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During Building Boom, Chair of Housing Advisory Commission Urges Equal Opportunity for Contractors

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Workers of color “often don’t get rained up to be superintendent or foreman, they get dedicated to labor on-site,” Nate McCoy, chair of the Portland Housing Advisory Commission, said. “Construction has not done its best job in marketing itself as a career pathway for all communities. We’ve coined it ‘the FBI,’ because the way to get into construction is through your father or brother-in-law. Most of our businesses on the minority- or majority-owned side have been family-owned businesses. But I’m looking at affordable housing, knowing a lot of minorities live in it. They should see folks who look like them building the projects.”

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Nate McCoy was re-appointed chair of the Portland Housing Bureau Advisory Committee by the City Council on Oct. 16. An architect with a background in construction, McCoy advocates for better opportunities for minority contractors. (Photo by Saundra Sorenson)

Nate McCoy wants the city of Portland to be more inclusive of minority-owned firms.

By Saundra Sorenson, The Skanner News

When the Portland City Council voted to re-appoint Nate McCoy as chair of the Portland Housing Advisory Commission earlier this month, it was largely in recognition of his focus on equity in access to affordable housing. But the additional two-year term also draws on McCoy’s specific area of expertise: equity in who is paid to build that affordable housing stock.

McCoy serves as executive director, operations manager and spokesperson for the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC-OR), a trade association that advocates for minority contracting professionals. He told The Skanner that it can be hard for smaller, minority-owned firms to compete with larger, more established contractors, even at a time when commercial and residential development is booming. While many recognizable names in construction can boast more than a century in business, the NAMC-OR member with the greatest longevity is only 20 years old. “Mid-point” contracts, like those offered on affordable housing projects, have proved ideal for NAMC-OR members.

“I think just making sure that I’m always holding all of our programs and processes accountable, to make sure there’s always that equity, on how we’re thinking and making decisions, and I’m always that constant reminder at the Housing Bureau,” McCoy said.

The 12-member advisory commission is a public forum for housing policy in Portland, and includes community organizers, representatives from the real estate, legal, construction and banking sectors, as well as many who have worked in affordable housing. McCoy’s education in that field came early.

“I moved in seventh grade alone to three different apartment buildings, all due to price increase in rent,” McCoy, a Portland native, said. “That’s why I have a passion for housing, but also the business and workforce side. If you don’t have a good-paying job, you’re forced to be in those conditions where you can be displaced at any moment.”

A former construction coordinator for the housing bureau and for the Portland Development Commission, McCoy said he had long noticed the economic opportunities in an industry that too often operated as a “good ole boys club.”

Workers of color “often don’t get rained up to be superintendent or foreman, they get dedicated to labor on-site,” McCoy said.  “Construction has not done its best job in marketing itself as a career pathway for all communities. We’ve coined it ‘the FBI,’ because the way to get into construction is through your father or brother-in-law. Most of our businesses on the minority- or majority-owned side have been family-owned businesses. But I’m looking at affordable housing, knowing a lot of minorities live in it. They should see folks who look like them building the projects.”

To that end, McCoy praised local pre-apprenticeship programs like Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. and Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC).

“They do great grasswork work of outreach in schools,” McCoy said. “Too often, it’s been the classic case of older white men telling students of color about the industry. The students have no representation. And no one wants to be in something where they feel they might be the only one. We’ve got to reflect diversity, and that means sending messengers that might look like some of the kids you’re trying to attract to the industry. We do a lot of that. I take a lot of kids to different housing projects as well as other just projects that our members are on, to make sure these kids can see professionals. Not just athletes, but professionals” in attainable careers.

Those careers offer the kind of upward mobility and salary that can lead to homeownership, which then opens up additional affordable units, McCoy added.

Getting Opportunities but Not Work

New NAMC-OR member Devin Coleman owns Aftermath Construction, a commercial and residential construction cleanup business that he established after years working as a safety manager and safety consultant for construction projects.

Coleman, who is African American, told The Skanner of his experience losing business with a large Boise-based contractor that had hired his firm in the past. Nothing had changed except for an in-person courtesy call between Coleman and the contractor’s higher-ups.

“Everything just stopped,” Coleman said. “We lost all of our business, just because they met me. And I’ve had that happen several times. When people talk to me on the phone, they hear a British first name, Irish last name, and then when we meet, they do a double-take.”

Coleman emphasized the value of employing a diverse work crew. For him, that includes the White project manager he often asks to take the lead on communication with clients.

“It’s not that everybody’s racist, but the powers that be, they’re very selective,” Coleman said. “They can give you opportunities, they can ask you for bids, but they don’t give you work. It’s in the rhetoric you hear: ‘It’s just not a good fit,’ or ‘They’re just not seasoned enough.’”

Beyond the Buzzwords

Much of McCoy’s work has focused on building strategic partnerships with larger construction firms.

“The first thing is having a shared value around what diversity, equity, and inclusion really means, not just as buzzwords,” McCoy told The Skanner. “People love to put those buzzwords on proposals, and I think it really starts with intentionality around the relationship, around retention. Are you really advancing these people or just bringing them in, and they find themselves struggling and isolated and taking themselves out of that equation?

“What we try to do at NMAC, we bring all of our members and partners together, build a relationship, and make sure no one feels uncomfortable about asking those questions: ‘How do you guys do equity and inclusiveness on your side?’ A lot of it is just being real with people.”

And that is important, because for McCoy, collaborations between NAMC-OR members and larger partner agencies are key.

“The way you cut into that is to see if people have shared values of partnering together,” he said, giving as an example the “added value” when smaller minority firms partnered with Andersen Construction in the recent Grant High School renovation. “That allows smaller firms to build their systems quicker, to train their younger junior employees and their project managers. We stress that to our (partners), we incentivize them to do that on major projects, because they’re growing other entities that will be viable in the minority contracting community.”

He argues it is in the construction industry’s best interest to be more inclusive.

“The construction industry here is booming, the amount of people they’re able to attract in is not even starting to scratch the surface of the need,” McCoy said. “And when you’re more inclusive and diverse, your bottom line increases versus decreases. (The larger contractors) don’t want to feel like they’re bringing someone along to diminish their profits. We’ve been able to show that in multicultural partnerships, that does occur in a positive way.”

Strength in Partnerships

For a case study in diverse collaboration leading to a successful affordable housing development, McCoy points to the Magnolia in the Eliot neighborhood. McCoy served as construction manager on the project, which was helmed by Innovative Housing, Inc.

“A White-led nonprofit does affordable housing, they do it well, and they do have a lot of minority goals they put and apply on their projects,” McCoy said. “I just remember really trying to incentivize this nonprofit to go high and go bold with minority inclusion. We hit a 30% goal.

They’ve gotten more projects as a result of hiring more inclusive contractors and making sure they’re challenging their projects to go further and go bigger when it comes to diversity.”

Phase two of the development is currently under construction, and amenities include a ground-floor makerspace that will be open to organizations like Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., as well as tenants themselves.

“That’s the North star for me,” he said. “Going back, I was one of those young people in affordable housing 8 project, I had nothing like that. I couldn’t walk down to that unit to my ground floor to do something crafty with my hands. I can’t name another project in the state that has that.”

He also praised the King + Parks development at the corner of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Rosa Parks Way.

“Talk about inclusiveness. Here you have (Portland Community Reinvestment initiatives Inc.), a culturally specific housing provider, led by black and brown people as developers, and then they partnered with a major developer (Colas Construction). It was led and finished with a lot of minority inclusion.”

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Parents Raise the Alarm About Violence in Schools, Say Their Votes Depends on Improvement

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.

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NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.
About 52 percent said student mental health after coping with the pandemic is a significant issue, as well.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

A new poll revealed that parents continue to express “legitimate concerns” about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources.

Alarmingly, the poll released by the National Parents Union found that 59 percent of parents are very or extremely concerned about how schools are teaching race and diversity.

“Many Black parents are worried that schools are being harsher on students of color compared to white students,” researchers noted in the poll.

The National Parents Union counts as a network of parent organizations and grassroots activists committed to improving the quality of life for children and families in the United States.

Conducted from November 19 to November 23, the survey included 1,233 parents who also count as registered voters.

Researchers found that 84 percent of parents are concerned about how schools address the threat of violence, and 59 percent identified increased bullying or violence in school as a significant issue.

About 52 percent said student mental health after coping with the pandemic is a significant issue, as well.

“Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.

“Now, it is incumbent on schools to do something about these issues, especially given the federal funds available. It’s not rocket science. Rather than repaint a football field, first, make sure that there are enough counselors to help students cope with mental health issues,” Rodrigues asserted.

The poll also asked the parents who responded that they were concerned about the threat of violence, which worries them the most.

The top three most pressing concerns remain:

  • 44 percent: schools not having enough counselors, psychologists, or social workers to work with students
  • 42 percent: schools not having resources to keep weapons out of schools
  • 39 percent: schools not having school resource officers or police accessible on campus
  • 59 percent of parents are extremely or very concerned about how schools are teaching about race and diversity; Among Black parents, 69 percent share this sentiment, which drops slightly to 67 percent among Hispanic parents.

Of the overall number of parents who are at least somewhat concerned (79 percent):

  • 48 percent say what concerns them the most is schools are not teaching accurate information about the issue of race.
  • 42 percent are most concerned about schools pushing a progressive agenda onto students
  • 56 percent of GOP parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
  • 32 percent are most concerned that schools aren’t focused on the issue enough
  • 46 percent of Black parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
  • 78 percent of parents are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues
  • Nearly half (46 percent) of Black parents who said they are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues are worried that schools are harsher on students of color compared to white students
  • 38 percent of parents trust Democrats to do a better job of handling education; 31 percent trust Republicans; 14 percent trust both equally; 11 percent trust neither

Among parents who identify as Independents, 28 percent trust Republicans and 20 percent trust Democrats.

“These findings underscore the importance of the very thing we have been imploring school leaders across the country to do – listen to the parents in your community,” Rodrigues stated.

“It also reinforces the need for those running for office to take the concerns of parents very seriously or risk losing elections.”

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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, Fortune School, University of Southern California (USC), football, USC marching band, marching bands, drumline, public charter school, Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School, family stories, life in the Carolinas, parents, grandparents, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, children’s book, Rex and the Band, grandma, Dr. Rex Fortune, retired public school superintendent, little Rex, spirited young boy, high-energy marching band, North Carolina A&T football games, sister’s beautifully illustrated book, Telling our family stories, African Americans, history, Griots, storytellers, grandparents, ancestors, passed on, Black press, clearinghouse, many stories, Black community, Ebony Jr., elementary school student, high school, Sacramento Observer newspaper, Cocoa Kids Books, engaging, authentic, uplifting, inspiring
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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