Category Archives: Press Release

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Education advocates host first annual Kalamazoo schools year end celebration

Food, entertainment and an opportunity for “kids to be kids”

About 100 students and their parents were greeted by community leaders, volunteers and members of Social Economic & Educational (SEE) Change and Justyce Against Bullying in Schools (JABS) at the Kalamazoo Metropolitan Branch NAACP for their 1st Annual Expect Respect And Safe Education (ERASE) End of School Year Celebration. Participants took part in activities such as face painting, table crafts, hula hooping and  a water balloon challenge.

“As we continue to pursue equity and justice for our youth to ensure they are successful and Promise ready,” said Dr. Strick Strickland, Kalamazoo NAACP’s interim President, “we must strive as a community to celebrate the accomplishments of all of our youth completing a year of school. NAACP is proud to support SEE Change and stands in JABS corner as Sponsor of JABS Awareness Month”

“Every year, students in Kalamazoo Public Schools are denied their right to education because of ineffective and harmful school discipline policies.” said Elisheva T Johnson of Michigan United. “When they fail to recognize and address the trauma caused by unjust, biased, and broken social systems, our kids are effectively ‘pushed out’ of public education. That needs to end.”

Community member and environmentalist, Chris Wahmhoff also answered questions as many of the curious youth enjoyed time playing with baby ducks. “For Michigan, for us, I think Environmental Justice is one of the most important struggles we face” Wahmhoff said.

Criminal Justice Advocates hold Prosecutor Kym Worthy Accountable (UPDATED w/video)

Lack of restorative justice and excessive prosecutions tearing community apart

A coalition of criminal justice reform organizations says that Wayne County Prosecutor, Kym Worthy’s tough on crime posture has been tough on the community. Rather than seek justice, they say Worthy has been going after the low hanging fruit to pad her conviction numbers. Victims of false and excessive prosecutions stood with organizers with Michigan United and Just Leadership USA to hold Worthy accountable for her practices and call for reform in her office.

30 years ago, when Bishop Herman Starks was 17, he wasn’t in school because he was recovering from a gunshot wound he suffered in the rough neighborhood where he grew up. When an acquaintance of his decided to rob and possibly kill someone, Starks intervened. Even though the victim testified that Starks saved his life, the prosecutor’s office at the time chose to charge him with the crime anyway, hoping to compel him to turn in the perpetrator. Instead of disclosing the robber’s name and risk getting shot again, Starks took his chances with a justice system that he didn’t understand and a public defender who was no help.

Now, Starks says Worthy is continuing this practice of intimidation and he wants her to change before another young life has to spend the next 15 years needlessly behind bars. “Let’s have a conversation about what needs to be done. You need to do better. You need to act like you have some compassion in your heart. You need to act like you love where you came from.” Starks said. “We on the beat to make sure that our young brothers stop being incarcerated, stop being punished for things they didn’t do. That school to prison pipeline needs to end and needs to end now!”

One such young man who narrowly avoided the pipeline was Marcus Allen Weldon, also known as the “Santa Claus Shooter”. A heating/cooling repair man moonlighting as Santa Claus at a company party in 2014, Weldon was defending a stranded woman from two hostile men when one of them appeared to draw a gun. Weldon was carrying a lawfully registered weapon and shot one of the two assailants in self-defense. Police, he said, did a sloppy job of investigating and Worthy seemed more interested in getting a conviction than getting to the truth. Weldon was found not guilty after more than a year of house arrest and $50,000 of legal expenses, including unencrypting the video tape that exonerated him. But his fate was not so certain when he entered the courtroom. “Stories like DaVonte Sanford, (he) was released right during the time I was walking into trial. I thought to myself, that could have easily been me.” Weldon said. “I have an 8 year old daughter and facing 30 years, you figure I would have missed her entire life.”

The group blames overreaching prosecutorial practices like these for creating hardships , job losses, and destabilizing communities and families. Instead, they want Worthy to be dedicated to creating safe communities that use methods other than mass incarceration. They point to the growing use of restorative justice practices which seek to confront the root causes of crime without dooming a young people to a life of joblessness.

Hold Prosecutor Kym Worthy Accountable from Michigan United on Vimeo.

Capitol Day 2017 features grassroots protests around Lansing

Activists demand support for teachers,
clean air for residents of 48217

Senate Majority Leader, Arlan Mekhoff found his office filled with protesters opposed to his plan to take away teachers’ pensions in Michigan. Representatives of Michigan United say the move would not only deter good teachers from coming to the state but students would also suffer a shortage of professionals able to deal with childhood behavior issues and an increase in criminalization of it.

Bazsa Miller credits quality teachers for pushing him to succeed. “I came to a point in my life where I had to choose between success and failure “ said Miller. “My teachers were there to make sure I made the right choice at a time when I couldn’t see the path myself.”

“Teachers have an important influence over children of single family homes.” says Arthur Howard who graduated from 9th grade to juvenile detention to adult prison by the age of 16. They are not just educators,” said Howard. “They are character makers.”

When they left the Capitol building, the crowd of hundreds moved on to the nearby offices of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) where they held a rally outside accusing the watchdog of giving Marathon Petroleum permission to spew toxic pollution into their neighborhood near the refinery in Southwest Detroit.

Wendy Kyles grew up in the 48217 neighborhood, the most polluted in the state. She watched her mother suffer from a cirrhotic liver even though she never drank alcohol and ultimately die of lung cancer even though she never smoked cigarettes. “Countless MDEQ rubber stamp hearings merely let us know what atrocities are on the way.” Kyles was hopeful in 2010 when Marathon announced they would offer relief to their “neighbors”. But sadly her optimism was misplaced. “Imagine my OUTRAGE to learn that they were only buying out the handful of white people who comprised 48217. Our black subdivision, squarely situated in front of and downwind of their facility, was curiously and conveniently left out of that process. We weren’t considered their neighbors;”

Michigan United announces launch of Universal Family Care campaign at Capitol Day

Rep. Jon Hoadley presents Long Term Care Study bill to lay groundwork to support families

With new chapters springing up around the state, Michigan United and the Michigan People’s Campaign welcomed record numbers at their annual Capitol Day Event Tuesday in Lansing. The grassroots organizations scheduled dozens of meetings with state representatives and senators to discuss immigration, the environment and family care.

At a rally held at Central United Methodist Church, they announced plans to work with Caring Across Generations and other coalition partners, holding listening sessions over the summer to build out policy details this fall that will ensure the care of all Michigan family members and to help those who care for them. Benchmarks include:

  • Universal childcare up to age 4
  • Long term in home care for seniors
  • Protections for home care workers
  • A stipend for stay at home family caregivers
  • Paid family leave for workers who need time off to care for loved ones.

Many families are in the “sandwich generation:” providing care for young children at the same time they’re providing care for their parents. Sandwich generation families deal with two unaffordable systems, where the people who require care have significant and rapidly changing needs.

Michelle George, an advanced practice registered nurse is one such person. She has a 97 year old aunt with two broken hips. Although she has good health insurance, she won’t be eligible for a new wheelchair to help her get to much needed appointments. “Many families are stretched thin, have to cut back on work, or quit a job to care for aging family members.” said George. “We need better solutions, and the time is now for us to research and fight for them.

Rep. Jon Hoadley also announced that he would introduce his Long Term Care Study bill later that afternoon as the first step in this campaign.

New Christian, Muslim Coalition Launches with March

Coalition to focus on American traditions of diversity and religious freedom
Faith leaders and congregants from local Christian and Muslim communities took to the streets Sunday in a display of unity to uplift basic human dignity and counter recent attacks on refugees, Muslims and immigrants. “Neighbors Building Bridges” launched its campaign for interfaith and intercultural understanding with a march that began in Southwest Detroit at St. Gabriel’s Church, included the American Muslim Society in East Dearborn and ended at UAW Local 600.

Mario Hernandez hero“The Muslims of East Dearborn and the Christians of Southwest Detroit are neighbors who face many of the same challenges since the presidential election,” said Mario Hernandez, an immigrant parent fighting to stop his deportation. “But, working together with like-minded allies, we can strengthen our communities and work to overcome the racism and xenophobia that are ever present. We are people of faith who want to keep immigrant families like mine together and we see our adherence to faith as a way to combat bigotry and prejudice.”

The group, made of many people from different faiths and backgrounds, sees itself as being rooted in the great American traditions of diversity and religious freedom.

“When we look at the diversity of the people who make up our communities, we should be reminded that this nation was founded by immigrants many of whom were seeking the right to worship without persecution,” said Khalid Turaani, President of the American Muslim Leadership Council. “We are following the examples set in our respective faith traditions of welcoming the stranger and providing a place of refuge for those in need. It just so happens those are core American values as well. We want to be clear that refugees, immigrants and people of all faiths are welcome here.”
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Photo courtesy Chloe Michaels

Faith-Based Communities Grant Sanctuary to Endangered Immigrant Families

Announce major unity march between Latino Christian and Arab-American, Muslim communities
Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders stepped forward at a press conference today to say they will be on the frontlines of protection for immigrant families threatened with deportation. The event at Central United Methodist Church featured faith leaders of six Metro area congregations taking action against the increased raids and targeting of immigrant families by the Trump administration.
“We believe that breaking families apart is wrong. Donald Trump’s indiscriminate raids and deportations are a moral outrage, and we cannot be silent,” said Rev. Jill Zundell, pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Detroit. “We will give comfort to the afflicted and shelter to those who suffer. No one will live in fear while under the protection of our church.”
Some faith leaders cited not only the increased raids but the overall rise in hate crimes and Trump’s second attempt at a Muslim Ban as creating a xenophobic atmosphere that has to be fought.
17310200_1431008380263031_2431266359802486085_o“These dreadful policies are against the spirit of America’s most sacred beliefs and cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged,” said Imam Almasmari of the Michigan Muslim Community Council. “Moreover, the attacks on immigrants and refugees, Muslims, and recent violence against the Jewish community all branch from the same hateful root. We support sanctuary both to help families, but also to stand up for the America we believe in: a strong, vibrant, multi-cultural democracy where everyone has the opportunity to flourish.”
Organizers also announced a major unity march between the Latino Christian community of Southwest Detroit and the Arab-American and Muslim community of Dearborn. The march will convene at St. Gabriel’s Church on Vernor Highway on April 2nd at 3:30 PM.

 

No Sessions, No Ban!

Immigrant  and Civil rights activists call for end to Muslim ban, Attorney General’s resignation

Protesters gathered outside the McNamara federal building in Detroit Tuesday to oppose the latest version of President Trump’s Muslim ban and to call for US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions to step down. Trump made minor revisions to an earlier Executive Action to overcome the objections of federal courts with a new order that continues to shut down immigration from several Muslim majority nations, leaving many refugees out in the cold. The move comes in the wake of reports that Sessions lied in his Senate confirmation when he testified that he’d never met with Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

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Dawoud Walid, CAIR Courtesy Lightworker Photo

“The Muslim Ban 2.0 is but another way that the Trump administration is showing its hostility towards certain immigrants.” said Dawud Walid, Executive Director, of the Michigan Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI). “Sessions endorsement of it shows his inability to properly enforce the civil rights laws of our nation.”

Michigan United opposed the appointment of Sessions as Attorney General based on his long history of obstructing voting rights and the rights of immigrants. Minister Helen Peterson read from a letter by Coretta Scott-King, who stood against Session’s nomination as federal court justice in 1986. In it, King said “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts,” The group took the same position when opposing his nomination to lead the Justice Department.

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Courtesy Lightworker Photo

“We Are Here to Stay” Immigrant Families, Advocates Fight Back

Big, diverse coalition stands against destructive executive orders

Civil rights groups, faith leaders and community groups fought to protect immigrant families, refugees and religious freedom in a press conference opposing President Trump’s executive orders on immigration. The event was held Thursday afternoon at the Michigan United Office on Wesson in Southwest Detroit. The diverse coalition of faith based organizations and immigrant rights advocates oppose singling out those of the Muslim faith and the endangerment of refugee families and immigrant communities here at home.

Rev. Paul Perez, United Methodist Church
Rev. Paul Perez, United Methodist Church

“Trump’s executive orders undermines the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution,” said Rev. Paul Perez of United Methodist Church, Detroit Conference. “Our Muslim brothers and sisters, people of Abraham just like Christians and Jews, must not be singled out for ‘extreme vetting,’ whatever that means. We know it can already take two years for refugee families to be removed from danger. How many men, women and children have to drown fleeing war or die in the conflicts before we do the right thing? These hasty, inhumane orders need to be rescinded immediately.”

The groups also noted the dangers the executive orders create at home by driving a wedge between immigrant communities and law enforcement. The orders force local law enforcement to take on federal duties in terms of immigration and thus make immigrant families less likely to engage with those charged with public safety.

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Sergio Martinez, Michigan United

“Safe communities are only possible if all residents feel safe working with law enforcement. Putting the burden of federal immigration law on local police seriously weakens the trust between immigrant families and local police,” said Sergio Martinez of Michigan United. “These executive orders endanger all families and communities.”

The group also opposed the way Trump’s executive orders attack younger immigrants brought here as children who are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In fact, the moves by Trump threaten all immigrant workers and thus lowers the bar for wages for everyone.

“Trump is targeting young people who know no other country but America,” said  Adonis Flores of Michigan United and a DACA recipient. “DACA showed that immigrant youth have a tremendous amount to contribute to our country, as superb students, professionals, and leaders. We’re not going backwards and we’re not going away.”

(Right click track title to download audio for broadcast)

 

Michigander Testifies on Capitol Hill about Impact of Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act

Michigan United member and MS patient Ann Serafin of Ferndale shares her family’s care story

Michigan United member Ann Serafin joined with members of the national coalition “Caring Across Generations” in a special Senate hearing about why proposed changes and cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act would hurt their lives, and the lives of millions of Americans. The forum was organized by U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

For many seniors, middle-class families, young adults, and people with disabilities, these three foundational programs are integral to their health care. Even at their current levels, these programs are not strong enough for the growing senior population, or Elder Boom. Now, as Congress threatens to cut these vital lifelines, Caring Across Generations members and many other Americans who benefit from these programs are coming together to urge Congress to make our care system stronger, not weaker.

Ann Serafin, also a member of Michigan United, made the trip from Ferndale, Michigan, to explain how she was able to address her own health needs on top of managing the care of her mother who had dementia. Diagnosed with MS at age 40, Ann lives at home with her husband, who is her primary caregiver.

“Without Medicare or secondary insurance, the medication I take to keep my MS symptoms in check would cost about $75,000 a year,” she says. “Without Medicare, I would have had to decide: do I eat, or do I get my meds?”

Ann and her husband also financially supported Ann’s mother, who relied on Medicaid for her nursing home care until she passed away last year at the age of 98. “I couldn’t care for her complex care needs; I needed help for my own care,” said Ann. “Even a barebones nursing home would have been too much for us at $6,000 a month. It was only because of Medicaid that she was able to get the help she needed at the end of her life.”

Whether provided at home or in an assisted living facility, quality care can break the budgets of American families. The high costs of care, in addition to serious threats to the limited social safety net programs that support care, mean that more than ever, our caregiving families need more support, not less.

Small business owner Holly Jensen, from Cleveland Heights, OH, also understands the importance of these vital programs. She traveled to Washington to speak about how Medicaid saved her life. Untreated anxiety and mental health issues nearly destroyed her ability to run her business, as well as her connections to her family and her community.

“I had to cancel an important work trip at the last minute. I couldn’t do it. My anxiety was getting out of control, and the worse it got, the more out of control my OCD got. It was a downward spiral from there.” It wasn’t just her business that suffered under the weight of her untreated condition. She withdrew from being an active volunteer in the local arts community.

Through Medicaid, Holly was able to rebuild her business, her relationships, and her life. “This care not only saved my life, but it also gave me back my life. Thanks to Medicaid, I am becoming the professional I want to be again – and the person I want to be again. Without it, I know I would have eventually depended on emergency care, taxpayer-funded rehab, and the legal system. I would have cost taxpayers much more than the expense of my basic care now.”

Ann and Holly’s stories reflect the experience of millions of Americans who have benefited from Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. Protecting and strengthening these programs is bigger than any political fight – it is about people’s lives. We are at a moment in our country where we need to be moving forwards, not backwards. “I hope that Congress hears us, and does what the majority of us actually want them to do. The Caring Majority is greater than any political divide,” said Ms. Jensen.

“We’re Here to Stay!”

Detroit’s immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ and Communities of Color honor Dr. King with a message of defiance and unity

Hundreds of people from across Southeast Michigan gathered at UAW Local 600 Saturday afternoon to honor Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. in a show of unity across lines of color, gender, ethnicity, religion and immigration status. Michigan United joined the United Auto Workers and community based groups in a mass call to action to defend the rights of immigrants, refugees, communities of color and the members of the LGBTQ community. In addition to the King holiday, groups cited the well documented rise in hate crimes in Michigan since the presidential election as inspiration for the event.

“We have no doubt that Reverend King would be pushing us to stand with people who are under attack because of their immigration status, the color of their skin or who they love,” said Michigan United member, Reverend Samuel Johnson of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. “Mobilizations like this are crucial to show that the majority of people will not tolerate hate crimes and attacks. The fight to keep immigrant families together is connected to the fight to keep all families safe.”

The Congress of Communities, Chadsey Condon Community Association, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights worked with members of the LGBTQ community to host the event. The intersection of struggles and resistance was at the heart of the gathering.

“Some victories such as marriage equality or the Deferred action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which protects immigrants brought here as children are recent,” said Seydi Sarr, General Secretary of the Senegalese Association. “Some, such as the 1960s civil rights legislation are decades old. We stand to defend them all. We fight to keep immigrant families together here in the US, for refugee families fleeing violence to be safe here. We must defend human and civil rights won for the LGBTQ community and people of color. We can win if we see that all these struggles are connected.”

“No event, not even a presidential election will stop us from standing up and fighting for human and civil rights,” said Sergio Martinez, Michigan United board member. “As Gay man who has benefited from DACA and advances in LGBTQ rights, I refuse to go backward just as Dr. King and those who fought with him resisted the backlash against civil rights laws. Those of us fighting for justice are the majority. Making that clear with gatherings like this will push us toward victory.”