Call Your Senators Today!! Vote No to Obamacare Repeal.

This week has offered us a contemplative and newsworthy glimpse into the challenging lives of America’s poor. A Yale study released on Monday sheds light on the economic gap between blacks and whites and misconceptions of racial economic equality in this country. Reverend William Barber the former President of North Carolina’s NAACP, and dynamic speaker at the National Democratic Convention declared in the Los Angeles Times this week that he is continuing his fight against poverty through his national Poor People’s Campaign. And finally, the announcement of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill designed to dismantle the current United States health care program by the September 30 deadline is the latest attack on America’s poor.

As the Senate prepares to make changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that could impact low-income patients with deep cuts to Medicaid, the debate is not merely a political one but a moral one. It doesn’t matter if you live in a red or blue state or you tout liberal or conservative, America has a poor people problem that can longer be blamed on poor people. The economic gap is real, it is statistically unquestionable and the response deserves our best, most thoughtful public policy and economic response if we are to become an America, as good as its promise.

This current proposed bill is just another Obamacare repeal bill. As a sister, aunt, and daughter and as a mother and grandmother whose ancestors were known for caring for others and believing in the goodness in all who need nurturing and care it is unfathomable that our great country would consider snatching away the much-needed medical care safety net from any one of God’s children. Unfathomable! Call your senators to urge them to vote NO.

Tuition Free College Offers More than Hope to Students

NY Governor Cuomo and Bernie Sanders at recent news conference

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a proposal to make public college tuition free for low and middle-income students. At a recent news conference he said, “New York state is going to start this year the Excelsior scholarship: if you come from any family earning $125,000 or less, you are going to get free tuition………It’s the first program like it in the US… and it should be a wake-up call to this nation.”

It would be a great kick off to 2017 if Georgia’s graduating high school seniors could get a similar deal. Georgia families deserve the same opportunities as New York students – the unfettered chance to advance their post secondary education to compete in a world economy. New York Governor Cuomo gets it. His initiative is worthy of state funding because the state budget reaps the benefits of the higher income of its residents and a highly educated workforce is the foundation of economic development.  While Georgia’s HOPE scholarship serves a record number of middle-income students, recent studies have found Georgia students from the lowest income families are underserved. Let’s improve education at every level simultaneously – improve K through 12 public education, fund research universities, and high performing students and invest in the children and the families who need it most- those with the lowest wages from working families who can support themselves but don’t earn enough to save for college. Let’s put hope and opportunity back into Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship program.

All I want for Georgia is bold leadership that sets high standards and seeks to support all Georgians especially our youth. Go Governor Cuomo! Cheers and good luck! Here in Georgia, we’re pulling for your success hoping that Governor Deal might follow your lead.

Demographics haven’t shifted elections in Georgia, yet!

Vinson Institute-UGAAs more and more people become engaged in the presidential campaigns either as voters, caucus members or active campaigners, news articles and columns are speculating about which supporters are best positioned or angling for appointments and VIP statuses the new administration.

There is talk all over Atlanta about who will get the nod for which positions in which administration. Ambassadorships and Cabinet appointments are among the most mentioned. Hopes are high in political circles that at least a few Georgians will follow their predecessors – United Nations  Ambassador Andrew Young, White House staff person Rita Samuels, Director of Presidential Personnel Veronica Biggins, Ambassador Gordon Giffen or Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates are among the host of other Atlantans who have served among a President’s most respected and trusted advisors. Even as those considerations are being entertained, most voters and most polls expect Georgia to remain a red state in November. The growth of Georgia’s population over the last decades and the demographics – young, black, brown and international have changed the “color” and “culture”  of the state’s residents,  but we have yet to see a change from “conservative and right leaning” political philosophy in statewide or Congressional elections.

Last year Cabral reminded me about having thousands of qualified registered yet seemingly uninterested voters move to the state or the city doesn’t automatically change election outcomes. Even massive voter registration drives like Georgia House Minority Leader and State Representative for the 89th House District Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project in 2012 haven’t moved the needle much. The population of Georgia might be browner and more left leaning but so far election results haven’t shifted.

Before anyone starts packing for Washington, DC maybe we should ask them to focus on a few of the issues that face at least a million Georgians. Those who live on limited or fixed incomes have the greatest needs but all Georgians suffer when we “play politics” while Georgians face social and political obstacles to improve their everyday lives. From the LIMITED accessible, affordable, clean public transportation, affordable housing, healthcare and mental healthcare options, affordable post-secondary and higher education, funding for medical research, support for technology incubators, business retention and expansion incentives,  business opportunities for small, minority and female businesses to HIGH rates of incarceration and recidivism, high school, community college and college dropout rates, family and child poverty and persistent and growing high levels of homelessness in both cities and the suburbs, Georgia officials and civic leaders, all of us, have a lot of work to do at home before moving up the ladder to national leadership.

I count myself as responsible to do some of the hard work too. Whether Georgia is red, blue or purple in the November elections, we should choose the road less traveled and double down on getting Georgia on the right track for those who are most in need.

Flint–The Poison of Politics

flintPrior to the environmental fiasco in Flint, I would never have imagined the likelihood that an elected official would make a budget decision that would poison an entire city. It is unimaginable, yet here we are. For those unfamiliar with the widely publicized story, a brief summary is offered.

In 2011 when many cities had still not recovered from the 2008 economic recession, the financially strapped city of Flint was taken over by the state. Then Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, retained emergency managers to cut costs and manage the struggling city.

Two years later, it was decided that Flint should break away from the Detroit water system that pulled water from Lake Heron and join a new water district. In April 2014, Flint switched its water system and started drawing water from the Flint River. There are lead pipes throughout the system and in older homes with copper water pipes that were held together with lead solder, the lead corroded the water. The World Health Organization has said that lead poisoning can cause adverse neurological effects.

The problem is now headline news as reports of sick school children who now have lead poisoning, state EPA officials have resigned, truck loads of donated water arrive in Flint everyday and both the state and federal government officials have declared a state of emergency for the city.

I wish this was just about a bad budget decision, but the cries of environmental racism can’t be overlooked. And not just from political candidates hammering for sound bites. New York Times columnist, Charles Blow wrote,”An entire American city exposed to poisoned water. How could this be? It is hard to imagine this happening in a city that didn’t have Flint’s demographic profile — mostly black and disproportionately poor.”

If not racist it is clearly unjust, unfair, and unacceptable.

Congratulations on the 10th Anniversary of the Gateway Center

This blog is a SHOUT OUT to some fearless Atlanta leaders – Jack Hardin, Debi Starnes, Bonni Ware, Protip Biswas and Horace Sibley and I am sure there are others I have missed. You made a believer out of me!GC

Atlanta’s most needy are better served because of your courageous and innovative leadership. When I was skeptical, they believed they could do the improbable, the impossible – turn an old jail into a vibrant live saving Gateway to a better life for thousands of Atlanta’s homeless people.

This small group of true blue, deeply committed Atlanta residents and seasoned professionals exemplify the best of humankind. They exemplify Margaret Mead’s quote about how and who changes the world – ” never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

The Gateway has served thousands of men, women and children in some of their most needy hours as a shelter, as a place of refuge, as a service provider. Though the Gateway can’t and doesn’t do their work alone, Gateway serves as part of a larger network of organizations whose boards and staff tackle one of the toughest urban issues city leaders face. Every day dozens of families and search unsuccessfully for affordable housing in our city. They rely on the social service sector to provide a safety net, when they can’t do so for themselves. On the 10th anniversary of the Gateway, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to those who launched the organization, to the dozens of partners, donors and supporters who build on yesterday’s accomplishment to enhance the opportunities for some of Atlanta’s most vulnerable residents and most of all the brave clients who fight for a good life for themselves and their families.

THREE LOUD, BOISTEROUS AND DESERVING CHEERS!

To achieve equity in our cities, start at the neighborhood level

Originally posted in Saporta Report

By Guest Columnist SHIRLEY FRANKLIN, executive board chair of Purpose Built Communities and Atlanta’s mayor from 2002 to 2010

eastlakeSRLast week, Lesley Grady of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta wrote an insightful piece called “Equity, Inequality and Myth Busting” that highlighted the extreme income inequality between white households and African-American households in Atlanta.

“Addressing income inequality will require our collective courage to acknowledge historic, pervasive biases and structures, bounded by race and class, which anchor whole families and communities in perpetual poverty,” she argued.

We agree.

I just returned from the sixth annual Purpose Built Communities Conference in Fort Worth, TX, which brought together leaders from fields including business, real estate, medicine, public health, housing, education, social entrepreneurship, social justice, criminal justice, and the faith community.

More than 350 people from 49 communities across the country came together to learn about neighborhood transformation and breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty.

There are those who think a neighborhood focus is too narrow. According to the latest data and research, neighborhoods are exactly where we should be focusing if we want to reverse decades of concentrated poverty and create equity and prosperity.

There are those who think a neighborhood focus is too narrow. According to the latest data and research, neighborhoods are exactly where we should be focusing if we want to reverse decades of concentrated poverty and create equity and prosperity.

Several sessions at the conference focused on the ways neighborhoods determine health outcomes. Dr. Lisa Chamberlain from the Stanford Medical School and Dr. Douglas Jutte from the Build Healthy Places Network shared striking data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthy America  about life expectancies in different neighborhoods within cities.

In Minneapolis, a distance of three miles could equal a 13-year difference in lifespan. In New Orleans, life expectancy can vary as much as 25 years from one neighborhood to another.

New York University professor Patrick Sharkey’s research about place and poverty shows that having a mother who was raised in a distressed neighborhood puts a child at a two-to-four year cognitive development deficit at birth.

The question is, why is this the case?

According to Jutte and Chamberlain, the science shows that environment has a greater impact on health outcomes than genetics.

Our neighborhood environment, including physical conditions (e.g. presence or lack of sidewalks and lead paint), service conditions (e.g. transportation, stores, schools) and social conditions (e.g. crime, sense of community or lack thereof), largely determine how long a person will live and what kind of quality of life they will have.

Factors like toxic stress, which is prevalent in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, impact both neurological and physical development.

Dr. David Erickson, director of the Center for Community Development Investments for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Carol Naughton, president of Purpose Built Communities, shared the latest research impacting community development, including the work of economist Raj Chetty, whose research found a strong correlation between place and upward economic mobility.

There are two ways we know of to address this: one is to move people out of neighborhoods of concentrated poverty to ones where the physical, service and social conditions are qualitatively better.

Another is to improve those conditions in distressed neighborhoods.

Purpose Built Communities exists to help with the latter, assisting local leaders implement a comprehensive model consisting of mixed-income housing; a cradle-to-college education pipeline; and community wellness programs and services guided by a dedicated “community quarterback” nonprofit organization whose sole focus is the health of the neighborhood.

In the span of just six years, we now have 13 Purpose Built Communities Network Members from coast to coast, including East Lake here in Atlanta which provided the blueprint for this model of neighborhood transformation. All of these neighborhoods have community quarterbacks and partners implementing this model to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.

Our Annual Conference is a chance for those working in these neighborhoods, and those who are thinking about doing this work, to learn from one another to achieve the results we so desperately need.

As Lesley Grady said, “we have to go further and deeper and fix the fault line that prevents all families and communities from sharing in the region’s growth and prosperity.”

By focusing on the neighborhood level in a holistic manner, Atlanta and other cities can change the trajectory for hundreds of families, especially children, so that a zip code will no longer determine a person’s health, income or lifespan.

 

 

Post Katrina Leadership Emerging in New Orleans

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, three New Orleans businessmen and civic leaders, Gerry Barousse, Mike Rodrigue and Gary Solomon, teamed up to play an inspirational role in the rebirth of their beloved city. Their effort to rebuild New Orleans through the creation of the Bayou District Foundation led to demonstrable results in the standard of living and people’s lives. They are part of a new, emerging brand of leadership that we should applaud and support nationally.

Two months after the storm, many people doubted whether certain parts of their city would ever recover. Gerry, Mike and Gary believed otherwise. They decided to focus their attention in the former St. Bernard public housing development, which was largely destroyed by the floods. They created the Bayou District Foundation, a nonprofit that served, to use a football metaphor, as a “community quarterback” for one of the greatest rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. Working with Columbia Residential as its development partner and the Housing Authority of New Orleans, they contacted displaced residents in New Orleans and across the country, engaging those who wanted to shape the new development with their input.

The three men were inspired to take on this enormous challenge after visiting the East Lake neighborhood in Atlanta, where businessman and philanthropist Tom Cousins championed the revitalization of one of the most dangerous and under-invested parts of the city. What the three men saw at East Lake provided a vision for what was possible: a revitalization that could have impact far beyond neighborhood boundaries.

Gerry Barousse, Mike Rodrigue and Gary Solomon understood the potential for a better future for New Orleans that could be accomplished through civic and business leadership. Over the past nine years, the Bayou District Foundation, with Columbia Residential, has led the development of 685 new, high-quality mixed-income apartments at Columbia Parc. Now it’s a fully leased development that is a safe and welcoming environment full of families and individuals spanning a wide range of ages.

Before the storm in 2005, the St. Bernard public housing development was only 72% occupied, according to the Housing Authority of New Orleans, due to the deteriorating condition of the buildings. In addition, it was an unsafe environment for families and children. From 2001 to 2005, there were 684 felonies and 42 murders within the 52-acre site.

Today, crime is virtually nonexistent. All residents of Columbia Parc are either employed, in school, in a vocational training program, or retired, and incomes of residents represent a healthy mix, from low income to those earning six-figure salaries. It is a community where people want to live that offers paths out of poverty for the lowest income residents.

The Bayou District Foundation also partnered with Educare to create an early childhood education center on the campus serving 167 children ages 0-5; created a health clinic with St. Thomas Community Health Center which serves more than 300 patients per month; and will break ground on a new K-8 charter school in 2016.

The leaders of the Bayou District Foundation are taking risks and making long term commitments, tackling issues that have bedeviled American society for generations. They are investing their reputations, connections, political capital and even their philanthropy in neighborhoods that have long suffered from the effects of concentrated poverty. Neighborhoods like this exist in just about every city across the country. The question is, why would leaders like this want to invest in them, and to what end?

The answer is that these leaders care about people and results. They believe that if given the opportunity to grow up and live in a healthy community, every child can succeed in school and achieve their full potential. It sounds idealistic, and it is, but there is now a track record of work in several fields that demonstrates this is no pipe dream.

At Purpose Built Communities, we are looking for more leaders who are not afraid to embark on a difficult path working with the community to transform neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, change lives, and ultimately, create a better country. We should all recognize and support this brand of leadership that can make a real difference in urban areas across the country.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shirley-franklin/ten-years-after-katrina-n_b_7977198.html

 

The Dispossessed Deserve Better

Kalief Browder

Kalief Browder-Ebony photo credit

“The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime,but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.” From Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Mass incarceration is a system designed to imprison people based on racism and classism and being poor is a common denominator.

After Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, media attention highlighted a municipal court system that had a history and tradition of excessively ticketing those in the predominately black community. Some might argue that Michael Brown’s death and the municipal profiteering had little in common, that would be a naïve and reckless assumption.

The attention also drew the ire of state politicians in both parties. State Sen. Bob Dixon was a member of a bipartisan Missouri group of lawmakers who tried to address some of the systemic issues that came to light. Among the issues was the rate at which St. Louis County was ticketing poor minority motorists. It typically takes a long time for statewide policy decisions to be made but in this case, the legislature passed a bill limiting the percentage of traffic revenue cities could keep. House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said at the time, “We ought to have been prioritizing this a long time ago. It’s not right to have a system in our state where we’ve got municipalities that are basically funding the basic operations of government through traffic fines.”

The U. S. Department of Justice’s report that focused on Ferguson also revealed that national statistics were trending on a similar practice as a revenue generator. If a community is preyed on in the streets and in the courts, it is no surprise that the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson was an incident waiting to happen.

Last week, Atlanta’s Creative Loafing featured a story Fines, Fees and Inequality by Tiffany Roberts that reflects a familiar refrain in other cities and states. A former Fulton County public defender and co-founder of Lawyers United for a New Atlanta wrote the story. The exceptionally data driven piece did not fail to highlight the disparity between race and class as a premise for a questionable public policy. Whether you agree with her conclusion, there is no debate about the trend of the indigent and poor who find themselves with limited legal options if faced with criminal allegations.

Recent changes by the California Judicial Council now allow drivers to appear in court first to challenge a fine before paying it. It was not unusual for a traffic ticket to cost a motorist $500 in a state that reported in 2013 16.6% of its residents lacked enough resources to meet their basic needs.

While traffic fees are just one way to disenfranchise those who can least afford it. The case of New York’s 22 year-old Kalief Browder whose charges were dismissed is another more horrifying example of what happens when defendants can’t pay. In his case the damage was fatal. Kalief committed suicide after spending over three years in Rikers Island. Browder’s family could not afford the $3,000 bail imposed based on an allegation that he stole a backpack. It has been reported and confirmed with video evidence that he was beaten by guards and inmates and he spent two years in solitary confinement. Because he was innocent, Kalief refused plea deals.

And while St. Louis area jurisdictions are paying closer attention to the inequality of traffic fines, a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch story suggests that fines are being written for other offenses but target the same group.

Of course, we are not simplistically suggesting that criminals should not have their day in court to face allegations of wrongdoing. But the burden of a municipality’s budget whether Ferguson or any other city should not rest on the shoulders of those unable to avoid the persistent pursuit of an unjust policy.

 

This week’s AIDS data is more alarming than the headlines

Beverly L. IsomSisterLove

The headlines this week about the HIV stats in Atlanta were alarming because the data is alarming. “Atlanta is ranked No. 5* among U.S. cities when it comes to the rate of new diagnoses of HIV”; “Atlanta is No. 1 US city with new HIV cases” and “Half of Atlanta’s newly diagnosed HIV patients have AIDS.”

As a Board Member of SisterLove in Atlanta, I am proud of the work that the organization has been doing for decades and the advocacy and leadership of its president Dazon Dixon Diallo but I am also troubled that there still so much more work that has to be done.

A recent study highlights the issue at Grady Health System where they started routine HIV testing in 2013 and has seen an average of two or three patients with HIV every day. Grady Hospital started free HIV testing in its emergency room for every patient no matter why they were there. Unfortunately based on the study, by the time some patients saw the doctor, nearly 3 of 10 already have the virus.

There are a myriad of reasons that people don’t get tested early enough. There is stigma, fear, poverty and misinformation about how the disease is contracted. And a key reason is that not every health care facility offers the convenience of free HIV testing on site. However, community-based organizations like SisterLove have been advocating and offering free testing in a caring and non -judgmental environment for years. Community-based organizations have been leading the charge on educating and empowering communities at risk but the news this week was frustrating even for some of them.

Dazon Dixon Diallo said, “It’s not acceptable to have a zero line item for HIV prevention … It’s unacceptable to not have expanded Medicaid to include HIV testing. It’s not acceptable to have any health department in the state of Georgia that’s currently not trained, equipped and implementing rapid testing … You want me to go on? It’s just a lot,” she said.

SisterLove offers FREE HIV TESTING, Monday through Thursday at 1237 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., SW Atlanta, Georgia 30310-0558 in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood. While there is still work that needs to be done, maybe the latest news will help our education efforts and decrease the number of new HIV cases. Get tested at SisterLove on Mon. Tues. & Thurs 11- 5 pm By Appointment- Please Call (404) 254-4734…OR TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WALK IN WEDNESDAYS between 11:00 am -6:00 pm, without an appointment.

SisterLove, Inc. has been at the forefront of community-based advocacy for women of color living with HIV/AIDS, for women of color at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, and for all individuals in marginalized communities who are severely and disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, especially in the Deep South and Global South.

Affordable Housing Matters

affordhousingEvery workday morning, thousands of hard working metro Atlantans commute into the center of the city to work. Often, it is to minimum wage jobs. These hard working individuals clean our high-rise office buildings, cook our “to go” meals, take our vital signs when we are sick and often help build the very offices and residences in which we live and work. Many of these individuals struggle from paycheck to pay check to make ends meet. The American dream of home ownership is not a dream for them … it is a fantasy and is simply not obtainable on a limited income. To have a vibrant, diverse city, the least we can do is make affordable housing a major priority in the city of Atlanta.

Community development is one of the biggest roles city governments play in developing vibrant downtowns. Providing affordable housing is and has been the cornerstone of community development.  Yet, according to the Urban Institute, we must go beyond just providing affordable housing to the working poor. We must use the tools of tax breaks, tax allocation districts and other financial incentives to encourage inner city commercial and residential real development. This helps to offset the high cost of inner-city redevelopment. When we do this, in tandem with encouraging business development, we create new job opportunities in the core city, as well as affordable housing opportunities.

Conversely, when developers purchase valuable city assets, especially for Intown residential redevelopment, it is imperative, as a stipulation to the sale and any related financial incentives; they agree to designate a percentage of new construction units as “affordable housing.” Every mayor since Sam Massell has championed the cause of affordable housing. Especially when the developer is acquiring and receiving both a city asset and tax incentives. This was the case for Atlantic Station, Ponce City Market project, the Centennial Park area redevelopment and should be the same for any city owned site. The city can afford to promote affordable housing options for those whom it is an economic necessity.  Affordable rental housing and affordable homes for purchase are essential elements for successful redevelopment of a city with 23% or higher poverty level residents and many working families who live pay check to pay check, Some years ago businessman Ron Terwillger and former Atlanta Housing Authority leader Renee Glover chaired the Affordable Housing Task Force. The report remains in the city’s files. This extensive report pushed the Council and me to offer $35 million in Affordable Housing Opportunity Bonds. Invest Atlanta as the Atlanta Development Authority had the expertise to manage the allocation of funding to qualified projects and the Council authorized funding to cover the bond financing. At the time we explored adopting inclusionary zoning legislation based on successful models from other cities as a mechanism to mandate mixed income housing development only to find limitations in state law. Perhaps it is time to revisit how the state could support inclusionary zoning legislation.

If we are to have a strong city, if we are to use all our assets to promote equitable and diverse community development that serves families and people at every socio economic level then as residents and taxpayers we must support the city’s efforts to do so even when it costs us money as taxpayers. The steady state of income and opportunity inequity for nearly 25% of Atlanta residents must be tackled unapologetically, consistently and holistically over the decades it might take to move the needle.

 

Read about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans for affordable housing that he highlighted today in his State of the City Address.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/nyc-mayors-speech-focuses-affordable-housing-28692712