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Updated: 33 min 17 sec ago

In Film Series 'Little Brother,' Black Boys Open Up About Love

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 17:47

Camden, N.J. is one of those small, forgotten American cities that never makes national news but needs to. For a city its size--just under 80,000 mostly black and Latino residents jammed into nine square miles--Camden consistently ranks first or second in the United States for homicides and overall violent crime. Perhaps that's why it's the first place that the 10-film series, "Little Brother" chose in 2010 to start asking black boys ages 9 to 13 about love. On shoot day, the camera crew got attacked. But they continued anyway and viewers of the resulting 18-minute film are the better for it. With four of 10 cities under her belt, longtime producer and series co-director Nicole Franklin talked to Colorlines about what "Little Brother" is trying to accomplish, the impact of President Obama's My Brother's Keeper initiative on her work and, which city "Little Brother" is heading to next.

First up, what happened in Camden?

Camden was really our first attempt at this experiment to have black boys talk about love. [As you can imagine] it was a very upsetting shoot because of what happened. But as a journalist I also understand. I know people in the neighborhood feel like they're in a fish bowl all the time because [in the media] it's the same narrative. "Camden is dangerous. It's filled with unemployment. It's destructive. There's no hope for Camden." And here we come [with our cameras]. We put that detail [about the attack] in the film though because it also demonstrated what the boys have to go through.

"Little Brother," is described on the site as, "a one-on-one conversation demystifying what society tends to rob black boys of: LOVE." What do you mean?

A lot of boys may or may not be aware of the world they're born into as young black men in the U.S. It's glaringly obvious that it is dangerous. I mean, where do you start? Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and so many others. I just can't stand to see it anymore. Why can't you go 20 people deep without knowing a black man who has been arrested before? That's ridiculous. There's definitely a way we are perceived. For me working in media, it's about imagery and so many images are negative. I've always wanted to present a different narrative when it comes to black people. And when it comes to black men, if we approach this idea of when and how they learn about love, you start a different conversation.

Is that why "Little Brother" only features boys in the 9 to 13 age range?

That's part of it. Also, we don't see them. In the media we see black teens but you gotta get there first, right? And I knew that around age 10, something was happening to black boys--and we weren't seeing anything on it. It's popular to hear that when young black boys enter the 4th grade that's when "they" start planning how many prison beds to account for. I don't know who said that but what I do know is that Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu has said that the 4th grade is when boys emotionally drop out of school. Also, as you're approaching the teen years and puberty, it's a very special time and I thought that it would be cool to learn about when boys learn about their emotional, nurturing sides. Our approach is very direct. We focus on their emotional side, love, their love lives and what they project them to be. They teach us a lot.

The interviews are refreshingly intimate. Tell me more about the questions you asked them and why.

I wanted to know, what they thought they'd grow up to be. Were they planning on getting married or starting a family? If they were or were not born into traditional nuclear families, what did they think their own family was supposed to look like?

And what did you find?

These young black boys still carry very idealistic beliefs. They're going to be grown men with partners and they're going to have children--many children! They're going to have a good life, be financially stable, have a good job and be alive. They haven't projected anything other than that--and they include God in that plan.

Was it difficult finding young boys willing to speak so intimately about love on camera?

Oh, it was very easy. I can walk outside my door right now in New Jersey and say, "I want to interview young black men about love," and I'll get 20 people signed up. There's such a dearth of this conversation! You never hear or see positive images of black boys in media so when you come to them with this premise, people jump on board. Their parents weren't allowed into the interview room and they were all fine with that. You get the red carpet rolled out.

Were you surprised by the boys' candor?

I knew they'd be honest but I was afraid they wouldn't talk once they got in front of the camera. They're definitely not used to being on camera in a positive light. But what happens is that you hear the boys having complete thoughts and speaking in paragraphs and novels when you ask them about their lives. That was very surprising. I didn't think they'd hide things but I wasn't sure what we'd get. But we got honesty and innocence. That was very cool.

So far you've filmed in Camden, Chicago, St. Petersburg and Muskogee, Okla. Did you always plan to do a series over time or did the project evolve that way?

We wanted this to be in the nation's libraries so it definitely couldn't have been one film. If we'd just done Camden in 2010, it would've been an afterthought in 2014. We have so many negative images to deflect and combat that have already saturated the public consciousness that we needed 10 films, at least, to make a dent in the armor. Also, just with the four films we've already put out, we're showing that black boys aren't a monolith. It's so great to see what love means in their communities, families and in their own lives.

You've done about 50 small screenings since 2010 all around the country. Who's coming to see black boys talk about love and what's audience reaction like?

They're pretty popular with churches, grandmothers and fraternities. As far as audience reaction, I get shock a lot. They're surprised that we got such sweetness and innocence and loving feelings on camera from black boys. We've had audience members say, "You should talk to boys around the drug scene and who're on drugs." And I would say, "You don't even know that we didn't." We the filmmakers know the situations that these young men are in but we don't necessarily show that on camera. We have one boy in there who can't read or write, for example, but you can't tell that.

What other prejudices about young black boys are you seeing?

At a recent screening in New York City, one of the teen girls in the audience said she thought the boys were going to be materialistic and talk about their kicks or what kind of jeans they wore. She was expecting them to play up their material possessions. You get all these pre-judgments about young black boys that really need to be left at the door. But I also like that they're not because then we can have an honest conversation about what people expect to see from young black boys and what they actually see.

So folks come into the screening with one idea. How do they leave?

I think these films prompt people, especially those in our own communities, to clear their heads. After, some of them realize, Wow, we haven't given our own boys a chance because we bought the hype.

How much do you think the president's My Brother's Keeper initiative will accomplish?

I think it already has accomplished, well, not a lot but it has accomplished something. The president has made this a personal mission. We're seeing a lack of initiative from black boys because of how adults in this society are treating them. We've really set obstacles for them that we shouldn't have--and the president has pointed that out. No one else can bring attention better than him.

Where's "Little Brother" heading next?

We'll be filming chapters five and six in Los Angeles and Greenwich, Conn. respectively. And Third World Newsreel is releasing chapter four this month.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Northwestern Football Players Win Right to Unionize

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 17:44
Northwestern Football Players Win Right to Unionize

Northwestern University's football team made history on Wednesday when its players won the right to unionize. It's the first time that a big-time college football program has won such a right, and the ruling could upend the world of collegiate athletics, where amateur athletes bring in millions of dollars to universities without being compensated for their work.

Peter Ohr, a regional National Labor Relations Board director, issued a 24-page ruling that essentially demolished the idea of the student athlete, which holds that college players need only to have their educations paid for in exchange for their work on the athletic field.

From the New York Times:

He ruled that Northwestern's scholarship football players should be eligible to form a union based on a number of factors, including the time they devote to football (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships, which Mr. Ohr deemed a contract for compensation.

"It cannot be said that the employer's scholarship players are 'primarily students,' " the decision said.

The ruling comes at a time when the N.C.A.A. and its largest conferences are generating billions of dollars, primarily from football and men's basketball. The television contract for the new college football playoff system is worth $7.3 billion over 10 years, and the current deal to broadcast the men's basketball tournament is worth $10.8 billion over 14 years.

You can read Ohr's decision in full here.

Both parties, the university and its football players, have until April 9 to file a review of the decision with the NLRB board in Washington, DC.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Watch Arundhati Roy Talk About Her New Book 'Capitalism: A Ghost Story'

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 17:03

Acclaimed novelist and essayist Arundhati Roy used the release spoke at New York City's New School on Wednesday night about her new book, "Capitalism: A Ghost Story." The work, which will be released in April by Haymarket books, examines the "dark side of Democracy in India," according to its publisher.

Roy's debut novel, "The God of Small Things," won the esteemed Booker prize in 1997, and she's since established herself as one of the world's important political activists. 

The New School talk was a conversation with Indian author Siddharta Deb and was livestreamed in front of a sold out audience.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Obama at the Vatican, Wu Tang's Art and a Dwarf Planet

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 16:59
Obama at the Vatican, Wu Tang's Art and a Dwarf Planet

Here's what I've been reading up on this morning: 

  • Amnesty's annual death penalty report is out; the US remains the only country in the Americas that executes people, and is fourth on the worldwide executors list. 
  • Not sure I can take Nate Silver seriously anymore after reading this
  • Thanks to federal public funding, Chad Trujillo observes a planet on the edges of our solar system--80 AU away in the Oort cloud. 
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Black Woman, 74, Freed After 32 Years In Prison

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 00:26

Mary Virginia Jones, 74, walked out of a Calif. prison late Monday evening after serving 32 years for a murder she did not commit. Her son Robert who has a felony was not allowed to visit her prison. As a result, according to the LA Times, Monday is the first day he'd seen his mother in 30 years. Jones' story reads like those of so many incarcerated women. It includes a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse from parents and boyfriends, rape, and grief from the loss of a 4-year-old daughter.

Jones, who used a magnifying glass in court to help her see, was convicted in 1982 of first-degree murder, kidnapping to commit robbery and robbery. She always maintained that she did not willingly participate in the crime that led to a man's murder. Jones' boyfriend, the shooter, died in 1988 while on death row.

None of Jones' initial and subsequent trials had taken into account her history as a battered victim, said attorney Heidi Rummel of USC Law School's Post-Conviction Justice Project.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Kobe Bryant Wasn't Impressed by Miami's Trayvon Martin Protest

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 22:56
Kobe Bryant Wasn't Impressed by Miami's Trayvon Martin Protest

In the March 31 edition of the New Yorker there's a great profile of Kobe Bryant by Ben McGrath. In it, Bryant talks about aging out of his Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Lakers, and how he thinks his fame is "pretty fucking cool" for a kid who grew up in Italy and moved to suburban Philly as a teenager.  

Throughout his career, Bryant's been talking about as an outsider, specifically when it comes to being the most famous in the world in a sport that's overwhelmingly black. It's given him a politically moderate stance on things, which was on display when McGrath brought up the subject of LeBron James posting a photo online of the Heat players dressed in hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon Martin. 

I won't react to something just because I'm supposed to, because I'm an African-American," he said. "That argument doesn't make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we've progressed as a society? Well, we've progressed as a society, then don't jump to somebody's defense just because they're African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won't assert myself."

The profile goes on to quote former NFL running back Jim Brown, who at one point said, "[Kobe] is somewhat confused about culture, because he was brought up in another country." Bryant then defended himself on Twitter, writing, "A 'Global' African American is an inferior shade to 'American' African American?? #hmmm. that doesn't sound very #Mandela or #DrKing sir."

Setting aside a minute the fact that Bryant doesn't seem know much about the Trayvon Martin case, what strikes me about this exchange is his insistence on questioning what it means to be black in America, particularly from the perspective of someone who grew up elsewhere. In this vein I think of Zade Smith and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie's recent discussion at the Schomburg, where Adichie talked at length about coming to the United States from Nigeria and learning how deeply embedded race is in American culture. What sets Bryant apart is his stingy insistence on clinging to a "post-racial" identity, this very old, conservative notion that black people should not be treated differently in this country --  despite all of the evidence, like Martin's death, that they are. People didn't stand up for Trayvon Martin just because he was a black boy, they did it because his death so sharply illustrated the dangers of being a black boy in America. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

FBI Arrests Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 22:17
FBI Arrests Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon

Today, the FBI arrested Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Patrick Cannon, accusing him of taking bribes as an elected official, reports the Charlotte Observer. He's also been charged with wire fraud and extortion. He had been under investigation since 2010 when the FBI were tipped off that he might soliciting and accepting cash rewards for favors, both as a city councilor and as mayor. 

According to this press release from the U.S. Attorney's office in the Western District of North Carolina:

The complaint and law enforcement affidavit allege that Cannon accepted the bribes from the undercover FBI agents on five separate occasions. On the last occasion, on February 21, 2014, Cannon allegedly accepted $20,000 in cash in the Mayor's office. According to the complaint and the affidavit, between January 2013 and February 2014, Cannon allegedly accepted from the undercover agents over $48,000 in cash, airline tickets, a hotel room, and use of a luxury apartment in exchange for the use of his official position.

Cannon was just elected mayor last November. He succeeded former mayor Anthony Foxx, who Obama tapped to become Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation last year, and Patsy Kinsey who served out the remainder of Foxx's term. If convicted, Cannon faces a maximum ten years in prison and $250,000 fine for the bribery charge, 20 years and a $1 million fine for the wire fraud charge and another 20 years and $250,000 fine for the extortion charge. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Obamacare Deadline Extended for Some

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 21:41
Obamacare Deadline Extended for Some

President Obama is extending the March 31 healthcare insurance enrollment deadline for those who've already started signing up via the Affordable Care Act's market exchange but haven't completed the process. This means that if you began purchasing a healthcare plan on Healthcare.gov, or through other offline mechanisms via Navigator groups, but the transaction has not been completed, you will not be penalized. 

As Julie Bataille, director of communications for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services explained it on a press call this afternoon, "Just like on Election Day, if you were in line when the polls closed, you still were able to vote. The same applies here if you were already in line for health insurance when the deadline came."

Bataille stressed that the deadline technically is still five days from now, but that this extension is owed in part to the malfunctioning Healthcare.gov website and also the expected surge of people who will begin signing up at the last minute. If you take advantage of the extension, the federal government will take you on your word that you began the transaction, as it does not have an actual verification system for this. 

There is precedent for this. Back in 2006, when President George W. Bush was pushing his new Medicare prescription drug benefit plan, he extended the deadline for signing up for the program for low-income elderly users. 

According to the Washington Post, people who qualify in that "special enrollment" group will have until mid-April to close out on a a plan -- just in time to pay taxes. But after that, if you are not an official enrollee and are not insured elsewhere (through your parents if under 26 or employer), you will be assigned a penalty on your taxes and will not have another chance to enroll until 2015, with few exceptions. 

These pie graphs below, released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation, show that roughly six in 10 people are unaware there was a deadline to begin with. 

kaiserobamacare.jpgRead more on what we've learned thus far on Obamacare from Kai Wright's news feature today.  

Categories: Diversity Headlines

This 'Royals' Parody Takes Aim at Race and Hollywood Typecasting

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 21:34

What's it like to be an actress of color in Hollywood? Probably not that great, considering the limited roles that are written for women of color. Actress Tess Paras pokes fun at this sorry state of affairs in this video parody set to Lorde's "Royals."

(h/t Angry Asian Man)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Black College Student Files $5 Million Discrimination Suit

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 20:08
Black College Student Files $5 Million Discrimination Suit

Donald Williams, an 18-year-old black freshman, has filed a $5 million lawsuit against San Jose State University in California. The claim alleges that the university failed to protect Williams from racial bullying and investigate last fall's incidents sooner. 

Between last September and October 2013, according to police reports, e-mails and court documents, four white suitemates racially harassed Williams, then 17. The incidents include: flying the Confederate flag and displaying Nazi imagery in the dorm; calling Williams "three-fifths" and "fraction;" and wrestling Williams to the ground and fastening a bicycle lock around his neck among others.

"Three-fifths" refers to the pre-Civil War constitutional compromise, in which the U.S. counted enslaved persons as three-fifths of a human being. SJSU is the alma mater of track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos who famously struck the Black Power salute at the '68 Olympics. SJSU honors their protest with a statue on campus. 

(h/t University Herald)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Undocumented Activists Seek Meeting with Obama

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 18:57
Undocumented Activists Seek Meeting with Obama

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met with several immigrant rights group's representatives Tuesday, following President Obama's call for a review to conduct enforcement "more humanely." While some groups remain hopeful that the Obama administration's detention and deportation record may change under Secretary Johnson, others are skeptical. 

Among those that attended was Tania Unzueta, who works with the National Day Labor Organizing Network. Unzueta, who was the only undocumented person present at the meeting, says she's unsure whether the meeting was called to truly change immigration enforcement practices, or to prevent changes from happening.

Unzueta has temporary relief from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and would like to see that policy extended to more undocumented immigrants (DACA is now limited according to age and other restrictions). She's also part of a group of 25 undocumented people who have formed a commission and is now demanding a meeting with Obama. "Instead of participating in the pageantry of the meeting, I asked for a conversation with the President on behalf of the Blue Ribbon Commission of undocumented leaders that formed in response to his review," says Unzueta. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Madonna to Adapt Rebecca Walker's Novella

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 18:38
Madonna to Adapt Rebecca Walker's Novella

Rebecca Walker got a pretty good endorsement for her first published piece of fiction, "Adé: A Love Story."

Madonna has announced plans to adapt the novella into a feature film. She'll serve as director, while the project will be produced by Bruce Cohen, who shared a Best Picture Oscar for "American Beauty" and more recently worked on the Harvey Milk biopic "Milk."

The novella is about a young American college student whose plans to marry a Swahili man in Kenya fall apart when the region is engulfed in civil war. 

Up until now, Walker has primarily been known for her non-fiction, including a New York Times best-selling memoir about growing up as Alice Walker's daughter called, "Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self." She's also written a memoir about motherhood called "Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence" and edited a collection of essays called "Black Cool."

(h/t Deadline)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Flight MH 370, Lollapalooza and Hep C Pills

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 16:59
Flight MH 370, Lollapalooza and Hep C Pills

Here's what I'm reading about this morning: 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

What We've Learned From Obamacare

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 23:51
What We've Learned From Obamacare

There was a time, way back in 2009, when health care reform was about something rather straightforward. For 47 million United States residents, the health insurance market simply wasn't working. The products cost too much or the providers turned away customers or people just didn't have space to sort it all out in between two part-time jobs. So lopsided majorities of people agreed in poll after poll: There needed to be at least one publicly run option, a simple and affordable choice for those who wanted it. We've traveled a long, winding road from that consensus, passing through death panels and individual mandates and a spectacular failure of a website launch. And now, the big question of the moment is this: Has the journey actually taken us someplace new?

The first set of data toward answering that question is just about all in, and it's ominous, if not conclusive. On March 31, the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act will close. People can continue signing up for Medicaid all year long, in accordance with their state's rules. But anyone who hasn't purchased an insurance plan on the new exchanges by March 31 will have to wait until 2015 to get coverage. It's a significant milestone for the law. After six intense months of cajoling people to sign up and arguing over the mistakes and scrutinizing crumbs of data, there will be a final tally of how many uninsured Americans have found the new insurance market more viable than the old one.

One of the challenges of truly measuring the law's success--and that of our health care system more broadly--is that we continue to discuss "the uninsured" in vague terms, as a monolith of consumers who've shrugged off risk and chosen to spend their money on something else. That notion has become more ingrained in recent months as everyone from the White House to the news media has focused intensely on the number of young, presumably healthy people who have signed up for Obamacare. Their participation is crucial to bringing down overall costs, and they've been slow to join. At month's end, this is the number everyone will be eager to hear; it is the agreed upon measuring stick for the law's success or failure.

But there's another, less discussed measure of the Affordable Care Act's success, one that more directly addresses the actual problem the law needs to solve. That is the number of working poor people who have gotten insurance because of Obamacare. It's important to understand whom we're talking about when we refer to "the uninsured." Three out of four uninsured people had jobs in 2013; three out of four made less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level in those jobs; and more than half were people of color, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A map of where those people live renders the United States as a layer cake. They're most densely clumped in a band stretching all the way across the South; then with a little less density across the middle of the country, from the Plains to the Mid-Atlantic; then most loosely at the top, from the Upper Midwest to the Northeast. The map would also serve fairly well as a breakdown of states that have and have not grown their public health insurance programs over the past 20 years. And it'd offer a pretty good reflection of the states that have refused to join Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid. Seventeen states had uninsurance rates over 18 percent in 2012; two-thirds of them have opted out of Medicaid expansion. So in the places where the actual problem is most acute--namely, the working poor being unable to buy insurance--the law's most direct fix isn't even in play.

But even where Medicaid is expanding, it doesn't take a huge paycheck to miss out. A retail worker making $17,000 a year and living in Newark, N.J., wouldn't qualify, for instance. She would, however, qualify for a subsidy to purchase one of at least 26 insurance plans for sale on the state's exchange. Problem is, the evidence thus far suggests people like her are still finding the product too expensive and too complicated for their lives.

"A lot of people, they voice to me that they like the idea of the Affordable Care Act," says Gabrielle Terry, who's been working since October as a "navigator" trying to enroll people in Newark. "What's happening to them is, you put your income into this portal, and they give you numbers for what they think you can afford," she says, explaining the enrollment process. "But they don't really know your expenses. So they think you can afford a $300 premium because you're getting paid this amount of money, but they don't know about your other kids, or if you're taking care of your niece who--" she stops, frustrated by trying to explain the gap between real lives and the qualification formulas applied to them. "Whatever. They don't know about that."

When I spoke to Terry in early March, she had still not seen a single person go all the way through the enrollment process and actually buy insurance. In fact, none of the navigators I interviewed in Newark had seen it happen. Federal data suggest navigators around the country are finding similar results. As of March 1, fewer than 15 percent of uninsured people who would qualify to enroll had done so, according to Kaiser.  

There could be all kinds of reasons for this relatively low rate, starting with insufficient resources for outreach to those people in many states. It's also important to note that Medicaid enrollment appears to be going quite well. But the relatively low rate of people buying insurance, even with the help of a subsidy, suggests the testimony I've heard from Newark navigators is true widely--that the working poor are doing the math and deciding the insurance market still fails them.

The new insurance exchanges are built to make things easier by leveraging market forces. They create a set of rules that, ideally, make it easier for consumers to shop around, by diversifying the number of providers and making their products easier to understand. Plans are divided into tiers based on the cost of the monthly premium and uniformly categorized by Olympian names--bronze being the cheapest, platinum the most expensive. Still, the navigators I spoke with said people remain overwhelmed by the effort to be savvy consumers of a product with such grave consequences.

"It scares them. They're scared," says Khalilah Jackson, another Newark-area navigator. "And I can totally understand." If a subscriber chooses a cheaper plan to stretch a just-above-minimum-wage paycheck, will he be able to actually use the insurance when faced with large co-pays and deductibles and other cost-sharing rules down the line? Many are simply saying screw it, and choose to take the relatively modest tax penalty next year rather than fuss with the no-win calculus of the marketplace.

So Obamacare's two efforts to get coverage for the working poor--who account for the vast majority of the uninsured--is off to a difficult start. The states in which Medicaid could do the most good have rejected it. The people whom the exchanges are supposed to attract are opting out. All of that before acknowledging that no immigrant who is undocumented or who has been in the country less than five years can qualify for either Medicaid or a purchasing subsidy.

Ultimately, these enrollment challenges beg larger questions about the whole enterprise. Given who the uninsured really are, can a rejiggered, market-driven system actually serve them? Even if they buy insurance on the exchanges, will care providers be able to meet the needs of their complex lives while remaining profitable? Are there enough doctors who even accept Medicaid, given the low payments they receive for those patients? Time will tell. But if the past six months are a fair measure--and given the toxic political climate in which the system has operated, perhaps they are not--Obamacare will not be the final word on the nation's health care crisis.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Native American Groups Are Not Impressed by Dan Snyder's Latest Move

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 19:54
Native American Groups Are Not Impressed by Dan Snyder's Latest Move

Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington, D.C. NFL team and staunch defender of that organization's racist name, has announced that he's starting a group called the "Original Americans Foundation" to assist the Native American tribes that he claims his team name honors.

''It's not enough to celebrate the values and heritage of Native Americans,'' Snyder said in a letter to the team's fans. ''We must do more.''

In the letter, Snyder wrote that the new foundation will ''provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities'' for Native Americans, but didn't give financial details, including whether or not he would personally donate any money.

Will Snyder's latest move calm the controversy around his team's name? Not likely.

Suzan Shown Harjo, a Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee advocate and  leading figure in two federal trademark lawsuits against the NFL organization over the past two decades, told the Associated Press that Snyder's announcement was "somewhere between a PR assault and bribery."

Snyder wrote in his letter that he and his staff members have visited 26 reservations over the past four months and that those experiences have opened his eyes to the problems facing Native communities, including poverty, drug abuse and a lack of basic infrastructure. "I've listened. I've learned. And frankly, its heart wrenching," the letter said.

Harjo isn't impressed. "I'm glad that he's had a realization that Native Americans have it tough in the United States," Harjo told the AP. "All sorts of people could have told him that, and have been trying to tell him that for a long time."

Harjo continued, "Will (the foundation) do much of anything? No. But it probably won't hurt," Harjo said, ''except that it will continue the cycle of negative imaging of Native American people in the public arena."

Snyder's move seems especially suspect given that the federal patent office just rejected his organization's attempt to trademark "redskin potatoes," in part because the term could be seen as derogatory to Native Americans. Snyder's out to make money, period. 

(h/t Yahoo Sports)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Le1f to Lord Jamar: 'I Know Oppressions You Will Never Understand'

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 19:53
 'I Know Oppressions You Will Never Understand'

In a recent New Yorker profile, former Brand Nubian member Lord Jamar took shots at Kanye West and openly gay rapper Le1f for straying from the genre's macho roots. Le1f, you may remember, made his network TV debut on Letterman last month wearing a kilt. "This started with the alpha males. And now it's being given to the beta males to try to flex their shit," Jamar said. 

Le1f responded on his Facebook page:

dear Lord Jamar,
Choose your battles. If the whitening of rap is a concern to you, please leave my name out of it. If you think being gay is the same as being white, you are as ignorant as your enemies. I'm darker than you. I'm african. I'm a black man and I experience all the same racism you do, if not more, on top of homophobia, including from black men just like you. Are you proud of being a hateful member of a majority? Rap started out as a creative response to oppression, and no matter my outfit, I know oppressions you will never understand.
All respect,
Le1f

It's a perfect response. Read more over at the Fader

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Meet Arabic Hip-Hop's First Lady: Shadia Mansour

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 19:28
 Shadia Mansour

Longtime journalist and hip-hop historian Davey D has a great series going in which he highlights 500 female emcees, and he recently featured the British-born Palestinian emcee Shadia Mansour.

Since launching a rap career around 2003, Mansour has gained fans in the Middle East, Europe and the United States with politically charged songs that take aim at the occupation of Palestine. She often performs in a traditional Palestinian thawb and, according to Hip-Hop and Politics, considers herself to be part of a "musical intifada."

Mansour has collaborated with other well-known Palestinian hip-hop groups including DAM and has also worked with rapper M-1 of dead prez, who's featured on her track "Al Kufiya Arabiya" (The Kufiya is Arab). From Hip-Hop and Politics: 

The song was written when Mansour discovered an American made blue-and-white colored Arab scarf with Stars of David on it. Mansour introduced her song on stage in New York: "You can take my falafel and hummus, but don't fucking touch my keffiyeh".

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Nelson George's New Book Celebrates 'Soul Train'

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 19:21

Pioneering journalist Nelson George's new book, "The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style," hit bookstores on Tuesday and offers one of the most concise looks yet at the legacy of one of black America's most beloved programs. Here's Gene Seymour's review over at USA Today:

Soul Train, which ascended from humble beginnings as a local after-school program in Chicago to a phenomenon of national, if not global proportions, was in retrospect the cornerstone of this transformative era, setting the decade's agenda for music, dance and fashion. I can actually hear many of you giggling at that last one. But, like it or not, many young people, not all of them black, took their dress-for-success cues from mile-high Afros, platform shoes, bell-bottoms and ruffled shirts worn by Soul Train's legendary cadre of dancers.

[snip]

In the process, [founder and host Don Cornelius] also provided black artists and black-owned businesses with the kind of national exposure they likely wouldn't have received without Cornelius' far-sighted franchise. The book also gives dimension to Cornelius' personality; he could be as moody as he was magnanimous. And he wasn't always far-sighted either, as George relates how he, along with other "black music gatekeepers of his generation," either missed or dismissed the "hip-hop" wave that began building in the late 1980

Read more. The book is one of several, including one by Questlove, that's been published about the show in recent years. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

What Happens After a Collapse?

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 23:38

At least eight people died and more than 60 were injured, as a result of a likely gas leak explosion that collapsed two apartment buildings at 1644 and 1646 Park Ave. in East Harlem in mid-March. There are several community efforts to help bury the dead, as well as help provide basic healthcare for those who survived--one created by local teachers hopes to raise $10,000 for the Hernandez-Barrios family. La Casa Azul bookstore also collected much needed basics in coordination with a local assembly member. Residents in New York City's East Harlem neighborhood are still mourning the lives lost in the catastrophic apartment building collapse. They're also mourning the loss of their homes. Here, writer José Vadi reflects on the loss through the lens of his father.--Jamilah King

On March 12, 2014, my father forwarded a New York Times article with the headline "At Least 2 Killed in East Harlem Building Collapse." A brief note from my Dad followed: "

Dear Friends, This is the building where I grew up until I was 22 years old (1646 Park Avenue, apartment 7). If those walls could speak! They would tell a tale of immense suffering with small periods of joy."

Growing up, my sister and I heard stories about East Harlem every day from our dad. Tales of unscrupulous landlords. Our abusive grandfather. Stories of newly arrived Puerto Rican squatters filling his apartment to the brim, toiling in the family-owned bodega and the years it stole from my grandmother. My father would describe coughing up soot in the morning, filling shoe soles with cardboard, fighting Italian gangs on the way to school, and singing du-wop in his school hallways. For these reasons, I always associated New York as a place to overcome and leave, instead of a place to live and settle.

I read the article on my phone riding on BART between Oakland and San Francisco and was shocked to hear about the explosion and subsequent collapse of 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue, two neighboring tenements off 116th Street that shared an eastern view with the elevated Metro North line. To date, eight people have died despite rescue efforts to find trapped and missing residents. But in the context of what I know about my father's life, this was the last of many remaining threads connecting him to the neighborhood he calls home, slowly eroding with every passing year.

I called my dad that night from the kitchen table in my studio apartment. As my elbows rested on the faux wood grain, I remembered my father earned his undergraduate diploma from CCNY - the "poor man's Harvard" --using an ironing board for a desk until the age of 22. I asked him how he felt about hearing the news. He breathed a heavy sigh. "First, the neighborhood went away - La Marketa's no longer there, 125th Street's a mall, the people are all gone. Now, my building's collapsed. I really don't have a home anymore. I have no connection to my city anymore, my neighborhood. I'm totally uprooted."

In February 2010, my father, who lives in Los Angeles, went to New York for the first time since the early '80s to participate in a lifetime achievement ceremony for East Harlem community activist Rev. Norman Eddy. Rev. Eddy hired my father at the age of 18 to be the director of housing relocation for the Metro North Citizens' Committee. The program worked heavily along 100th Street, temporarily relocating tenants so that their homes could be refurbished while maintaining their original exteriors. This was Eddy's attempt to prevent the community plight and disruption currently associated with gentrification and rising rents. His plan lead to cooperative ownership of buildings among tenants, to them having a stake of ownership within their East Harlem community.

Before the collapse, I wanted to document the stories I heard growing up as a kid, no matter how painful for my dad or myself. The goal was to visit 1646 Park Avenue, Apartment 7. I borrowed a FlipCam from my friend, and asked another to film my Dad and me together in his old neighborhood, for the first time. It snowed that day. Still, my father's pace quickened as he walked across his former neighborhood pointing out where along La Marketa previously existed; his technique for selling shopping bags to patrons for five cents; the high school formerly named after Benjamin Franklin where my father trained for the Millrose Games; where he ran laps inside the hallways during the winter. He showed me the top of the subway stairs where he and his brother would fist fight with the other shoe shine boys, desperate to catch a customer. My pops noted the racial divides by block between Puerto Ricans and Italians along 3rd Avenue and the sewer caps on 117th Street that served as a stickball diamond for their ragtag neighborhood gang. I knew if I ever had the opportunity to walk alongside my dad down the streets where he grew up, I'd go along. I wanted to feel as close as possible to the trajectory that somehow lead to my own existence, starting at its root: 116 and Park.

The fragility of human life was apparent for quite tragic reasons after the collapse, yet I was grateful to have taken the opportunity to have filmed my father in a place he once called home. I wonder now if any of those whose lives were taken last week were living in the building while we were filming; if their stories could have been told to preserve, to share what went untold in homes whose exteriors never truly represent what's held inside.

When a building falls, do those stories ever die?

I wonder whether Eddy's plans of cooperative, resident-owned housing would fly in today's New York economy. I wonder how you preserve a bruise while healing from the original blow? And what of those few moments of joy my father described, how do they shine through a building that to my father's recollection is a recurring travel through a thorn-lined Babel? And of whatever walls are built in the wake of these building's collapse, I wonder if future generations will know their true history and who laid the first foundation of East Harlem.

This piece is excerpted from a longer one titled "What Memories Remain." 

José Vadi is a writer/performer based in Oakland, Calif. who recently earned his MFA in Creative Non-fiction from Mills College. He is also the founder and director of the Off/Page Project.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Undocumented Immigrants Block Alabama Detention Center

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 23:33
Undocumented Immigrants Block Alabama Detention Center

Seven undocumented immigrants working with the #Not1More campaign, chained themselves and blocked the entrance to the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama for several hours today.

Etowah has long been considered one of the worst immigrant detention centers in the country. In a phone call recorded by Detention Watch Network, one detainee named Oscar Quintero describes the facility as “a concentration camp for immigrants:”

The seven activists, Teresa Flores, Carlos Ramos, David Comparan, Evelyn Servin, Gabriel Machabanski, Monica Hernandez and Gwendolyn Ferreti Manjarresz, were all arrested; the group Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice is raising money for their release on bond. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines