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AGOA, Mugabe and the Push for a Pan-African Union

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By Minister P.D. Menelik Harris
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

The major success story from the Diaspora to Africa so far for this century is the successful campaign for a fair trade for Africa bill, which is currently called the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. In many ways, the original Africa trade bill is a Pan-African success story with the great blessings of President Robert Mugabe. However, the AGOA does not meet the “great Zimbabwe trust” and is quickly becoming a “re-colonization bill.”

Ambassador Nelson Ndirangu recently warned, “The United States, for example, threatened African countries that it would terminate the preferential access provided under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act programme.”

The journey to the AGOA started on the eve of 21st century, with African leaders calling for sustainable economic development to advance hard-won political “freedom.” It was also a response by the European Union and the United States to fears that if Africa continues to pivot eastward under a union government, the result would eventually be the economic collapse of Europe and the United States. Given this scenario, the U.S. passed the AGOA, giving Africa some incentives for duty-free trade in textiles. This trade agreement was the U.S. insurance package that a powerful Africa would not completely cut ties with America as it rose from its post-colonial devastated economy into a United States of Africa, forged by the late President Moumar Khaddafi. Certainly, by 2007 the EU and U.S. economies collapsed because of the newly competitive markets in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, now called the BRICS group.

Despite clear warning signs, African leadership failed to pull itself together as a union government, and so within the past 10 years the EU and U.S. imperialist agenda was adjusted from a subtle Clintonian competition for Africa’s enormous market to the blatant Bush-Obama plan for the militarization of Africa. It was the indecisive and weak leadership of Africa combined with the great recession of Europe that finally caused Europe to literally “bum-rush” Africa for resources to stabilize their economies.

African leaders’ failure to create a Pan-Africa led to the destruction of Libya in 2011 and now the weakening of the AGOA as an incentive for Africa. Since 2011, the AGOA as an incentive for meaningful and fair trade relations with Africa has been replaced with a greater focus by the EU and U.S. to use military means to dominate Africa. AFRICOM’s war on terror has replaced the AGOA as the main incentive for doing business with Africa.

Indeed, Africa’s problem was increased in 2008, when African leaders were bamboozled by the election of a Black U.S. president. The African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity) was deceived and refocused its agenda from a fast-track approach to a union government to embracing the Black U.S. president’s agenda that was mainly fronting for imperialism. With the leaders of Africa lowering their vigilance for security in a union, Africa was viciously attacked by the EU and U.S. and forced to submit to a regionally divided system with a new agenda that benefited their European attackers.

New Education Official Wants to Reform NCLB

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – John King, Jr., a highly-respected educator from New York City, says that teachers saved his life and in his new post as the deputy secretary at the Department of Education, he wants all children to have the support in school that he had growing up.

Both of King’s parents were life-long educators. His father, John King, Sr., was the first Black principal at an integrated school in Brooklyn, N.Y. and also served as a the deputy superintendent for New York City schools after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education banned “separate, but equal” practices in public schools.

In elementary school, King used to ride to work with his mother, Adalinda, who worked as guidance counselor at the middle school. When King was in the fourth grade, his mother suffered a heart attack at work. That night he went to the hospital with his father and the next morning, his father broke the news to him. His mother was gone. She was just 48. It was hard for the younger King to understand at 8 years old.

“Losing my mom in a lot of ways was the moment when school took on this much larger importance in my life,” said King. School became the safe harbor from the turmoil in his home life that slowly deteriorated after his mother passed away.

His father, then in his 70s, started to forget things.

“I didn’t know why he would forget things,” King recalled, though he later learned that his father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. “I didn’t know why he would be upset one moment and not upset the next.”

In an environment where there was a lot of instability, King said school was a source of stability, structure and support and for three years, from the fourth grade to the sixth grade, Alan Osterweil’s classroom anchored that stability.

In that class, King read the New York Times every day, memorized the capital and leader for every country in the world and performed Shakespeare. King said he felt free to be a kid.

“He set very high expectations for us,” said King. “Sometimes people think that kids will be overwhelmed by higher expectations, but I think that kids rise to higher expectations and one of the things that I experienced in his classroom was that his high expectations were motivating and encouraging to all of us. He also paid a lot of attention to a full range of subjects.”

King said that Osterweil saw his role as a teacher wasn’t just about conveying knowledge, but it was also about mentoring and supporting students.

John, Sr. died at 79, when John Jr., was 12 years old. He then lived with a half brother on Long Island and later, an uncle and aunt in Cherry Hill, N.J.

King said that he carried the lessons he learned in Osterweil’s class with him when he taught his own social studies class and co-founded a charter school in Boston, Mass., after attending Harvard University and earning a master’s degree at the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York.

Following in his parents’ footsteps, King dedicated his life to education, rising through ranks to become the first New York State education commissioner of African American and Puerto Rican descent in 2011. King was recently selected to become the deputy secretary of the Department of Education.

“Not only am I here doing this today because of that teacher, but I’m alive, because [Osterweil] provided stability during that period in my life,” said King.

In his new role, King will manage the agency’s major initiatives that includes working to revise President George W. Bush’s 2002 “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) law.

King noted that, by some measures, student achievement has improved since NCLB updated the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally signed into law in 1965.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, high school graduation rates for Black students (measured as the average freshman graduation rates) increased from 59 percent in 2006 to 68 percent in 2012, compared to White students who saw their graduation rates rise from 80 percent to 85 percent over the same time period.

The 2014 study “Building a Grad Nation” reported that when researchers began analyzing the effects of “dropout factories,” defined as schools where less than 60 percent of the students were graduating, almost half of all Black students attended one of them. By 2012, the report said, the number of Black students attended one of those schools had been slashed in half to 23 percent.

King said ESEA is really a civil rights law that was intended to ensure equity for all students across the country and there is still a lot of work to do.

“One of the problems with the NCLB law is that it focused just on absolute performance,” said King. “What we’ve tried to do at the department with the ‘waiver process’ is to focus on growth.”

Through the waiver process, the Obama administration freed more than 30 states and Washington, D.C. from NCLB’s stringent testing requirements, which often faced sharp criticism from educators and school administrators. Exempt school districts tracked the individual progress of students independent of how they ranked against other students on a standardized test.

More than a decade since NCLB was enacted, civil rights groups and Washington lawmakers are now focused on improving it.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, recently issued a draft proposal aimed at reforming NCLB.

He suggested shifting more responsibility for designing programs that measure student achievement to state and local jurisdictions and also proposed limiting the Education Secretary’s ability to craft guidelines that direct instructional material, evaluation systems and “definitions of teacher, principal, or school leader effectiveness.’’

While Senator Alexander’s proposal shifts responsibility for targeted funding for at-risk students and teacher evaluation tools back to the states, civil rights groups want more federal oversight.

Nearly 30 civil rights and education advocacy groups united to express their concerns about the reauthorization of the ESEA in a joint statement.

The coalition recommended that each state provide annual assessments for all students in the third grade through the eighth grade and high school and that targeted funding be used to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children in our nation’s schools including youth in juvenile and criminal justice system. The group also said that states should expand data collection and reporting to parents and the public on student achievement, course-completion and graduation rates.

Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said his organization is deeply opposed to Senator Alexander’s approach to reauthorize ESEA.

“When President Johnson signed ESEA into law he said that the bill represented ‘the commitment of the federal government to quality and equality in the schooling we offer our young people,’” said Morial in a statement. “Yet, with this draft, Chairman Alexander moves our nation in the opposite direction and strikes at our most cherished civil rights principle: that every child has fair and equal access to a quality education regardless of family income, ZIP code, disability, language or race.”

Morial said that lawmakers must rewrite the bill and commit to strong federal oversight in education and equity in access to high quality instruction and resources for all students.

Morial continued: “This partisan bill, drafted with little input from civil rights partners, cannot be tweaked to meet the needs of the communities in which we serve. We believe that Chairman Alexander’s ESEA draft moves us backwards—it ignores equity, guts federal accountability and shifts resources away from children in most need.”

King echoed Morial’s concerns and said that the fear is that some of what has been proposed would be a step backwards from equity and opportunity.

“We know that for our kids, their best shot is if they have a high quality education that prepares them to be successful after they graduate from high school,” said King. “We have no future as a country if we don’t ensure that African American students get a high quality education, that Latino students get a high quality education, that our English language learners get a high quality education. Our future depends on ensuring that every student has the full range of opportunities.”

Poor Communities Lose Billions to Predatory Lenders

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Predatory lenders continue to target poor, Black and Latino communities, siphoning off $103 billion in fees and interests every year, and the rest of us are paying for it, according to a recent report by United for a Fair Economy.

“This is more money lost in poor communities than the United States spends on domestic food aid annually,” the report said. “We as a society end up subsidizing that lost income (an average of $3,029 per affected household) through a social safety net that is already underfunded and overcapacity.”

In “State of the Dream 2015: Underbanked and Overcharged,” United for a Fair Economy (UFE), an independent research group that advocates for economic equality across race, gender and class lines, chronicled the disparities that continue to plague the banking industry.

Mike Leyba, the communications director at UFE and co-author of the report said that systemic economic exclusion, largely based on race, has existed for hundreds of years in the United States.

The free labor of kidnapped and enslaved Africans enabled White male land owners and the financial institutions that supported them to accumulate massive amounts of wealth over hundreds of years.

Following the Civil War, Jim Crow laws and “The Black Codes,” continued to deprive freed African slaves of economic opportunities for decades.

After World War II, the GI Bill provided White male veterans a pathway to college, professional careers and a boost into the middle class, a bridge that was closed to Black veterans who also fought and spilled blood overseas. Later, the Federal Housing Administration blocked Black families from moving into suburban neighborhoods, built with and partially funded by government subsidies.

“More than a quarter of all White families shifted from renting to owning in the twenty years following WWII,” stated the report. “Despite laws to the contrary, Black people were excluded from buying homes in White neighborhoods and were forced instead to live in urban ghettos.”

According to the UFE report, less than 1 percent of all mortgages from 1930 to 1960 were issued to Black people.

By 2013, the median wealth held by White families ($141,900), dwarfed the median wealth ($11,000) of Black families.

“As an estimated 80 percent of assets come from transfers from prior generations, the history of the financial situations of prior generations is a primary cause of the racial wealth gap,” stated the report.

Leyba said that economic exclusion, largely based on race still exists, but it’s much harder to pinpoint.

“It may not be legalized or sanctioned by the federal government,” said Leyba. “But it still exists.”

Economic exclusion continues to plague the banking sector, leaving 93 million Americans “unbanked” or “underbanked.”

“The unbanked are people that do not have any type of consumer checking account, and are outside the entire banking system,” the report explained. “The underbanked are people that have a checking account, but also rely on Alternate Financial Service Providers.”

According to the report more than 20 percent (20.5 percent) of Black households were unbanked in 2013, compared to 3.6 percent of White households.

Forty percent of Black households were full-banked compared to 75.4 percent of White households.

Alternate Financial Service Providers or AFSPs include payday loans, auto title loans, rent-to-own shops, subprime credit cards, high-interest rate installment loans, check cashing, prepaid reloadable debit cards, and money orders, the report said.

Researchers found that people shun traditional banks in favor of AFSPs for a number of reasons. Fifty-eight percent said that they didn’t have enough money to meet minimum balance requirements to keep an account open, while others (17 percent) said that past credit problems made it difficult for them to open new accounts.

In recent years, following the housing crisis banks, Chevy Chase Bank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America paid out multi-million dollar settlements in mortgage lending discrimination lawsuits involving Black and Latino borrowers.

But even if Black customers were able to meet the minimum requirements, had good credit and confidence in banks, the contraction and consolidation in the financial sector following the Great Recession have placed traditional banks out of reach for millions of Americans.

AFSPs moved in to fill that void.

“Payday lenders are nearly eight times as concentrated in neighborhoods with the largest shares of Blacks and Latinos compared to White neighborhoods, draining nearly $247 million in fees per year from these communities,” the report said. “Even after controlling for income and a variety of other factors, payday lenders are 2.4 times more concentrated in Black and Latino communities.”

As local bank branches fade away, Leyba said, community businesses dry up.

“What we’re seeing with more large corporate banks taking over those local branches, it makes it so that there is very little incentive for them to invest in that local area,” explained Leyba. Especially, when the large corporate banks can get a much higher yield from other financial products, he added.

UFE researchers suggested that the United States follow other industrialized nations such as France, Germany, Japan, China, Brazil, India, and New Zealand by offering more banking services through local post offices, which have a much larger foothold in urban and rural communities than banks.

The report said that nearly 40 percent of post offices are in zip codes “without a single bank,” and about 20 percent are in zip codes with just one bank.

“In addition to handling money orders, transfers, and debit cards, postal window clerks have experience cashing checks, processing refunds, renting post office boxes, preparing bank deposits, and maintaining business accounts,” the report said.

The report also recommended reforming the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), modernizing payment technology to keep pace with the new realities of banking and adopting national standards to cap the interest rates on payday loans.

Leyba said that lending circles that provide small community-based loans, have also been successful in emerging markets.

“We know that not everyone will find their way into the banking system, as there is no way to make that happen either through policy solutions or innovations in products,” stated the report. “What policy makers and advocates can do, though, is look for ways to attract, retain and encourage people to begin to build assets, build a favorable credit history and ultimately begin down the path of wealth creation.”

Select HBCU’s Receive $25 Million Grant for Cybersecurity Education

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Norfolk State University will lead 12 other historically Black college and universities in participating in a $25 million, five-year initiative established by the White House to foster education and training in cybersecurity for aspiring minority students.

As one of the leading institutions for the program, announced on its campus on Jan. 15, Norfolk State will use its share of the funds to train faculty and students; build course development in cybersecurity; and expand research and programs in cybersecurity fields.

Norfolk’s President and CEO, Eddie N. Moore Jr. called the grant a prime example of how NSU plans to forge ahead in a world where information technology has become an in-demand field.

“As the world becomes more dependent on technology and information is shared digitally, the threat of online hackers and data breaches are daily realities,” Moore said in a statement. “Norfolk State is poised to provide the expertise in cybersecurity sought by many employers in the private and public sectors, such as business, banking, healthcare and the military.”

The White House said the program will supplement the president’s plan to focus on “on the critical need to fill the growing demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals in the U.S. job market, while also diversifying the pipeline of talent in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.”

“The grant is not just about cybersecurity, it is also about developing a workforce pipeline in a very critical area,” Norfolk State Provost Dr. Sandra J. DeLoatch said. “Well-trained cybersecurity workers are needed and our goal is to be a leading institution in that field. We, along with our partners, plan to educate a new generation of cybersecurity workers who will help keep our country safe from cyber-attacks.”

In addition to Norfolk State, also participating in the government program are: Allen University, Benedict College, Bowie State University, Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Denmark Technical College, Morris College, North Carolina A&T State University, Paine College, South Carolina State University, the University of the Virgin Islands, and Voorhees College.

Few Jobs for Blacks in Silicon Valley

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By Kamau High
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Unless you are a White or Asian male, you are unlikely to work at some of the biggest technology companies in America. And while things like President Obama’s recent efforts to make community college free for more people are attempts to change that, the lack of diversity in the tech field is likely to take some time to change. So, minus a new civil rights movement focused on forcing technology companies to increase the number of women and minorities they hire, what can be done?

The AFRO spoke with a range of recruiters, outside organizations and people who have forged their own path to make Silicon Valley more equal in its hiring practices. Two ideas emerged from these conversations: 1) Don’t wait for the government to help you because it will take a long time for any appreciable difference to be made and 2) If these companies aren’t hiring the right people, then it’s time to strike out on your own.

That’s what Tiffany Thomas-Randall, a Columbia, Md. resident, did when she lost her government job doing background security in 2010. While sending out resumes in early 2011, she enrolled in a computer security program at the University of Maryland University College. Despite having taken a few computer classes while an undergrad, she felt lost. “I went in not knowing anything,” she says. “I did a lot of reading in order to catch up with the other students.”

An adviser suggested she go into computer forensics, the science of examining computers for evidence of a crime. She eventually broke into the field and worked for a year a half before going back to school for her master’s in cybersecurity. “Where I worked I was the only Black female. People who passed me in the hallway would say ‘Stick it out,’” she says. “I tell others [Black women] to do the same thing.”

After moving on to another job at a large consulting firm, she decided to start her own computer forensics firm called SCORPION: Digital Forensics last October. She is currently in the process of filling out the proper paperwork to become certified as a government contractor. Asked what type of people she is looking to hire she says, “I’m looking for someone willing to learn. You have to want to know more. It doesn’t matter how old they are as long as they have a good work ethics. I’m not looking for 8-5 Monday through Friday. You could have to investigate something in the evenings or on the weekends.”

When it comes to who the largest tech companies in America are hiring, the numbers are depressing. Names like Yahoo!, Facebook, Amazon, Google—sites we use every day—started releasing their hiring statistics last year after pressure from civil rights groups. The Federal government requires large companies to file ethnic and gender breakdowns of their employees. However, the numbers are confidential so it’s up to individual companies to release those numbers to the public. Known as EEO-1 reports, the statistics pretty much live up to the stereotypes of the technology world: White or Asian men are over-represented with Blacks, women and Hispanics underrepresented. Some are better than others but for the most part, it’s a sad state of affairs.

How did we get to this state? It’s a familiar tale that anyone who lives in a community with low property taxes will know. Property taxes, in general, are the second largest chunk of the money schools get right behind income and sales taxes. If property taxes are low, then the schools don’t have much money to work with. This translates into old and outdated equipment as well as not enough money to hire the right people to keep a school’s technology up to date.

One organization trying to deal with that is Hack the Hood, a San Francisco based non-profit that attempts to engage school-age kids in the tech world. Hack the Hood does this by sponsoring six-week technology boot camps that incorporate field trips, network, practice public speaking and build websites.

Only in its second year, Hack the Hood received a grant of $500,000 from Google last year to expand its programs. “We are in a unique position of living in the center of where the majority of tech companies are,” says Zakiya Harris, co-founder of the organization. “When Twitter goes public and there are 30 new billionaires living in that area that affects them [in the form of gentrification]. We give them the knowledge and expertise to move not just as consumers of tech but as creators.”

While other articles in this series will explore the educational environment that has led to such a paucity of Black workers in the tech world, Harris offers this observation, “Does every young person who goes through our program get a job in tech? That remains to be seen. We have people who are training at tech companies, one of our young people started making his own video game. As for the longer term impact? We’re still figuring that out.”

In addition to teaching young people to operate in tech circles, Hack the Hood also focuses on getting entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. When people finish with Hack the Hood the organization wants them to be ready to join a company or form their own. “Major tech companies are insular and hire people who know someone who knows someone. Lots of our young people don’t move in those circles. We’re trying to teach young people how to operate in those networks,” says Harris. “If we look at diversity and inclusion when it comes to the corporate world it still needs lots of change. Is the tech industry going to be any different?”

One person trying to answer that question is Frank Odasz, who works with rural Native American groups in Montana on getting them up to speed in technology. He draws some interesting parallels to the Black community when it comes to getting more young people into the tech world. “Rural communities are similar to urban ones,” he says. “Everyone has a self-reinforcing belief that they are incapable of doing amazing things even though in their own neighborhoods there are examples of people being successful.”

These include the person making a web site for the neighborhood barber shop and the local nail salon. As Odasz says, “Most innovations don’t come from big companies. The founders of Facebook and Google dropped out of college. You can teach yourself anything you want to know with the open education resources on the internet. Jobs have not been coming from big companies, instead they come from grassroots entrepreneurship.”

Echoing that sentiment is Nicol Turner-Lee, vice president and chief research and policy officer of the Minority Media and Telecom Council, which, full disclosure, provided a grant for the AFRO to produce this series. MMTC is a non-profit focused on civil rights in the communications industry. “We as a community need to shift from being consumers to producers. We remind kids that instead of buying an Xbox you can create that game,” says Turner-Lee. And it’s not just creating technology. “Someone’s got to write the bill, record the data, be the greeter at the front desk and deal with legal concerns. We treat the tech industry like it’s the grown and sexy stuff. It’s an eco-system and they are generating [lots of different kinds of] jobs.”

For Blacks who do make it into the tech industry just being there can be an isolating and frustrating experience. Justin Edmund, an early hire at Pintrest in Silicon Valley, wrote about this extensively on Medium.com. After the protests in Ferguson, Mo., following the death of Michael Brown, he took to the Internet to express his feelings. “In today’s America, I could walk to the store right now and be shot dead in my tracks because of a misunderstanding, or perhaps for no reason at all. There are people in the world that will never see past the color of my skin. Instead, they will shoot me dead for walking home from the corner store with Skittles and an Arizona iced tea. For many of you fortunate enough to read this blog post, you will never know how frightening that is.”

So what can we do? Like many answers to such a question, it depends. If you’re a parent there are plenty of organizations working to get Black kids into things like making web sites and computer programming. See box below.

For students in college who are either already in or thinking about engineering, one of the key degrees, besides computer science, for tech companies there are organizations that offer everything from help to refresher courses. One of those is the National Society of Black Engineers. Sossena Wood, chairperson of the NSBE, says the protests spawned by the killing of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are sparking protests on college campuses demanding more minorities be recruited. “If you push policy at schools and force them to recruit more African-American and poor minorities that will make a difference. Everything going on with Michael Brown is waking up my generation because students are realizing they have a voice,” she says. “It’s not necessarily speaking out about police brutality but about injustice at their institutions. Students can drive more change than they necessarily know.

For adults and mid-career people there are options such as recruiters. Cindy Gallup, who in addition to running makelovenotporn.com also recruits for tech start-ups among other types of companies. “The lack of diversity in tech won’t get addressed until it gets addressed in an emotional and direct way,” she says. “When I give talks I speak from the point of gender diversity but it applies to other forms of diversity. I say to the audience, ‘I want to talk to the men for a moment. Men: it’s very comfortable hiring people like you. Working with people like you. Starting companies with you. And hanging out with people like you. If you want to own the future, you have to get uncomfortable.’”

In the course of this investigation the AFRO reached out to some of the top tech companies in America including Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, LinkedIn, Microsoft and here in Baltimore NorthrupGruman. Beyond some of them providing us with a perfunctory statement on their efforts to improve diversity all of them declined to be interviewed about this important topic.

Thanks to the efforts of activists such as Jessie Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, among others, many of these companies are at least making moves to rectify the situation. Intel, for example, just announced it was going to spend $300 million on hiring minority and female talent. But like all things, only time will tell if these are more than just empty gestures to divert the attention of people who are rightfully upset at these companies’ discriminatory hiring practices or lack of genuine attempts at reform.

 

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BVN National News Wire