Who you going to believe—me or your lying eyes?

If you want to know a person’s true character, pay attention to what they do not what they say. A person’s actions tell the real story of their values, their principles and their truth. Today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution story on Atlanta City Council members who received transportation campaign funds challenges the core principles public servants take the oath to honor.

The story is one of the most interesting of this local campaign season. The Citizens for Better Transportation 2016 was funded to advocate successfully for passage of the city’s T-SPLOST. Businesses large and small heeded the Mayor’s call for funding that ponied up $1.2 million. The Committee was established by a respectable Georgia lawyer, Robert Highsmith, who has close political ties to the Mayor and to the Georgia Republican Party. Highsmith served as the Committee’s treasurer. The Committee relied on seasoned campaign staff including the mayor’s brother, Tracy Reed, to manage the campaign. The referendum passed and all was well except instead of spending all of the $1.2 million, the team spent less than it raised. Now the integrity test is what do you do with the funds that were not spent. Should the Committee adhere to the law and return the funds on a prorated basis to the donors, donate to an IRS approved charity or create a slush fund? It seems as if the Committee decided on the latter.

Integrity is what you do, when no one is watching. The Committee decided the donors wouldn’t care if they returned the funds back to them. After all, big corporations have more than enough money to spare in the robust economy City Hall has created. And there aren’t any worthy charities that are struggling to fund their social or educational services for the sick, unemployed, students short of college funds or seniors in need of help to pay their utility bills. I guess the homeless are all sheltered and the hungry can do without a meal for the night. The Westside Future Fund must be fully funded. So is United Way of Greater Atlanta and Hosea Feed the Hungry. All the children who want to attend early learning centers and schools must be accounted for. Grady Hospital must have all the money they need for indigent patients and the Atlanta Police Foundation has funded all the houses necessary for police and firefighters.

According to today’s AJC, the Committee decided it was best to use the extra $700,000 for political campaigns and not the needs of Atlanta’s residents. That may be a moral dilemma but choosing to fill out the required state disclosure form in a way that indicates there were no remaining funds, is a question of character.

This case is similar to the actions of Councilmember Michael Julian Bond whom I have known for many years and I am an admirer of his parents and grandparents.

Bond accepted a contribution for the maximum amount allowable by the law from the Committee, and is rumored to be receiving additional financial help in the form of anonymous mailers and other campaign services. This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who’s paying attention, since Bond accepted $12,800 from a city contractor that has been ensnared in the ongoing federal corruption probe, and before that he racked up 300 ethics violations for which he promised to pay a $45,000 fine — the largest in Georgia history!

Bond has yet to make the first payment…and if he’s able to hold onto his council post, I wonder if the Citizens for Better Transportation committee can find a legal justification for covering his debt.

You decide. Is it a mere oversight and a lapse in judgement? Or is it an intentional illegal act to gain power and influence no matter the law?

It all reminds me of the punchline from comedian Richard Pryor’s joke about him getting caught cheating on his wife and he says, “baby who you going to believe—me or your lying eyes?”

A recent reminder the HIV/AIDS epidemic has not been defeated!

By Gary S. Cox

2015AIDSThe first time I heard any mention of HIV/AIDS was in 1981. I read an article to a friend about a strange new illness that was only affecting gay men. After I read the article, I ignorantly quipped, “There sure are going to be a lot of shocked parents if this disease somehow knows you are gay!” Little did I know this article was the precursor for me to many hospital bedside vigils, nurses in space suits, changing diapers on bed ridden friends, and home visits to take meals to sick friends. Perry, Tom, Jesse, Michael, David … to this day the names and faces still haunt me with “survivors guilt”. This was before effective medications, Project Open Hand or a federally funded AID Atlanta.

Then there was a glimmer of hope. First, there was AZT and eventually the three drug “cocktail” given today as the “standard of care.” The new drugs saved lives. The federal government took HIV/AIDS as a serious health threat. Casework and social services previously provided by friends became the domain of social workers and home health care professional. HIV/AIDS moved from being a death sentence to a chronic illness. The new slogan became, as it is now, “Living with HIV/AIDS.”

Yet, in the past week leading up to World AIDS Day, I faced a sobering reminder that we have not yet won the battle against HIV/AIDS. This revelation came in the form of a telephone call from a friend who is sick from AIDS. His body simply cannot tolerate the drugs needed to keep the virus at bay. It hurts my heart to see him shaking from the neurological complications of taking HIV medications and from HIV/AIDS. His right hand and leg shake uncontrollably like Parkinson’s disease. His neurological condition affects his gait, his ability to grasp thoughts and slurs his speech. While on the telephone with him, I sensed he was on the verge of tears. He had recently moved back to the city to be near Grady’s IDP Clinic and MARTA. He previously lived in Gwinnett County. He could no longer afford to own a car and had given it up. His only income is a $1,200 monthly disability check and a few dollars in food stamps. Like so many gay men in the 1980’s and early ‘90’s, he had no support system other than his friends. His family and his church, both have a problem with him having AIDS and being gay.

During my brief telephone conversation with him, he was choking on his words. He was having an emotional meltdown and in panic-mode. We had previously gotten him signed up for meals with Project Open Hand. He had just called to find out when the meal delivery service would start. He was told there was an administrative mix-up. His meal delivery would not start for another week. He had no money for food. He bemoaned, “Gary, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” panic had taken him over. I responded, “I will be over shortly. I am working on a project I need to finish up. But together, I’m sure we can figure out something.” On the drive over to his house, it was like “déjà vu” – I was back in the 1980’s doing basic care for a sick friend because there was no HIV/AIDS support system yet in place. I picked my friend up. I took him to the nearest Kroger. I said, “Get what you need to get you through the week.” He broke down and cried. This experience was a sobering remembrance, we are a long way from a cure.

I have read numerous articles and listened to the debate on PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis). Some people I know think it is okay to have unprotected sex as long as they are taking PrEP, after all the “effectiveness rate,” according to studies, is 90% to 99% effective in preventing HIV. As for my two cents worth on the subject, PrEP is great as long as it is used in conjunction with safe sex. It should not be used as a “license” to have unprotected sex. I look at my friend and I ask myself, “Just what the hell are young gay men thinking when they think they can take a pill to have unprotected sex!” Like my friend, sometimes the HIV drugs damage you so badly the quality of life becomes questionable. Unprotected sex, regardless of PrEP usage, simply isn’t worth the risk! If you don’t believe this, I will gladly introduce to my friend for a reality check!

Study Suggest the Bootstraps for the Poor May Not be Strong Enough


Many of us have been taught that education is a sure gateway to the American Dream. A recent study titled “The Equality of Opportunity Project” by Harvard University professors Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and University of California Berkeley professors Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez suggests that might be true for some but not for those at the lowest end of the socio economic ladder. Those who frequently struggle to make ends meet are not likely to pull themselves out of poverty. The study’s authors found millions of our neighbors are locked into the condition of poverty from birth. Socio-economic mobility is out of reach. For far too many Americans socio-economic growth is stunted. No doubt we know exceptions and some are well documented. The study makes clear these are exceptions and not the rule. There is a lot of political talk and perhaps needed conversation about public policy to support middle class families however we cannot forget about those whose chances for success are severely limited by their socio-economic DNA.

The researchers who conducted this study admit that more research is necessary to explain why there is such a wide geographic variation between where you are born and your likely chances of economic success. Hendren said, “He thinks much more research should be done to explain why someone born into a poor Pittsburgh family has a greater chance of succeeding than someone born into a poor family elsewhere, such as in Atlanta. The study found that the southeastern United States contained many of the regions with the least social mobility.”

Just 26 years ago, the country’s top economists debated the merits of social mobility and some concluded that the problem was solved. Michigan State Professor Solon said, “People would say, ‘Don’t worry about inequality. The offspring of the poor have chances as good as the chances of the offspring of the rich.’ Well, that’s not true. It’s not respectable in scholarly circles anymore to make that argument.”

Another study noted that the gap in test scores between the children of America’s richest 10% and its poorest has risen by 30-40% over the past 25 years. However, the income of the top 1 percent nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007 and almost no change in the typical family’s income.

The study confirms social mobility is a goal in the US but it is not likely for the poorest Americans. Before we blame those who are the poorest amongst us, we should take a look at the social, educational and political policies that continue to stunt their climb out of poverty.



Politics and Poverty are Kissing Cousins?

SNAPAs unemployment for this year steadies around 7.5 and immigration and student loan interest rates preoccupy the headlines and blogosphere, you might have missed the House’s rejection of the five-year, $940 billion farm bill that would have cut food stamps by $2 billion annually over 10 years.

Today about one in seven Americans have to survive on $4.50 a day. The growing number of recipients is due to many who have lost their jobs and can’t find employment or they are not making a living wage. The income limits and amount of benefits received is based on family size, gross and net income. The monthly net income for a family of four has to be less than $1,838 to qualify. For those critics who point to fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), that number is less than 4% and defies the myth of people cheating the system.

Currently, an estimated 48 million Americans receive food assistance through SNAP, about 15 percent of the US population. In 2010, SNAP provided about $2.6 billion dollars in food benefits to a monthly average of over 1.6 million people in Georgia. The program served 64 percent of those eligible for benefits in Georgia.

This link provides more information on Georgia

Poverty and politics should not be kissing cousins, when Americans from rural counties to urban cities are struggling to feed their families. Some are surviving and others are living day-to-day, visiting food banks for the first time in their lives, asking churches, mosques and synagogues for assistance and exhausting federal benefits from unemployment to food stamps. The poor are faced with far too many challenges during these difficult times, and unfortunately they are doing it at an empty table.

Why the Farm Bill includes food stamps in the first place is partially the problem. When political decisions determine the fate of policy, there are very few winners. For now, the issue has been averted while families anxiously await a recovery of any kind.

A Tribute to Jeffrey

Last week, the Franklin family team of Blogging While Blue lost their cousin Jeffrey Haskins while he was working in Kenya. He died of a heart attack. Jeffrey was one of the diverse, bright and insightful contributors to Blogging While Blue. His blogs ranged from a popular post on R&B singer Frank Ocean’s revelation that he was bisexual to the compelling story of an African woman who faced some difficult personal choices. Jeffrey will be greatly missed by his family and friends as the article below illustrates. Through his work as a public relations consultant to not-for-profits in Africa, Jeffrey was able to share the stories and plight of poor people around the world who are too often overlooked in media.

As a tribute to him, we are reposting his contributions to Blogging While Blue at the end of this post.  Also, below is a blog post about Jeffery from his employer Burness Communications. 

The Burness Communications family is deeply, deeply saddened and profoundly pained by the way-too-early death of Jeff Haskins, our personal friend and extraordinary colleague of nearly nine years. For four of those years, Jeff led our efforts on the ground in Nairobi, Kenya, and across Africa for BurnessAfrica. He traveled from Indonesia to Mexico, and most places in between, spreading the message of possibility and hope for agricultural research as a vital tool for the world’s most disenfranchised people.

Jeff was a one-in-a-million talent. He was a “rock star” in every room he entered. He was a confidante and source to reporters the world over who covered global development through the lens of the farmer, the indigenous protector of forests, the scientist devoted to sustaining crop diversity, the advocate fighting to feed the world, the poorest of the poor utilizing new strategies to simultaneously feed themselves and enhance their livelihoods. He knew how to tell their stories and to persuade journalists and policy makers to listen. He was their voice.

Jeff touched every single person he worked with in an outsized way. He was a mentor and friend, universally understood to be tireless, brilliant, magnanimous and funny as hell.

We will carry his vision and legacy forward, stunned that there is a “legacy” associated with a vital, charismatic, super-skilled 32 year-old person whose passing leaves us so sad.





Eliminate hunger first……and Now!

The swings from high to low in the world’s stock markets have dominated media attention since the too long and tedious congressional debates and histrionics of the United States debt ceiling debates. But for those who live from paycheck to paycheck scraping together just enough money for rent, food and the necessities their voices are muted in the public debates about the options the country should take to stabilize the economy. Then there are the poorest of the poor, whose voices are not merely muted but silenced. Those are the 40 plus million Americans who live in poverty according to Feeding America statistics. For 1 in 6 Americans living in hunger is their daily existence. For some 8.8 million families poverty is real.

According to United States Department of Agriculture more than 17 million American children live in food insecure households. The definition of food insecurity is when people lack sustainable physical or economic access to enough safe, nutritious, and socially acceptable food for a healthy and productive life. It is worth noting that five states – all southern- exhibited statistically significant higher household food insecurity rates than the national average from 2007 to 2009. Arkansas 17.7%, Mississippi 17.1%, Texas 17.4% North Carolina 14.8% and our own state Georgia at 15.6%.

Georgia Food Bank Association provides 78 million pounds of food annually through 2,500 network member agencies in 159 counties. This is a 30 to 40% increase in 2010 from 2009. With continuing higher than national average unemployment rates in Georgia, we need an economic recovery plan that does more than save high income or even middle-class families.

We need a model that reaches down to lift out of hunger Georgians (1 in 8) and Americans (1 in 6). There are successful models in Atlanta and around the state that are actively addressing the issue of poverty. There are numerous programs that have been engaged in this work for years but I want to mention just a few, like the Atlanta Food Bank that provides over two million pounds of food and grocery items each month to more than 700 non-profit partner agencies in metro Atlanta and north Georgia, Community Concerns, Inc., City of Refuge, Hosea Williams Feed the hungry and Homeless, and Shirley Sherrod’s Southwest Georgia Project in Albany, which has been addressing the issues of unfair policies effecting families, welfare rights and poverty. Leaders like Bill Bolling, Elizabeth Omilami, Jim Milner and Pastor Bruce whose decades of work offer the examples we need to become socially responsible states rather than one of the five states with the hungriest population in the country.

As we plan for the future let’s put eliminating hunger at the top of the list for community building and community pride. Food and water for the body and education for the mind and soul—those are the ingredients that will stand the test of time.