Tuesday, January 24, 2012


POVERTY IN NORTH CAROLINA - A resident of Scotland Neck, in Halifax County, tells NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber about the severe lack of jobs, opportunities and decent housing in the poor black section of town, and wonders if it's by design. Halifax was one of six impoverished northeastern NC counties visited last week during the two-day Truth and Hope Poverty Tour through North Carolina [Cash Michaels video stills] 


By Cash Michaels
An analysis

            Editor’s Note -For the next few weeks, The Carolinian will report on the issues surrounding persistent poverty in North Carolina. Based on research, and the two-day tour through six counties last week, our stories will explore why there is poverty in our state, and what is, and is not being done to address it. Our goal is not only to bring awareness of this issue to our readers and community, but also to challenge our elected officials to do something substantive about the tremendous need for economic and social equity in our state.

            There were tears, frustrations and angry voices.
            Anger, because they have been conveniently forgotten, and ignored.
            Frustration, because those in poverty, in rural and inner city North Carolina, ask why there are no jobs in the low-wealth counties where they live? Why are the monthly electric bills to keep their families warm during harsh winters, so high, and getting higher? Why is funding for much needed social service programs being cut by both the state and federal governments?
            And tears, because in the richest, most powerful nation on the face of the planet, there are those, and their children, who are relegated to a vicious cycle of persistent poverty and despair, with next to no substantive relief in sight.
            To add insult to injury, they ask, why do politicians enjoy falsely accusing the poor of being lazy, and not wanting to work, a charge observers say is disgraceful, at best, after hearing of a 74-year-old woman in Hertford County who still drives a school bus for low pay and no benefits, just so that she can provide for her invalid husband.
            Or the small black community in Beaufort County which, until recently, had to make do without water and sewer services.
            Those were just some of the piercing questions, and realities that greeted last week’s first leg of the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour through six of North Carolina’s most impoverished northeastern counties - Beaufort, Washington, Edgecombe, Hertford, Pasquotank and Halifax.
            It is no accident that many of these low-wealth counties are along or near the historic “Black Belt,” the string of Southern segregated counties where slavery predominated in the 1700’s, and poor blacks became the dominate population
            Led by the NCNAACP; the NC Justice Center; the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and the NCCU Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change, the two-day tour not only convened several town hall meetings where over 1300 lower-income residents and activists gathered to emotionally and vividly tell their stories of struggle, but also provided opportunities to visit some of the impoverished neighborhoods, to see and hear first-hand from the residents themselves, what life is like.
            “We mean, through this modest effort, to illuminate and highlight these barriers, these moral and social transgressions - not simply through data and statistics, and documents and reports - but through the words and voices and protestations and hopes of those most directly affected,” UNC-Chapel Hill Prof. Gene Nichol, director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, said.
            "We met and talked with parents who can't afford healthy food for their children, homeless men without a place to sleep, and a host of people who struggle to meet even the most basic needs," said Rev. Dr. William Barber II, President of the North Carolina NAACP. "No one can look at these faces and not agree that we must begin the long, hard, necessary and righteous work of changing this harsh reality for the good of the whole in our state and nation."
            In the embattled town of Scotland Neck - where over fifty percent of its estimated 2,000 residents are living below the federal poverty standard - there was evidence that the local government has done very little since last August’s Hurricane Irene to remove downed trees and other damage in some of the poorer neighborhoods where substandard housing already reigns.
            But when former Scotland Neck Mayor James Mills and Rev. Barber took reporters, cameras, students, attorneys, ministers and activists on a walking tour of the blighted area, all of a sudden crews appeared with heavy equipment to clear trees and debris that had been rotting on homes and properties months ago.
            An estimated 17 percent of North Carolinians are classified as living in poverty - $22,000 a year for a family of four - according to state figures. At least 40 percent of African-Americans living in the state’s northeastern counties are considered poor.
            Across the state, nearly one in five North Carolinians lived in poverty in 2010, with one in four black North Carolinians struggling in impoverishment with a 17.4 percent unemployment rate, according to the NC Justice Center.
            In addition, 40.2 percent of black children in North Carolina lived in poverty.
            The stories of struggle were gripping. Residents, not able to find work in their town or city or county, having to get transportation to neighboring counties, or even over the NC-Virginia line, to just look for employment, let alone find it. Small towns, having to turn of water service to elderly residents because they can’t pay the bills due to their fixed incomes. Homeless shelters, providing space for only twenty, when at least a thousand in that area really have nowhere to go.
            “If we're serious about a North Carolina with real opportunity and prosperity for all, we have to address the legacies of neglect, isolation and racial discrimination that has a continual effect on our state's communities of color," said Melinda Lawrence, executive director of the NC Justice Center. "It's long past time we stopped the chronic underinvestment in rural communities and communities of color across North Carolina."  
Just this week, the NC Justice Center’s NC Budget & Tax Center - one of the tour’s sponsors - reported that at least ten of North Carolina’s counties had “high poverty rates over three decades.”
            “20 percent or more of 10 North Carolina county populations lived in persistent poverty, which is defined by both the percentage of people living in poverty and the period of time that the poverty rate has remained high in a geographic region,” the report stated.  “Persistent poverty was concentrated in the eastern region of the state, the report finds, where counties had little diversification of employment, fewer adults and teachers with advanced degrees, a lack of affordable, adequate housing, and poor access to health care.”
            The BTC report continued, “As of 2000, there were 10 counties in North Carolina that could be defined as “persistently poor”:  Bertie, Bladen, Columbus, Halifax, Martin, Northampton, Pitt, Robeson, Tyrrell, and Washington counties.”
            The BTC report added that those ten counties  “…had high poverty rates every year for three decades, according to U.S. Census data from 1970-2000.”
            “Living in a community of persistent poverty limits the opportunities of residents, and represents a challenge to not only regional economic development but the state’s overall economic growth,” Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the NC Budget & Tax Center and author of the report, is quoted as saying. “When generations of communities cannot access tools and systems that support mobility and prosperity, it becomes difficult for these areas to reduce the economic hardship of their residents.”
            Ms. Sirota continued, “The lack of wealth, few employment opportunities and a crumbling opportunity structure in these communities makes it difficult for local governments to overcome the legacy of persistent hardship and provide pathways to mobility.”
             “State policymakers must utilize placebased solutions to support economic opportunity across the state and level the playing field for all communities,” Sirota said.


            Yet a third Republican Wake School Board member has announced possibly abandoning ship now that the Democrats are firmly in control. Debra Goldman, a former Republican vice chair of the board who fought against her GOP colleagues for a short while before returning to the fold, has announced that she is “nearing a final decision” on seeking higher office. In a press release earlier this week, Goldman said it was Gov. Perdue’s sales tax increase proposal that spurred her to consider running, though she hasn’t announced what she’ll vie for. Her GOP colleague, John Tedesco, is expected to announce his candidacy for state superintendent today. Another GOP board member, Chris Malone, has announced he’s leaving to run for the state House.

            The news is not surprising that the statewide jobless rate dipped below 10 percent in December, given the rise in retail employment for the holiday season. But what is new is that this was the first time that unemployment fell below 10 percent in the past six months.  December’s jobless rate of 9.9 is seen as a “moderate sign of improvement,” according to official with the state Division of Employment Security. At least 29,400 jobs have been added since December 2010, officials added. The national jobless rate is at 8.5 percent.

            If your phone rings, and your caller ID displays a number with a “876” area code, don’t bother to answer. Police say it’s a Jamaican telemarketing scam designed to convince you that you’ve won prizes, and have to wire money in order to collect. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to this deception, officials add. The NC Dept. of Justice advises you to never give your Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers to anyone who calls you on the phone, or emails you. Ignore high pressure sales pitches. Never pay any money to collect a prize; never sign any papers or contracts without first having them checked out. Contact the NC State Attorney General’s Office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM for more information.


       Six major Wake County agencies will participate in a massive coordinated outreach event designed to listen to underserved southeast Raleigh families and connect them to educational and support services on Saturday, Feb. 4.

THE EVENT: Positive Youth Development Day, hosted by the City of Raleigh's Positive Youth Development Task Force led by Octavia Rainey

WHEN AND WHERE: Tarboro Road Community Center at 121 North Tarboro St., Raleigh, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

WHO'S INVOLVED: Raleigh Police Department, the City of Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department, Wake County Human Services, the Raleigh Department of Community Services, Wake County Public School System and others. 

OUTREACH COMMUNITIES: Positive Youth Development Day is targeted to serve families and youth from the College Park/Idlewild communities, the Thompson/Hunter area, and the neighborhoods surrounding Roberts Park.


            [CHARLOTTE] The Republican speaker of the NC House, and state Rep. Earline Parmon of Winston-Salem, will co-sponsor an information session Feb. 1 in Charlotte on the history of North Carolina’s infamous forced sterilization program. The meeting is part of the process in deciding what level of compensation the survivors of the state’s eugenics programs should receive. Gov. Perdue’s Eugenics Task Force recently recommended that victims be awarded $50,000 for their pain and suffering. Anywhere between  1500 and 2000 are survivors out of an estimated 7600, are said to remain.

            [GREENSBORO] Assuming that the courts allow the GOP-drawn redistricting maps to remain as drawn, Republican candidates for the redrawn Congressional District 13 seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Brad Miller, are already jockeying for position. Former US Attorney George Holding has announced that he will file on Feb. 15. His likely GOP primary competitors - Wake County Commission Chair Paul Coble; and Bill Randall, who ran and lost against Miller in 2010 - are yet to announce their filing dates. Miller is expected not to run in the 13th, but the newly-drawn 4th, where Democratic incumbent David Price is also up for re-election.

            [FAYETTEVILLE] For the next 120 days, Fayetteville police officers will not be allowed to ask drivers for their permission to search their vehicles based solely on their hunches. Critics say these so-called “consent searches” left the door wide open for racial profiling, and the Fayetteville City Council voted to have the action thoroughly evaluated before a permanent policy is approved and put in place. Critics say the two-month moratorium violates state and federal laws. But supporters say statistics show of the drivers that were stopped, three of every four were black. 

SINGER ETTA JAMES DIES - Soul singer Etta James, seen here at the piano with Muhammad Ali. died last week of leukemia in a Los Angeles hospital. She was 73. Read more in Cash in the Apple, page ----.

By Cash Michaels

TRUTH AND HOPE POVERTY TOUR - Thursday and Friday of last week, I had the unique opportunity to join the NCNAACP, the NC Justice Center, and other distinguished progressive organizations, activists, educators and students on the first leg of the “Truth and Hope Poverty Tour through North Carolina.
It was both extraordinary, and startling.
On Thursday, our bus, which left from in front of First Baptist Church in Raleigh early that morning, made stops in Beaufort, Washington and Elizabeth counties. On Friday the stops were Hertford, Halifax and Edgecombe counties.
Our mission was to listen to the people of these low-wealth areas, people who no one really listens to when it comes to their human needs of food, clothing, shelter for themselves and their families, and gainful employment.
In each and every vicinity, the faces, the voices, the incredible stories of struggle and strife, made your heart go out, and your head shake almost clean off.
As had been said many, many times during the two-day tour, how these families are able to “make it” from day-to-day, is incredible, about also shameful.
Not on them.
On us, as a society.
The 74-year-old woman who is still working in Winton, NC, driving a school bus, for little pay and no benefits, every day so that she can support her invalid husband.
The small community in Beaufort County that only now is getting water and sewer service.
The people living in poverty in the town of Scotland Neck, NC, who live in Civil War era shacks, can’t find work, and whose children are listless and lost because there is nothing constructive or instructive for them to do there.
The men’s shelter in Elizabeth City that can only house eight men, while over 1,000 each night are homeless, and looking for shelter, food, and to make a living.
The number of black mothers and fathers who openly cried in front of audiences as they confessed their shame of not being able to find work to feed their children, and give them the things that others have.
The complaint after complaint of high rents and even higher utility bills, eating away at what little incomes they get.
The lack of opportunity in many depressed counties and towns because large companies have packed up and gone overseas for cheaper labor.
The corruption of some local government officials who treat the poor of their areas like dirt.
The federal and state government cutbacks to these low-wealth, high poverty areas that have put mounting pressure on local governments to cutback on vital services.
The aging of small-town populations, increasingly on fixed incomes, and not able to afford utility rate hikes and rising medical costs for medicine and healthcare.
The men and women who suffering because no one will give them a chance to rebuild their lives after they’ve served their time for the mistakes they made in their youth.
This list could go and on, and believe it or not, I didn’t refer to copious notes taken or any audio or video recordings.
The stories are seared into my head and heart. The faces of despair and desperation, and lifelong frustration, are forever in my memory.
This tour, ably and heroically led by NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber, was an eye-opener, and in the opinion of this reporter at least, raised the question of why we have conveniently, and shamefully forgotten the plight of the poor in our state and nation.
You won’t find a politician or elected official utter the word “poverty” this critical election year, because, in the minds of many, saying ANYTHING about dealing with the needs of the poor spells raising taxes, and no one wants to hear that, do they?
Conservative politicians like to portray the poor and needy as “lazy” or “criminals.” It’s part of their tough guy “I’m all-American” act to impress the haters.
Kind of cowardly to beat up on poor people, if you ask me.
The bottomline is that during this most important election year, we have to make the issues surrounding poverty part of the political debate and discussion. And I’m not just talking about the Republicans.
Our president, Barack Obama, hasn’t really said a whole lot about addressing poverty in this nation, and yet, for many of the over 1300 people we met during last week’s Truth and Hope Poverty Tour, the first black president of the United States is seen as their only hope. Someone in the highest office in the land who looks like them, and should understand.
I believe that he does, but politically, can’t move a muscle as long as the Republicans are breathing down his neck, waiting for him to make a big mistake they can pounce on.
So since politics is part of the reason why the poor aren’t getting the much-needed help hey deserve, then ALL of us must work to change the politics…by INSISTING that poverty in the state and nation be addressed.
You notice how the Occupy Wall Street Movement has forced the discussion of wealth disparities to be part of the nation debate?
Then we should be doing the same thing. It is OUR responsibility, and the responsibility of ALL people of GOOD WILL, to stand up for the materially least of us. Our pastors should be preaching this word renewed, because the Son of GOD who they covet and embrace every Sunday certainly NEVER STOPPED advocating for the poor until the day He died.
So why have we, who proudly call ourselves “Christians?”
In the coming weeks, I will be writing a series of reports based on the two-day tour we took last week. I write these to inform our community, but I also write them in hopes that many of you will be spurred to action.
I honestly don’t know what to expect in terms of a response from my readers on this, so surprise me. Push the cause. Force our candidates for office, and those in office, to address poverty in this state and our communities.
Let’s do this, or else we really have very little to be proud of.
OSCAR NOMINATIONS - Some really tough competition this year as the Academy Award nominations were announced. Of interest to our readers, the motion picture, “The Help” - the story of the struggles of black maids in 1960’s Mississippi, earned a Best Picture nomination; Best Actress nom for Viola Davis; and Best Supporting Actress noms for Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain.
I predict that Spencer will get the nod. Davis is up against Meryl Streep and Glenn Close, two powerful actresses in their own right. But the fact that Davis earned her spot with these greats says a lot.
The Oscars air on ABC Sunday, February 26th at 7 p.m.
GOODBYE, ETTA JAMES - We lost a legend last week. Singer Etta James died last Friday at a Los Angeles hospital of complications from leukemia. She was 73.
Ms. James' classic soul and blues hits will forever span the ages. "At Last," perhaps her greatest hit ever, is considered a worldwide standard. "I wanted to be rare. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to be exotic..." she once wrote in her 1995 autobiography, "Rage to Survive," explaining her unique style and flaming blonde hair.
One of my favorite Etta James is a serious cut from the late 1970's called "All the Way Down." It used to fill the dance floors at the discos I spinned at. 
It still could.
GOD rest, Etta James. You were truly one of the greats.
“AL” OBAMA - I thoroughly enjoyed, as many of you did, seeing President Obama at the world famous Apollo Theater last week, shocking everyone by breaking into song, and rendering a soulful presidential version of singer Al Green’s legendary, “Let’s Stay Together.” More shocking was that Rev. Green was RIGHT THERE to see and hear it.
I must give Pres. Obama credit; he still has the ability to surprise. Good job, Mr. President.
ART POPE - Last Sunday I was asked to debate conservative activist and GOP moneyman Art Pope. Yes, THE Art Pope, the same multi-millionaire who owns dollar stores specifically in the black community through his company, Variety Wholesalers, Inc., and who bankrolled at least 19 Republican legislative candidates in the November 2010 midterms, thus leading to the GOP takeover of both houses of the NC General Assembly.
The program we both appeared on was the Spectacular Magazine Radio Show, hosted by publisher Phyllis Coley and Gary Jones. It was a barnburner, and if you want to hear an edited version, just go to http://thecashroc.blogspot.com/2012/01/cash-michaels-debates-art-pope-on.html to download, and enjoy!
“RED TAILS” TRIUMPH - In case you didn’t know it, the film, “Red Tails,” a film inspired by the exploits of the historic Tuskegee Airmen, did bang-up business last weekend as the Number 2 movie in the land, grossing $19.1 million at the box office. Strangely enough, the film is not in foreign distribution yet, which is odd b because most major motion pictures these days open globally within days of each other so that they can make their costs back as soon as possible.
I’m not sure what the plan is for “Red Tails,” but it deserves to be a profitable motion picture. I saw it with my family last week, and it was good. Thank you George Lucas.
Make sure you tune in every Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. for my talk radio show, ''Make It Happen'' on Power 750 WAUG-AM, or online at www.Power750.com. And read more about my thoughts and opinions exclusively at my new blog, ‘The Cash Roc” (http://thecashroc.blogspot.com/2011/01/cash-roc-begins.html). I promise it will be interesting.
Cash in the Apple - honored as the Best Column Writing of 2006 by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Columnist Cash Michaels was also honored by the NNPA for Best Feature Story Journalist of 2009, and was the recipient of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP’s President’s Award for Media Excellence in Sept. 2011.
Until next week, keep a smile on your face, GOD in your heart, and The Carolinian in your life. Bye, bye.

No comments:

Post a Comment