WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – The National Policy Alliance (NPA) brought its biennial conference to the nation’s capital to discuss and create a Black agenda to put before the White House, Congress and the presidential candidates.
“We want to put together a plan or blueprint for Black America on policy issues. What we have gathered here are people setting policy issues. We are not self proclaimed leaders. We are the elected leaders. We make policies in the cities, counties, and states every day,” Mayor Johnny Ford, of Tuskegee, Ala., told The Final Call.
“We have a united voice that speaks for Black people to improve their quality of life. We’ve met with the presidential candidates and we’re coming up with an agenda for Black America based on what these leaders gathered here recommend. It’s our responsibility to step up to the plate and do this.”
For two days the NPA heard from its members, Black public officials from federal, state and local levels of government as well as the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, on some of the most important issues facing Black America such as HIV/AIDS, the housing mortgage crisis and education. The conference was held Jan. 16-18.
“We come here in dire need of thoughts and solutions to solve the many challenges that face Black America. We continue to be overrepresented in the criminal justice system,” said the Honorable John R. Gray, chair of the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association.
“One of the most important presidential powers is the power of appointment. Many predict the next president will have four opportunities to appoint to the Supreme Court in two terms. Thousands of cases don’t reach the Supreme Court but some do. We have to have systems that fairly reflect the communities they serve,” he said.
A call to address AIDS pandemic
“It is time for us to have a plan about HIV,” said Rep. Donna Christiansen, (D-VI), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Brain Trust.
Even though Blacks are only 13 percent of the US population, they account for about half (49 percent) of the people who get HIV and AIDS. Black women are 64 percent of women living with HIV/AIDS. The disease is the leading killer of Black women between the ages of 25-44.
“AIDS is out of control in the African American community,” said Rep. Christiansen. “More than one million people are HIV positive and more than half of those people are Black. We have to understand the urgency of this.”
The NPA adopted a resolution to endorse and ask Congress to pass the National HIV/AIDS Elimination Act. This act declares AIDS as a “public health emergency” in the Black community. The goal of this legislation is to mobilize action across departments of the government and coordinate programs and funding across the various agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services.
The act includes measurable goals, timetables and specific objectives designed to eliminate the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The legislation would also establish an institute to document the historical treatment of Blacks with AIDS.
“We will not despair,” said Mayor Ford. “We are going to do something about this in our community. We want Congress to declare this a national emergency. We don’t want them to respond like they did in Katrina. We want them to respond like they did when those White folks’ homes were on fire in California.”
Mortgage loan crisis haunts Black America
“The sub prime mortgage problem is huge,” said Preston Lee, director of corporate relations for Freddie Mac. “We’ve seen 1.2 million sub prime foreclosures. We’re likely to see that and more in the next year. Of that number 56 percent were Black and only 18 percent were to Whites.”
“Blacks and Latinos have a real problem. One solution is to freeze interest rates for the next five years. This is not going away. Many people were never going to be able to afford these homes plus there’s evidence Blacks and Latinos were steered toward these loans even though they qualified for prime rates,” said Mr. Lee.
The sub prime crisis struck as homeowners, initially able to afford mortgage loans, were overwhelmed by variable interest rates and high mortgage payments forced homeowners into foreclosure.
“Twenty-years-ago the issue was could Blacks get access, now the issue was how much would it cost,” said Mr. Lee.
Dr. Brian K. Perkins, of the National Black Caucus of School Board Members and National School Board Association, spoke on the drop out crisis in Black America. “From 1990-2000, high school completion declined in all but seven states. In 10 states, it declined by eight percent or more,” he explained. “There are economic consequences of not having a high school diploma such as sporadic employment throughout their lifetime.”
According to Mayor Ford, the organizations that participated collectively represent 10,000 Black elected officials and over three million employees of city, county, state and federal agencies. Issues that participants felt presidential candidates should deal with ranged from childhood obesity, economic development and housing to AIDS, criminal justice and education.
NPA plans to meet with the candidates to present their national agenda and seek support for improving the lives of Blacks and their other constituents across America.
The NPA is comprised of Blacks in Government, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, National Association of Black County Officials, National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, National Black Caucus of Black School Board Members, National Conference of Black Mayors and the World Conference of Mayors.