By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Ernest D. Davis served four of the five allowed terms as the mayor of Mount Vernon, N.Y. With 70,000 mostly African American residents, Mount Vernon sits north just of the Bronx and in the same county as Westchester’s wealthy elite.
For Davis, an architect by trade, the idea of Mount Vernon taking a backseat to any city or town is quite insulting.
For the 80-year-old Davis, the only thing worse than a negative perception of his beloved city, is a constituent believing that anyone sitting in the city mayor’s seat is there simply for political and personal gain and not for the people.
Davis firmly believes that his successor, the city’s current mayor, Richard Thomas, is in it for himself and has done much more harm to Mount Vernon than perhaps anyone whose held that office.
So, after reading an NNPA Newswire article that featured Thomas in December, Davis said he began to contemplate a strategy to help unseat the young mayor.
He envisioned working behind the scenes, not running himself.
“I was trying to get other folks that I believe in to run and for different reasons, they refused,” said Davis, a North Carolina A&T Graduate who, in the 1970s, became Mount Vernon’s first black building commissioner and later Westchester’s first black county legislator.
Davis would eventually become Mount Vernon’s second African American mayor when he won election for the first time in 1996 – serving three terms before a defeat to Legislator Clinton Young and then a comeback four years afterwards.
Davis was again was unseated in 2016. This time by Thomas, whom the former mayor now says is ruining the city.
And, as he walked through the streets of his beloved city, Davis said the cries for him to run again began to grow. “Let’s do it again,” people would say.
That coupled with the NNPA Newswire article presented Davis a “Godfather” moment. “Yes, just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” he said, paraphrasing the famous line from the Oscar-winning classic.
Like the late Marion Barry in Washington, Davis has a reputation throughout Mount Vernon as “The People’s Mayor.”
He said he’s long been a champion of the citizens of Mount Vernon and points to his prior tenures as reasons why residents just may elect him again.
“These are very turbulent times, the hills are steep and the road is rocky,” Davis said, with the flare he’s demonstrated since first taking the office more than 20 years ago.
“Thomas is destroying the city. His theatrical performances and lies. If you were writing a play, you’d say, I don’t want to see this play because it’s not real. But it is,” Davis said.
He even compared Thomas – who, like Davis, is a Democrat – to President Donald Trump. “Trump said he’d take responsibility for the shutdown and then he blamed the Democrats,” Davis said. “That’s what Thomas does.”
In his interview with NNPA Newswire, Thomas blamed Davis and “The old guard” for the continued crisis the city faces as Mount Vernon again faces bankruptcy and an almost non-existent bond rating.
Davis said the blame lies at the feet of Thomas.
“I was at church the other day and I heard one of the best sermons – ‘What happens when the family falls out?’” Davis explained. “What I was left with is that it’s about purpose over position. These people who want the power but don’t know what to do with that power … sometimes it’s misused and in the case of Thomas, it’s a mixture of greed, emotional immaturity and no experience,” Davis said.
Davis pointed to an incident in January in which students at Mount Vernon were taking midterm examinations and, unannounced, Thomas made a surprise and unapproved visit to the school with comedian and rapper Fatboy SSE.
Fatboy began “making it rain” by tossing money around the school, reportedly causing a mad dash to grab the cash and leaving classes in chaos.
School officials said as many as 400 students were involved in a melee that resulted in seven suspensions and one arrest for assaulting a security officer.
The school suffered extensive damages and officials said they plan to launch legal action against Fatboy and the mayor. “I think it shows his incompetence,” Davis said of Thomas. “I don’t think anyone thought he’d be the catastrophe that he is. I had no idea,” Davis said.
As was once true of Davis (in 2014), Thomas is currently facing federal corruption charges leading three other Democrats to announce intentions to unseat him. Thomas was indicted last year for alleged misuse of campaign funds and for allegedly using city funds for personal legal bills.
A trial date hasn’t been set.
In 2014, Davis pleaded guilty to two counts of tax evasion charges in which he failed to file an income tax return despite earning more than $100,000 in income.
He was sentenced to probation.
“I know [the media] will bring up some things, but I’m most proud of what we’re going to do,” Davis said.
Asked about the highlights of his tenures as mayor, Davis pointed out that each time he left office, the city had millions of dollars in surpluses, only to see it become a deficit after his departure.
He mentioned the city’s annual “Arts on Third Street” celebration that attracted about 4,000 people when he founded the event.
Eventually, it grew to more than 100,000 attendees.
The city’s parks, once a haven for unseemly activity, have turned into an oasis where children and adults alike can play and relax. Davis said the city’s history must be respected.
“We will refurbish Betty Shabazz’s house, the (city founder) John Steven’s house and put to good use the facilities at the old YMCA,” Davis said.
He still wants to bring a major hotel chain into Mount Vernon and an artist loft.
Davis said his plans include fixing sidewalks by using grant money instead of taxpayer funds and to appoint a liaison to work with downtown businesses and City Hall.
“We have to get back to trying to bring service, especially to our young citizens,” Davis said. “We talk about hiring more police but wouldn’t it be better having a community where you don’t have to hire more police? People will keep order if they see there are things the city is doing to help them,” Davis said.
The city’s Democratic primary is in June.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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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