Editorial

Racism

 

The world is on fire, once again.

I know that there are some that will disagree with me, but we have a serious problem with systemic racism in our Republic. It is woven into the very strands of our collective DNA.

Since the first African Slaves arrived on the shores of this continent Four-Hundred-One years ago, racism entered our system as sure as the Novel Coronavirus has invaded the bodies of more than one and one half million people in the last three months.

Since 1619 Africans and Americans of African descent have been treated as property, less than human and the “other.” Slaves were routinely beaten nearly to death for seeking freedom or learning to read or teaching others to read or sassing the master or overseer, or sometimes just for the hell of it.

We even use terms like “interracial marriage,” reinforcing that belief that anyone with African blood is not human. The hardest thing for a great number of people to understand is that people of African descent are indeed Human Beings, not some separate race, made of the same genetic material as white people.

This lack of humanity seems to justify brutality against an entire group of people based solely on something as arbitrary as the color of their skin, or the shape or their nose and lips. Which, unfortunately, leads us to our current situation…

The images of three policemen holding down a handcuffed suspect, one with a knee on his throat, was horrifying. To hear Mr. Floyd beg for his life just over a week ago was heart-wrenching. To see the video of his lifeless body be so gracelessly put on a gurney for a trip to the hospital, when it was already too late, in another video was even more so.

One of the most disturbing images from the George Floyd homicide was the image of the policeman with his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck with his hand in his pocket, as if killing a man while that man begs for his life is a daily occurrence. That nonchalant spirit and look of smugness on that policeman’s face as the life was drained from Mr. Floyd was, to me, like looking at pure, unadulterated evil.

Not all policemen are corrupt or biased; a few bad apples tend to make all policemen look bad. In spite of the fact that most policemen are not corrupt, most people of African descent are still afraid of the police. That needs to change.

As a Christian, I am called by Jesus Christ to  “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[i]

 As I read it, there are no qualifications on who my neighbor is. My neighbor, in my mind, therefore, is all my brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter their ethnicity, creed, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, lack of religion, or any other criteria.

I am a United Methodist. I joined the United Methodist Church for many reasons, chief among them was the UMC stance on Social Justice. According to the Book of Discipline:


Rights of Racial and Ethnic Persons

Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism. Personal racism is manifested through the individual expressions, attitudes, and/or behaviors that accept the assumptions of a racist value system and that maintain the benefits of this system. Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system. Racism, manifested as sin, plagues and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself. In many cultures white persons are granted unearned privileges and benefits that are denied to persons of color. We oppose the creation of a racial hierarchy in any culture. Racism breeds racial discrimination. We define racial discrimination as the disparate treatment and lack of full access and equity in resources, opportunities, and participation in the Church and in society based on race or ethnicity.

Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons. We rejoice in the gifts that particular ethnic histories and cultures bring to our total life. We commit as the Church to move beyond symbolic expressions and representative models that do not challenge unjust systems of power and access”[ii]

A United Methodist Pastor I know, Rev. Don Hanshew from Dublin United Methodist Church in Dublin, Virginia, had these suggestions that he has collected and modified from sources of influence in his life for helping to deal with racism:

We All See Something, So Say Something:

Speaking out against racism, regardless if you feel influential or not, is critical in helping local and national representatives make better policy decisions. Being silent makes us complicit and only lets the cancer of racism grow.

First Contact:

What would happen if any time a racially charged event comes across the news you became the first to contact a friend you suspect may be impacted or overwhelmed by the event and offer yourself as an ally? Likewise, respect that a person may not want to talk or may not be able to yet process what they are feeling. Do not underestimate the power of an offer to love someone even when what they are feeling is messy.

Talk in Your Bubble:

As we physically distance ourselves to stay safe, we also socially stay connected with specific loved ones. You have influence with these people. If you see or hear discrimination in someone who is close to you, be willing to risk an awkward moment and call it out. To make change we must vigilantly confront prejudice and racism first with the people in our bubble.

Life-Long-Learner:

We all struggle with some degree of racism until we get to heaven, so acting like we are color blind or post-racial is not helpful. There is power in naming and claiming our biases so that we can prevent these biases from bubbling up and into some form of discrimination.

He also strongly urged white readers to boldly read the book White Fragility.

Above all, I am a Human Being. As such, it hurt my very soul to see those videos, as it did with Eric Garner. It hurt my soul when the news about Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston broke…a white supremacist had killed all those people, just because of the color of their skin after they had invited him into their Church to Pray and study the Bible. That was five years ago this month.

All the Mother Emmanuel shooter wanted was a race war…he did not realize that we have been in a race war for four centuries.



[i] Matthew 22:37-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

 

Editorial-Food Insecurity in Emporia

food in·se·cu·ri·ty

noun

noun: food insecurity

  1. the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

"more than 800 million people live every day with hunger or food insecurity as their constant companion"

In the article from the Capital News Service that appears below, there is an infographic with the percentage of “food insecure people” in each locality in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I have added a caption to this graphic that notes the percentage of the residents of the City of Emporia who are “food insecure.”

24.4 percent (1,341 people) of our neighbors are considered to be “food insecure,” meaning that they have no reliable access to nutritious foods, including fresh produce. 16.8 percent (2,832 people) of the citizens of Greensville County are also considered “food insecure.”

What is being done to reduce that number?

It is unclear if Congress will be able to help, but the bill sponsored by our own Representative, Donald McEachin, failed to classify Emporia as a “food desert,” even with the enhancements to that definition. According to the bill in question, any locality with 20% or more of the citizens living in poverty, or where the median household income is 80% or less than the statewide median household income is a “food desert.”

Here in Emporia, 30.9% of the population lives in poverty. That percentage equates to 1,968 people. Nearly 2000 people live below the federal poverty level.  Our median household income of $27,426 is 39.89% of the statewide median household income of $68,756. In Greensville County 17% of the population lives below the poverty level and the median household income of $42,121 is less than 80% of the statewide median income. (Sources https://datausa.io/profile/geo/emporia-va/#economy, https://datausa.io/profile/geo/greensville-county-va)

Given both of those numbers the City of Emporia and Greensville County should be considered “food deserts” under the definition of the Healthy Food Access for all Americans Act (HFAAA).

There was a bill in the Virginia General Assembly that provided $5 million to help attract, build or renovate stores in localities that are underserved. That bill died in the Appropriations Committee of the House of Delegates.

On a local level, it is up to non-government-organizations to fill the gap. The most visible of those in the City is the Samaritan Helping Hands Home on North Main Street where lunch is provided on weekdays. During the summer, Greensville County Public Schools participates in the USDA sponsored summer lunch program. Feedmore, the foodbank for Central Virginia serves three agencies, only one of which is actually in the City.

As an offshoot of the summer feeding program, Main Street United Methodist Church offers a free Community Meal on the fourth Sunday of each month at 5:30 pm. This meal is, in addition an opportunity to help feed neighbors in need, for anyone who shows up. Food is prepared for 50 people, and all are welcome. For full disclosure, I have a leadership role in the Community Meal Ministry at MSUMC. If anyone is interested in starting a similar ministry at their own church on a different Sunday, I will gladly help.

In Greensville County, where 16.8% of the citizens are “food insecure,” there are two locations served by Feedmore: Elnora Jarrell Worship Center and Garden of Prayer, but only El Shaddai Ministry (the former St. James Episcopal Church) is in the City of Emporia.

At Elnora Jarrell Worship Center food is distributed from 3:30 to 4 pm every Tuesday and Thursday and from 9 to 11 am on the second Saturdays.

At Garden of Prayer food is distributed on the first Monday, but no time is given by the Feedmore website.

Here in the City El Shaddai Ministry distributes food from 9 to 11 am on the second and third Saturdays.

For the combined City and County, food is distributed for 10 and one half hours each month. Logistically, 10 ½ hours is not nearly enough time to distribute food for 4,173 people. I have personally approached Feedmore about adding another location. Had they been amenable, I would have presented that to the Church Council, with the hope of adding our parking lot to the list of locations for the Mobile Food Pantry. Feedmore shut me down in quick order, but I am armed with statistics, and will try again.

Here are the days and times for agencies served by Feedmore, copied and pasted directly from their website:

El Shaddai Ministry
609 Halifax Street , Emporia, VA 23847
Phone: 434-594-2680
Thursday, 09:00 AM to 11:00 AM, 2nd & 3rd

Elnora Jarrell Worship Center
490 Liberty Road, Emporia, VA 23847
Phone: 434-336-9990
Tuesday, 03:30 PM to 04:00 PM, WEEKLY
Thursday, 03:30 PM to 04:00 PM, WEEKLY
Saturday, 09:00 AM to 11:00 AM, 3RD

Garden of Prayer
386 Slagles Lake Road, Emporia, VA 23847
Phone: 434-632-1252
Monday, 1st

It is budget season for both the City and County, yet neither budget has any assistance for feeding the hungry.

The proposed city budget includes a 4% increase for water and a 4% increase for sewer, plus a $2 increase for sanitation. That is a $3.63 increase on the minimum-usage monthly water bill (the minimum billing for water/sewer/sanitation was about $30 15 years ago and will now be nearly $100). That $3.63 is got to come from somewhere in the family budget, and given that many people in poverty are already forced to decide between paying the bills and buying food (and medicine) for their families, I would wager that the money will come from the already meager grocery budget.

The lack of nutritional food increases health issues, so it is no wonder that our community is also one of the least healthy of all localities in the Commonwealth, ranking 128 out of 133 in Health Outcomes (http://www.emporianews.com/content/report-shows-geographic-disparities-health-virginia).

Long term, education is the key to getting our community out of this situation. With a well educated populace, we will be better able to attract business and industry. Even if we were to improve our schools, we would likely not see results for a generation, especially given the number of years that the system has been under-funded.

Greensville County has a major Industrial Park in the works, but still refuses to do more that level-fund the Greensville County Public Schools. In fact, the proposed budgets for both the City and the County only level-fund our schools, as opposed to full funding – leaving the schools with more than one-million dollars less than they asked for. What major industry wants to locate in a place where they cannot hire an educated work-force?

Our library has cut hours in the time I have lived here. If our local governments were forward-thinking, the library would also receive increased funding, especially given the lack of broadband internet access in the more rural areas of the county and the economic hardships faced by the poor economy in the area (those living in poverty cannot afford the steep price of high-speed internet from Comcast), and the computers at the library are the only source of high-speed internet access for many.

Greensville County is spending millions of dollars to move Social Services to the County (most of the shared services have been moved out of the city), that money could be better spent elsewhere. In the city, they are apparently still considering spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to tear down the auditorium, which is (once again) money that could be better spent elsewhere. The City’s share of the debt service on the new Social Services building in the County is already more than $100,000, and the building is only in the initial phases of construction. Citizens are also on the hook for the debt service for the addition to the Greensville County Sherriff’s Department of which the City’s share is nearly $40K.

An increase in water service - for water that is not even palatable and leaves black mold-like deposits in pipes and toilets - is only going to continue to hurt the poorest among us. It is high time that both the City and County find new streams of revenue.

In the City, our prepared meals tax is already at the maximum, and revenue from our transient tax is projected to fall now that all of the power plants are finished. City Council is no longer considering a Cigarette Tax. A cigarette tax was proposed in previous budgets and people were very upset. The outcry was enough that the idea was scrapped. It is unclear if it was considered again, but the idea is not in the proposed budget. Nor were any other new sources of revenue.

Unless our City Council and Board of Supervisors drastically change their priorities, large numbers of our friends and neighbors are destined to be poor, hungry, sick and under-educated.

Air Jordan Trainer Essential

Editorial - Why don't we Expand Medicaid?

In the Capital News Service article above this Editorial, Republicans in a Senate Committee killed Medicaid Expansion. It is no surprise that this has happened - it has happened in each of the four years that I have been publishing Emporia News.

This year one of the bills to Expand medicaid was offered by a Republican, and the committee still killed it. Also this year one Republican, Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) cited the need to repair our crumbling infrastructure. Our infrastructure does need work. We have a great many rural communities that have insufficient Broadband Access; we have roads and bridges that need repaired; All interstate highways in the Commonwealth could use a few more lanes in places; Exit 11 is horrible, and needs to be colmpetely reworked to include acceleration and deceleration lanes (lets face it, getting from I-95 south to US58 East is sometimes a quite harrowing experience). With all of these needs, seemingly no major bills or budget amendments have deen offered. Infrastructure is a bit of an arbatrary term when speaking of legislation, but a quick glance at the LIS website shows no major bills of budget amendments for Transportation and the only place where Broadband Communications Infrastructure is mentioned seems to be a bill about how to mark highways during construction of those projects. Even with as random as the term infrastructure is, none of the bills where Senator Chase is listed as Chief Patron or Co-patron will have any impact on crumbling infrastructure.

Here is the impact of Medicaid Expansion in Colorado, my home state: "A new report examining the economic and budgetary impact of Medicaid expansion in Colorado reveals that, in the two years since implementation, expansion in the state has had a significant positive effect on the economy at no expense to the General Fund. According to the preliminary independent analysis, 'Assessing the Economic and Budgetary Impact of Medicaid Expansion in Colorado: FY 2015-16 through FY 2034-35,' Colorado has added 31,074 jobs, increased economic activity by $3.8 billion and raised annual household earnings by $643 due to the state Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. By fiscal year (FY) 2034-2035, Colorado is projected to add a total of 43,018 new jobs, increase economic activity by $8.5 billion and raise average annual household earnings by $1,033."

The Affordable Care Act included the funding to expand Medicaid, and by not accepting that funding, the hard-earned money of Virginia Taxpayers is being used to fund Medicaid Expansion in all the other states that have expanded their program.  Virginians gave states like New York 5 MILLION DOLLARS EACH DAY ($2,839,000,000 - that is Two Billion, Eight-Hundred Thirty-Nine Million Dollars) in the first year alone. Those losses in tax dollars are in addition to the lost economic activity mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

Expanding Medicaid in Virginia, which the Federal Government would pay for (100% now, 90% after 2020), would bring that money back to the Commonwealth, help rural hospitals and help poor families live better lives. Expanding Medicaid is the only Fiscally Responsible - the only Fiscally Conservative - option available to the General Assembly.

Don't read too much into my opinion here. I am not calling for completely re-inventing our current system, I am not saying that we need our own National Health Service like the one in the United Kingdom. All I am saying in this Editorial is that medicaid Expansion would be good for the Virginia Economy. By providing care via Medicaid we are, not only, helping our friends and neighbors get the care that many of them need but helping the Economy. Virginia has a larger population than Colorado (by about 3 Million people), so we stand to benefit even more than Colorado.  Even if there were only 100-150 jobs created in Emporia-Greensville and our economy were to expand by $10-15 Million, our community would be better off with Medicaid Expansion.

At a Town Hall Meeting here in Emporia, hosted by Senator Louise Lucas, a representative from Southampton Memorial Hospital, whose parent company also owns SVRMC, said that Medicaid Expansion would be a good thing for hospitals like SVRMC and that every hospital in the Commonwealth was in favor of Medicaid Expansion. At that August, 2014, meeting it was said that CHS would lose $1.7 Million over two years between Southampton Memorial and Southside Virginia RMC and would most likely see cuts in staffing and services - both of which we are seeing now. Monies that the Federal Government used to Expand Medicaid came from other indigent care programs. Without Expanding Medicaid, hospitals now absorb the cost of that indigent care, raising the cost of care for everyone else in the community, cut back services like birthing centers and surgical care - even sending patients to other hospitals for those services, or close up completely for lack of positive cash flow.

Expanding Medicaid would help more people than you think. In the spirit of full disclosure, I would, most likely) be one of them, as would anyone that makes less than $16,000 each year. Medicaid Expansion would help the "working poor" like those Restarurant Servers (who make $2.13 per hour, plus tips). Perhaps that fear the Republicans have, that feeling that the Federal Government would renege and suddenly stop paying for Medicaid stems from the fact that Republicans in the General Assembly did just that to every locality with a State Prison. The General Assembly agreed to a program called "Payment in Lieu of Taxes" to help those localities that lost parts of their property tax base (since the Commonwealth of Virginia does not pay Real Property Tax); The Republicans in the General Assembly broke their word to those communities (including Greensville County, Southampton County, Sussex County, Brunswick County, Nottoway County and Mecklenburg County) and stopped making those "Payments in Lieu of Taxes" after only one year.

Kobieta

Editorial-Money to Burn

Our city budget is tight.  Things were so bad that last month City Council approved a budget that included a 1% increase in both the Lodging and the Meals Tax.  In addition, the Real Property Tax rate was increased by 3 cents per 100 and increased both the water and sewer rates.  After increasing taxes, water rates and sewer rates, City Council has money to burn by spending $100,000 to tear down the Auditorium on Main Street.

City Council did nearly the same thing in 2012.  The FY 2013 budget included an increase for both water and sewer, an increase in the sanitation fee, and an increase in the Real Property Tax.  In May, 2012, City Council had an opportunity to sell the school buildings and auditorium to a developer for $5 Million.  The plan may have killed the Civic Center, but would have been boon for the City.   Given the fact that the buildings did not cost the city anything, that $5 Million would have been pure profit.  City Council blew their second chance at selling the buildings for a huge profit.  Shortly after the sale was voted down, Council wasted $199,000 to tear down a perfectly good set of buildings.

Shortly after the City was deeded the buildings, in 2004 or 2005, the first developer approached the city.  His plan was to use the school buildings for housing units and pay for the renovations to the Auditorium and Cafeteria sections for use as a Civic Center.  This plan would have been a win-win-win for the City.  We would have had a profit of $5 Million in the general fund, we would have seen an increase in much needed rental housing units, AND we would have had a Civic Center.

In the City’s “Strategic Goals and Priorities” as adopted in May, 2014, the following are listed:

  • Cultural and Recreational Opportunities - Develop cultural facilities while supporting our existing recreational providers
  • City Appeal - Vitalize the overall appearance of the City to create an atmosphere that is attractive and appealing to citizens, businesses, and visitors

How does tearing down the Auditorium, which a recent report presented to City Council described as being in “Good Condition,” support the “development of cultural facilities?”  How would enlarging a vacant lot on Main Street “vitalize the overall appearance of the City?” 

Saving the Auditorium would certainly support the development of cultural facilities.  The Follies could make a comeback or a city wide repertory theater (like Lakeland) could be started.   Perhaps, instead of spending the money to tear down the building, City Council could make a $100,000 donation to the Civic Center Foundation.

Most importantly, how is spending $100,000 to tear down a building that is in good condition make financial sense, especially in the same month that those tax and rate increases take effect.  Our City Council has proven, though, that it has no financial sense, especially where this property is concerned.

SNEAKERS

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