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Disparities Facing African-American Communities Widen

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By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader –

There are so many disparities facing the Black community today state Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-13th District) said she has lost count. “The number of disparities facing our communities continue to grow with no end in sight and I no longer can keep up with them,” Hunter told the Crusader. “But if I had to list the top three it would the criminal justice system, education and employment.” E. Hardy knows too well the struggles Black men face once they are cycled through the criminal justice system. In 2002, he pled guilty to felony retail theft to avoid a trial and possible incarceration if convicted.

“I did what I had to do to stay out of jail but now I am paying a life sentence for it,” Hardy, 40, recalled. “Every time I apply for a job I get asked if I have ever been convicted of a felony crime. I’m always honest and say yes and then I never hear back from them.” The inability for many Black men to get a job has not only hurt the Black community but society as a whole, said Leonardo D. Gilbert, a community activist and pastor of Sheldon Heights Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago.

“In order to improve the economic status of so many [Black] communities we need to make sure the men from those communities are working,” he added. “God made man head of household but without a job that is hard to do.” Studying disparities in Black communities is something Hunter has been doing for nearly a decade. She was a member of The Disproportionate Justice Study Commission, created in 2008 by the General Assembly to assess the effects of Illinois’ drug laws on racial and ethnic minority populations and the incarceration rates of members of those populations. The commission concluded in a report released earlier this year that an increase in prison populations across the state was attributed, in part, to changes in drug policies that focused on punishment and enforcement opposed to treatment alternatives. Hunter agreed.

“There are a disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated throughout the state. It makes you wonder because it made me wonder, ‘Why were there so many?’” she said. “I visit prisons (all the time) to try to talk to them [inmates] and encourage them. Over at Cook County Jail there are so many African Americans. It’s so overwhelming.” In Illinois, there are 44,000 inmates and more than 24,000 are Black, according to a report in the Chicago Reader. State Rep. Monique Davis (D-27th District) pegs unemployment, education and healthcare as the three top disparities facing Blacks today. Davis was first elected in 1987 and is the second, longest serving Black, state representative in the General Assembly behind state Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st District).

“Healthcare is a major problem for Blacks. On the South Side where most Blacks live there is no adult trauma center. Why is that? There is a trauma center at Northwestern Hospital for folks who live downtown and on the North Side,” Davis said. “And there is a trauma center at Stroger Hospital for those living on the West Side. But for the South Side we must travel north or to the south suburbs to Christ Hospital, which is just as far as the others.”

The third leg of the disparity tripod is education. “Education connects people to jobs. If you do not have a descent education then you are lost,” she added. “The governor wants to abolish the General Assembly Legislative Scholarship because he said it is being abused by state legislators who award them. But this scholarship has made it possible for so many Black kids to go to college.”

Every state representative and senator is allowed to award two to four GAL scholarships each year to students who live in their district regardless of financial need. The scholarship waives tuition and can only be used to attend a four-year, public college in Illinois. Disparities are a fact of life but does not mean Illinois residents have to accept it, said Gov. Pat Quinn.

“We know that disparities exist within the African American community, preventing some from achieving their full potential,” Quinn said. “In Illinois, we want everybody in, and nobody left out. We won’t shy away from examining the root causes of inequality, and working to correct them.”

Community activist Harold Lucas said he is not surprised that both Hunter and Davis list employment and education as top disparities facing Blacks, but concludes it must end. “The disparity and lack of gainful employment or entrepreneurial business development opportunities among African American residents living in Chicago is unacceptable,” Lucas, president and chief executive officer for the non-profit Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, noted. However, he said he is disappointed that the commission will not present its findings and offer recommendations for another two years. “Forming a commission to address the disparities that does not present its findings to the Illinois General Assembly until December 2013, ignores the severity of the extremely serious problems of poverty,” explained Lucas. “The so-called underclass, economically inspired class stratification, political corruption and patronage greed has dominated the city of Chicago for the past 50 years.”

Recently, Quinn signed House bill 1547, which was sponsored by Davis and Hunter, into law. The new legislation, went into effect immediately, will create the Commission to End the Disparities Facing the African American Community. The commission will research the disparities facing Blacks in the areas of healthcare, health services, employment, education, criminal justice, housing, and other social and economic issues. Both Davis and Hunter and will more than likely be co-chairs of the commission, which could hold its first meeting by January 2012, according to Hunter.

The commission will be comprised of a bipartisan group of legislators from both houses of the General Assembly and will also include up to 10 other individuals representing Black communities throughout the state. All members will serve without compensation. Residents interested in being considered to join the commission should contact Davis, Hunter or their local state legislator.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Lawsuit Reinstated by D.C. Appeals Court

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Allegations of financial impropriety within Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. will get an airing in court, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 18, reversing the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by members of the nation’s oldest Black sorority.

Dismissal of the lawsuit questioning $375,000 the sorority leadership gave AKA President Barbara McKenzie was in error, the three-judge panel ruled, reinstating the lawsuit filed by eight members in 2009.

The original lawsuit said the payment to McKenzie was not properly approved by the membership and that the money, which included a $25,000 payout and a $4,000 a month stipend for the president, was used for clothing, jewelry, and a wax statue of McKenzie.

The suit was dismissed in 2010 by a D.C. Superior Court judge, who said the Chicago-based plaintiffs failed to accuse the sorority and its leadership of taking actions prohibited by statute, that the suit wasn’t filed on behalf of the entire membership; and that the court lacked jurisdiction over individual officials who don’t live in Washington.

The panel said that, unlike allegations of impropriety by shareholders of a for-profit organization, dues-paying members of a non-profit group can sue as individuals and aren’t required to file a class action.

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter Tells Black Teens to Quit Embarrassing Their Race

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia may be the first Black politician to address “flash mob” attacks that involve majority Black teens rummaging stores and attacking other races.

“You have damaged your own race,” Nutter said to a group of Black teens, the Washington Times reported. “Take those God-darn hoodies down, especially in the summer. Pull your pants up and buy a belt ‘cause no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt.”

The series of flash mob attacks in Philadelphia involve a group of teens who spontaneously assault random people in the tourist locations.

Nutter then continued: “If you walk into somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, and your shoes untied, and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you? They don’t hire you ‘cause you look like you’re crazy.”

In order to slow attacks, Nutter has moved up the curfew for minors to 9 p.m. on the weekend. Police patrols are also sent to certain neighborhoods.

Each time a child is caught in violation of the curfew, the parent will face an increase fine, according to the Washington Times.

Whyatt Mondesire, president of Philadelphia’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, appreciated Nutter’s comments and said it “took courage.”

“These are majority African-American youths and they need to be called on it,” he said.

Teens use text messaging to organize attacks on bystanders. On July 29, 20 to 30 teens went to Center City at night, then beat and robbed onlookers. One man was hospitalized as he was kicked in the head repeatedly and had a fractured skull.

Philadelphia is not the only city facing the same “flash mob” attacks. During memorial day weekend in Chicago, teens knocked over cyclists and “harassed picnickers,” according to the Washington Times.

In Washington, D.C., 20 teenagers entered a store in Dupont Circle and stole $20,000 worth of merchandise.

Recent flash mob attacks in the U.S. have been compared to riots seen in the current London crisis.

West and Smiley Impact on Obama Voters: Real or Fleeting?

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Duo’s Obama Challenges Generate Black Community Protests But Some Fear Black Apathy

Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Although Princeton professor Cornel West supported President Barack Obama in 2008, his recent criticism of the nation’s first Black president may be trouble for 2012. Radio personality Tavis Smiley has also joined in the Black chorus of public dissatisfaction of Obama.

It is unclear whether calling the president “Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs,” and publicly denouncing the policies of Obama in a majority of recent interviews will hurt the Obama’s election next year. But Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Obama’s former church in Chicago, said the intellectual’s remarks could increase African Americans’ trust of Congress.

“The negative discussion Dr. West is having can only put more apathy in the hearts of African-Americans and could ultimately cause them to lose more faith in the entire political process,” Moss told Newsweek. “Where will that leave us?”

Buddies West and Smiley have teamed to launch a two-week “Poverty Tour,” which will take the duo to different cities as they encourage the president to “wake up.” The purpose of the tour is supposed to be to help America refocus on the “least among us,” according to Newsweek.

But recently citizens have started to fight back. In Detroit, when the “Call to Conscience” bus pulled up in August, a group of people met the two outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center to protest.

“We will not stand silent as Smiley and West criticize the man who brought us health-care reform, one of the greatest accomplishments for the poor in this country’s history,” a spokesperson for Detroiters for Better Government told Newsweek.

The West and Smiley approach may or may not have an impact on Black voters. Obama’s approval rate is slowly dwindling. In 2008, 96 percent of African Americans voted for Obama. In March, Black Entertainment Television (BET) conducted a poll, where 85 percent of people supported the president. But in a recent Washington Post/CBS poll, African American support dropped sharply—from 77 percent in October 2010 to nearly half of that this month, according to Newsweek.

Steve Harvey disagreed with the tour and said Smiley should let go of the grudge he had when Obama did not make it to his town hall meeting.

“You don't have any real basis behind your dislike for this man...you keep masking it saying it's not about hate. Then what is it about? Poverty existed before January 20, 2008. Where was your damn bus then?” Steve Harvey said, according to the St. Louis American.

He continued: “Who in the hell got 2-3 days for your [expletive]? I ain't got time to sit down with your monkey behind for two, three days, let alone the President of the United States. We got three wars going on, the economy crashing and we going to sit down with Tavis [expletive] for three days?”

New Initiative to Defuse Ethnic Conflict in Kenya Before Polls

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

The chair of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission has launched a four month series of conferences countrywide in an effort to curb conflicts related to ethnicity and race before next year’s polls.

NCIC chair Mzalendo Kibunjia said the sessions were designed to avoid the re-occurrence of post-election violence in the country.

Marginalization of some communities, bad governance, unequal distribution of resources, discrimination and misappropriation of public resources were the major issues to be addressed during the exercise, he said.

University of Nairobi Prof. Vincent Simiyu traced the creation of epithets fuelling negative ethnicity to the colonial state, which did not disappear even after independence. He noted there was still not a government-printed version of the new constitution in Kiswahili, Kenya’s national language spoken by 100% of the population.

Meanwhile, a conference on the question of reparations for victims of past violations was begun last month in Nairobi. It was convened by the International Center for Transitional Justice and a German group. The “Study of the Reparative Demands of Kenyan Victims of Human Rights Violations” has been posted on the group’s website at http://ictj.org

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