Uncategorized — 23 March 2012
Special to the Tennessee Tribune
by Richard Prince/Robert C. Maynard Institute
Washington, D.C. – Functional illiteracy among black children, the high rate of their number born to single-parent families, an unacceptable black youth unemployment rate and the plight of young African Americans in prisons have created “one of the worst crises since slavery,” Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, told the annual Black Press Week meeting of black newspaper publishers on Thursday.
“The whole point of slavery was to keep us illiterate,” Edelman said, urging the black press to sound an alarm. “If you can’t read or compete in this global economy, you are sentenced to death,” she said. Edelman received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association, sponsor of Black Press Week.
President Obama, who greeted the publishers at the White House, and Ben Jealous, the NAACP president who received the group’s community service award, also had messages for the publishers.
“Our goal is to get to 250,000 young people that are going to have opportunities, internships, apprenticeships, you name it. And I think we’re already at 180,000, so we’re making progress,” Obama said, ticking off his accomplishments. “This is going to be an example of the kind of thing that all of you can be helpful with. Because one of the things I’ve realized after three years in this office is, if we wait for Congress to do everything, a lot of stuff won’t get done.”
Jealous had returned from Geneva, where NAACP leaders pressed a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council for help battling what the organization views as forces attempting to push back voting rights, as Melanie Eversley reported for USA Today.
The real purpose of new voter ID laws is the same as when the formerly incarcerated were banned from voting, Jealous said.
The NAACP leader quoted a delegate to a 1906 convention in Virginia that extended a voting ban on formerly incarcerated people, a ban that he said remains in the state constitution. “The darkey will be eliminated as a factor in the state’s politics within five years,” Jealous quoted the delegate as saying. Jealous said the NAACP was urging the Justice Department for help in restoring the voting rights of former convicts.
Edelman said she had just visited the Walnut Grove (Miss.) Youth Correctional Facility, which she described as “the largest prison for black youth in the country.
“Most of them are there for possession of pot,” Edelman said. The prison is operated by The GEO Group, Inc., the nation’s second largest private prison corporation. As of last month, there were 958 inmates up to age 22 at the facility. Eighteen of the inmates were 18 or younger, Jerry Mitchell reported for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.
The prison is the subject of a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center. A proposed settlement was reached two weeks ago
“The complaint describes rampant contraband brought in by guards, sex between female guards and male inmates, inadequate medical care, prisoners held inhumanely in isolation, guards brutalizing inmates and inmate-on-inmate violence that was so brutal it led to brain damage,” John Burnett reported for NPR last year.
“Go into those prisons,” Edelman told the 125 Black Press Week attendees, meeting at a Capitol Hill hotel. “Many of them never get visitors.”
There was more. Black churches need to “open the doors and compete with the drug dealers.” Eighty percent of black children cannot read or compete at grade level in the fourth, eighth or 12th grades, Edelman said.
Edelman also promoted the “Freedom Schools” program of the Children’s Defense Fund, saying “we can’t wait for the public schools to do their jobs.”
The program “provides summer and after-school enrichment through a model curriculum that supports children and families around five essential components: high quality academic enrichment; parent and family involvement; social action and civic engagement; intergenerational servant leadership development; and nutrition, health and mental health,” according to the organization.
Separately, Danny Bakewell Sr. of Bakewell Media and the Los Angeles Sentinel, past chairman of NNPA, said Comcast had penalized black newspapers by not advertising sufficiently because NNPA would not back Comcast’s takeover of NBCUniversal last year, which required government approval.
“We would not sign on with them until they made a series of commitments to the black press,” Bakewell told Journal-isms. “They put $7 million into a proposal for minorities. We were asking for $10 million for the black press alone.”
Neal Scarbrough, a spokesman for Comcast, told Journal-isms Friday he would have no comment.
At a luncheon Thursday at the National Press Club, National Urban League President Marc Morial said he subscribed to 20 black newspapers and would do so for any paper that gave him a business card that day, according to journalist George Curry, who moderated a luncheon roundtable. “He had a lot of publishers lining up.”
Obama’s welcome to the publishers was a reminder of his appearance as a candidate at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Las Vegas in 2007. Cheryl Smith, editor of the Dallas Weekly, asked why Obama had reached out to the black press, with whom he had held a conference call earlier in the year, and whether he would continue to reach out if elected.
Naming three Chicago black newspapers — the Defender, the Crusader and the Citizen — Obama said that when he served in the Illinois legislature, those papers would cover issues he was working on that the mainstream press would not.
“My attitude is that if you were covering me when nobody wanted to cover me, then they should cover me when everybody wants to cover me. That attitude will continue when I’m in the White House,” the candidate said.
On Thursday, Obama praised those papers, saying, “. . . one of the things that I always love about African American publications is that it’s not just gloom and doom. Part of what you guys do is you lift up that kid who’s overcome barriers and is now succeeding, or that family that has pulled together and helped to strengthen a community, or that church that is the bedrock of a neighborhood. Those stories of success and hope, that’s what sustains us, that’s what has driven us, that’s what has given people a sense that no matter how tough things get sometimes, there’s always a better day ahead. And you’re part of telling that story. So I very much appreciate you.”