Category: Your Voice Written by Jesse Jackson
Morehouse College, one of the most distinguished historically black colleges — with graduates like Dr. Martin Luther King, former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, film director Spike Lee and others — literally shut down for spring break this week. As its 2,000 students took their break, every member of the faculty and staff was furloughed without pay as the college struggles to balance its books.
The crisis at Morehouse, which will hit other historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) even harder, results from the combination of foul economic times and continued cuts in support for students and colleges at the federal and state level.
African-Americans have dramatically less wealth than white families. To pay for advanced education, students piece together grants, work, family contributions and loans. Morehouse lost 200 students, part of 10,000 students in HBCUs affected, when the Department of Education suddenly tightened eligibility requirements for Parent Plus Loans that lend to eligible parents to help pay for their children’s college costs. The average Plus loan at Morehouse was $22,000 in 2010-11. Add to that the fact that college costs are rising, while the level of Pell grants is not, and colleges and faculties will be hit by the across-the-board “sequester” cuts at the federal level.
Morehouse is like the canary in the mine — an early warning signal. Student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion dollars, greater than credit card debt. A quarter of African-Americans graduate with debt over $30,000, along with 16 percent of white students. Student debt can’t be erased in bankruptcy, or because of loss of a job.
About half of college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. In worse shape are the 30 percent of college students with loans who fail to graduate, often because they can’t afford to continue. Student loans can be deferred, meaning that no payments are due, but the interest keeps building up. Eventually, they must be paid back, although defaults are rising.
Burdened with debt, graduates find it hard to pay for a car, a place to live and health care. They find it virtually impossible to save anything for the future.
President Obama understands that educating the next generation is vital to this country’s future. In his first address to Congress, he pledged that “by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” He then signed into law the largest increase in student aid since the GI Bill at the end of World War II.
But since then, rising college costs and declining federal and state support have pushed more costs onto students and their parents. Advanced education or training is increasingly imperative and unaffordable.
We will pay far more in the future for failing to educate this rising generation than we will save in cutting support for them. We need a National Commission on College Affordability to review the rising costs of and the declining support for colleges and advanced training programs. It should recommend how the rise in college costs can be slowed and how to ensure that students are not priced out of the education they need nor condemned to debt servitude to get it.
That good students are forced to drop out of a distinguished school like Morehouse because they can’t afford it is a warning sign. The furlough of Morehouse employees is a wake-up call. We need action before good schools fail and more good students are locked out.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 09:18
Category: Your Voice Written by Valerie Jarrett
A child’s zip code should never determine her destiny. But today, a child’s health, educational outcomes, and lifetime economic opportunities are often negatively impacted when she grows up in a high poverty community.
Harlem Children’s Zone is working to change that. Recently, I visited this neighborhood nonprofit, with its president and CEO, Geoffrey Canada. I took a tour of the health clinic and library inside their new school building. While I was impressed by the facilities, I was even more impressed by the passionate commitment and energy of Geoffrey and his team in truly transforming Harlem into an environment that allows children to achieve their dreams.
Since 1990, Harlem Children’s Zone has provided free support for the community through new schools, parenting workshops, a pre-school program, after-school programs and child-oriented health programs for thousands of families.
The Harlem Children’s Zone offers a comprehensive, neighborhood approach with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty, so that every child can graduate from college and have a chance to live their dreams. They’ve seen improvements in children’s academic performance across the board.
For example, Harlem Children’s Zone reports that 100 percent of third graders at two of their schools tested at or above grade level on the math exam, outperforming their peers in New York City and New York State.
President Obama noticed. That’s why, in 2009, he announced a new competitive grant program, Promise Neighborhoods, which hopes to replicate the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone and similar programs in poverty-stricken areas of other U.S. communities.
Today, Promise Neighborhoods supports 46 communities, from Boston to Detroit to San Antonio to Los Angeles, in their plans to deliver services to support every child in obtaining the education they need for their future, from cradle through college.
When combined with our other signature revitalization effort, Choice Neighborhoods, which transforms distressed public housing into safe, healthy homes—we have invested more than $350 million in more than 100 of the nation’s persistent pockets of poverty since 2009.pPresident is focused on providing ladders of opportunity for those striving to get into the middle class. Last month, he announced several proposals that create ladders of opportunity, including the new Promise Zones initiative, which will align a number of his signature revitalization efforts (like Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods) in 20 high poverty communities as Promise Zones.
The Promise Zones initiative will bring together federal and local resources to help transform some of our nation’s most distressed neighborhoods, with a keen focus on job creation, increased economic activity, reduction of violent crime and distressed public housing as well as strengthening the educational supports and services in these high poverty communities.
These Zones reflect what we’ve learned from innovators like the Harlem Children’s Zone, and their counterparts across the country.
After visiting Harlem Children’s Zone, I felt so inspired and encouraged by the efforts of Geoffrey Canada and others around the country who work so that one day, all children can have the opportunity to succeed, no matter where they live.
For more information on the president’s proposals for ladders of opportunity, click here.
Valerie Jarrett is a senior advisor to President Barack Obama and assistant to the president for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.
“In 2009, President Obama announced a new competitive grant program, Promise Neighborhoods, which hopes to replicate the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone and similar programs in poverty-stricken areas of other U.S. communities.”
Last Updated on Friday, 15 March 2013 09:23
Category: Your Voice Written by Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian
We must take the urgency of now very seriously. Not just because of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but because the future of America’s people;,especially those who have been long oppressed, depends on right now.
Since the beginning of this country, the one thing that has never been fully decided is who will truly determine this nation’s future? Will it be America’s truly wealthy — the 1 percent who can decide every political and economic move in the richest and mightiest country in the world? And who, with the economic 1 percent of Europe and Asia, could take over every major decision in the world? Would it be them or would it be “We the people”?
It is clear by studying recent events, coupled with patterns of history, that the democratic principle of “We the people” is constantly endangered by plutocratic mindsets, those who are often controlled by greed and quests for power.
Plutocracy, according to Webster, is one, “Government by wealthy people”; two, “A society governed by wealthy people”; or three, “A ruling class whose power is based on their wealth.”
I caution that America could succumb to this social mindset — if we do not continue to stand guard using our democratic powers of “We the people” to the fullest.
Take the last presidential election, for instance. Mitt Romney, in his derogatory comment about the so-called “47 percent” of people who he claimed “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims” and who “pay no income tax.” appeared to dismiss nearly half of American voters. He even said, “... and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
These derogatory comments appeared to signal a move to exclude people of a certain social status. Moreover, it appeared as a move to keep the concept of “We the people” alive while denying it in practice. What would have or could have happened had he prevailed?
It is important to note that throughout history, struggles for equality and justice in America have continued to move from victory to setback and from setback to victory. In fact, about every 30 to 35 years, there’s a new movement in this country. The civil rights movement was the last one. The one before that was the labor movement. This time, it’s the continuation of the civil rights movement, which includes the movement on behalf of the poor.
At the blessed age of 88, I recall the degradation of segregation and Jim Crow. I struggled for justice through the freedom rides and alongside Dr. King. I marched on Washington on August 28, 1963 and I was there to ultimately rejoice at the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And then we suddenly found ourselves mourning n the assassination of my dear friend and brother, Dr. King, in 1968. He was only in Memphis for the cause of the sanitation workers, the poor, the struggling, and the oppressed who were suffering unequal wages and working conditions.
Fast forward, to see America elect and then re-elect its first Black president nearly 50 years later is reason to rejoice. And yet even President Obama’s inaugural speech called for honest labor wages that “liberate families from the brink of hardship.”
This is a clear reason that we must continue to march to the polls as well as to take up our banners and plead our causes. We must win our battles in the basic old fashioned way that it has historically worked — with non-violent direct action protests, coupled with the vote. In doing so, our movement will continue to grow.
A newsman once asked Dr. King, “How many members do you have?” When Martin answered, the newsman retorted, “Well that doesn’t represent much of Black America.” But then Dr. King said something that is so very relevant in the 21st century. He said, “We don’t operate through membership. We operate knowing that if we’re right, people will follow us.”
The state of equality and justice in America is a continued struggle for the poor despite all of the strides America has made. The urgency of now is to maintain the power and sanctity of the vote, which has become the greatest power held by the poor.
As Dr. King said, if we do what is right, others will follow us. This is the power of “We the people.”
The Rev. C.T. Vivian is national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He was also a close friend, lieutenant and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This article — the ninth of a 20-part series — is written in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The Lawyers’ Committee is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to enlist the private bar’s leadership and resources in combating racial discrimination and the resulting inequality of opportunity — work that continues to be vital today. For more information, please visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.
Last Updated on Friday, 15 March 2013 09:14
Category: Your Voice Written by Bertram Marks
On Wednesday night, Feb. 27, inside of First Community Baptist Church in Detroit, Detroiters gathered to discuss, debate, and plan for our future. We engaged in a town hall meeting. We did not ask for government to sanction or finance our gathering. Instead, we took the initiative on our own to find solutions to the poor quality of life paralyzing Detroit. This meeting was of Detroiters, for Detroiters, and by Detroiters. Notable names were present such as Rev. Wendell Anthony, Rev. Horace Sheffield, Sheriff Bennie Napoleon and Charlie Beckham. Bankole Thompson, editor of the Michigan Chronicle also attended to hear our concerns.
Equally as important were the people present whose names are unknown to the public at large. People like Erma, Bruce, Malik, Erika and Mike. In total, nearly 150 concerned Detroiters who care about the direction of their city, came out on a snowy winter evening to discuss the root causes of the challenges we face, and more importantly, learn how we can transcend our current condition to an improved quality of life.
The people who live, work, play, and love Detroit and care deeply about the city were engaged and passionate about its future.
Often, common rhetoric and media reports portray Detroiters as only victims, or perpetrators, or obstructionists.
Rarely do we take the time to consider the larger, rational, engaged aspect of Detroit citizenry.
One candidate for mayor has suggested that he is the only person capable of turning the city of Detroit around. He goes so far as to suggest that if there is someone else capable of doing so, he would vote for them himself. This rhetoric makes for good sound bites, but is terribly insulting to the lifelong Detroiters who occupy the field of potential candidates for mayor. This candidate has suggested that two certified public accountants, an attorney and law enforcement executive, a current state legislator, and a former corporation counsel for the city of Detroit, all of whom are lifelong Detroiters who have remained in the city of Detroit by choice, are suddenly rendered less qualified than a person who moved into the city for the sole purpose of seeking Detroit’s highest office.
Such rhetoric must be dismissed for the irrational premise upon which it is built. The Detroiters who came out for the town hall meeting would have made mincemeat of this candidate had he spewed such nonsense in their presence.
Aside from lacking any semblance of logic, this kind of “me only” talk is the paternalistic rhetoric of a candidate who neglects the history of the city of Detroit. It has always been Detroiters themselves who have steered the tide of change in this great city.
Detroiters had to implement change when neighborhoods such as Paradise Valley and Black Bottom were bulldozed to make way for freeways to transport people to and from the suburbs. Detroiters had to reclaim neighborhoods, and rebuild businesses after the 1967 riots. It was Detroiters who opted to create history by electing the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city. Detroiters purchased homes and stabilized neighborhoods during the recession of the late ’70s and early ’80s. It is always the people who make the difference, not the public servant. The public servant is required to follow the will of the people. An elected official on his or her own can accomplish nothing without the direction, support and aid of the people. All candidates for mayor in the current race would do well to remember this important fact of leadership.
Since our town hall meeting, Gov. Snyder has moved forward with his decision to appoint an emergency manager for Detroit. Detroiters were told an emergency manager is coming, but were left in the dark as to who the governor will appoint to fill this role. As I have stated on numerous prior occasions, the Emergency Manager Law rushed through the legislature in December of 2012 is wrong for a variety of reasons. Obliterating home rule in Detroit is a terrible but perfect example of usurped democracy. Our challenges to this Draconian law must continue through the courts, through media, and in the streets with organized, targeted demonstrations of civil disobedience.
However, as we continue to challenge the law and the process, we must also hold accountable whomever the governor decides to appoint.
We must be careful as ordinary citizens to be sure that our voice of care and concern is heard by the emergency manager, the mayor and the governor. We must not allow ourselves to be left out of the process of decision making.
Wayne State University Professor and Industrial Economist Dr. Peter Henning has warned us that the greatest danger of an emergency manager is the lack of input from the community. An absent or silent community in the wake of this historic appointment is the beginning of the destruction of civil society. Assets will be sold, services privatized, and employees randomly displaced without any input from the citizens. We are still grappling with the utter chaos unleashed when the DPS Emergency Manager Robert Bobb indiscriminately closed dozens of neighborhood schools without input from neighbors. The voices of neighborhood protest over school closings fell upon deaf ears. The consequences of not listening are increased drug and gang violence in the streets, gang wars inside of the schools, and a breakdown in public safety for our children.
We have to be ready to organize, formulate positions, and keep examples of failed emergency management in the face of the appointed manager for Detroit. We cannot doom our citizens to yet another round of failed emergency management because we refused to acknowledge that the manager is, in fact, running the city.
In April, we are hosting another town hall meeting at First Community Baptist Church in Detroit. We will invite well known and unknown Detroiters to come forward to discuss, debate, and plan for the future of our city. By that we will know who the governor has appointed emergency manager. We should also know after our town hall meeting what expectations we have of this manager and how we plan to present those expectations and hold him/her accountable to them and to us.
I hope, as a concerned Detroiter, ex-Detroiter, or concerned member of this region, you will join us.
Last Updated on Friday, 15 March 2013 09:19
Category: Your Voice Written by Jesse Jackson
Last week, President Obama sent a small delegation — featuring U.S. Reps. Gregory Meeks and William Delahunt — to attend the funeral of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
In doing so, he wisely ignored both the provocative comments from Venezuela suggesting that the U.S. was implicated in Chavez’s death, and the negative comments of conservatives like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who called the effort “weak and irresponsible.”
On the contrary, the gesture was respectful and respected. And it can hopefully open a new page on our relations with Venezuela and the hemisphere. We have every good reason to have good relations with Venezuela. They are our neighbors. They are our trading partners. We share many things, like a love of baseball.
About 190,000 Venezuelans live in the U.S. About 70 major league baseball players are Venezuelan, including Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
Venezuela has surpassed Saudi Arabia for the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, and the U.S. is the largest importer of Venezuelan oil. Its oil is four days away, as opposed to four weeks away from the Middle East. Chavez provoked the anger of the Bush administration, but he was a hero to the poor in his country, and to peoples in developing nations across the world. Chavez objected to U.S. policy in the region, leading eventually to a break in relations in 2008 amid accusations of the U.S. aiding anti-government groups in Bolivia. Relations were re-established in 2009 by the Obama administration. Chavez was particularly close to Fidel Castro and the leadership in Cuba, openly scorning America’s five-decade-old embargo and relentless efforts to isolate Cuba.
Now, as America winds down its longest wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, perhaps there will be more opportunity to focus on our neighbors in this hemisphere.
What is apparent is that the old policies — focused on the Cuban embargo that dates from the height of the Cold War and a “Washington consensus” on conservative economics that much of the hemisphere has turned against — aren’t working. We are isolating ourselves, not the Cubans or the Venezuelans. At the Organization of American States meeting in 2012, only two nations — the U.S. and Canada — voted for continuing to exclude Cuba. The remaining 30 nations put the U.S. on notice that Cuba will be invited to the next meetings. The Chavez-backed Community of Latin America and Caribbean States, which excludes only the U.S. and Canada, could well rival OAS in the future. In a pointed statement, it recently elected Cuba’s Raul Castro as its head for the year.
At Chavez’s funeral, leaders of the new populist politics in Latin America gathered — including the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Some have used anti-American postures to consolidate their legitimacy at home. All search for building greater economic and political independence from the U.S.
A year ago, at the April Summit of the Americas, President Obama listened patiently to many provocative comments and called for a new start. “I am not somebody who brings to the table here a lot of baggage from the past,” he said, “and I want to look at all these problems in a new and fresh way.”
Surely it is time now to move on that promise. America should engage its neighbors, not isolate itself trying to isolate them. We should end our failed embargo of Cuba. We do far better trying to talk through our disagreements than trying to punish our neighbors. Across the hemisphere, peoples are struggling to find a way to make economies work for working people. This nation is no exception. We would be wise to join in that search, rather than to split apart.
Keep up with Rev. Jackson and the work of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at www.rainbowpush.org.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 09:04
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