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Recycling failed education policies


COMMENTARY: Tenn. Sen. Lamar Alexander can make a difference if he gets off his privatization, state’s rights hobbyhorse and talks about embracing ways our entire nation can improve educational attainment.

by Julianne Malveaux

NNPA News Service

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander will likely become chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Though he has yet to be elected by his Republican peers, he has given several interviews that indicate how he would change the way educational services are delivered in our country. For all his bluster, though, his approach is essentially to privatize and push states rights.

For example, while President Obama has proposed spending $75 billion for universal and mandated preschool education, Sen. Alexander would take the $22 billion of federal funds for preschool education and send it back to the states. While the president’s proposal would include guidelines on teacher qualification, class size, and other matters, Alexander would have the states make those decisions. Alexander suggests that his approach is “innovative,” but this is more of the same old stuff.

There has been some controversy about “Common Core” requirements that would somewhat standardized high school education, indicating what students should know when they graduate from high school.  Alexander says the states, not the federal government, should make these decisions, but the unwillingness to look at national educational standards is a step backward, not a step forward.

In the several interviews Alexander has given since the Republicans won the Senate in the midterm elections, he has not mentioned the term “achievement gap,” though African Americans and Latinos trail whites in both mathematics and English proficiency. While Alexander’s silence on this issue is disturbing, equally disturbing is the fact that Democrats have not put enough effort in addressing the achievement gap. Thus, while President Obama says he wants the United States to lead the world in college graduation rates, little has been done to make sure this can happen, especially for African Americans and Latinos.

There seems to be a collective decision to ignore the achievement gap, and a lack of passion about closing it. To be sure, many African American educational leaders have focused on the achievement gap, especially among African-American boys (African-American girls need attention, too). But their work usually does not result in headlines.

While neither Democrats nor Republicans are blameless in this matter, it is Republicans who continually talk about reaching out to the African American community.  Senator Lamar Alexander could have made some progress with African Americans, especially educators, if he had spent jut a few seconds of his media rounds talking about race and the achievement gap.

Education ought to be one of our nation’s highest priorities. It ought to have been so for the past several decades. President Obama came into office saying that education is a high priority, but the economy and international issues have moved education issues from a high priority to an afterthought.

What does it take to make education a higher priority? What does it take to close the race gap in achievement?  Given our nation’s shifting demographics, there should be some passion about reforming our education system so that more young people (and those not so young) are able to achieve their highest and best aspirations. The best-educated workforce is the more productive, so failing to focus on education means failing to focus on the future of our nation’s economy.

We ignore these education challenges at our own peril. Senator Lamar Alexander can make a difference if he gets off his privatization, state’s rights hobbyhorse and talk about embracing ways our entire nation can improve educational attainment. The states rights’ approach leads to a real unevenness in educational quality – some states will choose to prioritize education and others will not.  Yet, our entire nation will shoulder the impact of uneven education, and our entire nation will pay.

The only saving grace in the fact that Senator Alexander will chair the Senate Education Committee is that he may have only have two years to wreak havoc. If Democrats are astute and provide more focus on education, then perhaps Republican dominance will fade. Still, this is not about Democrats or Republicans; it is about the future of our nation.

(NNPA columnist Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C.)

Will larger CBC translate into greater clout?


Many wonder whether 48 African Americans – the largest number in Congress in history – can get anything done amid gridlock?

by Lauren Victoria Burke

NNPA News Service

Even though the next Congress, which starts on January 6, will feature 48 African Americans, the largest number in history, the question is: Can they get anything done in a Congress that’s been gridlocked for four straight years?

But since most African-American members will serve as members of the minority party in the House, most of their power to control federal policy and billions of dollars will be decided by compromise as they serve on major committees. Though members of the Congressional Black Caucus will not control the policy agenda, they will still play a key role in those decisions.

For the first time in history, seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus will serve as Ranking Members of major House Committees for the upcoming 114th Congress.  Why does this matter? Because even a member in the minority in the hyper-partisan House, which has been controlled by Republicans since 2010, is going to have a seat at the table.

Much of what is done behind the scene goes unreported by press corps fixated on the political cat fight of the moment. And in the case of the CBC, the Black Press is the only place where their work is likely to be covered.

November 19 was one of the biggest days for the Caucus since four African-American committee chairmen were christened in January 2009.

Seven African-American members of the House – Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) will have a seat at the legislative table next year as ranking committee members. 

Additionally, two of the most powerful members of the Black Caucus, Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) and Chaka Fattah (D-Penn.), are ranking members on subcommittees on the most powerful committee in the House: Appropriations.  From those positions they will have a say in doling out several hundred billion dollars every fiscal year.

“Politics is about who gets what when and how and being at the table is essential to determining that those resources get where they need to be,” Rep. Bishop told The Root in an interview. 

“It is my hope that we are able to use the appropriations process and the policy making process here in Congress in a bipartisan way that will benefit all the American people,” Bishop said in the interview.

In an effort to show they can actually govern, Republicans in the 114th Congress are expected to pass legislation rather than repeat another four years of their core strategy: Gridlock.  The last two years witnessed the least productive U.S. House in history in terms of bills passed, all under Republican control.

Even with the well-publicized gridlock over the last four years, Rep. Fattah was able to get the Urban Jobs Act through the House after a compromise was reached with House Republicans.  The bill’s passage, which was a rare example of bipartisanship, received almost no press.

The gridlock strategy was employed by House Republicans in hopes of preventing President Obama from getting anything done.  But going into the 2016 presidential campaign, Republicans are expected to show they can produce actual legislative results in what would be a huge strategic change.

As part of its normal process, the Congressional Black Caucus has elected a new Chairman, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). Though he plans to outline a detailed strategy for the Caucus in January, he recently spoke in general terms about the policy focus he’ll have next Congress.

“The economy is not working for African Americans.  Some are succeeding, but the vast majority of African Americans are not succeeding. It’s our job as legislators to try and enact policies that will enact policies that will move the needle – whether it’s with a coalition of Democrats or Republicans,” Butterfield told The Root.

The new chairman will inherit the largest Congressional Black Caucus in history at a time when presidential politics will play a big role in the narrative.  Whether he and the Black Caucus can navigate the games of gridlock will depend on how afraid Republicans are of being tagged as the “party of no” as their presidential candidates tour the country.

Chances are those politics will be the real reason the GOP will suddenly be interested in moving legislation during President Obama’s last two years in office.

(Lauren Victoria Burke is freelance writer and creator of the blog Crewof42.com, which covers African-American members of Congress. She appears regularly on “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin” and on WHUR FM, 900 AM WURD. She worked previously at USA Today and ABC News. She can be reached via laurenvictoriaburke.com, or Twitter @Crewof42 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

Wealth patterns among the top 5 percent of African-Americans

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A comprehensive study on wealth creation and wealth management among the nation’s wealthiest African Americans reveals more conservative approaches to financial decision-making.

(PRNewswire) – The top 5 percent of African Americans invest a greater proportion of their wealth in lower-volatility assets – such as insurance, savings bonds and CDs – when measured against a white comparison group, according to a new study published this week.

The research sponsored by Credit Suisse’s New Markets business also shows proportionally higher investments in real estate, and proportionally lower investments in business assets. Conducted in collaboration with Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP), the study seeks to advance financial opportunity among women, African-Americans and the LGBT community.

"This study identifies distinctive investing behaviors within the African-American community and a number of potential drivers of these behaviors," said Pamela Thomas-Graham, Credit Suisse's chief marketing and talent officer and head of New Markets.

"The findings may also reflect what we know from adjacent data, which is that African-Americans are generally under-served by banking institutions. The Commerce Department, for example, has published data showing that minority business owners receive loans less frequently, at significantly smaller sizes, and at worse rates than non-minority business owners."

Highlights of the report include:

  • The top 5 percent of African Americans take a relatively conservative approach to decision-making on matters of wealth creation and wealth management. For example:
  • The investment portfolios of the top 5 percent of African Americans are three times more heavily weighted towards CDs, savings bonds and insurance than the investment portfolios of the study's white comparison group, and are nearly one-half less weighted towards stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
  • The top 5 percent of African Americans invest 9 percent of their non-financial assets in business assets, defined as the total value of business(es) in which a household has either an active or non-active interest. The study's white comparison group invests 37 percent of their non-financial assets in business assets.
  • The top 5 percent of African Americans invest 41 percent of non-financial assets in real estate outside their primary home, relative to 22 percent for the study's white comparison group.
  • "Wealth mobility" – the degree to which a population maintains wealth over time or moves into wealth over time – is relatively low among African-Americans and may be a driver of more conservative financial decision-making. IASP's research shows that around 57 percent of high-income African-American families in 1984 were still in the top segment of income in 2009, but 8 percent had fallen into the low-income segment. For high-income white American families, 73 percent remained in the high income segment and only 1 percent fell into the low income segment. This analysis is a new analysis of the 1984-2009 data.
  • Education is a key driver of wealth among the top 5 percent of African-Americans. Almost 69 percent of African-Americans at the 95th percentile of net worth have a college degree, compared with 64 percent for the study's white comparison group.


"The numbers in our report provide rich and detailed insights," said Stefano Natella, global head of Equity Research and one of the study's authors.

"Wealth at the top of the African-American community, what drives it and how it compares to specific control groups has not been studied with this comprehensiveness in some time."

View the full report

(For more information: www.credit-suisse.com.)

Key figures in the Ferguson, Missouri shooting


With indications that a decision is near on whether to indict the policeman who killed teenager Michael Brown, here is a snapshot of high-profile figures in the race-tinged drama.

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) – A look at some of the key figures in the case of Michael Brown, the African American 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a white police officer in August — a death that has stirred weeks of sometimes violent unrest in the St. Louis suburb.


Michael Brown graduated from Normandy High School last spring and was preparing to attend Vatterott College, where he planned to study to become a heating and air conditioning technician. Friends say he eventually wanted to go into business for himself.

Relatives and friends described Brown, who grew up in a tough neighborhood, as a quiet, gentle giant who stood around 6-foot-3 and weighed nearly 300 pounds. He was unarmed on the day he was killed.

Police said later that he was a suspect in the "strong-arm" robbery of a convenience store moments before the shooting. A family attorney said Brown may have made mistakes but did not deserve to die.

"He was just looking forward to getting on with his life," said his grandmother, Desuirea Harris. "He was on his way."


Some descriptions of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson are similar to those of Brown. Both men have been described as gentle and quiet. Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Wilson had no previous complaints against him and a good career record.

"He's devastated," the chief said after naming Wilson as the shooter back in August. "He never intended for this to happen. He is, and has been, an excellent police officer."

Wilson began his career in nearby Jennings before moving to the Ferguson job several years ago. He was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting.


Thomas Jackson was a police veteran long before he came to Ferguson. He spent more than 30 years with the St. Louis County Police Department, at one point serving as commander of a drug task force. Before that he was a SWAT team supervisor, undercover detective and hostage negotiator.

He heads a department with 53 officers, only three of them black, in a town where nearly 70 percent of the 21,000 residents are African American.

"I'm constantly trying to recruit African-Americans and other minorities," Jackson has said. "But it's an uphill battle. The minority makeup of this police department is not where I want it to be."

Some of Jackson's actions in the wake of the shooting have drawn criticism, including his decision to announce that Brown was a suspect in the convenience-store robbery, a move that stirred anger in Ferguson's African-American community.


Since his election in 1991, Bob McCulloch has been the top prosecutor in St. Louis County. A Democrat with a reputation for being tough on crime, he comes from a law-enforcement family. He was 12 years old when his father, a police officer, was shot and killed by a black suspect in 1964.

Some critics, including St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, questioned McCulloch's ability to be objective in the Ferguson case. They wondered if losing his father in such circumstances creates a built-in bias.


During a 27-year career, Capt. Ron Johnson climbed from patrolman to chief of the 11-county division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol that includes St. Louis and its suburbs.

Back in August, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Johnson to take command of security in Ferguson. That decision came after complaints that authorities were too heavy handed with protesters, when St. Louis County police were in charge.

Johnson's calm but commanding presence drew high praise from many observers. When Johnson, who is African American, walked down the streets of Ferguson with protesters, many demonstrators shook his hand or posed for photos with him. He reminded locals of his Ferguson roots and suggested that he, too, had lessons to learn from the case.

"We all ought to be thanking the Browns for Michael, because Michael's going to make it better for our sons, so they can be better black men," he said during public remarks in August.

He also apologized to Brown's family.

"I wear this uniform, and I should stand up here and say that I'm sorry," he said.


Events in Ferguson could have a significant effect on the political future of Gov. Jay Nixon, a 58-year-old Democrat.

His experience in confronting crime includes overseeing Missouri's long record of executions. During Nixon's four terms as attorney general and two terms as governor, Missouri has put 66 convicted killers to death, a total few states can match.

Nixon drew some criticism in the days immediately after the shooting for keeping a low profile, but he soon moved to the forefront, putting state police in charge of security and then calling in the National Guard to help quell the violence.


Benjamin Crump became a national figure when he represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager fatally shot by a neighborhood-watch organizer in 2012. Now he's back in the spotlight, representing Brown's family in another racially charged death.

Crump, 44, was born in North Carolina, one of nine children. Now based in Tallahassee, Florida, he seems to fight back his own emotions as he talks about the loss suffered by Brown's parents. To him, the issue is simple.

"I don't want to sugarcoat it," Crump said in August. Brown "was executed in broad daylight."


Almost from the outset, Attorney General Eric Holder showed a strong interest in Michael Brown's death. 

Two days after the shooting, Holder said the case deserved a full review and dispatched a Justice Department team to Ferguson to try to calm tensions. The department soon launched its own civil-right investigation.

Holder ordered a federal medical examiner to perform a third autopsy on Brown and called the Brown family to express his condolences. He said aggressively pursuing these types of investigations is "critical for preserving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve."

Bill Cosby performs and gets standing ovation


The show Friday night in Melbourne, Fla., might have seemed destined for disaster but what the embattled comedian got was an adoring audience.

by Matt Sedensky

Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Fla. — The protesters didn’t show, the would-be hecklers didn’t take the bait, the weeks of headlines about sexual assaults disappeared and Bill Cosby, for 90 minutes at least, regained the revered status he long enjoyed.

The show Friday night in Melbourne, Florida, might have seemed destined for disaster for the comedian, enveloped in growing accusations of rape and sexual assault that have derailed his career comeback and crumbled his tour schedule. What he got, though, was an adoring audience that laughed so hard they slapped their knees, shouted love at the stage and rose to their feet as he came and went.

“I think people went in there with him as Bill Cosby from the TV show,” said Travis Weberling, 40, of Melbourne, “not the guy they heard about on the news.”

The 2,000-seat theater beefed up security and announcements before Cosby took the stage warned a disturbance was possible — radio hosts had even offered cash and prizes to anyone who made it happen. Reporters swarmed the venue. But, in the end, just one protester stood outside, holding a sign that read, “Rape is no joke.”

What remained to be seen was whether the evening marked a turning point for a beloved television father, or simply a momentary reprieve. It did nothing to immediately change the fact that Cosby’s projects have been nixed and stalled, performances have been canceled across the country and women continue to come forward accusing him of serious crimes.

Cosby has never been charged in connection with any of the allegations.

“I know people are tired of me not saying anything, but a guy doesn’t have to answer to innuendos,” Cosby told the Florida Today newspaper before the show. “People should fact check.”

Cosby’s lawyer, Martin Singer, said the accusations had “escalated far past the point of absurdity,” dismissing them as “fantastical,” ”unsubstantiated” and “uncorroborated.”

“When will it end?” he asked. “It is long past time for this media vilification of Mr. Cosby to stop.”

And, throughout the audience, his fans agreed.

They talked of watching him on TV as a child, and of his albums becoming familiar friends when the moved to unfamiliar, faraway towns. They brushed off the accusations, howling at everything he uttered.

When he took the stage at the Maxwell C. King Center For The Performing Arts, they stood and hollered, and he returned a thumbs-up. Only a smattering of empty seats were seen. Cosby wore cargo pants and a shirt that said “Hello Friend” and never once ventured in the realm of controversy. His 90-minute set wandered from a childhood fear of God to the loss of freedom in marriage to the rocket-speed Spanish of a piñata-store worker.

He sat for much at the start of the show, then grew increasingly physical, impersonating jujitsu and gymnastics poses, laying on the floor in stocking feet and thrusting a fist upward in a gesture of battling the everyday oppression of living with a wife. And when it was over, he said “good night,” walking off as the audience again stood.

The most impassioned of his fans breathed a sigh of relief. Judith Stone traveled from Madison, West Virginia, for the show, deeming it “absolutely fantastic” and grateful no one interrupted.

“I think he will leave with a very positive attitude,” she said.

Elsewhere, audiences will not have the chance to see Cosby. Performances in Oklahoma, Nevada, Illinois, Arizona, South Carolina and Washington were called off. David Fischer, director of The Broadway Center in Tacoma, Washington, said an April appearance was called off because it conflicts with the organization’s mission strengthen the community “building empathy, furthering education and sharing joy.”

Projects on NBC and Netflix have been canceled, and TV Land decided not to air reruns of “The Cosby Show.”Cosby’s producers said at least 28 other shows remain on his schedule through May 2015.

Tom Werner, who co-founded the Carsey-Werner Company which produced “The Cosby Show,” defended Cosby in a statement to the Boston Globe.

“The Bill we knew was a brilliant and wonderful collaborator on a show that changed the landscape of television,” Werner and partner Marcy Carsey said in the statement. “These recent news reports are beyond our knowledge or comprehension.”

And, even in a crowd of Cosby faithful, there was some worry there was more to come.

“This very well may be Bill Cosby’s last show,” said Marcus Utt, 25, of Melbourne.

Some of the women accusing Cosby are going public again after initially coming forward around 2005, when Andrea Constand filed a lawsuit alleging that she was sexually assaulted by him.

Tamara Green, a California attorney, also said Cosby tried to sexually assault her in her Los Angeles apartment around 1970, when she was a model and an aspiring actress. She said Cosby gave her two pills that made her almost lose consciousness, took her to her apartment, undressed her and then took his clothes off as she fought off his advances.

Another woman, Joan Tarshis, said Cosby gave her drug-laced drinks twice in 1969, forcing her to perform a sex act the first time and raping her the second time. She said she told no one about this for decades, and only decided to go public when she read a Nov. 13 column in The Washington Post by Barbara Bowman, who alleges she was drugged and raped by Cosby when she was 17.

And, offering a familiar narrative, another woman, Therese Serignese, said she was drugged and raped by Cosby in 1976.

(Contributors include Frazier Moore, Mark Kennedy, David Bauder and Alexandra Otto in New York, Michael Virtanen in Albany, New York, and Anthony McCartney in Los Angeles.)

(To see related video: http://thegrio.com/2014/11/22/cosby-performs/.)