Friday, March 01, 2019

In Polite Company

(Baltimore, MD) The first time I was called a “Nigger” I was riding my bike through a section of Baltimore known as Hamden in 1975 (to this day I am not a fan of the neighborhood). I had just finished my freshman year of college and was taken aback that the vile term was being spewed at me by a group of white men, riding in a car who felt like I was invading their space.

Fast forward to this week, I had to cover a political firestorm over Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti, using this same racial epithet to describe Prince George’s County as a “Nigger District.”
According to reporting by Ovetta Wiggins of the Washington Post, during a late night romp in Annapolis, Delegate Lisanti was with a group of fellow legislators at a cigar bar in January who overheard her say this and they said nothing.

After confirming the incident with several of those in attendance, Wiggins asked Del. Lisanti if she said this? The denial was obvious. When asked if she had ever used this term, “I’m sure I have . . . I’m sure everyone has used it.” It didn’t take long before calls for her removal became paramount to Black legislators and others. Instead of resigning (which she resisted), she was unanimously censured by members of the House of Delegates (2/28/19 the last day of Black History Month). She was removed as the Sub-Chair of the Unemployment Commission and taken off the House Economic Matters Committee. The only vote she will have is on the floor of the House. Despite this action, she has vowed to stay office. Then, in the bizarreness of this week Delegate Lisanti held court outside of the House chamber saying, “I don’t know if I used the “N-word.”

I have been asked by white colleagues if I was offended by the usage of this term. Yes! Let me give you some context. Recently, Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post posted this simple question,
“Have you ever worked for a racist employer?" She went deeper, asking, "If they said racist things behind your back?" I quickly thought of my late grandmother, Bernice Jackson worked/toiled at the Hotel Reuger in Virginia, a segregated hotel. She was a waitress in their famed dining room. Their restaurant was revered for its menu, its ambiance and its backroom deals of Virginia Legislators. I can imagine my grandmother enduring racial slights at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, holding her tongue as she served White men, some of whom were deciding the fate of Negroes. It is likely she was called a Nigger by those same men who didn’t like her service. As time went on, she likely heard the term “Colored” and “Negro” to describe her. When my mother was given an opportunity to work at this establishment, it was clear to my late grandmother she didn’t want her daughter to endure what she had witnessed. So why did she stay? My ancestors endured slights and “played the game” in order to survive. My grandmother wasn’t the only one to continue to toil in uncomfortable circumstances.

Context is great a sanitizer. Matriculating through college and on to professional life, I often heard “Nigger” whispered. The whispering is done so as not to upset “polite company.” I traverse through many different racial groups. I don’t want to become the arbiter of race/racism. One has to live in one’s own skin.

So, as I watched this whole saga unfold, I was confronted by several juxtapositions. A statue to United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall came out of storage this week and will find a temporary home outside the Maryland Court of Appeals in Annapolis. According to my source, Justice Marshall’s statue was housed in the same storage facility as a statue to Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, which was removed (irony).

Lastly, I am happy to announce I have a new niece. Chloe arrived on February 27, 2019. Her birth is part of that unique innocence that children bring into the world. As you look at her picture, here’s hoping she will not have to endure the slights and the challenges her great uncle had to endure in a world that has so many possibilities.

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Friday, December 28, 2018

Black News Stories of the Year 2018

I’ve been writing these stories for a number of years and it gets difficulty to narrow the list. So let me start with the simple disclaimer, you may agree or disagree with the stories I selected. Go ahead and create your own list.

This year had number of twist and turns. A lot the year was summed up in the loss of innocence and those who were sound tracks to our lives (Aretha Franklin).  There was way too much focus on the domestic issues and not enough on external issues which have an indirect affect (Mexico/Europe/Middle East/Africa).

As a journalist, I can tell you a number of my colleagues died at the hands of people who would like to silence our work. The Committee to Protect Journalist said 53 journalist around the world died in 2018. The attack on the Capital Gazette Newspaper staff (5 people) in Annapolis (where I work for four months of the year) makes me think.   

My cynicism is checked by a continued optimism.  

10. Trap Music – You’ve heard it and probably didn’t understand it if you’re over thirty. I’ll try to explain but there will be music critics who will take exception to my personal explanation. It’s the natural progression of music coming from the “Dirty South,” Atlanta. As with most new musical genres in the current environment, it draws heavily on a particular beat, subtle keyboards and a steady thumpin bassline.  The raps aren’t as form fitting as much as it plays off of sounds like “skirrrr, skrettt, yo, dot-dot etc…” For a while it was confined to Strip Clubs, but it has gone mainstream (Mountain Dew ad contains the song – Can’t Do Drip-Drip). Current artist using this art form include the Migo’s, 2-Chainz, Cardi B, Young Thug and Quavo (and others). Some of the reigning kings of Hip-Hop, Drake and Lil Wayne, have laced their tracks with the sound. The creator is a young white guy from Canada who goes by the name of Murda-Beatz. Like Rick Rubin of Def Jam, the “white dude” would seem out of place, but knows how to make music. The man has an ear for music of this generation which he apparently can drop quicker than most producers.  

9. Ebony Owes – Full disclosure I worked for Ebony/Jet during the Freddie Gray Trials. A number of my friends also penned pieces for the magazine/online site. During my short tenure the revered magazines was brought by a pair of venture capitalist. While most welcomed the stability and the magazines attempt to exploit the online era, I was disappointed when scheduled payments were not received in a timely fashion (I did get paid). This affected a number of people in literally life threatening ways. It took a lawsuit to get the company to pay up and they still missed several payments. My late friend, Rashod Ollison, who could have used the payment got his check but it came after they buried him.

8. Science/History and Black People – This year I heard and you likely heard some of the stupidest things from people you like and had to say, “Aw Naw.” Where do I begin, Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics trying to clean up his conspiracy theory suggestion, “the world is flat because you can’t see beyond the horizon.” Seriously. Kayne West, telling TMZ, “slavery was a choice,” and the ultimate follow up in the Oval Office with the President, “The ‘Make America Great Again’ hat gives me power…we need to get rid of the thirteen amendment.” Lastly, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors suggesting “the moon landing was staged.” Each of these individuals recanted but can you “please, stay in your lane.”

7. Ethiopia/Eretria – The long simmering feud between these two countries came to end this year with the election of a new Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. Ethiopia and Eretria had been locked in a cross border war for 30 years. Eretria declared its independence in 1993. The enmity was palatable. Hundreds fled the war torn region for the United States (Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Atlanta have large expatriate communities). Old wounds die hard on the Africa continent. Prime Minister Ahmed, who was much younger through off the shackles of the past and agreed to meet with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in the his capital, Asamara, unthinkable. The ending of this war bodes well for other conflicts in Sudan and Somali.

6. Losing to Win – As a Black Political reporter I have seen the way elections have shaped this unique landscape. Going back to Representative Shirley Chisolm’s run for President, and laying the foundation for hundreds of Black politicians in the seventies. Jesse Jackson’s run for President in the eighties paved the way for hundreds of politicians in small towns, large cities, and states to run for office. The election of Barack Obama as President showed people a road to winning. This year several gubernatorial candidates’ attempts to win governorship's were close (Stacey Abraham, Andrew Gillum, Ben Jealous, and Mike Espy). While their lost stings, it will set in motion an unprecedented wave of politicians to seek office across the country and the world.

5. Arts/Literature – Since the Obama’s are no longer in the “white hot” space of oval office they have settled into a Georgetown House in Washington, DC only to appear at official functions, lectures and other duties they deem worthy of their time. The unveiling of their official portraits this year was stunning because of the artist renditions of their likeness. Kehinde Wiley, painted the President’s portrait and Amy Sherald (she’s a Baltimore artist) used her talents to capture the former First Lady.
Each of these painters broke the mold on who they envision this power couple to be. You’ll want to watch what they do in the future.  Adding to this was Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming and accompanied sold out book tour. “You’ve got the Midas touch, everything I touch turns to Gold,” from Midnight Star.
Honorable mention in the book category was Zora Neal Hurston’s book, Barrcoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo. A riveting tale which was shelved and brought back to life by Black scholars who felt now was the time.

4. Meek Mill – Hip-hop seemed to find its common purpose in rallying behind rapper Meek Mill. Mill from Philadelphia was on probation from 2009 gun charge and drug possession. In the case, a Common Pleas Judge said Mill had violated his probation when he failed a drug test and two other arrests (which were dropped). The judge ordered him re-jailed in November 2017. After several Hip-Hop stars (Jay-Z, T.I and others) railed to his support. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court this year agreed to let him out on bond until his case is heard.
Mill, who is a 76ers fan, was flown by helicopter to the game and sat court side with Owner Michael Rubin and Comedian Kevin Hart. Mill knows he’s been given a second chance, ”to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, I’m grateful for your commitment to justice -- not only for my case, but for others that have been wrongfully jailed due to police misconduct."

3. Covering POTUS – From his often heard refrain of “fake news,” his public put downs of reporters, and of course his banning of a CNN Reporter at the White House (which was overturned), it’s been a year like no other. Then at a White House press briefing and a press scrum before departing on Marine One, POTUS targeted three African-American female reporters on November 10th and 11th for their questions,
American Urban Radio’s April Ryan, PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, and CNN’s Abby Phillip. Let’s put some facts on the table first. There aren’t enough people of color asking the POTUS questions. These three ladies are seasoned veterans. The fact he went specifically after them says a lot. Lastly, I am alarmed by the number of Reporters, News Organizations and Networks who’ve been targeted by mentally unstable individuals (and yes I think the President feeds their thinking). This year I looked over my shoulder a little more often and watched who was following me online. I will continue this practice going into the New Year.

2. Voter Suppression – It is real, it’s sophisticated, and cunning. After the amazing voter turnout of the Black electorate during the Obama years, a number of GOP operatives began to devise ways to suppress and counter “get out the vote” activities. It starts with limiting the number of early voting days, especially Sunday voting. This was known as “Souls to the Polls.” The next were nefarious attempts to bring photo identification to polls and make it more difficulty to get the proper identification. The inability of formerly incarcerated people to get their franchise back (Florida passed a constitutional voter referendum which will give thousands the right to vote). The last tactic was voter purges (those who hadn’t voted for a year(s) before an election were wiped from rolls). We now know it was much more sophisticated. Sources indicate that “Russian Troll Farms” used social media to sow distrust in the voting system specifically targeting African-Americans to depress vote totals. This year we learned a North Carolina man (and others) collected absentee ballots from a number of Democrats (mostly Black) and change their selectionsto a Republican or destroyed ballots. The GOP for all of its get tough on “voting fraud” is deftly silent. Where is the outcry and why isn’t someone in jail for voter fraud.

1. Black Life is Complicated – If you’re Black you already know this. If you aren’t, the explanations I lay out will seem like contradictions. For multiple generations, African-American parents and those with children who are conceived from mixed race couples have had to draw fine lines. We welcome you into the world with hundreds of possibilities and unlimited potential, then you have to go outside. “The talk” is so familiar that you know it goes with the territory.  from various white women calling police on Black people; the targeting of Black people by racists with guns in Kentucky; and the most recent incident of a young man having his dreadlocks cut in order to compete in wrestling tournament (which he won). The racism and white superiority conversation is real, and can’t be covered up by the “just get over it.”
Conversely, we saw the largest grossing film with a nearly an all-Black cast, Black Panther, set a new standard (with more to come). The impresario’s of style and culture maybe the Hip-Hop couple Beyonce and Jay-Z. Still there are hundreds of young men dying in this country at the hands of people who look like them over trivial matters because essentially “life is cheap.” I continue to believe the glass is half empty and “we need more water.”

Person of the Year: James Shaw, Jr.

Shaw from Nashville like so many of his age (29 years old) had finished a night of hanging out with friends at a nightclub. They decided to get breakfast. At 3:15 am, he was not alone when he entered a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee. It was filled with conversations over the order taking, the grill sizzle, and the clanking of dishes. Outside was Travis Reinking (a white man) who was sitting in his pickup truck with a AR-15 rifle. His intention was to kill as many people as possible in the restaurant (4 died in the shooting). When he started shooting Shaw ducked behind a swinging door leading to the restroom. He had been grazed but saw his opportunity when the shooting stopped. “I kind of made up my mind, because there was no way to lock that door, that if it was going to come down to it, he was going to have to work to kill me.” He rushed the shooter, taking the rifle, tossing it over the counter. The shooter would flee. After being treated at an area hospital, a woman who also was at the Waffle House, told him “you saved my life,” according to a newspaper report. Walt Ehmer, the president and chief executive of Waffle House said, “You don’t get to meet many heroes in life, Mr. Shaw, but you are a hero, you are my hero,” 

Yes, Shaw prevented others from being killed. He’s been honored by the state of Tennessee, Nashville, his alma mater Tennessee State, his fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. (I am a member) and others. He has taken his celebrity and created a foundation to help others. This act has changed a young man’s trajectory for good. In this year of 2018, James Shaw is my Person of the Year.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top 10 Black Stories of 2017

From where I sit there were both interesting and disturbing trends for Black folks. A number of items I have chronicled for years got attention and had a resolution. Now for the annual disclaimer…if you don’t like the list make up your own.

10. Breakout in Media/TV/Film. The breakout of the film “Get Out” was foretold when I featured the comedy duo of “Key and Peele.” The Jordan Peele Movie started out as sleeper, but has garnered a Golden Globe nomination. Ava Duvernay’s, Queen Sugar is a drama which has so many layers. Issa Rae has finally hit her groove with “Insecure.” I am so looking forward 2018, Marvel’s “Black Panther.” This movie will bring more audience to the first Black Superhero. Lastly, Tiffany Haddish has something to say, and I will be listening.

9. People saying stupid stuff.  I know…POTUS is chief instigator of this. My friend Lawrence Ross wrote in 2016 for the an article related to Black Surrogates for Donald Trump. This year’s lea,der is a Rapper B.o.B. He put forth the argument the world is flat and used a “GoFundMe Page” to prove he was right. Honorable mentions: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos suggesting “HBCU’s were the originators for school choice;” and  Omarosa Manigault Newman claiming she resigned rather than fired from her White House job. Per Robin Roberts of ABC Good Morning America, “Bye Felicia.”

8. Enough was Enough in Zimbabwe – President for Life, Robert Mugabe stepped down as President of the African nation. He was is 93 years old. He has been in power for 37 years. In what many described as a bloodless coup, Mugabe was put under house arrest. It took him a week to submit his resignation. The instigator for the change came after his wife Grace (aka “Gucci Grace”) infuriated Emmerson Mnangagwa (he is the now the president – and was charged with implementing many of Mugabe’s repressive orders) after he was removed as Vice President. Grace told the military, she was prepared to take over the country after sacking Deputy President. Have to add honorable mention South African President Jacob Zuma. He tried to thwart a judicial inquiry into corruption in South Africa. Zuma wanted to put his ex-wife to replace him in office but failed to get support. Cyril Ramaphosa won the ANC leadership and all bets are off if Zuma will be brought up on corruption charges.

7. The new face of Black Politics is a woman – Alabama was on the verge of electing a pedophile to the U.S. Senate. With polls showing the race too close to call between Judge Roy Moore and Prosecutor Doug Jones it came down to a ground game that few knew about, Black Women. They mobilized in their clubs, sororities, and made sure they would be heard. 98% of them voted for Jones giving him a 20,000 vote margin. Recount – slim and none.

6. Black media landscape – If you work in Black media this is a troubling time. From writers not getting paid (Ebony); the lack of financial ad support for Black media; and silencing voices which challenge the status quo (Roland Martin). What was up with Essence which was a part of Time-Warner, excluded from the merger talks?  The thing which makes me pause; Black millennials don’t always see problems with fewer Black media outlets.

5 –Tie- Your good deeds don’t shelter you from sexual harassment.  There are several cases this year. However, the most notable case involved the “Dean of the House,” Representative John Conyers of Michigan. He pushed Civil Rights legislation, gave Rosa Parks a job in his office and was on the committee looking into the assassination of President John Kennedy. While noble, you don’t get a pass for what you did in the past.  

5 – Tie- Confederate Monuments Come Down – I wrote and recorded a piece called, Everything Changed After Charlottesville. From New Orleans, Baltimore, Charleston, Dallas, Raleigh and so many other places these memorials were erected during the turn of the century to placate the naysayers in the Confederacy. It was a message to Black people. No, I didn’t buy the argument about history. Charlottesville, with torches and people screaming, “Death to Jews,” were reminiscent of the Nazi’s. The next day Heather D. Heyer died after being run over by a “white supremacist.” This spurred other cities to act because they didn’t want a repeat. 

4. Colin Kaepernick Affect – A year ago the San Francisco Quarterback set off of wave of protest by sitting out the national anthem. Then a naval officer suggested he take a knee.  Several of his 
teammates joined in. It began to spread, but players were divided. Then POTUS weighed in. Suggesting the players were unpatriotic. It was on. Kaepernick ended up suing the NFL for collusion because no team would give him a try out. Then Sports illustrated named him this year’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award.

3. I am numbed by all the deaths of people at the hands of guns. I’ve talked about how “life is cheap.” This was a record year in several cities across the country. In the state where I live, Maryland, there are three cities/countries which made the list compiled by CBS News. Baltimore is number 2 just behind St. Louis. It is nothing I want to brag about.

2. Black women becoming Mayors for the first time. From New Orleans (LaToya Cantrel), then Charlotte (Jennifer W. Roberts), on to Atlanta (Keisha Lance Bottoms) and finally San Francisco (London Bred). This is #BlackGirlMagic. These ladies join a long list of Black female mayors including in Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD. It was the late Shirley Chisolm who said, “If they don’t have a seat for you at the table, bring a chair.” Getting in office will seem easy, but staying in office isn’t for the meek.

1. #MeToo – This hashtag was created by Tarana Burke in 2007. This year it took off.  It’s changed a conversation about sexual predation, and harassment in the work place. It was the Time’s Persons of the Year. My fear is this is just the beginning.

Person of the Year – Damon Young of VerySmartBrothas. This year Young literally hit the lottery. His onetime blog was picked up by the His observations are at times critical, thought provoking, and will have you rolling on the floor (I was at the NABJ Conference in New Orleans when he set his sights on us – “Shit Bougie People Love: The NABJ Convention”). Breaking down the beef between TaNehisi Coates and Dr. Cornell West was brilliant.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Everything Changed After Charlottesville

(Baltimore, MD) Cites across the nation did not want a repeat of pro-confederate demonstrators clashing with protesters who saw the statues perpetuating the idea of southern sympathies, segregation and worst of all Nazi sympathizers. Baltimore became ground zero with Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh deciding to remove Confederate monuments overnight to avoid protesters. 

The move was shrewd. It didn't quell the concerns which led to questions about what to do with the statue to Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney in Annapolis. I wrote on my Maryland State of Mind Blog about the Taney and Dred Scott families reconciling.) In a matter of days it was gone.

Across the country a number of Confederate statues were removed. Was this a matter about re-writing history; righting a wrong or correcting the official record? I an conflicted by the removals. Get past the Civil War rewrite and the southern sympathizers. A lot of racist used this as a way to legitimize their beliefs. I reject any comparison. 

Did I miss something? The south lost the war and the Civil War ended slavery. No country honors the losers. There was a collective rewriting of the Civil War by 1910. Consumed by the idea "The South will Rise Again." Civil Rights incensed those who wanted to control the growing Black middle class.  Veterans coming back from a pair of World Wars were not going to be regulated to second class citizenship. 

But these statues were permanent markers. A signal of racial superiority that was legislated into law. Time has  a weird way of equalizing the battlefield. Charlottesville and its imagery in August of 2017 turned the tide. Talk was already in the works to remove a statue of Supreme Court Chief Judge Roger Taney.  Baltimore had a created commission to removed the statues. When it happen it started a "domino effect." I watched and listen and tried to compile how some saw the removal and perspective.  

Chief Judge Roger B.Taney which was at the entrance to the Maryland State House

The statue gone replaced by a green box
The photos of the Taney removal come courtesy Rock Towes, Back Creek Books.

The Greens from Annapolis

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Can the NAACP Get it Together?

(Baltimore) – There is an uneasiness as membership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convene in Baltimore for their 108th annual gathering. The storm clouds are both internal and external. 

As they arrive and do the ground work, questions abound about who will lead the oldest civil rights organization. There is no Chief Executive Officer. Cornell W. Brooks’ contract was not renewed in May. Leading the group is the Board Chair, Leon Russell and Vice Chair, Derrick  Johnson. Delegates began arriving on Saturday (7/22/17). The Executive Board decided late in the afternoon to name Johnson as the Interim CEO. It will squash the numerous questions from chapter leaders. According to Chairman Russell, "we’re in a period of transition." An understatement.


It’s been difficult to stay relevant as groups like Black Lives Matter (BLM) were driving the Civil Rights narrative. The organization warmed to ideas from BLM. It included issues related to the killing of unarmed Black men and women, and the failure of juries to convict police officers. It's no secret the oldest Civil Rights organization wasn’t necessarily thrilled with BLM tactics. 

The NAACP faced criticism from groups like the Black Panthers, SNCC and the Nation of Islam in the 60's. It's almost like de'ja'vu. What concerned the oldest Civil Rights organization was BLM's ability to mobilized young people. Social media is driving an underserved community into the streets. The confrontation with police is a sore spot for the leadership of the NAACP. Russell cautioned "we can protest in the street (create disturbances), but it justifies more police aggression." Listening to all this was A.J. Ali, a filmmaker who has produced a documentary called "Walking While Black." "There is no program in place to foster pro-activity, it's only reactive."

Another sore spot for the civil rights organization are millennials inability to see a how there vote brings about political change. This group was excited and mobilized to elect the first Black
President, Barrack Obama. However, they were lukewarm to Hillary Clinton.
Some saw Vermont Senator Bernie Saunders more palatable as a Democratic Presidential standard bearer. Sen. Saunders tapped into their frustration. Some of his supporters in the Black community (younger) decided to sit out the presidential election. "Elections quite frankly matter," according to NAACP Board Chairman Russell, "By not voting in every election...they are tacitly allowing the kind of treatment they receive."

 The Promise

A day before the arrival of the delegates, the hallways in the Baltimore Convention Centers are filled with bright eyed faces waiting their turn to compete for this year's Academic, Cultural, Technological, Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO).  Some are dressed in gowns and tuxes to perform in singing and musical competition. Young women and men practice their routines, re-read their lines, and mental go over what got them to Baltimore. This is the promise of the NAACP. Provide a platform to showcase not just athletic ability but intellectual capacity to reshape their world. They are committed to the ideals of the NAACP. It's clear no one has told these young people how to shape an organization. Especially with vicious attacks from outside forces.

On college campuses the local chapters are a nurturing ground for political dialogue and engagement. At HBCU's they know the "Black Cause," and use their participation to create "street creed" for a world where they won't be in the majority. At majority "white" colleges and universities they are singled out when members draw attention to injustice from administrators and faculty (University of Missouri), and insensitivity by their fellow students (American University). 

This is bottled up energy looking for direction. It's clear, their promise has been muted by that age old adage, "wait your turn." It's finally about to change in a meaningful way.

One of the programs the organization rolled out in Baltimore was its Next Generation Program (NexGen). The NexGen program is a 12 month leadership development initiative targeting 21 -35 year olds who've participated in youth councils, college chapters and young adult councils. Those participating in the program will get training in legislative action, unit administration, and advocacy. 

Akousa Ali, the President of the Washington, DC Chapter of the NAACP, is heading up the national initiative. She estimates there may be as many as 300,000 individuals who could be eligible. The organization hasn't always groomed those who could take over leadership. Ali lamented that some chapters have embraced this idea but others have not. When asked why? "It's about opportunity." The 34 year old who leads the nations capital branch talked about putting young people on various committees. "Graduates of the training will go on to participate in the NAACP’s Leadership 500 (L500) program."

Who You Gonna Call?

Large urban areas have vast networks of resources which aid in bring attention to the many causes supported by the NAACP.  But in small towns the work is harder. Corporate support can add to your resources, but what do you do when it isn't available. Do you pack up shop and use that old analogy, "we'll get them next time." Some issues don't have time wait according to its leaders. Board Chair Russell and the Interim CEO Johnson made a point to talk about the U. S Congress' impending vote to dismantle the Affordable Health Care Law (commonly referred to as ObamaCare).

"Healthcare is a civil rights issue," according to Interim CEO Johnson. "We are at a juncture where people are trying to redefine the role of government. If that is done, African-Americans and working class people will be left out."  On an issue that will effect 1/6 of the U.S. economy you would think those shaping legislation would want to hear from the largest civil rights organization. Neither the Republicans nor President Donald Trump are interested. Johnson talked about how the organization has mobilized its members and communities to send emails to congress. Is anyone listening? Despite being sent an invite to address the group, President Trump has decline just as he did when he was a candidate.


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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top 10 Black Stories of 2016

(Baltimore, MD) Each year as I compile this list I get a chance to review seminal moments in the Black experience which I have witness firsthand and help chronicle for various media around the country. A lot of it evolves around politics which I cover as a beat but, there are always things which catch my attention that may not catch yours.

So before I jump into the list, this year, I know I am fortunate that I am allowed to write and get paid (in a trying era of media). This year was like none other. It began with a call from who asked if I was available to cover the Freddie Gray Trials for them online. I was asked to report on who, what, where, when, and why in the Gray case. They also asked me to give insight on what was going on to a national audience.

I am fortunate to have an employer, Maryland Public Television (MPT) who recognizes my political reporter skills. They have always asked me to participate as a questioner on some of the most important televised political debates in the State of Maryland (this year was no different in the Baltimore Mayoral Debate). I received a lot of kudo’s from staff and management on my adeptness in questioning potential Mayors.

I have always believe the work I do, speaks for itself. So you cannot imagine how humbling it was to receive a star on MPT’s Walk of Fame (the second African-American to receive such in honor). The honor came after a health scare. I want you to know I am better. My parents, who are still alive, were able to witness their son receive this award and it is not lost on me that many of my colleagues in journalism didn’t get to share their achievements with their parents. Simply, blessed.

Now for the annual disclaimer, since I have started this list I get lots of criticism about who and what I left off. You don’t have to agree, instead create your own. I am interested in comments, insights, and banter that gets to the point. Can’t wait to see what 2017 brings.

10. Holding on to power in Africa. Next year Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, will be 93 years old and has no intention of giving up power. His latest effort to control runaway inflation was to outlaw currency which many people have in their possession in favor of a new currency. People have taken to streets. Mugabe suggests these are just outside interest trying to over throw his country. Hmmm?

9. Complexity on Big and Small Screens. If there was a “white out” at the Oscars last year, this year color has poured on to screens in ways never seen. These tales aren’t being created not out of a need to pacify Black folks. Instead they are making money and making a point. Some of the performances I’ve seen are award worthy. These stories were always there but, this year someone said, “Yes.” Here are a couple of examples; Big Screen: Moonlight, Fences, and Birth of  the Nation. On the small screen; Queen Sugar, Luke Cage, and Atlanta.

8. Artistic Talent Lost – Music has always been my muse. I find joy, solace, love, anger, shock and so many other emotions when I listen to my vast collection. This year was especially hard with the death of so many pioneers, Maurice White, Bernie Worrell (Funkadelic/Parliament) Prince, Denise Matthews (Vanity), Phife Dawg (A Tribe Call Quest) and Nicholas Caldwell (Whispers). It also included a number of individuals who defied labels like David Bowie, Ron Temperton, Leon Russell, and George Michael. RIP

7. Black Politics Lost in the Past – I hope you’ve had a chance to read my treatise, “The State of Black Politics.” One of my early arguments I made for electing a Black President was simple, “our time had come.” Now that we have elected a Black President twice, the bench left behind is weak. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “If not now, when?” We’ve gotten comfortable. The system which got of this far isn’t applicable to future voters. Can you name five men and women under 30 you are watching?

6. “The Okey-Dokey” – I am tired of being played. Sometimes it’s in your face. A&E Network greenlights a show about leaving the KKK. They forgot they actually paid KKK members to participate.  “I’m with ya! But, Naw man!” Colin Kaepernick taking a knee instead of standing for the national anthem. Righteous! Oh, by the way Kaepernick didn’t vote in the election. “I’m going to sit out the election because I don’t like any of the candidates.”

5. Opioid/Heroin Addiction – Heroin has been a problem in urban communities for years. Now that it has reached the suburbs we believe it’s a health problem? Drug addiction can’t be solved by locking up users, nor can you not expect their not be an explosion of opioid addiction if doctors prescribe pain killers for every ailment.

4. You can’t say that…- Social media is the great equalizer but, when what you say in private goes out on social media, things change. Sometimes it can expose scars. We watched twitter blow up with the varied tweets from the Presidential Candidates. It also showed us the shallowness of people around the world who wanted clicks in order to get paid. From “fake news” to exposed emails these weren’t just “bombs” being thrown. The interesting part for me was how a part of the electorate would believe pure nonsense.

3. Did they die in vain? – I personally watch Baltimore Police Officers lawyers tell a jury and then a judge, “What would a reasonable officer do?” The Freddie Gray Trial came to an end with 6 police officers cleared of any wrongdoing. It was chalked up as an unfortunate accident.

In Charleston, SC a man who was stopped by an officer was filmed firing 7 shots into a suspect. The officer (who was white) claimed he fired in self-defense. A lone juror said they couldn’t convict the officer. The retrial starts in months.  

All too often the death of a suspect is meet with suspicion after the release of video. These are painful to watch and even tougher to prove in a court of law.  I know Freddie Gray did not die in vain. In the wake of his death the state of Maryland passed sweeping legislation that will require reporting, new training, civilian review boards, and a modification of the Police Officers Bill of Rights. Unprecedented. Baltimore is also trying to work through a Justice Department Consent Decree before the new President is sworn in.

2. Ya’ll are gonna miss me. – I have heard the varied arguments over whether President Barack Obama helped or hurt Black folks. It’s a fascinating argument. The Atlantic Magazine has tackled this paradox quite nicely and I would encourage you read the point counter points. I know I will miss the “no-drama-Obama.” I won’t miss, “The I told you so!” Obama. History will record the first Black President ran into headwinds none of his predecessors had to deal with. Some people were never going to buy into a Black man being President. The idea of “Hope” which initially fueled his campaign can’t be put back in a bottle. In less than 15 years demographers know the United States will be a majority minority country. These are people who believe in the promise of tomorrow not of what it used to be.

2a. Carnage on the Streets. There were calls this year for the President to go to his home town to help alleviate the gun murders in Chicago. But it wasn’t just Chicago which saw an uptick, Saint Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, Memphis, Oakland and many more saw a surge. Is it the guns? Is it moral ineptitude? Or is it simply, life is cheap.

1. President Donald Trump – I’ve not put a lot of effort into talking about what the next administration will or won’t do. Nor have I engaged in the parlor game of she won the popular vote, but he won the Electoral College vote. I know one thing, things will be different. I am confident the day after inauguration you will wake up and go to work. You will protect your family and children the best you can. As a reporter, life is likely to get tough. Guess what, it was already tough. The resiliency of African-Americans is storied. You can’t just wipe it away and trust me some people have tried to. I am an optimist and hope you will be as well.

Person of the Year

Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch, III

Dr. Bunch is the creative force and the museum director of the Smithsonian National Museum to African-American History and Culture. Since its opening it has become the most visited site in Washington, DC. Getting a free timed ticket entry is like winning the lottery. The museum director took years and miles of traveling the world in search of items to showcase Black life. Some exhibits are huge, like the Pullman Train Car that was placed in the lower level and the building built around it. Then there are small, but subtle things like the washboard and pan used for cleaning clothes before the era of washing machines (the washboard doubles as a cleaning and musical instrument). There is much to admire, experience and yes taste in the museum (the Sweet Home Café’). You can’t take it all in-in one day (Yes, I tried and can’t wait to go back). People like Dr. Bunch only come around once in a lifetime and he is the reason why he is my Person of the Year.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The State of Black Politics

(Philadelphia, PA)
I went down to the crossroads,
Tried to flag a ride.
Nobody seemed to know me,
Everybody passed me by.

Eric Clapton

There is an ebb and flow of Black Politics in America which is invariably at a crossroads. Will it hold on to its past or will it be nuanced enough to engage millennials who have a disdain for the prior generations' efforts. I have heard this generation call the current crop of Black politicians “comfortable” and “soft” to explain their association with traditional Civil Rights organizations.

The “old guard” sees no structure, no purpose, and the inability to compromise from those who will take Black Politics to the next level to achieve results.  I went searching for answers during this political season.

There will be no Obama on the ballot for the foreseeable future. Will it mark the end of an era of Black Politics in America as we know it? The political conventions have ended and it’s time to assess. There are pockets of promise, new energy from the Black Lives Matter Movement, and a political class which has honed its skills based on what has worked in the past. I’m not in the business of predicting the future, so I’ve sought out experts and those who’ve been there to take the pulse of Black Politics.

From the Streets to Ballot

Before Kwiesi Mfume was a Congressman and head of the NAACP, Mfume was just another Brother on the street hustling. In the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, Mfume noted social change was pulled in different directions. He pointed to “cross purposes” associated with different groups. They included movements like the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, the Urban League, the SCLC, and the NAACP. “There were five different directions, but they crisscrossed and spoke. They didn’t always agree but, they spoke (to each other)…no effort was estranged. (We believed) If you had better idea on where you were moving and where other folks would be moving in terms of lifting the community,” we listened according to Mfume.

You can see this play out in the iconic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X backstage at the Audubon Ballroom. Prior to the photograph the pair spoke at length in private. No one knows what the conversation was about but, it likely centered on tactics to bring about change.

A sullen Mfume was saddened a similar conversation is not taking place informally or formally outside the glare of television cameras or in the world of social media. “Without interaction between the different movements there’s confusion,” the former Civil Rights leader opined. “You’ve got to find a way to have a common conduit where you share information, off the record.”

Marc Morial the head of the Urban League sees something that established groups have failed at “we need the next generation of people to offer themselves for public office. Where we lost ground is with the enthusiasm. We need to get the turnout we need particularly, amongst young people.”

Morial became the Mayor of New Orleans while in his 30’s. He was often mention as a potential Vice Presidential pick. He believes their needs to be an evolution. “Black Lives Matter has given young people a voice in the issues of the times. What I do hope they will do is embrace the idea that part of activism must include voting.”


Prof. Keith Boykin of Columbia University teaches a course on African-American Politics in the Era of Obama. “We’re in a place of transition.”

Without a clear inheritor of the “Obama Legacy” there are number of suitors including California Democratic Senator Kamalia Harris, New Jersey Senator Corey Booker and Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.  Mayor Bowser has embraced the idea of a broad tent with few of the trappings which enabled one of her predecessors, the late Mayor Marion Barry to become Mayor. He became labeled “Mayor for Life.” It was Barry who embraced the notion that Washington, DC was “Chocolate City.”

It’s less of a focus for the current mayor who’s seen the city become more “Mocha.” “We’re focused on progressive issues that will spread the prosperity to all Washingtonians,” according to Mayor Bowser.  Like Obama the new face of Black Politics is race conscious only when it matters and absent the tough talk of “payback” for past transgressions.

Prof. Boykin picks up on this idea of less racial identity. The political observer notes that African-Americans  have known for a long time the prize was the Presidency. That box has been checked with the election of Barack Obama.  “Just electing a President isn’t enough anymore, not that it ever was…nor is it enough to assume a political figure in the Civil Rights community will be able to move the larger African-American community because the community is becoming increasingly diverse.” The political professor says the “messiah complex” needs to change.  “We have people all across the country with different backgrounds.” Despite these differences he sees promise on the horizon. The days of pointing to a single person as the face of Black Politics is in the review mirror. Boykin points to a new “third wave, that’s happening now…of people who aren’t going through traditional politics.” 

Tame or Encourage

Dayvon Love is a millennial. Love is a founder of a Baltimore based grassroots organization called Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle. Before Baltimore’s Freddie Gray’s death, they were working with youth in marginal communities in the city. 

“It wasn’t a single moment” which sparked his activism. He remembers how he and his peers were affected by Jena Six in 2007 (Six Black High School students in Jena, Louisiana were arrested and charged with a assaulting a white student in December of 2006). There were a lot of question about equal justice after several white students were suspended after being in fights but the Black students were arrested. “There were legitimate conversations” occurring especially in during Senator Barack Obama first run for President.

Love and several of his colleagues are intrigued by the possibility of working with established politicians hoping to learn the ropes. He found skepticism, “younger Black folks lump older politicians into one group, but there are many strata.”  

He points to how the older folks have different opinions of Black Lives Matter. “The old guard are fearful.” Instead of nurturing the next generation they seem more concern about “challenging the young on being successful.” Conversely, he knows a “lot of older folks, know where he’s coming from.” The community organizer points to a number of established politicians locked in on their “self-interest.”

Where this younger group has an advantage over the “old guard” is it’s embrace of new technology and their ability to find unlikely partners. Organizing via the internet is millennials tool of choice. From Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Periscope the early adoption of these new technologies allows this group the ability to link with like-minded individuals who aren’t Black and may be outside the traditional Civil Rights Movement.

We saw this with the embrace of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in his run for President. Sen. Sanders had little connection with the Civil Rights Movement but, was able to plug into this group by embracing young people and their issues via these new technologies. Some of his supporters were disappointed at Obama and this was their way to vent.

Another schism includes embracing the LGBTQ community and rallying college students over student debt. There was less emphasis on race and more on community.

The Future

“Don’t trust anyone over 30,” was a simple moniker in the 1960’s. Blacks and Whites embraced the simple notion this age group had much to lose and would be cautious about confrontation. I had similar view but, as I have grown older I find myself drawn to those who are much younger than me and try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Simply, “talk is cheap.” Movements are messy. This means sometimes there will progress and at other times there will regression. “It’s not the critic that counts,” said President Theodore Roosevelt. I am firmer believer in grassroots and organic movements. These movements will and should include artisans, entrepreneurs, and “hell-raisers.”

Everyone seems to be out to capture audiences, rather than people. Combine this with the “me” generation who is quick to re-tweet something they saw or heard. Its clear social movements of the future need to learn some of the lessons from the past. If your hero is someone who has a “beef” with someone (Rappers) then maybe our priorities are whacked. Black millionaires “bitchin” has nothing to do with your daily life. We are more connected than ever. This means we must be more discerning than ever.

Black Politics has always been about people and organization. If you “ain’t about this” get out the way. With young people dying, a political class which has no pulse, and a new administration prepared to send an America back to a time where people were invisible, there is a need more than ever to “get real.”

Black Politics evolution also should be universal. What I mean, is desperate parts of the US need to find common goals from every minority community and even white folk who “get it.” Philanthropic groups are fine, but know this, telling people who are hurting what they need is tantamount to a patriarchy. We've been through this. Lastly, be open and not closed minded to problems that exist. Do not write off ideas, social organizing, or groups whom seem antithetical to what can be achieved. The need to have a politician serve as the “end all to be all,” maybe coming to an end. Great ideas have “no permanent friends nor permanent enemies’ just permanent interest;” wherever they come from. “The cream will always rise to the top.”




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