Blog

January 21, 2022 NF Legislative Roundup: Redefining Reparation

The word “reparation” can be a loaded one, but the concept is all around us. Check out some examples we found this week!

Arizona

  • HB2112
    • Why we’re watching: Earlier this week, the Arizona House Education Committee voted to make teaching about racism illegal “if done in certain ways.” Those in favor of that measure cited familiar, anti-Black and -Brown talking points about critical race theory, levying exorbitant fines against educators teaching our country’s history.

California

  • Clean Cars and Clean Air Act
    • Why we’re watching: For decades, communities of color have disproportionately inhaled car pollution. As somewhat of a reparation, California is debating a ballot measure that would allocate billions of dollars to constructing an electric vehicle charging network.

Federal

  • Filibuster Reform
    • Why we’re watching: On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the civil rights leader’s family marched through Washington DC in support of voting rights and the abolishment of the filibuster. That antiquated Senate procedure is all that’s standing between minority communities and full voting rights, unobstructed by conspiracies and discrimination.
  • National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy
    • Why we’re watching: The federal government just set aside $3 billion to fight worsening wildfires throughout the country, citing rapid climate change as its primary rationale. We hope that because of this plan, municipal and state governments stop relying on prison inmates to fight wildfires for minimal pay.

Georgia

  • DeKalb County Employment
    • Why we’re watching: As a reparation following the failed war on drugs, DeKalb County wants to stop testing employees for marijuana usage. Despite infighting among county commissioners there, this policy would attract more workers and desensitize our institutions to recreational cannabis, which is a policy we expect more states to adopt this year.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Communities of Color and Electric Vehicles

In 2020, in New York’s Union Square, the climate clock went live. It was a digital clock noting how much time we have left, as a planet, to reverse the dangerous effects of climate change. In the beginning, we had just over seven years to change our behaviors and institutions, limiting global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius – a commonly accepted point-of-no-return among scientists. Ever since, the clock has ticked slowly downward, charting our general failure to address the climate crisis.

The vehicles we drive every day are significant contributors to the issue of climate change. Our car-dependent society has ensured as much. On every highway and byway, our automobiles spew chemicals and pollutants into the atmosphere. Of course, vehicular exhaust is cleaner today than in years past. Despite this federally spurred technological improvement, one thing hasn’t changed.

Communities of color disproportionately breathe in air pollution from cars.

Last year, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study found that people of color face significantly higher rates of exposure to air pollution from cars and trucks compared to their white counterparts. This trend holds true across all racial demographics, but especially among the Black population. That group deals with 21% more pollutant exposure than white people. While industrial plants are the most common source of such toxins, vehicles of all types rank in the most frequent emitters of pollutants, especially in majority-minority areas.

There are a variety of factors creating this disparity. First, institutional racism has pooled minorities together through decades of redlining, community underinvestment, and financial discrimination. Additionally, poor healthcare and job opportunities, common trends in Black and Brown neighborhoods, creates an inherent risk to pollutant-related diseases, which cause hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. Whether you examine exposure, effects, or something in between, it’s clear that pollutants from vehicles is a major health risk for minorities and demands a solution.

Recently, the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act committed $7.5 billion to construct electric vehicle charging infrastructure, an effort that would be furthered by the passage of the Build Back Better bill.

The solution is staring us in the face. Now, we must make sure we act equitably and recognize the disparate impact of climate change on communities of color.

The Electric Vehicle Charging Initiative - A national collaboration to meet and exceed 500,000 charging stations nationwide

In this effort, Neighborhood FORWARD is attending the National EV Charging Summit, hosted by the National EV Charging Initiative, which is a diverse group of stakeholders concerned about our planet and its people. Building a national infrastructure for charging electric vehicles is our best means to combat climate change, spur technological innovation, and shield communities of color from the continued disproportionate impact of pollution. The summit will feature government officials, corporate leaders, and other signatories of the National EV Charging Initiative, all of whom will bring ideas to induce action from our institutions.

Not only do we hope that you’ll join the discussion, but we hope you agree that this issue is worthy of our attention, activism, and support. We’ve already seen our neighborhoods devastated by the degradation of our world; the least we can do is present a viable, equitable solution. To us, that’s electric vehicles.

Let’s help save the planet.

January 14, 2022 NF Legislative Roundup: Session Underway

As state legislatures gear up for session, let’s look at some of the policies and bills that caught our eye this week!

Connecticut

  • Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force
    • Why we’re watching: Two years after beginning its effort to improve policing in Connecticut, the Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force endorsed creating of crisis intervention teams, employing mental health experts, and reducing the number of traffic stops to make policing safer for all.

Federal

  • John Lewis Voting Rights Act
    • Why we’re watching: On Monday, which is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Senate is expected to vote on abolishing the filibuster. Without that action, states will continue to obliterate minority voting rights across the country, as we saw in the months following the election. We cannot think of a better way to honor a man such as John Lewis than by creating a codified right to vote in his name. Get it done, Senate.

Illinois

  • School Closures
    • Why we’re watching: In one of the biggest stories of the year thus far, Chicago schools are asking teachers to do their jobs even if they display mild symptoms of COVID-19. Additionally, students testing positive have been grouped together in unsafe spaces, leading to several walkouts to protest such insufficient learning conditions.

Maryland

  • HB159
    • Why we’re watching: If passed, this bill, dubbed the Economic Justice and Racial Reconciliation Act, would create a commission to study the period of history between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and how public policy impacted Black Marylanders – and still does today. The commission would then create a system for providing reparations to offset the institutional racism for Black communities in the state. While this progress likely won’t happen in just one legislative session, we must start somewhere.

Missouri

  • HB1995 and HB1474
    • Why we’re watching: These two bills, introduced as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” on one of the first days of session, would ban critical race theory and give legal standing to parents who felt their kids were learning inappropriate subjects. Both bills leave teachers and schools vulnerable for doing their jobs: teaching our youth about the importance of Black and Brown history.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

MLK Day was no easy feat.

Next week, the country will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., or MLK, Day. Students and workers alike will spend the day at home, reminded of the importance of protesting injustice and honoring the sacrifices that Rev. King made. The holiday is close to King’s birthday of January 15, but predictably, activists had a difficult time establishing the observance. It’s hardly surprising that our country resisted creating a holiday named for its greatest activist, but illuminating, nonetheless.

In fact, in a few states, the holiday is shared between Rev. King and Robert E. Lee.

Just four days after he was assassinated in 1968, John Conyers, a Democratic Congressman from Michigan, proposed a federal holiday in King’s honor. His bill quickly failed, but he continued his fight. Rep. Conyers had visited Alabama during the peak of the civil rights movement and marched alongside its leaders, so his persistence isn’t surprising. Eventually, he helped found the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and enlisted its support of his bill for 15 years of repeated introductions.

In 1983, the CBC had collected millions of signatures as civil rights demonstrators convened on Washington to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the March on Washington. Around that time, legislation establishing MLK Day made it to the floor again. This time, Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican from North Carolina, filibustered the bill, upsetting Sen. Daniel Moynihan of New York. A dramatic floor confrontation ensued, and the bill passed, after which President Ronald Reagan immediately signed it.

So, in 1986, the country celebrated its first MLK Day. As you can imagine, states were slow to adopt the holiday for their own calendars. One by one, state legislatures and governors came to recognize the occasion, but multiple Southern states went a different route.

Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Virginia all refused to let Rev. King have his day.

It just so happened that Robert E. Lee’s birthday was four days after Rev. King’s on January 19. A few of those states already had holidays honoring Lee and sought to undercut King’s importance and accomplishments by creating holidays like “Robert E. Lee/Martin Luther King Birthday” in Alabama, or “Lee-Jackson-King Day” in Virginia, which honored Lee and Stonewall Jackson, another prominent Confederate.

Since 2000, every state has observed MLK Day in some fashion. A few still haven’t given it the singular and solo observation it deserves, for obvious reasons. States’ pushback against the holiday is revealing in that it sums up a huge issue with American civil society right now. We are rejecting the good parts of our history in a way that will doom us to repeat the bad parts.

In response to the misguided uproar over critical race theory, dozens of school districts across the country have banned the teaching of some elements of the civil rights era. This will create a generation that’s totally ignorant to the importance of what Rev. King accomplished in his time as an activist and how that affects our lives even today.

We firmly believe the best way to avoid repeating history is to know it. Coupling MLK Day with celebrations honoring racist traitors from our past is a deliberate decision to ignore a pivotal moment for communities of color and the entire country. For us to truly understand why Rev. King marched and organized, we must demand his namesake holiday stands alone.

Rest in power, Martin Luther King Jr.

January 7, 2022 NF Legislative Roundup: Equity in 2022

In our first Legislative Roundup of 2022, here are just a few stories that caught our attention regarding equity across the country!

Connecticut

  • Tree Replanting
    • Why we’re watching: Tree equity is an issue near and dear to our hearts, and for good reason. Black and Brown neighborhoods have less trees on average than their white counterparts, which means less shade and higher temperatures. The negative health effects of long-term exposure are daunting, so maybe that’s why Connecticut established a grant to plant trees in neighborhoods that are mostly blacktop lots.

Georgia

  • Equity in Public Schools
    • Why we’re watching: The Atlanta school board recently approved $138,700 to generate awareness of the board’s equity-related efforts, including its Center for Equity and Social Justice. That organization has been busy editing hiring practices and student disciplinary outcomes, so we’re glad to see it’s getting some time in the spotlight.
  • Guaranteed Income
    • Why we’re watching: As Atlanta schools move forward, so is their host city. Atlanta recently approved a partnership with the Urban League to launch the city’s first guaranteed income program. The effort will support 300 residents that live below 200% of the federal poverty line, which equates to $53,000 for a four-person family. We hope the program’s $500 per month works against Atlanta’s worsening income inequality.

Nevada

  • Mail-In Voting
    • Why we’re watching: Last year, in response to record minority turnout at the polls, dozens of states severely restricted voting rights. On the other side of the spectrum, Nevada passed AB 321, which established a minimum number of polling places, shortened mail-in ballot deadlines, and required drop-boxes at every polling place for the 2022 elections.

New York

  • Criminal Justice Reform
    • Why we’re watching: There are too many Black and Brown individuals in jail for inconsequential reasons. Don’t just take our word for it! The new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg agrees. For minor crimes like fare evasion and resisting arrest, his office will not seek jail time without an accompanying felony. Alternatively, he will search for programs dedicated to rehabilitation rather than punishment.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

We’re divided…on the internet, anyways.

Throughout the pandemic, we all learned the importance of reliable internet connectivity. Rather than sitting in classrooms every day, students stayed home to learn. Instead of commuting to the office for meetings, workers hosted Zoom calls. But what began during the pandemic is likely here to stay, so it’s important we recognize the inequality faced by different groups as they get online.

For starters, minorities are far less likely to boast high-speed, reliable internet at home.

In mid-2021, Pew Research Center found that 69% and 67% of Black and Hispanic adults reported having access to a traditional computer at home, respectively. In comparison, 80% of white adults reported the same luxury. Similarly, only 71% and 65% of Black and Hispanic households have high-speed internet in the home while 80% of their white counterparts do.

This disparity severely impacts minority students’ education. During the height of the pandemic, Black, Hispanic, and Asian students were 15% more likely to live in a school district with exclusively remote learning options. These are mostly urban and suburban school districts, both of which boast more minority students than rural districts. For these students, unreliable internet access means scrambling to take tests in a productive environment and missing important lessons.

But this issue existed long before the pandemic. A 2018 Free Press report found that almost half of all Americans without reliable internet access were people of color. The same report concluded that 54% of families with income below $20,000 per year had home internet, a statistic that jumps to 90% for families with incomes above $100,000. The former group is predominantly Black and Brown while the latter is mostly white. Markets have priced minorities out of connectivity, a problem exacerbated by an unwillingness to spend public capital on the issue.

So, this issue, like most others, is a combination of minimal government support and a predatory private sector. Internet service providers have systematically eliminated cheap options for mid-speed internet, leaving only the slowest speeds available for low-income households. Clearly, the private sector doesn’t have equity in mind, but the public sector hasn’t done much on this front either – until now.

The Biden administration has made closing this gap a central policy objective. Its recent $1 trillion infrastructure package includes $65 billion for building out internet services to rural areas, low-income families, and tribal lands. States will gain access to several grants, the dispersal of which will be overseen by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, for these purposes. This is the sort of first step that inequity demands: massive allocations of government funding. Now, we hope states spend it per its intended usage.

The efficacy of these reforms is yet to be seen. We likely won’t feel their impact for years, possibly decades. In the meantime, we can reflect on the importance of home internet during the pandemic and reiterate our commitment to technological and educational equity.

December 31, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: The Highs of 2021

This week, we’re still doing something different! Here are some of the highs we saw over the last year of news!

Infrastructure Investment

  • It took some time, but the Biden administration eventually passed its $1 trillion infrastructure package, which included funding for improved broadband, public transportation, and electric vehicle charging networks. Now, states are deciding how to spend the money, much of which has been allocated in ways that will help historically underserved communities of color. The pandemic revealed the importance of such investment, and we hope all 50 states act equitably.

New Wave of Political Representation

  • Following the 2020 elections and several high-profile contests in November of 2021, our government is more representative of its constituents than ever before. Not only is Congress more racially diverse than ever, but Boston elected its first Asian-American and woman mayor – all in the same night. There are hundreds of other success stories from the past year, including those of Kamala Harris, Deb Haaland, and Rachel Levine. We hope this trend continues into the next year, because everyone deserves to see themselves in their leadership.

Conviction of Derek Chauvin and Ahmaud Arbery’s Killers

  • Let us preface this by saying that George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery should still be alive today. Their deaths last year galvanized the entire country to action in a way we haven’t seen for a long time. As a result, police departments began implementing citizen-based reforms, as they should have long ago. The high-profile convictions of the four men charged with killing Floyd and Arbery will hopefully become the norm rather than the exception in the year to come.

Honorable Mention

Ever Given Stuck in the Suez Canal

  • What does this story have to do with the fight for social justice and equity? Absolutely nothing. But all these months later, we still find it hilarious that a boat getting stuck in a canal was among the biggest stories of the year – we couldn’t just leave it out.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Yes, there is a Pledge of Allegiance Day.

The holiday season is ending. That means no more Christmas music, gathering with our families, nor good food aplenty. While it’s undoubtedly sad to wave goodbye to our favorite time of the year, we wanted to bring to everyone’s attention an incredibly important holiday that we all missed: Pledge of Allegiance Day. It takes place every year on December 28 and reminds us to honor and revere that thing we all said daily in elementary school. We celebrated it, did you?

Just kidding – we didn’t celebrate Pledge of Allegiance Day.

Pledge of Allegiance - Wikipedia

The origins of Pledge of Allegiance Day are unclear, but the history of the Pledge itself is well-documented. In 1892, Francis Bellamy penned the Pledge as a means of honoring his country’s flag. Originally, Bellamy meant it to be used across the globe by citizens in this way – there was no mention of the United States in the original version, seen below:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added. So, the Pledge came to read:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

A few decades later in 1954, President Eisenhower encouraged the addition of, “under God” to the pledge in response to growing atheistic sentiment. This created the modern Pledge of Allegiance, reading:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

It’s apparent that our country continually perverted and diluted Bellamy’s pledge, meant to be shared by the whole world. Bellamy’s family even objected to the 1954 revision for this reason. This is demonstrative of our country’s fascination with hollow patriotism, or the act of supporting our country while ignoring its many flaws, many of them inherently wrapped up in our collective tribalism.

There are a lot of “unofficial” holidays spanning our calendars. For example, March 6 is National Dentist’s Day and September 21 is National Pecan Cookie Day. But those same months also boast National Anthem Day and Uncle Sam Day, respectively. Such observances, however meaningless, reinforce the idea that every American symbol and institution are worth celebrating. Not every country has a flag pledge and even fewer force children to ritualistically recite it day in and day out. Why does America have an utter, inescapable fascination with appearing patriotic?

Because true patriotism means reforming some of these symbols.

This country is far from perfect. We are dealing with severe economic inequality, racial disparities across sectors, and a general hesitance to enact meaningful reforms at every turn. Permitting such superficial expressions of patriotism shifts debate away from dealing with these issues. It lets people claim pride and adoration without working toward improving our situation. In doing so, we shift debate and discourse away from improvement – a genuine way to express your faith in what we can create together.

That idea is at the heart of all reform: We are stronger together than we are apart. Moving forward together, as difficult as it seems, is possible if we abandon these false expressions of patriotism. Talking heads tell us that kneeling during the National Anthem is unpatriotic, even though that demonstration is meant to improve the country. If we reject some of these holidays and hollow observances, we can focus on what’s important. And that’s moving forward, together, to improve people’s lives.

December 24, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: The Lows of 2021

The next two weeks, we’re doing something different! Here are some of the “lows” we saw over the last year.

Fearmongering Over Critical Race Theory

  • Critical race theory, the general concept that institutions are laden with bias, was perhaps the most hot-button topic of the year. It spurred voters to action and won entire elections. We’re upset that a documented, statistical reality is under debate, especially in the classroom. Now, teachers across the country are prevented from teaching basic lessons about Jim Crow, civil rights, and our Founding Fathers.

Disparities in COVID-19 Infection and Vaccination

  • The pandemic was difficult in every sense of the world and for everyone, but none more so than communities of color. We saw racial disparities in COVID-19 infection, test availability, and even vaccine access. The pandemic doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for some time, but we hope that our elected officials act through community outreach and understanding the historic mistrust of the medical community.

Voting Rights Stall

  • If the first 100 days of a presidency are the strongest, President Biden must’ve missed the memo. Conservatives have continued to push election fraud claims as statehouses pass measures designed to prevent minorities from voting. So far, Congress has done absolutely nothing to stop them, leading Rev. King’s family to organize a march in support of voting rights reform early next year. We hope that galvanizes some action despite the lows we’ve seen since the 2020 election.

Inability to Pass Social Spending Bill

  • Another failure of the Biden administration so far is its inability to pass its social spending package, called Build Back Better. Despite its benefits for the American people, and specifically communities of color, it sits in limbo based on the whims of just a few senators. Its passage is key to the upcoming midterms and even more important for Black and Brown families and businesses that need relief following the pandemic, all of which saw new lows in financial standing.

Continued Rise of Far-Right Extremism

  • The year started off with far-right insurrectionists storming the capitol, perhaps setting the tone for what was to come. Either way, the rise of far-right, white extremism continued this year, resulting in hate crimes and threats of violence against teachers and voting officials. To prevent as such from continuing, we must invest in enforcement and intelligence based on real threats, not our preconceived notions of terrorism.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Tuition for Dreamers…now!

Right now, there are more than 1 million Dreamers estimated to be living in the U.S. Over one-fifth of the undocumented immigrant population came here with their parents under the age of 18, a necessary condition of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. These kids have access to work permits barring criminal activities and can renew an exemption from deportation every two years.

In 2012, President Obama instituted DACA after Congress failed to pass his Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have granted legal status to undocumented individuals brought to the U.S. by their parents. In lieu of legislative action, Obama created a guideline for federal immigration agencies. This “unofficial” institution of DACA has left the program vulnerable to judicial review and political tampering on several occasions.

In 2017, for example, President Trump announced that his administration would phase out DACA. While the Supreme Court prevented him from doing so absolutely, Congress sought to legislatively replace the program and find an answer for Dreamers. Senators from both sides of the aisle crafted multiple replacement bills, all of which failed to garner the sufficient 60-vote minimum. The lack of Congressional action led the Biden administration to re-up the program, which returned to its Obama-era heights.

Through all these ups and downs, Dreamers have never had access to in-state tuition.

Despite living within state borders and wanting to attend college, schools have forced DACA recipients to pay out-of-state rates. This is rooted in the belief that Dreamers, and undocumented immigrants more broadly, don’t pay taxes and therefore don’t deserve in-state tuition like documented citizens. This is patently false, however.

Part of the DACA program is the provision of temporary social security numbers and work visas. Just like those with “normal” social security numbers, Dreamers are responsible for local, state, and federal taxes. In 2019, the federal government estimated that Dreamers paid $5.7 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in local and state taxes. On average, Dreamers pay 8.3% of their income to taxes, which contribute to roads, bridges, and even state-funded schools. Clearly, the myth that undocumented immigrants avoid taxes is rooted in xenophobia.

Voters in Arizona have debated in-state tuition for Dreamers for years now. Proposition 300 is a law that limited public benefits for Dreamers and preempted in-state tuition. Earlier this year, Arizona legislators approved a measure that will bring the repeal of Proposition 300 to the ballot in 2022. If voters decide to end the oppressive law, Arizona, which has long been a hotbed for immigration issues, will serve as a test-run for many provisions of the Build Back Better program.

Build Back Better, or Congress’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, sought to address this issue in a roundabout and systemic way. The bill provided a path to citizenship for Dreamers, which has historically taken years. This would’ve solved the in-state tuition issue, but moderates removed it from the bill, despite its glaring promise.

There is also evidence that such reforms would improve the overall economy. Encouraging Dreamers to pursue higher education would significantly boost their lifetime earnings and tax contributions. Bachelor’s degree holders earn $765,000 more in median lifetime earnings than those who have only graduated high school. Additionally, the same group contributes $381,000 more in individual taxes over a lifetime. In short, education improves economic resilience by creating more highly skilled and well-paid workers.

Our country simply cannot afford to ignore such a large and willing workforce. Besides, giving Dreamers the chance at in-state tuition rates is the compassionate thing to do. Whatever your opinions on illegal immigration, these kids didn’t come here themselves. They were brought here by their parents in search of a better life. We must respond with an equal compassion and give them a legitimate chance to create a productive life for themselves with a college degree.

Scroll to top