent in June. The unemployment rate for White women ticked down one-tenth of a percentage point from 4.9 percent in May to 4.8 percent in June.

The fall in the Black unemployment rate was accompanied by an increase in the groups labor force participation rate, which measures the share of Black workers holding jobs or looking for jobs. When the labor force rate rises, researchers have found that workers generally have a more positive outlook on the economy. In June, the Black labor force rate rose to 61 percent from 60.8 percent the previous month.

In a blog post on the jobs report, Valerie Wilson, the director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, said that the increase in the labor force rates for Blacks and Latinos was another indicator that June jobs report was a strong one.

“The share of working age African Americans with a job has increased 1.3 percentage points since January 2014 and the increase for Latinos has been six-tenths of a percent, compared to an increase of one-tenth of a percent for Whites,” wrote Wilson. “The June employment growth accounts for over half of this increase for African Americans and all of the gains for Latinos and Whites.  These gains also bring the Black-White unemployment gap to the lowest level this year at a ratio of 2-to-1.”

Wilson added: “The fact that employment is now growing more strongly for African Americans and Latinos demonstrates how critical continued strong job growth will be to further reducing unemployment for people of color and narrowing racial unemployment gaps.”

The national unemployment rate was 6.1 percent and employers added 288,000 jobs in June. The jobs numbers for April and May were revised upwards, combining for an additional 29,000 jobs over the two-month period.

Speaking in Washington, D.C. about the latest jobs report, President Barack Obama said that the United States has seen “the fastest job growth in the United States in the first half of the year since 1999” and “the quickest drop in unemployment in 30 years.”

Obama continued: “So it gives you a sense that the economy has built momentum, that we are making progress.  We’ve now seen almost 10 million jobs created over the course of the last 52 months.  And it should be a useful reminder to people all across the country that given where we started back in 2008, we have made enormous strides, thanks to the incredible hard work of the American people and American businesses that have been out there competing, getting smarter, getting more effective.”

In a statement on June’s jobs report, Chad Stone, the chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote that even though the report showed “encouraging signs that the labor market is healing,” millions of workers continue to struggle through periods of long-term unemployment.

Washington lawmakers cut a crucial lifeline when they failed to extend emergency unemployment insurance (UI) at the end of last year. Millions of out-of-work Americans will lose their UI benefits by the end of 2014, if Congress doesn’t act.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration encouraged companies to sign a pledge to improve opportunities for workers who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, a condition that Blacks suffer at disproportionate rates compared to Whites.

Companies that signed the pledge agreed to review current recruitment and hiring practices said that they would make sure employment listings didn’t discriminate against the long-term unemployed or discourage them from applying.

“It’s a sort of economic patriotism where you say to yourself, how is it that we can start rebuilding this country to make sure that all of the young people who are here but their kids and their grandkids are going to be able to enjoy the same incredible opportunities that this country offers as we have,” said Obama.  “That’s our job.  That’s what we should be focused on.”

Concussions a Greater Problem for Black Youth

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite the flurry of news about NFL lawsuits over concussions, the problem affects far more athletes at the high school and junior high school level, according to the federal government statistics.

In 2009 alone, nearly 250,000 youth age 19 or younger were treated in emergency rooms for sports and recreation-related injuries that included concussions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2001 and 2009, the rate of such visits rose 57 percent.

Concussions occur when the brain is shaken violently against the skull. Although concussions are the most common brain injury, widespread awareness and concern about this issue in the world of student athletics is fairly recent.

But it is especially relevant for Black communities, particularly young men most likely to die from traumatic brain injuries, according to the CDC. And according to data from research nonprofit, Child Trends, 50 to 60 percent of Black American high schoolers were on a sports team in 2011.

In severe or untreated cases, they can cause brain damage, seizures, emotional distress, and death—in fact the CDC estimates that 5.3 million U.S. citizens are living with disability as a result of a traumatic brain injury (or TBI, an umbrella term that includes concussions).

“From an athletic trainer perspective concussions have always been a big concern. Coaches seemed to think that injuries increased because [athletic trainers] were there, but really it’s that awareness is increased,” says Jennifer Rheeling, a veteran athletic trainer in D.C. Public Schools and chair of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for the D.C. State Athletic Association.

“In the last five years particularly with the NFL starting to talk about it, and the lawsuits, has helped immensely now that people get it on a mainstream level. What they thought was just getting their bell rung was really a concussion.”

On the most diligent and well-resourced student teams, players take baseline tests—a battery of motor skill drills and survey questions to record their individual peak cognitive health—and have athletic trainers who check for signs of decline. If a concussion is suspected, a player does another test to compare those results to his or her baseline. The ImPACT Concussion Management program is currently the program of record for these tests among school athletic programs.

But according to Dr. Vernon Williams, neurologist and medical director of the Sports Concussion Institute, a lack of access to care compounds the (now fading) problem of awareness. ImPACT, for example, costs a minimum of $400 per year for 100 baseline tests and 15 post-injury tests for one school. Meanwhile, many schools and school districts, largely populated by Black and brown children, routinely have to make cuts to balance their budget.

“We have coaches who understand the need, but they have different resources. For example, we know baseline testing for people in contact collision sports can help evaluate when people get injured,” Dr. Williams explains. “But it’s uncommon for people to have access to state-of-the-art baseline testing. Players, school systems, and parents don’t have access to those funds. But we can still implement treatment using creative measures.”

Currently, Dr. Gary Harris, who specializes in computer engineering and serves as associate provost for Research and Graduate Studies at Howard University, is working with engineering students and the Bison football team to devise an inexpensive concussion monitoring system, using an open source platform.

(“Open source” is a tech industry term that means the equipment and information to create this system is public as opposed to proprietary, so as to encourage others to innovate and improve on the idea).

The project uses a computer chip attached inside the helmet that measures impact up to 100 gs of force. For reference: a sneeze is about 2 or 3 gs of force on the human body; an F-16 fighter jet barrel roll exerts 7 to 9 gs; a car crash at 45 mph is about 60 gs. Concussions usually happen with collisions between 80 and 120 gs.

The chip records the force of impact for every collision—it can be programed to transmit this information wirelessly, say, to a cell phone app. Or, it can be downloaded from the helmet using a USB cable. It can also be programed to send an alert when a hit exceeds a certain threshold.

“You can have an entire team’s list where you know all their shock, trauma, and incidents on file,” says Dr. Harris. “We still don’t know the threshold of force for brain damage, we don’t know how many hits it takes, but the first thing we have to do is collect the data.”

Each of these chips costs approximately $30.

Technology is also being used to improve care and outcomes the aftermath of serious concussion cases. Interactive Metronome, a health tech company that creates neurological research-based brain training programs and activities, is one example. The activities are designed around “brain timing”—the ability to clap to a beat, for example. As users play games and do activities that test their reaction time, those brain cell connections are repaired and strengthened. Originally (and primarily) used to improve motor skills and cognitive function in children with ADD/ADHD, the program is beginning to see success with TBI rehabilitation.

“We fit into concussions in a new way, which is helping out when those [post-concussion] symptoms don’t dissipate,” says Nick Etten, vice president of Strategy and Business Development at Interactive Metronome. “There’s a lot of emphasis on technology these days—it’s really important in the world of concussions and cognitive rehab. We’re starting to understand that there was a big void in information.”

Technology has helped improve identifying and treating concussions; on the prevention front, sports health care professionals now have the backing of the law. In all 50 states, a student athlete must be immediately removed from play if a concussion is suspected, and cannot return to practice or play without medical clearance. Some states also mandate that a student must remain free of symptoms or remain on the injured list for a set period of time, even if they gain medical clearance immediately.

But there are still holes in preventing these injuries.

“There’s clearly benefits to legislation in terms of drawing attention to the issue of concussions and having some foundation across the board with how they should be managed,” says Dr. Williams. “I think there are some variables…related to who should be allowed to clear players.”

He and Rheeling have both seen athletes on under-resourced teams get clearance from an emergency room resident, for example, in contrast with athletes who take a concussion test against their baseline with their team’s athletic trainer. They’ve also seen instances of students underreporting their symptoms, coaches resisting care recommendations, and parents being lax in monitoring their child’s rest after a concussion.

Emerging laws are attempting to add another layer of protection by regulating the number of weekly practices involving rough contact drills, thus reducing exposure to collisions and risk of concussion. Trainers, coaches, parents, and athletes can also receive guidance through resources such as the American Academy of Neurology online Sports Concussion Toolkit, and organizations such as the Sports Legacy Network.

“We’re at the end of the beginning as relates to concussion management. We’re learning more every day and the process will continue to evolve,” says Dr. Williams. “We’re out of the phase of explaining what a concussion is, identifying symptoms…. It’s no longer an unrecognized epidemic, we’re aware of the issues and that [a concussion] has to be managed effectively.”

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