Tuesday, September 4, 2018
Dr. Ben Carson, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Visits Aurora
Only African-American in Trump's Cabinet
by Annette Walker
Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), was recently in Aurora to focus upon a public housing development and the new Opportunity Zones.
Carson, the only African-American member of President Trump's Cabinet, was accompanied by Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare and Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman whose district includes Aurora. They toured the Village at Westerly Creek, which is considered an innovative example of public housing development.
Located on an 11-acre site bounded by the waterway, E. Kentucky Place and Ironton, Westerly Creek is a public-private partnership funded with HUD money, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), some private and other funding sources.
Established in 2012, Westerly Creek has developed in three stages, and the last phase will be completed by the end of October. The $51 million project features 144 residential units for senior citizens and 50 units for families.
Westerly Creek differs from the minimalist nature of most low-income public housing. It boasts ultra-modern structural design and amenities such as community rooms for large events, exercise rooms, hair salons and attractive landscapes including community gardens.
"Rents for seniors in the new section being completed now range from $462 to $968, said Craig Maraschky, Executive Director of the Aurora Housing Authority. "A two bedroom unit ranges from $547 to $1155."
Maraschky said that that residents in the new section are 28% white, 33% African-American, 28% Asian, 7% Hispanic and 7% others.
Carson was impressed with Westerly Creek. "It really goes to show what can be done when you plan it out well and when you spend time learning from other things that did not work well," he said, "and more importantly, when you have public-private partnerships."
Westerly Creek, however, is a bright spot in the midst of the affordable housing crisis that has beset not only Aurora, but metropolitan Denver and Colorado in general. Maraschky said that the waiting list for senior housing is five years long.
Furthermore, in a statement released following Dr. Carson's visit, Representative Mike Coffman noted that "Undoubtedly access to affordable housing is a serious and growing problem in the Denver metro area."
The Aurora Sentinel publication analyzed a wide range of real estate, housing and economic studies and released the following information about Aurora. The Sentinel noted that for years Aurora was considered affordable in relation to other parts of the Front Range. However, the situation has changed considerably.
a) The average home price in the metropolitan Denver area is now beyond $500,000.
In Aurora, the average price is about $350,000.
b) The average one-bedroom apartment in Aurora is $1,125.
Studies show that housing costs average about one-third of a person's gross monthly income. Therefore, in Aurora in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment plus utilities, a person needs an annual salary of $44,000.
c) A person earning Colorado's minimum wage of $10.20 will have a hard time affording an apartment in Aurora and other parts of metropolitan Denver.
d) Many professional persons, such as school teachers, nurses and other medical practitioners are having a hard time making-ends-meet.
During his visit Carson visited Aurora's newly designated Opportunity Zone. Created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress in December 2017, Opportunity Zones provide federal tax incentives for ire-investment in low-income communities.
State governors were asked to identify potential zones. Colorado has designated about 20 areas, mostly in small town and rural locations, as Opportunity Zones. Aurora's zone is located just east of the Westerly Creek development. Planning is just getting underway.
Carson's New Endeavor
Carson has stated repeatedly that he believes people should become self-sufficient.
"Real compassion is not patting people on the head and saying, 'there, there, you poor little thing'. Real compassion is giving them an opportunity to realize the American Dream," he told reporters after the Wesley Creek tour in Aurora.
He has created EnVision Centers to offer HUD-assisted families access to support services that can help them achieve self-sufficiency. This, in turn, will make scarce federal resources more readily available to a greater number of households currently waiting to receive HUD assistance.
"Housing assistance should be more than just putting a roof over someone's head," he has explained. "These EnVision Centers offer a more holistic housing approach by connecting HUD-assisted families with the tools they need to become self-sufficient and to flourish."
In June, along with Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan, Carson inaugurated the EnVision concept in Detroit, his hometown. There are currently 17 communities nationwide establishing the centers. There are none yet in Colorado.
EnVision Centers will be financed and operated as public-private partnerships, a concept that Carson favors. HUD and other federal agencies, state and local governments, non-profits, faith-based organizations, corporations, public housing authorities, and housing finance agencies are examples of potential partnerships.
There are four key pillars of the self-sufficiency to be nurtured by the EnVision Centers: 1) Economic Empowerment, 2) Educational Advancement, 3) Health and Wellness, and 4) Character and Leadership.
From Health to Housing
As soon as President Donald Trump nominated Carson for the HUD Secretary's position, there were criticisms about his lack of housing policy experience.
"Working directly with patients and their families for many years taught me that there is a deep relationship between health and housing," said Carson in a statement released by HUD after he was sworn-in to his position. "I learned that it's difficult for a child to realize their dreams if he or she doesn't have a proper place to live, and I've seen firsthand how poor housing conditions can rob a person of their potential."
His parents separated when he was five years old and he and his older brother primarily lived with their mother who married as a teenager and allegedly only finished primary school. He often refers to his mother's demands that he and his brother perform well in school.
A graduate of Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School, he became a distinguished neurosurgeon. From age 33 to 61 he served as Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore.
In 2008 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is the recipient of numerous honors. He has written nine books (several with his wife who he met at Yale University). Together they co-founded the Carson Scholars Fund, which has awarded more than $7 million dollars in youth scholarships.
His memoir, "Gifted Hands" was the basis of a 2009 TV documentary of the same name and starring Cuba Gooding Jr.
(This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of the Denver Urban Spectrum)
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Transcending the Fate of the Refugee Experience
Featured in New Film 'Sauti' -
by Annette Walker
Although Favourite Regina spent her childhood and teenage years in a refugee settlement in Uganda (East Africa), she has broken many barriers imposed by that stark existence.
A scholarship recipient and college graduate who was an exchange student in Paris, Favourite was invited last year to speak at a United Nations program. She also is featured in a new film, 'Sauti', which focuses upon the refugee phenomenon. She speaks 6 African languages including Swahili as well as English and some French.
This contrasts with the reality for many who grow up in refugee settlements where secondary schools often do not exist. Furthermore, there is a tendency for more boys than girls to complete whatever schooling is available.
Favourite was one of 4 girls in her settlement to complete high school and go to college.
In July she came to the United States as part of a Golden Bridge program in Boulder, Colorado. She also participated in events in Vermont and Texas. Before returning to Uganda in August, Favourite was a speaker at a screening of 'Sauti', an event sponsored by the Colorado Committee on Africa and the Caribbean and held at The Mercury Cafe in Denver.
The film 'Sauti', which means 'Voice" in the Swahili language, was produced by the Boulder-based NeeNee Productions and is directed by Gayle Nosal.
Born in Rwanda which underwent a genocide beginning in 1994, Favourite fled with her family to the Congo. Returning briefly to Rwanda, but finding the conditions inhospitable, the family made its way to the Kywangali Refugee Camp in Uganda.
Kywangali was established in 1996 when the area was mostly forest and bush. The refugees had to get involved in clearing the land and growing food, for which they were given seeds.
Most families survive on subsistence agriculture, carry water from borehole pumps, lack electricity and are sometimes afflicted by a variety of health issues.
Since they are from traditional African societies, girls over sixteen years of age are encouraged to get married.
"People think there is something wrong with a young girl who is not yet married," said Favourite. "I thought about the cooking and what might happen if there were a baby," she continued. "I decided that there was nothing I can do for a man if I get married now."
She is the oldest child in her family and in the film describes her family unit. "My father emphasized education, she said." "He sold everything he planted, such as peanuts, beans and rice to pay for my school fees," she continued.
"He also transported me 62 kilometers to school on his bicycle. Later he insisted that I learn how to drive a motorcycle. For many people a girl riding a motorcycle is almost a sin," she laughed. "My father insisted that I learn how to prepare for the future," she continued.
Favourite's father passed away before she completed high school, and she feels responsible for her mother and younger siblings who still live in the Kyangwali Refugee Camp.
Currently, she has two main tasks. First is her commitment to the people, especially children and youth, at Kyangwali. She mentors and is involved in educational programs.
Second is her commitment to Africa. She is an active member to CIYOTA (Coburwas International Youth Organization to Transform Africa), an organization created by African refugee youth. Its mission is to expand educational programs and generally help displaced children and youth prepare for their future.
Favourite works with secondary school students in a CIYOTA program at Kyangwali. According to their research, 50% of African refugees are under the age of 18. With little access to education, which hurts their employment possibilities, their future is bleak and makes them dependent upon receiving different forms of aid.
"My work is based on the concept of giving-back," said Favourite.
People like Favourite are needed not only in Africa, but globally. According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement in recorded history. An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from their homes due to political conflict and persecution. Over half are under the age of 18.
Over 10 million people are stateless and, for all practical purposes, have no recognized nationality. This situation denies them access to basic rights, such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.
Editor's Note: Information about the film 'Sauti' can be accessed at www.sautifilm.org
This article appeared in the September 2017 edition of the Denver Urban Spectrum.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
South Africa: Book Portrays the Dynamics of the Transformation Process
by Annette Walker
"I am optimistic about the future of South Africa," said journalist and author Donna Bryson.
As an Associated Press reporter based in South Africa on two occasions, she has witnessed that nation emerge from the brutality of the apartheid system to governance by peaceful elections. She was there in 1994 for the historic campaign, election and inauguration of Nelson Mandela as that nation's first African president.
Since then the transfer of power to his successors (Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma) has occurred through democratic elections.
"The period from 1993-1997 when I was there was one of euphoria and hope," said Bryson. "The need to respond to voting was tremendous and even today the voter turnout is still good," she continued.
When she returned in 2008 South Africa was engaged in working out the complexities of the transition process. There had been much progress. Some manifestations are symbolic, such as naming the airport in Johannesburg for Oliver Tambo, the renowned leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and lifelong friend of Nelson Mandela.
There are also concrete manifestations. "When I arrived in 1993 the customs and immigration staff at the airport was all-white. Now they are primarily black South African," said Bryson.
However, in 2008 South Africa was attempting to recover from a negative incident at the University of the Free State (UFS) in the central section of South Africa. It is also the heartland of the people known as Afrikaners who established South Africa's apartheid system of separation of the races Their language is Afrikaans, not English, and which, until recently, was used exclusively at the University of the Free State. The Afrikaners are descendants of the Dutch who began settling in South Africa in the 17th century.
In 2007 four white students opposed to campus integration produced a video in which they harassed the Black janitorial staff. Known as the Reitz video, it was posted on YouTube and went viral. The university, the province and the nation was shocked and embarrassed since this incident challenged the idea that progress in race relations was taking place in South Africa.
Upon initiating routine journalistic investigations, Bryson discovered that race relations in South Africa were complex, and she was driven to engage in more profound analysis.
"I had the privilege of engaging in many long talks with people of all ethnic groups who cared deeply about their university and their country, and who believe that change is a challenge to which they are equal," she continued."
Bryson also contends that the subject of race relations is often discussed in easy cliches, and that everyone most guard against backsliding into suspicion, fear or stereotypes.
She conducted numerous interviews with students, faculty and other individuals in the Free State province.
Bryson disagrees that race relations in the Free State and its university are the worst in the nation. "Like the rest of the country, UFS and the Free State province are attempting to transform to become a place where blacks and whites live and learn together," she said. "It is a microcosm of what was happening in the rest of the country."
Her extensive interviews allowed her to juxtapose two realities present in South Africa: 1) The action of the four students represented a desperate attempt to cling to the past of white superiority and black subjugation; 2) Actions of other students and faculty represent a commitment to creating a multi-cultural, multi-racial educational institution.
Her book It's a Black-White Thing, consists of stories of the transformation process taking place at UFS. There are white students who refuse to speak Afrikaans because of their concern that black students will feel excluded.
Other white students are learning Sotho, an indigenous South African language, to be able to communicate with some Black students. South Africa has 11 official languages.
Bryson emphasizes the crucial importance of the black and white leadership at UFS and documents the programs, policies and changes they initiated. Equally important, she shares aspects of their personal stories that impact the challenges of creating a new South Africa.
She recounts a former white rector's response to the Reitz video crisis. He realized that the ghosts of apartheid were present on the campus as well as the nation. "Transformation never stops," he told Bryson. "It goes on and on."
South African still has major problems, many of them economic in nature. The wealth gap between blacks and whites remains.
Bryson, however, believes in that South Africans have the capacity to ". .be imaginative in finding solutions for the future" and that the nation possesses ". .a sense of the possibility of reinvention and determination to turn history of hate and racism into fuel to empower those committed to change."
(This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Denver Urban Spectrum)
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
New Voice on the National Political Scene
Addresses Tribute to Black Women's Luncheon - Denver
by Annette Walker
"There is a crisis of conscience in this nation," said Nina Turner, keynote speaker at the Colorado Black Women for Political Action's recent luncheon. "I am here to wake your conscience," she exclaimed as she left the podium to walk among the hundreds of persons present.
This new voice on the national political scene has her own ideas about communicating with people. She removes the traditional physical distance between the speaker and the audience. Therefore, much of her talk was delivered as she moved around the room.
Turner is at once an active Democrat as well as a Board member of Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution Movement. The former Ohio State legislator has been politically engaged with both Bill and Hillary Clinton. In 2014 Bill Clinton supported her in her unsuccessful run for the position of Ohio Secretary of State. Last November, however, she decided to endorse Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
In a post-luncheon interview with the Urban Spectrum, Turner outlined her reasons for her preference for Sanders.
"Bernie has been consistent in his beliefs for social justice since the 1960s," she said. "We agree upon some of the most prominent issues facing this country." She mentioned the following: 1) A wealth gap in which income increases go to the top 1%, making the rich even richer; 2) The wealthy do not pay their fair share of taxes; 3) The electoral campaign system and politics in general are corrupted by big money. 4) Health care should be a right, not a privilege.
Turner pointed out that there are 29 million persons who still do not have healthcare insurance, and even more remain underinsured.
She indicated that Sanders worked with CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) when he was a student at the University of Chicago and has been a constant champion of civil rights.
She agrees with Sanders that a political revolution is needed in the United States. This concept places them outside mainstream thinking in the Democratic Party.
"The time is up for establishment politics," she said.
Turner has joined with other African-Americans in supporting Sanders. Among them are Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota and the first and only Muslim in the U.S. Congress; Ben Jealous, former Executive Director of the NAACP; Dr. Cornel West, scholar and activist; Danny Glover, actor and activist; Spike Lee, film director; Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner who was killed by policemen in 2014 in Staten Island, New York (her mother supported Hillary Clinton); and a variety of state legislators across the country,.
During her talk at the CBWPA luncheon, Turner referenced other African-Americans who are independent thinkers. She repeatedly displayed profound admiration for Shirley Chisholm, the U.S. Congressional Representative from Brooklyn who, in 1972, became the first African-American woman to run for President. Turner pointed out how Chisholm perceived herself.
"Chisholm said that her candidacy was not about being a Black person or a woman." Turner emphasized. "She was neither locked into any special interest groups, nor did she have any big name endorsements. She said she was the candidate of the people of America, and she considered herself 'Unbought and Unbossed'."
After graduating from high school Turner did not immediately enroll in college. She worked in fast food and retail businesses. This gave her a close-up view of workers' issues, such as the need for minimum wage increases and workplace fairness.
Upon graduation from Cleveland State University, she entered the political arena as a legislative aide first in the Cleveland Mayor's office and then in the Ohio Senate. Turner then held several state and federal positions and eventually won a City Council seat. In 2008 she was appointed to fill a seat vacated in the Ohio State Senate, and in 2010 ran unopposed.
While in the Senate Turner sponsored legislation designed to give women more control over regulations about reproductive health. She also served on the Commerce and Labor, Education, Transportation, and Judiciary Criminal Justice Committees.
Turner currently teaches history at Ohio's Cuyahoga Community College and is an occasional commentator on MSNBC-TV.
She is in a unique situation regarding law enforcement. Both her husband and son are employed in criminal justice. "My son may be in danger when he's in uniform with a badge, and equally in danger when he's out of uniform because he's a Black man," she said. Her son accompanied her to Denver for the CBWPA event.
Although Turner never mentioned Donald Trump's name, she did comment on his current call for law and order. "There can be no law and order without justice and transparency," she said.
She pointed out a significant contradiction in U.S. society. "This is a nation of progress, but it is a nation founded on racism," she said. "This can be overcome, but first it is necessary to admit that racism exists. Some people only talk about this at election time or at special events."
Regarding the current political and social climate, she acknowledged that many people feel unsettled and there are good reasons for this. Turner also posed a few questions that people need to ponder in order to resolve some issues facing this country. 1) Who is going to stand up for what's right? 2) What price are you willing to pay?
Although she did not lay out a specific plan of action, Turner left much 'food for thought'. 1) "We are our brother's keeper. 2) We cannot ask others to do more for us than we can do for ourselves. 3) Remember to use what her grandmother called 'motherwit', that is common sense. She said that her grandmother often commented about people that she considered 'educated fools'. 4) The 3 Bones: the Wishbone which makes use of hope and prayer; the Jawbone which grants you courage to speak truth-to-power; and Backbone which gives you the strength to proceed.
Turner has published a 3 Bones Journal (www.ninaturner.net) in which she encourages people to document and write about their experiences and engage in flashbacks in order to take stock of their lives.
Turner encourages people to remember that "The Struggle is Forever".
This article appeared in the November 2016 edition of the Denver Urban Spectrum.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
By Annette Walker
For centuries the descendants of African slaves throughout the Americas were deprived of connections to their past. In addition, new cultural and social practices developed by African people usually were disregarded and not made part of the historical record by white society.
Nevertheless, African people have engaged continuously in efforts to preserve and document their realities. Ironically, the first repository of materials in the United States to focus upon African people has roots in the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.
In 1884 10-year-old Arturo (Arthur) Schomburg, who lived in Puerto Rico, asked his primary school teacher about the history of Africans. She told him that Africans had no history, no heroes nor accomplishments. Skeptical, yet driven by curiosity, young Schomburg began a lifelong process of learning about African people wherever they lived. His curiosity resulted in the establishment of what became the first public archive of African people in the United States.
At age 17 Schomburg moved to New York City, residing first on the Lower East Side, home to many Puerto Ricans and Cubans. Years later, he moved to Harlem which became the intellectual and artistic capital of people of African descent.
Schomburg helped establish a variety of societies, associations and organizations, all of which engaged in scholarly efforts to capture the missing narrative of African people in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America. He also contributed articles and essays to many publications that emerged, especially during the Harlem Renaissance.
Researchers, such as Elinor Des Vernay Sinnette who has written extensively about Schomburg, have concluded that he was self-educated, becoming a bibliophile who was respected by credentialed academics including the renowned W.E.B. DuBois. He received enough support to travel and engage in research in the Caribbean and Spain, always returning with an abundance of books, artwork and scholarly materials.
The importance of his collection of materials came to the attention of the New York City Public Library system, which purchased it in 1925. He was also appointed curator of what was named the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art. It was eventually archived at the 135th St. Branch Library in Harlem and consisted of 5,000 books, 3,000 manuscripts, 2000 etchings and paintings and several thousand pamphlets.
In 1991 a new building was constructed next door and has been renamed the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. It is this nation's premier public library focused upon African people.
For decades the Schomburg Library was the only municipal library in the United States with that focus. Today there are 4 additional libraries located in Los Angeles (1978), Atlanta (1994), Fort Lauderdale (Florida -2002), and Denver (Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library - 2003).
Denver's Dual Institutions
Wellington Webb, Denver's first African-American Mayor, and his wife, former state representative Wilma Webb , were concerned that the legacy of African-Americans in Colorado and the West was scattered and unwritten.
"So much of it is in boxes, in basements, or in our heads," he said. While still in office, he proposed the establishment of a research library to preserve, showcase and document that legacy. The result is the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library which is part of the Denver Public Library system.
Denver boasts an additional institution focused upon African-Americans: the Black America West Museum whose origins are similar to the Schomburg.
The late Paul Stewart grew up in Iowa. "As a child I played cowboys and Indians, and I always wanted to be a cowboy," he told the Urban Spectrum. "Bur the white kids would say there are no Black cowboys." Since young Paul did not see any Black cowboys in the movies or books, he assumed that it was true.
Like Schomburg, Stewart was skeptical, yet curious and eventually discovered that it was all wrong. Like Schomburg, he began collecting, but not just material about Black cowboys. He accepted anything about African-Americans, with an emphasis on the western regions of this country.
After moving to Denver in 1962, he opened a barber shop where he stored his growing collection. Each decade Stewart had to move his materials to a larger space, first to a saloon and then to Clayton College. He also began writing and occasionally lectured in and out-of-Denver.
By 1987 with the help of a collective of interested people, Stewart's collection had transitioned into the Black America West Museum, located in Five Points.
Today throughout the United States there are numerous institutions whose primary focus is the history and creativity of people of African descent.
Creating New Materials
Another monumental task is the creation of materials based on sources in boxes stored in basements, closets and attics. Denver's Clementine Washington Pigford has risen to the challenge.
A master researcher and curator of the history of Colorado's oldest religious institution, Zion Baptist Church, Pigford's prodigious output was initiated over twenty years ago.
A retired secondary school English teacher in the Denver Public Schools, Pigford has been a member of Zion since childhood. In the early 1990s, Zion was organizing some projects that required a church history. Since Zion was established in 1865, that was going to be a colossal undertaking. Pigford became part of a committee formed to achieve that goal.
"I found the church history was literally 'all over the place'", she said. "I set out to make a collection of information that could be used as a quick reference," she continued.
Four years later she had assembled hundreds of photos, church documents, and articles from community publications. Nonetheless, oral history matched concrete materials as a source of information. "An easy 50 percent of all information came from Zion's members and others in Denver's African-American community," she said.
The collection consists of 9 volumes totaling over 4,000 pages. It is entitled "They Came to Colorado with the Dust of Slavery on Their Backs".
However, for Pigford, the work had just begun. Navigating a century and a half of history reveals multitudes of events and legions of people. This piqued her curiosity and motivated her to research their lives and tell their stories.
The result is a growing number of publications about members of Zion's congregation. Among the people about whom Pigford has collected biographical information as well as photographs and other relevant material is Reverend John Elijah Ford who she has dubbed "a preacher divine" and "a preacher's preacher". He was senior pastor at Zion from 1899 to 1906.
He was also the first husband of the renowned Dr. Justina Ford, Denver's first female African-American physician. The Black America West Museum is located in her home.
Another publication focuses upon Alexander Duncan, a consummate businessman and owner of Duncan's Shoe Repair, Duncan's Beauty Academy and Duncan's Men's Store. He lived a little past 100 years - a centurion.
Pigford has completed several additional biographies, documentary publications about local community organizations and a video docudrama, The Arms of Zion.
"The history continues and people continue," she said. "The stories don't stop."
Schomburg, Stewart and Pigford all acted on their desire to tell the stories of their communities and, ultimately, of people of African descent.
All three initiated and carried out most of their work without monetary remunerations. All three reached their pinnacles without academic credentials as historians or social scientists, but have received praise from the scholarly world.
Their work constitutes a "labor of love" that is grounded in a profound "love of community."
(Editor's note. Pigford's work is archived in two Denver Public Library branches: the Western History Division at the Central Library and the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library)
(This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of the Denver Urban Spectrum)
(This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of the Denver Urban Spectrum)