Sunday, August 7, 2022

Tri-State Defender Opinion Stories


Why the council should modify MLGW’s Share the Pennies program

By Patrice J. Robinson, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

The fact that many Memphians, especially African Americans and those experiencing poverty, struggle to pay their MLGW bills each month will come as no surprise to you. Over two years ago, Madeleine Taylor, former Executive Director of the Memphis NAACP, became so concerned with the number of citizens coming into her office confused and angry about high bills that she decided to take action. Recently, Memphis was recognized in a national study as one of the most energy burdened major metropolitan areas in our country, and MLGW’s own customer data backs up the severity of the issue – the poorest Memphians find themselves paying more than 25 percent of their monthly income on utilities at this time of year, as winter bears down hard. The response to this challenge reached a crescendo this past Tuesday, December 20, when I – joined by Frank Colvett, Janis Fullilove, Martavius Jones, Worth Morgan, and Jamita Swearengen – introduced a resolution in the Council’s MLGW Committee urging MLGW’s Board to transition to the existing Share the Pennies home weatherization program from a customer-elect to a customer-removal design. The force behind the resolution came originally, not from me or MLGW, but from grassroots and community leaders working through MLGW’s Neighborhood Advisory Council as well with partners in the Just Energy Memphis coalition. These community members recognized the connection between poor housing and the cycle of poverty and organized around creating a solution to meet the needs of their own communities. They were also instrumental in ensuring that customers who do not wish to take part in the round up program will be able to easily remove themselves. In this resolution, we are just this community’s voices on the Council. For those not familiar with Share the Pennies, it is an important tool in combating high-energy burdens across our city and funds energy efficiency and home weatherization improvements for customers who are financially unable to make these upgrades themselves. Currently funded by ratepayers choosing to round up their bills to the nearest dollar each month, Share the Pennies, once restructured to automatically enroll all ratepayers except those who choose not to participate, will have access to significantly more funding, potentially more than $1.5 million annually in total, to improve the efficiency of vulnerable communities’ homes and reduce utility bills by as much as 20-25 percent. All this only costing any one household an average of just $6 each year and a maximum of $11.88. As many of us know, these high utility bills significantly affect a family’s ability to improve its economic conditions. Too often, families are forced to make extremely difficult financial decisions – do they pay their utility bill or medical bills? Many families choose to move to a new residence, rather than deal with overdue utility bills, or get their utilities cut. This instability has perhaps the strongest effect on children, who are more susceptible to health problems caused by sub-standard, inefficient housing conditions. Instability at home, whether due to dire financial situations or frequent relocation, causes children to perform poorly at school and affect their mental health. This is why I introduced the resolution to bring this much-needed help to lower- income customers as well as disabled and elderly customers. This change represents a bold, innovative solution to help improve the housing and quality of life for our most vulnerable communities. Over the next 6 months, we will be working with grassroots leaders, utility staff, energy efficiency experts and health professionals to ensure this program re-design is effective and leads to concrete energy savings and lower utility bills. I also invite all of you to attend an Energy Justice Town Hall event, being held at the Central Library, on January 12 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 to learn more about this work and how you can become a part of the solution. MLGW will provide small energy efficiency kits to attendees of the Energy Justice Town Hall. (Patrice Robinson represents District 3 on the Memphis City Council.)


By Joy Doss, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Miller Dental Health sees over 100 patients A DAY. Let that number marinate in your spirit. At xx, Dr. Rod Miller is relatively young to have two pediatric dentistry offices in Memphis and a general dentistry office in Oakland. He did not come from means or have the benefit of investors. And – get this – he has zero debt. NICE! Over the weekend, Miller and his associates hosted The Snow Ball, which he does for kids. We talked about that during a visit last week, but there’s so much more to his story. It’s way bigger than a “Jeffersons” tale of rags to riches. This guy moves with intention when it comes to his work in the office and the community. He opened practices in Whitehaven and Raleigh to be accessible to the families that had the most need. He twice moved back home to Memphis with offers in his pocket from hospitals and practices across the country. “I chose to come back to my neighborhood. People ask why Whitehaven? What’s up with Raleigh? This is where the children have the most need – physical needs, clothing, skincare THEN dental problems, mental problems, health problems…high cavity rates.” The work and the issues are so complex, oftentimes unlike middle class issues, he says. But let’s rewind: Miller’s leadership abilities began to form at age five. That’s when his grandmother designated him the leader of the younger members of his family. Later, a very astute teacher nurtured those emerging abilities. Raised in a home with one other sibling and four cousins close in age, he recalls his grandmother giving him the big-boy responsibilities of knowing phone numbers and everyone’s Social Security number while being in charge of making sure school registration went smoothly. The seeds had been planted. His mother is a nurse, so his move into healthcare felt natural. At Tennessee State University, he initially planned to major in physical therapy before an intervening force – he would say it was divine – led him down a different path. Unable to land the internships he wanted in his area of study, a conversation with his college counselor opened the door to a summer internship with a friend of the counselor. Within wo days of being there, he knew that dentistry was suited for him. Miller hasn’t looked back one time. He is forever grateful for that eye-opening experience and continues to pay it forward. “What Dr. Lattimer did for me… the confidence he gave me… is what I try to do for other young doctors,” he says. After finishing his studies at the University of Tennessee-Memphis School of Dentistry and completing a residency in the Bronx, N.Y., Miller came home – with intention – and began work within a practice that in some ways served as a model for his own. He started to become even more aware of the serious issues faced by families. Kids came in with no coats, no shoes and empty stomachs. “You can’t sit back and let the media tell you what to do and what the problem is,” he says. “You just have to go on and do it. You may not get the glitter.” Unspoken in this instance is this: the greater good is the priority. He took that attitude of community spirit with him 13 years ago as he hung his own shingle – in English and Spanish mind you – in Raleigh. It was vintage Miller answering the , call to address the service vacuum within the Spanish-speaking community, eventually dedicating himself to pediatric dentistry. The practice started with one and a half chairs, one bilingual staff member and half of the building they currently occupy. Now the whole building is theirs, along with another across the parking lot. Blessed! As the demand for a dedicated pediatric practice grew, along with the demand for more extensive services, he was prompted to pick up the specialty. So back to the Bronx he went to train for two years, hiring other doctors and his office manager to run the practice in his absence. Yet, he came home once again. He arrived highly skilled and ready to pick up where he left off. Trust me when I tell you, you have got to love your city to move back home twice from New York! GOT TO. Cause WHY? Nonetheless, his loyalty has paid off. (Check the number of patients in the opening sentence.) Moral of this story: Follow your own path. No one has to understand it but you. It’s not enough to give; you also have to do. Props to you Dr. Miller for being the change – on purpose.

#MillennialsNow: Megan Wassef

By Alexandria Baker, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Meet Megan Wassef, chairperson of the Memphis Youth City Council and District 9, Position 1 representative. A senior at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Wassef is the Government Club president and the general assembly president of the Model United Nations. She’s also a delegate for the Youth Legislature, senior class vice president and regional ambassador for Girl Rising, which works to educate communities about women’s issues worldwide. Alexandria Baker: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Megan Wassef: I’m a first generation Egyptian American and I’m very interested in politics and foreign affairs. I’m also very active in my church, where I’m president of a youth group and I’m a member of the Greek Dance Troupe. A.B.: Are you from Memphis? M.W.: Yes. A.B.: What do you think is special about Memphis that people might not be aware of? M.W.: I think a lot of people when they hear Memphis…think of it as a dangerous place. Or, they just think of Elvis Presley. But I think that Memphis is unmatched as a community. You can always find people from any neighborhood of the city going to an event and being together. We’re supportive of our sport teams, like the Memphis Grizzlies, and we also come together for the betterment of our city. I believe we’re a city that’s willing. If we see a social issue we don’t like, we’re open to change and I think that is really important. I think we’re a great city with a lot of good in the community. A.B.: I agree. Memphis is indeed a diverse city. So, how important do you think it is to build character? M.W.: I think good character is really important. I also think that people have their character and ultimately it’s how individuals use their character to help others. In addition, it is important to continue to build on good character. As a community it’s important to showcase that everybody can add something to the table. A.B.: What problems do you want to solve in the world? M.W.: Something I’m really passionate about is women’s equality – globally, nationally as well as locally. In our city, I would love to see more women involved in the decision making of our society and showcasing how talented and amazing we really are. A.B.: What do you want your obituary to say? M.W.: I would like it to say that I was a determined person who cared about the world. She wanted to leave the world better than she found it. And most importantl, she was able to make a difference. A.B.: Why did you decide to run for the Memphis Youth City Council? M.W.: I wanted to be a part of real change in the community. I kept feeling frustrated with how many issues were being ignored because youth weren’t given a platform to fix them. So when the program presented itself, I knew that I had to run. A.B.: What would you like to see the Memphis Youth City Council accomplish? M.W.: I hope we can deal with issues such as education and domestic violence, but we also plan to have a forum to hear what issues that youth all over the city face so that we can help address some of those issues. (Alexandria Baker is an undergraduate student at the University of Memphis majoring in journalism. To contact #MillennialsNow, email Alexandria Baker at [email protected])

Faith, finances and the ‘Fight for $15’: It’s about ALL of us!

By Earle J. Fisher, Special to

Scores of people in Memphis, along with thousands across the country, demonstrated in support of the Fight for $15 movement on November 29th. This movement for fair wages, just labor practices and economic equity echoes the same sentiments that made the March on Washington such an encompassing and historically impactful endeavor. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was able to intersect faith, justice and economics in a way that appealed to a diverse group of people willing to affirm that God demands we treat every human being with dignity and every worker with respect. It seems so simple. If anyone should be in support of fair wages, just labor practices and economic equity, it should be people of faith, right? One of the concrete Christian principles is stewardship. Most people rightfully condemn churches (and exploitative church leaders) for a focus on fundraising that often compromises ministerial ethics. The other side of that coin is the mandate that we adequately compensate workers, appropriately collect social contributions and efficiently distribute resources where they are most needed – what many religious scholars now refer to as “economic justice.” “It is theological malpractice,” says the Rev. William Barber, “to ask your members to tithe if you won’t fight for them to have a living wage.” Amen! It just seems to make good sense, to me. Everyone demanding equity is echoing the sentiment found throughout the biblical and prophetic traditions. That’s why I’ve marched with the Fight for $15 movement in Memphis and Nashville. I was part of a group of clergy that attended the National Workers Convention in Virginia a few weeks ago. It’s simply the righteous thing to do. Since Memphis is in the heart of the Bible belt, a city that is predominately black and plagued by poverty should be a likely target for the Fight for $15 movement to gain support and necessary traction. After all, predominately black denominations are reported to be some of the poorest people of faith. David Masci, in an October 2016 article entitled “How income varies among U.S. Religions Groups,” wrote that, “Among those denominations with the lowest household income are two historically black churches, the National Baptist Convention...and the Church of God In Christ...nearly half of all (their]) members have household incomes of less than $30,000 per year.” In other words, most “church folks” make less than $15 an hour. Black Church congregants should be marching in droves. Nevertheless, on National Day of Action many people of faith were making presumptions about the “character” of the fast food workers from a platform of false piety. Most people still can’t seem to make the connections between economic exploitation, political manipulation, inadequate education and the necessity of public (civil) demonstration. Add spiritual apathy and passivism to that equation and you have a molotov cocktail of generational poverty and oppression. Welcome to Memphis. While the working poor (and allies) were protesting, all manner of conjecture and misinformation prevailed in social and mainstream media. Inarticulate workers and subtle rhetorical jabs at the humanity of those seeking livable wages flooded timelines and news cycles. Between the prosperity gospel perspective and the evangelicalism that promoted Trump to the presidency, too many of us see faith and finances through the lens of radical and unrighteous individualism. We have to do and be better than that. We cannot simply talk about “saving souls” while people are working 40-hour weeks and their families are still starving. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once paraphrased Brazilian archbishop Dom Helder Camara saying, “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why there are poor people, in the richest country in the world, they call me a communist.” It seems simple, to me, because it is simple. The struggle for economic justice and equitable wages is not merely about fast-food workers. This is about all of us. All. Of. Us! And anybody who centers their faith on individual “blessings” and “breakthroughs” does irreparable damage to the heart of the Gospel. Our individual blessings and burdens are always tied to a broader social and spiritual economy. The focus of our efforts for equity and our critiques of people’s character must be leveled at the corporations, systems and even the co-opted “Christian” philosophies that exploit our citizens and corrupt our culture. We should protect, partner with and even praise those workers whose surplus of courage and conviction is overcompensating for our collective cowardice and lack of creativity. (The Rev. Earle J. Fisher is senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church and co-spokesperson for the Memphis Grassroots Organizations Coalition.)

Voting rights, already under siege, may fare worse under Trump

By Allison Keyes, The Root

During the Thanksgiving holiday, President-elect Donald Trump added a bit of fuel to the increasing nationwide debate over voting rights in the wake of his election. On Sunday, railing against a push for recounts in several states, Trump sent out a tweet with this baseless claim: “In addition to winning the electoral debate in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” In the past, Trump has called the election system rigged, called for poll monitoring in communities of color in a way that galvanized some supporters and worried civil rights activists, and told NBC’s Meet the Press back in May that he is against same-day voter registration. “Not so that people can walk in off the street and can vote, or so that illegal immigrants can vote,” Trump told NBC, adding, “I want to make the voting laws so that people that—it doesn’t make any difference how they do it. But I don’t think people should sneak in through the cracks. You have to have—and whether that’s an ID or any way you want to do it. But you have to be a citizen to vote.” But civil rights groups, including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the NAACP, have been sounding calls for alarm since 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an important part of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. The court ruled that states with a history of racial discrimination no longer had to seek federal approval before changing voting rules that might affect people of color. The NAACP issued a press release the day after the election referencing not only Shelby, but noting that it had “confronted all manner of ugly, unconstitutional voter suppression, including voter purging, intimidation and misinformation.” On Nov. 10, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks joined a coalition of civil rights leaders to promise to fight to keep progress on voting rights from being rolled back. Four days before the election, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights released a report documenting the closure of hundreds of polling places since the high court’s ruling. It called the closure of polling places “a particularly common and pernicious tactic for disenfranchising voters of color.” “For us, the 2016 presidential election started in June 2013. It wasn’t on Election Day, it wasn’t during early voting, it was on the day of Shelby,” said Scott Simpson, a spokesman for the coalition of more than 200 national organizations. Simpson told The Root that the Shelby ruling allowed states and localities to put forth a resurgence in voter-discrimination measures, and he said there are worries that things will be worse under a President Trump. Simpson and other civil rights advocates point to the president-elect’s choice of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for U.S. attorney general. A plethora of reports, including this one from the New York Times, refer to Sessions’ racially tinged past, call him an opponent of civil rights and recall that a bipartisan coalition of senators rejected the Reagan administration’s nomination of Sessions in 1986 for a federal judgeship on the District Court of Alabama. “It’s hard to imagine someone with a more hostile record toward voting rights than him,” Simpson said. “This is someone who will now be in charge of enforcing what remains of the Voting Rights Act, and as bad as it was in the past election, we have no reason to believe it will get any better in a Sessions Justice Department.” But many organizations, including pro-life groups such as Concerned Women for America, support Sessions, calling him a champion for conservative principles. He’s also supported by the National District Attorneys Association, which said in a statement (pdf): “Rarely in the history of this great country has a candidate been more qualified to serve in this capacity in an effort to promote and protect public safety.” The National Sheriffs’ Association also endorsed Sessions, saying that he has a “commitment to fairness and equal justice under the law.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republicans support Sessions’ nomination as well. Democrats are vowing a pitched battle, but currently, it appears that the GOP has enough votes to confirm Sessions as U.S. attorney general.

How to end debtors’ prisons in America

By Michael K. Williams, The Huffington Post

To understand the brutal truth about debtor’s prisons in modern America ― and how to end them ― you need to know the story of a single, working mom from Mississippi. Qumotria Kennedy cared for her two children by cleaning houses in Biloxi, Mississippi, a small city on the Gulf of Mexico. Despite picking up work whenever she could, money was still hard to come by. So when she was arrested for driving without insurance or a license, she couldn’t afford to pay the fine. To understand what happened next, you need to take a detour through history. America formally abolished debtor’s prisons ― the practice of locking up people too poor to pay their debts ― more than two centuries ago. As recently as 1983, in the landmark case Bearden vs. Georgia, the Supreme Court upheld the principle. The Supreme Court affirmed that only those who willfully refuse to pay a court-ordered fine should face time behind bars, not those who are indigent and unable to pay. The Supreme Court affirmed that only those who willfully refuse to pay a court-ordered fine should face time behind bars, not those who are indigent and unable to pay. But the court failed to clearly define what it meant by “willfully refuse,” or even “indigent.” Standards for both vary wildly across the country. One judge in Washington decides whether a person can pay solely based on their physical appearance in the courtroom. While defendants are supposed to have the right to an indigency hearing and to alternatives to fines, these rights are too often overlooked. But the court failed to clearly define what it meant by ‘willfully refuse,’ or even ‘indigent.’ As towns and cities increasingly finance court costs and local budgets with fines and fees ― every state except Alaska, North Dakota, and DC has increased civil/criminal fees since 2010 ― judges have every incentive to tack on as many costs as possible. These fees tend to compound with late penalties, driving people even further into debt. Even some of the alternatives are appalling. The State of Washington charges people who cannot pay immediately 12 percent interest, potentially leaving someone experiencing poverty trapped in debt for decades. In short, the Bearden was bold in broad strokes, but imprecise and vague on the details. And so it was that Kennedy, and so many like her, fell through the gaps in the law and into jail. When Kennedy first faced fines for driving without insurance, she was not provided a court hearing on her ability to pay. No one informed her of her right to request counsel or a public defender. No one offered her community service as an alternative to payment. When she asked her probation officer about it, he discouraged the idea. Two years later, Kennedy’s friend was driving the two of them to pick up their teenage daughters when they were pulled over by policemen. She was immediately arrested on a warrant for failure to pay what was now a $1,000 bill for traffic fines. Her daughter was left wondering what happened to her as Kennedy was thrown in jail for five nights. To add insult to injury, she was fired from her cleaning job because she missed work while detained. Across the country, low-income Americans are being jailed for failing to pay legal debts they cannot afford at alarming rates. Because people of color are disproportionately targeted by our criminal justice system and disproportionately low-income, they bear the brunt of this new, two-tiered system of justice. The ACLU has documented this nationwide trend in its groundbreaking report, “In For A Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtors’ Prisons,” the result of a year-long investigation in five states. Across America, the ACLU has been using litigation and advocacy to stop this violation of constitutional rights. One of the greatest signs of hope yet came when the ACLU and Qumotria Kennedy teamed up. Kennedy was a plaintiff in an ACLU case against Biloxi, Mississippi, filed in October 2015. Recently, Biloxi and the ACLU reached a sweeping settlement that provides a model for future reform. People of color bear the brunt of this new, two-tiered system of justice. Under the terms of the agreement, Biloxi will scale back or eliminate the use of for-profit probation companies and debt collectors that have an incentive to collect more fees, and cease issuing criminal warrants for failure to pay. It will place limits on using jail or suspended driver’s license to punish nonpayment. The city will also adopt a clear standard for determining inability to pay – a “substantial hardship” on a person, or if she or he earns less than 125 percent of the federal poverty line. Judges will receive detailed court procedures and a “Bench Card” to guide them, and be required to consider the ability to pay at sentencing. As the ACLU has shown, Qumotria Kennedy’s story is not unique. It could have – and has – occurred across the nation. The rise of America’s new debtors’ prisons has sparked bipartisan outrage at the way low-income individuals face a two-tiered justice system and the trampling of their constitutional rights. Now, in the Biloxi settlement, we have a model for future reforms. The addiction to court-ordered fines and fees has created pipeline into jail that leaves a gaping hole in communities. It shouldn’t take a court case – or another story like Kennedy’s – to convince our leaders to act.

This election, let’s refocus on the pillar issues

By Michael B. Hancock, The Root

As citizens, we deserve election seasons that are seesawing, back-and-forth spectacles of clashing ideas. Instead we find ourselves often immersed in the frantic pace of the horse race. Campaigns devolve into poll-watching parades, focused more on opposing personalities than on issues of great consequence. Issues get lost. This is one of those elections. The general ignorance of important challenges that we face as Americans has become infectious. It’s especially a greater problem for those historically burdened and marginalized, still holding on at the seams for some hint of the American dream. To many, something in the air suggests it’s not all quite right: In the RealClearPolitics average of frequent “direction of country” tracking surveys, a clearly jaded 69 percent of the public believes that our nation is on “the wrong track.” Maybe it’s not a feeling that we’re on a wrong track. Maybe it’s the absence of a great American conversation on what keeps societies glued together. We can easily focus—and how can we not?—on those tragedies and transgressions ripping us apart. Yet a deeper national dive reveals a need to revisit essential quality-of-life issues: from the fight to defeat poverty and homelessness to a concerted community effort for affordable housing and better schools. It’s about creating wages we can live on and maintaining robust infrastructure that provides us with clean water and safe bridges. It’s the transportation and energy grids that give us the fuel we need for economic growth. We desperately need a return to that conversation, and we must do it now in a way that intersects with a compassionate and thoughtful debate on race, racism and our ability to help flourishing societies, particularly cities, adapt to dramatic population changes. Because societies can’t flourish without clean, drinkable water. Flint, Mich., knows that, and we here in places such as Denver, deep in the arid West, understand that, because water is so precious and scarce. Societies can’t flourish without functional schools and K-12 classrooms that raise the next generation of scholars and innovators. Societies, obviously, can’t persist without paved roads, safe bridges and solid rail to move people and commerce from home to job to businesses that create more jobs. Societies can’t expect to thrive if families are living from paycheck to paycheck barely able to make rent each month because housing prices skyrocket. There’s no access to what is now the essential utility known as the internet if there is no electricity. And cities, as we move into a future filled with digital wonder, won’t grow if large pockets of residents can’t get to work because of a lack of reliable mass-transit options. As proud as I am to say that Denver has one of the hottest economies to watch in the country (with an unemployment rate that’s below 4 percent), I’m also realistic about the stagnating wages and unaffordable housing that hold back way too many of our good people. Rents in the Mile High City have risen 35 percent since 2010, and home values are rising at twice the national rate. That’s not something to celebrate when people get left behind, especially black and brown people who are bombarded with a disproportionate barrage of social and economic displacement. Denver grows, “But for who?” we keep asking ourselves. All cities are faced with this existential dilemma. We watch the rapid rise in pockets of poverty as neighborhoods continue to gentrify. We witness the rapid loss of neighborhoods where the racial composition changes overnight from majority minority to majority white. Displacement can’t be progress. Progress can’t be summed up by the disintegrating aspirations of those losing homes. Unfortunately, we take these pillar issues for granted. Caught up in the routine of our lives, from the grind of daily commutes to the adventures of raising families, we pay little attention to the foundational building blocks of sustainable, healthy and growing communities. Yet these are the places where we live and co-exist. We can’t expect a cozy, habitable house if we let it crack into disrepair from neglect. We can’t expect the cities where we live to prosper if, for so many of our fellow neighbors, the benefits of a strong economy remain out of reach, and too many neighborhoods remain overlooked and underserved. Nor can we expect to have meaningful conversations on race and the ugly manifestation of racism until we address the disparities holding us back. A conversation on race is not the full measure of racial progress—and it is not the measure of our progress as a nation. Conversations must transition quickly into frameworks for undoing rampant inequality in education, wealth, housing and mobility. Even as we work toward building better relationships between law enforcement and the communities it serves, it’s not enough if those communities are continually disrupted by crime, unemployment, low wages, bad schools and inaccessibility to reliable transportation options. These pillar issues must be resolved because the very survival of where we live depends on it. We must understand that troubled communities don’t happen in vacuums—a loose thread in one part of the quilt can quickly become the hole in a dangerously unraveling fabric. As President Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.” Our collective frustration at the brutality and violence inflicted on people of color should be channeled into a collective energy for social good and economic growth. We need a paradigm shift from systemic inequality to systematic equality. Systematic equality is what helps communities, neighborhoods, cities and societies become engines of concentrated resources, talent and affirmation. That is the true “test of our progress”: When we become agents of shared prosperity. When we understand that jobs are just jobs unless people have an opportunity to grow. When we put an end to the stagnant wages and concentration of wealth that threaten our great republic. When we recognize that children can’t live without a home, and families can’t be strong without an affordable home. When we realize the virtue of a criminal-justice system that provides a second chance. When we finally embrace the indispensable need for mobility through mass transit. When we grasp the true meaning of a quality education for all rather than an exclusive education for some. Opportunity is the right of everyone. Progress doesn’t leave anyone behind—its mission is to bring everyone along. When we show up for that, we keep our communities resilient. We keep our houses strong. We keep our people moving forward.

How to be less ‘Dangerous’ to white People

By Anslem Samuel Rocque, The Root

Black men are under attack. There may have been a time when that statement might have sounded like an exaggeration, but with headlines about men of color being shot, killed and falsely accused of crimes becoming almost daily occurrences, the reality of that declaration slowly begins to sink in. While women of color are not exempt from experiencing these same atrocities, brothers are becoming victims at a more alarming rate. It all boils down to fear. Since Reconstruction, the African-American man has been painted as the “big, black brute,” an excessively violent, strong and sexualized abomination that poses a threat to white America. This stereotype is at the root of many of the racial discords we see in the news today involving men of color. I’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint exactly when I became aware of how my blackness could impact how I’m perceived by those outside of my community, but the fact that it does have an impact has shaped the way I move through the world. It’s sad, but I, like so many other black men, don’t want to become the next RIP hashtag. While I’ll never let outside forces change the core of who I am, I have to admit that I’ve made both conscious and subconscious adjustments in my behavior just to try to ensure that I make it home to my family safely every night. Although there are countless stories of brothers like Philando Castile and Charles Kinsey who said and did the right things, to no avail, here are a few of my own personal mantras that, for better or for worse, have allowed me to appear less “dangerous” to white people as a black man. I Dress My Age as Much as Possible The only downside to “Black don’t crack” is that when dressed down, I could pass for someone almost half my 39 years (OK, maybe not 21, but 29-ish). That’s part of the reason I typically don’t shave off my beard often and wear button-up shirts and slacks most of the time. It’s just as much protective presentation as it is personal style. I feel most vulnerable when coming home from the gym because in basketball shorts, I can easily “fit the description” of any black male. While my white counterparts may not have to be as concerned with casual dress and being perceived as “presentable,” as a person of color, I don’t always have that luxury. I Don’t Walk Behind (White) Women After Dark This really isn’t necessarily race-specific because, as a rule, I try to avoid walking behind any woman after sunset. The reason is, I understand that just my being a man—black, white or other—can be intimidating to a woman. Add in a desolate sidewalk and I imagine her nervousness increasing tenfold. Whenever I find myself in this scenario, I make a concerted effort to walk in the street and try to get ahead of the woman so that she has the luxury of keeping me in sight as opposed to having a pair of footsteps looming behind her. This personal space is as much for her safety as it is my own, because the last thing I need is a scared white woman pointing the finger at me. I Call Everyone “Sir” and “Ma’am” My mother taught me to use these terms as a sign of respect. Whenever interacting with police, I deploy them just as I would with an elder. While I’m doubtful that simply saying “sir” or “ma’a”m will ultimately save me from being arrested, put in a choke hold or shot, my hope is that by addressing authority figures as such, I will at least set the tone for cooler heads to prevail. Plus, you have to give respect to try to get respect, right? I Smile at Strangers in Tight Places One place where I immediately become fully aware of my blackness is in a cramped space, like an elevator. There’s an unspoken tension that exists when a person of color enters and the occupant or occupants are white. While I don’t go out of my way to make eye contact, in the event that I do, I smile and give the person his or her space to signify that I’m no threat. I might even mindlessly look at my phone to illustrate that I’m not focused on anyone. If we happen to get off on the same floor, I maintain a safe distance so that the person doesn’t feel as if I’m following him or her. I Use (Proper) Language as the Great Equalizer While I don’t give much credence to the idea that people can talk “black” or talk “white,” I have no problem displaying my education through my words. I don’t make a habit of using the n-word, especially in mixed company, and I speak proper English in public for the most part. Ultimately, no matter how I look or what I’m wearing, I use my words to make the greatest impact on those who don’t know me so that they can get a glimpse of my worth and intelligence and why my life matters.

Why black men fear that any police encounter could go awry

By Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press Charles Kinsey held his hands in the air and shouted to police that the autistic man sitting on the street next to him wasn't dangerous. A few...

Julianne Malveaux: ‘Are we better off?’

By Kam Williams, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Kam Williams: What inspired you to publish “Are We Better Off?” Julian Malveaux: People will be talking about the Obama legacy for decades, and I wanted to include my voice in the analysis of this presidency. This is a column collection, or as one colleague called it, “history in real time,” recounting my perspective on the highs and lows of this presidency from an African-American perspective. More than simply a column collection, the book has a substantial introduction that frames the Obama presidency, explores the way Obama was treated by the political establishment and also how this first black president treated “his” people. In the epilogue, I use numbers to tell the story of African-American gains and losses during this presidency. KW: How did you decide which articles to include in the book? JM: Wow! … It was quite a process to narrow more than 400 columns down to 80. I write weekly, though, and I don’t always write about President Obama, so that was the easy elimination. Sometimes, I repeat myself, and that was a second elimination. I worked with a team, including a great editor who, as the project came together, suggested other additions and eliminations. … KW: Well, are we better off after eight years of Obama? JM: The economy is better than the one President Obama inherited, and unemployment is lower, but the unemployment rate gap remains large. Black child poverty is higher. As I write in the epilogue, “Yes we can. No he didn’t. President Obama didn’t push black people backward, but he missed the opportunity to move us forward.” KW: In the introduction, you ask, “How does President Obama treat his people?” before criticizing him for not reciprocating the overwhelming support he’s received from the African-American electorate. You say, “He scolds instead of uplifts, and offers tepid gestures to our needs.” What do you think he could have done in terms of jobs, housing and education? JM: If some of the recovery money had gone to cities instead of states, the urban population, read “black” and “brown,” would be better off with recovery jobs. While the banks got big bailouts, a sizeable chunk of African-American wealth evaporated because so many people lost homes. Some of the federal programs to help homeowners were never fully implemented. And President Obama’s pick of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education was abysmal. Cutting HBCUs was unconscionable. Implementing new regulations on Parent Plus loans, which cost HBCUs 28,000 students, was hostile. At the same time, it is important to note that, except for his first two years, which were a missed opportunity, President Obama faced rabid opposition from the Republicans. Indeed, as soon as he took office, Sen. Mitch McConnell announced that his top priority was to deny President Obama a second term. The president did introduce a jobs bill that could not clear Congress. The Republicans simply would not work with him. KW: What about all the black-on-black violence in so many inner cities across the country. Do you really think the president could have put a dent in it from Washington, DC? After all, his own chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, became mayor of Chicago, and the body count has only escalated there? JM: President Obama’s choice of Rahm Emmanuel as his chief of staff was questionable, and perhaps cover-ups around the police violence against black people in Chicago is reflective of Mr. Emmanuel’s values. Did Rahm Emmanuel serve President Obama or did he serve himself as he prepared to run for mayor of Chicago? I don’t use the term black-on-black violence, since I’ve never heard the term white-on-white violence. Most violence is intra-racial, and much of the violence in African-American communities is a function of drug availability, joblessness and poverty. Obviously these conditions predate the Obama presidency and the president has limited ways to dent this violence. But funding war weapons in cities, as opposed to more community policing, is not the solution. KW: What about the issue of blacks as the victims of violence by police and vigilantes like George Zimmerman? Do you think Obama could have done more for Trayvon Martin than to say that he could’ve been his son? JM: President Obama did put together a task force on 21st Century Policing, led by Philadelphia police chief Charles Ramsey, to look at some of these issues after Ferguson. The task force didn’t produce any earth-shattering findings but it suggests that this matter is on the president’s radar screen. However, this is an issue that persists. In the first week of July, we already saw two black men killed by police in questionable circumstances, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in a Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Trayvon Martin could have been any of our sons, so I was not especially moved by that remark of President Obama’s. He intended, I think, to say that he took Trayvon’s death somewhat personally. He might have said more about “stand your ground” laws and how they give vigilantes a pass. And he might say more about these rogue cops and their license to kill. Although he was in Poland to participate in the NATO conference, President Obama did respond well to the back-to-back killings, as well as to the attacks on Dallas police officers that followed. I especially appreciated hearing the President affirm that “black lives matter” and that it means that some citizens are feeling more pain, and experiencing more negative effects than others, and he offered up the stats. He also indicated that black lives matter does not negate the fact that blue lives matter. He ably walked the tightrope, here, between affirming both black life and police life. KW: It seems that Obama will be better remembered for LGBT than African-American civil rights. If Trayvon had been transgender, do you think the Attorney General would have charged George Zimmerman with a federal crime? JM: Let me answer the question another way. The President became quite emotional about transgender student rights, threatening to pull Department of Education funds from school districts that do not comply with federal regulations. Black children are suspended from school three times more than white children are, and there is no evidence that black children are three times as unruly. Has the President ever threatened to pull the Department of Education dollars from a school with these disproportionate suspensions? African-Americans have rarely been the beneficiaries of Presidential rhetorical excess. KW: When you interviewed Obama, his staff wouldn’t let him talk about reparations. What did that tell you about him? JM: This was in 2004, and it told me that President Obama intended to be very careful and noncontroversial in addressing race matters. It is now 2016, and I’m not sure that I’ve heard the President address that matter yet. I serve on the Institute of the Black World’s National Commission on African-American Reparations, and we have asked the President to, by executive order, establish a commission to study reparations. He can do this without Congressional approval. While I am not optimistic, I do hope that President Obama considers this in these waning months of his Presidency. KW: In the book, you suspect that Obama's image as a community organizer in Chicago might be more a “manufactured mythology” than a “gritty reality.” Have you done any research to determine whether he developed roots and maintained ties to folks he worked with in the hood? JM: I’ve talked to dozens of Chicagoans who will only go off the record in talking about the manufactured mythology. The published record will show that many in Chicago have mixed feedback on the President’s role as organizer. KW: You also talk about how outspoken critics of Obama, like Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, have ended up ostracized by the black community. Do you think this has a had a chilling effect, and did it make you less willing to disagree with the President? JM: Tavis Smiley lost lots of corporate support after he was critical of President Obama, and Dr. West has lost some esteem. I think that Smiley and West come at the President somewhat differently though, and find some of West’s criticism too personal and base to be credible. Still, the way they were treated has caused many to bridle their tongues when discussing President Obama. I had my own challenges with the Obamaites when, in 2008, appearing on a program with Tavis and Cornel, I gave then-candidate Obama’s nomination acceptance speech a B. At the time I was President of Bennett College for Women, and actually had disgruntled members of the public write my board of trustees and faculty, and address me in ugly and disparaging terms, including black women calling me the N-word. Ugliness does not bridle my tongue, and while some of the consequences of being an honest critic of this President have been unpleasant, I can manage. Don’t get me wrong. As I write in the book, I do not regret either of my votes for President Obama, nor my support of him when he ran for the Senate before that. I get excited as I ever did when I see that black man on Air Force One. But I won’t settle for symbolism, and our President’s record should be open for analysis. KW: Do you think the African-American agenda might have been placed on the Obama administration’s back burner because of a hesitancy on the part of black leaders to question or criticize the President? JM: Absolutely! You will not get fed in your mama’s house if you do not bring your plate to the table. Some of our leadership has been so happy to be there that they haven’t pushed our agenda. I don’t know how many off the record conversations I’ve had with African-American leaders who would not be quoted and refused to make their sentiments public. KW: What grade would you give Obama? JM: Depending on the day of the week it varies. At the moment, though there are just a few months left in our President’s time in the Oval Office I’d like to give him an incomplete and hope he surprises me. Actually, overall he gets a solid B, but for his work with Black America he gets a low C, at best.