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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gulf Coast Leaders Mobilize to Aid Tornado-Ravaged Communities

The following is a press release about the recent devastation brought to the South via tornadoes, storms, and more recently, floods. Do you have information about the relief, recovery or reconstruction of the South? Do you know of volunteer or donation needs for the affected areas? Write them on the Equal Voice Facebook for our network to see or tweet to the Equal Voice Twitter. We are all happy to help.

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April 29, 2011
Media Contact: Barbara Nonas

Gulf Coast Leaders Mobilize to Aid Tornado-Ravaged Communities

Gulf Coast Fund Provides Emergency Grants for Immediate Support;
Community Leaders Mobilize on Scene to Coordinate Recovery Efforts

New Orleans, LA - The Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, a community-led philanthropy in the Gulf Coast, has partnered with the Black Belt Community Foundation in Selma, Alabama, to provide emergency grants to assist some of the hardest hit low-income communities affected by the deadly tornado clusters that hit the South yesterday. The Black Belt Community Foundation serves Alabama's Black Belt, which stretches across the middle of the state from Mississippi almost to the Georgia line. Rich in human, religious, geographic and political diversity, the Black Belt is home to the highest percentage of African Americans in Alabama, and also contains a high concentration of low income rural communities.

“Entire neighborhoods have been wiped out, and many low income, rural communities do not have food or shelter. The areas west of the Interstate and east of Tuscaloosa are in desperate need of assistance and supplies, and we are committed to providing aid,” explains Felicia Jones, Executive Director of the Black Belt Belt Community Foundation.

“We know from experience the importance of moving resources to these areas quickly--that’s why we’re working in partnership with organizations like the Black Belt Community Foundation and The National Coalition of Black Civic Participation to leverage resources,” states LaTosha Brown, Director of the Gulf Coast Fund. “Our goal is to raise $500,000 in funds for long-term tornado disaster relief. The grassroots organizations we support are already on the scene, coordinating relief efforts from the ground,” continues Brown.

Immediately upon learning of the tornadoes, members of the Gulf Coast Fund’s extensive network of grassroots leaders mobilized to provide relief in and around Tuscaloosa, Al. Having personally experienced a series of disasters, including hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, as well as the BP oil catastrophe, Gulf Coast community leaders and residents have become experts at disaster recovery. Leaders like Derrick Evans, Advisor to the Gulf Coast Fund, are proving ready, willing, and able to provide assistance to tornado-ravaged communities wherever needed. Many are already on the scene, clearing tree limbs and tornado debris from residents’ roofs and personal property, setting up tarps, and offering temporary lodging, generators, fuel, food, clothing, and other necessary supplies. More support will be arriving today and over the weekend.

To make a donation that will directly support tornado-affected communities, visit

*Interviews with disaster relief experts from the Gulf Coast Fund available upon request*

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More Cities and States Targeting Wage Theft

The Seattle City Council has joined a growing number of cities and states passing legislation to strengthen laws and penalties for employers who commit wage theft.

“The council’s action today sends a strong signal that wage theft will not be tolerated in Seattle. This legislation protects workers and gives the city additional tools to target unscrupulous employers. For those businesses who operate fairly and honestly in Seattle, this legislation helps level the playing field by chasing away those who prey on their employees," according to a statement from the city.

Earlier this month, New York became the largest state to pass laws aimed at reducing wage theft and putting more money into the pockets of workers.

Last week, in Brownsville, Texas, a woman who has only been identified as "Maria" filed a federal lawsuit against her former employer, Monterrey Tortilleria, claiming they owe her $8,000 in back wages.

She told Action 4 News that she worked more than 70 hours a week on fixed salary. She knew she wasn't being paid what she deserved but kept working because she needed the money.

In Seattle the new city ordinance makes it a gross misdemeanor to commit wage theft, with accompanying fines and potential to revoke the business license of the employer.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Economic Security Carries a Big Price Tag for Families

How much annual income does a family of four really need to have a certain level of economic security? According to calculations by Shawn McMahon, research director for Wider Opportunities for Women, the eye-opening answer is $67,920 a year. That’s two parents, each making $16 an hour, and two young children.

McMahon discussed the research on NPR’s Morning Edition today.

"We're not talking about surviving," McMahon told Morning Edition host Renee Montagne. "We are talking about economic security that allows people to live day to day without fear of a lot of the economic insecurity that we've been seeing in recent years."

The figure is far from the $21,756 poverty line the federal government sets for a family of four – which basically covers food and shelter. In reality, transportation and child care take up the biggest chunk of the family income.

“The high cost of quality child care is the greatest threat to many families’ security,” according to the report. “The cost of child care threatens a second parent’s ability to work and increase family income. In most families with two or more young children, child care is the largest expense.”

But “economic security” doesn’t mean saving much for retirement, or a down payment on house.
Here is a look at McMahon’s monthly budget for a family living on $67,920 and a link to the report.

The Components Of Basic Economic Security

Monthly Expenses

2 Workers,
1 Preschooler,
1 Schoolchild









Child Care


Personal and Household Items


Health Care


Emergency Savings


Retirement Savings




Tax Credits


Monthly Total (per worker)


Annual Total


Median Family Income


The Federal Poverty Line
For A Family Of Four


Friday, March 18, 2011

The Color of Cuts in Washington State

WashingtonCAN -- the state's largest grassroots advocacy group -- released a report titled "The Color of Cuts" to discuss how 2011 state budget cuts "fell disproportionately on people of color," in areas such as: quality of life, health, education, and civil rights for low-income families. The report was endorsed by 68 community organizations in Washington state.

Some highlights from the report:

"This year, immigrant communities are finding themselves under heavy attack given the Governor’s proposal to eliminate or cut programs that only serve immigrants and refugees, including the New Americans program, naturalization services, medical interpreter services, children’s health care, refugee services, state only food stamps, and health coverage for immigrants through the Basic Health program."

"Today, 27,000 undocumented children are enrolled Apple Health for Kids. The Governor’s supplemental budget proposed to eliminate coverage specifically for these immigrant kids, which would jeopardize their ability to learn and result in more costly long-term consequences."

Click here to read "The Color of Cuts."

Journalists at the "Color of Cuts" report release.
Courtesy: WashingtonCAN Facebook site.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

520 tolling campaign overlooks ethnic media

This commentary originally appeared in Northwest Asian Weekly.

Recent information from the Seattle Times’ analysis of 2010 Census data indicates that the number of minorities has quickly risen on the Eastside over the past decade. Since 2000, in Bellevue alone, the minority population climbed 62 percent, and the non-whites now make up 41 percent of the general population.

The rise should not surprise anyone. Racially white Eastern European minority communities are also on the rise. Natasha Savage, president of the Eastern European American Chamber of Commerce, estimates that 13–15 percent of those on the Eastside include recent Easter European immigrants.

Despite the steady increase, many ethnic communities still lie outside the purview of communication campaigns that they help fund with their tax dollars. The campaign for 520 tolling, the Good to Go! program, exemplifies such an oversight.

Certainly, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) tolling communications department means well. In the “Good to Go! Outreach and Marketing Elements,” there is a section on grassroots outreach, which states that the WSDOT should perform “outreach to minority and low-income organizations to use their communications channels to inform their constituents.”

The WSDOT communications office notes these efforts include sending informational material to community organizations, such as ethnic-based student groups at the University of Washington, religious institutions, cultural associations, and social service providers.

Volunteers or small staffs, however, run most of these organizations. Their priorities are unlikely to include informing their constituents about 520 tolling when many of them face more pressing concerns such as health care and social service cuts.

Asian Indians comprise one of two of the dominant Asian groups on the Eastside. Debadutta Dash, co-chair of Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee, said “the lack of outreach [for creating an awareness] is certainly an issue for the Asian Indian community in the case of upcoming 520 tolling,” and cited 10 prominent Asian Indian organizations not contacted.
Interestingly, the 520 tolling campaign includes almost none of the dozens of ethnic media outlets whose mission is to serve as ‘communications channels’ to their communities.

WSDOT has budgeted for media buys. According to the “SR 520 Good to Go! Advertising Plan,” WSDOT plans to purchase $1,108,784 in ad campaigns in newspapers, TV, radio, and online resources.

Only $11,982 went to ethnic media — only one percent of the campaign.

WSDOT also made an interesting choice in deciding which ethnic communities to focus on, too. Good to Go! media buys only went to a single Spanish-language radio and a Spanish-language newspaper.

Surprisingly, the other dominant ethnic minority, the Chinese, in Bellevue (9 percent) and Redmond (6.5 percent) was not addressed. Twenty percent of Northwest Asian Weekly papers are distributed on the Eastside. Statewide, more than 70 percent of Chinese speak Chinese at home; 38 percent report they speak English less than very well. Nearly a dozen Chinese language newspapers are distributed locally to serve the community’s strong need for in-language news.

The major locally-based Chinese language news outlets, Seattle Chinese Post, Seattle Chinese Times, and AAT TV, reported they contacted WSDOT communications and their advertising agency last year, but received no response. Numerous other ethnic media outlets gave the same report.

The fact is that many ethnic communities rely on ethnic media, and they care about transportation.

The Vietnamese Friendship Association recently released a study showing that, after getting information through word-of-mouth, the Vietnamese, age 35 and above, rely more on Vietnamese-language media than English language media for social and economic resources. Nearly 70 percent expressed concern over transportation.

WSDOT would save money by investing more in informing communities with limited English proficiency about the 520 tolling now, rather than dealing with customer complaints and inquiries later.

With the electronic tolling ease, many of those who do not regularly access mainstream media or comprehend ads on billboards and buses will continue to use 520 without even understanding a toll exists. They will only find out when they receive a notice for a fine in their mailbox. According to WSDOT, drivers without accounts must pay by phone or online “within 72 hours of incurring the toll,” or else they will incur a civil penalty.

This Friday, Janet Matkin of the WSDOT will visit with a group of local ethnic media to discuss how to improve outreach to ethnic communities. Everyone agrees they share the same goal: to ensure as many people as possible are ‘good to go’ when tolling on 520 starts.

Julie Pham, PhD, is the managing editor of Northwest Vietnamese News and founder of Sea Beez, a capacity-building program for Seattle’s ethnic media.

Upcoming Cases in U.S. Supreme Court Could Alter How the Constitution Affects Kids

By: Reclaiming Futures

The United States Supreme Court is set to hear a number of cases this month that look at how the Constitution applies to children. In each of the cases kids were questioned behind closed doors at their schools with no attorneys present and without being read their Miranda rights.

In one of the cases an Oregon family is suing a case worker and deputy sheriff for “badgering” their 9-year old-daughter into accusing her father of molestation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th District ruled that the girl’s questioning violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on “unreasonable search and seizure,” according to a story in The Washington Post.

Advocates say that the courts should treat children differently than adults.

Louisiana Justice Institute Co-Director Honored as Black Leader

The Root, a daily online magazine published by Washington Post/Newsweek Interactive and edited by prominent academic Henry Louis Gates Jr, has has named Louisiana Justice Institute Co-Director Tracie Washington as one of it's "Twenty Leading Black Women Advocating Change."

The Root writes about Washington:

"After Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, Washington was displaced, like nearly 500,000 other residents. But the civil rights attorney returned to her native New Orleans and has been fighting for the rights of the displaced and disadvantaged there ever since. As president of the Louisiana Justice Institute, a legal-advocacy organization devoted to social-justice campaigns, Washington is working to make sure that New Orleans' most vulnerable communities have access to housing, education and health services."

Louisiana Justice Institute is a nonprofit, civil rights legal advocacy organization, devoted to fostering social justice campaigns across Louisiana for communities of color and for impoverished communities. You can follow their blog here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Child Prodigy and Grandmother Show Hidden Face of Poverty

Marquise Cormier, in photo, shows posters announcing from his younger days as a child author and motivational speaker. Photo: Charlene Muhammad.

On the surface, Marquise Cormier seems like an average teenager—he’s happy, plays on his high school football team and likes going to parties. But underneath his 16-year-old shoulder pads is a weight of poverty and want brought on by the death of his grandfather and the severe illness of his grandmother.

The Los Angeles youth’s grandparents, Paul and Kenny Jones, had raised him since he was about a year old, at the request of Kenny’s son from an earlier marriage, who became the boy’s father when he was only 17. Marquise’s teenage mother did the best she could, Kenny said, but was simply unable to provide for him and her daughter.

The aging couple was uniquely qualified for their unexpected new parenthood of their grandson. Before retiring, both worked with young people. Kenny directed an at-risk youth center and Paul managed a gang intervention program in L.A.’s low-income and largely African American South Central section.

Marquise and his grandparents lived comfortably until Kenny, now in her late 60s, became ill, and Paul, in his mid-70s, died of a heart attack a year ago.

Prior to Paul’s death, he and Kenny relied on their two Social Security checks, and both Kenny and Marquise earned money through motivational speaking engagements and the sale of books they’d each written.

An Author at 7

By age 7, Marquise achieved recognition worthy of a child prodigy. To occupy himself on the weekends and stay out of trouble, the child entrepreneur bought wholesale products and created a company to sell them called Unique Treasures.

At the same age, he wrote the book, I Am Not a Problem Child (Milligan Books, 2002), about how he successfully fought his school’s plan to put him on medication and in special education classes.

Marquise was secure financially, mentally and spiritually in a home with two loving grandparents. He and Kenny were inseparable.

Then, in August 2009, Kenny began bleeding from her brain. About three weeks after she returned home, she was hospitalized again due to a severe allergic reaction to medication she took for an unrelated infection. Kenny found she’d developed a rare condition called Steven Johnson Syndrome, which causes severe allergic reactions to medication. She fell into a coma for 21 days, and emerged from it partially blind. Today, she continues receiving treatment.

Marquise’s stability was shaken. Kenny was everything to him -- grandmother, caregiver, publicist, manager, transporter and cheerleader. His grandparents meant a lot to him. The proud grandmother chronicled his life and accomplishments in several large-sized photo albums and scrapbooks, volumes that eventually took on special meaning for him.

“To go from where I was has been very, very difficult for me because I can’t see,” Kenny said. “I’m not able to get around like I used to, and I do things around my house based on memorization.”

Payday Loan “Hell”

Kenny detailed how her life with Marquise spiraled downward after Paul’s death. “Here I am, basically handicapped. I don’t have any money.”

Besides the emotional blow, Paul’s death slashed the household income by $3,000 a month – Paul’s Social Security and disability checks.

Her remaining income “doesn’t go very far,” she said. “It totals $1,164, and I still have a grandson I need to take care of.”

Kenny worried over costs, such as her past-due gas bill of $94 and utility bills. “I’m not able to help Marquise buy anything like I used to, nor take him around where he was very independent and earned his own money,” she said, adding: “Sometimes I feel very inept and inadequate. But I say, to God be the glory.”

A devout person, Kenny stressed that she doesn’t throw “pity parties,” and doesn’t blame God for her troubles.

Kenny tried to hold on to the home she and her husband had rented for years, but her reduced income made that hard.

Now, living at a low-income housing unit for seniors, she recalled, “When I came in here, I was so behind in debt due in part to medical bills after my husband died, I started getting payday loans, and that is bondage. That is straight out of the pit of hell! I found myself having to go back and continuously get a payday loan to pay off another payday loan, and another, and that’s how I had to balance it for a while to pay off all the payday loans,” she said.

Although Kenny was able to move into the senior complex, her lease agreement restricts the number of days visitors can stay overnight. As a result, Marquise must shuttle between her apartment and the homes of his maternal grandmother— who is also stretched thin helping both him and her other grandchildren.

“He’s Changed”

“He’s changed,” Kenny said of Marquise. “He’s not a little boy anymore.”

She lamented, “Here he is, a junior in school. It’s winter time. He only has two pair of long pants that he’s outgrown because over the summer he shot up. He got thicker and taller. He has about two pair of sweats, one pair of jeans and some shorts. He has no clothes because I don’t have the money right now to let him go buy three or four pair of slacks. He plays football, and he does not complain because he wasn’t raised that way.”

Despite their hardships, Jones said she gets by because of her faith in God and help from family. Her daughter and a few friends make sure they have food, she said.

Marquise said he views the ordeal as a blessing in disguise because it helped him to mature. In these tough times, he said, he began to understand life in a different way and view it from others’ perspectives and experiences. He feels he became more humble and less selfish, and that the experience built up his leadership skills.

Marquise started taking buses and learned “when and when not to use my resources,” he said. He began selling candy because “I didn’t have any money at all to eat. I had to go the whole day without eating until I got home and hopefully, there was something to eat,” he said.

“It was just a process of me becoming I guess a man, if that’s what it is,” Marquise said.

He continued, “I adjusted by staying with God, first of all. That’s what kept me grounded and focused on what I needed to do. . . . I had to really sit down and think about what’s going to happen. What’s not going to happen. What I was going to allow to happen. What I cannot control and how to accept that.”

“This is Who I Am”

Marquise also found strength in the scrapbooks his grandmother had put together.

“I really went back to my book and was like, man, so this is who I am. This is what I really am, and I’ve got to prove to people this is who I still am. I really have a talk with myself,” he said.

Wistfully Marquise recounted: “Sometimes, subconsciously, I’d walk around with my shoulders back and my head up like, yeah, I’m not a problem child. I used to do the speaking engagements. I used to sign autographs all the time. Every time I sign my name on a paper, I write in cursive just because I feel like I’m signing a book again, and I feel like it’s my signature and it’s important.”

“I never thought I’d be in the situation I’m in now, looking back on my life,” said the 16- year-old.

Charlene Muhammad wrote this series through a New America Media Fellowship on the Hidden Face of Poverty. Part 2 will show that Marquise and his grandmother are far from unique, as generations struggle to get by in America.

Charlene Muhammad wrote this series through a New America Media Fellowship on the Hidden Face of Poverty. Part 2 will show that Marquise and his grandmother are far from unique, as generations struggle to get by in America. Read Part 2 here.