School Closings and Food Deserts in the African American community of West Dayton while tax incentives are given to build luxury housing downtown are the focus of a conversation with activists from Racial Justice NOW!
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TAYA GRAHAM: Nine schools, a hospital, a mental health center and a grocery store, all slated to close this year while tax incentives are given to developers to increase investment downtown. Sounds like the current public policy mix that has brought Baltimore poverty, high crime and broken neighborhoods. But this is happening in west Dayton, Ohio and like Baltimore, the targets are communities of color.
Dayton is home to roughly a 140,000 people, split between both the white and African American community. Activists say that these closures and disinvestment is part of a strategy to accelerate gentrification and to force out the African American and immigrant populations.
To discuss the future of west Dayton and what this might say about the future of our own city, I have two activists here from the organization Racial Justice NOW! We have Zakiya Sankara-Jabar and it’s interim director Hashim Jabar. An organization committed to dismantling structural and institutional racism, with a focus on the institution of education and lifting up the voices of disempowered black parents and children.
And Stephen Janis is a reporter for The Real News Network. Now we have a video package on west Dayton.
STEPHEN JANIS: A cursory drive around Baltimore makes one long term policy decision abundantly clear. The gleaming towers cluster downtown sit in stark contrast to the east and west side, where the signs of and decay are rampant. It’s an emphasis on investment, focus on what Morgan State University professor, Lawrence Brown, calls the white L versus the black butterfly depicted in this graphic he created.
LAWRENCE BROWN: So, all these things really trace, you can trace a pattern of urban displacement and remaking space for those who are wealthier, whiter to come into the city and reclaim land.
STEPHEN JANIS: But these policies and disinvestment in black communities are not limited to Baltimore.
SPEAKER: The city of Dayton is at a point where we’re trying to revive itself with the focus, unfortunately, being on the core, the downtown core and downtown Dayton. What that has caused is, it has caused a great devastation and a loss of investment in our surrounding areas.
STEPHEN JANIS: Recently members of a Dayton based activist group, Neighborhood Over Politics, contacted The Real News about this.
SPEAKER: These are people who are working 40 hour or more and hours a week at a job. The thought that you may even go to shop at a food pantry is unacceptable.
STEPHEN JANIS: They are fighting a similar policy push that is illustrated just as starkly. Investment in downtown in the form of tax breaks for developers along with plans to close schools, a hospital and the only remaining grocery store in west Dayton, a predominantly black community.
SPEAKER: Kroger’s closed on Gettysburg and West Town probably about seven years ago. And so, Aldi’s was the next best option for residents for sustainable healthy food options in the Dayton area, specifically west Dayton.
STEPHEN JANIS: And organizing to save their neighborhood from the kind of disinvestment that has plagued Baltimore. It’s a policy that Brown says has roots in systemic racism and is being implemented in other cities.
LAWRENCE BROWN: Black neighborhoods are looked at, essentially, as profit-making entities.
TAYA GRAHAM: So, Zakiya, let me turn to you. Can you first give me a little background on Dayton, Ohio and how west Dayton is different.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: Well, I’m Zakiya, as you said.
Dayton, Ohio is a very small Midwestern town impacted, like many other Midwestern towns, by the closure then shipping of jobs overseas, like auto plants. Auto plants were the engine of the community there and the engine of the economy. West Dayton is almost 100 percent African American, low-poverty, high-poverty, I’m sorry. A very disempowered community, the vast majority of people are living in poverty.
The small middle class are elderly African Americans, folks who bought their homes, who worked at the General Motors plant or out at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and was able to have a decent life up until the crash of the economy.
And so, many of the people there now are working in the service industry or some kind of healthcare field. We’re very sad to see a lot of the things that people had worked for, for many decades, and built up in their communities, in the community of west Dayton to be stripped away really almost in one fell swoop.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, how would the closing of nine schools impact families in west Dayton?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: Well, I mean, I think that it’s a tragedy. Dayton public schools has about 30 buildings all together, spread across the city. There is no talk of closing any of the schools in east Dayton, which is primarily a white and immigrant.
All of the schools that, according to the district, and we have questions about that, but according to the district are underutilized in west Dayton. All nine of them happen to, according to them, happen to be situated in west Dayton.
It’s a tragedy because African American voters primarily voted 15 years ago to build new schools and a part of that deal was that the schools would be open for the community to use as community centers. If you close nine schools and, what happens to the community, not just the education of our young people but what happened to the deal we had as voters 15 years ago that voted to build new schools in the community?
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, Stephen, we know that in Baltimore city that we had a bunch of school closings slated.
STEPHEN JANIS: Right. Well, just there’s been a process of closing schools over the past ten or twelve years in Baltimore. Recently, the board voted to close four or five schools that were slated for closure. Interestingly, one neighborhood, Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Gray was arrested and subsequently died, was impacted twice by school closures.
So, when we talk to parents there is a same sense of the disinvestment focused on African American communities, poor communities. One thing that’s very interesting, and I’m sure we’ll get into the discussion, that we talked to a professor at Towson University who told us that closing schools, although it supposedly or ostensibly saves money, actually costs money in the long run because the student’s performance decreases and the… performance decreased graduation rate. Actually it ends up having the opposite effect, creating more money needed for criminal justice.
But, you know, what she is talking about is very indicative of how Baltimore has approached it. They’ve closed schools in many neighborhoods that are the poorest, African American neighborhoods. As many in that area in Sandtown-Winchester said, the city is spending more money to refurbish the western police district, which has been a symbol because they’re saying, “Well, you’re closing a school but you’re actually rebuilding the police district.” Now what message does that send to the people that live there?
TAYA GRAHAM: Right. Now, let me ask you, why is west Dayton having its mental health centers closed and its hospitals closed?
HASHIM JABAR: Well, it’s all a part of a gentrification plan that’s being duplicated in Dayton. We’ve seen the same thing in Oakland. We’ve seen the same thing in Chicago. We’ve seen the same thing in Philadelphia. We’ve seen the same thing in Camden, New Jersey. And so, it’s no different from the strong gentrification but we point to the fact of genocide. It’s the same genocide plan for the black community, the community that they’ve enslaved for over 400 years that they have found no use for at this point.
It’s simply a plan of culling, to erase a population that they feel is unwanted, that they have deemed to not serve with education services, with mental health services, with proper food for healthy living, not being able to provide transportation. So, it’s a slew of issues that are a part of a duplication of a national plan to simply cull a part of the population that is deemed unworthy by an elitist group of individuals and entities.
TAYA GRAHAM: Zakiya, why do you think that this disinvestment is moving forward? Why do you think that these closures are happening?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: I think that there is a group of people, similar to what Hashim has said, has decided that this is what needs to happen and this is what progress looks like for everybody else at the expense of black people and other people of color. In Dayton, because of the way that our communities are set up, is primarily African Americans that are going to be impacted by this, descendants of enslaved Africans. There’s not a very high immigrant population. It’s starting to increase but Dayton, I wouldn’t say, is like Baltimore in that way or even Washington D.C., where there’s a large immigrant population. It’s still very black and white, small Midwestern town in Ohio.
So, I think that there are folks who, again, who have decided that this is what progress looks like. We’re going to make downtown really beautiful and we want to import all of these young white people to come, and whoever else, right? To come and enjoy this at the expense of people who have paid taxes, who’ve lived in these communities for decades.
For me, it’s very personal because my family migrated as a part of the Great Migration north of African Americans from the south. My family is from Alabama and they moved to places like Dayton and Cleveland and Detroit to work in the auto industry and they did everything right, right? They bought their homes and wanted to realize the American dream and this is their payback.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, what about tax breaks for developers? I heard from some of the community members in west Dayton that I spoke to that tax breaks are being given to developers. What kind of projects are being invested in?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: So, one of the things that is happening is there’s this new hotel, right, that they’re building downtown. I’m assuming that they think some big conventions are going to start happening in Dayton. They are investing into high rise apartments, building them near the water, all of these…housing.
Housing is actually not an issue in Dayton. There is plenty of housing, it’s just vacant because people, unfortunately, after the economy tanked wasn’t able to afford to keep up with the housing. If the city was interested in housing, they would simply go into the neighborhoods and help revamp the houses that are already there and put them on the market.
I mean, it doesn’t make sense to build all this housing downtown. I mean, there’s, is not going to be occupied. I mean, you’re not seeing a whole lot of people moving in from other places to Dayton, Ohio to live. That’s one of the things that’s really concerning for us it’s just been mind boggling because you’re implementing a plan for the city of Dayton that it doesn’t make sense for. It just doesn’t make sense.
TAYA GRAHAM: Well, Stephen, you’ve covered the policy of giving tax breaks for developers in Baltimore City. How has that worked out?
STEPHEN JANIS: Well, one of the things I was thinking when she was talking, what has happened in Baltimore is, Baltimore has given out dozens and dozens of tax breaks to build buildings, which is interesting. Really you’re investing in concrete, not people. But what has happened because of this process where developers are given things called TIFs, which is Tax Increment Finance, or PILOTs, which are Payment in Lieu of Taxes, is that many of these very rich developers don’t pay taxes. Who ends of paying for the services of these buildings? Who ends up subsidizing, are the poor African-American communities end up subsidizing.
It’s like a great parallel to the income inequality in this country and how it’s constructed. It’s not constructed just incidentally because of some capitalist. It’s constructed out of public policy. In the case of Baltimore, you literally have some of the poorest neighborhoods paying to maintain rich developments downtown. Like what she was saying, we have a declining population. Yet, if you walk around Baltimore, you will see cranes everywhere putting up apartments. Now, who’s going to live in that apartments? Who knows, right?
Meanwhile, in communities like Sandtown-Winchester, things are literally falling apart. There’s plenty of empty housing stock but it’s absolutely uninhabitable. You have this great, whatever little wealth, whatever wealth was left in these Africa -American communities that have built Baltimore and are a part of the Great Migration north and worked in the factories and built this country, has been sucked out. Between that and policing, has literally sucked the marrow out of these neighborhoods.
TAYA GRAHAM: Right. Now, Hashim, the mayor of Dayton is a Democrat. How has the Democratic Party responded to the concerns of the citizens of west Dayton?
HASHIM JABAR: Well, I think there’s a term that comes to mind, “symbol without substance.” So, the Democratic Party has given little to no response, or limited response, in context of the radical adjustments that families have had to make with school closings, with grocery stores closing, with mental health facility closings. It’s business as usual. Poor Dayton, I’m sorry it happened but this is the state that we’re in.
And oftentimes if we look back, what they say in Sankofa, if we look back to study our history we find that it was actually Democratic policies, Democratic votes, that actually put us where we are here today. If we look at charter school proliferation, Dayton has led the nation since the late-90s. A small town, a small Midwest town but the strength of the business community to influence what happens in the city is so significant that greater than 90 percent of the rest of the nation, Dayton leads in charter schools per capita.
So, there’s the manipulation, that’s just one example of the manipulation of the tax dollars where you really have taxation with no representation in these charter schools.
STEPHEN JANIS: Are they going to close any of the charter schools?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: No.
HASHIM JABAR: That’s a point that we have brought to our mayor. To your point …
STEPHEN JANIS: No? So, no they’re not.
HASHIM JABAR: There’s no response to our call for a moratorium on charter schools. We’ve said, “Okay, we’ve had enough. Let’s set a limit,” but we’ve had no response on a call for a moratorium on charter schools.
STEPHEN JANIS: The nine schools that are slated to close are public but no charter schools?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: No.
HASHIM JABAR: And worse than that, that there’s a task force that’s been put together by our mayor, who is not over the school board, a task force of business persons including some charter school magnates or charter school moguls, we might say.
So, on February 6th, they’ll actually be touring these schools. From my perspective, it’s like shopping because there’s laws on the books that will allow charter schools to get that piece of property which is almost brand new, almost brand new with millions of dollars spent in construction dollars.
STEPHEN JANIS: They might take over the schools?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: Yeah, that’s exactly what’s happening. Privatization.
HASHIM JABAR: Which makes things very interesting. Again, that privatization …
STEPHEN JANIS: That’s really interesting.
HASHIM JABAR: That business aspect of those that live outside of the city, manipulating what’s happening inside the city, just like the mayor is not a part of the school board, not appointing the school board, but she is on the outside manipulating what is happening on the inside by creating a task force that the community has responded very ill to. To see that these individuals, particularly white men coming in to make a decision for us poor black people that need somebody to make a decision for us because we can’t make one ourselves.
STEPHEN JANIS: I mean, the whole theme you see from Dayton and Baltimore is privatization of public space. If they take over those school buildings, that is just incredible windfall for people, to make money off public space. I mean, that’s basically what you’re doing in Baltimore where you are taking years and years of tax revenue that would be due to the city and giving it over to people who, really, most of them don’t even live in the city.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: No, they don’t live in the city.
STEPHEN JANIS: Of course, the way schools are funded in Baltimore, it’s funded based on our total capital value or the value of our assessed real estate, and because a lot of these building aren’t paying taxes, from the state’s perspective, we are taking more money than we earn. So, we actually lose funding because of these developments. We lose school funding because of it. So, it’s a tremendous story of privatization of public space and public community.
HASHIM JABAR: And I must say, it is an assault on the poor because Ohio uniquely has ruled the way that they fund education unconstitutional.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: Ohio Supreme Court.
HASHIM JABAR: On four different occasions.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: The legislature…
HASHIM JABAR: There’s a large part of that formula that’s based off of property value and property taxes, which we have in Dayton very different from right across the street of Oakwood. So, the amount of dollars that pour in from our state are not the same across the board for all students. So,it’s multiplied that affect, that unconstitutional way of funding our schools, multiplied by the charter school proliferation in our city.
STEPHEN JANIS: You say that Oakwood, which is right outside of Dayton, is actually a very wealthy community?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: Extremely.
HASHIM JABAR: Very wealthy.
STEPHEN JANIS: It’s amazing how Baltimore and these cities have been able to wall off white wealth through boundaries. It’s not interesting, it’s tragic. Baltimore is just the same way. You can cross over the city line and houses are double value and the schools are all wonderful. It’s literally just like walking across this invisible line.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: Walking across an invisible line.
STEPHEN JANIS: …that somehow has tremendous consequences for the people who live in the city.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: I want to piggyback on that question with regard to the mayor and Democrats. The Democrats have actually been very complicit in what’s happening in Dayton, especially with the closure of the mental health facility.
A lot of the funding came from the Montgomery County, called ADAM’s Board, Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board. And so, what happened was several years ago they started to disinvest and make up reasons why they couldn’t give funding to the community. This has been happening, I want to say, maybe the last five to eight years. What we’ve seen is also an increase of mental health related incidences within west Dayton. For example, last year at one of the schools that is actually slated to close, there was a young man in the community who stabbed a student on a playground, but mental health related.
It’s not that we’re stigmatizing people with mental health because we believe they need services, right? I don’t want to say how else you can’t use a word like genocide.
This is the response from Democrats. This is the response from people that the mayor sits on a board with a representative from Premier Health, which is the owner of Good Samaritan Hospital.
So, they’re very complicit in many ways. The county commission, which is all Democratic led, all three of the elected county commissions for the county of Montgomery in Ohio are Democrats. All of the city commissioners and the mayor in Dayton are Democrats. So, not that they’re just sitting on their hands and benign neglect but they’re complicit in their policies and practices on how they disinvested over the years in west Dayton.
TAYA GRAHAM: It sounds like the Democrats aren’t only complicit, but that there’s been a way found to actually profit from the disinvestment that is happening in west Dayton community.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: Yes, that’s right.
TAYA GRAHAM: Stephen, let me ask you, you’ve covered a series of Democratic mayors in Baltimore City. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how the Democrats have run Baltimore.
STEPHEN JANIS: Well, I think, starting especially with Martin O’Malley who is white and Democrat, you might know him because he was a Presidential Candidate.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: I remember.
STEPHEN JANIS: …have governed with two pretty much pillars of policy, funding policing to the maximum as much as possible. Aggressive, zero-tolerance type of policing and defunding schools. And wrapping it all up in a big tax break package for developers. I mean, those have been the three pillars of policy. Create tax oases for people from the suburbs and white developers from the suburbs. Defund schools because funding for schools has not increased over like 15 years in Baltimore City and then, but the police department budget has gone up exponentially.
That’s been the three pillars of Democratic policy, consistently throughout the mayors that have served here. And I think it started with O’Malley and they really haven’t gotten away from it. And it has defined, it has been defining because policing really nets very little in terms of community development or growth of it’s people but they stuck to it. They are sticking to it. You don’t see much change.
We have had a consent decree, Department of Justice report, saying that Baltimore police specifically targeted African American communities with unconstitutional policing and yet nothing has happened. Of course, you have the scandal of the Gun Trace Task Force, which is seven, eight, nine members who went around robbing residents, dealing drugs, stealing overtime. The harm that these policies have inflicted. And you know, of course, the biggest problem is with the tax breaks because we don’t know the harm. We don’t know how much money the city has given away. Now, we are working on that at The Real News. We are going to be a doing a very long term, in-depth investigation but it could be hundreds of millions of dollars that this city has given away, probably billions.
So, that has been the policy. That’s been their formula for success. If population is any indication, it hasn’t worked. People, we continue to lose population. Of course, we continue to make headlines for two things, police corruption and crime.
TAYA GRAHAM: Also, we made a headline for giving out one of the biggest TIFs in the country, a 600 million dollar.
STEPHEN JANIS: 600 million dollar. As I was saying before, surely …
TAYA GRAHAM: Mega TIF to a private developer from a very poor city.
STEPHEN JANIS: Surely, after the Uprising and all the…issues it brought to light about the disparity in Baltimore, the city gives a 600 million dollar tax break to a billionaire, Kevin Plank, to build a city that really doesn’t exist right now but, of course, will probably be another enclave or oasis for people who aren’t part of this community at this point.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, you mentioned the closing of an Aldi’s grocery store. Why is the closing of one grocery store so important in west Dayton?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: Well, because it’s the last actual grocery store in west Dayton. Kroger packed up and left maybe approximately ten years ago. There was one on Gettysburg Avenue, which is a long street, corridor in west Dayton. Again, 100 percent African American community according to the last census and also according to the opportunity map that the Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health Department and the Kirwan Institute on Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University did.
That, I describe that as a death blow because, for west Dayton, that was, not that the grocery store was perfect, it had its problems, obviously, but even with that grocery store, west Dayton was already, according to the definition of a food desert, a food desert.
STEPHEN JANIS: There’s going to be not a single grocery store?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: There’s not a single grocery store in west Dayton.
STEPHEN JANIS: Where would people have to go if they wanted to get groceries?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: People are, there is a Kroger store that’s close to west Dayton because it borders Harrison Township, which is a small community.
STEPHEN JANIS: It’s in the county?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: It’s in the county. So, people can go there. People will have to drive all the way out to Englewood, which is a suburb, where there’s another Kroger store, and then people would have to drive all the way over to east Dayton because there is a Kroger store in east Dayton.
STEPHEN JANIS: What’s public transportation like?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: Public transportation sucks in Dayton. I mean, not just west Dayton, but it’s, right now, the Greater Dayton RTA, they’re struggling with strikes with their union. That impacts the schools as well, because they provide transportation for our high school students.
STEPHEN JANIS: It’s almost like there’s a template that Baltimore and these cities share because Baltimore, of course, has had this bifurcated public transportation that makes it very difficult for people.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: It’s very difficult.
STEPHEN JANIS: To access the suburbs and the jobs in the suburbs from the inner city.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: It is the same way. It is the exact same way in Dayton. Again, it was designed that way for folks not to have access to certain things. It is a template and I think that the communities and community organizations and, also I feel like our Civil Rights organizations nationally, have been very quiet about what’s happening in these cities across the country. It’s been happening for some years now, and I’m just struggling to understand why there isn’t a national conversation around these things.
TAYA GRAHAM: That’s a good question.
STEPHEN JANIS: Absolutely.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: …with some of our national Civil Rights organizations. One of the reasons why Racial Justice NOW! was founded was because several years ago when I went as a parent to the Dayton NAACP for support and help with my son who was being expelled from preschool at the time.
TAYA GRAHAM: Oh my gosh.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: And so, we had to do this work ourselves and we had to do it with a very explicit racial justice analysis. A very explicit addressing anti blackness and all of those different areas.
TAYA GRAHAM: You’re saying that you didn’t get any support from your local NAACP?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: The NAACP is isn’t supporting anything right now. They’re quiet. They’re extremely quiet. One of the things, and I can send you documentation for this, is that we found that the city actually sends them money, like $3,500 every so often. Premier Health has given them money to control…
TAYA GRAHAM: Premier Health is the organization…
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: That’s closing the hospitals.
TAYA GRAHAM: That is now closing the Good Samaritan Hospital. I see.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: So, the president of the local NAACP is pretty quiet. He’ll host these conversations but then there’s no talk of how do we file a lawsuit, right? How do we stop these things from happening? The conversation is what we have to move on and figure out, the best way to move on.
TAYA GRAHAM: There’s talk but no action from your local NAACP?
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: There’s absolutely no action.
TAYA GRAHAM: It’s interesting because, I think you told me that Mayor Whaley is actually on the board of Premier Health.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: She’s actually on some boards with representatives with Premier Health. It’s very interesting to see how they sit on certain boards together and there’s actually a representative from the Greater Hospital Association, which Premier has a representative on, that’s on the task force that she appointed to which she has no business doing in the school board. Actually, we’re calling on the school board to get rid of her task force because it’s their job to make the decision on the school closings, not some farce task force that has absolutely no power other than this power that the mayor thinks that she can give it.
TAYA GRAHAM: I see what you’re saying.
ZAKIYA SANKARA-JABAR: So, the school board actually is abdicating its responsibility to this task force that the mayor contacted the interim superintendent about. It’s a mess.
TAYA GRAHAM: So, tell me what your organization is doing. What other grassroots organizations, like Neighborhood Over Politics, what are you doing to try to change things in west Dayton?
HASHIM JABAR: The first thing we wanted to do was listen to our community. So, every month we have a monthly parents meeting where we bring information and educations around education, to our parents and our members. But also we wanted to have information come back to us about the things that are going on in our city.
So, the past meeting, January 25th, we brought out our state school board member, Charlotte McGuire, to come and talk about the Every Student Succeeds Act. We also allowed our community to give us feedback on what they thought about the most recent task force that was put together in a meeting that they held. So, what came out of it is a document up on Racial Justice NOW!’s website that gave a response from the community and we delivered this to our school board members and CCed our superintendent, who is in between superintendents.
So, the community asked for specific members of the task force to step down. The community showed a lot of distrust and disdain for the way that the task force was put together. There was a number of questions that the community had around information that was presented, research that was presented that was very unclear, that was not expressed in a way that was understandable to community members.
So the first thing we always want to do is we want to hear from our community. And then we took that information, compiled it, and we presented it to our school board members. We are in eager waiting for a response, for them to respond to our information. That’s the status that where we are now. We’re waiting on this process of whether they will deny a recommendation from the task force.
They’re going to be going out on February 6th, as I say shopping, or viewing our school buildings, looking at them and the status of where they’re at. We are in hopes that the school board will shut that task force down and take a recommendation from their community members as opposed to a mayoral appointed task force that the community disagrees with.
TAYA GRAHAM: I’d like to thank my guests, Hashim Jabar, Zakiya Jabar,and our reporter, Stephen Janis, for joining us. And I want to thank you for joining The Real News Network.