Mayor Steele reports to Eutaw City Council on recent positive progress

Shown L To R: Mayor Raymond Steele, Anita Lewis Executive Director of Branch Heights and Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison inspecting newly paved road.
Sgt. Reese displaying guns that were confiscated from juveniles in
an arrest on O’Neal Street.

After some routine matters, the January 8, 2019 first meeting of the new year was devoted to a report by Mayor Raymond Steele on positive progress by the city over the past weeks.
The Eutaw City Council agreed to table discussion of bills and finances until a working session scheduled for January 15, 2019. The area of finances, a budget, audits of prior year finances and a general handle on the revenues and expenses of the city remain a concern to a majority of the Council members.
Mayor Steele reported that work on resurfacing the streets in Branch Heights was underway. Central Asphalt Company of Northport was doing a good job. The major streets will be done first and then if funds are left in the contract, the individual cul de sacs in the community will also be resurfaced.
The Mayor indicated that some supplement might need to be added to the contract to complete the full road and street resurfacing project in Branch Heights. This work is being funded by a special allocation of bingo funds and the city’s road repair tax account.
Mayor Steele reported that site work for the Love’s Truck Stop project at the Interstate 59/20 exit would begin later in January. Some equipment has been pre-staged by the contractor for use in site preparations for the project.
The Mayor thanked Rev. Barton for his work with youth at the Robert H. Young Community Center (formerly Carver Elementary School) including a basketball tournament, exercise and weight room and improvements to the exterior and interior of the buildings.
Darren Cook of Unity in the Community, a non-profit organization, has assisted Rev. Barton with the youth program and sponsoring the holiday basketball tournament. Cook, who is a native of Tishabee community in Greene County, now resides in Huntsville raised funds through his non-profit to help with charitable projects in Greene County. Cook said his organization also provided bicycles for poor children through DHR and Christmas baskets to forty senior citizens in the community.
Cook’s organization recently provided 30 table coverings for the Robert H. Young Center. Council members thanked Cook and praised the city administration for moving ahead in a positive way. Rev. James Carter indicated that he had employed three young people, in his family construction business, who he met at the basketball tournament.
The Mayor announced that Auburn University was sponsoring a conference on economic development on April 4, 2019, in Eutaw, in conjunction with the city and surrounding communities.
Police Chief Coleman and Sgt. Reese displayed two automatic guns that they had confiscated from juveniles in an arrest the previous week on O’Neal Street. The weapons which were modified to fire continuous rounds automatically looked dangerous and raised many questions as to how and why young people in our city should be carrying weapons of war suitable to a third world battlefield and not the streets of small town Alabama.
In other business, the Eutaw City Council:

  • Approved use of the Eutaw Civic Center by the National Wild Turkey Federation, for their special annual event on February 22, 2019, including approval of a license to serve alcohol at the event; and
  • Approved travel for Chief Coleman to attend the Alabama Chief of Police Conference in Montgomery on February 17-21, 2019.

Greene County officials hold inaugural ceremonies

Greene County’s newly elected Circuit Clerk, Probate Judge and re-elected Sheriff were installed into office last week in the Williams M. Branch Courthouse in Eutaw.
Circuit Clerk Veronica Morton Jones was installed Saturday, January 13, 2019 at 12 noon. On hand to welcome her to the position and provide encouraging words were four former Greene County Circuit Clerks who preceded her in office: Mary Snoddy, Johnny M. Knott, Etta Edwards and Mattie Atkins.
The Mistress of Ceremony for Jones’ installation was Drenda Morton. Jones’ daughter Victoria, brought greetings. Prayer and inspirational words were led by Alphonzo Morton, Jr. and Rev. Jerome McIntosh, respectively.
Greene County District Judge, Lillie Jones Osborne administered the Oath of Office. Circuit Clerk Jones introduced her family and expressed deepest appreciation for all who assisted and supported her in this journey. Elected officials present were also recognized. Following the program, dinner was served at St. Paul United Methodist Church.
Greene County Sheriff, Jonathan Benison, was installed for his third term in office on Sunday, January 13, 2019. Carrie Jones served as Mistress of Ceremony.

Invocation and prayer were led by Rev. Edward King and Rev. John Kennard, respectively. Chief Deputy Jeremy Rancher brought the welcome and musical renditions were provided by Monica Turner.
Commissioner Allen Turner recognized elected officials and Cpl. CO. Blake McMillian introduced the guest speaker retired Trooper Steven Davis. District Judge Lillie Jones Osborne administered the Oath of Office, followed by Sheriff Benison’s inaugural address. Following the program, Rev. Kelvin Cockrell gave the benediction and dinner was served at Ruby’s.
The inaugural ceremony for Probate Judge Rolanda Martin Wedgeworth was held Monday, January 14, 2019 at 5:30 pm. Ms. Marilyn Sanford served as Mistress of Ceremony. Invocation and prayer were led by Rev. John Kennard and Rev. Joe Nathan Webb, respectively. City Judge William “Nick” Underwood administered the Oat of Office. Judge Wedgeworth introduced her family and shared expressions of gratitude for all the support and assistance she has received. Mr. Alonzo Thompson gave the benediction and blessing of the food, which was followed by a reception in the courthouse foyer.

Commission invests in road re-surfacing and courthouse HAVC unit replacement; tables Forkland request for park property

In its regular meeting held, Monday, January 14, 2019, the Greene County Commission approved a resolution allowing the county to enter an agreement with ALDOT to resurface County Road 72. The county’s share of the financial investment in the project will be $348,945.01. The commission also approved replacing the HAVC unit on the main courthouse facility at a cost of $29,753.
The County Commission is hoping to have a Bill in the 2019 State Legislative Session that will bring some changes regarding the County Coroner. The proposed Bill would allow the coroner to have a salary, instead of just depending on fees; it would allow the coroner to get needed equipment and space through the county including a vehicle for transporting. At Monday’s meeting, the commission approved advertising the Coroner’s Bill.
A delegation from the Town of Forkland was present anticipating action from the commission regarding a request for the county to convey to the town the property associated with the Forkland Park. At the commission work session, the previous week, the Forkland Mayor, Charlie MacAlpine and members of the Town Council presented this request to the commission. At that session, Mr. MacAlpine explained that the park needs to be re-vitalized and the town is willing to take on this responsibility including the up-keep, but would like to own the property.Following an executive session, Commissioner Allen Turner, who represents Forkland, offered a motion to table the request, seconded by Commissioner Corey Cockrell. The motion passed.
An item added to the agenda was the request from the Sheriff Department for the purchase of a vehicle. Commissioner Turner moved to purchase a vehicle at fair market value not to exceed the requested amount. At the previous work session, Chief Deputy Jeremy Rancher, presented a proposal to the commission for the purchase of a used vehicle available at a cost of approximately $45,000. He stated that a normal patrol car would cost from $55,000 and above. He also said that the county needs six vehicles replaced, and it would help if the commission could provide one at this time.
In other business, the commission appointed Greene County Health Services CEO, Dr. Marcia Pugh, to the EMT Board, and approved the purchase of a full page ad in the annual Black History Edition of the Greene County Democrat newspaper.
The commission was scheduled to confirm appointments on various county boards, however, many of these positions were tabled for a later time. For the Industrial Development Authority Board, the commission did approve the re-appointments of Dr. Warren Burke and Mr. Luther Winn, from Districts 1 and 2 respectively. IDA appointments for Districts 3 and 4 were tabled. For the PARA Board, the commission approved Mr. Christopher Stepner for District 4. PARA Board appointments for Districts 1 and 5 were tabled. Housing Authority of Greene County Board appointments for Districts 3 and 4 were tabled. Ms. Anna Gray was re-appointed to the Library Board for District 4. Districts 2 and 5 appointments were tabled.
The commission approved the travel requests for the County Engineer and Assistant Engineer, and approved hosting the Association of County Commissions of Alabama District Meeting scheduled for February 4, 2019. The ACCA will cover food and catering expenses.
The commission approved paying Mr. Jasper Means $6,500 for the safe house foundation until funds from FEMA are received.
The commission approved the financial report and the payment of claims as proposed by the CFO, Paula Bird. Ms. Bird reported the following bank balances as of December 18, 2018: Citizen Trust Bank, $3,186.545.46; Merchants & Farmers Bank, $2,458,290.70; CD Bonds, $924,445.41. There was not a report for the Bank of New York.

Newswire : The Government Shutdown: Another storm for Black farmers, cooperatives, and Southern rural communities, a press release from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives

Black farm family pose in front of vegetable stand

     Atlanta, GA- It was anticipated that the new Farm Bill would offer hope for improving farming economies into 2019 — especially after major 2018 farm losses from natural disasters and the trade war. However, the government shutdown now in its 19th day has had a chilling effect on economic outlook and optimism for the new year.  Farmers waiting for direct payments, market assistance loans, market facilitation payments and disaster assistance program payments, particularly in a time of farm crisis, are being left high and dry.

        The unexpected disruption in government services means that farmers are looking for support and guidance from farm organizations like the Federation to help them stabilize their farms. The Federation’s Georgia Field Office which is typically busy providing technical assistance to farmers and helping with farm loan applications are getting phone calls from very worried farmers. Cornelius Key, the Federation’s Georgia State Coordinator, who is also a farmer and rancher says, “Small farmers that normally submit farm loan applications in December and January can’t submit loans at the moment. The shutdown will have a domino effect as it ultimately leads to a decreased harvest, greater farm debt, and loan defaults that could translate to land and farm losses.” 
        As a leading non-profit cooperative association representing over 20,000 rural black farmers and landowners, cooperatives, credit unions, and community based economic development groups across the rural south, the Federation historically plays a pivotal advocacy role in bringing equity for black farmers and rural communities through many efforts.
        The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is one of the Federation’s major partners supplying resources through various agencies including Natural Resource and Conservation Service, Rural Development, Farm Service Agency, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. “While the government is shutdown, we are unable to access needed resources as part of our contracts and agreements with the USDA agencies and continue to provide valuable education, outreach, and technical assistance to our membership. The shutdown also makes it difficult to fulfill the financial obligations the Federation has to its staff, partners and vendors. We would like the President and Congress to understand the crippling effect of this shutdown,” Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation said.
        No matter what side of the political fence one falls, farm and rural development advocates will agree that the shutdown will cause much harm if not resolved very soon. Ben Burkett, the Federation’s Mississippi State Coordinator, and a fourth-generation farmer states that ” The soybean farmers are anxiously awaiting delayed payments they were promised because of losses from the trade war. Farmers implementing conservation practices that allow them to manage their farms in the protection of air, water, and soil are delayed.”
        The overall sentiment is hopeful while weathering this storm. For an organization that is 51 years old, this isn’t the worst the Federation has endured; but that all depends on how long this shutdown lasts and the economic impact it has on farms and rural communities.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, entering its 52 st year, assists limited resource farmers, landowners, and cooperatives across the South with business planning, debt restructuring, marketing expertise, and a whole range of other services to ensure the retention of land ownership and cooperatives as a tool for social and economic justice. The overall mission is to reverse the trend of black land loss and be a catalyst for the development of self-supporting communities via cooperative economic development, land retention and advocacy. More information on the Federation can be found at www.federation.coop

Newswire : Birmingham Civil Rights Institute cancels gala honoring Angela Davis after outcry from Jewish community Michael Harriot, The Root

Angela Davis

One of the nation’s most prominent civil rights museums has reneged on its plans to celebrate one of America’s most outspoken freedom fighters, igniting a national controversy after seemingly genuflecting to grumbles from the area’s Jewish community.
On Jan. 4, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute released a weirdly nonspecific statement canceling its plans to bestow the institute’s highest honor upon Angela Davis, a Birmingham, Alabama, native. The ceremony was supposed to serve as the centerpiece of the museum’s annual gala, planned for Feb. 19.
“In September of 2018, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s Board of Directors selected Angela Davis to receive the prestigious Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award at its annual gala in February 2019,” said a statement posted on the BCRI website.
In late December, supporters and other concerned individuals and organizations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that BCRI reconsider its decision.
Upon closer examination of Ms. Davis’ statements and public record, we concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based. Therefore, on January 4, BCRI’s Board voted to rescind its invitation to Ms. Davis to honor her with the Shuttlesworth Award. While we recognize Ms. Davis’ stature as a scholar and prominent figure in civil rights history, we believe this decision is consistent with the ideals of the award’s namesake, Rev. Shuttlesworth.
We regret that this change is necessary, and apologize to our supporters, the community and Ms. Davis for the confusion we have caused. We will move forward with a keen focus on our mission: to enlighten each generation about civil and human rights by exploring our common past and working together in the present to build a better future.
The associated gala event, scheduled for February 16that Haven has been cancelled. Ticket purchasers will received a full refund.
Because the BCRI was less than transparent in its statement, many people wondered why the institute would moonwalk back its support for the hometown heroine. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin cleared up some of the confusion in expressing his discontent with the Institute’s decision. In a statement Sunday, Woodfin said:
As I consider the controversy over the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s decision to honor Dr. Angela Davis with the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award and its subsequent decision to rescind that honor after protests from our local Jewish community and some of its allies, my overriding feeling is one of dismay.
“I am dismayed because this controversy is playing out in a way that harks backward, rather than forward,” Woodfin continued, adding that the decision “portrays us as the same Birmingham we always have been, rather than the one we want to be.”
According to people familiar with BCRI’s decision, the institute’s reversal is centered around the local Jewish community’s opposition with what the Associated Press describes as Davis’ support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which seeks to rectify Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Soon after the institute announced their plans to honor Davis, Southern Jewish Life magazine published what could only be described as a “hit piece” detailing Davis’s support of policies that are often seen as anti-Israel.
According to AL.com, local organizers have vowed to protest the institution if the author and internationally known academic does not receive the award. Activists and academics around the country were outraged by the organization’s decision to bow to outside pressure, noting, among other things, Davis’ long history in the struggle for equality for people of all colors, races, religions, and gender.
Davis was born and raised in Birmingham’s “Dynamite Hill,” whose nickname comes from the more than 50 bombings by white supremacists trying to thwart integration during the civil rights era. She became a professor at the University of California’s Los Angeles campus and was known for her radical feminism and her involvement with both the Communist Party USA and the Black Panthers.
After authorities accused Davis of purchasing weapons used in a 1970 courtroom takeover and police shooting, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made Davis the third woman to ever be listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. She briefly went on the run, was arrested, and placed in solitary confinement.
Davis was acquitted of all charges.
Last week, a coalition of community and civil rights groups in Birmingham decided to hold an alternative event to honor Angela Davis in Birmingham on February 16, the same date that the BCRI had originally chosen to honor her.

The Birmingham City Council passed a resolution unanimously supporting Davis and condemning the BCRI, which is a major tourist attraction in the city. Several BCRI Board members resigned in protest since the institution rescinded its award to Davis.

Newswire : Government shutdown hits African Americans the hardest

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

With over 50,000 federal employees, the fourth congressional district in Maryland represents the fifth largest number of workers, and Maryland likely counts as the third-largest impacted state by the government shutdown, according to Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown.
“So, I’m hearing about this, like my colleagues, each and every day from my constituents while this shutdown is set to become the longest in the nation’s history,” said Brown, who joined Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.); Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), on a media conference call on Friday, Jan. 11.
The CBC members said they were calling for an end to the shutdown so that workers can again begin to collect their paychecks and critical government services can resume.
During the call, the members discussed the debilitating effects of the ongoing government shutdown as thousands of federal employees are unable to collect their paychecks.
They also denounced President Donald Trump’s threat to declare a state of emergency if Congress refuses to fund a border wall – one in which the president claimed during his campaign that Mexico would pay for.
“This shutdown and the whole issue of the wall is a fake crisis,” Bass said. “At the end of the day, even if he had all the money, it would still take eminent domain to build his wall. That process will take years. This is further evidence that this is a fake crisis and, in my opinion, just an attempt to change our attention away from the numerous impending investigations,” she said.
Thompson, the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, said the shutdown is taking its toll on workers and government operations. “It is a challenge for us in Homeland Security. We have 80 percent of the workforce not being paid. That goes from TSA employees in airports, to the Coast Guard, to the Secret Service, to Custom Border Protection individuals, and all of those individuals who have sworn to keep us safe, are not being paid,” Thompson said.
“On Saturday, Jan. 12, the shutdown entered its 22nd day, a record.
NBC News and other outlets estimate that 800,000 federal employees are furloughed or working without pay because Trump and Congress cannot reach a deal to reopen the government.
They are at an impasse over $5.7 billion for construction of a wall along the southern border. The number of furloughed employees does not include federal contractors, according to a report by NBC News. It’s unclear how many contract or grant employees are affected by the shutdown — or even how many there are in total — but a Volcker Alliance report estimated that nearly 5.3 million worked as contractors in 2015.
Unlike furloughed federal employees, who have received assurances that they will be paid once the shutdown ends, contractors are not owed back pay and that has left them in an even murkier economic position.
Further, communities of color are probably the hardest hit by the shutdown, said Lee, who co-chairs the Steering and Policy Committee and serves on the House Committee on Appropriations.
Black people comprise 12 percent of the country’s population but are 18 percent of the federal workforce, according to the Partnership for Public Service.
“We know that communities of color are disproportionately affected by this irresponsible Trump government shutdown. And today is especially painful for so many workers because it should be payday,” Lee said. Without these paychecks, many federal workers are hanging on by a thread, she said.
“I know there are hundreds of thousands of families out there who are grappling with the anxiety, and really fear, of not being able to pay the bills as this shutdown drags on.
“Let’s be very clear: what’s happening here is President Trump is holding this government hostage and holding people hostage in order to get his useless, wasteful wall,” Lee said.

Rep. Terri Sewell: Democrats introduce sweeping Democracy Reform Package

House Democrats propose Democracy Reform Package

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Friday, January 4, House Democrats introduced the For the People Act, a package of democracy bills including sweeping election, campaign finance, and ethics reforms designed to give American voters a stronger voice in government. 
The package also includes a commitment to passing legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, which was gutted in the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision. Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) is the lead sponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill to restore the VRA and strengthen protections against discrimination in elections.
 “The American people asked for reforms that give everyone a fair voice in our elections, and Democrats are delivering,” said Rep. Terri Sewell. “In Alabama’s 7th District, our families marched, bled, and died for their right to have a fair voice in our democracy, but today new strategies for disenfranchisement are keeping eligible voters from engaging in our elections.
The For the People Act fights back with reforms to stop gerrymandering, strengthen campaign finance laws, and close ethics loopholes. As we begin work in the House to investigate voter discrimination and the state of voter protections in our elections, I am proud to see a commitment in the For the People Act to restoring the vote. There is much work left to do, but today’s introduction takes a big step towards building a government of, by, and for the people.”
Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) was sworn in to the 116th Congress on January 3, 2019, beginning her fifth term in the House of Representatives.
 Sewell is one of 102 women who were sworn into the House on January 3 who are a testament to the power of the women who have marched, protested, and voted for their seat at the table.

Alabama Civil Rights Museum announces Greene Co. programs to honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday

Spiver Gordon, President of the Alabama Civil Rights Museum announced several programs to honor the life and commemorate the birthday of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be held this month in Greene County.
“It is important for people in Greene County and around the nation to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday and to recognize the principles and ideals that he stood for and supported,” said Gordon. “ We should not take a day off but rather a day ‘on’ to study, understand and put into action the teachings of Dr. King,” he added.
On Tuesday, January 15, 2019, the actual day of Dr. King’s Birthday there will be a youth seminar at New Peace Baptist Church in Eutaw, at 10:00 AM, for students at Eutaw High School and people in the community. Kendrick Office, Sumter County football coach will be the keynote speaker. He will be joined by members of the Greene County School Board and other public officials in bringing a special message to youth on the continuing lessons of Dr. King’s life and teachings.
On Sunday, January 20, 2019 at 4:00 PM there will be a “Community Freedom Rally’ at Pine Grove CMC Church in Dollarhide to praise and recognize ‘Godly Men and Women of West Alabama’ counties, including Greene, Sumter, Pickens, Hale, Marengo and Tuscaloosa. Rev. Joe Webb of New Generation Church in Eutaw will be the keynote speaker for this mass meeting.
Monday, January 21, 2019, the official Dr. King National Holiday, will begin with a ‘Freedom Unity Breakfast’ at the Eutaw Activity Center at 8:30 AM. Keynote Speaker will be Rev. Dr. Michael Lavender, Pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church in Clinton, AL. Additional awards and recognitions to ‘Godly Men of West Alabama’ will be presented.
After a march from the Eutaw Activity Center to the William M. Branch Courthouse, the ‘West Alabama Godly Women Program’ will be held, starting at 10:30 AM at the Courthouse. Rev. Dr. Millicent Owens of Greensboro, Alabama will be the guest speaker for this program. Rev. Owens is a radio personality and wife of John Owens, former Mayor of Greensboro.
Gordon also announced that saxophonist and musician Ric Sexton of Detroit, Michigan will be playing and speaking at some of the programs to honor Dr, King. The Greene County Community Choir and the Tishabee Male Chorus will sing and participate in some of the events. The Greene County Chapter of the Alabama New South Coalition will be co-sponsoring these events.
“We have been celebrating Dr. King’s Birthday in Greene County, for over forty years because of his contributions to civil rights and voting rights that made a direct and meaningful change in the lives of Black and poor people, here in Alabama, and around the world. We were part of the protests and movement that led to the declaration of Dr. King’s Birthday as a National Holiday,” said Gordon.

Newswire : African leaders confront a ‘blue wave’ demanding democratic change

Sudanese women protesting government actions

Jan. 7, 2018 (GIN) – When Democrats captured one House seat after another in the midterm elections, observers brushed it off as a “blue trickle.” Later they had to admit: it was a giant blue wave.

Africans are also yearning for change and their frustration is erupting across the continent with a new crop of activists challenging the old order.

In Ethiopia, reforms are already underway since the installation last year of 42 year old Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Women have been named to some of the government’s key positions – president, chief justice and half of all ministers. Thousands of political prisoners and journalists have been freed while senior officials accused of human rights abuses and corruption no longer enjoys immunity.

Ahmed overturned bans on opposition groups. His overture to Eritrea led to the end of a long-running conflict of neighbors.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called it “a wind of hope blowing in the Horn of Africa.”

Since the unpopular Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos was coaxed from power in 2017, a liberation fighter and former defense minister, Joao Lourenco, next in succession, stepped into the job. Today, even the toughest critics of the government say that in just more than a year, President Lourenco has accomplished more to stop corruption than any previous administration.

In Sudan, President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir is facing a determined movement of opposition on the heels of his third decade in power enabled by disputed elections. His late-arriving “reforms” fell flat as prices for bread and fuel were jacked up as per the advice of the IMF. Spontaneous, leaderless crowds are turning out in the thousands — not just in the capital, Khartoum, but countrywide.

“It’s like someone who has found himself on the back of a lion,” said one observer. “He can’t get off without the lion devouring him.”

Democratic reforms are also high on the wish list of people in Togo, who are fighting for term limits that would effectively end President Faure Gnassingbé’s nearly two decades in power. In Gabon, President Ali Bongo who remains in Morocco since suffering a stroke in October while traveling abroad, barely managed to survive a coup this week by a handful of young officers. Nigeria meanwhile goes to the polls on Feb. 16.

Finally, 46 million Congolese cast ballots on Dec. 30 only to learn that the electoral commission has counted less than half the votes and a winner will not be announced until a week or two or three, if ever.

So which way for the blue wave in the Congo? Stay tuned…. w/pix of protesting Sudanese women in the U.S.

Newsire: Congresswoman Maxine Waters makes history: First Black, First Woman to Chair House Financial Services Committee

By Charlene Crowell

Congresswoman Maxoine Waters

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – As 2019 begins, there is also a new Congress with leadership in the House of Representatives that makes history for people of color and women alike.

Long-time California Representative Nancy Pelosi returns as Speaker of the House – the first time in 50 years that a Member of Congress has achieved this feat. On a gender note, Speaker Pelosi becomes the most powerful woman on Capitol Hill and the only female in the nation’s history to do so.

There’s also another key woman and legislator that is making history. Congresswoman Maxine Waters is now the first Black and the first woman to chair the powerful House Financial Services Committee. Having served on this committee since 1995, and its Ranking Member in the previous Congress, Waters will set the committee’s agenda in key areas affecting the economy, banking, housing, insurance and securities.

The House Financial Services Committee oversees the activities and responsibilities for major financial regulators, agencies, and the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve. These agencies include but are not limited to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – that insures monies in depository institutions, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission that is charged with maintaining fair and efficient investment markets.

In other words, the fiery and bold Black lawmaker who earned a reputation for challenging Wall Street and major lenders during the housing crisis will now set the direction for a range of financial players, regulators, and institutions. From monetary policy to the production and distribution of currency, and expanding financial access to affordable housing options, a progressive and principled committee chair is running the show. She is also expected to set standards of performance that level the financial playing field and hold lenders accountable when they take advantage of consumers or discriminate in their lending.

With the right kind of regulation and committee oversight, the nation may be able to change financial trends that have worsened both racial and gender wealth gaps.

For example, a December 2018 report by the Asset Funder’s Network analyzed racial and gender disparities in wealth and found that Black and Latina women have “lost substantial amounts of wealth in the last two decades”.

From 2007 to 2016, Black women ages 45-65 had a 74 percent drop in median wealth, compared to that of White women who experienced a 28 percent drop. Further, the Asset Funders Network concluded the median “quasi-liquid” savings for single Black and Latina women aged 45-50 was $0.
Earlier in 2017 the Federal Reserve found that nearly 1 in 5 black families have zero or negative net worth — twice the rate of white families. Additionally the median net worth of Black families was one-tenth of that held by White families.

These wealth disparities continue to plague communities of color in large part because of disparities in home ownership that enable consumers to build wealth. Year after year, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) report has consistently found that consumers of color are denied access to mortgages, especially private conventional loans that remain the most sustainable and affordable loans.

Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting published its analysis of the most recent HMDA report. “It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio,” states the report. “African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities – Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida – and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.”

A second but equally harmful trend is predatory lending that targets these same consumers with high-cost credit that creates debt traps. When consumers find themselves short of cash before paydays, overdraft fees, payday and car title loans are among the most predatory due to their extremely high interest rates and failure to consider whether borrowers have the financial capacity to repay the loans without taking on additional debt.

For all of Black America, as well as consumer advocates and others who believe financial fairness should be the nation’s watchword, an expectation of a new era of accountability, access and transparency is hoped to soon unfold.

“She is a tough and savvy defender of consumer protection and holds the feet of the banks and the Trump administration regulators to the fire,” said Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending in a recent interview.

Should anyone doubt the resolve of Congresswoman Waters, consider her reaction last fall when she and other prominent progressives faced a series of bomb threats and other violence.

“We have to keep doing what we’re doing in order to make this country right,” Waters told the Washington Post. “That’s what I intend to do. And as the young people say, ‘I ain’t scared.’”

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s Communications Deputy Director. She can be reached atCharlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.