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Op-Ed

50 Years of Black Progress

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By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
NNPA Columnist

 

Has Black America made significant progress politically, socially and economically over the past 50 years? This is not only an important question to pose, it is equally important to answer. And the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, 1965 to 2015 has been a remarkable period in the history of Black America. But make no mistake about it: all of our progress has come as a direct result of a protracted struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

The universal right to self-determination is a fundamental human right recognized by the United Nations. We have too often allowed non-Blacks to mis-define our reality with distorted myths, negative stereotypes and cynicism.

This year will mark the largest Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) with 46 members. In 1965, there were only five African Americans in the Congress. We have come a long way politically in the past 50 years at the federal, state and local level. In addition to representation in the House and Senate, we have served as mayors of big cities, as governors, as lieutenant governors, as speakers of state legislatures, as county commission chairs, as city council chairs, as school board presidents and as national party chairs. Black participation in state legislatures alone has increased five-fold over during past five decades.

Since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Black Power has moved from becoming a chant to a political reality. The late Edward Brooke (R-Mass.) blazed the way as the first Black attorney general of a state and later as the first African American popularly elected to the U.S. Senate. Following suit as governors were Doug Wilder in Virginia and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts.

Jesse L. Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns paved the way for Barack Obama’s successful campaign in 2008 to become the first Black elected president of the United States of America.

On the heels of that success and Blacks voting at a higher percentage than Whites in 2012 for the first time, have come efforts by Republicans to suppress the Black vote. This effort, carried out largely by Republican-dominated state legislatures, is underway as America experiences a dramatic demographic shift.

We are grateful that Sister Jeri Green and others at the U.S. Census Bureau that have assembled the latest social and demographic statistics for Black History Month observance:

• As of July 1, 2012, there are now 44.5 million Black Americans, either alone or in combination with one or more other races, in the U.S, up 1 percent over 2011;
• New York is the state with the largest Black American population with 3.7 million. The District of Columbia has the highest percentage of Black Americans at 51.6 percent, followed by Mississippi at 38 percent. Texas has the highest numeric increase in Black Americans since 2011 (87,000. Cook County, Ill. (Chicago) had the largest Black American population of any county as of 2012 at 1.3 million;
• The percentage of Blacks 25 and older with a high school diploma or higher was 83.2 percent;
• The percentage of African Americans in that same age group with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2012 was 18.7 percent;
• There were 3.7 million Blacks enrolled in college as of 2012, a 28 percent increase over the 2.9 million in 2007;
• The annual median family income of Black households was $33,321 in 20212, compared to the national figure of $55,017;
• The poverty rate for African Americans was 27.2 percent in 2012, compared to 15 percent nationally;
• There were 9.8 million family households in 2013 and among Black households, 45.7 percent contained married couples;
• There was a record 17.8 million Black voter turnout in 2012 , a 1.7 million voter increase of the number of Black Americans who voted in 2008 and
• The record 66.2 percent of Black Americans who voted in the 2012 presidential election was higher than the 64.1 percent of non-Hispanic Whites who voted in 2012.

Yes, we have made progress over the past half-century, but future progress will not happen by osmosis. Rather, it will happen when we become wiser about how we spend more than $1 trillion each year. We will also need to focus on strengthening Black-owned businesses and grow a new generation of committed young entrepreneurs.

To be blunt, Black Americans cannot afford to entertain any ideas of not moving forward to make more progress over the next 50 years. We have come too far to turn back now.

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: dr.bchavis@nnpa.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.

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Bay Area

GETTING TO YES 

BAYSIDE BALL PARK OR WATERFRONT DEVELOPMENT

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Howard Terminal Courtesy Port of Oakland website

Arguably, development of Howard’s Terminal has been in the making for long time.  According to Councilmember Gallo, Oakland’s previous city officials Robert Bobb and Jerry Brown entertained development of Howard’s Terminal, for the Fishers and A’s, during their tenure as city manager and mayor respectively. 

Let’s be clear, the A’s initially pitched its development project at Howard’s Terminal as a Bayside Baseball Stadium, when in essence its project goal has always been a major condominium-housing and business development, along Oakland’s waterfront … the stadium was then and is now just the shinny thing.  Many argue the Coliseum site is more suited for a new stadium development, if that’s really what the A’s want. 

On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, Oakland City Council held a special meeting to consider the Oakland A’s proposal submitted in April 2021; the A’s pressed Council for this special meeting so as to give the A’s an up or down vote on their proposal.  Council voted 6-1, with one abstention, not to support the A’s proposal as submitted.  Council did agree, however, to support the A’s project proposal with certain City amendments.   

Oakland City Council considered their vote to be a big win for Oakland.  On the other hand, A’s President, Dave Kaval, called the City Council’s vote “a swing and a miss.” Based upon the complexity of the pending issues, it appears more time – extended ending – will be necessary for both sides to get to a mutually beneficial yes. 

According to the A’s Kaval, progress has been made in negotiations but, the plan Council voted for on Tuesday “is not a business partnership that works for [A’s] us.”   Moreover, Kaval claims the A’s had not seen some of the amendments Oakland city staff presented to the City Council Tuesday morning before the council’s vote. 

Council-member Rebecca Kaplan said the City Council’s amendments addressed the A’s biggest concern, having to pay for offsite transportation, and infrastructure improvements. However, the A’s still could not agree with the city’s overall offer.   

 Also, the A’s waterfront development project proposal includes some 3000 units of condominium-housing, but the A’s proposal ignored adequate provisions for affordable housing.  The A’s wants the City to waive the A’s legal requirement to provide for affordable housing.  Oakland’s City Council determined that fact to a major sticking point. 

Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who worked on the amendments with Vice Mayor Kaplan, said, “It’s (now) at the beginning of the eighth inning.”  As a matter of fact, Council advised the A’s to use Council’s just approved amended Term-Sheet as a road map for further negotiations. 

Following the City Council meeting, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the City and A’s are very close to an agreement, but Kaval said “in some ways it’s too early to say how close the two sides are.”  

Kaval expressed hope that the A’s can get the City Council vote on some terms his team could agree on before Council’s summer recess.  Council President Bas’, office said no council meetings are scheduled before the recess to further negotiate the A’s new waterfront proposal.  

 Negotiation between Oakland’s City Council and the Oakland A’s appears to be headed for extra innings.  The complexity of the issues and public reactions, after Tuesday’s Council vote, gives many citizens cause to pause and wonder if we are at the end of the seventh inning stretch or the bottom of the ninth; either way, getting to a mutually beneficial yes will require a walk-off hit. 

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Activism

Formerly Incarcerated Can Help Bring Peace to the Streets

This wave of violence is very brutal but not new. And unless there is a miracle from our most high God, this violence won’t be eliminated.

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Hasan Almasi/Unsplash

The uptick in violence and discord that we see permeating the Bay Area is also occurring nationwide.  It seems that we are entering a state of vindictive racial, cultural and religious chaos that is affecting all segments of our society.

This wave of violence is very brutal but not new. And unless there is a miracle from our most high God, this violence won’t be eliminated.

But we, by working together in harmony, can do something to develop pathways towards quelling the violence.

Through collective effort we can design an approach that focuses on the causes of these random acts of violence.

As we address the root causes of this daily increase of violence in our community, we will discover that it can be attributed to a variety of reasons which include acts of domestic violence, turf struggles and revengeful acts by some gangs, some rogue activity by a few police officers along with many other senseless racially motivated crimes toward Asians, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans.

To help find solutions to some of this frightening violence we must conduct an extensive outreach to our neighborhood and community groups, civil rights groups, churches and non-profit organizations to find knowledgeable persons who also have extensive experience in the streets of Oakland.

I responded to a challenge from Paul Cobb, the publisher of the Oakland Post, to utilize the network of the readers of my column to solicit solutions to crime and violence. Mr. Cobb and his wife, Gay, attended my graduation while I was in San Quentin and they told me to use my voice to help bring peace and healing to Oakland. 

When I heard that he, along with the Pastors of Oakland and several groups such as the NAACP, Chinatown and the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce had called for peace and unity at Chief Leronne Armstrong’s rally, I accepted his challenge to do outreach to members of the formerly incarcerated community.

I participated in a meeting with the formerly incarcerated and asked them to join with me to meet with Armstrong and any other official who want to employ solutions to the root causes of violence.

Some of the formerly incarcerated who were once complicit in carnage and destructive actions now say they truly understand why they must use their stories to help bring peace to our communities. 

More importantly, they know the ways of the streets and they know how to communicate with and are not fearful of the youth and others who are involved directly and indirectly in destructive acts.

They know they won’t be able to curb the violence in its entirety, but they have clearer insights as to why and what methods or solutions should be employed.

Many of the formerly incarcerated individuals who I have talked to want the media, the police department and our elected leaders to use their power to provide resources to help them bring peace to our community.

Under the auspices of “R.O.C.S.” (Restore Our Community Services), the formerly incarcerated want to work with the churches and other people of power and influence to bring positive approaches so we can witness some positive more peaceful results.

Let’s not allow violence to become the universal panacea for everything that is wrong within our minds. Violence can’t be allowed to replace the practice of civility. Let’s also use community diplomacy to resolve our differences.

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Commentary

Texas Democrats Are Getting into ‘Good Trouble’

Here’s why dozens of Texas lawmakers are in Washington, D.C. this week.

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Person casting vote/Unseen Histories via Unsplash

One year after the death of the great civil rights icon John Lewis, a group of Texas Democratic lawmakers is following Lewis’s lifelong call for people to make “good trouble” and “necessary trouble” to secure equality and justice for all. 

Congressional Democrats should bring the same level of commitment to resisting and overturning a new wave of voting restrictions that voting rights activist Stacey Abrams has labeled “Jim Crow 2.0.”

Here’s why dozens of Texas lawmakers are in Washington, D.C. this week.

Texas is the latest Republican-run state where legislators and the governor are trying to impose new voting restrictions—banning drive-through and 24-hour early voting, restricting distribution of absentee ballots, imposing new voter ID provisions—that they hope will make it harder for Democrats to win future elections. Their voter suppression laws are aimed at Black and Brown voters and others more likely to support Democratic candidates.

Republican officials are also trying to make former President Donald Trump happy by giving credibility to his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. They’re using his lies about “election fraud” and “election integrity” to justify new restrictive voting rules.

In Texas, Republicans control the state House and Senate. And hard-right Gov. Gregg Abbott is eager to do Trump’s bidding. Back in May, Texas Republicans tried to push their election bill through the House just before the close of the legislative session. 

Because the Texas House is required to have two-thirds of its members present to conduct official business, Democratic legislators stopped the bill from passing by walking out of the chamber.

But Abbott is so set on getting his new voting law that he ordered legislators to come back into session this month to push it through. To prevent the state’s Republicans from forcing new voting restrictions into law, more than 50 Democratic legislators left the state.

Abbott and Republican Senate leaders have threatened lawmakers with arrest to try to force them to attend the session. And he has said he will keep calling special sessions until he gets his way. That’s why the Texas legislators came to Wash., D.C. They brought an urgent message to members of Congress: the only way to protect voters from voter suppression at the state level is to pass national voting rights legislation.

The House of Representatives has previously passed the For the People Act, which would reverse many new voting restrictions and includes several priorities specifically outlined by John Lewis during his lifetime, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would help prevent future voter suppression efforts from taking effect.

Both are essential to protect democracy and voting rights. But right now, U.S. Senate Republicans are using the filibuster to block the For the People Act, and they could do the same to the VRA.

President Joe Biden has just made a strong speech in defense of voting rights. He denounced new voter suppression efforts. And he called for the Senate to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

I am grateful that President Biden has called attention to the urgent need for congressional action. Now we need him to use his leadership to get voting rights legislation through the Senate. And if Republicans continue to block it using a filibuster, he must work with Senate leaders to break through that obstruction.

John Lewis nearly died in the struggle to pass the national Voting Rights Act. He dedicated his career in Congress to defending it. I am steeling myself for the disgust I will feel when Republican officials praise him on the anniversary of his death at the same time, they are undermining the cause to which he devoted his life.

Texas Democrats are honoring John Lewis by making good and necessary trouble. It is time for Democrats in Washington, and any Republicans committed more to country than party, to do the same.

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