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PAY ATTENTION: Redistricting StrategiesImpact Local and National Elections

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By Kirk Clay and Madura Wijewardena – State houses, city councils and many other institutions across America are now engaged in an endeavor that has occurred every decade since the nation’s founding — they will decide how electoral boundaries will be drawn based on where people live. These decisions will have a major impact on who is elected to public office.

This practice originates from the radical but simple plan set out in the U.S. Constitution which states that America will count every person every decade and use the results of that count to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. At that time, using a population count to determine representation was an unusual proposition because, according to Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, population counts had been used before to levy taxes or property or to pressure people for military service and not to ensure that the government had the consent of the governed.

This radical but simple plan originally had profound injustice embedded in it by stipulating that slaves held in bondage be counted as three-fifths of a person. In 1868, Congress ratified the 14th amendment, allowing former slaves to be counted as full-individuals, one result of the costly, bloody struggle of the Civil War.

Immediately following the Civil War, during Reconstruction, over 600 African Americans occupied various elected offices across the nation. With the end of that era came an almost century-long period of despair, which began when African Americans were habitually disenfranchised through Jim Crow practices, lynching, segregation, institutionalized racism, and incarceration discrepancies, to name a few. By 1965, only 300 African Americans occupied elected offices.

The enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 offered some hope of government with the consent of all those who are governed and not just a few, requiring states to draw legislative boundaries that would maximize minority voter empowerment. Like the 14th amendment, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was not an end in itself but a mere foothold in the unending struggle for justice.

As we approach that moment when electoral boundaries are redrawn, opportunities for regression are immense; and this moment requires renewed and continued vigilance.

With President Barack Obama, an African American, holding the highest office in the nation and many African Americans in elected offices across the nation, one may ask: have the times not changed?

Yes. Times have changed six-fold. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1970 there were about 1,500 African American elected officials. In 2000 the number of African Americans in elected offices had reached about 9,000. Improvements must not be confused with underrepresentation. Based on the number of elected officials reported by the Census Bureau in 1992 – 513,200 – in 2000 African American elected officials were 2% of all elected officials. African Americans were 12.3 % of the population.

A civil rights redistricting strategy for 2011 must maximize African American voter empowerment by defending past improvements and by agitating to move the nation closer to the ideal of equal representation. attention

To achieve this, civil rights communities must focus on three things: 1) more local level action to set up long-term pathways; 2) the strategic use of census data to push for change; and 3) the strategic use of census data to reject aggressively the regression of the original mandates of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Civil rights communities must remember that redistricting is not just for apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives it also impacts local-level elected offices. Significant shifts in the U.S. population will have an impact on African Americans’ role in the next presidential race. Eighteen states have gained or lost seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Electoral College votes that a candidate for president gets when he/she wins one of those states also will be increased or reduced by the numbers of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives that are gained or lost.

In order to maximize minority voter empowerment civil rights communities must take action at this critical juncture to make sure the intent of the Voting rights Act of 1965 is preserved.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC. Madura Wijewardena is Director of Research & Policy at the National Urban League Policy Institute.

Shirley Sherrod, Jasmine Guy and Fonzworth Bentley Among 2011 Drum Major for Justice Honorees

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Atlanta, GA – Evelyn Gibson Lowery, founder and chair of SCLC/Women’s Organizational Movement for Equality Now, Inc. announced today that former Georgia State Director of USDA Rural Development, Shirley Sherrod; award-winning actor, dancer, singer, and director, Jasmine Guy; and a leader in the field of diabetic limb salvage and founder of The Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program, Dr. Bill Releford; will be honored during the thirty-second annual Drum Major for Justice Awards Dinner on Monday April 4. Held in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the anniversary of his assassination, the dinner will take place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Atlanta. For ticket information call (404) 584-0303.

Other prestigious honorees include, Derrick Watkins (aka Fonzworth Bentley), musician, author, and host of MTV’s From G’s to Gents; Real Men Cook for Charity, a national Father’s Day event held to positively change the way the world views black men; and the first black all-female flight crew: Captain Rachelle Jones, First Officer Stephanie Grant, Flight Attendant Diana Galloway, and Flight Attendant Robin Rogers. Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Civil Rights will also be awarded including, civil rights icon, Dr. Joseph E. Lowery; former Atlanta mayor and U.S. Ambassador, Andrew Young; and Congressman John Lewis.

“Dr. King wanted to be called a Drum Major for Justice,” Lowery said. “He once said the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. Well, our prestigious honorees exemplify the moral excellence and generosity Dr. King spoke of and are truly modern-day Drum Majors for Justice.”

Entertainment will include a performance by 10-year-old Kirlisa Broxton, winner of a talent contest held during the recent Evelyn Gibson Lowery Civil Rights Heritage Tour.

The Drum Major for Justice Awards Dinner pays tribute to present day “Drum Majors” – individuals who have made major contributions advancing the social justice cause in their respective fields. Founded in 1979, SCLC/W.O.M.E.N., Inc., is an independent 501 (C) (3) nonprofit organization providing a diverse array of services to improve and empower at-risk and low-income families. Programs include: youth mentoring, domestic violence education, HIV/AIDS education, and computer training. Their Heritage Pride program hosts the annual Evelyn Gibson Lowery Civil Rights Heritage Tour through the cradle of the civil rights movement and has erected 13 monuments honoring civil rights icons. For more information or to purchase tickets call (404) 584-0303.

Life Redesign Queen Nekisha-Michelle Bakre Redefines “Happy Hour” With Free Weekly Empowerment Gathering

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Los Angeles – Author, life coach and speaker, Nekisha-Michelle Bakre, the Life Redesign Queen, is known for her varied techniques for supersizing happiness as a means to personal development. Her effective life strategies, detailed in her second book release, “Breaking Invisible Chains, Gaining the Confidence to Redesign Your Life” have propelled readers to new joys. Now the Life Redesign Queen will be offering her special brand of self-actualization up close and in person during a unique, weekly empowerment event entitled, “The Happy Hour Live.”

“The Happy Hour Live” will kick-off on Friday, May 6, 2011 from 7:00 PM until 8:00 PM, PST at 6201 S. La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles. The event will complement the life coach’s radio show on LATalkradio.com entitled “The Happy Hour with Nekisha-Michelle & Friends” as she targets a global audience addressing the same topics as the live events. The radio show debuts Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm PST on www.LATalkRadio.com .

“The Happy Hour Live” is a free weekly gathering offering attendees the spiritual tools, skills and power principles of happiness by elevating their confidence in self, love and money. The attendees will experience coaching both interactive and lecture style, forums and celebrity guest interviews, all influenced by Nekisha-Michelle and other top guru’s of success and happiness.

“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not,” shares Nekisha-Michelle who understands that boredom, anger, stagnation and depression are most Americans normal emotional state of being. “My goal is to help attendees and listeners get unstuck from their own personal disasters, excuses and spiritual blocks. Once unstuck, they can take authority, be resilient and make happiness their habitual emotional state. Happiness is your birthright,” Nekisha-Michelle declares. “My passion is to show you to be confident in owning it, using it and sustaining it.”

Nekisha-Michelle Bakre, MSW, is the president of Vivacious Living International. Consistently demonstrating resilience, in 2003 she took her last $98.00 and created a life coaching practice where she created techniques to super-size the confidence and happiness of others. Her media appearances include the top-rated KTLA Morning News in Los Angeles, the Actors Entertainment Chat Show and Black Enterprise Magazine.

To redesign your life, join Nekisha-Michelle Bakre, MSW at www.liferedesignqueen.com.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Nekisha-Michelle Bakre, MSW is available for interviews at jazzmynepr@gmail.com.