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New York Clergy & Providers Wage Jobs Fight
By Jamal Jordan
NEW YORK—A petition campaign—aimed at urging Congress to support President Obama’s jobs legislation as well as other economic incentives for people of color—is picking up steam among churches in the New York metropolitan area.
To date, hundreds of signatures have been sent by churches of all faiths to Clergy and Providers for Racial Healthcare Equality (CPRHE), which is sponsoring the campaign to obtain 25,000 signatures of churchgoers by the spring of next year.
Hugh Wyatt, chairman of the board of CPRHE, said: “While we are concerned about the bleak unemployment picture for all Americans, we are especially alarmed about the unique problems facing African Americans and other people of color.
“Black unemployment hovers between 16 percent, and as high as 80 percent among many young blacks,” he said. “The rates for other minorities are similarly troublesome.”
Wyatt, who is also editor and publisher of The Spiritual Herald, called on pastors of all faiths and colors to join CPRHE in its petition campaign, because it is one of many ways to get the attention of Congress, especially conservative and tea party members.
“Members of Congress understand the power of the vote and we must let our voices be heard loudly and clearly prior to next year’s election,” he said. “Although people of color do not represent majority voters, they, as a combined force, represent powerful swing voters in many districts and can play a significant role in electing candidates who support their interests.”
Wyatt announced the collection of signatures following a roundtable meeting in early November at the lower Manhattan headquarters of District Council 37, during which time the powerful union representing hospital workers said it would support many of the jobs initiatives of CPRHE.
Barbara Ingram-Edmonds, director of field operations for DC 37, said that her union is concerned about the jobs of all its members, but that she does recognize minorities have unique problems.
“The numbers of unemployed people are far too high for us and we must encourage the President and the Congress to take steps to not only stop the layoffs, but create more jobs as well,” she said. “It is important for clergy and our union to establish ties to work together to change conditions.”
District Council 37 represents an estimated 100,000 municipal hospital workers in the New York City area. The head of the union is Lillian Roberts, the prominent labor union leader, who has also vowed her support to help Wall Street demonstrators obtain jobs and other economic opportunities.
Wyatt said that “It is imperative that we form coalitions to stop the corporate greed and conservative forces that are at work, preventing opportunities not only for people of color, but also young Americans,” he said, noting that he hopes the clergy will wage a massive campaign next year to unseat the members of Congress who have blocked Obama’s jobs efforts.
Rev. Dr. Luonne Rouse, executive vice president of CPRHE, who is a licensed therapist, said that the lack of jobs has “created a level of stress and anxiety” not seen in America in decades.
“Most Americans are at a breaking point,” he noted. “They cannot continue to endure the pain and suffering of being unemployed.”
Rouse said that the use of antidepressants is on the upswing and that millions of Americans are looking for an escape out of their state of misery.
“Unemployment is comparable to any disease,” he said. “If we are to have a healthy nation, then we must move forward as quickly as possible to eliminate the unemployment plight that is so pervasive throughout our society.”
Rev. Anita Burson, senior pastor at Elpida Community Church of Christ-Baptist in Brooklyn, said: “We have to look at the successful pre-existing models that have been able to put pressure on governments and officials to do the right thing.
“Historically, we have been most successful when it has been religious groups and labor working together.
“If we look back at the latter half of the 20th century and the first half of the 21st century, we will see success when other groups, such as labor, have reached out to civic, social and religious organizations.
“Look at the success of the NAACP. They have the strongest clergy and church relationship of any organization in the country,” said Burson, who is also the second vice president of the Brooklyn branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
While CPRHE is concerned about the jobs situation, its primary mission is on reducing the incidence of racial healthcare disparities, which are at an all-time high.
Another concern of CPRHE is the small number of minorities participating in clinical trials and other studies that would greatly affect patient care outcomes.
“We want the pharmaceutical industry, as well as the government, to be aware of the fact that many drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration may or may not be effective for people of color,” said Wyatt, noting:
“There are also many possible dangers facing people of color if they are not included in important drug studies.”
Wyatt called on the drug companies to immediately increase minority participation, and urged members of Congress to better monitor the approval process of the FDA.
“We cannot allow the FDA to continue approving untested and unproven drugs when it comes to minorities” he said. “We are absolutely certain that these untested drugs have played a role in increasing the incidence of racial healthcare disparities.”
Rouse added that drug companies should also play an active part in increasing jobs and other economic initiatives, especially for people of color, since they are among their greatest consumers of medications.
“Without jobs, people may not be able to afford many of the state-of-the-art branded medications that we so desperately need to help eliminate and reduce the incidence of these different diseases,” he said.