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 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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