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A CLOSER LOOK AT: Dr. Willie. W. Herenton: ‘We’re heading back to City Hall’

NEW TRI-STATE DEFENDER — Dr. Willie W. Herenton recalled the days when he attended segregated public schools and was forced to sit at the back of city buses because of the color of his skin. As the South Memphis native reflected, he sat back in his chair and paused before explaining how it all came full circle. The first African American to serve as superintendent of those once-segregated schools, Herenton (in 1991) beat incumbent mayor Dick Hackett, becoming the first African American elected to serve as Memphis’ mayor.

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Former mayor and now mayoral candidate Dr. Willie W. Herenton believes that “my presence as mayor is going to be symbolic to many of the African-American young people who walk and drive the streets of Memphis who don’t have a role model.” (Photo by: Tyrone P. Easley)

By Erica R. Williams

Updated: Profiles of all three of the leading candidates for Memphis Mayor are now live online.  Excellent reporting and writing by Erica R. Williams. Click to access the candidate of your choice:

Dr. Willie W. Herenton recalled the days when he attended segregated public schools and was forced to sit at the back of city buses because of the color of his skin. As the South Memphis native reflected, he sat back in his chair and paused before explaining how it all came full circle.

The first African American to serve as superintendent of those once-segregated schools, Herenton (in 1991) beat incumbent mayor Dick Hackett, becoming the first African American elected to serve as Memphis’ mayor.

“It’s one of my biggest accomplishments,” said Herenton, whose 17-year tenure made him Memphis’ longest serving mayor. “To rise up through rejection, discrimination, racism and poverty and then to be elected to the highest position in Memphis and have the power to elevate other qualified African Americans to positions of leadership.”

Now, Herenton says, “God’s not done” with him yet. He wants to be re-elected October 3.

“Oh, we’re heading back to City Hall,” he often proclaims at rallies such as the recent “Women for Herenton” event that boasted more than a thousand women Herenton is counting upon.

“When I saw more than a thousand women attend my event and support my candidacy that day it was affirmation from what I already sensed,” he said.

Thinking back upon his time as mayor, Herenton notes among accomplishments his contribution to the transformation of public housing, where people were living in “such degradation.”

“And when I was campaigning (in ’91), I said if God enlarges my territory I will do something about this; and we did.”

In 2009, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development used the work done by the Herenton administration as a model for the nation. Hundreds of millions of dollars were secured under the federal Hope VI Grant program, which was a national plan to eradicate severely distressed public housing.

“If you look at LeMoyne Gardens, it didn’t look like what it looks like today. We tore all of that down to make it better,” Herenton said, referencing the old South Memphis public housing development that was replaced by a mixed-income community and renamed College Park.

Some argue that the HOPE VI program displaced poor families to make way for people with higher incomes. Herenton cites its benefits to Memphis.

“Those facilities were once unfit for human habitation and we made them livable. I’m proud of that.”

Clearly happy that he was able to aid in the transformation of the area where he once grew up in poverty, Herenton noted that he graduated from LeMoyne-Owen College (LOC), only a few feet away from that transformation.

After graduating from LOC, Herenton obtained a master’s degree in Education from the University of Memphis (formerly Memphis State). He spent the early years of his career teaching before serving as a principal and district administrator. He became the superintendent of Memphis City Schools in 1979.

“During my tenure, we made available about $175 million to the Memphis school system that we were not required to do,” he said. “But because my background is in education I felt we had to do it.”

Herenton later founded the W.E.B. Du Bois Consortium of Charter Schools in Memphis and Atlanta; but two of the six schools have closed due to poor performance.

Today, the city’s budget doesn’t allot any funding to K-12 education and Herenton believes the city should do more. And, says Herenton, assistance should extend beyond city funding.

“The root cause is poverty, family disintegration, racism and classism. And until we begin to tackle that fundamentally, we will always have the difference in academic achievement in race and class,” he said. “It’s the ugly reality.”

Poverty abatement and crime reduction are high on his agenda. Additionally, his platform includes creating an “attractive business climate” to grow the city’s tax base, tackling juvenile justice reform, and growing minority-owned businesses. And to the degree his platform mirrors elements of the campaigns of any of his opponents, Herenton said he would employ tougher tactics to get the job done.

Herenton and Strickland have said they would increase the city’s complement of police officers, with Herenton labeling Strickland as weak on crime. Strickland’s comeback has referenced Herenton as mayor in 2006, the year Memphis was recognized as leading the nation in violent crimes.

Crime, Herenton said, is connected to other problems and is a result of a hopeless and prevalent mindset.

“When I’m elected mayor – and I will be elected mayor – I don’t have the power to stop people from killing each other, but I believe my presence as mayor is going to be symbolic to many of the African-American young people who walk and drive the streets of Memphis who don’t have a role model.”

Herenton said he can relate to the citizens of Memphis, most of who are African Americans

“I’m everywhere – at the McDonald’s, Piccadilly and walking the streets of Memphis. I meet a lot of people, old and young. And they’ve told me that I’ve got to come back.”

Acknowledging a “very colorful career,” Herenton said, “And I’m not proud of everything, but when people see me they tell me that when I was mayor we had this city on a tight grip and that’s what we need again.”

Herenton timed the public announcement of his mayoral bid to coincide with the commemoration of the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.

“All of this was a part of my strategy,” he said. “I marched with Dr. King and it was my strong admiration for him that compelled me to become an activist.”

He credits the legacy of Dr. King for his desire to run for re-election.

“Fifty years after Dr. King’s death, I watched what was going on in my city. Dr. King had a dream that was interrupted. I, too, had a dream for the city of Memphis that was interrupted because of my resignation during my fifth term.”

During his final years as mayor, the FBI launched an investigation, accusing him of a faulty real estate deal. Herenton has denounced the investigation calling it “targeted, unfounded, and ultimately unsuccessful.” No charges were filed.

Herenton took a break from public service after unsuccessfully taking on Ninth District incumbent Congressman Steve Cohen in 2010 and garnering only 20 percent of the vote. The former mayor said he’s had time to reflect and now wants to re-dedicate himself to the agenda he started.

The to-do list includes improving the city’s infrastructure.

“Before I became mayor, our downtown was dead,” he said. “The public private partnerships that we were able to bring into reality – the Peabody Place, the relocation of AutoZone Park, FedExForum, we were able to do all that.”

At 79 years old, Herenton said he’s up for the challenge and that he expects to be re-elected with a voter turnout higher than it has been in the past.

Open about his distrust of the Shelby County Election Commission, Herenton said he’s not taking any chances.

“We will probably request federal officials to come in and monitor this election because of my distrust.”

He’s also focusing heavily on early voting. His team has launched The Herenton Express, a bus service that will take supporters to the polls to vote on Sept.14, the day after early voting begins.

Several local unions, including the Memphis Police Association, the Memphis Firefighters Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 1733, have endorsed Herenton. Heralding himself a proponent of the working class, Herenton returned to his theme – that he’s ready to get back to city hall and serve the residents of Memphis.

“I know it’s late in the evening for me to run,” he said. “…but I’m glad that God has provided me with the blessing to persevere in life to the point that I have been able to contribute to the growth of my hometown.”

This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender

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COMMENTARY: Telling Our Family Stories Keeps Black History Alive

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of our favorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

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Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

Let’s Talk Black Education

By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO Fortune School

When we were kids, my dad would take us to football games at the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t care much for football, but I loved it when we’d stay after the game to hear the USC marching band play. His love for marching bands is why we have a drumline at the public charter school I founded and named after my parents — Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of ourfavorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

As the story goes, one day back in 1947, my grandma sent little Rex to the corner store to get some eggs so she could bake a cake. My dad bought the eggs and put them in his pockets. On the walk home, he encountered a marching band high-steppin’ down the dusty road to his mother’s house. Little Rex got so excited that he followed the band, beating on his legs like drums all the way home and, yes, breaking all the eggs.

“Rex and the Band” explores a day in the life of Rex, a spirited young boy who dreams of one day playing in a high-energy marching band like the ones he enjoys watching with his father during North Carolina A&T football games.

Reading my sister’s beautifully illustrated book, I cried tears of joy. Telling our family stories is such an important way for African Americans to keep our history alive. Griots, or storytellers, are the reason why we know the truths that we do know about our family history and ancestors.

I believe all of us can think back to when our grandparents would tell us stories about our ancestors who may have passed on before we were born. It was their way of making sure our stories were not only told but preserved.

The Black press has been the clearinghouse for many stories that have impacted the Black community over time. My sister published her first poem in Ebony Jr. as an elementary school student and then in high school she interned at the Sacramento Observer newspaper.

Gwen founded Cocoa Kids Books to publish books like “Rex and the Band” that encourage Black children to dream, aspire for more, and soar because they see themselves reflected in stories that are engaging, authentic, uplifting, and inspiring. I’m so proud of my big sis! You can buy Gwen’s book at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/rex-and-the-band.

Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

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American Cancer Society and Four Historically Black Colleges and Universities Announce Groundbreaking Diversity in Cancer Research Program to Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The awards provided through the DICR program are unique in cancer research. They provide a large amount of salary support for the four colleges to select clinical faculty who need more dedicated time for their cancer research and scholarly activities. They also fund other student and postdoctoral programs and underpin the awards with career development funds and mentorship by established American Cancer Society Professors.

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These grants are designed to build capacity and enhance the competitiveness of faculty at MSIs when applying for nationally competitive grant support and aid in faculty development and retention. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

The American Cancer Society (ACS), along with four historically black medical schools including Charles Drew Medical School, Howard University, Meharry Medical College, and Morehouse School of Medicine, today announced a groundbreaking Diversity in Cancer Research (DICR) Program to help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the cancer research field.

The inaugural initiatives of the overarching program include DICR Institutional Development Grants. The four HBCUs have received DICR grants in a pilot program for 2021-2022.

The awards provided through the DICR program are unique in cancer research.

They provide a large amount of salary support for the four colleges to select clinical faculty who need more dedicated time for their cancer research and scholarly activities.

They also fund other student and postdoctoral programs and underpin the awards with career development funds and mentorship by established American Cancer Society Professors.

The grants will build sustainability for both clinical and scientific cancer-focused careers, launching or sustaining the careers of 104 individuals by 2025.

The impactful program will create a more inclusive research environment to address health disparities more effectively and could lead to targeted recruitment efforts focused on bringing people of color into clinical research protocols.

Establishing a research community that is made up of a diverse group of people is vital to ensuring scientific excellence.

“The American Cancer Society is committed to launching the brightest minds into cancer research and to reducing health disparities,” said Dr. William Cance, American Cancer Society Chief Medical and Scientific Officer.

“To accomplish this, we believe it is essential to invest in the minority workforce and their dedicated efforts to solve disparities and establish equity in cancer care.”

“There are many reasons the Black community continues to experience disparities in cancer care outcomes. But one of the most critical factors behind the imbalance, and one of the most promising paths to closing the gap, is diversity in cancer care research. We must improve diversity and representation in our laboratories if we expect different outcomes in our hospitals,” said Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University.

“As a cancer surgeon and as the president of an HBCU, I believe the Diversity in Cancer Research Program will prove to be pivotal in altering the field of cancer care research and improving cancer care outcomes for Black Americans. I am deeply appreciative of the American Cancer Society’s efforts behind this initiative.”

Data show that African Americans and Black people, Hispanics and Latinos, indigenous people and native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in grant funding.

Fewer than 2% of applicants for the National Institute of Health’s principal grant program come from Black/African Americans, and fewer than 4% from Hispanic/Latino populations.

“We are incredibly excited about this new program with the American Cancer Society,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Ph.D., MD, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College.

“There is a significant imbalance in the representation of minority populations in clinical research which has led to poorer outcomes for specific racial and ethnic minority groups. To eradicate the varying health disparities that affect these populations, we must prioritize diversifying clinical trials and those who conduct trials to ensure treatment is safe and effective.”

This is a fantastic step to ensuring minority populations receive effective treatment and provides great opportunities for our students and faculty to engage in cancer research,” Dr. Hildreth stated.

“The development of diverse, highly competitive, and independent research faculty has been a goal at CDU since its inception 55 years ago,” shared Dr. David M. Carlisle, President and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, located in South Los Angeles.

“This generous grant from the American Cancer Society will directly support a range of programs towards that goal, including the Center to Eliminate Cancer Health Disparities as well as our Clinical Research and Career Development Program, which provides training and mentoring in health disparities and community-partnered participatory research to minority scholars and junior faculty at CDU. This funding will undeniably help CDU in forming a solid foundation in social justice for future cancer research leaders.”

With the DICR program, ACS has committed to a $12 million investment to support four HBCU medical schools with DICR institutional development grants to fund a four-year program that aims to increase the pool of minority cancer researchers by identifying talented students and faculty from HBCUs.

This program will inform efforts to develop a national program to boost cancer research and career development at minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

These grants are designed to build capacity and enhance the competitiveness of faculty at MSIs when applying for nationally competitive grant support and aid in faculty development and retention.

“Here in Georgia, cancer health disparities exist by age, gender, race, income, education, and access to care, among other factors, with Georgia residents in rural communities experiencing worse cancer health outcomes than their urban counterparts,” said Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, president and CEO at Morehouse School of Medicine.

“The DICR program will be a much-needed and welcome contribution to our work at the Morehouse School of Medicine Cancer Health Equity Institute, forever changing the field of cancer research. The program will not only ensure diversity and inclusion in research, but address health disparities in diverse communities, and assist in our mission in leading the creation and advancement of health equity.”

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OP-ED: Welcome Back, NLRB – America’s Workers Missed You!

NNPA NEWSWIRE — All indications show that Jennifer Abruzzo, the President’s new general counsel, is helping to lead the charge and losing no time. She has put together a list of Trump-era decisions for reconsideration and is pushing to get important cases before the board quickly. She also indicated that she is in favor of the PRO Act, the most sweeping piece of labor legislation in 50 years and re-establishing the long practice of ordering companies to bargain with unions based on signed cards of support, rather than secret ballot elections. This is a game changer for union organizing and for workers who want a voice in their workplace.

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Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high.
Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high.

By Ray Curry, President, UAW

Before I get into just what the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) means — and has
meant — to the working men and women of this nation, I want to start by citing a couple of pieces of data because I think they tell a real story.

Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high. So, what does it mean? As a union man myself, I would say it means that America’s workers are hurting, and they know they need a voice in the workplace. And they’re right. My second piece of data: According to a recent AFL-CIO analysis, the average CEO of an S&P 500 company made 299 times what the median worker made in 2020. In other sectors — like retail where Amazon lives — this number is much higher.

But this blog is not about numbers, it’s about people. Working people. And unions, the one force that has the power to close that shameful gap in earnings. The NLRB is a key player in making it possible for workers to organize and improve their lot. So I want to talk a little bit about where we’ve been and where we are going under labor friendly President Joe Biden.

Let me start with a little background on the NLRB. The president appoints this federal board, which has done so much to shape American labor practices since its inception 85 years ago. However, the board that President Biden inherited isn’t exactly what was intended.

In fact, it’s nowhere close.

Dark days

This story begins in the early ‘80s with President Ronald Reagan coming to presidential power and the shift from worker’s rights to corporate profits that his NLRB put into motion. I’ll spare you the decade of gory headlines and cut to the chase. A retrospective 1988 Washington Post article highlighting what the anti-labor, pro-management Ronald Reagan administration created put it perfectly, “It’s one of the great ironies of the day: The National Labor Relations Act, which is supposed to guarantee U.S. workers the right of unionization, is being used to deny them that vital right.”

Under Reagan’s two terms, the Board reversed previous NLRB policy in more than two dozen major cases, almost totally changing the direction the board had followed since its inception under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pro-management positions.

Instead of taking up worker complaints, Reagan’s NLRB backlog of unresolved complaints against employers rose to at least three times what it was before he took office. Delays of up to two years become common. Even more stymying to the labor force, his board took just as long to act on worker petitions to hold union representation elections and to certify fair union wins.

Fast forward almost 30 years to 2017 and President Donald Trump’s first year in office where we find his labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, cheerfully announcing that Ronald Reagan, who did so very much to weaken organized labor, was voted into the Labor Hall of Fame.

There are truly no words adequate to express labor’s outrage at this. President Ronald Reagan joining the ranks of towering labor leaders like George Meany and the UAW’s own Walter Reuther! How cynical and what a harbinger of what was to come under President Trump for America’s workers.

Sadly though, he was just warming up. One could easily argue that President Trump’s NLRB went the furthest in systematically rolling back the right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining, efforts that struck a further blow to America’s wage inequality and directly harmed workers, their communities, and the economy. This board also went on to diminish worker protections under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA/Act) with the administration’s NLRB general counsel (GC), putting into play policies that leave fewer workers protected by the NLRB while working toward changes in the law that directly roll back workers’ rights.

In short, the whole thing was a siege on the American worker.

A new dawn for labor

And then in 2020, the working men and women of this nation had enough and made their voices heard loud and clear at the polls. The 2020 election saw a record number of Americans voting. And what did they say? Enough of the corporate, anti-labor agenda.

This record turnout sent President Joe Biden to Washington and he got to work on the first day. On Inauguration Day, within a few hours of being sworn in, the new president acted boldly and decisively by firing Peter Robb, President Trump’s appointed NLRB GC. Lynn Rhinehart, a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and former general counsel of the AFL-CIO, characterized Robb’s anti-union activities this way: “A report by the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that Robb was dismantling the agency from the inside. He reduced staff size, destroyed employee morale, and failed to spend the money appropriated by Congress. This all occurred while Robb was pursuing an anti-worker, pro-corporate agenda.”

Biden then turned to Deputy General Counsel Alice Stock, who became Acting General Counsel with Robb’s ouster and asked her to resign as well. She also refused. Two days later, she too was shown the door.

Gutsy moves. In fact, it is the first time in more than 70 years that a president has exercised that power. Thanks to President Biden’s swift actions in January, as of August 28, Democrats are now in control of the federal labor board for the first time in four years and pursuing aggressive measures to regain for unions the ground lost during the Trump administration and even looking to go beyond the limits pushed by President Barack Obama’s NLRB.

And all indications show that Jennifer Abruzzo, the President’s new general counsel, is helping to lead the charge and losing no time. She has put together a list of Trump-era decisions for reconsideration and is pushing to get important cases before the board quickly. She also indicated that she is in favor of the PRO Act, the most sweeping piece of labor legislation in 50 years, and re-establishing the long practice of ordering companies to bargain with unions based on signed cards of support, rather than secret ballot elections. This is a game changer for union organizing and for workers who want a voice in their workplace.

We’ve already seen this new NLRB in action. During the month of August alone, the board ruled that Amazon illegally discouraged union organization in Bessemer, Alabama, which may lead to a new vote; heard a case against Google for firing multiple employees for circulating a petition calling on the company to stop doing business with ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement); and filed a complaint against Home Depot for penalizing an employee for wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. These are just a few examples of Biden’s new NLRB.

This new NLRB is an agency returning to its original purpose in a time when America’s workers need it most. Change for the rights and wellbeing of workers is on the way and I expect some of those numbers I cited at the beginning of this discussion are going to improve for my brothers and sisters.

We, as a nation and as a labor movement, are building back!

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