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Marginalized on Campus, Black Students Organize

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By Chanelle Ignant
Richmond Pulse via New America Media
Special to the NNPA

It’s a Thursday evening at Richmond High School, and the hallways of this normally bustling campus have fallen quiet. Behind closed doors in the school library, a small group of African American parents, community members and school administrators are huddled in a conversation, in service to the question: What do our children need to succeed?

“Access to resources.”

“Exposure and experiences outside of the community.”

“Pride in our cultural heritage.”

The high school’s assistant principle, William McGee, notates each response on a large sheet of butcher paper.

The group, dubbed the African American Student-Parent Collaborative, was born out of a desire to improve the educational experience for the school’s Black students – a group whose numbers have diminished greatly on campus in recent years:

A decade ago, during the 2003-04 school year, there were 348 Black students enrolled at Richmond High School, according to the California Department of Education. That number has steadily declined to an all-time low of 83 students currently. That’s just more than 6 percent of a total student body population of 1,309.

By comparison, African Americans make up roughly 26 percent of Richmond’s population, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2010 — although that number, too, has been declining. A decade earlier, in 2000, Blacks comprised 36 percent of the city’s residents.

According to the California Department of Education, the graduation rate for African American seniors at Richmond High during 2011-12 was 57 percent, lowest among all ethnic groups on campus.

Essence Johnson, a Richmond High senior, describes the academic support she’s received at her school from teachers and staff as adequate — but says she still felt there was something lacking.

“I feel like I get a lot of support from some teachers, but I don’t feel like I [always] had the support… for our African American culture,” she says.

The idea of starting an advocacy group for the school’s Black students came from Tamisha Walker, a local organizer and parent of a Richmond High Student, who got inspired by a series of conversations she had with her son about what he was experiencing at school.

“[He said] that he doesn’t feel valued as an African American student,” says Walker. “He feels that his needs are ignored.”

So Walker started talking to other parents and community members, asking them the same question being posed during the parent meeting on that Thursday night. She eventually connected with Andre Aikins of the Omega Boys Club, Aneesha Johnson of the Richmond High Health Center, and school board and faculty members with similar ambitions for the school’s African American students.

Their meetings often function as an incubator for new ideas, and as a space where participants can share their concerns and hopes.

“We as parents need to be here for our kids,” says Andrea Holden, a Richmond High parent who took a bus to the meeting. Her daughter, 17 year-old Jasmine Holden, says she loves it that her mom has become an advocate for her education.

“You don’t see hard working single parents coming out at six or seven at night,” she says. “I wish all students would [have a] parent [that] cares and takes time to come to your school, not because you’re in trouble, but for your education.”

In addition to creating a space for parents and community organizations, Walker saw a clear need for students like her son to have their own platform at the school. As a result, and with the support of Assistant Principle McGee, Johnson, Aikins and others, students were able to institute a Black Student Union (BSU) on campus for the first time in five years.

Umoni Witaker, a senior, says having the BSU is like having a second home at school. “I know I can come here and feel like I have a family here.”

At their weekly meetings, the students gather at lunch and discuss ways to support each one another and engage the community. As BSU president, Essence Johnson is in charge of planning the events. Among other things, the BSU has organized a student trip to the Black College Expo in Oakland, and has lobbied successfully for tutoring services at their school-based health center.

Johnson says having an active and visible BSU also lets other Black students know that they have a community on campus.

“We host a lot of events, so people see that [we] are here,” says Johnson.

Holden sees value in all aspects of the group.

“The BSU provides a broader picture of the world outside of Richmond, that we (black people) can succeed and actually graduate from high school,” says the junior. “[It’s] great to have supporting teachers and administration to actually back up African American students in this school.”

“The BSU and parents work hand in hand,” says McGee. “We set up a support mechanism to accomplish what students want to see happen.”

And the community appears to be taking notice. McGee says he has noticed an uptick in black student transfers to Richmond High, and increased interest by some parents who say they like what the school is doing for its African American students.

While the number of attendees at Thursday night’s meeting was small – about 10′ people – organizers are optimistic that it will grow and have an impact, one parent at a time.

“Let’s go out and invite others. We want to see this room filled with parents in the next few meetings,” McGee tells the group. “We won’t change 16 years in six months, but we want to create a culture of change at this school. We want all of our children to be successful.”

CFATF Concerned About Anti-Money Laundering Legislation

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Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

CMC – The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) has warned of harsh consequences should Guyana fail to pass anti-money laundering legislation before a May 29 conference.

The task force addressed the matter during a meeting on Saturday with President Donald Ramotar, the Attorney General, Anil Nandlall and others.

Following the meeting, Nandlall said CFAFT noted that Guyana is the only country yet to implement all of the recommendations related to the bill, “She made it very clear that the consequences are going to be devastating,” AG Nandlall said.

He said although Guyana has a completed Bill that has been examined by CFAFT, and deemed to be compliant, the proposed draft amendments made by the Parliamentary opposition do not address the bill.

In response, Vice Chairman of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine said there is a political crisis and it requires a political solution.” 
APNU maintains that even if agreement was reached in the Special Select Committee on amendments to the 2009 Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT), there were several political issues to be resolved.

They include the simultaneous passage of amendments to the parent act, presidential assent of Bills that have been approved by the House and the establishment of a Procurement Commission.

The combined opposition controls the 65-seat National Assembly with its 33.

President Donald Ramotar has refused to sign a number of those Bills into law, saying that they are unconstitutional.

Attorney-at-Law, Basil Williams recalled that the top officials of the regional financial crimes watchdog pointed to the grave danger of Guyana being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) if AML/CFT is not amended to make Guyana compliant.

”The team has indicated to us the perils that are associated with being blacklisted and the picture that they painted seem to be very draconian and we were assured that they have advised the government of those perils,” he said.

Based on the stance taken by the opposition, the CFAT team is scheduled to meet with Opposition members to re-emphasise the importance of a compliant bill.

Concerns are that the bill may not be passed by the time of the CFATF plenary, and it is hoped that the meetings with the CFATF members would provide the message to the opposition about the importance of having the bill passed, and about the repercussions of the failure to do so.

A Partnership for National Unity’s support is conditional on the President addressing outstanding issues such as the non-assent to Bills passed by the Opposition and the commencement order for the holding of Local Government Elections, among others, while the Alliance for Change (AFC) has called for the a Public Procurement Commission (PPC) and more recently, it had backed APNU’s demands.

Guyana has been blacklisted by the CFATF and when it submitted its report earlier this year it was documented that the nation was yet to enact the required laws. CFATF will be holding a review next month when it will refer Guyana to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)/ International Corporation Review Group (ICRG). At the FATF review, the nation stands to be blacklisted internationally.

The task force maintains that Guyana must pass the relevant legislation and implement all the outstanding issues within its Action Plan, fully criminalise money laundering and terrorist financing offences, among others.

In February, CFATF’s Financial Adviser Roger Hernandez visited Guyana and explained that in order for the bill to be considered by CFATF’s Plenary in May, it would have had to be passed by February 28.

CARICOM's "10 Point Program" for Reparations for Slavery for African People

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By David Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

On April 19, at a conference entitled “Revitalizing the Reparations Movement” in Chicago the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan endorsed the academic approach of Professor Hilary Beckles and other Caribbean intellectuals in their itemizing a list of demands to Europe. The Minister said, “In our negotiations we must be able to bring something to the table that can hurt the enemy and force him to concede to the demands of the CARICOM 10 Point Program.” The leader explained that beyond just reconciliation, our scholarship must be backed up by men and women who are willing to die for reparatory justice.

It is a radical situation that requires a radical solution. We must speak for the dead who cannot speak, the living who have no voice and the unborn generations who are yet to speak. The Minister said in regards to the call for Reparations that “the Caribbean is strong and we need to back the Caribbean.” Those who sell out our community must feel the wrath of the common man because nothing is more important than the liberation of our people. We must be wary of the slave makers, the slave masters and the collaborators. No man can serve two masters, division is likely to come before justice in the struggle for reparatory justice.

The Minister closed saying “the Caribbean again comes to the fore … we owe a debt to the Caribbean and we are a family. … .”

We are currently at a turning point in the history of the Caribbean as across the region in 2014, there are a number of forums, conferences and seminars being hosted discussing the new “CARICOM 10 POINT PROGRAM FOR REPARATIONS FOR AFRICAN SLAVERY.” This list of demands collectively agreed upon by our various heads of government must be known by our younger generations so that they can each become a part of this growing struggle for justice. But before we look at the ten points we must give credit to Trinidad & Tobago’s own father of the nation and first Prime Minister, Dr. Eric Williams, who in his writing established an academic rationale for reparations as far back as the 1950s. In the preface of “Capitalism & Slavery,” Dr. Williams said, “Negro slavery provided the capital which financed the industrial revolution … ” this was the basis for the advancement and growth of modern technology, the computer revolution and globalization which includes the establishment of futuristic, scientific findings in modern and material solutions for many of man’s challenges. Dr. Williams elaborated by pointing out four significant facts:

The forces in the history of slavery are linked to the developing economic forces in Europe
The merchants, industrialists and politicians, were blind to the consequences of their actions and policies
Political and moral ideas must be examined in relation to economic development
The ideas built on these interests continue long after the interests have been destroyed.

The main fact is that if Africans were not abducted against their will and made into slaves, England and America would not have been as economically strong and mighty as they are today.

So on March 11, 2014 the meeting of CARICOM nations in St. Vincent and the Grenadines approved unanimously the ten-point plan proposed by the CARICOM Reparations Commission to achieve reparatory justice for the victims of genocide, slavery, slave trading, and racial apartheid. Sir Hilary Beckles, the Chairman of the Commission, said: “Reparations for slavery, and the century of racial apartheid that replaced it into the 1950s, resonate as a popular right today in Caribbean communities because of the persistent harm and suffering linked to the crimes against humanity under colonialism.” The template of the plan is as follows:

Full Formal Apology
Indigenous Peoples Development Program
Cultural Institutions
Public Health Crisis
Illiteracy Eradication
African Knowledge Program
Psychological Rehabilitation
Technology Transfer
Debt Cancellation

Martyn Day, from law firm Leigh Day and who is advising the commission, said, “This is a very comprehensive and fair set of demands on the governments whose countries grew rich at the expense of those regions whose human wealth was stolen from them … a conference in London between representatives of CARICOM and the slave nations, to include the Governments of Holland, UK, France, Spain as well as potentially other nations who profited from the slave trade, will enable our people to quickly gauge whether or not their concerns are being taken seriously.” It must also be noted that one of the earliest, if not the first, public documented and published organizational calls for reparations was from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad going back to the 1950s in the declaration; “What the Muslims Want,” Point Number 4, which read; “We want our people who are descendants from slaves to be allowed, to establish a separate state or territory of their own … ” Also the largest known forum on Reparations to date was hosted by Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam on February 24, 2004 where 10,000 attended the gathering in Chicago, Ill., to hear the Minister speak on the topic “Reparations: What Does America and Europe Owe, What Does God Promise?” It was this message that has largely set the tone for contemporary global conversations on reparations.

David Muhammad is the Nation of Islam representative for Trinidad.

Black Unemployment Dips to 5-Year Low

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Black unemployment rate fell to 11.6 percent in April, the lowest mark since President Barack Obama took his office in January 2009, according to the Labor Department’s latest jobs report.

In January 2009, the Black jobless rate was 12.7 percent. The last time the Black unemployment rate dipped below 12 percent was in November 2008 when the rate was 11.5 percent.

The economy added 288,000 jobs and the national unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in April, down from 6.7 percent in March.

On the surface, the 0.4 percent decline in the unemployment rate may cause some to celebrate, but Valerie Wilson, the director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, said much of the improvement was the result of people exiting the labor market.

The labor force participation rate, a measure of people who are either employed or currently looking for work, declined from 63.2 percent in March to 62.8 percent in April.

During the recovery following the Great Recession, Wilson said that the declines in the labor force participation rate have been smaller for Blacks, especially Black women.

In December of 2007, at the beginning of the Great Recession, the labor force participation rate was 70.7 percent for Black men over 20 years-old and 76.3 percent for White men. The labor force participation rate was 63.4 percent for Black women over 20 years-old and 60.2 percent for White women.

Since then, White men over 20 years-old have shed 5.6 percent from their employment participation rate, the sharpest decline of all adult worker groups. Black women over 20 years-old have experienced a 1.7 percent decline, the lowest drop of all adult worker groups.

Wilson said that the Black labor force has been “remarkably resilient” as Blacks continue to search for jobs in the face of a challenging job market.

Wilson added that by letting the unemployment insurance benefits expire for millions of struggling Americans at the end of 2013, Washington lawmakers have taken money out the hands of people that would fuel the economy and job growth by spending on food and other necessities.

Wilson said that the expiration of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits contributed to the anemic GDP growth over the first quarter of this year.

“That points to how important it is that people continue to have access to those benefits, because they are important, not only for the stability of their own individual household, but also for the continued growth of our economy,” said Wilson.

Congressional inaction on extending the unemployment benefits during this period of economic recovery is without precedent.

In a post on the website for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Chad Stone, chief economist for the center wrote that “long-term unemployment remains a particular concern” and highlight’s the need for Congress to take action.

”Over a third (35.3 percent) of the 9.8 million people who are unemployed — 3.5 million people — have been looking for work for 27 weeks or longer. These long-term unemployed represent 2.2 percent of the labor force,” wrote Stone. ”Before this recession, the previous highs for these statistics over the past six decades were 26 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, in June 1983, early in the recovery from the 1981-82 recession. By the end of the first year of the recovery from that recession, however, the long-term unemployment rate had dropped below 2 percent.”

When lawmakers managing that recession finally ended the emergency program in March of 1985, the long-term unemployed accounted for 1.2 percent of the labor force, one percentage point lower than the current 2.2 percent mark.

Although one month’s jobs numbers don’t make a trend, the number of jobs created in April combined with upward revisions for February (197,000 to 222,000) and March (192,000 to 203,000), could be a sign that the economy is slowly gaining ground.

“We need to see more [job growth] like we saw in April,” said Wilson. “Hopefully, that’s not an anomaly.”

Wisconsin Ruling Proves Voting Rights Act can still be Effective

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After suffering a major setback last year in the Supreme Court, voting rights advocates are buoyed by a decision last week by a federal judge in Wisconsin striking down the state’s voter ID law as racially discriminatory.

John Ulin, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP and trial counsel, said that U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman’s opinion in the case made clear that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 still has teeth, even after the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby County case, which sharply limited application of the landmark law.

“The court understands the reach of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to extend beyond challenges to legislative redistricting and to apply to both denial and practices that prevent people from registering and casting their ballot,” said Ulin. “The evidence in the case was critical and the opinion makes that clear.”

Last summer, a majority of justices on the United States Supreme Court gutted the VRA of 1965 by invalidating Section 4 of the law requiring any covered jurisdiction with a history of voting discrimination to pre-clear any voting changes with the Justice Department or a federal court before implementing the proposed changes.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman found enough evidence that Act 23, the law that required voters to present photo identification was unconstitutional under the Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In his opinion, Adelman cited research conducted by Marc Levine, an urban studies and economic development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Levine said, “There’s little question that across the gamut of indicators that I’ve looked at that Milwaukee, and to the extent that I have indicators on Wisconsin, reveal the sharpest, most pervasive, most persistent, and most entrenched racial and ethnic socioeconomic disparities of virtually any region of the country.”

Levine testified that residential segregation and housing discrimination are major causes of the socioeconomic disparities between Whites and minorities in Wisconsin.

Research also showed that Black voters were “1.4 times as likely as White voters to lack a matching driver’s license or state ID.”

Writing in his opinion, Adelman said: “I find that the plaintiffs have shown that the disproportionate impact of the photo ID requirement results from the interaction of the requirement with the effects of past or present discrimination. Blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. Individuals who live in poverty are less likely to drive or participate in other activities for which a photo ID may be required (such as banking, air travel, and international travel), and so they obtain fewer benefits from possession of a photo ID than do individuals who can afford to participate in these activities.”

Meanwhile, state attorneys presented little credible evidence that in-person voter impersonation fraud had even occurred in any recent, major elections in the state and the two cases of “unexplained” votes cast were likely because of poll worker error.

“If it is occurring in Wisconsin to any significant extent, then at trial the defendants should have been able to produce evidence that it is,” said Adelman. “The absence of such evidence confirms that there is virtually no voter-impersonation fraud in Wisconsin.”

Ulin said that other cases challenging voter ID laws under Section 2 of the VRA didn’t have the factual record that they needed to find that the laws disproportionately affect Black and Latino voters.

Ulin told the story of Bettye Jones, a Black senior citizen and political activist from the Ohio, who moved to Wisconsin to be closer to her family. Jones was born in the South at time when 1 in 4 Blacks were born at home and not in a hospital where she would have received an official birth certificate, one of the documents necessary to receive a state-issued ID in Wisconsin. Jones and her daughter, Debra Crawford trekked to Tennessee, where Jones was born and attended school, searching for any records that would satisfy Wisconsin’s photo identification laws, enacted in 2011. After several failed attempts, the Division of Motor Vehicles offices in Wisconsin issued Jones a photo identification. Unfortunately, Jones died shortly before the 2012 elections in November.

In a press release issued after the judge’s ruling, Ulin said that the court victory belonged to witnesses like Bettye Jones and Lorene Hutchins, who also suffered a great burden in obtaining a Wisconsin photo ID, and refused to be silent.

“Sadly, neither Mrs. Jones nor Mrs. Hutchins lived to see this day, but their voices have been heard,” said Ulin.

Katherine Culliton-González, the director of voter protection at the Advancement Project said that it’s kind of a myth that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is only for vote dilution cases and the kind of cases that have to do with redistricting.

Culliton-González said that the Wisconsin case is absolutely a blueprint for other voters’ rights advocates to be successful in challenging restrictive voting laws that attempt to block, the poor and minorities from casting a vote.

“We’re involved in litigation against a voter ID law in North Carolina, which is also a more comprehensive voter suppression law, which includes cuts to same-day registration and cuts to early voting both of which also have a very severe impact on Black and Latino voters,” said Culliton-González.

Culliton-González continued: “This is a blueprint, not only with regards to voter ID claims in North Carolina and Texas and perhaps in other states, but also to other types of voter denial cases like cuts in early voting.”

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