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.

Relevancy

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 EBONY.com 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.”

Nuanced

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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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top Black News Stories of 2015





(Baltimore, MD) As I look back on 2015 there were so many singular moments in Black America that affected me I could easily expand my annual list. Some items were hold overs from the previous years. I continue to be fortunate to be able to write and report for a number of organizations. My voice is just one of many. I’m not confined by where I live but, I am not immune from the things in my backyard which affected a broader world. As always, you don’t have to agree with me, in fact I welcome your comments and observations.

10. The book Native Son by Richard Wright shook me to my core. Its anger and its consciousness grabbed me and I awaited writers who could move me in the same way. This year it happened through a pair of books written by Baltimore writers.

Ta-Nehisi Coates in his book, Between the World and Me, he writes a letter to his son, chronicling his upbringing in Baltimore. The author details the death of his best friend, Prince Jones. He dies at the hands of police.

Trying to make sense of the carnage and symptoms which lead to protests on the street of Baltimore is D. (Dwight) Watkins. He talks of the transition from drug dealer to college professor in the Beastside: Living (and Dying) While Black in America.

I wrote about the pair in an article for Ebony.com originally called Voices of Rage.


9. What About Our Daughters? This was a call that drew attention to the disappearance of girls in Nigeria. To bring home the issue the hashtag "Bring Back Our Girls" created linked communities worldwide. This drew attention to Boko Haram, an Al Qaeda affiliate, who kidnapped the young girls and forced them into marriages and converted them to Islam. Nigeria wasn’t the only country to experience the emergence of warlords. The lawless areas of African countries (Chad, Sudan, Eritrea, Burundi, and Mali) are ripe for religious zealots who see young girls and children as pawns. Last year, there was a concerted effort to capture Ugandan Warlord Joseph Kony. His army of child killers has made him a pariah.

8. Implosion of Dr. Ben Carson – As a political reporter my phone rings with unique situations. So you can imagine how excited I was to attend a meeting with Dr. Ben Carson who announced he was running for President on the GOP ticket. The invite came a week after the Baltimore Uprising in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death. What made the invite peculiar was its location, a church on the eastside of Baltimore miles away from the epicenter of violence. Most of those in attendance were religious leaders but, there were several young people. One of the young men in the audience asked Dr. Carson, what he could say to his friends, who might not believe in the ideas the Doctor was promoting? Dr. Carson’s answer, “Tell them to read a book.”
 
I’m guessing the young man left there bewildered as I was. His purity test on religious issues (because of his 7th Day Adventist background) leaves little room for divergent points of view.

Being President of United States doesn’t allow you put things neatly in a box. It was clear, he wasn’t ready for the big stage. His poll numbers have him going the way of Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman who saw their popularity sore then drop precipitously following questions on policy. Lastly, on the Democratic side, no one even flirted with the idea of replacing the first Black president?

7. Black People on Television – From television shows like Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Empire, and Blackish the roles for African American television actors and producers has layers. We still have a long way to go but, the landscape has possibilities. Casting directors are challenging who can play a role.

Lieutenant Uhuru of Star Trek let us know Black people are in the future. Star Wars has let us in on another secret, a Black character can be a hero and yes, there are Latino actors who can fly space ships (Oscar Isaacs). Lastly, I’m a big fan Fresh Off the Boat. The female lead, Constance Wu, brings the heat as she tries to bridge an absent Asian world (near Orlando) and a Southern White world with her son who loves Hip-Hop.

6. Kendrick Lamar – He is profane. He is prolific. He is poignant. He is poetic. He is Tupac on steroids. This Compton, California Rapper’s latest release to “To Pimp a Butterfly” screams pay attention to me. He is thrown into bizarre mix of young rappers (Fetty Wap, Big Sean and Chance the Rapper) whose dance tracks have little to no purpose other than its beats and predictable rhyme schemes. Lamar is different.

Think of Marvin Gaye suggesting he wants to have a conversation with a deceased Tupac Shakur. That’s what happens on this latest release. You know you’re in a unique conversation when longtime Black columnist Barbara Reynolds says, “I don’t get it,” after listening to “Alright.” My younger friends who’ve I’ve asked about the Compton Rapper say, “he’s to Black…he’s preaching.”

Like Shakur he poses questions like, “When I get signed homie, I’m gonna buy a strap, straight from the CIA. Set it on my lap. Take a few M-16’s to the hood, and pass them all out in the hood, what’s good.” It sounds dangerous and couldn’t be more perfectly time for the emergence of Black Lives Matter.

“All my life I’ve had to fight.” Did I mention he’s up for several Grammies including “Record of the Year?” Lastly, you know you’ve made a significant move when you’re asked to headline with National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center.

Despite Passage of Time, Rage in Baltimore Has Potential to Reheat<br />5. Black Lives Matter – This group scares so many people it makes them vital even if you don’t want to admit it. They are disjointed but, have become a unique voice in a time of turbulence. They came of age following the death of Michael Brown. Black Lives Matter has become the go to group on the ground for protest (forget the NAACP).

There simple question to anyone who will listen is, “Do Black Lives Matter?” For white politicians it was difficult to answer, and many were flippant in answers, “All Lives Matter.” Police see many in this group as “public enemy number one.” These officers had their own answer, “Don’t Blue (Police) Lives Matter?” For Civil Rights groups they chimed in with, yes but a lot of qualifiers.

Their tool of choice is twitter and mobilization is the weapon. It’s difficult to pin them down on what they want. During a meeting with Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton, she called them out for not having a strategy. They have made their presence known on the campaign trail (GOP and Democratic rallies) but, what affect will have at the ballot box?

4. Hatin on Obama – There are many reasons for people dislike the president. The POTUS admitted in interview with NPR before the end of the year that some of it revolves around him being the first Black President. That’s easy to see when people continue to question (including the GOP frontrunner) if he was born in Kenya. Calling the POTUS a demon is easy. Some have suggested he has given everything to other constituencies but has failed to deliver to the Black people who put him in office. Without his name on the ballot all candidates are struggling to connect with his unique coalition.

3. Robert F. Smith – It’s a name that doesn’t come to mind when you think of wealth. Mr. Smith is the head of Vista Equity Partners which gives him a net worth of $2.5 Billion and by Forbes Magazine standards makes him the 268th richest man in America. Note he’s not a media mogul (Oprah), a music mogul (P-Diddy/Russell Simmons), nor can be found on Page Six of the New York Daily News. Like the late great Reginald Lewis he used his knowledge to invest in lesser known “Silicon Valley” start-ups. He has BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University and an MBA from Columbia.


2. Black Life Continues to Be Cheap (Especial for Young Black Males) – Their names (Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Tamir Rice) are a part of lexicon of individuals struck down before they had a chance to experience life. Their mother’s mourn and people are outraged. The outrage isn’t limited to the Black community. It seems as though the theory for police is to shoot first because somehow these young people appear menacing. Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Chicago are at the epicenter of these struggles. I am particular disturb about how the Cleveland Prosecutor suggested it was 12 year old, Tamir Rice, who caused his own death.

1. Baltimore Uprising – Of all the deaths of young men this last year Freddie Gray’s in the back of police van caused the most potent of backlashes, a riot. So why did it happen in Baltimore? I’m still trying to answer this question as I sit and watch the trial of six officers who were charged with his death. This much I much can tell you, it was Gray’s death that was a catalyst that shed light on years
of neglect of a community. The community wore their emotions on their sleeves during this process. I know, I was there. I felt their anger but, the destruction left a community with few opportunities reeling. There a people of good will trying to rebuild what some people destroyed. It’s a lesson that other major cities are heeding.

Person of the Year - Judge Barry Williams. I've known Judge Williams for years but, his handling of the case of six Baltimore Police Officers charged with Freddie Gray's death is nothing short of brilliant. First, he has fought back those who say the case could not get a fair trial in Baltimore City. He has deftly handled both sides in the case who have sometimes made outrageous request in motions. By separating each of trials he has asked that each stand on their own. As I sit in the courtroom, I'm reminded he demands the juror always respond loudly and enthusiastically to his "Good Morning." Lastly, if you're an attorney in these cases, he will chastise you for not asking questions (they must be relevant). For my media friends he's been lenient when it comes to covering the case: however, violate the rules and you're out (four have been tossed). I've not be one of them.   

    

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How Many Black Republicans Can You Fit in One Room

(Washington, DC) “I will give anyone in this room a thousand dollars if they will produce a list of Black Republican staffers who work on Capitol Hill,” says Raynard Jackson as he waves the cash before a standing room only luncheon at the National Press Club.

Jackson, a GOP Operative, sent out a call to the faithful to come to this luncheon. This is the inaugural event for the "Black Americans for a Better Future Super Pac." I’m talking about Black Republicans and those in the party who understand the demographics of the future. They aren’t in the closet. Some in this room have served in Republican presidential cabinets, state legislatures, and locally. Others have transitioned from the glare of the GOP spotlight to create businesses.  This wing of the political party has watched from the sidelines and they aren’t buying what the current crop of Presidential candidates are selling.
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Raynard Jackson welcoming guest.

In a jovial but serious rant, Jackson went in full bore on what his “party” hasn’t done. They are “unprepared and unqualified…I’m disgusted.”  The columnist is provocative. I’ve heard his rants in private conversations. The party leaders and mover shakers sometimes get uncomfortable when he’s around. He’s heard the old adage “be quiet just to get along.”

Some of his most searing commentary was on the new generation of Black GOP members. He told the audience about an experience he had with a Congressman (he wouldn’t name him). According to Jackson, he asked him if he had any Black staffers. Embarrassed, the Representative would make a concerted effort to hire one (a 20 year old) for what the host described as “race insurance.” Jackson said he was used to these 20 year old staffers calling him on the phone asking for advice and direction. “I don’t want you to hire a 20 year old, and they call me on phone asking me what should I do?” He named and point to several seasoned veterans in the room who are card carrying Republicans. He reminds the audience, “You can be Republican and Black.” Somehow he says they don’t want to be seen through a race lens. “Duh, that’s how they see you.”

He didn’t leave Fox Network out from his criticism. He’s appeared on the channel. His assessment, there appears to single purpose for African-Americans to be on, “bash the President.” “Blacks on Fox are entertainers.” He gave an example of friend who had an expertise on an international issue but, a producer want to know could he talk about how bad the President is on the issue. The individual was not used on the air.

He’s heard it all before; “We can’t find any Black Republicans.” He wasn’t shock when he went to Milwaukee for the Republican Presidential Debate and asked most of the aspirants if they had any Black staffers. All but one (Ben Carson) had people of color working on their staffs. He heard the standard line but shot back, “Where do you find Biffy and Buffy?”

The invisibility of Black Republicans is evident with the luncheon’s special guest Maryland Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford. Rutherford joined Governor Larry Hogan in winning a state dominated by Democrats. Apparently, this message hasn’t been disseminated to party members across the county.

Rutherford has worked in Republican administrations in Maryland and for President George W. Bush. He didn’t leave his Black card at home. The host reminds the assembled Rutherford was born in Washington, DC. In fact, he tells the audience his birth certificate describes him and his parents as “colored.” He went to Howard University and graduated from the University of Southern California Law School.

“We are in an Uber World (a reference to car sharing service),” said the Lieutenant Governor in describing the current business climate in Maryland. It was music to ears of many business leaders in attendance. He’s only been in office for 10 months. An early challenge was the deployment of the National Guard to quell rioting in Baltimore. Adding to the challenges was the Governor being diagnosed with cancer (under Maryland Law the Lt.Gov. acts on his behalf when being treated). “I’m happy to say he announced he (Governor Hogan) was cancer free.

He laid out a vision to get more African-Americans to consider the GOP.  He says, “It’s okay to have our views,” He chided the Democratic Party who seem to make members of the GOP out to be the “boogeyman.” “Get past the side-show tactics” such as the often repeated claim “you’ll be going back to chains.” He points out that even in Black Democratic strongholds a number of voters are becoming independent voters.

Rev. Peter Bramble, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, and Joy Bramble
Jackson ask if he will go on the road and spread the gospel of GOP to an African-American audience around the country. Rutherford says he may be able to travel now without the medical challenges to the governor. The audience applauds as audience members rush to get selfies as he leaves.

The host is also surrounded by those from various parts of the country asking if he will come to their state and lay the ground work for creating a similar luncheon. He smiles with approval. I can hear the rap song in my head “can you hear me yo.”

These are the faithful/true believers of being Black and a member of the GOP. It’s a small audience and it’s not monolithic. This strand as I observed over the years has always been pro-business. In its early stages it was also pro-civil rights which it saw as opportunity. There are a lot of litmus test in being a Republican these days. What happen to pro-business, pro-black business? It was an entrée but, those litmus test seem to get in the way.

A Super-Pac? Hmm?


Charles Robinson 

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fear of Knowing

(Washington, DC) The call to come was too great for those of us who showed up 20 years, where else would you want to be –The Million Man March. We’re older now with more years of experience. We heeded Minister Louis Farrakhan’s call to go back to our neighborhoods, atone for past mistakes, and find purpose in our communities, churches, and neighborhoods. This was different, it wasn’t just a call to action but, rather a provocative statement; "Justice of Else."

Like the mood 20 years ago things are happening beyond the control of Black Men/Women. Some will suggest it began with the killing of Trayvon Martin and the release of the vigilante accused of his murder. It intensified with Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. Eric Garners cry for help “I Can’t Breathe” in New York at the hands of police. The death of Black people just seem to intensify with Freddy Gray’s death (and the subsequent Baltimore Uprising) and Sandra Bland's questionable death while in custody. We’re still awaiting the outcome of Tamir Rice case in Cleveland. I’m not conspiracy theorist, however the facts and the circumstances seem to bare out the need for the movement of “Black Lives Matter.”

“Little Brother make sure you make way for people who want to sit down,” said a man to a pair of young Brothers who rode the DC Metro on the way to the March. “The Minister, wants us to be respectful today.” The young men in their late teens seemed more preoccupied with their “gear” and tunes. The Cleveland man in dread-locks turned to his friend reminiscing about the March and its aftermath. “I had to leave DC, there weren’t jobs and the cost of living was cheaper in Cleveland. Hell, to live here now, you’d have to have a regular job and be a part of the criminal element. Here’s our stop.”

The mass of humanity heading from Union Station to the Mall seem to come in waves. There was no sign of potential problems the Capitol Police alluded to prior to the March. People came with purpose. Like the hundreds of Howard University students who took to the street to make known their discontent or the hundreds of members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity who wore dark suits along with ties and bow ties. I saw men and women bring their children. Purposeful, members of the Nation of Islam (NOI) dressed in their traditional gear (bow ties for men/long skirts for women and head covers).

I noted a number of non-traditional attendees who seemed at home with this group. A Latino couple who were there to witness the event, white reporters who flowed through the crowd hoping to capture what was happening, and supporters of every ethnicity took up space on the Mall.

While this wasn’t a march for Men only the large contingent of women who showed up expressed concern they have for their sons and men in their lives. The death of young Black men on American streets  has become epidemic.
While death at the hands of police was a focus at this event, statistics show a number of those killings are being done by those in the same age group with no abatement. It is unfortunate, manifested in the women left in their wake. From the mothers who weep at their funerals to the women who bear their children grow up not knowing their fathers. These women were in attendance.

At 82, this likely be one of the last major addresses Minister Louis Farrakhan will make to gathering of this size (estimated crowd 850 – an under-count). As a disciple of Elijah Muhammad, he made good on his vision that Black people would follow a leader who would bring Islam to the west. The Minister is one of the few who has a link to Muhammad and Malcolm X. It gives him credibility,
continuity, and courage to face a disgruntled population looking for answers. His name evokes fear in many quarters and he uses it to his advantage. On the ground he gets points from rappers to gang bangers. His so call “street cred” is unquestioned.

“Hey, I didn’t hear a lot about the March this go round,” was often uttered in my presence as I told people I was heading to DC. Like much of the media landscape things have change from 20 years ago. There was not an abundance of cell phones; Black radio was on the cusp of coming into its own; BET had barely penetrated Urban America; the Internet as we know it today was in its infancy; and the term social network didn’t exist.

The “full court press” of then gave way to an underground network which produce the first march. It was Texted, Tweeted, Snapchatted, Periscoped, and Facebooked around the globe. If you read the “Final Call” or any Black news outlet you knew, if you were plugged into “Black Twitter” you knew, and if you listen to “Black Talk Radio” you knew. Certain “Chocolate Cities” were very much aware.

However, if you expected traditional networks i.e. ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX etc…you didn’t even know it was happening. Who missed the boat, Hip-Hop Radio (more concerned about Drake, Rhianna, Little Wayne, and Nicki Minaj),
BET/TV One (condensed the day into hour specials), and Black Comedy (it’s hard to be funny when this is serious business). The fact is this event was in DC gave it over to the one entity with the “cohunes” to bring it you live – CSPAN. Close to a million people showed up, that is power.

The array of speakers which lead up to keynote were by their presence was protest. I took note of my fraternity Brother DC Councilmen Vincent Orange. He spoke of District residents continued disfranchisement. “We have no vote in Congress…we don’t have the right to vote for President…sign our petition to give us that right,” implored Orange.

Native speakers reminded the crowd of the evils of the Europeans “who stole our land” plundered our wealth only to be corralled on reservations that one speaker described as “concentration camps.”
Sharing the stage with America’s indigenous people were Spanish speaking migrants who addressed the crowd in English and their native tongue. They implored the crowd to think of their share experiences and work together on common causes. One speaker noted that their combined strength would far out way what those who are trying to demonize there undocumented status and thwart them politically.

The arrival of the Minister on this stage is a testament to his staying power and his “beloved” stature. Age has a way of making you evolve. Time has also had an effect on the members of NOI. I’ve known various members, whom I call friends, and witness there transformation. They are global in their perspective, they are technologically savvy, and their enduring commitment of Black people and their plight is unwavering.  They are introspective as the movement which began with racial solidarity has evolved to embrace science, philosophy, technology, and business acumen. They will not be “pigeon holed” by critics.

There were nine demands outlined by the March organizers. They included justice for Blacks, Native Americans, Mexican-Latinos, Women, Poor, the Incarcerated, and Veterans. There was a demand for an end to police brutality. There was also quid pro request for land to pay for the years of non-payment (think reparations). These requests aren’t new. Historically, NOI has asked for similar things in the past. It is the “or else” portion that implies a threat that even he (Farrakhan) can’t predict nor control.

Minister Farrakhan acknowledged the Black Lives Matter movement and their calls for change. He chastised traditional Black leaders for their unwillingness to give way to the next generation and their way of confrontation.

This is part of the Fear of Knowing. Knowing the unpredictability of the crowd. They may love you, they may come when you call, and they may listen to your pleas but controlling the outcome isn’t within your power. This is also an audience whose attention span is less than a half an hour (two hour speeches go over their head). I watched for more than an hour on the mall and what stood out for me were the number of people focused on taking selfies and not the message. A number of young people who were brought by older folks were repeatedly asked to stop what they were doing and listen.

Women were a big focus of his address and he pointed to those who would demean them by calling them the “B-word.” He got personal when he talked about abortion and the circumstances surrounding his own birth. “My mother tried to end my life twice in womb (via a coat hanger)…then she said I leave it in god’s hands,” according to the NOI Leader. He urge the woman to protect that sacred area by putting their hands over their “wombs.”

One of the sharpest criticism was leveled at HBCU’s and their training of the next generation. “We must train our young people not just for jobs,” he implored. I get this but, blasting institutions which trained and hired Black scholars when it wasn’t popular is not solution. It feeds into a conservative narrative that there isn’t a need for these institutions. When you have the mike, you get to make your argument. I don’t have to agree. It was strange at the end when he called for HBCU Presidents to meet with him the next day to discuss what to do with land he expected from a “reparations” movement.

I get what my friend Richard Muhammad posted on his Facebook page about the critics of Minister Farrakhan. He was invited to speak at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and then dis-invited. “The result was the Million Man March in the face of detractors and an unhealthy dose of Negro Egoism and Hater-Ade. Anyone tearful for not speaking or getting their moment in the sun on 10-10-15 should do a simple thing: Call your own march and do your own thing.


Was it worth attending? Yes. Was the message pointed? Somewhat. The NOI has recognized it has to embrace those of Latino heritage and Native populations. Those who needed to hear this message weren’t there, the mass of Black folk who are struggling in communities across the country.Others included the young men who are slaughtering each other the streets. The fact traditional Civil Rights have a difficult time accepting him in their community is a travesty because they represent a missed opportunity. You don’t have agree but, listening is a starting point.

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Friday, January 02, 2015

Top Stories of 2014

It has been a roller coaster year. If you've read my column I have tried to point out things that came up on my radar screen and items which you need to watch. Politics dominates this list but things are always percolating. I encourage you to disagree my listing but, to also chime in if there are things which rise up.

10. Radicalization and it's draw. The emergence of ISIL came with a vengeance and an over arching strategy of using social media. US security forces warned that Jihadist who went to fight in the region between Syria and Iraq could pose a threat to the homeland. What they didn't realize is the message was being absorbed by a group of young women from Denver were torn between American culture and Islamic Culture(the three girls were stopped in Germany) .

9. Zimbabwe - Robert Mugabe is 90 years old and won re-election. Finally, he sees he might not live out his term. A pair of potential successors who were elected deputies think they are the rightful heirs to this country. However, Mugabe promoted his wife to a high ranking position and literally dubbed her his successor. This will not end well.

8. Cuba - I went to this communist country this year. What a came away with was a paradoxically society on the verge of change. That change came when the president agreed to begin the process of normalizing relations with the island nation.

Downtown Havana, Cuba
7. Reality versus Drama. The so call Black Reality genre continues to fill time slots with the lowest common denominator. Black women showing their "dirty laundry" is so yesterday. The arrival of Sorority Sisters received such a backlash that the network assumed good or bad publicity, put it on anyway. Advertisers are fleeing. Here's hoping Empire featuring Taraji Henson and Terrence Howard has better writing than the previews.

6. Bootylicious - A nice derriere is alright by me, Destiny's Child told you so in their song. This year however to my surprise the booty was getting much love in the majority community. Vanity Fair declared it was the year of the "white booty." Kim Kardashian's cover photo was a web sensation and discussed often in barbershops. All that stopped with Nicki Minaja's, Anaconda. It was the most viewed YouTube video this year.

5. Key and Peele - This show on Comedy Central makes you laugh and makes you think. It has won a Peabody for its satire. My favorite bit is Obama's interpreter. Here's hoping Larry Wilborn's Minority Report, the replacement for Stephen's Colbert, is a big hit.

4. POTUS - Two years left and Obama continues to beat back the naysayers. He was shellacked in the Mid-term elections losing the House and the Senate. In a lame-duck session of congress he got them to approve a budget, implemented executive actions on immigration and Cuba. His response to those who didn't like what he did, "Pass a bill." Give the guy credit he turned around an economy and has more people on health insurance.

3. OMG/Oh Shit. The biggest case that fits this bill is Raven Running Back Ray Rice and Jenay Rice. It showed the couple quarreling on a elevator and the football player striking his girl friend. In a close second, are the number of women who accused comedian Bill Cosby of being drugged and rape. Honorable mention former Clippers Owner Donald Sterling.

2. Ebola - This disease is no joke. The spread from Nigeria to West Africa shook the world. When the first cases came to America we responded with compassion. However, put a black face on this disease and some how it's fake epidemic. Here's to all those who took chances and defied the critics and looked to help.

1. Ferguson to Gardner. Michael Brown's death turned a spotlight on an ugly phenomena in Amercia...Black men's lives are endangered when confronted by police. Eric Gardner's death while being choking provide this year's most purposeful line "I Can't Breathe."

Person of  Year: This was a tough call. I was torn between a pair of individuals whose narratives started out so differently but had impacts they didn't imagine. First the runner up, Mo'ne Davis.
She was the young lady who pitched in the Little League World Series and won. A first for game that is lead my young men. We haven't heard the last of her.

The winner however is someone one who I've known since he was a college student. I've encouraged him at every step of his career, Wesley Lowery. So why Lowery? In Journalistic terms he has been at the heart of every major story in the last three years (The Cop Shooter in L.A., was on the scene in Boston when police captured the Marathon Bomber, and the murder case of a New England Patriots, Aaron Hernandez). This year he was hired by Washington Post. He was in Ferguson to cover the Micheal Brown's death. He happen to be in a McDonald's when police arrested/detained him for several hours. His twitter feed is a must read. He has had several verbal spats with conservative bloggers. Then the unthinkable, they began publishing his address and phone numbers (luckily these were his parents address). Reporters don't like becoming part of the story, but in the age of digital footprints it's easy to find us. Here's hoping they aren't mentally disturb people who might act on what we write. I forgot to mention he won a Pulitzer, and the Emerging Journalist Award from NABJ this year.

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