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COMMENTARY: Are Blacks Close to Receiving Reparations?

NNPA NEWSWIRE — From a historical perspective, approximately 4,000,000 Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the U.S. and colonies that became the U.S. from 1619 to 1865. The institution of slavery was constitutionally and statutorily sanctioned by the U.S. from 1789 through 1865.

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By Jeffrey L. Boney, NNPA Political Analyst

Blacks have been trying to level the economic and societal playing fields in this country for some time. When it comes to the concept of granting “reparations” to Black people as a form of restitution for the years that Blacks spent subjected to the barbaric institution of slavery in America, it has seemingly been overlooked and ignored by the majority of legislators that have come and gone in the U.S. Congress.

Many Blacks have heard and even used the phrase, “40 acres and a mule,” which was a guarantee made to formerly enslaved people of African descent that was the first attempt at seeking to provide some form of reparations to Blacks who had been enslaved.

Of course, history shows us that the decision makers who talked about the idea of providing reparations to people of African descent who were previously enslaved, reneged on their promise, leaving Blacks to work harder and longer to achieve success than those who had enslaved them to begin with. This has proven to be extremely challenging for Blacks.

U.S. history has set precedent for providing reparations to several groups, including Japanese Americans, who have suffered challenges.

In 1942, during World War II, the U.S. created internment camps where roughly 125,000 people of Japanese descent were essentially enslaved as a result of an executive order from then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The rationale for their inhumane detention was that people of Japanese descent were suspected to have been conspiring against the U.S.

Sadly, many of these people were American citizens, but that did not matter because they were forcibly detained and made to move from their homes to the internment camps.

Congress decided to institute a reparation fund after recognizing the actions of the U.S. government resulted in estimated losses of several billion dollars sustained due to the loss of property and the ability to make a living suffered by those of Japanese descent.

As a result, each survivor was eventually awarded $20,000, with approximately 80,000 people of Japanese descent claiming the reparations that they were entitled to.

This action cost the U.S. government approximately $1.6 billion in reparations and remains a dark stain on America’s history.

Here in America, descendants of the people of African descent that were enslaved and experienced some of the cruelest ordeals imaginable, should be looked upon no differently than any other group. As with Japanese Americans during and after World War II, African Americans continue to experience their own unique challenges and issues.

From a historical perspective, approximately 4,000,000 Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the U.S. and colonies that became the U.S. from 1619 to 1865. The institution of slavery was constitutionally and statutorily sanctioned by the U.S. from 1789 through 1865.

African Americans continue to suffer debilitating economic, educational, and health hardships, including but not limited to the nearly 1,000,000 Black people incarcerated, an unemployment rate that is more than twice the current unemployment rate of Whites, and an average wealth of less than 1⁄16 of that of White families, a disparity which has worsened, not improved, over time.

While the focus has been on highlighting the social effects of slavery and segregation, the continuing economic implications remain largely ignored by mainstream analysis. These economic issues are the root cause of many critical issues in the African American community today, such as education, healthcare and criminal justice policy, including policing practices.

The call for reparations represents a commitment to enter a constructive dialogue on the role of slavery and racism in shaping present-day conditions in our community and American society.

Former U.S. Congressman John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) once proposed creating a Commission to study how to appropriately compensate the descendants of slaves for decades, with those conversations falling on deaf ears.

Understanding the unique challenges that African Americans face here in America, U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) is hoping that a bill she is now championing, in the spirit of former Rep. Conyers, gets the level of support and traction needed to help African Americans finally receive the guarantee promised to them back in the late 1800s.

Congresswoman Jackson Lee recently introduced H.R. 40, a bill to establish a Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act. This piece of legislation would create a Commission aimed at studying the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against African Americans, resulting directly and indirectly from slavery to segregation to the desegregation process and the present day.

The Commission would also make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long-delayed process of atonement for slavery.

“The impact of slavery and its vestiges continues to affect African Americans and indeed all Americans in communities throughout our nation, which is why I am pleased to introduce H.R. 40,” said Congresswoman Lee. “This legislation is intended to examine the institution of slavery in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present, and further recommend appropriate remedies.”

Congresswoman Jackson Lee states that since the initial introduction of this legislation, its proponents have made substantial progress in elevating the discussion of reparations and reparatory justice at the national level, joining the mainstream international debate on the issue.

She went on to state that some people have tried to deflect the importance of these conversations by focusing on individual monetary compensation, but the real issue is whether and how this nation can come to grips with the legacy of slavery that still infects current society.

According to the bill, the Commission shall be composed of 13 members, who shall be appointed, within 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, as follows:

  • Three members shall be appointed by the President.
  • Three members shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
  • One member shall be appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate.
  • Six members shall be selected from the major civil society and reparations organizations that have historically championed the cause of reparatory justice.

In short, the Commission would be tasked with studying the impact of slavery and the continuing discrimination against African Americans, which has come as a direct and indirect result of slavery, as well as from segregation and other present-day factors.

According to the bill, the Commission would also make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long-delayed process of atonement for slavery.

Congresswoman Jackson Lee believes that through legislation, resolutions, news, and litigation, Congress is moving closer to making strides towards reparations.

Congresswoman Jackson Lee points out that despite the progress that has been made in this country, including the election of the first American President of African descent, the legacy of slavery still lingers heavily in this nation.

She believes this bill, which seeks to establish a Commission to examine the moral and social implications of slavery, is both relevant and crucial to restoring trust in governmental institutions in many communities, especially during a time where there are many reoccurring issues affecting African Americans in ways that are different from other communities.

“Today there are more people at the table — more activists, more scholars, more CEO’s, more state and local officials, and more Members of Congress,” said Congresswoman Jackson Lee. “I believe that H.R. 40 is a crucial piece of legislation because it goes beyond exploring the economic implications of slavery and segregation. Though the times and circumstances may change, the principle problem of slavery continues to weigh heavily on this country. A federal commission can help us reach into this dark past and bring us into a brighter future.”

Surprisingly, the topic of reparations for slavery for African Americans has intensified, with several Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Rep. Beto O’ Rourke, each voicing their support for reparations, supporting Rep. Jackson Lee’s bill.

The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), which represents over 200 Black-owned media companies across the U.S., will continue to follow this extremely important legislation and the discussions surrounding this pertinent issue concerning people of African descent all across this country.

Jeffrey L. Boney is a political analyst and international correspondent for the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com and serves as Associate Editor for the Houston Forward Times newspaper. Jeffrey is an award-winning journalist, dynamic international speaker, experienced entrepreneur, business development strategist and founder and CEO of the Texas Business Alliance. Follow Jeffrey on Twitter @realtalkjunkies

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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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