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CTA Expands Workforce and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Efforts

CHICAGO DEFENDER — The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has launched a series of innovative new outreach programs that will help create and expand opportunities for minority-owned companies and further diversify the workforce on large CTA construction projects. During the last two years, CTA has introduced several new programs and initiatives to promote inclusion and provide opportunities previously unavailable to contractors and workers.

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Agency continues to set benchmark for how agencies should build workforce and work with disadvantaged businesses during major projects (Photo by: chicagodefender.com)

By The Chicago Defender

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has launched a series of innovative new outreach programs that will help create and expand opportunities for minority-owned companies and further diversify the workforce on large CTA construction projects.

During the last two years, CTA has introduced several new programs and initiatives to promote inclusion and provide opportunities previously unavailable to contractors and workers.

“Investment in transit is about more than just building new stations and fixing deteriorated infrastructure,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. “It’s about making sure we invest in communities and the people who live and work there.”

The newer CTA programs and initiatives have focused on promoting opportunities for business that are certified as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) and Small Business Enterprises (SBEs). These designations allow small businesses to participate in CTA programs that seek to help level the playing field in transportation contracting.

Over the last several years, CTA’s Diversity Programs Department has successfully expanded CTA’s training and curriculum for DBEs. The programs seek to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in CTA contracting opportunities through outreach and events throughout the year. Perhaps the best example of these types of new programs is CTA’s educational series, which features instruction from CTA prime contractors who provide their insight in areas like procuring business opportunities, managing projects, risk management, payroll, and successfully closing out projects. Among the programs have been:

  • The Green Line Small Business Initiative (2017), a program focused on providing training and assistance to SBEs and DBEs so they could compete for work related to improvements being made at four Green Line stations — 51st Street, Halsted, Cottage Grove and Kedzie. Twenty-four businesses graduated from the Green Line series, with five companies successfully procuring contracts.
  • The Blue Line Small Business Initiative (2018), which provided instruction for SBEs and DBEs interested in working on CTA’s Your New Blue project. Eleven graduates completed the program and one is currently contracted with CTA. The other graduates remain eligible for more opportunities as they become available.
  • The RPM Small Business Educational Series (2019), which will provide information and training for businesses seeking to work on the Red Purple Modernization (RPM) Program, the largest construction project in CTA’s history.
  • “Driving Small Business” workshops: CTA offers quarterly, three-class workshops that have proven very worthwhile for smaller businesses. They are a great way to get to know CTA and how we do business.

“I believe DBE goals are a floor, not a ceiling, and that they express the diverse population we want to see in each of our projects,” Carter said. “Whether the contract is large or small, we are always reviewing contracts to identify opportunities for small businesses and when we cannot find them, we do all we can to create them.”

CTA’s efforts are the outgrowth of the successful model CTA created for the 2013 Red Line South Reconstruction Project, which created a blueprint of how local government agencies should engage the communities they serve for both job and contracting opportunities.

For the past several years, CTA has expanded the number of programs it offers to help DBEs and SBEs. They include:

  • Mid-Level Construction Program: For firms that wish to partner with potential prime contractors, CTA’s Diversity Programs team and project prime contractors host outreach events in order for prime contractors to add DBE partners to their teams.
  • Construction Management Services Program (“CMS”): CTA’s CMS Program was created to help DBEs compete for construction management opportunities. The program includes a selected pool of consultants that work with CTA frequently, guaranteeing an experienced pool of potential vendors who will compete for the work.
  • Mentor-Protégé Program: CTA asks prime contractors, who serve as mentors to potential subcontractors, to choose three categories where the prime will assist DBEs with capacity and capability.
  • One-on-One Consultations: CTA provides individual consultations for firms that are interested in doing business on a CTA project and are seeking to be certified as a DBE.

CTA has also created other standards and practices that are meant to assist DBEs and SBEs increase opportunity and participation, including:

  • Construction contracts now include a workforce component that requires bidders to disclose, up-front, how they will develop a diverse professional services workforce within their teams—including interns, partnering with schools and other innovative ways they will look to create diversity within their professional services.
  • For large design-build contracts, CTA now splits its DBE goals into two parts: one for design and one for construction. This began in 2017 and had never been done before at CTA. By splitting the DBE goal into two parts instead of only one, CTA creates more opportunity for DBEs to find work.
  • CTA regularly reviews and assesses DBE goals on each individual construction project task order in order to maximize DBE participation.
  • CTA has established a DBE Advisory Committee to provide feedback and ideas on ways to strengthen its DBE program and outreach.

CTA has created an RFP diversity scoring system for large contracts to encourage prime contractors to find new and innovative ways of reaching out to the DBE community, and also as a way to keep them accountable for their DBE commitments. This new system has led to improved contractor outreach.

CTA has also focused on creating opportunities for SBEs through a new program that allows CTA to set aside contracts for small business participation. In 2018, CTA awarded 11 small business contracts totaling over $6.2 million. We are always reviewing contracts for opportunities for small businesses and, occasionally, when we cannot find them, we create them.

For more information about DBE programs and certification, visit https://www.transitchicago.com/dbe/. To learn more about how SBEs can work with CTA, visit https://www.transitchicago.com/sbe/.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Defender.

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Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.
The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Entertainment and Culture Editor

The documentary She Had A Dream by Tunisian filmmaker Raja Amari premieres on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange series tonight at 8 p.m. EST on WORLD CHANNEL. Season 14 of the acclaimed documentary series captures Black artists and activists shaping and reclaiming culture, advocating for change and mobilizing for brighter futures. She Had A Dream offers an intimate portrayal of one young Black Tunisian woman’s quest for political office and her fight against racism and oppression in a society that often seeks to overlook both.

The documentary follows Ghofrane, a 20-something Black woman from Tunisia as she walks the path of self-discovery of young adulthood while running for political office in a homeland where many still view her as an outsider.

Watch the trailer below:

A dedicated, charismatic activist and a modern, free-speaking woman, Ghofrane in many ways is the embodiment of contemporary Tunisian political hopes still alive years after the Arab Spring. She Had A Dream follows Ghofrane as she works to conquer her own self-doubts while attempting to persuade close friends and complete strangers to vote for her. As audiences follow her campaign, they also follow the dichotomies of her life as a woman striving for a role in politics in the Arab world and as a Black person in a country where racism is prevalent, yet often denied.

“The 14th season of AfroPoP shines a light on the collective power, strength and resilience of Black people and movements around the world,” said Leslie Fields-Cruz, AfroPoP executive producer. “Viewers will see artists use their platforms to push for progress and human rights and see ‘ordinary’ people do the remarkable in the interest of justice.”

Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.

She Had A Dream airs on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange Monday, April 11 at 8 p.m. ET on WORLD Channel and begins streaming on worldchannel.org at the same time.

AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange is presented by Black Public Media and WORLD Channel. For more information, visit worldchannel.org or blackpublicmedia.org.

This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena.
The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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BBC Africa is reporting Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is facing a water shortage because of changing weather patterns and aging water facilities. The article reports, “Residents in informal communities like Kibra pay private vendors for water, meaning they now control the supply and access to water in the community.” The privatization of water access has led to an increase in the exploitation of women and girls in exchange for water.

“Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena. Check out the 2018 ANEW documentary short below:

The water crisis and the sexual exploitation of girls and women as a result of the water crisis shows no signs of slowing down.

To read more about this crisis, visit BBC Africa‘s series of articles and videos on Kenya’s water crisis and the Water Integrity Network’s (WIN) study on sextortion.

This news brief was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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#WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright

THE AFRO — Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.
The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Maya Pottiger, Word in Black

It’s no surprise that we’re living through difficult times. After two years, we’re still in a global pandemic, which has predominantly impacted people of color. In addition, Book bans, attacks on critical race theory, and partisan political fights target everything from Black youths’ sexuality, to history, to health.

And we’re seeing the effects.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.

For a variety of reasons — ongoing stigma, lack of insurance, most accessible — Black students often rely on the mental health services offered at school.Outside of a mental health-specific practice, Black students were nearly 600 times as likely to get mental health help in an academic setting compared to other options, according to 2020 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In fact, mental health services in schools have been steadily gaining popularity among students since 2009, before dropping slightly in 2020 when the school year was interrupted, according to the SAMHSA report. As a result, the rate of students receiving mental health care through school decreased by 14 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.

So how are schools changing the way they address and prioritize mental health — and the specific needs of Black students — since 2020?

The Renewed Focus on Mental Health

For school-aged people, the majority of their time is spent in a school building — about eight hours per day, 10 months out of the year. To help address mental health during academic hours, schools are trying to focus on social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills. This includes teaching kids how to be in touch with their emotions and protect against adverse mental health outcomes.

But it’s been difficult.

Though there’s been more conversation, the implementation is challenging, says Dr. Kizzy Albritton, an associate professor of school psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. There was already a shortage of school-based mental health professionals before the pandemic, which has now been exacerbated, as have mental health issues. In addition, though schools clearly recognize the importance of mental health, they aren’t always provided adequate resources.

“Unless there are more resources funneled into the school system, we’re going to see a continued catch-up issue across the board,” Albritton says. “And, unfortunately, our Black students are going to continue to suffer the most.”

In a survey of high school principals and students, Education Week Research Center found discrepancies in how principals and students viewed a school’s mental health services. While 86 percent of the principals said their schools provided services, only about 66 percent of students agreed. The survey did point out it’s possible the school offers these services and students aren’t aware. The survey also found Black and Latinx students were less likely than their peers to say their schools offered services.

Dr. Celeste Malone, the president-elect of the National Association for School Psychologists and a Howard University associate professor, says she hasn’t previously seen this degree of attention to mental health in schools.

“I see that a lot in my role for a school psychology graduate program: the outreach and people contacting me with openings where they didn’t exist previously,” Malone says. “With this increased push in funding to hire more, that’s definitely a very, very positive movement.”

Mental Health Is Not One Size Fits All

Just like with many aspects of health, Black youths need different mental health support from their peers of other races. They need a counselor who understands their lived experiences, like microaggressions and other forms of discrimination or racism, without the student having to explain.

For example, in order to best address the specific mental health needs of Black students, districts need to provide information breaking down mental health stigmas; focus on hiring Black counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals; and fund anti-racist and trauma-informed mental health practices, according to the Center for American Progress.

While she hears a lot of talk, Albritton says she isn’t seeing widespread evidence of these solutions in practice.

“There needs to be a willingness, first of all, to understand that our Black students, their needs look a lot different,” Albritton says. School officials need to understand where Black students are coming from — that their families and households experience systemic and structural racism, which are known to trigger anxiety and depression. The effects of the racial wealth gap also play a role, from the neighborhood kids are living in, to the schools they can attend to the impacts on their health. Students might be bringing worries about these challenges to school, which could be reflected in their behavior. This is why, Albritton says, it’s crucial to also work with students’ families.

The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright appeared first on AFRO American Newspapers .

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