- Created on 23 November 2012
(AP) — When black voters gave President Barack Obama 93 percent support on Election Day in defiance of predictions that they might sit it out this year, black leaders breathed a collective sigh of relief.
That encouraged those leaders to try to leverage more attention from both Obama and Congress. Although they waver over how much to demand from the president — particularly in light of defeated GOP challenger Mitt Romney's assertion that Obama gave "gifts" to minorities in exchange for their votes — they are delivering postelection wish lists to the president anyway.
"I think the president heard us loud and clear. The collective message was, 'Let's build on where we already are,'" the Rev. Al Sharpton told reporters after a White House meeting last week with a collection of advocates representing largely Democratic constituencies.
Specifically, Sharpton said, that means keeping the brunt of the looming "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending cuts off the backs of the middle and working class.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous aimed that same message at Congress, especially on where tax relief is extended.
"We need Republicans to think hard and to pull back from the cliff 98 percent of our families, who make up the bulk of this nation, from seeing our taxes being raised," Jealous said.
Blacks made up 13 percent of the electorate this year, about the same as 2008, while participation among whites shrank slightly to 72 percent and Hispanics increased to 10 percent, national exit polls showed. Black leaders point to that minority participation as they sharpen their calls for initiatives to address black unemployment, which was 12.7 percent when Obama took office, peaked at 16.5 percent roughly a year later, and stood at 14.3 percent in October. The overall unemployment rate is 7.9 percent.
National Urban League President Marc Morial acknowledged in an interview that "we sweated turnout all the way to the end," because the country's underlying economic conditions made it tougher to mobilize black voters. Within days of the election, Morial sent to Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., an "urgent petition" asking that Obama's second term focus on economic opportunity and income inequality.
A jobs program should emphasize infrastructure and public works, broadband technology and energy "with a special focus on those communities where unemployment is and remains stubbornly and persistently high," Morial's letter said.
"We who represent the nation's urban communities will demand a seat at the table in these discussions," he wrote.
African-American voter samples in national exit polls are not useful for providing turnout measurements. Census surveys and other analyses eventually will provide turnout numbers for specific racial groups. But exit polls can be used to examine different groups as shares of the overall vote. And there, experts say, is where the evidence can be found of how much black voters delivered for Obama.
Nationally, Obama's share of the black vote was down slightly from four years ago. But in some key states, turnout was higher and had an impact, said David Bositis, an expert on black politics and voting at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
Blacks made up 15 percent of the electorate in Ohio, up from 11 percent in 2008. And 97 percent of those votes went for Obama, leading Bositis to say Obama's margin of victory in the state came from black voters.
In Michigan, the black share of the vote grew from 12 percent in 2008 to 16 percent in 2012, according to exit polls.
"Michigan was one of the states the two parties jostled around, and eventually Republicans decided they were not going to win, and one of the reasons was the big increase in the black vote," Bositis said.
In Missouri, a state Obama lost in both elections, the black vote went from 13 percent to 16 percent of all voters.
Bositis said the black share of the vote remained roughly the same at 23 percent in North Carolina, which Obama narrowly won in 2008 but lost in 2012, and 13 percent in Florida, which Obama won both times. In Virginia, which Obama won in both elections, black voters were 20 percent of all voters, he said.
Women and people from ages 18 to 29 had the strongest participation levels in the black community.
In 2008, black women had the highest turnout rate, 69 percent, of all groups. Their 2008 record created a sense of obligation among some black female leaders to take an active role against new state voting laws they said threatened to curb black voter participation. Black women made up 60 percent of the black vote this year and voted 95 percent for Obama.
The enthusiasm of black women was demonstrated in Florida when more than 250 churches marched their congregations to the polls as part of the "Souls To the Polls" early voting campaign, said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. A large percentage of the marchers were women, Campbell said.
"Countless women stood in line for hours to vote early so they could volunteer to work at the polls to help in the fight against voter suppression," Campbell said.
Black voters ages 18-29 made up 26 percent of the black vote nationally, a turnout close to what it was in 2008, according to the national exit poll. They voted 91 percent for Obama.
Republicans had reached out to black voters in 2004 and saw their share of the black vote increase in that election, Bositis said. But he said that in 2012, the outreach was nonexistent.
Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee chairman, said the GOP had an opportunity this election to connect with black voters on unemployment, health disparities, incarceration and other issues.
"How the heck do you win if you don't engage in the conversation?" Steele said.
- Created on 21 November 2012
As we pull up a chair to the table to eat a Thanksgiving meal with our families, we ask our readers to not forget those less fortunate.
On your way to work or to drop off your children at school, you'll ride or walk past a line of people (sometimes wrapped around the building) waiting outside a church or a shelter for food giveaways.
Many of our brothers and sisters are without a roof over their heads or enough money to provide a meal for themselves and their families.
That could be you.
According to a recent study by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the face of those who need help feeding themselves and their families have changed to include those in the working class, and poor people suffer from hunger and food insecurity at a disproportionate rate.
Many community organizations, faith-based institutions and corporations hold food drives to feed the needy during holiday time.
Black on Black Love distributed Thanksgiving baskets Tuesday in Englewood to families and Steve and Marjorie Harvey gave away 1,000 turkeys last week at Chicago State University to benefit local churches, community-based organizations and single mothers from the Steve Harvey
Mentoring Program for Young Men in Chicago.
Many churches, including West Point Missionary Baptist Church, New Faith M.B. Church and New Covenant M.B. Church, feed the hungry on a weekly basis.
Have you put a few extra items in your grocery cart each week to donate to a food drive? Have you donated your time at your church or a local shelter to help feed those in need? Are you teaching your children to do the same?
Next time you walk past a box designated for canned goods donations, try to add a little more to the count.
Let's give thanks for what we have. Let's give thanks that we're able to help others.
Wishing you and your family a happy and safe Thanksgiving weekend.
Michael A. House
- Created on 20 November 2012
It's no secret that African Americans are a powerful force on Twitter, with higher rates of use and black-culture-related topics frequently topping the trending topic list. And there's much more than anecdotal evidence of blacks taking the lead more generally when it comes to what the rest of the country eventually embraces and deems "cool."
So we're not shocked by a recent study by computer scientist Jacob Eisenstein of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and his colleagues, which found that much of the shorthand used on the social networking site evolves in cities with large African-American populations before spreading out more widely. From BBC News:
"Other neologisms have different life stories. Spelling bro, slang for brother (male friend or peer) as bruh began in the southeastern US (where it reflects the local pronunciation) before finally jumping to southern California. The emoticon "-__-" (denoting mild annoyance) began in New York and Florida before colonising both coasts and gradually reaching Arizona and Texas.
Who cares? Well, the question of how language changes and evolves has occupied linguistic anthropologists for several decades. What determines whether an innovation will propagate throughout a culture, remain just a local variant, or be stillborn? Such questions decide the grain and texture of all our languages -- why we might tweet "I'm bored af" rather than "I'm bored, forsooth"."
There are plenty of ideas about how this happens. One suggestion is that innovations spread by simple diffusion from person to person, like a spreading ink blot. Another idea is that bigger population centres exert a stronger attraction on neologisms, so that they go first to large cities by a kind of gravitational pull. Or maybe culture and demography matters more than geographical proximity: words might spread initially within some minority groups while being invisible to the majority.
It's great to be able to take credit for "bruh" and "-__-," but to us, the research raises larger questions about how this apparent influence and power to define dialogue could be used for something more substantial than slang.
- Created on 21 November 2012
For roughly a decade, Ald. Jason Ervin owned an "investment property" that was a magnet for drugs and other crime. The building is no longer his problem: he stopped paying the mortgage, and the bank took control.
For Ald. Jason Ervin, who represents a large swath of Chicago's troubled West Side, drug activity in the area hits close to home.
That's because until recently Ervin owned what sources and police records portray as a drug house in nearby Maywood.
During the decade or so that Ervin owned the three-flat at 1600 W. Madison in the near-western suburb, police were called to the property or the immediate vicinity roughly 150 times, often for drug-related incidents, but also for gunshots, assaults, trespassing and thefts, among other things, according to records obtained from the Village of Maywood under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Not all incidents were substantiated or resulted in arrests, and some of the troubles occurred just outside the building, on public property.
But enough problems were tied directly to the 2,200-square-foot Madison building that it gained a reputation as a drug and gang hotspot within the neighborhood and among police, according to records obtained by the Better Government Association and FOX Chicago, and interviews.
While Ervin takes issue with the characterization of his building as a "drug house," he acknowledged a legion of problems, from shady tenants he was forced to evict to vandalism and drug activity.
"Would I make the same investment today?" he said in a recent interview. "No way."
Ervin said he bought the building to make money – he planned to rent it out, not live there – while he was in his 20s and starting to dabble in real estate.
Cook County records show Ervin and his now-former wife purchased the property in 2001 for $175,000 from Henderson Yarbrough, who later was elected mayor of Maywood and hired Ervin as village manager – a job that made him responsible for municipal departments including police and code enforcement. (Ervin left the post in 2011 when he was appointed by then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to serve as 28th Ward alderman. Ervin won a subsequent election.)
Eventually, the "economics" changed, in part because of soaring property taxes, and he ended up losing thousands of dollars a year "on a cash basis," Ervin said.
He stopped paying the mortgage in early 2009 and, later in the year, Wells Fargo Bank filed a foreclosure action in Cook County Circuit Court against the Ervins, claiming they owed more than $200,000, court records show. Ervin and his wife separated around this time and later divorced, records show. Their divorce papers indicate Ervin is responsible "for any judgment, debt, expense or liability associated with 1600 Madison," although Ervin was vague about whether that stands.
Ervin said he hasn't considered himself the owner of the building for several years. He said Wells Fargo "informally" took control of the building in 2009 and "formally" took control in 2010. However, county records show the legal transfer of the three-flat to Wells Fargo did not occur until early 2012. The building is now on the market with a real estate company; an asking price hasn't yet been set.
Regardless, since Ervin bought the building in 2001, police records paint a chilling portrait of life there.
Of the 150 or so police service calls from 2001 through 2011, roughly 30 were initially categorized as drug calls, while other reports ran the gamut: criminal trespass, fight in progress, domestic battery, shots fired, mental subject, loitering, open alcohol and criminal sexual abuse (with the alleged victim a girl living in one of the apartment units, a police report shows.)
In another police report, a Maywood cop wrote in 2002 how police arrested a 26-year-old man in the hallway of Ervin's building during a "premise check." According to the report, "As R/O [responding officer] began to ask who the offender was R/O noticed two white rocks in clear plastic knotted bags in the offender's mouth. R/O used a flashlight to illuminate the facial area of the offender. R/O ordered the offender to spit the suspected crack cocaine from his mouth."
The man was charged with possession of a controlled substance.
Former Maywood police Sgt. Dwayne Wheeler, who once ran the department's narcotics unit, said Ervin's building and others on the block were constant trouble for police and neighbors. Officers routinely responded to calls there, made arrests and investigated drug sales, Wheeler said.
"It was on our target list," Wheeler said. "We had a list of properties that we would go to on a daily basis. We would do undercover buys at that property. It was always an issue."
"It was regarded as an eyesore and a drug house," he added. Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry personally made drug arrests at the building, but said Ervin's three-flat wasn't unique. "All of the buildings on that block were drug houses" at one time or another, Curry said.
Neighbors said 1600 W. Madison has been a well-known hot spot, with one local, Robbie Adams, saying "there was a lot of riotous living here, drug selling, it's just ran down – in the early '80s it was a beautiful place."
Ervin described the neighborhood as "an established heroin market," and said drug selling in the area predates him. Village records also show police responded to drug calls at the building before Ervin owned it.
Yarbrough, the building's previous owner, did not return phone calls from the BGA. His wife, state Rep. Karen Yarbrough, is the Democratic nominee for Cook County recorder of deeds.
Ervin also said he did what he could to clean up the three-unit building, at one time even evicting a relative who was living there and causing problems. Criminal activity is "not something we condoned or supported," Ervin said.
To that end, a Maywood police report detailing a 2010 drug arrest at Ervin's building – in which a suspect was found with substances believed to be marijuana and Ecstasy – mentions Ervin by name, stating "Mr. Ervin . . . has warned a group of male adults numerous times to stay out of the building hallway entrance or he will prosecute them for Criminal Trespassing to Property. Mr. Ervin also stated if we located any one trespassing on his property he will sign complaints."
Ervin told the BGA that, in the end, owning the building "proved to be a bigger challenge than [we anticipated.] . . . At some point you have to make a decision that makes sense and move forward, and it was time to move on."
Asked whether these circumstances indicate he's ill equipped to serve in public office, Ervin said the experience makes him a better alderman because "it helps me to understand better some of the issues" affecting constituents on the West Side, which is rife with gang and drug activity, and foreclosures.
- Created on 20 November 2012
Rhiana Gunn-Wright grew up in Englewood and has focused her studies on some of the issues that plague that community.
“Seeing the poverty and the violence in my community and the way that really disrupted and limited peoples lives and sort of ravaged people’s opportunities,” the 23-year-old said shaped her studies. I knew “people in my community and how wonderful and smart and loving they were.”
Gunn-Wright, whose family now lives in Oak Lawn, is one of 32 people chosen for the latest class of American Rhodes Scholars. They will study at theUniversity of Oxford in England. A Winnetka native is also among the class.
“It’s huge,” Gunn-Wright told the Chicago Sun-Times. Her mom, who raised her as a single mother, threw a surprise party for her to celebrate the honor.
Gunn-Wright graduated from Yale University in 2011 with magna cum laude honors. She majored in African-American studies and women’s gender and sexuality studies. In 2007, she graduated from the Illinois Mathetics and Science Academy in Aurora. Gunn-Wright works at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Her interests focus on the complex causes of inequality, poverty and disadvantage. She researches poverty’s effects on access to a college education and hopes to one day help reform social welfare policy.
The other local resident in the new class of Rhodes Scholars is Benjamin B.H. Wilcox, of Winnetka, a senior at Harvard University majoring in history with a minor in economics. He has logged 10,000 miles on cycling trips across North America and Europe.
Gunn-Wright will head to Oxford next fall to study comparative social policy. Wilcox plans to pursue Latin American studies at Oxford, according to the Rhodes website.
Contributing: Jon Seidel, AP