North Carolina’s Second Primary, How Power Plays Cost the State $9 Million

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On June 7, 2016, North Carolina held its second primary of the year, costing the state an estimated $9.5 million and attracting only about 10 percent voter turnout. On the ballot, all of the state’s 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and a N.C. Supreme Court Justice.

This costly second primary is notable for a reason, it only happened because the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly made, not one, but two unconstitutional power plays in recent years.

The state’s first primary was held March 15, and included the Presidential Primaries. However, U.S. Congressional primaries and the N.C. Supreme Court Justice primary had to be postponed because of two different court rulings. The postponement resulted in the second primary being held on June 7.

First, the U.S. Congressional primaries had to be moved to June 7, instead of occurring with the other primaries in March, because five years ago the General Assembly approved district maps gerrymandered along racial lines. The district maps were rightfully challenged by the NAACP and others, and the N.C. Supreme Court twice upheld them in rulings split 4-3 along party lines. The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where two congressional districts, the 1st and 3rd, were thrown out in a February 2016 ruling finding them to be gerrymandered along racial lines and therefore unconstitutional. Of course this ruling came down just weeks before the March 15 primaries, and forbade the state from holding any U.S. House elections until new, approved district maps were in place. So, thanks to the poor decisions by the Republican-led 2011-2012 General Assembly, those primaries were postponed until June.

Second, the primary for a N.C. Supreme Court Justice seat was late because the current General Assembly attempted to enact a new law requiring sitting justices to seek re-election in what is called a retention election, a law that was struck down because it clearly violated the State Constitution.

A retention election means that for a justice to be re-elected, he or she will run on the ballot unopposed in a “yes” or “no” simple majority vote. In this case, known Republican and conservative, Justice Robert Edmund, would have been alone on the ballot. If he had received at least 50 percent “yes” votes, he would have remained on the bench. If he did not, he would have lost his seat, however, the Governor of N.C. would have appointed a replacement, who would have held the seat for two years until the next election. In other words, the Republican-held General Assembly passed a bill that would have kept a current Republican Justice on the bench or replaced him with another Justice who would have been appointed by the Republican Governor. The Republican Governor signed that bill into law. The law was challenged and struck down as unconstitutional. So, that primary was added to the June 7th ballot.

The second N.C. primary was a disaster by all measures. Cost estimates are still being tallied as county board of elections report in, but are estimated at over $9 million. Due to the extra costs, the primary was woefully under-publicized in most counties. Add to that the fact the primary wasn’t accompanied by the presidential primaries, and turnout was abysmally low across the state at somewhere between 7 and 10 percent.

This is a disaster because thousands of N.C. voters were essentially disenfranchised by a confusing and mostly unpublicized election. Had the primaries been held with the rest in March, the results might have been quite different.

The primary with the highest stakes was the State Supreme Court race. The N.C. Supreme Court is split 3-4 along party lines with Republican Justices in the majority. The Supreme Court should stand as a check on the power of the General Assembly and the Governor, however it has served more as a rubber stamp of approval for both in recent years. It is no wonder that the General Assembly and Republican Governor attempted to make it an unopposed race.

In the end, four people ran, with the top two vote getters moving on to November’s elections. The conservative Republican Bob Edmund, and Democrat Mike Morgan beat out Independent challenger Sabra Jean Faires and the relatively unknown Daniel Robertson. Edmund and Morgan will face-off in November.

The June 7th primary was necessary to correct two wrongs carried out by power-hungry law makers. Without it, thousands of racial-minority voters would have continued to be silenced by racially-motivated gerrymandering, and the entire electorate’s choice in Supreme Court Justices would have been snatched away. And yet, the unusual nature of the special primary and lack of public knowledge about it, may have just disenfranchised many more voters who did not even know about the elections. One thing is certain, had Republican law-makers, not once, but twice, attempted to take actions that were clearly aimed at holding political power and that were clearly unconstitutional, this never would have happened.

In social work, politics matter. They matter because they directly impact policy, and policy impacts clients. Here is a case where politicians attempted to hold power by disenfranchising voters, which is a social injustice. The resulting primary cost tax payers more than $9 million which could have gone to social programs; another injustice. Social workers have an ethical obligation to challenge social injustice and that is why we must remember the reasons for North Carolina’s second primary when we go to the polls in November.

HB2: Ignites A Civil War Over Bathrooms

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Toilets, potties, johns privies and bathrooms, we have names from the delicate to the coarse to describe them.  But, who knew that “protecting” this space for the hygienic disposal of human waste and lip stick application for some of us, could be so important to require a special session of the North Carolina legislature?

On March 23rd, the North Carolina legislature came into a special session to pass one bill: HB 2 “An Act To Provide For Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities In Schools And Public Agencies….”.  Law makers state HB2 was enacted, ostensibly, to protect the public and according to many interviews, specifically to protect (vulnerable) women and children.

According to the Advocate, neighboring state, South Carolina Senator Lee Bright responded to HB2 by stating, “There’s a segment of the population that believes that you ought to be able to use whatever restroom you identify yourself as being.  So they think it’s okay for a man to use a woman’s bathroom if he thinks he’s a woman.  From a safety issue, we don’t need men going into women’s bathrooms.”  

However, spokespeople from the Transgender Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign have said there is no data to corroborate lawmaker’s fear of male predators using women’s bathroom to prey on unsuspecting women. The FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report counts 5,928 bias motivated crimes, 31 related to gender identity in which it was the victim who suffered because of his or her gender-identity.

Since the bill’s passage, activists, business leaders, celebrities and the general public have reacted to North Carolina’s law to require that people use the public bathroom or changing facility that matches the sex they were assigned at birth. In response to HB2, 180 CEOs and executives from major companies including Apple, Bank of American and Marriot International have joined celebrities like Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and Pearl Jam have cancelled shows and PayPal has cancelled a planned expansion that would have brought 400 jobs to the state. Also, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato have cancelled scheduled shows in North Carolina, and Adam Silver, NBA commissioner announced that if the law is not repealed, the 2017 All-Star Game will not be held in Charlotte as planned.

Governor McCrory has reacted to the outcry by couching his support of the bill in terms of state’s rights and “overreaching” by the federal government.  Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the ACLU of North Carolina all argue that HB 2 is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex. Apparently, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch agrees with them.

This week, Attorney General Lynch announced the administration’s decision to counter sue North Carolina and notified them the state may federal funding to state public safety agencies and to the University of North Carolina withheld during litigation. She explained the justice department acted because the law was simply discriminatory.

Attorney General Lynch said this action is “about more than bathrooms, it is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens.  It is about the founding ideals that have, haltingly, but inexorably, moved in the direction of fairness, inclusion, and equality for all Americans.”

Independence Day: An Ongoing Fight for Freedom

Independence Day is a day we celebrate being free from tyranny, oppression, and persecution. It’s a day we celebrate a democratic society with the rights to freedom of speech, religion, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am especially thankful to the men and women serving in our military who have made many sacrifices to protect the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.

However, when power shifts from one entity to another, its we the people who must demand our rights and freedoms be endowed to us. As I reflect on the current state of our society, Independence is an ongoing fight to be free. Around the world and the United States, civil disobedience is being seen in historic fashion from the streets of Cairo to the state houses of Texas and North Carolina.

Pockets of small wealthy groups seek to rule this planet through war, famine, poverty, and oppression. They seek to pit oppressed groups against each other in their efforts to attain more wealth and retain more power.

independence-day-movieOn this Independence Day, I am reminded of a speech and a call to action by one of our finest movie Presidents ever who said it best:

Mankind — that word should have new meaning for all of us today.

We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore.

We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps its fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution — but from annihilation.

We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist.

And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice:

We will not go quietly into the night!
We will not vanish without a fight!
We’re going to live on!
We’re going to survive!”

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day! – President Thomas Whitmore (Played by Bill Pullman) ~Independance Day

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIYKvUN3qb4

Why We Should Care About Adoption Rehoming

“A sick thing”. “Human trafficking in children”. “A gaping loophole with life threatening outcomes”. These are just few of the ways experts, legislators and judges have named unregulated private transfers of child custody, a practice referred to as re-homing.

Private re-homing occurs when adoptive parents transfer the custody of a child bypassing official channels. In such cases, parental authority is transferred with a simple Power of Attorney to non-family members.

Very often these people are perfect strangers whose parenting abilities have not been screened by child welfare authorities or, worse, have been judged so poor that their biological children have been taken away by child protection services.

According to an investigation published by Reuters in 2013, hundreds of children are victims of re-homing in the USA every year. 70 percent of them are children adopted from abroad.

“Rehoming can be an appropriate change of placement for a child if it is done with court approval and with home study that look at the needs of the child and the child’s best interests,” said Stephen Pennypacker, a senior child welfare expert and current President of the Partnership for Strong Families, in an interview.

However, the problem with private rehoming is that it is not done with that oversight and the necessary background screening on the prospective placement. “This can lead to some pretty horrific consequences for children that are moved under those circumstances,” Pennypacker said.

One such case happened in Arkansas in 2014, when a six-year-old girl was sexually abused by a man who had obtained her custody via a private re-homing procedure. The case received intense scrutiny only last February as the media reported that the adoptive father who gave the little girl away was a state legislator, Justin Harris.

Arkansas has since then passed two laws to prevent this practice, becoming the fifth state to have regulated it. A few other states are slowly discussing bills to this effect, while no federal law regulates it.

In a court decision in the State of New York last December, Judge Edward W. McCarty III defined the practice “unmistakably trafficking in children” and called on the Legislature to amend domestic law to prohibit this “unsavory and unsupervised practice”.

This judgment came to no surprise to Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia Representative for Children and Youth. “Rehoming sounds like a positive experience that is looking at the best interests of the child, but actually it simply transfers a child to another person without any required review by child welfare, family judges, or other officials. So it could be easily a cover for trafficking in children.”

Other child experts echo the concerns about the risks that unregulated re-homing poses to a child’s wellbeing, although they do not consider re-homing as trafficking because parents do not move children to exploit them, but to get rid of them. “All under the table dealing on children’s matters entails risks of exploitation,” said Michael Moran, INTERPOL Assistant Director, Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation, in a phone interview. “Unregulated re-homing creates opportunities for sex offenders. If loopholes exist, sex offenders will use them.”

Reasons that push parents to resort to private re-homing vary from case to case. The most common explanation given by parents engaging in such a practice is that they feel overwhelmed by the behavioral problems of their adopted children. They also claim that the support they receive from child welfare authorities to deal with difficult adoption cases is inadequate. In another case, parents may fear to be charged with child abandonment if they seek to transfer custody to the state. Financial considerations may also play a role because certain states accept taking a child under their custody only on the condition that parents pay for the child’s care until a new adoption takes place.

Some state and federal authorities have acknowledged these problems and are trying to address them. State legislation has been adopted in Arkansas to strengthen post-adoption services and allow parents to give children back to the state’s care if they have exhausted the available resources – although no definition of what these resources are is provided. At the federal level, the US President’s 2016 budget contains a proposal that would guarantee federal funding for prevention and post-placement services.

Whether such initiatives will suffice to prevent rehoming is an open question, though, in particular as the practice remains largely lawless in the USA. So far, only five states – Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, and Wisconsin – have adopted legislation to prevent re-homing. Five other states – Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, and North Carolina – are discussing bills to this effect.

“This kind of regulatory void is enormously concerning,” said Jacqueline Bhabha, professor of the practice of health and human rights at Harvard School of Public Health. “Clearly, we need much tighter regulation and more supervising and support to families.”

North Carolina Women United Fighting to Improve Outcomes for Women

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Failing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, erasing the State’s earned income tax credits for low wage working, eliminating tax deductions for contributing to your child’s college funds, and cuts to public education are just a few examples of how women and children are being impacted by the 2014 election.

While many middle class and low-income families are paying more in taxes, the wealthiest North Carolinians received a $10,000.00 per year tax break. Programs such as Meals on Wheels and other in-home care programs for seniors have also been cut in addition to increasing their tax burden because the medical expense deduction was also removed.

Republicans also introduced House Bill 465 which seeks to ban abortion training in medical schools across the state. Both activists and medical professionals agree this legislation will not only affect access to reproductive services, but it will also comprise the training of medical students and residents throughout the state.

In an interview with Tara Romano, President of North Carolina Women United (NCWU),  I had the opportunity to learn more about the challenges specifically impacting women in our state.

SWH: Tell us about North Carolina Women United (NCWU) and your work to improve outcomes for women.

Tara: North Carolina Women United (NCWU) is a coalition of progressive organizations and individuals working to achieve the full political, social, and economic equality of all women across North Carolina. Since the late 1980’s, NCWU’s goal has been to bring women’s voices to the policy table. With women still making up less than 25% of elected and appointed public officials, lawmakers need to hear from women about their experiences and concerns to inform policies that will benefit women and families across NC. We see our role as bringing a gender lens to state policies, and also looking at how multiple issues intersect to affect women, bringing those intersections to policy decisions. For example, it is critical to adequately fund domestic violence crisis services, but regressive tax cuts that leave the state short on revenue will impact that funding; also, without adequate safety net programs in place – such as affordable housing and health/child care, access to paid family leave, and jobs that pay living wages – many domestic violence victims may stay with their abusers because they can’t afford to leave.

NCWU is a non-partisan, all volunteer, nonprofit that includes members and supporters from across the state. Our focus is on educating women on how to be effective citizen advocates; this includes issues education as well as education on how to be fully engaged in our democratic process, from the importance of voting to the role citizens play in creating government policies. Our members provide us with our issues expertise, and we cover four main issue areas: violence against women, access to health care, civic participation and equality, and economic self-sufficiency. It’s a large umbrella, and we are always looking for new partners and supporters who can let us know what other issues may be important to women and that we need to consider.

SWH: What legislative and policy issues do NCWU Support, and what actions are you taking to effect change in North Carolina?

Tara: We advocate for the full equality of all women across North Carolina and take a progressive approach to the policy solutions we look for. We believe that women still face barriers in society because we are women, and we look for policy solutions to remove those barriers. As caretakers, breadwinners, mothers, educators, workers, and partners, women fill multiple diverse roles in NC in 2015, and we need policies that recognize those realities; affordable child care and housing; protection from discrimination on the job; access to affordable, quality, comprehensive health care; pay equity; increased protections from sexual and domestic violence; and an accessible way to bring our voices to our democracy are just a few ways we can support women to achieve our highest potential. We also believe women face additional barriers due to race, ethnicity, immigrant status, sexuality, age, and disability status; we are committed to an agenda that is anti-racist and anti-oppression as the means to lift up the status of all women across North Carolina.

Our member organizations provide us with the expertise on specific policy issues to help us develop our agenda every other year during the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) long session. Our members are service organizations, advocacy groups, and member organizations that use research and constituency feedback to develop positions on proposed and anticipated legislation coming from the NCGA. On Women’s Advocacy Day (WAD), women from across the state come to Raleigh for a day of issue education, advocacy training, networking, and the opportunity to bring our voices to the policy table. Also on WAD, we will be discussing our 2015 legislative agenda and top priorities. Whether you are a regular at the NCGA, or are speaking to your lawmakers for the first time, WAD is an engaging and impactful day.

SWH: What are some of the challenges and barriers NCWU faces in connecting with North Carolina women?

Tara: As an all-volunteer and somewhat “virtual” organization, a big challenge for NCWU is getting our information out to women across the state. With our members’ expertise, we are able to provide informative and useful documents and tools for advocacy, but it’s not as easy for us to get it out to women. Also, women face numerous barriers and issues across the state, and we know there are issues that we do not have deep expertise on, and therefore aren’t highlighting them as much as we may need to. We are always looking for new members and partners, which is why we officially joined the HKonJ coalition (the organization behind the Moral Mondays movement). It can also be a challenge, as we join with other coalitions, to keep certain issues considered “women’s issues” – like child care – on the overall movement agenda.

SWH: How can women and other allies both in and outside of North Carolina support and engage with NCWU?

Tara: As an all-volunteer organization, we try to do a lot on limited resources, and we feel the women of North Carolina (and our allies) are our biggest resource. There are many ways to be involved with our work, including joining us on the board or on our committees, donating to our work, supporting us financially with donations, amplifying our message on social media, coming out to our members’ events, or bringing your voice with us to the General Assembly. Join us for Women’s Advocacy Day at the North Carolina Legislative Building on April 21, 2015.

You can also watch the interview with President Tara Romano, Directors of Policy Emma Akpan, and Felicia Willems for all you need to know about WAD including more on how we put together our agenda and what to expect during the day.

North Carolina 2014 Short Session, Week 8: Medicaid Budget Miracle

Social workers found victory during the eighth week of the legislative short session with the acceptance of the proposed medicaid budget. On Monday night, the last day of the fiscal year, the Senate rejected the House mini budget, Senate Bill 3 without even voting, and they returned the bill to the House for further consideration. In kind, the House then returned the bill back to the Senate on Tuesday stating they did not follow the rules by rejecting Senate Bill 3 without a vote. This unusual game of ping pong with the budget sent the bill to a committee meeting with the appointed budget conferees and no further discussion happened on the floor of the House or Senate.

MiraclesOn Wednesday, the appointed 41-member budget conferees held an unusual open-to-the-public meeting. During the meeting, differences in the House and Senate budgets were discussed and the group broke into a private negotiating meeting. Upon return to the public meeting, the Senate announced that they would accept the House Medicaid budget with a few compromises that had been made before the meeting starting.

The acceptance of the Medicaid budget means the aged, blind, and disabled citizens on Medicaid will not lose services. We are excited the Senate acted on behalf of our advocacy efforts to save services for these populations. While the Senate agreed to the Medicaid spending, the conferees are still working out differences in teacher pay raises, the education lottery, and film incentives.

Bills with Relevance:

  • House Bill 1181 North Carolina Medicaid Modernization: This bill was introduced a few weeks ago with controversy in Section 10 regarding a pilot for I/DD patients living in certain group settings to have integrated physical and behavioral health care under Cardinal Behavioral Health. Under the new edition, this section becomes a study with multiple stakeholders involved. The bill was discussed in committee and passed the House with a vote of 113 to 0. The bill now goes to the Senate where support is underwhelming as Senators do not believe this plan, supported by the House and the Governor, will do much to make Medicaid a cost predicting system.
  • House Joint Resolution 1262 Suicide Prevention Resolution: On Wednesday, House members read the suicide prevention resolution on the floor. The resolution directs the Legislative Research Commission to study ways to prevent suicide among minors and veterans including training for key health care providers that work to assess, treat and manage patients with suicidal ideation. After overwhelming, bipartisan support from legislators who shared personal stories on the floor, the bill passed with no opposition and was sent to the Senate. Following the reading of the resolution, NASW-NC, NAMI-NC, The Mental Health Association, and others were recognized in the gallery by legislators for our support and continued work on suicide prevention in our state. Representative Cunningham (D-Mecklenburg), a primary sponsor of the legislation, gave a heartfelt, personal speech on the bill and credited social workers and educators for help during her family’s situation. We are grateful to the many legislators who stood up to speak on what can be such a tough topic for many.

What to look forward to this week:

Legislators have announced they are finished with committee work. They will use this week to focus on the budget and work out their differences. There are a few more bills expected to be heard on the floor this week but it should mostly be a quiet week with budget work being done behind closed doors.

Leading Change Through Community Practice

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Social work is one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States, and one of the most rewarding. Community practice focused professionals work at the state and national level to promote empowerment, social change, social justice, and increased quality of life.

Through the building of coalitions/networks, program design and implementation, community practice social workers change the lives of millions of people each day. Based on an infographic by Case Western Reserve University, we’ve highlighted a few of the individuals today that are making an impact on the local, state and national stage.

Susan Blasko, Program Facilitator For Youth & Technology, PNC Fairfax Connection ~”Celebrating the community’s proud history and legacy of hope.”

As program facilitator for PNC Fairfax Connection, Ms. Blasko provides community access to childhood programs, historic preservation and cultural resources for the families of Cleveland, Ohio’s Fairfax neighborhood. Through the program “Grow Up Great,” Ms. Blasko leads a $350 million initiative for bilingual early childhood education.

Geoffrey Canada, CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone~“Cradle to College to Career.”

As the CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, Mr. Canada leads the charge to serve over 10,000 children and 7,400 adults through a series of educational, social, health, and community-building programs to encourage academic success.  In just the last 10 years, Harlem Children’s Zone has expanded service coverage from 24 blocks to 100 blocks.

Frank Farrow, Director, Center For The Study of Social Policy ~“Ideas into action”

As Director for the Center For The Study Of Social Policy, Frank Farrow develops public policy solutions and provides technical assistance to support vulnerable children and families. The program’s initiative is to strengthen families and prevent child abuse.  In 2012, the Center For The Study Of Social Policy reached 35,000 participants in 23 states.

Paula McCoy, Consultant and Former President/CEO, North Carolina Minority Support Center ~”Serving Strengthening Sustaining Our Communities.”

Today, Ms. McCoy works to create economic opportunity through small business funding and community credit union advocacy across North Carolina. Ms. McCoy has helped 43 small businesses receive the funding they need through the procurement of $2.6 million in loan funding.

Sandra Moore, President, President, Urban Strategies ~”Engaging residents, revitalizing community, empowering possibility.”

As President of Urban Strategies, Ms. Moore leads the charge in rebuilding the physical and human infrastructure in redeveloping urban communities. Currently, Urban Strategies serves 19,980 low to moderate-income families in 14 communities in the United States.

Tom O’Brien, Program Director, Neighborhood Connections (The Cleveland Foundation) ~“Igniting the power of everyday people.”

Mr. Obrien leads the initiative of the Cleveland Foundation’s Neighborhood Connections. Through community grants and funding for over 1,600 projects, he has worked tirelessly to provide neighborhood grants to support every day people that are actively using their creativity, passion, ingenuity and connectedness to make life better.

Michael Sherraden, Founding Director, Center for Social Development ~“Enable individuals, families, and communities to formulate and achieve life goals.”

In 2010, Dr. Sherraden was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. As the founding director for the Center For Social Development, he leads the organization in the development of public policy innovations to enhance social and economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities. The center focuses programs on asset building, civic service & engagement, productive aging and thriving communities.

Does Putting Children in Jail Solve Anything?

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During a single year, an estimated 2.1 million youth under the age of 18 are arrested in the United States. When we think of mass incarceration, we cannot just think of adults. Countless boys and girls are funneled from schools and neighborhoods to the juvenile justice system each year, often followed by what seems to be the inevitable entry into the adult criminal justice world and its facilities.

What are the effects of the “School-to-prison” pipeline? Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated. Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement. Currently, African Americans make up two-fifths and Hispanics one-fifth of confined youth today.

According to recent data by the Department of Education, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates. The data showed that 96,000 students were arrested and 242,000 referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school year. Of those students, black and Hispanic students made up more than 70 percent of arrested or referred students. Harsh school punishments, from suspensions to arrests, have led to high numbers of youth of color coming into contact with the juvenile-justice system and at an earlier age.

African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison. According to the Sentencing Project, even though African American juvenile youth are about 16 percent of the youth population, 37 percent of their cases are moved to criminal court and 58 percent of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.

A longitudinal study conducted in Chicago tracking 35,000 former public school students showed that:

  • Youth that went to prison were 39% less likely to finish high school than other kids from the same neighborhood. Even young offenders who weren’t imprisoned were better off; they were 13% more likely to finish high school than their incarcerated peers.
  •  Young offenders who were incarcerated were a staggering 67% more likely to be in jail (again) by the age of 25 than similar young offenders who didn’t go to prison.
  • Incarcerated youth were more likely to commit “homicide, violent crime, property crime and drug crimes” than those that didn’t serve time.

It is important for us to come to a general consensus about how we want to treat our nation’s children. There are countless policies and procedures in place that, either purposely or inadvertently, burden youth with consequences intended for adults. In the state of North Carolina, 16 and 17 year olds are automatically charged as adults. Additionally, depending on the crime, a child can be charged as an adult as of age 13. Our minimum age to enter juvenile court is 6. We are funneling children into the world of mass incarceration, and arguably in some cases, we are handpicking who will suffer that fate.

Researchers have estimated that it costs society 1.5 to 1.8 million dollars to care for one habitual offender from adolescence through adulthood. So even if we cannot agree on this issue in terms of social justice, surely we could agree that spending an exorbitant amount of money to keep youth justice-involved might not be the best allocation of our limited funds.

Connecticut Raises Minimum Wage and Provokes Conversations on Homelessness and Affordable Housing

This week, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed a law that will bring about the highest minimum wage of any U.S. state, and the bill raises the state’s minimum hourly rate to $10.10 per hour. Earlier this year, President Obama raised the federal minimum wage for all federal employees and contractors by executive order, and he is asking Congress to act by raising the minimum wage on for all hourly workers across the nation. However, until Congress is willing to raise the minimum wage, President Obama has called on individual states to act independently and not wait for Congress. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York State was one of the first governors to respond by cutting a deal to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures,

  • ctmirrorAs of March 24, 38 states considered minimum wage bills during the 2014 session; 34 states are considering increases to the state minimum wage.
  • Connecticut, Delaware and D.C. have enacted increases so far in 2014.
  • As of Jan. 1, 2014, 21 states and D.C. have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage.
  • 19 states, GU, PR and VI have minimum wages the same as the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
  • 4 states and AS have minimum wages below the federal minimum wage (the federal minimum thus applies).
  • 1 state, New Hampshire, repealed their state minimum wage in 2011, but left the reference to the federal minimum wage.
  • 5 states have not established a state minimum wage.

Lets take a look at The Cost of Living in America. The North Carolina Justice Center conducted a study on this issue back in 2010. The Living Income Standard finds that the North Carolina family of two adults and two children must earn $48,814 annually to afford the actual costs of seven essential expenses: housing, food, childcare, health care, transportation, taxes and other necessities to include clothing, personal care items, household supplies, school supplies and local telephone service. To meet the level, adults in the average four-person family would need to earn a combined $23.47 per hour and work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.

These rates are for NC and not some of the other states with higher cost of living rates such as New York or California. Imagine if this was a family was a single parent household (one parent, one child), the living income standard is estimated to be $11.73 per hour 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.

Due to the federal minimum wage being $7.25 per hours, many families fall below the living wage standard, and affordable housing has become another huge issue in today’s society.  While interning at The Carying Place, a transitional housing non-profit organization for homeless families, I encounter families struggling to make ends meet on a day-to-day basis. These people are working full time jobs making $7-$9 dollars an hour because their income is so low, they cannot afford housing let alone, food, clothing, daycare/school expenses for their children and other basic necessities.

Families are being forced to choose between paying a bill or providing a meal for themselves and their children to keep from starving. These are the harsh realities people are dealing with daily. Until some type of change is made, whether it be the raising of minimum wage or the establishment of more Affordable Housing, the struggle will continue.

Forensic Social Work and Its Importance in the 21st Century

In reflecting on how my career has formulated, particularly in the fields of criminal justice, human services and social work, I often wondered where I fit in; particularly when discussing traditional social work models, practices and approaches.  I knew I always wanted to work in the criminal justice environment, not necessarily as a sworn law enforcement official, but in a capacity that addressed the needs of delinquents, adult offenders and prisoners.  This venue, during the early to mid-20th century, unfortunately wasn’t always readily available to social workers, let alone forensic social workers.

Clinical work, specifically, was geared towards counselors and psychologists in criminal justice settings.  The role of the social worker, if any, represented that of a case manager at best.  Further, when attempting to market or explain what a forensic social worker was, the responses in most instances were either of confusion or an unawareness that the practice existed.

What is Forensic Social Work

llustration: John Michael Yanson
llustration: John Michael Yanson

Ironically, social work has a long standing history of practice in the justice sector, as well as the other more noted, child welfare and social services roles.  According to the National Organization of Forensic Social Work website (www.nofsw.org),

” Forensic social work is the application of social work to questions and issues relating to law and legal systems. This specialty of our profession goes far beyond clinics and psychiatric hospitals for criminal defendants being evaluated and treated on issues of competency and responsibility. A broader definition includes social work practice which in any way is related to legal issues and litigation, both criminal and civil. Child custody issues, involving separation, divorce, neglect, termination of parental rights, the implications of child and spouse abuse, juvenile and adult justice services, corrections, and mandated treatment all fall under this definition” (NOFSW website).

As one can gauge, forensic social work has long been a practice in various traditional social work capacities.  Though early in application, forensic social work was commonly associated with the legal field (Barker & Brannon, Forensic Social Work Legal Aspects of Professional Practice, 2000); it now encompasses a much broader representation in the criminal justice system and ancillary justice related services.

Forensic Social Work Today

Forensic Social Work in the 21st century continues to be a critical component of not only traditional social work and criminal justice systems, but it has expanded to cover more globally related human rights and social justice concerns.  As various academic institutions are now incorporating forensic social work courses into their respective curriculums, BSW and MSW students are becoming more aware and interested in pursuing this specialization.  Dr. Yolanda M. Byrd, LCSW, Director of Field Education at Winston-Salem State University stated “she has seen a continued interest from her BSW students in forensic social work; particularly in obtaining field education placements.”

As the latter part of the 20th century dealt with establishing the practice of Forensic Social Work, the 21st century will reflect more of a presence in various venues encompassing micro and macro approaches to the field, not only within the United States but more globally.  In speaking with the National Organization of Forensic Social Work President, Dr. Tina Maschi, LCSW, Associate Professor of Social Work, Fordham University, she noted  “in the 21st century the complex social issues, such as mass incarceration, necessitate that we use an integrated approach that incorporates clinical, policy, and community organizational skills to build the capacities of individuals, families, and communities to address them.”

Forensic Social Work in the Future

Looking ahead, you will see more forensic social workers represented in all aspects of society representing not only clients in criminal justice practice settings, but as administrators, social activists, academicians, and social justice change agents internationally.  As social work curriculums, both undergraduate and graduate, continue to broaden their course offerings and specializations to include forensic social work, you will see a continued increase in diplomas, degrees and certifications being obtained by future social work students.  Here in North Carolina, the need to have forensic social workers represented in the criminal justice system, specifically the penal system is a growing need and viable area of interest for local and state legislators.  For those interested, I strongly encourage you to attend the NOFSW annual conference in July.

Photo Credit via NASW

Yusuf Neville Sparks Conversation on Mental Health in African American Communities

In recent news, Yusuf Neville, a prominent African American male, committed suicide by jumping from the parking deck of a Greensboro hotel. His loved ones, family and friends said their last goodbyes during his memorial held at Durham’s First Calvary Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. Yusuf was a graduate of Hampton University and a service manager of a fortune 500 company. He was also a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, an avid runner and engaged to his long time girlfriend Jennifer Bowden. From the outside looking in, he seemed to have the perfect life, unfortunately, that was not the case.

Many celebrities have reached out via twitter and instagram to mourn, celebrate and say their last goodbyes to Yusuf. One of them being Terrance J, a news correspondent on E news. One of his last twitter posts read

https://twitter.com/TerrenceJ/status/428717370148794368

For some reason in African American communities, we do not recognize mental illness as an issue. Instead, we sweep it under the rug as if it does not exist and if it does, prayer is used as a bandage. Don’t get me wrong, the church can be a great resource, but why do we not seek treatment or diagnosis also? We are taught African American women have to be strong and hold our families together, and African American men have to be providers and are not allowed to show proper emotion.

According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness,

  • Yusuf-Neville-Instagram-suicide-noteMental illness is frequently stigmatized and misunderstood in the African American community. African Americans are much more likely to seek help though their primary care doctors as opposed to accessing specialty care.
  • Culture biases against mental health professionals and health care professionals in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care due to prior experiences with historical misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and a lack of cultural under standing; only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers in the United States are African American.
  • Across a recent 15-year span, suicide rates increased 233 percent among African Americans aged 10-14 compared to 120 percent among Caucasian Americans in the same age group across the same span of time.
  • Nearly half of all prisoners in the United States are African American. Prison inmates are at a higher risk of developing a mental illness.
  • Children in foster care and the child welfare system are more likely to develop mental illnesses. African American children comprise 45 percent of the public foster care population. Read Full Fact Sheet

It is time for us to step up and begin to address issues of mental illness within African American communities and ways for people to seek help without judgement and scrutiny. There is nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves in healthy ways. If not, we will continue to see suffering in the same ways that manifested with Yusuf Neville. It is important to keep having these conversations, so we can positively move forward in our communities. Rest in Peace Yusuf.

HRB Movement: Interview with Keith Meyers

Ladies Kiwi World RPET

I enjoy having the opportunity to show case the innovation and ingenuity of social work students and professionals. It is often assumed that one who seeks formal education in social work does so due to lack of skills and abilities in other areas. When in fact, its just the opposite. The major appeal factor for social work majors is the flexibility and ability to use your skills in many arenas. Social Work is not just a profession, but its the way we see and process the world. This could not be any more evident than when I interviewed Keith Meyers who is one half of HRB Movement.

Located in Wilmington, North Carolina, Keith Meyers and David Pearman created HRB Movement which is a company that sells goods from organic and recycled products. According to the HRB Movement website,

HRB Movement was born from the idea that social progress is a process. Through life experiences we’ve learned that only true and dedicated action can create real change, so in June of 2010 the HRB team set out on a mission. At it’s core, this mission is to cause a mental shift of the masses from the ‘negative’ to the ‘positive’. To do this, we hope to inspire all generations, old and young, with the promotion of sustainable concepts, respect for yourself, respect for those around you, and respect for our World.

I was really impressed as I learned about their outlook on the world, and how these two young men have decided to make their mark on it. Here is my Q&A with co-founder Keith Meyers.

SWH: Tell us a bit about your background, and what led to your work with the HRB Movement?

Co-Founder Keith Meyers
Co-Founder Keith Meyers

I’m from Maryland but moved down to Wilmington, North Carolina to attend college at UNCW, the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Admittedly, that transition was more about getting close to the beach and warmer weather than it was about getting an education. After my freshman year of college I became a pretty serious student and began my social work studies. The internship requirements of social work really appealed to me, because I’ve never been too fond of classroom limitations.

After my first year of studying social work, I took a year off from school and went to Kenya to volunteer at an orphanage. It was an extremely rewarding experience. I built life-long relationships and really had the chance to do some on-the-ground-floor learning.

When I returned from Kenya a friend of mine from high school and I started HRB Movement. The business officially became incorporated on June 15, 2010. My business partner, David Pearman, was attending the University of Maryland and playing on their division one basketball team, while I was busy in Wilmington studying, interning, and working. During the final two years of college, we didn’t get to really buckle down and focus on the brand that started after we were both out of school. Since I studied social work and David studied geography, we don’t have the most formal business education. We like to think that our business stems from those two subjects, however, because when you combine the two you get creating an impact on the world…

SWH: What is the HRB Movement, and how is it different from other apparel companies?

HRB Movement is a sustainable clothing and apparel company. When I use the word sustainable, I don’t use it lightly as it often is these days. There’s no greenwashing involved with our business. We sell clothing that is manufactured with organic cotton, recycled polyester, bamboo or hemp. The inks used to print our graphics are water-based or soy-based. Even our hang-tags, office paper, and shipping materials are made from recycled materials.

David Pearman
Cofounder David Pearman

While those are the reasons why our products are sustainable, the meaning also carries over to our environmental and social impacts. We’ve made the commitment to plant a tree for every product sold. Some of the retail stores that carry our brand also match us on planting a tree for every product, resulting in two trees being planted for certain products.

Our last planting was 1,670 trees in Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina and we have plans to plant a minimum of 15,000 trees in 2014, with plantings already in the works for North Carolina & Jamaica.As we grow as a brand, so will the ways in which we are able to contribute to the efforts of nonprofits. We currently volunteer our time and organize others to volunteer with a variety of non-profits in North Carolina & Maryland.

We’ve worked with international ngo’s in Haiti, Ethiopia & Kenya. Our biggest goal in terms of non-profit involvement is to fund our own projects that will focus on community development through implementing self-sustaining programs. Our goal in contributing to the world is to provide people with the tools to manage their own projects in their own communities because we really don’t want to contribute to cultures of dependence.

SWH: Where do you envision for HRB Movement in the future, and who do you want to appeal to with your products?

To date, we have avoided boxing HRB Movement into any particular industry niche, be it surf, urban, or eco-friendly. Our goal is to fit into all of them while still keeping a focus on positivity and sustainability. We think that organic and recycled products shouldn’t only be affordable to those In the upper-middle and upper classes.

The biggest selling points for clothing are the products look and feel. We’re very committed to producing products that people want to wear because of those aspects. We won’t sacrifice having a shirt that fits fashionably to have a shirt that is sustainably produced. Likewise, we won’t sacrifice having a sustainable product to have one that looks fashionable. Our products have to go both ways, which I think is where a lot of the most sustainable brands have failed thus far.

SWH:  Do you work with nonprofits and others who are looking to incorporate T-Shirts into their marketing strategy, and how does someone locate and purchase HRB Movement products?

We have yet to work to heavily with other non-profits or businesses on t-shirt collaborations. We do, however, have some in the works right now. While we will keep those sort of relationships limited, we are willing to work with other businesses who share similar values of really promoting the good of mankind.

There are various ways that a person can purchase one of our products. We have a easy-to-use and secure online store located at hrbmovement.com and are sold on several other online marketplaces. We are also in retail locations, such as Whole Foods and a variety of local surf shops & shoe boutiques in states including but not limited to, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi & Alabama.

SWH: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

The biggest thing I haven’t included in the other answers is our involvement in the international reggae scene. We are big fans of reggae music, especially from artists in Jamaica. We have some great relationships with artists and studios in both Jamaica & Brazil. In late July or early August we’ll be heading to Jamaica to continue building those relationships and for some non-profit involvement. We are also sponsors of the California Roots the Carolina Sessions annual festival in Wilmington, NC and work with some great bands local to the United States as well.

My last note is to really try to support companies that support you as humans. I don’t mean only buying American-made or only buying sustainable products. I mean do your research on the values of a company. Buy products, no matter where they are produced, that people were paid fair wages to produce. Buy products from companies that are cause-integrated rather than cause-marketed.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/73318848[/vimeo]

Photo Credit: Courtesy of HRB Movement

North Carolina Citizens and NAACP Fights Corporate Owned Government

ethics

Many transplants from all over the country come to North Carolina because it’s a state with both mountains and beautiful beaches. North Carolina’s natural resources accounts for the biggest draw to the state in addition to being a fast growing progressive metropolis. These qualities keep many of us from leaving, and it has convinced many others to make North Carolina their home. Now, these same reasons are activating many North Carolinians to fight for our beloved state as evidenced by Saturday’s Moral March when approximately 100,000 people marched on the State Capitol.

Led by Rev. William Barber and the NC-NAACP, they have assembled a coalition of advocacy groups with different focuses who have come together for the singular purpose of taking back North Carolina from the extremist wing of the Republican Party. After the AP reported yesterday on the coal ash lawsuits environmental groups tried to bring against Duke Energy, it revealed that Duke Energy was actually protected by the State of North Carolina instead of regulated. North Carolinians are starting to look at Moral March and the efforts of advocacy groups with fresh new eyes because without them who is looking out for the interest of North Carolina citizens?

With the environmental debacle in West Virginia, North Carolinians are not having to stretch the imagination in order to envision what environmental damage and loose regulations can do to the water tables in our State. As an employee of Duke Energy for 28 years, Governor Pat McCrory’s decision to fine Duke Energy $99,000 dollars which equates to a parking ticket prior to the massive coal ash spill in the Dan River comes as no surprise. How many examples of less regulation is needed before one decides the GOP is not looking out for our interests rather than making money for their own pocket?

The NC Republican led legislature’s decision to move aggressively towards Fracking with Senate Bill 76 also planned to eliminate a 40 year old provision banning underground chemical disposal.  Current legislation and government practices appear to be in line with developing policies that are beneficial to Duke Energy and not North Carolina citizens.

According to the News and Observer,

The bill was highly controversial because the only geology in the state that would have allowed pumping waste into deep wells is in tourism-dependent coastal counties, some 150 miles away from the inland areas where shale gas would be drilled. At least 14 county and town governments, along with the U.S. Marine Corps, have adopted resolutions or position papers opposing deep-well injection as a threat to the region’s underground drinking water. Read Full Article

Without steep opposition, we would also have Fracking and underground chemical disposal going into effect in 2015 after being banned for 40 years. Nothing appears to be off the table for this GOP controlled government when it comes to protecting corporate profits, yet what policies have they put in effect to make your life better? Despite Moral Monday critics and detractors, Moral March serves as a strong rebuke of Governor McCrory and GOP policies as well as foreshadow of whats to come leading into the 2014 mid-term elections.

NC NAACP Responds to The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014

DURHAM – While the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP appreciates the fact that a bipartisan effort has been made to amend and update the 1965 Voting Rights Act, we have some serious concerns and objections to the proposal which has just been introduced in the U.S. Congress. On January 16, 2014, Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and other co-sponsors introduced legislation which is intended to replace Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

NC NAACP Marching on Jones Street 2013
NC NAACP Marching on Jones Street 2013

This provision was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in its recent Shelby County v. Holder decision. That decision had the effect of gutting the Section 5 pre-clearance mandate of the Voting Rights Act. Since 1965, the Section 5 mandate had been successfully used by the United States Department of Justice and Civil Rights organizations to prevent covered jurisdictions from enacting voting laws and regulations which had the effect of discriminating against racial minorities.

A preliminary examination of the proposed provisions of this legislation convinces us that it falls woefully short of what is needed to protect all people from race-based efforts to curtail the voting potential of people of color. We certainly see this proposal as a starting point, there is much work to be done before these provisions can be deemed to be equivalent to the protections which Section 5 provided over the years.

Any voting rights proposal which does not recognize and address the widespread voting suppression efforts which are presently occurring in North Carolina is defective. As presently written, the proposal would not mandate that North Carolina be designated as a jurisdiction which would be subject to pre-clearance. This is the State which leads the country in recognized and judicially determined voting rights violations since the introduction of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This long history dates back to the landmark cases of Thornburg v. Gingles in 1986 and Shaw v. Hunt in 1992. In response to the passage of the most sweeping voter suppression legislation in the United States, North Carolina is presently being sued in State and federal courts for enacting laws designed to curtail the votes of racial minorities. Passage of this proposed legislation would have the effect of endorsing the race-based actions of the North Carolina General Assembly. The North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the NAACP is not willing to accept any legislation which does not mandate that North Carolina is designated as a covered jurisdiction.

Another major defect with this proposed legislation is the exemption that the law would provide for voter identification statutes. Voter ID is an abhorrent and offensive to voting rights as were poll taxes and the literacy tests which are now outlawed by the Voting Rights Acts. The exemption which the bill drafters seek to give to Voter ID legislation is no more than a pandering to right wing regressive political forces who are the present-day architects of voter suppression efforts around the country.

As written, this bill does not protect the rights of racial minorities against discrimination at the polls. As the nation’s oldest and largest Civil Rights organization with a massive membership base, we have the responsibility to insure that any legislation which is enacted must protect the best interests of our members, our community and the democratic principles espoused in our constitution. Our mission is to stand on the side of equal protection under the law and not to merely celebrate political compromise, especially where it has the intent or effect of undermining our hard-won political victories. In that light, this legislation looks like an effort to proclaim that this is the best that we can do with these Republicans in power rather than being drafted from the perspective of “how do we maximize political protections for racial minorities which are consistent with our constitution and the 1965 Voting rights act?”. Political protections in our democracy should be unfettered, the rights of every voter should be recognized and every vote must be properly counted.

Accordingly, we plan to meet with North Carolina’s elected leaders in the U.S. House and Senate as well as our National NAACP leadership to amend and fix this proposed legislation. We have already contacted other State Branches of the NAACP and other Civil Rights organizations who oppose and/or support this proposal. It is our plan to fight as hard to amend and fix this proposal as we are presently fighting against the voter suppression efforts here in North Carolina.

One of the most important and fundamental rights of racial minorities is the right to vote. Since the NAACP was organized in 1909, voting rights has been at the top of our agenda and it remains in that position today. Voting rights is the life-blood of a vibrant and politically connected people and we will not stand by passively and allow political compromise to destroy the hard-gained victories for voting rights for racial minorities in this country. We look forward to an opportunity to engage in the debate about this proposed legislation as this idea moves through the legislative process. We will call upon the 1,200 NAACP units from around the country to monitor their districts for additional evidence of racially discriminatory voting practices in their locales which can serve as further examples of the concerns and objections which we presently have about this proposal.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. The NC Conference of NAACP Branches is 70 years old this year and is made up of over 100 Adult, Youth and College NAACP units across the state, convenes the more than 150 members of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) Peoples Assembly Coalition, and is the architect of the Moral Monday & Forward Together Movement.

For More Information: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President, 919 394 8137
Atty. Jamie Cole, Public Policy Coordinator, 919 682 4700

For Media Assistance: Laurel Ashton, Field Secretary, 828 713 3864

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

President Obama Visits NC State to Talk About Jobs

President Obama with Governor Pat McCrory
President Obama with Governor Pat McCrory

Under the current political climate, members of the GOP have avoided any public displays of affection with President Obama out of fear of retribution from tea partiers. However, this did not appear to be the case with Governor Pat McCrory as he welcomed President Obama after he exited Air Force One.

Today, President Obama visited North Carolina State University (NCSU) to discuss his plans for an innovation hub to be developed in Raleigh. The plan seeks to create partnerships between public, private, and universities in effort to spur innovations that will leading to fabrication and mass production in the United States.

According to the Raleigh News and Observer,

Obama announced a $140 million consortium of companies and universities at NCSU that will develop the next generation of energy-efficient electronic chips and devices. The effort – and other technology hubs like it – fulfill a pledge in his State of the Union address a year ago to develop high-tech jobs.

The Next Generation Power Electronics Institute will be headquartered on NCSU’s Centennial Campus. Over the next **-five years, the U.S. Department of Energy will provide $70 million to the institute, to be matched by at least $70 million in nonfederal money by the businesses and universities and the state of North Carolina.  Read More

The address to Wolfpack nation was nationally televised on all the major networks except Fox news who decided to cover the “Devil Baby” prank in New York City instead. Nevertheless, the President’s address has rebooted the national conversation and focus back on job creation where it should be.

In the wake of the long-term unemployed being kicked off benefits in both North Carolina and federal extended benefits, Americans are still having a tough time finding employment especially when there are three people for every one job.

Despite the record number of people at food pantries, the GOP is taking lessons on how to appear more compassionate while continuing to deny extended unemployment benefits to jobless Americans. You can view the President’s address at NC State below:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jb–6RSdIkI[/youtube]

NC Grade Drops to “F” Due to Laws against Reproductive Rights

Durham, North Carolina — Today, NARAL Pro-Choice America and NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina published the 23rd edition of Who Decides? The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States. The report, published each year, provides individual letter grades on the status of women’s reproductive rights for all 50 states and provides a comprehensive view of choice-related legislation and court decisions in those states. NC was scored as an anti-choice state for its 2013 legislative record on reproductive freedom, getting a letter grade of F.

Hannah Osborn (NARAL NC Intern Class of 2013, NC State Class of 2014) speaking at a pro-choice Rally last March.
Hannah Osborn (NARAL NC Intern) speaking at a pro-choice Rally last March.

Read NC’s report card here: http://bit.ly/WhoDecidesNC.

“In 2013, extreme lawmakers railroaded through a series of new laws that are part of a nationwide, well-funded anti-woman agenda sweeping the nation.  These laws are ill-conceived and out of touch with the majority of North Carolinians who believe lawmakers have no place in a woman’s personal, private reproductive decisions,” said Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. “In 2014, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina is as committed as ever to holding the opponents of a woman’s right to choose accountable, and working hard to elect lawmaker who share our pro-choice values and belief that every woman should have not just the right, but the opportunity to make whatever decision is right for her.”

North Carolina is one of the twenty-four states nationwide that enacted anti-choice measures in 2013.  During the 2013 legislative session, the NC General Assembly passed and the Governor McCrory signed three new anti-choice bills into law, despite his campaign promise to not support any additional restrictions on access to abortion in North Carolina.  These laws require NC DHHS to create new restrictions on women’s health centers, ban women from obtaining comprehensive insurance coverage through North Carolina’s health care exchange that includes coverage for abortion care, even when they use their own money to purchase their plan.  The law also strips over 370,000 city and county employees of access to comprehensive reproductive health insurance coverage that most Americans currently have through their employer-based insurance coverage.

In total, 24 states—AK, MT, ND, SD, CO, KS, OK. TX, IA, MO, AR, LA, WI, MI, IN, OH, PA, VA, NC, SC, GA, AL, MS—passed 53 anti-choice measures. The four primary types of laws restricting reproductive freedom included:

  • Banning abortion at different stages of pregnancy;
  • Banning insurance coverage of abortion;
  • Restricting abortion providers to close them down;
  • Helping anti-choice fake clinics called crisis pregnancy centers.

But the tide is turning, as elected officials like Texas state Senator Wendy Davis and Michigan state Senator Gretchen Whitmer took strong public stands to protect reproductive freedom. Ten states—AL, CA, CO, HI, IL, NH, TX, VA, VT, and WV—enacted a total of 15 pro-choice measures (twice as many as last year), fighting back against anti-choice extremists. (Source)

The full report is available at http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/government-and-you/who-decides/ 

Photo Credit: NARAL Pro-Choice NC

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Redistricting: The Hidden Side of Voter Suppression

by Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director SCSJ

On Monday, January 6, 2014 the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) presented oral arguments before the North Carolina Supreme Court, urging the court to find that the 2011 redistricting maps are unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

NC Gerrymander Map
NC Gerrymander Map

During the summer 2013 trial, SCSJ represented several statewide nonpartisan groups, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, The North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Democracy NC, and the NC NAACP, seeking to overturn racially-packed voting districts in North Carolina in the consolidated cases Dickson v. Rucho and NAACP v. NC. On July 8, 2013, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel in North Carolina state court unanimously rejected all challenges to the 2011 redistricting plans for Congress, State House and State Senate.

SCSJ has argued that redistricting maps were racial gerrymanders, unfairly dividing the state into “black districts” and “white districts,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution.  In doing so, the ability of minority voters to participate equally in the political process was intentionally limited.

SCSJ also argues that the plans violate the North Carolina constitution’s demand for geographically compact districts.  The enacted plans contain districts that are grossly non-compact and split far more precincts than prior or alternative plans.

Post-election analysis conducted by SCSJ and presented at trial showed that the 2011 redistricting plan placed one in four North Carolina voters into “split precincts,” leading to widespread confusion about who would be on the voter’s ballot on Election Day and resulting in the actual disenfranchisement of thousands of voters. These districts also placed a difficult burden on elections officials, who often struggled to assign voters living in split precincts to the correct districts. Across the state, thousands of voters assigned to the wrong district received the wrong ballot on Election Day. Those living in minority communities were disproportionately affected by this error. All of this evidence was presented to the State Supreme Court by SCSJ.

“Racial gerrymandering to create separate ‘white’ and ‘black’ districts is both wrong and unconstitutional. We need to get out of the mindset that black voters will only elect a black candidate and white voters will only elect a white candidate – this just isn’t true anymore. In the end, racially packed voting districts take away the ability of all racial groups to elect candidates of their choice,” said Melvin Montford, Executive Director of SCSJ client the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Inc.

“More than 2,500 voters in just seven monitored counties lost their right to vote in 2012 because of the unprecedented way district lines zigzagged through precincts and neighborhoods in order to divide voters by race,” said Bob Hall, executive director of SCSJ client Democracy North Carolina. “That kind of disenfranchisement points to the serious problems with what amounts to computerized apartheid – and hopefully the court will say it must stop.”

Relevant court filings are available below:

Plaintiff-Appellants’ Reply Brief

Motion for Temporary Restraining Order

Amicus Brief 1

Amicus Brief 2:

Amicus Brief 3

Children from Adversity: Ronald Maloney Debuting Powerhouse Road

There are many lessons to be learned from children of adversity who able to thrive despite the circumstances placed upon them through no fault of their own. Native North Carolinian, Ronald D. Maloney, was the first bi-racial child placed in the State’s colored orphanage in Oxford, North Carolina as a result of his mix-raced status. Ronald Maloney will be returning to North Carolina to begin debuting his memoir Powerhouse Road.

In 1959, Ronald’s circumstances were unique because he was denied acceptance by both the black and white community, and he remained in the colored orphanage from first grade until the day he left for the military in 1972. As a Bachelor’s of Social Work student, he graduated from North Carolina State University in 1977, and he went on to obtain a Masters in Social Work from the University of California at Berkeley.

According to an article written by UC Berkeley Social Welfare, when asked what led him to California, Ronald Maloney stated,

“I had wanted to go to USC or UCLA because of their sports programs,” says Maloney of his initial choices for graduate school. “But then I saw that Berkeley had the number one program in social welfare, so I knew that’s where I had to go.”

Maloney drove across country with whatever belongings he could fit in his army duffle bag to start his new life in the Berkeley and the Bay Area, a place where he remains to this day. He explains that he knew he was definitely no longer in North Carolina when he spotted “a guy with dreads” while coming up University Avenue to the campus. “Oh, I am at UC Berkeley now!” he remembers thinking.

Also among his earliest memories was the very first School of Social Welfare orientation he attended in Berkeley’s famous Rose Garden, complete with wine and cheese.

“I’ll never forget when an older man came up and asked me, ‘How does it feel to be at UC Berkeley?’” recalls Maloney. “I didn’t know who he was, but I figured it had to be somebody important – and it was. It was Dean Specht. He said to call him Harry.

“When Harry asked me that question, I answered, ‘Do you want me to tell you how I really feel or what I think you want to hear?’ He said he wanted to hear my real feelings, and I said, ‘I feel academically inferior because all these people around me are coming from big-name and Ivy League schools.’  Read Full Article

The article is a great read for anyone wanting to preview the upcoming book signings by Robert Maloney. You can also view a segment about his journey on UNC TV using this link.

You Know That We Can Hear You Right: Interview with Don Yelton

Don Yelton

Once again, comedians have accidentally exposed extremists within the Republican party. In this case, the Daily Show interviewed Don Yelton who is the current North Carolina GOP leader for the Buncombe County precinct, or at least until this interview aired. This video captures the essence of the current state of American politics. If you were ever concerned that voter restriction laws were being used to disenfranchise minorities, this video confirms that you were wrong.

The North Carolina Republican led legislature recently passed one of the most restrictive voter id laws in the country. Many civil rights advocates believe the implementation of these laws across Red States are designed to prevent vulnerable populations from voting. However, Don Yelton makes it very clear that voter id laws were not designed to eliminate voters based on race, creed, color, age, sex, or religion. The real reason voter id laws were created is to deter all Democrats from voting.

After this interview aired, it went viral which led to the GOP asking for Yelton’s resignation. According to Business Insiders,

A North Carolina county precinct GOP chair resigned on Thursday after an offensive interview that aired on “The Daily Show” Wednesday, in which he said “lazy black people” want “the government to give them everything.”

“Yes, he has resigned,” said Nathan West, a spokesman for the Buncombe County Republican Party. The party had asked for Don Yelton’s resignation in direct response to the interview, West said.

The interview, conducted by correspondent Aasif Mandvi, was on the topic of North Carolina’s new voter ID law, over which the Justice Department has sued the state. On “The Daily Show,” Yelton argued that the law wasn’t racist, though he added that he’s “been called a bigot before.” Read more

This is an example of the GOP leading our government, and it will also serve as good evidence when the US Department of Justice takes North Carolina to court over its restrictive voter id laws.

DOJ Sues North Carolina Over New Voter ID Laws

Yesterday, the United States Department of Justice filed suit against the State of North Carolina to contest the passage of the most restrictive voter id laws in country. Prior to the Republican led legislature gaining control, North Carolina was a leader in the country for voter participation which many believe is no longer the case. North Carolina was the only battleground state during the 2012 Presidential Election season to veto and not institute voter id laws.

This suit comes on the heels of a similar suit filed against Texas in its efforts to implement strict voter id laws in the Lone Star State. To counterbalance the law, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) located in Durham North Carolina, is in the process of urging potential voters to register prior to the October 11, 2013 deadline.  In the wake of the new law, same day registration was eliminated. SCSJ is requesting support in their effort to help create awareness and knowledge of the deadline in order to register as many people as possible. If you are interested in helping spread the message of the voter registration deadline, visit SCSJ’s messaging link.

According to MSNBC News:

The law is perhaps the nation’s strictest. In addition to requiring voters to show a limited range of state-issued IDs, it also cuts back on early voting and ends same-day voter registration, among other provisions. All of those provisions disproportionately affect racial minorities, studies show. Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine and a prominent expert on voting, has called the law “a laundry list of ways to make it harder for people to vote.”

Holder called the cutbacks to early voting “especially troubling,” noting that in the last two presidential elections, 70% of minority voters took advantage of early voting.

The measure was pushed by Republican lawmakers who control the state’s legislature, and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican. An August poll found that just 39% of North Carolinians support their state’s law, with 50% opposed. Along with a slew of other conservative measures enacted by the Republican government, it helped spark an energetic progressive opposition movement that since the summer has held demonstrations across the state.

Leaders of the movement, including Rev. William Barber III, the president of the state’s NAACP chapter, applauded the lawsuit Monday, as did North Carolina Democrats. Read Full Article

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Rev. Barber is the leader of the Moral Monday protest and the ongoing fight to protect civil rights and the quality of life for North Carolinians. If you are interested in his reaction to the suit brought by the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, view the video below:

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