Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Are you ready to own Wall Street?

The current financial crisis facing the American economy takes me back twenty-six years to the founding of the African American United Fund (AAUF), then known as the Black United Fund of Pennsylvania. By 1982, Ronald Reagan had been able to convince members of Congress to narrowly approve his sweeping supply side economic policies, nicknamed “trickle-down economics” or “Reaganomics.” These policies gave enormous tax breaks to the wealthy and corporate entities. Our government assumed incredible amounts of debt without balancing the federal budget.

To pay for his corporate welfare program Reagan cut funding for social services, education and other domestic programs. During the 1980s, schools were forced to eliminate art, music and second language learning programs were scaled back; capital improvements for schools, bridges and highways were postponed indefinitely; prisons and welfare departments were privatized. Joblessness increased as Fortune 500 companies placed more emphasis on dividends for shareholders, reinvesting profit in the volatile stock market and exorbitant CEO compensation packages.

Which brings me to today’s seven hubdred billion ($700,000,000,000) bailout of Wall Street being proposed by the current secretary of the treasury. While Reagan was admonishing Mikhail Gorbachev to “Bring down” the Berlin Wall, advocating to end Communism in the Soviet Union, he was sowing the seeds of socialism in America. A government sponsored bailout of flailing Wall Street amounts to nationalizing our stock market. Each of us will now own the debt, not the profit, of reckless corporate managers’ investment practices.

As taxpayers, we will be responsible for the management of a nationalized stock market. We won’t be able to control how the system is managed if we don’t insure there is transparency in how the system operates, if we don’t exercise our right to vote and if we don’t put mechanisms in place to keep our elected officials accountable to us, the share holders. Finally and most importantly, we can’t manage a financial system if we can’t manage our own personal finances.

This spring, we reintroduced our Technical Assistance Program by holding a workshop on financial planning to instruct participants about making personal financial decisions. The Estate Planning workshop, conducted by Yvette Hachoose, Esq., focused on protecting your home from being sold for long term care costs and to other creditors and finding out how to protect your assets in an increasingly difficult economic climate. We plan to continue offering this workshop and add a component, Wall Street on Broad Street, to this program focusing on understanding America’s financial system.

Since spring of 2007, AAUF has been hosting our People’s Voter Education Forums to bring community based organizations, community residents and elected officials together to discuss and improve upon programs and policies that address the social and economic issues affecting our community. These forums bring candidates to the community to respond to constituents needs and reinforce to constituents that candidates are in office to serve them not special interests, lobbyist or large donors.

AAUF will continue to highlight health disparities in the African American community through our newest program, the African Marketplace Health and Wellness Workshops. Access to health care for the poor and in minority communities is sporadic, at best, and nonexistent for many in our community. The purpose of the program is to raise awareness of health disparities in low income and communities of color. The workshops are designed to introduce participants to activities that will help them manage and improve their health. The program pays particular attention to African American men who historically have a mistrust of traditional medicine and are more likely to succumb to preventable diseases. The next Marketplace activity will be at 2231 N. Broad Street on December 18 from 12pm to 8pm.

In addition to our programs, AAUF provides operational support to organizations such as, Parents United for Public Education and X-Offenders for Community Empowerment. Founded in 2006 to address the $73 million dollar School District budget deficit and subsequent cuts to school-based funding, Parents United for Public Education has successfully advocated for increasing public education funding from local government sources by $32 million dollars and reducing millions of dollars in wasteful spending at the Philadelphia School District. X-Offenders for Community Empowerment saw that the ease of access to illegal guns destroyed the lives of victims and the incarcerated. They conceived and supported laws that will reduce gun violence and the proliferation of illegal weapons in Philadelphia. Their programs also focus on educating and empowering ex-offenders to overcome barriers to re-entry into society.

The need to understand and appreciate the rich contributions African Americans have made to American society will be the focus of an upcoming activity. On February 28, 2009, we plan to sponsor a trip to Lancaster to the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church for their "Living the Experience" program- a spiritually, creative, living historical production of the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania. The purpose of this trip is to highlight the active role African Americans played in the struggle for their individual freedom and as abolitionists in the struggle to end institutionalized slavery. The goal is to demonstrate that even as enslaved people African Americans took responsibility for improving their lives and the lives of their progeny as well as informed national policy decisions about Civil, Equal and Human Rights. The trip will cost $75 for adults and $50 for children 12 and over.

For over 26 years the Fund has been the steward of resources that we’ve consistently shared to increase educational opportunities, increase access to social and human services, promote cultural development, raise awareness about health and wellness issues, provide youth leadership training, stimulate voter education and increase awareness of criminal justice issues. The value of the African American United Fund is in our ability to quickly respond to emerging issues in our community. Our current motto- “A Call to Action”, represents the enduring spirit of our forbearers to overcome barriers to freedom and equality under extraordinarily harsh conditions. Join us in our endeavors by volunteering, participating in our programs and donating now to our organization.

Aissia Richardson

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