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COMMENTARY: A Letter to President Barack Obama –We miss you

JACKSONVILLE FREE PRESS — Thanks for leading us out of the Great Recession and helping our country and economy rebound. You were professional and committed despite some of the unprofessional politicians that you faced in Congress.

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Reggie Fullwood (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Dear President Obama,

First, let me thank you for being a true statesman and such an exceptional role model. You have been an inspiration to so many people around the world.

Thank you for your passion, intelligence, commitment, aptitude and swagger. You are one the coolest brothers that I have ever seen – you, Samuel L. Jackson, John Shaft, Avon Barksdale (The Wire) and Ghost (Power). You are cool as the other side of the pillow.

Not only are you my favorite President of all time, you are my favorite light-skinned guy of all time. Forget Tom Joyner, Terrance Howard and Steph Curry, you have single handedly brought light skinned back. Us dark skinned brothers had taken over, but you Sir were like Luke Skywalker in “Return of the Jedi” – you brought balance to the Force.

So thank you Mr. Obama for being an awesome world leader, husband and father.

Thanks for leading us out of the Great Recession and helping our country and economy rebound. You were professional and committed despite some of the unprofessional politicians that you faced in Congress.

Cheers, Mr. Real President for not being a sexist, bigot or an egomaniac. Thanks for showing us that you were both the ideal professional, but very human at the same time. Although your rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” sucked – you got cool points for trying and the effort being funny as hell.

And I just have to acknowledge the fact that you and your administration used social media responsibly, versus just tweeting or posting nonsense anytime you got in a bad mood or were craving attention. Thank you Mr. Obama for never calling someone “a dog” via Twitter and debasing the office of the President of the United States.

I loved your comments last July in South Africa at a speech commemorating the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela. Obama said, “People just make stuff up. They just make stuff up. We see it in the growth of state-sponsored propaganda. We see it in internet fabrications.” He added, “We see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment. We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more.”

And thank you Barrack, if I can call you Barrack, for your passion for helping those Americans in great need. The My Brother’s Keeper initiative that you launched has made a difference and we thank you and Michelle for continuing to fight for youth around the country.

And how can we not thank you for actually hiring well-qualified competent people to help you run the country. You know like actually hiring a Secretary of Education that has a college degree or has actually been inside of a public school.

I have to give you major props for being a good human being and not stereotyping people from difference races and backgrounds. You didn’t target Mexicans and Muslims, but you attempted to create policies that dealt promoted inclusion versus exclusion.

By the way, the last I checked we haven’t had any Mexican or Muslim mass murders in a while, but we certainly have had numerous white extremist or supremist (however you want to classify them) that have killed dozens of unsuspecting people.

And Mr. Obama you are way too smart to ever think that we could make Mexico or anyone else pay for a wall. It’s hard enough to make us Americans pay for anything extra.

How can I not thank you for being you without acknowledging your lovely bride. You married the best first lady ever and if she’s not the best she is at least in the top three. And I am not just saying this because of my ten-year crush on Michelle. I am saying it because she’s been transformative. We have never seen a first lady draw the types of crowds Mrs. Obama attracts for speaking engagements and book signing events?

I am not sure if my grandmother will ever admit it, but I think that you have replaced me as her favorite grandson. No you may not know it, but you are Ms. Ernestine’s favorite. That might be the only issue I have with you. In fact, she’s still waiting on you to come and pick up that sweet potato pie that she baked for you last Thanksgiving.

Finally Mr. President, I must end my man crush letter by again thanking you for the sacrifice and exceptional service. You and Michelle deserve to finally have some fun and actually relax. By the way, don’t forget to invite me to housing warming for that new gigantic house you are buying.

Signing off from Martha’s Vineyards hanging with the Obamas (not really),
Reggie Fullwood

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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