Yearly Archives: 2013

Program Returns Foreclosed Borrowers to Homeownership

By Charlene Crowell
NNPA Columnist
In the aftermath of more than 2.5 million foreclosures, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is now offering a homeownership program that will put previously troubled borrowers on a fast-tracked return to the home ownership market. The new program, known as “Back to Work – Extenuating Circumstance,” cuts the standard three-year waiting period to only 12 months.

According to Charles Coulter, HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Single Family Housing,

“As part of FHA’s ongoing mission” Coulter continued, “we want to make sure that qualified borrowers are not being unnecessarily shut out of the market. We ‘re looking forward to working with our industry partners to strengthen our housing market, to protect FHA’s insurance fund, and to make certain access to credit remains available for future generations of homeowners.”

That’s good news for borrowers who lost their home because of specific financial hardships but can now demonstrate they have regained previously lost financial ground.  The list of eligible financial hardships reads like a list of housing crisis woes:

Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy
Loan modification
Loss of income, employment or both that totaled at least 20 percent of previous earnings for at least six months, including copies of applicable termination notices or changes in employment status
Pre-foreclosure sales
Short sales

Additionally, consumers must also meet other verifiable measures to participate in the program:
Proof of borrower’s current income – usually W-2 forms or federal tax returns that show the desired mortgage would be affordable and sustainable;

Credit history pre- and post the eligible hardship event that is free from late payments or other major credit issues, including rental housing payments  and accounts delinquent by 30 days or more;
Credit score of at least 500; and
Housing counseling by a HUD-approved counselor at least 30 days but no more than six months before submitting an FHA application.

foreclosure-1For consumers meeting all of these criteria as well as other standing FHA mortgage guidelines, the Back to Work program is now available nationwide through FHA-approved lenders.  Once participating lenders determine that mortgage applicants meet all eligibility and policy criteria, the same 3.5 percent minimum FHA down payment requirement will apply. Mortgage insurance and closing costs will also apply.

Only one FHA program is ineligible for the Back to Work program: reverse mortgages.

Earlier research by the Center for Responsible Lending found that more than 2.5 million homes were lost to foreclosure during the housing crisis. According to CoreLogic, a firm providing data and analysis to financial services companies and real estate professionals, the number of homes in some state of foreclosure dropped below the million-mark as of July 2013, to 949,000. This figure also represents a drop of 32 percent since July 2012.

Underwater mortgages, properties that are now worth less than their purchase price, also continue to haunt housing recovery. As of May 2013, Core Logic, the firm specializing in residential property information, found that 11 states had more than 1-in-5 underwater homes. The states with the seven highest numbers of underwater properties were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, California and Illinois.

As CRL has stated before, the housing crisis is not yet over. But programs that enable former troubled borrowers to regain the pride of home ownership and the chance to build family wealth have to be good news.


Jobs and Freedom Still Needed

By Lee A. Daniels
NNPA Columnist
On Saturday August 24 and Wednesday, August 28, tens of thousands of Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to honor the 1963 March on Washington and the Movement that brought America into the modern age.

Speaker after speaker — including three American presidents who declared they owed their presidencies to the societal changes the Movement made possible – urged America to heed the substantial work that remains to be done.

It surely must have been the work of divine intervention, then, that three events which broke into the news Tuesday, the 27th, Wednesday, the 28th, and Thursday, the  29th, would underscore why the 1963 March “for Jobs and Freedom” was necessary then – and why the pursuit of those twin goals still remains an urgent matter today.

The first event occurred on Wednesday. Merrill Lynch, the financial-services giant, settled a class-action racial discrimination suit involving 700 Blacks who worked as brokers or were in training to become brokers for the firm since 2001. The $160 million the company will pay out to those involved in the suit makes it the largest such settlement ever against an American company.

What’s more important were the facts which brought the case to settlement: The 700 Black brokers were just a token number of the firm’s worldwide total number of 14,000; and they endured the common “techniques” of corporate racial discrimination – isolated from the flow of information about the business; denied good assignments and lucrative accounts; subjected to harassment from some of their co-workers; and given substandard performance reviews by their managers.

The Merrill Lynch suit, first filed in 2005, spotlights how blatant acts of discrimination in the workplace wreck not only the careers of individuals but produce harsh, long-lasting effects on the economic standing of black Americans as a group.

The following day, August 29, thousands of fast-food workers across the country – most of whom are paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour – staged their second one-day job action in a month to dramatize their demand that the national minimum wage be raised to $15.00 an hour.

The job actions, which occurred in dozens of cities, not only underscored that nearly 40 percent of fast-food workers are older than 25 – and many have families to support. It also underscored that even if they work a 40-hour week, they earn only about $15,000 a year. That is far below the formal federal poverty line income level of $23,283.00 for a family of four.

jobs_picThe efforts of the fast-food workers exemplify how the global and national transformation of the workplace can produce harmful economic effects that intensify both a general inequality and the racial inequality that stems from the nation’s once-pervasive acceptance of racism.

The third event involved an article in Fast Company, a business magazine that focuses on innovative thinking about technology and design, that purported to identify “25 of the smartest women” in business whose use of twitter show them to be “most valuable thought leaders” who “enrich discussions related to top business trends.”

But the article named only White women to the list.

Reaction, particularly from the Black twitterverse, was swift in coming about the “unintended racism” the article put on display. Many of those comments showed they understood that being on such a list in a magazine of Fast Company’s influence was likely to bring new business contacts and new business dollars to those on it. Such comments showed, again, how the seemingly “unthinking” exclusion of blacks and other people of color from mainstream institutions, companies, events and activities has always been an important component of stamping a “whites-only” sign in front of vast pathways to advancement in America.

What does each of these events have in common, then?

Money, of course.  Money is not simply as legal tender to buy things; but money as a marker of an individual’s value in the labor market and in the larger society. Money as the means by which an individual can forge a measure of comfort and security for his or her family and provide a solid financial foundation for the family’s next generation. And money that can circulate in one’s own community to help build and maintain the resources that make that community a viable place to live.

That is what Martin Luther King, Jr. and A. Philip Randolph and the other organizers and participants of the 1963 March on Washington understood: That economic fairness – a decent, liveable wage in exchange for good work – was as much a foundation of a just society as were laws that barred discrimination and promoted opportunity.

That’s why they called that iconic event “The March for Jobs and Freedom.”

How to Get a Job Out of College

Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times

jobs_picGiven today’s unemployment rate for new graduates, finding your dream job often requires understanding what employers are looking for and a bit of patience, plus some of your own proactive steps. Following these tips can help you get started to find that first job.

Prepare your resume
To write a good resume, gather information on your graduation status, skills, volunteer work, internships, and job experience that would be relevant to prospective employers. Also, consider customizing your resume and its layout for each job opportunity, so that your relevant work experience, education, and abilities are noticeable for the reader. It’s also a good idea to closely review your resume for spelling and grammatical errors.

Take advantage of your college career center before you graduate

Getting ahead of the game is important in your job search. Most schools have career counselors and services that can show you how to prepare a resume and cover letter, and to find job leads. Practice interviews with a counselor can also help increase your confidence and improve your interview skills.

Attend recruiting events
Local companies will sometimes visit college career centers to recruit new talent. It can also be helpful to attend on-campus recruiting events, company presentations, and job fairs, and to introduce yourself to representatives from these companies even before you graduate. Making a good impression at these events might benefit you while you are in school or when a future job opens up.

Create a network with family, friends, professors, academic department heads, and former bosses to help in your job search.”

Build your network
The further you extend your network, the greater the chance you’ll hear about new opportunities. Create a network with family, friends, professors, academic department heads, and former bosses to help in your job search. They may offer suggestions, recommendations, or introductions to people they know who might be hiring. Even if they don’t know of someone hiring right now, they might be able to introduce you to someone who would be willing to talk about their experience or their industry. By making that connection now, you will be fresh in that person’s mind if they hear about a future opportunity.

Make social media work for you
Many recruiters research candidates via their social media profiles, so it can be beneficial to update your online profile. You can start by creating a profile with your relevant experience and educational information, and joining networking groups in your field of interest. Asking questions and posting appropriate links on the group’s page can demonstrate that you’re interested in and knowledgeable about what’s happening in your field. Look for online sites that specialize in jobs for recent graduates to see what is posted and to also post your resume so others can find you.

After graduation, the “real world” will offer many exciting, educational experiences. Finding your first job can be tough, especially in today’s environment, which makes the right tools and preparation all the more important towards helping to land the job of your dreams.

Getting Ready for the Third Reconstruction

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
NNPA Columnist

On August 27, 1963, the day before the historic March on Washington, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century passed away in his exile home of Ghana.  Having been driven out of the U.S.A. through the endless harassment and hounding by the Us.S. government, DuBois,  the noted scholar, activist and leading Pan Africanist, was provided a home in Ghana by its President, Kwame Nkrumah.  Dubois’s death was mentioned to the marchers and there was a moment of silence, yet many of those in attendance, including many of the organizers of the March, had remained silent when DuBois was subject to the anti-communist persecution that he experienced, particularly from the late 1940s onward.

It is important to remember DuBois today not simply because he died on the eve of the great March on Washington, but because he was a prime mover in the reexamination of the post-Civil War period known as “Reconstruction.”  Reconstruction was one of those rare moments in U.S. history where this country could have gone in a very different direction.  The slaves had been liberated and, along with poor Whites in the South, had the chance to shatter the legacy of enslavement.  Reconstruction was defeated, however, by an alliance of the Southern elite and Northern industrialists in the mid-1870s after the Southern elite accepted a subordinate role to that of the Northern capitalists.

In the 1960s, the U.S. experienced a “Second Reconstruction.”  Through struggles of the Black Freedom Movement, along with other movements for social justice such as the women’s movement and the Chicano movement, democracy was expanded.  Yet, the ruling elite of this country was only prepared for things to go but so far.  Our victories were met with the so-called “White backlash,” especially by many angry men who did not want gender roles to change.  We have been on the defensive ever since.WEB_DuBois_1918

The 2013 commemoration of the March on Washington was actually our chance to announce that our sights should now be set on a Third Reconstruction.  A Third Reconstruction is badly needed; it is a movement towards an expansion of democracy; a movement for ecological justice and survival; a movement for the democracticization of the economy; a movement for genuine racial justice and gender justice; a movement for a foreign policy that makes the U.S. a partner rather than a bully. Rather than looking backwards, we need to be paying attention to what it will take to get us to the Third Reconstruction.  That may be one of the best ways to honor those who brought us the 1963 March on Washington, and to honor W.E.B. DuBois, all of who many on the political Right would rather that we forget.

28th Ward Alderman Jason C. Ervin

City’s Reward Program Goes Live to Help End Illegal and Hazardous Dumping

Illegal DumpingCHICAGO – (September 4) Residents and authorities have a new tool in helping to end illegal dumping in Chicago, and that tool is ready for use.  In May of this year, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance creating a two-year pilot program that rewards residents with a $100 for providing information leading to an illegal dumping conviction.  On August 5th, the City of Chicago’s 311 Center went live with the Illegal Dumping Reward Program.
Residents are encouraged to report any information regarding illegal dumping to 311 along with the description of the type of dumping occurring, either while in progress or after.  The purpose of this program is to severely curb the amount of illegal dumping and punish those who set out to purposefully break the law and putting children and families in our neighborhood in danger.

To be eligible for the reward, the person reporting the illegal dumping will need to call ‘311’ and give the location of the violation and any description witnessed by of the alleged illegal dumper.  If the dumper is found liable or guilty of illegal dumping, the witness to the dumping will received their $100 reward.

“Residents should not have to live with the threat of hazardous material being dumped next door in the dead of night,” stated Alderman Ervin. “This ordinance will shine a spotlight on criminals who think it’s alright to treat our neighborhoods as landfills.”

“This ordinance is an important step forward in ensuring the streets of Chicago are safe and secure for all residents, while reducing illegal dumping which so often becomes blights on our beautiful neighborhoods,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The Department of Public Health will be charged with conducting an investigations and working with the Law Department to charge and convict illegal dumpers.  After the Department of Public Health conducts their investigation the Department of Streets and Sanitation will remove the debris and write the appropriate violation notices.

The Illegal Dumping Reward Program will be paid for by a surcharge of $20 to all illegal dumping fines imposed by the City of Chicago to help offset the reward program. The fines for illegal dumping range from a first offense of $1,500 to $2,500 to subsequent violations of $2,500 to $3,500.

“I, along with many residents, am proud that this program is expense neutral.  There will not be any additional city employees hired to administer the program nor any undue burdens place on budgets.  By working together, we have made this part of City government more efficient and effective,” states Ald. Ervin.

The Ordinance, O2012-7244, was passed by the City Council on May 8, 2013.  The Illegal Dumping Reward Program is current live and available for residents to call in a report illegal dumping through the 311 System. City’s Reward Program Goes Live to Help End Illegal and Hazardous Dumping

50th Anniversary March on Washington: Freedom Party

By: Jazmyne Walker
WCW Staff Writer

Hip Hop CaucusHip Hop CaucusThe Hip-Hop Caucus hosted their 1st event, The 50th Anniversary March on Washington: Freedom Party at The Salon Heaven, 1505 S. Michigan Ave. Wednesday August 28.  Live music, old school and new was offered by DJ Mike and, although special guest Malik Yusef was unable to attend, Chicago MC, Tijatta “Anyialation” Williams was there to keep guests live and active.  Free beverages were available to all guests and there was also time for businesses, organizations, and foundations to mingle and network with one another for possible future collaborations.

The Hip Hop Caucus is a civil and human rights organization for the 21st Century. Their movement began in 2004 with a vision to create a more just and sustainable world by engaging more people, particularly young people and people of color in the civic and policy making process.

The purpose of this particular event was to gain a collective voice among environmentalists, policy makers, young people, and community leaders, to begin the process of mobilizing communities for the next 50 years to come.

Chicago Communications Director for the Hip-Hop Caucus, Satoria Briggs said, “Because of what the Hip-Hop Caucus is all about; it only make sense to network and gain a collective voice amongst one another. We’re supposed to be engaging and mobilizing, and trying to understand where we’re all coming from so what better way to do that than to network and find out what each of us has to offer.  The idea really came from the fact that it’s the 50 year anniversary and we wanted to check and see if we’re making any progress as a people.”

President and CEO, Diane Simpson, of Youth For Positive Change (YFPC), a developmental mentoring and training organization for young people in the city, came out to speak to people about their organization and their mission.

“Our mission is to increase the quality of life for youth by promoting positive partnership for the environment that supports their education and their social development,” said Simpson.
She said that she understands that music and sports play a vital role in young people’s lives and, along with the YFPC, she reaches out to entertainers and athletes to project information through them to the young parents.  YFPC also works closely with parents.

“A lot of the times the parents haven’t received the tools that we’re giving the children, so we need to make sure that they have healthy strong families and that’s where these partnerships play a vital role,” said Simpson.

She invited everyone out to her upcoming youth summit, The Chicago Unity Summit that will be happening at the end of the month.  She encouraged everyone to join the faith-based community in prayer and in unified effort to stop Chicago street violence (for more information on this event visit

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERACo-Founders, Claude and Dena Spivey, of the Rhythm, Blues and Funk Foundation (RBFF) attended alongside “Brother El”, Director of Media and Production for RBFF.  They familiarized themselves with the other organizations and business.  Claude Spivey, who is also an original Parliament Funkadelic, said they discovered the event through a young artist they have been working with.  Since the Hip-Hop Caucus connects young people with older and more established business owners and organization leaders, they felt it a good idea to attend and get the word out about RBFF.

RBFF is an organization that reaches out to blues and funk artists and Brother El said, “musicians from the 60s, 70s, and 80s who are not on the music scene anymore and basically we bring them back to the forefront and start giving them the accolades, the respect and the honor they deserve when they initially started doing their music.”
There was an ending performance by local artist, Double A.M. who performed his single; titled, “Watch (Go Crazy)”.  The performance was hyped and full of energy and movement many of the older guests could not understand the performance.  When the older crowd could not adjust to the performance easily, Briggs intervened and explained that another purpose of this event was to give the young and the wise an opportunity to interact on a positive and professional note.  Briggs felt the event was a success and is looking forward to many more meaningful events.

Hip Hop is No Path to American Dream

By Jineea Butler
NNPA Columnist

The rags to riches stories that have defined the Hip Hop movement as a viable path to the American Dream may be the All-American distraction.  Early Hip Hop artists experienced true bliss when their hard work and efforts paid off financially. Great artists with great lyrics were able to break through and perform on the world stage.  From the gritty streets of New York they around doing what they loved – and getting paid for it.

Today, Jay-Z symbolizes that urban success. He is celebrated for his successful business empire and marriage to pop queen Beyonce. But can his success be duplicated?  Or, is the American Dream in an illusion that is really, for most artists, Hip Hop fantasy?

Millions of individuals are spending all their hard earned resources pursuing a career in entertainment but the demand for new Hip Hop artists is not as great as the supply. And the fact that six media giants – General Electric, News-Corp, CBS, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner – control 90 percent of what we read, watch and listen to also poses a more serious problem.

Years ago, aspiring artist were told before you decide to pursue a career in the music business, read a  book by Donald Passman, now on its eighth printing, titled, All You Need to Know About the Music Business, published by Simon & Schuster, was the first and only requirement.

Now, before any of these artists can be taken seriously they must go through a series of obstacles that still only give them a fraction of a chance to  succeed. First, they must master quality sound, produce a video, attract thousands of followers on social media – Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Reverb Nation, Sound Cloud, etc., — they must book their own shows and create a demand for their talent

I often wonder why individuals decide to become hip hop artists.  Is it because they have a talent to rhyme and tell stories?  Early on, I think that was the case, but as time passed, the art of rhyming became an acquired skill.  Prisons became incubators for young men who spent their time writing and practicing rhymes and techniques with hopes to change their future with the elusive record deal.

The take away from this industry is the people that most have deemed unreachable and destined to fail have adopted an opportunity which makes sense to them.  Out of all the careers that were presented throughout their lifetime, Hip Hop is the one that interests them the most. It is a fallacy to say that these young people can not learn and are purely ignorant, because without lessons they have mastered engineering boards, beat machines, digital music programs like pro tools, largely without a high school diploma. Can we reason that our school system has failed to guide urban America in a direction which speaks to the experience they encounter?

I feel horrible that many highly talented individuals with the right message will never be heard by the masses. These artist spend their lives doing everything it takes to become their own personal American Dream. The reality is there is not enough room for all these artists and all these messages.  There is not enough money to sustain the careers of everyone who aspires to be a Hip Hop Artist. Most of these artists are gambling with their lives and they know it but they are willing to take that chance.

The 50 Cent mantra, “Get Rich or Die Trying” helps them become one of two things, a sell-out or a consumer, both subscribing to the exploitation of the urban community.  As a sell-out, artists will alter their messages to accommodate the corporate need.  As a consumer, artist spend all of their money chasing the illusion of opportunity and lean on the principals of the American Dream:  “Hard work will pay off.”  The Dilemma is there is no contingency plan when it comes to Hip Hop.  It’s all or nothing.  Most of the time plan B is go back to hustling in the streets.

These young men and women dive in head first with the vision that if it doesn’t work in Hip Hop, the system doesn’t work at all.

So what does that leave?  It leaves a group of people who have underachieved and have been undefined and unaccounted for.

The American Dream is something you have to consciously pursue so I commend anyone who attempts to attain it.  If we continue to allow our young people to consider a career as a Hip Hop artist, we will continue to be last in category that counts to the rest of America.  The system that created the Run-DMCs, Daddy Kane, and the 50 Cents has been all been manipulated to be a cash cow for the very people who despise Hip Hop.


Stevie Wonder Initiates Celebrity Boycott of Florida

by Alexis Taylor
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
Grammy Award-winner Stevie Wonder (Courtesy Photo)
It started with Grammy Award-winner Stevie Wonder, but celebrities of different genres have begun to boycott performances in Florida in protest of the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.

The announcements come just days after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fl.

“I decided today that until the Stand Your Ground law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again,” Wonder said in various video recordings posted to YouTube from a July 14 night show in Quebec City, Canada. “As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world.”

Stevland Morris, better known by his stage name of Stevie Wonder, made the declaration without his classic shades, and with his eyes showing. He added that though some may have already lost their battle for justice, there is more that can be done.

“What we can do is we can let our voices be heard. And we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and equality for everybody,” he said. “That’s what I know we can do.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, Florida is among 22 states in which there is “no duty to retreat from an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present,” the organization said in a release.

Those states include Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North and South Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

“At least nine of those states include language stating one may ‘stand his or her ground,” according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

Though Zimmerman, 29, did not actually use that specific defense in the case, attorneys for the neighborhood watchman claimed that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense and feared for his life during an altercation with Martin, which began after Zimmerman followed Martin for almost a mile on Feb. 26, 2012.

O’Jays lead singer Eddie Levert was among many entertainers nationwide who said he would protest the jury’s decision.

“I, Eddie Levert will not play Florida until they change their gun laws,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer wrote on his personal Twitter account. “I’m going to join Mr. Stevie Wonder in his boycott of Florida.”

By July 18, sisters Erica and Tina Campbell of the dynamic gospel duo Mary, Mary, also announced via Twitter, that they too would boycott the state.

“We will stand with Stevie Wonder and boycott Florida until the Stand Your Ground law is changed,” said the sisters. “We love our fans but we must do something.”

“We understand a ‘no’ from us isn’t as big as a ‘no’ from Stevie Wonder but if all our voices join together we can really change things,” they wrote.


Trayvon Inspired Obama to Act Like the First Black President

By Raynard Jackson
NNPA Columnist

In 2004, at the Democratic National Committee’s presidential convention, I was mesmerized by Barack Obama, a little known state senator from Illinois.  He electrified the convention and created a global buzz among those who watched on TV. In 2006, I was proud to see him elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois.
In 2008, I was even more proud to see a Black man elected to be president of the United States.  Americans throughout the U.S. celebrated this historic accomplishment.  This was one of America’s best moments.

In 2013, I am most proud that the first Black president finally seemed to find his voice before the American people on an issue that was of particular concern to the Black community.  After more than four years in the White House, President Obama finally spoke to America and directly to Black America simultaneously.

For the first time, Obama did not lecture or speak down to Blacks.  He spoke as one of us.  He spoke from his heart to our hearts, to my heart.

He did not give a speech, for that would have been cynical and would have fallen flat.  He simply exposed his soul to us; but he also allowed us to penetrate the veil that he had erected that prevented him from connecting with his own people.  For the first time, he actually showed an emotional connection to the plight of Blacks in this country.

Lord knows, in my columns, I have been one of his biggest critics of how he interacts with the Black community.  I would be nothing short of a hypocrite not to praise him for speaking directly to the American people in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial, especially in a way that connected to Black Americans.

He didn’t take a position one way or the other on the jury’s verdict; that wasn’t the important thing at that moment.  He spoke as president of all of America, but at the same time spoke directly to the Black community without separating the country.  Non-Blacks of goodwill for certain will understand my statement.

This is the Obama I have been seeking for almost five years.  It was quite obvious that Obama was touched by the emotions that were raging from within the Black community since the tragic night of Trayvon Martin’s death.

Policy considerations aside, Blacks have always wanted Obama to show us that he understood the plight of being Black in America.  We have wanted him to connect to our issues like he showed the residents of Newtown, Conn. after the massacre last year.

Sometimes one can be so beat up that you just want someone to say, “I feel your pain,  I understand what you are going through, “even if you can’t make the pain go away.  Nothing Obama said will bring Trayvon back.  But for once, America saw its first Black president in public.

Some of my readers will not understand anything I am writing; it is not you to whom I am writing.  Those with similar backgrounds and experiences as mine will understand intrinsically what I am saying.

I don’t expect some to understand why I behave the way I do when a policeman pulls me over or approaches me while I am parked.

Policemen will ask me why I am putting both of my hands out of the driver’s window like I did two weeks ago. I tell them because I don’t want them to have any allusions about my being armed and to make sure they know that I am no threat to them.  They don’t seem to understand that before I reach into my glove compartment that I tell them that I am about to reach into the glove box to retrieve my car information that they are requesting (title, proof of insurance, etc.).

In my professional life, I constantly have to prove my abilities, even though my records of accomplishments are part of the public domain, as any Google search would reveal.  In meetings, I tell the attendees that I will call a certain person and get them to do a certain thing.  I report back to the group only to be asked, “Wow, so you really do know that person?”  They are actually amazed that I have personal relations with some of the most powerful people in the world; they have a hard time reconciling my background (being a Black kid from the hood of St. Louis) with knowing certain types of people.

Yes, America has come a long way since the days of Jim Crow and segregation; but please don’t criticize our president or the Black community for wanting, every now and then, for the leaders of our country (regardless of color) to be touched with the feelings of our struggles.

Sometimes we just want to be told that together we will all be OK.

Union electrician John Joclyn joins Detroit firefighters in a protest about the downsizing of the fire department outside the federal courthouse during day one of Detroit's municipal bankruptcy hearings in Detroit,

Detroit Files for Bankruptcy, All Bets Are Off

by Bankole Thompson
Special to the NNPA from the Michigan Chronicle

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr today asked a federal judge to place Detroit in chapter 9 bankruptcy, a move that, if allowed, would make the city the largest municipality in the history of the United States to file for bankruptcy.Union electrician John Joclyn joins Detroit firefighters in a protest about the downsizing of the fire department outside the federal courthouse during day one of Detroit's municipal bankruptcy hearings in Detroit,

This decision has wide-ranging economic and political ramifications on many levels in a city that has been besieged by economic and political challenges for many years.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who appointed Orr, said bankruptcy is the only viable option to help Detroit residents at a time when the city is buried in $18 billion debt.

“The fiscal realities confronting Detroit have been ignored for too long. I’m making this tough decision so the people of Detroit will have the basic services they deserve and so we can start to put Detroit on a solid financial footing that will allow it to grow and prosper in the future,” Synder said. “This is a difficult step, but the only viable option to address a problem that has been six decades in the making. The simple fact is Detroit is in a financial crisis. The city is insolvent and has been borrowing money to pay its bills for nearly a decade. Bankruptcy is the only feasible option to fix the city’s finances and do what is right for the 700,000 people of Detroit.”

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber is one of many leaders responding to the news of Detroit’s entry into unchartered waters.

“Bankruptcy is the bold step needed to finally address Detroit’s financial problems in a meaningful and sustainable way. While nobody welcomes the concept of bankruptcy, it is necessary to solve the long-term structural financial challenges of this historic city,” Baruah said. “This decision puts the city on a path to achieve its most essential function – providing Detroiters the services they deserve – and sets the stage for a growing, vibrant Detroit. The private sector is thriving and businesses continue to invest in Detroit. Addressing Detroit’s financial instability is the final barrier to robust growth.”

In an exclusive interview with the Chronicle, former federal bankruptcy judge Ray Reynolds Graves presented several scenarios of what could possibly happen in bankruptcy negotiations.

“The fate of retirees has been a major issue in chapter 9 whether or not the city cancels its retiree pension plan and force modification,” Graves said. “In a chapter 11 (bankruptcy) the parties must negotiate that and there is a process in chapter 11 you must go through before you can make any changes in employee pension agreements that is not available in chapter 9.”

What would happen to thousands of city retirees and current workers whose earnings could be canceled instantly to satisfy creditors has been a thorny issue in discussions about how to address the financial calamity facing Detroit.

Judge Graves said in chapter 9 the city can cancel the benefits and the court can’t do anything about it. Even though the Michigan Constitution protects pensions, the federal bankruptcy code supersedes.

“We get into this argument of federalism where state law has stated that as a matter of the right of the state it must protect its pensioners who are municipal employees. Does that sovereignty take precedence over any federal law? It’s to the contrary,” Graves said.

Because the U.S. Constitution speaks to a uniformed law on bankruptcy across the country, when the city of Stockton in California filed for chapter 9 bankruptcy, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein did not stop the city from cancelling the pensions of its workers.

“I don’t know whether spiked pensions can be reeled back in. There are very complex and difficult questions of law that I can see out there on the horizon,” the Associated Press quoted Klein as saying in his ruling.

Graves said while there is no clear answer as to whether the state Constitution can prevent the elimination of retiree benefits, Orr can modify the pensions, meaning less money for hard-pressed workers.

“The retirees are going to take a cut in federal bankruptcy court. But how deep the cut is depends on how much money is left to pay creditors,” Graves said. “This is like a giant chess game.”

If the creditors, some of whom are general obligation bond holders required to be paid 100 percent, are not satisfied with the cuts then they can point to the Detroit Institute of Arts, Belle Isle, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and other city owned assets as possibly being for sale to satisfy the billions the city owes them.

Orr has an obligation to negotiate in good faith according to Graves, because a federal judge could dismiss chapter 9 because the emergency manager did not negotiate in good faith.

“He (Orr) knows one of the things he faces is that he has to negotiate in good faith. Where do you move from vigorous negotiation, to hardball negotiation to good faith negotiation? If not it will get dismissed,” Graves said.

Still, Graves said the bargaining chip of the creditors will be crucial because some of them are special revenue bond holders, different from general obligation bondholders who are expecting 100 percent payment or anything close to it.

For example, special revenue bond holders are paid out of a specific project or fund already set up in the agreement that revenues from either the casinos or other sources would first be paid to them.

“Here is my prediction and fear,” said Graves. “If in this chapter 9 process it becomes possible to sell the DIA, they will also sell Belle Isle and whatever they can do to get the bondholders close to a 100 percent. Belle Isle could be sold to a private developer and turned into a gated community.”

Interestingly, entities that are under an authority, like Cobo Convention Center and the Detroit Zoo, are not exposed to creditors, Graves said.

“Creditors are concerned with what the city owns that they can sell and rank them according to marketability,” he said. “The axe will fall on the retirees and active workers.”

One of the most important phases in this process is selecting a bankruptcy judge, and the chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Alice M. Batchelder has the absolute discretion to make that decision without any consultation.

Judge Batchelder, a President Reagan appointee who started as a bankruptcy judge and was later promoted to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by President George H.W. Bush Sr., could pick any bankruptcy judge in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio or a local judge from the U.S. District Court in Detroit to preside over the largest municipal bankrupt- cy in the nation’s history.

“It is her absolute discretion to choose whomever she wants and it’s a private decision,” Graves said. “She may consult with other African-American judges, Damon Keith, Guy Cole Jr., Bernice Donald, the first African American bankruptcy judge in the nation. But she doesn’t have to talk to any of them. It’s her prerogative.”

Because of her conservative bent, Judge Batchelder could also choose an extreme conservative judge from Kentucky to avoid anyone who is pro-labor “because cancellation of collective bargaining agreements is a key factor and you might want to pick a judge who is not shy about that.”

But the most recent bankruptcy cases have all been presided over by local federal judges in California and in Jefferson County, Alabama.

But the Eastern District of Michigan already has six sitting bankruptcy judges, five of whom are in Detroit waiting including Judges Walter Shapero, Philip J. Shefferly, Marci B. Mclvor, Thomas J. Tucker and Steven W. Rhodes who is retiring at the end of the year.

In the case of the DIA there has been talk about the legality of selling some of the artwork that was donated under strict agreement or contracts by the donors.

Judge Graves said it all depends on bankruptcy court.

“In chapter 9 all kinds of contracts get broken and breached to free the entities from burden. But the person who suffers the breach has the right to file a claim,” Graves said. “There is a lot of cultural life in Detroit that is respected around the world. I ran into someone in Madrid, mopping a floor, and when I said I was from Detroit he mentioned the Detroit Institute of Arts.”

Detroit leaders will have to come to terms with the impact a bankruptcy will have on the city especially if its jewels are sold to satisfy thirsty creditors.