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EPA Administrator: Aimed at Cleaning up Toxic Pollutants in Black Communities

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

Lisa Jackson, the nation’s first Black EPA administrator, has been traveling around America calling attention to the dirtiest part of her job: cleaning up toxic pollutants in Black communities across the country.

Jackson, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, is aggressively leading a government effort to rid thousands of abandoned properties of lethal contaminants that have been dumped in Black and minority neighborhoods over the years.

"We're working to lay the groundwork for new policies and new initiatives that will make environmental justice part of everyday environmental action in this nation," Jackson said.

As the administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Jackson has made promoting environmental justice and expanding the conversation on environmentalism one of the seven key priorities of her tenure at EPA.

So why is Jackson’s environmental crusade important? Because in Black communities across the country, children are breathing toxic fumes from deserted gas stations and old industrial sites that could lead to asthma and other serious respiratory diseases. Jackson also wants to provide black communities with more green space and public parks so black children will have a brighter -- and safer -- outlook on life.

The EPA announced that it has already awarded $80 million to communities in 40 states that will be used for cleanup and redevelopment of toxic properties that include abandoned gas stations, old textile mills, closed smelters, former dry cleaners, factories, warehouses, parking lots, former railroad switching yards, air strips, and bus facilities.

The EPA program is encouraging redevelopment of America’s estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites. These initiatives and jobs are designed for under-served Black and minority neighborhoods – places where environmental cleanups and new jobs are most needed. Jackson wants to make sure Black families are breathing clean air and drinking clean water.

The EPA’s efforts are making a difference.

In West Oakland, California, for example, city workers discovered that an abandoned one-acre scrap yard contained high concentrations of lead in the soil. Using $500,000 in EPA funds, the City of Oakland cleaned up the space and re-opened “Willow Park” in 2007 which featured a circus, face painting, basketball, and refreshments.

Today, the formerly abandoned park has been transformed into green space with game tables, a plaza for community gatherings and live performances, a basketball court, a picnic area with barbeque pits, open space, a children’s play area, landscaping, and a walking/jogging path -- a place that serves a predominantly black community.

A healthy environment, Jackson said, can improve the quality of life for Black families today – and for generations to come.

Nobel Peace Prize Winners Take Their Bows in Oslo

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

(GIN) – Three female activists – two from Liberia and one from Yemen – accepted the prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace at a special Nobel ceremony Saturday in Oslo, Norway’s capital city.

The first to accept the peace prize was Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf -- the first woman to be freely elected as a head of state in Africa and widely acknowledged for her work rebuilding her country.

Sirleaf paid tribute to all the Nobel Peace winners from Africa and those of African descent.

"I am particularly honored to be a successor to the several sons and one daughter of Africa who have stood on this stage -- Chief Albert John Lutuli, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and F.W. De Klerk, Kofi Annan, Anwar Sadat, Wangari Maathai, Mohammed El Baradei as well as Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Bunche -- Americans of African descent," Sirleaf said.

Fellow-Liberian Leymah Gbowee, who mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious divides to help end the war in Liberia in 2003, dedicated her prize to the women in her country.

Her advice to women: "Don't wait for a Gandhi, don't wait for a King, and don’t wait for a Mandela. You are your own Mandela, you are your own Gandhi, and you are your own King." And finally “Liberian women, thank you for making our country proud. Thank you for sitting in the rain and in the sun. .. The world used to remember Liberia for child soldiers, but they now they remember our country for the white T-shirt women," Gbowee said to a standing ovation.

The third woman, Tawakul Karman, an Islamist journalist who has been a key figure in protests in Yemen, said she accepted the prize on behalf of Arab youth leading uprisings in their countries.

The laureates, receiving the prize on the 115th anniversary of the death of benefactor Alfred Nobel, will share a total award worth $1.5 million.

Tiny African Nation to Host Largest Base of U.S. Troops

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

(GIN) – With the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, Djibouti - a major U.S. ally - will be the “central location” in fighting terrorism, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during his visit this week to the north African nation.

The U.S. base in Djibouti, which borders Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, has more than 3,500 military personnel, most of them assigned to combat terrorism in Somalia, Yemen and other flash points.

“We’ve made a hell of a lot of progress,” Defense Secretary Panetta told the troops this week in Camp Lemonnier Thunderdome.

In addition to ground troops, American drones are launched from Djibouti against Al-Qaeda operatives in the region, according to Globalsecurity.org. The country was an active participant during the Bush years in the detention and rendition of detainees, and held prisoners until U.S. intelligence agents determined where next to send them, according to testimony by the International Crisis Group before the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights.

This month, Washington announced the opening of a new multi-building embassy for Djibouti, constructed by Caddell Construction Company of Montgomery, Alabama. The $147 million project generated jobs in both the United States and Republic of Djibouti, according to the press release.

Meanwhile, Djibouti’s president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, in a recent interview with Jeune Afrique, a French language magazine, defended his regime from critics who cite the absence of a free press, TV or independent radio. He also disputed charges by the International Federation of Human Rights of “all-out repression” and the existence of political prisoners in Djibouti jails.

Finally, U.S. advisors are believed to have been piloting a plane belonging to the Uganda People’s Defense Force that crashed near the Dem. Rep. of Congo this week where a military offensive against the Lord’s Resistance Army is underway. There were no survivors.

Consumers' Christmas Wish: A Fully Functioning CFPB

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By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Despite the U.S. Senate’s recent failure to confirm Richard Cordray as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), some lawmakers are vowing to press on. In fact, some are wondering why confirming a director should be so contentious for an agency whose sole mission is to protect American consumers.

This past July, the agency opened shop and began prioritizing efforts. Already, important partnerships have emerged in protections for military personnel and their families as well as older Americans. On the heels of resolving more than 70 percent of several thousand credit card complaints brought directly to the new agency’s attention, complaints are now being gathered on mortgage issues – including servicing, denials for modifications and foreclosures.

After only six months of existence, CFPB seems off to a great start. At a time when millions of Americans are financially challenged, it seems both ill-advised and ill-timed for 45 members of the U.S. Senate to deny consumers much-needed protections.

Following the Senate vote, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told the Los Angeles Times, “More than 40 of my colleagues chose Wall Street special interests over Main Street consumers. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Those opposing the appointment of a director actually have a problem with the agency’s mission. While the Dodd-Frank Act calls for a single director, congressional opponents insist on a commission form of leadership that would force a majority vote on every reform proposed. In the absence of a majority, the status quo would prevail. And many members of this proposed commission would be regulators with a track record of resisting reforms to bad banking practices.

Additionally, CFPB naysayers would make the agency’s budget a part of the annual congressional approval process. This specific proposal would make the fledgling agency a target of congressional whims, similar to those that diminished the Legal Services Corporation to provide legal services for the poor during the Reagan Administration. Then-President Reagan sought to eliminate the agency by proposing zero funding. If CFPB opponents are allowed to prevail, CFPB would suffer the same annual budgetary risks.

Perhaps that sense of déjà vu and lack of balance between bank and consumer interests is why the Congressional Black Caucus is fighting to allow the CFPB to operate as intended. In a recently published interview, CBC Chair and Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver said, “It is extremely important that it is absolutely clear what this means for African-American families. We want a person who gets out of bed every morning with one goal in mind: protecting the consumers of the United States. We need someone to fight the good fight.”

Rep. Cleaver is not alone. Underscoring the need to preserve the CFPB and its legislative intent, President Obama promised, “Consumers deserve to have someone whose job it is to look out for them. I intend to make sure they do, and I will veto any effort to delay, defund or dismantle the new rules we put it in place.”

It would be a wonderful holiday gift to the country for the CFPB to have a leader whose daily efforts make financial fairness a reality for all Americans. In fact – considering the unique history of African-Americans, full and undeterred regulation of suspect lending practices would go a long way towards the fairness that has been so elusive.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Leading African-American Decision-Maker at Toyota Being Honored

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By William Reed, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) When the 16th Annual Urban Wheel Awards convene in Detroit during the January 2012 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), USA, Inc’s group Vice President and General Manager, Fletcher V. Davidson will receive the event’s Executive of the Year Award.

“These Annual Urban Wheel Awards are our way of showing African Americans’ appreciation for those auto companies that recognize and respect their buying power," said program founder Randi Payton.

The Urban Wheels Awards started in 1996 as a feature of the African Americans on Wheels Magazine. Occurring during the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), the 2012 Urban Wheels Awards shows how the program has evolved into “the world-class show promoting diversity and inclusion in the automotive industry.”

Payton said the 2012 winners of the Urban Wheel Company of the Year Awards “are being recognized for demonstrating a commitment to diversity and inclusiveness in the areas of Workforce Development, Community Leadership, Minority Supplier Development, and Diversity Inclusion Leadership.”

The awardees are: Chrysler Group LLC - Workforce Development; General Motors Company - Community Leadership; Ford Motor Company - Minority Supplier Development
and Toyota Motor Corporation - Diversity Inclusion Leadership.

Payton said “We are delighted to recognize Toyota Motors for its leadership in diversity and inclusion…and impressive record leading the industry with diversity initiatives and…internal leadership and commitment.”

In fact, the people at Toyota have set a new trend in the industry and made strategic and measurable moves to reach Black buyers. A positive culture for people of color is emerging at Toyota. People at the top in Toyota are valuing Blacks as consumers, vendors and team members. Toyota has an advertising agreement with Black publishers. In 2011, Toyota was named among the Best Companies for Diversity by Black Enterprise for its achievements in supplier diversity. Founded in 1937 by Kiichiro Toyoda, the Toyota Motor Corporation of today appears to have, a different culture and perspective. Toyota Motor Corporation group companies are Toyota (including the Scion brand), Lexus, Daihatsu and Hino Motors, along with several "non-automotive" companies. Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc. markets products and services through a network of nearly 1,500 dealers which sold more than 1.76 million vehicles in 2010. Toyota employs nearly 30,000 people in the U.S.

In his executive role at Toyota, Davidson leads a team of 2400 associates who support $3.5 billion in sales. Payton said that Davidson is being honored for “proven success in management, specifically for his strategic leadership during the 2010 recalls and 2011 earthquake and tsunami” “I am honored to receive the Executive of the Year award. This award comes as supply is improving… and we are preparing to introduce 20 new products over the next few years” said Davidson.

Toyota’s record on diversity and inclusion is a result of the leadership and commitment of its Black executives. Ed Lewis, head of Strategic Communications & Media Relations, said “At Toyota, we believe an auto company can be a vehicle for change and a key element in strengthening community needs nationwide.”

Since 1991, Toyota contributed nearly $540 million to U.S. philanthropic programs that included the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and “Push for Excellence”. Toyota’s supplier-diversity program has more than 7 percent of Tier I (direct contractor) spending going to minority-owned businesses.

Toyota has a number of African Americans in high-level decision-making positions. Jim Colon is Vice President of Product Communications. Christopher P. Reynolds is a group vice president and general counsel for the Legal Services Group. Jerome Miller is Vice President for Diversity and inclusion, and Wil James is president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc.

The Wheels Awards’ agenda includes honoring Washington Post automotive columnist Warren Brown with a Lifetime Achievement Award as recognition for his being one of the nation’s most influential auto writers since he started coverage of the industry in 1982. A special tribute will be made toward auto companies that made major contributions to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial by MLK Memorial CEO Harry Johnson.

William Reed is Publisher of Who’s Who in Black Corporate America and available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org.

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