Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Where Would Dr. King Stand on Wal-Mart Workers?

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
August 21-28.2011

This week the nation and the world celebrate the life and legacy of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. with the dedication of his memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

For Americans, Dr. Martin Luther King should not only have a national memorial in Washington, but also should have his face on Mount Rushmore, rather than stone images of American presidents whose policies were antithetical to the ideals of Native Americans (Sioux, Lakota) on whose sacred land the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln were forged.

History reminds us Dr. King is the true architect of American democracy. For example, Washington said freedom fighters that formed the Black Republic of Haiti should “…starve to death.” Jeffersonian Democracy as it was called only permitted White males to vote and own land. Teddy Roosevelt was a rabid racist who supported the bigoted movie “Birth of a Nation”. And while Lincoln moved the policy pendulum closer toward racial equity with his Emancipation Proclamation and his support for the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, it took 95 years for freedom, citizenship, and voting to be enforced by federal law. Enter Dr. King.

Dr. King is the architect of American Democracy because he influenced progressive public policy for ALL Americans, regardless of race, religion, or resources. As Dr. King marched outside on Main Streets of America President Lyndon Johnson coerced in Congress for the passage of seminal legislation in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act that still impact American justice today. More than any other quality Dr. King was a “man of the people.” At 26, fresh out of graduate school with a PhD he, along with Mrs. Rosa Parks, led the Montgomery. Alabama Bus Boycott to challenge federal law’s application to state laws of racial segregation in transportation. He walked with the people for 381 days. At 34, he marched with students in Birmingham, Alabama to secure a public accommodations bill in Congress. At 39, he brought dignity to sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee by advocating for their right to organize and receive fair wages.

Today, the workers at Wal-Mart—the world’s largest company—face such issues as respect, fair-paying jobs, and a voice in workplace policies similar to those faced by Memphis garbage workers 1968. To date, Wal-Mart officials have taken a rigid stance against worker’s right to organize, which assures lower wages. Predictably, the poverty-level jobs do more harm than good for individual employees as well as the communities in which they live.

However, recently Wal-Mart hourly workers gathered at the corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas to petition for improved working conditions. The “Associates” believe that Wal-Mart is stronger as a global company because of the collective values its workers embrace—hard work ethic, compassion for one another, and honesty. Together workers have launched the “OUR Wal-Mart” Campaign that calls on company executives to do the following:
• Practice the words of founder Sam Walton in “…listening to everyone in your company…”
• Allow workers to join OUR Wal-Mart partnership without workplace retaliation
• Ensure confidentiality through “open door” policy by written resolution to worker issues by allowing co-worker witness testimony
• Recognize that most hourly worker earn less than $10 per hour, rather than the $13 per hour promoted by Wal-Mart
• Recognize that most hourly worker are given less than 40 hours per week, rendering ineligible for full-time benefits
• Work closely with “Associates” to partner for the good of the entire company

I believe if Dr. King were alive today he would reiterate the words prophetically proclaimed at Mason Temple in Memphis on the rainy night of April 3, 1968 (the night before he was assassinated). On that night, Dr. King essentially said, “…God sent me here to say you are not treating his people right…” He went on to say that while companies such as Coca Cola and Sealtest Ice Cream have the right to make a profit they also have a moral and Godly duty to treat their employees with respect deserved. Dr. King would call for partnership over protest, dignity over dollars, and collectivism over confrontation.

Wal-Mart may well represent “America, Incorporated.” As such, the same American ideals espoused by Dr. King, Congress, and the White House over the past 50 years should be basis for a corporate giant partnering with its common workers. In order for our nation to rise out of recession Wal-Mart, the White House, and the workers must put partnership first.

In linking leadership,

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
1090 Vermont Ave., NW
Suite 1290
Washington, DC 20005

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Consciousness Over Cookouts

Consciousness Over Cookouts
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
July 26-July 3, 2011

“Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I [we] forget…’may my right hand forget her cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!...to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.’”

Frederick Douglas
July 4, 1852

As the United States of America celebrates another Independence Day (July 4), recognizing a principled stand by early American colonists against the tyranny of England’s King George, we should learn from the words of Frederick Douglas who in 1852 eloquently cited the hypocrisy of our nation to celebrate the liberty of independence amidst the institution of slavery.

While African Americans are free from the brutality of physical bondage our minds, in the words of Douglas, seem to “…chime in with the popular theme…” of hot dogs, hamburgers, John Phillip Sousa, and fireworks.

In short, we need to place consciousness over cookouts.

Douglas’ contemporary, Harriet Tubman, reminds today’s African Americans that worse than the institution of slavery may have been the reality of many Black people who did not recognize their state of enslavement.

July 4, 2011 may well mark the most perilous position for Black people in America since slavery. For example:

• The first generation less educated than the previous since 1865
• 76% of seniors testing positive for HIV
• 70% of un-wed births
• 60% of U.S. home foreclosures
• 50% high-school drop out rates
• 50% of U.S. jail population

Yet, despite a fearsome fire burning our heritage house of honor we joyfully eat, drink, and be merry cooking outside in the yard. We must put the family fire out.

What must we do short of cancelling cookouts? First, we must know our history—tragic and triumphant. Second, we raise our conscious level from the basement of “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol” to the rooftop relevant pursuits that lift one another. Lastly, we must turn to each other and not on each other. WE is a lot stronger the ME.

If Black people to not recognize that all of us—the wealthy and the without—are still seen as the wretched by most of America we should have another cookout. Only this time we may find ourselves served up as seared slaves again.

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
1290 Vermont Ave., NW
Suite 1290
Washington, DC 20005

Friday, June 10, 2011

The NAACP is Right: Public Schools Should Be Supported

The NAACP is Right: Public Schools Should Be Supported
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
June 5-12, 2011

Last month, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)) filed a lawsuit in New York on behalf of students and their parents. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO, the lawsuit was filed because “Students are being grossly mistreated, their parents are being deeply disrespected and the entire community stands to suffer.” As a member of the Black Leadership Forum, I fully concur with NAACP’s educational position in New York.

The issue at hand is whether public school students in New York (and in other jurisdictions” are being treated as “second-class” students to charter school students.

For starters, and contrary to charter school advocates, public schools are not equal under the law. Public schools receive funding from the public sector (i.e. federal, state, and local government). Conversely, charter schools receive money from private investors who profit from the success of schools.

With such a backdrop, charter school students in New York seem to be favored over public school students who are stigmatized as “regular students.” For example:
• Charter students are placed in public school buildings causing extreme challenges for space
• Public students must eat lunch at 10:00 am so that charter students may eat lunch a 12 noon
• Public schools are restricted to four hours of library time compared to seven hours given to charter students
• Public students in some New York schools are forced to learn in basement hallways in order to make room for charter students

In addition to the issue of imposing charter schools within public schools the New York Public School system has failed honor the law by informing public school parents prior to making changes within the school district such as school closures.

I further agree with the NAACP and Benjamin Jealous when he asserts, “When one set of students is perceived as getting preferential treatment over another, or the city refuses to work with parents to fix problems at a school before closing it, the inequity leaves all our children suffering.” Yet, the educational issue in New York is much deeper.

The United States of America has never fully embraced a strong public school system. When public schools were established in 1853 the wealthy elite in many instances opposed public schools. After all, their children were educated in private academies.

Over the years, opposition for public schools has never waned. During the Reconstruction Period following the American Civil War public schools were burned and terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan on their un-Godly view that African Americans should not be educated. In 1954, southern Whites opposed the racial desegregation order of Brown v. Board of Education by creating private academies that only allowed Whites to attend. Twenty-five years later when the Brown ruling was enforced with mandatory busing of public school students, mass opposition to public schools reared its ugly head in American cities such as Boston, Massachusetts when African Americans and Latinos were bused to mostly White school districts. In each historical era in this nation’s history public has been under constant attack.

The broader American policy question is whether all students—regardless of race or resources—have a right, rather than a privilege to a high quality education. More particularly, the federal government must take a righteous stand against the privatization of public education by 1) Increasing the federal allotment to public education from the current 9%; and 2) Enshrining the right to high quality education for all American students in the U.S. Constitution.

As long as privateers pervert public education via charter schools while the federal government stands idly by, and public students and their parents are inferiorly treated, American education system is in need for remediation.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Progressive Values Must Shape Federal Budget

Progressive Values Must Shape Federal Budget
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
April 17-24, 2011

Contrary to television “talking heads”, all budgets are not all the same. How private citizens construct budgets is vastly different from how government should do so. Household budgets at their best are balanced by not spending more than revenue received. Government budgets are different in that, by providing services to the public, there is not a “zero/sum” construct. Some programs within a federal budget must be preserved for the good of the nation.

In short, politics can be defined as who gets what, and when. Therefore, budgets drafted by politicians are moral documents, filled with the values of who and what is-important.

Such is the backdrop for the raging debate in Congress over America’s federal budget in how to address spending cuts to the “debt ceiling” (America’s credit card) and retain our nation’s bond rating in order to produce lower long-term deficits

There are two budgetary views that receive most of the news coverage by commercial television outlets: Those of Democratic and Republican members of Congress.

The Republican budgetary proposal seems to value war and the wealthy. As though imitating “reverse Robin Hood” the Grand Ole Party would take from the poor and give to the rich. The idea of “trickle down” economics where the rich get richer, and somehow stimulate the economy to share there money with the less fortunate has been proven untrue over the past 30 years. In the spirit of President Ronald Reagan who coined the phrase “starve the beast”, Republican leaders today intend to use the federal budget to dramatically reduce programs established for the dispossessed and downtrodden. Another popular phrase used by Republicans is to “shrink the size of government.” Yeah, right!

If such a philosophy of “smaller government” were taken to its nonsensical conclusion, we would have less post offices, interstate highways, traffic lights, and police and fire departments. Not good.

Democrats, on the other side of the political aisle, seem to favor cutting programs for the poor underprivileged within the national budget, but by less than the Republicans’ plan. Thus, top Democrats propose to place “everything [programs] on the table for cutting.” The one major point of the Democrat’s plan I believe will be beneficial to the nation is the proposed repeal of Bush-era tax cuts to millionaires (top 2% wealthy in the nation.

In the 1970’s I remember one of my grandmother’s favorite television shows was “The Price is Right”. On the show, contestants were asked to decide whether they wanted to take a chance on winning the contents behind sealed doors. The show’s host would euphorically ask: “Do you want door number one or door number two?”

In today’s budget proposal battle, the nation may well need “door number three”, by way of the proposed budget offered by the Progressive Caucus of the United States Congress. Unlike proposals thrown by the Democrats and Republicans, the Progressive Caucuses “People’s Budget” would preserve needy domestic programs and cut programs for the greedy. For example, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Planned Parenthood would be left in tact. Moreover, the “public option” would give Americans the choice of selecting a health plan provided, in part, by the government that would cost less than those provided by private health providers. Under the “Peoples Budget” would cut costly programs such as military ones within the Department of Defense and millionaires would be forced to pay their fair share in taxes. Sounds good to me.

The American people should value the People’s Budget offered by the Progressive Caucus within the Congress. Ask your representative is he or she is a member of the Progressive Caucus.

In linking leadership,

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

Reintroducing Rosa!

Reintroducing Rosa: Mrs. Park’s Fight to Prosecute Rape of Black Women
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
May 8-15, 2011

Traditionally Black History is presented with accounts of luminaries such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Gabriel Prosser, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks. In nearly every instance the narrative is narrowly offered, and skewed to heroics of Black men.

Mrs. Rosa Parks is no exception. To read most history textbooks students have been fed fiction as to who Mrs. Parks was and how she came to be the Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement. I vividly learning the limited lesson that Mrs. Parks was a “poor seamstress who was simply too tired to move to the back of the bus”, as racially segregated laws required in most American cities, from 1896 (Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case) to 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education court case).

In reality, Mrs. Parks was no “shrinking violet” in response to racial segregation. First, Rosa Parks sought to attend, and completed college at the Philander School, which was a training ground for activists who wanted to challenge “Jim Crow” laws. Secondly, after finishing her studies, Mrs. Parks returned to her home of Montgomery, Alabama and immediately challenged the racist voting laws of Alabama by applying for the right to vote. In 1943 and 1944, Rosa Parks was told she failed the voting examination. In 1945, Mrs. Parks not only memorized the questions, but the answers to the exam repeated them to voting officials. As a result, she passed and was granted her right to vote in Alabama—twenty-years before African Americans could vote via the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and ten years prior to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Moreover, Mrs. Parks intentionally chose to be a part of history. Rosa Parks was elected to serve as the Secretary of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP. As such, she regularly met with Attorney Fred Gray (lawyer to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) to strategize on challenging racist laws. In fact, James Blake, the bus driver on whose bus Mrs. Parks refused to move was well known within the Black community of Montgomery as a virulent racist, who regularly verbally insulted African Americans, particularly Black women. Rosa Parks deliberately chose the exact bus and the date (December 1, 1955) to enter the annals of world history.

However, one major role Mrs. Parks played in history has not been sufficiently revealed until recently in the form of the book, The Dark End of the Street, (2010) by Danielle McGuire. Due, in part, to male dominated Civil Rights historians the role of Black women has usually been relegated to secondary status. In her book, Ms. McGuire exposes wide-spread cases of rape by White men of Black women, few of which went to trial, and despicably even less resulted in conviction. All-White juries from 1896 to well into the 1960’s simply refused to honor justice and convict Whites of crimes against Blacks (Let me not mention the “legal” rape of Black women by White “Founding Fathers” such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and others).

In one particular case in 1944 a young, married African American woman named Mrs. Recy Taylor was walking home from church with family members on a dark road when a car full of White men slowly passed and returned. At gunpoint, Mrs. Taylor was taken and gang raped by 6 of the 7 men. Like countless Black women raped by White men prior to the 1960’s Mrs. Taylor was let go by her captors and threatened by life if she told. Unlike most she immediately and courageously told her family and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Mrs. Parks was assigned by the NAACP to investigate the rape case and organized a portion of the Black community to call for the rapists to stand trial. She won the battle of bringing the men to court twice, but all-White juries never convicted the rapists. Nonetheless, Mrs. Parks’ organizing skills and activism led to a network of community organizers upon which the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott was successful. Who knew?

Actually, many historians knew of Mrs. Parks’ work on the Recy Taylor case but declined to write about such due to the violence of rape, and the need to first dismantle racial segregation via federal legislation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act; the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

America cannot move “beyond race” until our nation moves into a frank discussion of the lasting effects of the false notion of White Supremacy.

In linking leadership,

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Wisdom of our Mothers and Fathers

“Remove not the ancient landmarks for which our mothers and fathers set”
Proverbs 22: 28

As Black History Month for 2011 comes to a close we must keep our collective ears open to the voices of our cultural mothers and fathers whose wisdom is as relevant today as it was in the past. Their voices cry out for people of conscience, particularly African Americans to place justice and wisdom at the forefront of our family’s focus.

I watched with interest an airing of The Injustice Files last week on the Discovery Channel. The Injustice Files is the work of filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, producer of The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till and CBS EYE Productions, which reveal the circumstances of three racially motivated unsolved murders of African Americans prior to 1969. Brilliantly, Beauchamp weaved together whatever he could find—family interviews, police records, eye witnesses—into a compelling expose. The Injustice Files serves as much as a history lesson as it does to inspire people today to come forward with information that would lead to the prosecution of murders and the legal closure of countless of acts of racism and domestic terrorism.

Prior to the Injustice Files Beauchamp’s most critically acclaimed work brought new attention to the heinous murder of Emmett Till in 1955. Till, a 14-year old boy from Chicago was visiting relatives in rural Mississippi and allegedly flirtatiously whistled at a White woman—a cultural crime in the American deep south of 1955. The woman’s husband and brother-in-law took Emmett Till from his uncle’s house in the middle of the night.

The vicious torture and murder of Emmet Till, according to Mrs. Rosa Parks, inspired her to take a more active role in the Civil Rights Movement by refusing to surrender her seat to a White man (thus, challenging the application of federal law on buses in Montgomery, Alabama) just six months after Till’s victimization. As Mrs. Parks did in 1955, people of conscience today must pursue justice by reforming public policy.

The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 was introduced to establish an Unsolved Crimes Section within the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. Since then, funding issues have stymied progress of the Act.

If “cold cases” such as the ones featured in The Injustice Files are to be solved federal legislation must have enforcement provisions to meaningfully aid prosecutors and families in court. In particular:
• Congress should appropriate funds necessary for fulfillment of Emmett Till Act
• Congressional oversight hearings are needed to examine activities of law enforcement officials relative to Emmett Till Act
• The relationship between federal and local prosecutors must be better defined
• The relationship between Ku Klux Klan members and local police and sheriffs must be revealed
• A “Family Bill of Rights” must be defined in information sharing between law enforcement officials and families
• Families must be given status updates on a regular basis by law enforcement officials
• A full accounting of unsolved disappearances, “accidents”, “suicides”, “self defense” must be compiled
• Cases determined “outside of jurisdiction” of Emmett Till Act must be covered by new legislation

Federal legislation must be matched by state, county, and municipal policy that emboldens prosecutors and families and imprisoned murderers. The collective voices of our ancestors direct us to pursue justice in unsolved murder cases.

In linking leadership,

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reagan Robbed the Poor and Raised the Rich

Reagan Robbed the Poor and Raised the Rich

“…sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless…you might say, by choice”
President Ronald Reagan

Last week, many Americans celebrated the 100th year of President Ronald Wilson Reagan’s birth. In honoring Ronald Regan’s impact on the United States of America his policies have been mislabeled as good and positive. In reality, Reagan era policies have had a net negative on our nation and its promise to grant life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens, regardless of color or cash in hand.

My mother always admonished me that if I did not have anything good to say about someone, then say nothing. Thus, Ronald Reagan made three significant contributions to public policy formation: 1) Projection of national pride, 2) Discipline of message. and 3) Generational training of young policy students. That said Reagan’s policy legacy leaves a lot to be desired.

As a high school student government leader in 1980, at the beginning of the
“Reagan Revolution”, I instinctively recognized that a massive cold front would be in the political forecast for many years. And I was correct.

Sure enough, in 1988, at the end of an 8-year Reagan Administration the nation was not better off for most Americans. In particular, Reagan and his cohorts:
• Dismantled labor unions
• Decreased living standards
• Deregulated financial industry
• Decreased wages by freezing minimum wage at $3.35 per hour for 8 years
• Increased gap between rich and poor
• Increased number of Americans in poverty
• Increased homelessness
• Appealed to racist people in America

In 1994, by my third year in college President Reagan had been re-elected to a second term. In doing so, he announced his plan for a second term in Philadelphia, Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair. As a student of civil rights history I was keenly aware of the secessionist symbolism of Philadelphia, MS as a chosen venue. In 1964, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Mickey Schwerner were brutally murdered while registering African American residents of Philadelphia to vote. Later, trial evidence would reveal that after leaving Meridian, MS the three civil rights workers were followed by Neshoba County Sheriffs and pulled over. Those present have testified that the Sheriff “released” the three only to be followed and murdered by a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen and other racists. The bodies Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner were found week later in the dirt of an earthen dam. With such a notorious history Ronald Reagan selected Neshoba County to launch his bid for re-election to the White House.

On Sunday, February 6, 2011 I read an article in The Nation written by Peter Dreier that compellingly drove the point of Reagan’s regressive public policy ideas. In response to Reagan supporters’ insistence that he was the “Great Communicator”, Dreier researched a quote from President Reagan in which he said, “I was not the ‘Great Communicator’ as much as I communicated great ideas.” Great ideas? Really?

I, like Peter Dreier, believe that great ideas should have positive outcomes. Not true in the Reagan repertoire. Dreier correctly concludes that today’s dismal economy and widening wealth gap are due, in large part, to the you-are-on-your-own political and policy choices of Ronald Reagan rather than mere social and economic forces.

Today, for example, Republican Governor Cristie decries “big government” as the reason states and local governments are facing budget deficits. Contrarily, it may well be the fact that under the Reagan Administration federal assistance by 60%, resulting in the elimination of revenue sharing to cities; cuts to funding for public service jobs; reduced funds for public transit; severely weakened legal services for the poor; anti-poverty programs; and lowered federal funding for Section 8 rent subsidies housing. Accordingly, as federal funds decreased, homelessness increased.

Today’s mindless mantra of Tea Party conservatives that “government is not a solution to our problem…government is the problem.” Actually, good governmental policies benefit society; and bad policy hurts future generations. As the Reagan Administration robbed the poor and raised the rich in the 1980’s, such policies continued in the 1990’s and 2000’s with the George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush Administrations.

In particular, the deregulation of the Savings and Loan industry by the Reagan Administration (with the help of Neil Bush—brother and son to presidents Bush) looted the S & L industry of $130 billion dollars. In turn, the Clinton Administration deregulated the banking industry by letting the Glass-Stegall Act expire. By 2008, the second Bush Administration had allowed American corporations to eliminate domestic jobs in return of international tax credits. Moreover, two undeclared wars had given obscene profits to war companies such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

In short, Reagan Administration policies of the 1980’s penalized the poor and pumped up private profiteers, which are still reaping benefits, to the demise of the most Americans.

In linking leadership,

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.