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ePluribus: America is an on-line contemporary American culture magazine.

Las Vegas Massacre Is A Wake Up Call For Reasonable Gun Control In America

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

If the latest mass shooting in Las Vegas has shaken you to your core, you must have just crawled from under a comfortable rock. Because, mass shootings are becoming as emblematical of America as apple pie, racism, obesity, the glorification of sex and just plain ol’ bad behavior; burying the eloquent hopeful words inscribed in our Constitution, the Bill of Rights and even on the Statue of Liberty, meant to capture our ideals as a people.

To understand our culture one simply needs to look at the things we value and worship like the golden statues described in the Bible right before God rains down terror from the sky on the frolicking heathens below. We’re so deeply conflicted as a people; we contradict ourselves every chance we get. We go to war in the name of democracy, while engaging in the same oppressive deeds that we supposedly abhorre. We pretend to value those who fight for our country—even using Veterans, our Military and Law Enforcement as an excuse to attack a peaceful protest by Colin Kaepernick to end police brutality and social injustice in America—but live comfortably knowing that Veterans are suffering a great injustice at the hands of their own government when they return home from war. We claim to have the greatest power on earth but yet are powerless to enact real change in our culture and society. The “big, big ocean water” surrounding Puerto Rico kept our President from acting swiftly to help the devastated island hit by Hurricane Maria, but he threatens to annihilate “Rocket Man” with all our American might. We claim to want to “Safe the Planet” but are one of the worst polluters and violators of Mother Earth. The list of contradictions goes on and on.

We hold a Bible in one hand, an automatic rifle in the other, a bottle of whiskey under one armpit, a naked woman in a headlock in the other, all while standing on a pile of broken black and brown bodies. Oh, and a photo of a sex symbol—naked with exaggerated lips, breasts and butt—on a stained t-shirt with the confederate flag on it. To complete the image of a typical main stream media American today, picture this person wearing short shorts, cowboy boots decorated with the American flag with spikes at the heel. The word; ‘Merica!’ is prominently featured on the back of the confederate flag t-shirt. Of course, there’s more to an American than what I just described. However, this is the demographic making the most noise since the election of former President Obama and now President Trump, as most decent-minded Americans that fit the description of all kinds of people, (the melting pot) are either hiding their head in shame or taking to the streets to protest the confederacy of dunces we are all witnessing.

 

 

We claim to hold the highest ground of morality and the blueprint of democracy despite the reality on the ground even Stevie Wonder can see. And, if one dares to point out the blaring truth that is plain as day, prepare to be met with gnashed teeth, foaming at the mouth, red blooded “real Americans” with tiki torches yelling; “FAKE NEWS! SNOW FLAKE! NOTHING BURGER!” When the president of the United States brags about walking on to NY’s 5th Avenue, shooting someone dead and getting away with it, what do Americans expect from the average Joe or Jane? Many gun lovers and 2nd Amendment fanatics still excuse this comment as political fodder, refusing to see the significance of it as our cultural norm when it comes to our attitudes about guns.

You’ll hear the argument; it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. Other than the police, where were the good guys with guns to stop the Las Vegas shooter? Instagram celebrity and gun fanatic Dan Bilzerian was there. He fled. Not to grab his weapons, but to safe his own rear-end. He didn’t live up to his Instagram muscles to stop the shooter with the stockpile of high-powered weapons he loves to show off on social media. What a tough guy, (Insert eye-roll here), until it’s time to actually be that good guy with a gun to stop the bad guy with a gun. On his show on Fox News, Sean Hannity stuck to this strategy too saying, “This guy’s got a machine gun, OK. How are they going to take him on without a weapon? Or, if it’s happening within a crowd, if you’re in San Bernardino, do you want Sean Hannity who’s trained in the safety and use of a firearm in that room when they drop the clip, and they start to reload, you got a shot, you got a chance?” Of course, if life was being played out on a Hollywood movie set where we can have multiple takes and do-overs, Hannity and Bilzerian would be heroes! But, this is real life. 59 people were indiscriminately murdered by a madman who purchased his powerful weapons legally. He exercised his rights as an American to arm himself to the teeth. And, as white privilege in America goes, and according to some Fox News talking heads, we can’t hate him, label him a terrorist or talk about gun control.  Not yet, at least.

Unless you’re in an active shooting situation, you can’t know what you’ll do or how you’ll react. So, why not make it harder, and in some cases impossible, for people to get their hands on these high-powered weapons? What’s the real harm in waiting weeks for a full background and mental health check, instead of days, before handing over such lethal power? Who knows, maybe a zombie apocalypse or another revolution is eminent! Many point to mental illness as an excuse for this latest tragedy however, other countries like Australia, Britain and Canada have citizens with mental illness too and these countries were able to reduce gun violence by enacting strict gun laws. Why can’t America follow suit? It’s apparent, we need policy solutions, but unfortunately there is no movement on the federal level to enact tougher gun laws; just the opposite. As a matter of fact, House Majority Leader Paul Ryan was ready to bring a bill up for a vote that would have loosened access to gun silencers. But, in the wake of the massacre, they shelved it; for now.

 

 

And, earlier this year, President Trump reversed an Obama era law that kept the mentally ill from getting guns. H.J. Res 40 passed the House and Senate, and nullifies the, “Implementation of the ‘NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007’ rule finalized by the Social Security Administration on December 19, 2016. The rule implements a plan to provide to the National Instant Criminal History Background Check System the name of an individual who meets certain criteria, including that benefit payments are made through a representative payee because the individual is determined to be mentally incapable of managing them.”

Why stricter gun laws aren’t more tantalizing to leaders at the policy level has to do with fear and money. Fear of not just losing the right to bear arms as stated in the 2nd Amendment, but fear of losing all the money being poured into political campaigns by the powerful National Rifle Association, (NRA). Despite evidence showing stronger reasonable gun policies are warranted, it seems that any kind of gun policy is perceived as an attack on the 2nd Amendment. Most Americans would support reasonable restrictions on guns, especially semi-automatic rifles like the ones used in the Las Vegas massacre, but the NRA will say background checks, even for the mentally ill, is one step to taking our guns away. Fear is a clear motivator but so is money and profit. Mass shooting incidents boosts the NRA’s profit margin. Gun sales increase every time there’s a mass shooting incident, (or the election of a black president.) It’s clear that the NRA uses fear, not data, to galvanize its base. And, unfortunately, opinions and fear outweigh the statistics and research on gun control and violence in America. How ironic that the crowd at Route 91 Harvest, a 3-day Country Music Festival, sang America the Beautiful an hour before the shooting.

 

Hugh Hefner; His Impact On American Sex, Beauty And Feminism Ideals

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The standard image of what a sexy, beautiful and “most desirable” American woman looks like can arguably be credited to the late Hugh Hefner.  And that sex symbol looks like a thin, glamorous blond white woman. It’s evident what kind of women Hefner preferred because he married and surrounded himself with this particular white Barbie type his entire life. And, he built an empire based on his perception of sexy and beautiful women coupled with an unapologetic bachelor lifestyle. All at the cost of exploiting women—starting with Marilyn Monroe—normalizing their objectification, and solidifying them to a place of sexual servitude in American society.

Janell Hobson, Associate Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Albany says the commercialization of white women’s sexuality actually came about after the exotification of women of color through the lens of Anthropology. “The nude body was already on display,” she says pointing to National Geographic, “which was used in an interesting way by white men and western men as a kind of early prototype of Playboy except the nude women in those magazines were African women or Asian women, or Pacific Islander women.” She says Playboy made it palatable to show white women in a similar fashion.

Playboy’s Launch is Rooted in the Exploitation of a Star

Granted, Playboy was not the only magazine at the time of its debut in 1953 that was setting a certain standard of beauty in America. Women’s magazine like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Day and Good Housekeeping had their own standards of what was beautiful too. “What Playboy did was introduce female sexuality upfront,” says Hobson, adding that Playboy centerfolds were playing on the kinds of ideals that were white and blond. Hobson says it’s also important to remember how Playboy stepped onto the world stage. “Playboy launched through nude photos of Marilyn Monroe at the time. Photos that she did not consent to, and had to basically reposition herself when Hugh Hefner was able to purchase the rights of the nude photos that she did for a calendar company…Nude photos that she was doing while she was struggling to become a star, and trying to pay rent.” She says Hugh Hefner wanted to capitalize on the fame that she had. “Not only did Playboy launch through this kind of representation of white womanhood but specifically through the star power of a Marilyn Monroe.” Hobson says that’s a history that shouldn’t be overlooked in terms of what it means that he was able to launch Playboy through this kind of exploitation. And, adding insult to injury, in 1992 Hefner purchased the burial vault next to Monroe for $75,000; haunting her in life and now in death.

The Impact and Legacy of Playboy Is a Complicated One

A part from the nude photos, the magazine in its early days was paving new roads during America’s civil rights movement that came to national prominence in the mid 1950s. Hefner published literature and serious journalism work from prominent black figures like James Baldwin who wrote about the Atlanta child murders and Alex Haley who interviewed civil rights leaders of the time for the magazine. “And, writers like Margaret Atwood was able to get her science fiction stories published in it…I mean, there were clear key classic articles that came out of that,” Hobson says. The magazine, despite its exploitation of primarily white women was also being cutting edge, “both in terms of a kind of intellectualism that it was putting forth but at the same time making sure that it was still marketable and saleable through highlighting white women’s nude bodies.”

Another complicated factor is, in time, Playboy also featured black women on its cover. The magazine had a black model on its cover in 1970, (Jean Bell) and in 1971, (Darine Stern) before Vogue did with Beverly Johnson in 1974. Also, in 1974 Playboy had a 4-page pictorial of black Playmate Claudia Lennear in its August issue. “She was a background singer who was rumored to be the inspiration behind Rolling Stones Brown Sugar that they were singing about. Iman had a Playboy spread back in the 1980s that played on this whole wild African Safari [theme]. Those are ways in which I think when you do see women of color and black women in particular; they are made to take on this kind of exoticized representations. So, whether we’re talking about the blond, you know, girl next door or the exotic African woman, they’re definitely ways Playboy was playing with those images,” Hobson says.

Nevertheless, Hefner was not alone in his objective to use women for his own benefit and wealth; many others share in this American heritage that still exists in our modern culture. One significant piece to Hefner’s legacy, according to Hobson, is what he was putting out there, which was far from the norm of that era. “I think he was really just putting out there a kind of hedonistic bachelor lifestyle…you know, you don’t have to get married or settle down and be a family man. You can always have your bachelor pad and if you’ve got enough money, you can get these young beautiful women dressed up in Playboy Bunny suits that cater to your every whim.”

Hugh Hefner and Women’s Sexual Liberation

Considering the era when Playboy made its debut and how it launched using photos of a woman who didn’t consent, or received a dime for the popular first edition, one can easily surmise that Hefner did more for men’s sexual liberation than for women. Hobson explains, “Representing that kind of bachelor pad lifestyle, he was making it acceptable for men to not be ashamed to pursue a life outside of marriage and family. But, for women, they still had to be in these positions of servitude to that, so what might be a kind of sexual liberation for one sex certainly didn’t necessarily translate to the other.”

This appraisal is plainly evident when writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer, Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy Bunny. Her investigative exposé bluntly revealed this uncomfortable reality. In her report, A Bunny’s Tale, Steinem witnessed firsthand how Hefner ran his operation by luring young women to apply for what was advertised as “the top job in the country for a young girl” only to be faced with catering to men in the most objectifying manner imaginable. From the revealing outfits, the long hours on mandatory 3-inch heels to the manner a Bunny serves cocktails to her clients using the Bunny Stance or Bunny Dip to ensure they don’t break their tight corset costumes; the indignity of it all will undoubtedly be analyzed and critiqued for generations to come. The promise of a glamorous jet setting lifestyle being courted by wealthy powerful men and making between $200 and $300 a week was exposed by Steinem as a sham when she uncovered what actually happened to Playboy Bunnies.

Undoubtedly, Hefner contributed to the larger media narrative of what a desirable American woman looks like however, Hobson says, “I don’t know if he had the main driving force because keep in mind, to be a Playboy centerfold is to not be a woman who is respectable. So, even if he was playing with images of blond innocence and girl next door, they were nude, so they were already seen through the lens of the pornographic.” She says he didn’t necessarily influence what was beautiful but rather what was sexy. Hobson says Miss America, which was at the height of its popularity around the same time as Playboy’s debut, was giving the larger culture ideas of what was considered beautiful. “And, that was respectable.”

 

 

Here Bunny, Bunny, Bunny!

The cost of being a Playboy Bunny was impactful in more ways than one. For example, according to Steinem, Bunnies were required to take “a complete internal physical” to ensure they were free of venereal and other diseases like syphilis. And, although the NYC Board of Health didn’t mandate restaurant servers to take physical exams in order to work, Hefner did. Of course, one can’t help but wonder why the need for these types of tests, when it’s explicitly written in the “Bunny Bible” that Bunnies’ are forbidden from dating club members. Nevertheless, and conveniently left out of the written manual, is the suggestion that Bunnies “are to go out with Number One Key Holders” which are the big shots that included “important members of the press, club executives” and other VIP’s. Number One Key Holders were granted the most access to the Bunnies, even having them take part as “bona fide guests of the club.”

Following the success of Playboy, Hefner was at the top of his game and was highly sought after by the media for interviews. During one such interview he described his vision and the principles behind his club saying, “The club is really an extension of the concept that was developed in the magazine and it’s an attempt as much as possible to kind of bring to life the many of the notions that are popularized in the magazine; The concept of relaxed urban living, good food and drink, pretty girls and good entertainment.” He left out an important part; for men. The Bunnies not dating the customers is one of the things Hefner promoted. He went on to say that the Bunnies are forbidden to date the customers, “To separate business from pleasure,” he asserts, even though the women were found to be pressured to date Number One Key Holders and “make them happy.” Perched on his rotating bed, Hefner adds, “Playboy’s philosophy is a personal expression of my own views, and some of the social and sexual views of our time.”

The preparation to become a Playboy Bunny in the 1950s was extensive. Training, which in the beginning lasted three weeks, were unpaid despite the long hours required to do so. Also, Bunnies were charged $2.50 a day for the upkeep of their costume, $8.15 for the eyelashes and blush they had to wear, and $5 for the black nylon tights. They were paid—mandated by state law—$50 a week, however Hefner structured his business to chip away at every available cent the Bunnies earned. From getting demerits and merits that had monetary values attached to them for screw ups and good deeds, to having to split their tips in half with the Playboy Club. Another farce uncovered by Steinem is the difference in Bunny pay. Table Bunnies can keep half their tip in addition to their weekly paycheck minus the charges noted above. Hat Check Bunnies on the other hand, were not allowed to keep their tips. They were paid a flat $12 for 8 hours of work, a significant amount less than what was advertised. Also, these Bunnies were forbidden to tell club members that their tips were going to Hefner. Instead, they were instructed to, “Just smile and accept tips gratefully.”

Hugh Hefner’s Role in America’s Race Relations

The legendary civil rights activist, writer and entertainer, Dick Gregory, who recently passed away, commended Hefner for his work to advance the civil rights movement by opening doors for black comics to work at his clubs, a rarity for many during that time. And, in line with the Playboy culture, Bunnies were instructed to laugh when a comic like Dick Gregory was on stage. “I think that he’s done a lot for men. What has he done for women other than to make more women’s bodies visible in terms of placing their bodies on display, exploiting their beauties, their sexuality, and keeping a Harem of sorts?” Hobson asked rhetorically. Adding, “I’m thinking about a music singer like R. Kelly who has all kinds of young barely legal women in his mansion and the description of it sounds like abuse but it also sounds very much like what Hugh Hefner has been doing throughout his life but yet we would recognize one as being abusive, and the other we want to call hedonistic and libertine. And, I think we need to think about why we are willing to give him that leverage.”

Love him or hate him; Hefner, who studied psychology, was a trend setter who also impacted race relations in the country and that can’t be overlooked or ignored. “He did change things because Playboy came around a time of ultimate and ultra sexual conservatism. He tapped into this opportunity for sexual release as it were. So, because women’s bodies were used to define that kind of sexual release, it gets called liberation,” Hobson says. Hefner made sexual liberation more permissible and accessible through his magazine and that was significant during a time when American culture was more conservative, but like Hobson asserts, we would be remiss to confuse his impact on our society as part of women’s sexual liberation, or a boost for the feminist movement. The fact is, he liberated men and held women captive in sexist stereotypes that are still prevalent today.

Another contributing factor is how black cultural expressions, like the Hip-Hop genre enabled pornographers like Hefner to fetishize black bodies. According to Hobson, “That genre redirected the cultural gaze on the butt, which interestingly Playboy doesn’t really fetishize the butt that much, they usually fetishize the breast. Hip-Hop redirected Playboy’s gaze to the butt, and the butt’s that they focused on were mostly black women, Latino women and eventually included white women like Iggy Azalea, Kim Kardashian and Latinos like Jennifer Lopez to the point where in 2014 Vogue had to put out a whole article called, ‘We’re In The Era Of The Big Booty’ so, look how long it took for Vogue to recognize that particular aesthetic.” She says it wasn’t until white and Latino women were part of the big butt obsession that main stream media started to recognize it as part of a women’s appeal despite what Hip-Hop has done to refocus men’s sexual appetite and gaze. Hobson says it shows that as a culture we’re still invested in whiteness as the norm. “The main stream media still wants to keep whiteness at the center,” she says. Essentially, Playboy fetishized women’s boobs and Hip-Hop fetishized women’s butt’s. And what do they have in common? Hobson says, “They’re both driven by men and male sexual desire; even if the race is different.”

Partly due to Hip-Hop culture, Hefner opened up space to think about sexuality differently but, still, only through the realm of exploiting and ogling women’s bodies. It’s apparent Playboy was not opening up opportunities for women to explore their own sexuality. “And, even then I don’t know if we’ve gone far enough in terms of addressing what female sexual empowerment would be or could be,” Hobson says. She notes that when the real women’s sexual revolution happens it will look much different than what we see in Playboy, Hustler, Vogue Magazine, or even in Hip Hop music. She says the next sexual revolution will be more inclusive. “It would look like a diversity of bodies so it’s not just skinny women or white women. It’s big women, all kinds of women, it’s men, it’s transgender, it’s queer, it’s all kinds of stuff.”

Ultimately, Hefner’s legacy is centered on men’s pleasure by way of sacrificing the progress made by the women’s liberation movement. Thanks to Hefner, feminism took a hit on the chin when Playboy launched in 1953, despite the images we see of smiling Bunnies in sexy costumes. Hefner died of natural causes on Wednesday, October 30 at the age of 91. And, in a perverse way; tattooing the notion that it’s still a man’s world even in the afterlife as he takes his place in eternal rest next to Marilyn Monroe.

 

Golden Gloves: HCSD’s First Black Superintendent On His Work And America’s Cultural Divide

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The scenic drive to Hamilton Central School District can be deceiving, but then again so is most of picturesque upstate New York. It’s not a revelation that small town America has secrets; secrets that continue to silhouette a place still unwelcoming to many non-white citizens. Even so, HCSD hired its first black Superintendent in 2015. Some argue it was also a hiring move to be more inclusive and boost diversity.

Superintendent, Dr. Anael Alston, who is also Jewish, took up the challenge as the area’s educational leader two years ago, but not before inquiring about being received by the community at large because of his skin color. He says, “One of the factors I considered in accepting the position was the kind of community that it was. I was frank with the search consultant when I asked; is this community ready for an African American to be the educational leader?” He says the board that hired him thought the community was ready for the change and wanted the best candidate.

Alston says being the first African American in high profile roles is not new for him. “A lot of my career I have been the first in some of my communities but I was also well aware that being the first African American brings certain challenges with it, challenges that no one would necessarily speak of. And, I take that on because I just believe that I’m not going to be limited by other people’s lack of knowledge or world view, or world exposure.” Alston boosts an impressive resume that includes an Ed. D in Curriculum and Teaching from Columbia University, a B.A. in Sociology and spent 10 years as a principle in Long Island before accepting his latest challenge as HCS Superintendent. “The community in large part has been very welcoming, very accepting. There is certainly a faction that really struggles with some of the positive changes that are necessary in order for the organization to be effective and efficient in the long term.”

Some of the challenges, Alston points to concern the district’s spending, finding new revenue sources, updating their technology and taking a look at administrative and staffing efficiency. “Taking a critical look at what we do and how we do it. That has been a challenge to some people,” he says. Alston says the pushback he has received is not uncommon in public education, especially when it challenges the status quo and the district’s culture. He says 70 to 80 percent of the district’s budget deals with staffing. “So, ultimately how you use your staff dictates your budget,” he adds. When asked if the pushback had to do with being a black man at the helm, Alston pauses to consider his answer carefully and points to studies on the subject. “There’s a ton of research on African American and male leaders and how they are perceived by Caucasian cultures, and so you never really know the reason because no one will say it so I will just rely on the research.”

In the midst of this uncomfortable truth, can Dr. Alston still be an effective leader? He says yes. Adding, “I’m choosing to not judge circumstances. It just is and I’m aware of it. And, that I have to choose how I’m going to respond, or not respond. I am aware that in 2017 there are people who are just not open to the world that is changing in front of them. I think that I have to behave in a way that is true to who I am and my position as a global citizen. And quite frankly, for the ignorant people who still harbor bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia in their spirit, I can only model what I believe to be the correct path and hopefully my behavior and interaction has a positive impact.”

 

 

Alston says he tries very hard to not let racism get in the way of his “Why’s”. “Which is to educate, empower and inspire people to live closer to their human potential and using my platform as a public educational leader to do so,” he says. His young daughter who also attends school in the district gets the same message but with an added reminder of her privilege and according to Alston, “Also that life isn’t fair. We are clear on the history of this country and the world and as it relates to politics and power.”

He says his daughter is thriving in her new home and despite some of the challenges of the job the superintendent points to the successes he’s ushered in thus far. “We’ve done well with grants. We’ve done over $200,000 in grant money over the last two years. We’ve been able to lobby with a not-for-profit who gave us about 50 reconditioned laptop computers. We were able to forge a stronger partnership with Colgate who gave us about 27 iMacs. We’ve been able to identify the need to seriously update our technology which was very old and outdated,” he says. Another significant initiative Alston is spearheading is the accreditation for dual enrollment that aims to help students and their parents pay less for college. “The cost of higher education is becoming very difficult for those who are working class poor and even middle class at this point. And, what we’ve done here is we’ve doubled the number of college credits that a student can take while they’re at Hamilton Central School District and walk out of here with up to 30 SUNY college credits.” He says that’s two semesters of college high school students can earn before entering the State University of New York institutions. “That’s something we have accomplished as a school district in the two years I’ve been here.” He calls it a “win-win situation” even though it means more work.

“The obstacle is the way” Alston explains as he delves into another program that may challenge the secularity of a small town like Hamilton, NY but also take on the district’s financial and declining enrollment problem. The International Student proposal, Alston argues, will not only boost funding for the district, it will increase diversity in CNY, “and, exposing students who would not be able to travel around the world and experience different cultures so I would argue better preparing them.”

The committee studying the proposal has already met with Homeland Security to ensure all legal issues concerning immigration are being followed and properly administered. “In order for us to do it we have to be able to issue I-20’s, which then the student participant can take to the U.S. Embassy and get their paperwork processed.” He says despite the “selective immigration” woes flaring across the country the process for HCSD International Student Proposal would be consistent with the laws and regulations concerning immigration to the U.S. He says there are some downsides to the program, including the political reality, housing and financial needs, the districts liability and the different cultures you bring in to a small town like Hamilton, NY. “And, that is something that people will have to struggle with.” Alston says when it comes to the community’s acceptance of international students it depends on who you ask. “I wouldn’t call it a resistance…I would call it a cautious apprehension. I also think because I’m an outsider there’s even more apprehension. And, I’ve been accused of being a resume builder…like, ‘what does he want to do here’…I understand that. I have strong credentials and some people feel that this is a resume builder for me.” When asked how that makes him feel, Alston says, “It doesn’t make me feel one way or the other; it just is because at the end of the day I’m back to my Why’s.”

What does the future look like for the first African American Superintendent in Hamilton, NY? “I don’t know what the future looks like. I know what today looks like. I plan for tomorrow but there are factors that I ultimately don’t control. But, what I do control is how I behave and how I respond to circumstances and conditions and what I do each day to add value to the organization.” Alston says the progress the district has made under his leadership is not because of him, “but it’s because of We.”

Dr. Alston’s contract is up for renewal in June 2018. And, although it is common practice to bring up the issue of contract renewal before a fast approaching deadline, the new school board has not presented the issue for debate or a vote. In other words, Dr. Alston has a new school board to convince to keep him on and thus far, no decision has been made about his future in the district. Alston says he did not expect to deal with as many issues—some political—so early in his superintendence but he says he strongly believes in his own worth and contributions to the district. “The district is making progress under my leadership,” he says.

Dr. Alston brings more than his Ivy League credentials to his position as Superintendent. He brings a world view to his community despite hailing from the same state. Alston grew up in Brooklyn, NY. “I’m a kid from the ghetto,” he says as he delves in to the cultural divide that’s evident in the two very different parts that make up the great State of New York. “I am representing the hopes and aspirations of a lot of people in multiple ways. I’m from the hood where this kind of success just was not part of the daily grind.” On the other hand, Alston says he also represents the hopes and aspirations of upper middle class families. “I believe God is using me because for a lot of the people I have interacted with, they only know African Americans through rap and some of the foolishness that’s on television. And, I recognize that in Central New York some people, in particularly Long Island, have never had an African American boss or an African American male boss and that kind of change is uncomfortable for some people. That is not their reality. And so I try to inspire people who are willing to show some kind of interest in the journey.”

Alston’s journey hasn’t been a cake walk despite being an overachiever coupled with a determination to live purposely. As if the stresses of our societal struggles with equality, discrimination and lack of access for blacks in America wasn’t a big enough battle to overcome along the way, Alston is also living with the pain of losing two brothers to violence. In 1990 his brother Raphael was murdered. He was only 21 years old. Nearly three years later, he lost another brother to violence. Ariel was 23 years old when he was murdered. Both crimes are still unsolved. “There were 2500 murders the year Raphael got killed,” he said. His brother’s memories are the cornerstones of the “Why’s” Alston relies upon as his life compass. “I am who I am and proud of it whether people get me or not. And my responsibility to give back to this land and this world goes beyond any box that someone would check for me, or that I’d be asked to check.”

Exposure to different cultures and people changes a person’s perception Alston says, adding “That is why I make it a point to engage with people different than me.” He goes on to say, if ones exposure is limited to people of color than they’re going to have whatever narrative they’ve been told or received from the media. Another narrative of Alston’s story is his boxing career that started during his college years as a way to fend off his Freshmen 15 and deal with some difficult times at home. He was trained by his uncle whom he says he desperately needed as a male role model at the time. “Some of the successes that I’ve had in my career are related to my exposure and training in the fight game,” he says. The former champion boxer who earned his golden gloves says on tough days it feels like he left one boxing ring for another. “You always have to do your homework before the lights come on. If you haven’t done your homework and the lights come on, you will be embarrassed. That’s true in this seat also.” Part of his learning he says came from watching the promoters behind the boxers and the business end of the sport. “That was very helpful because I wasn’t a typical boxer.” Nevertheless, similar to his boxing career, Alston says he has great mentors and trainers in education. “There are so many lessons that I’ve applied from being a champion in that ring into this arena. I would like to believe that I build on the parallels.”

 

 

“You have to be double good in order to be an African American,” is a phrase as common as a greeting Alston grew up hearing from his mother and grandmother. “I don’t know if that’s true or not but I can look and see my credentials verses other peoples credentials and accomplishments and worry about that but I don’t because at the end of the day it’s about human potential,” he says. Instead, he credits the educational thought leaders who have guided him throughout his career that in turn have helped him add value to his own work for the communities he has served in public education. “Quite frankly, it wouldn’t make me feel good if I find out what my grandmother use to always say. So I’m going to stay away from that and I’m going to focus on adding value and building myself and my team up.”

Part of reaching back for Alston comes in the form of speaking engagements. He says he enjoys sharing his wisdom with young people and inspiring them to consider career goals that aren’t as glamorous as being a movie star, entertainer, athlete or even a more hazardous route like taking up illegal activities. “I have some of the toys of success and sometimes I’ll let people know I have that stuff and I don’t rap, I’ve never sold drugs and I do travel. And, I can tell you how I did it. And I tell them how much more fun it is. I am not worried about the feds taking my assets. That’s a freedom that hustlers don’t have.” He says there’s a shift in terms of young people choosing to live a “hustle life” however; he wishes the shift would happen faster. “I let them know it’s doable. Once a person can see and touch success than it can become attainable.”

Despite the national noises that threaten to reverse some of the progress made in America, we’ve come a long way as a society. Even so, Alston adds, “To hire the first African American is progress. To hold them to the same standard that you did the people before them would be the next step.”  He goes on to give examples of the criticism former President Barrack Obama received and the benefit of technology that clearly and sadly showed the hypocrisy and blatant double standard he, along with other black people in America have had to endure, and that are culturally rooted in our identity, still. “Either there is one standard or there isn’t, or there’s a person of color standard and the other standard. And, is that equal and if not, why? And, what’s that really about? That’s a conversation that can be uncomfortable,” he says.

In spite of the political nature of the job and the obstacles he’s working to overcome, Dr. Alston, who can easily be described as upstate New York’s very own Cory Booker, wants people to know that he remains optimistic about his future as the educational leader in the district despite the uncertainty that comes with the rapid change in the school board since his arrival. He says, “While I report to a corporate body called the school board, I ultimately answer to a higher authority.” With regard to the recent protests, racial tensions and civil acts of disobedience, Alston says, “In order to be able to be the super power and a nation that is great, we have to really examine our thinking and beliefs. I’m hopeful that people are aware of that giving what is going on in the country now.” He says people have to think before choosing a political camp, “because the talking points are not serving us. The polarization’s are not serving us. We are marred in levels of foolishness as a result of us, as a country, not consciously deciding to be aware.”

Challenges can be opportunities. And, that’s the attitude Alston wears as a merit badge as he makes his way through the school building visiting class rooms, engaging teachers, students and staff alike. “This is not a job for me. It is my mission,” he says, adding that, “when I show up to work in my capacity as Superintendent, I am living my Why and I’m expressing it through my What.” He says part of his Why is to reach those not being served or adequately challenged in the classroom. And, it’s deeply personal as the tragic deaths of his two brothers. “There are people who are brilliant sitting in school who are not connected. My job as educational leader is to tap into their potential.” Alston explains that his work is the mechanism that allows him to live out his personal and professional goals…even if he has to use an “intellectual uppercut” to get the job done. “I believe in the goodness of people, be it the people of Hamilton, the people of NY, the people of this country and the people of this world. After all, it is people who have helped me get this far.”

 

DACA Dreamers: From Promise To Peril

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

 

The deadline was met. It was Sept. 5. President Trump followed through on another nation shifting promise to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, (DACA) program. In a widely reported 2016 immigration policy speech in Phoenix, AZ—where Trump rolled out his plan to build a wall along our southern border and have Mexico pay for it—the president boastfully stated, “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants.” This, after blaming Sanctuary Cities, Obama, Clinton and “out of touch politicians” for the many lives lost at the hands of illegal immigrants.

 

 

In this same speech, he declared “Zero tolerance for criminal aliens,” an inflammatory terminology many immigration advocates reject as dehumanizing. Angel Ramirez is a DACA recipient and agrees. He joined about 30 other protesters and local activists to voice opposition to the president’s decision at a rally in Utica, NY, and says “I don’t think there’s any illegal person in the world anyway because we are just limited and bound by policies and political actions that, if you think about it, doesn’t make any sense.” Nevertheless, President Trump asserted, “We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish here.” Accordingly, wouldn’t the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients be the ones more likely to thrive and flourish having benefitted from living in America most of their lives? Dreamers, as DACA recipients are often called, grew up in America’s school system, have been enculturated in this country, embrace America as their only home, fight wars and die in her name, and love her equally as those here on legal grounds. In other words, it contradicts the very message of this administration, especially if finding a solution to the country’s immigration problem is still the outcome all sides are aiming for.

After taking office, President Trump told David Muir with ABC News in a February interview that DACA recipients need not worry because, “I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody.” He followed his rhetoric with actions; pardoning Joe Arpaio and ending DACA. And, throwing his support behind tougher immigration legislation like Kate’s Law and The Davis-Oliver Bill. Sonia Martinez, President of Mohawk Valley Latino Association says she hopes former President Obama steps in to help those under threat of deportation. “He gave the approval for this program, for the Dreamers to stay in the United States of America. I think it would be very important.” The former president did chime in via social media in a lengthy statement essentially condemning the move as making “no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know.”

Ramirez says the move to end DACA is devastating. “I’m married, I have two kids, we just don’t know what’s in the future, what’s going to happen. He goes on to say, “I was here my whole life. My parents are from Mexico and I didn’t know anything. And, if I go back to Mexico, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” He says the uncertainty is weighing on him because he may have to uproot his family from the only home they’ve known. “I have to start thinking about what other options we have in case this completely ends and there is no other way for us.”

 

 

The first time Ramirez realized he was in the country without legal documents was when he applied for a job after high school and was asked for his social security number. “I’m like, ‘what is that?’ because even when you go to school they don’t ask you for that, they just give you your ID to go to school, they don’t tell you, oh, you’re illegal.” He adds, “Then you find out all these things that you cannot qualify.” Ramirez says since gaining employment he has steadily paid his taxes and even became a homeowner. “I always pay my taxes, I always pay everything that I needed to because my hope is one day that I will become a citizen because this is all I know. This is home for us.”

Even so, the decision to end DACA was the writing on the wall in the president’s speech when he said, “While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in.” Perhaps, but as it pertains to DACA recipients, a 2016 survey by the Center for American Progress found that after taking part in the program, 63 percent of recipients moved to better paying jobs, 49-percent gained greater access to employment that matches their education and skill sets and 48 percent gained jobs with better working conditions. If we want to close the gap between who we are and who we want to be as Americans, we must keep working towards the principles that set us apart from all other people on earth, and those against a pathway to citizenship for these young people must also considering the spirit of the laws that bound us as one to form the ideals of E Pluribus Unum.

 

 

In the State of New York, DACA recipients have greatly benefited from the amnesty program. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services nearly 42,000 young people came forward, passed background checks, and live and work legally in the country since implementation of the program. And, according to research conducted by Washington: Center for American Progress Ending, DACA would cost New York nearly $2.6 billion in annual GDP losses if it’s phased out. “Right now, some people are saying go back to your country but what would Native People say about you now that you’re here and settled,” Ramirez asked with a quizzical look on his face of those who oppose the Dreamer’s pathway to citizenship. He says being called “Illegal” or “Alien” by his own president is disturbing. “What does that word even mean? Like, we are outside of this world? A lot of things don’t make sense anymore. We feel like we’re being excluded, we have no value…that’s how we feel right now,” he says.

Ramirez says although his faith in God is strong, it’s going to take real action to keep DACA in place. “We need to let them know that this is not okay.” If he could talk to President Trump directly, Ramirez says he would remind him of his own immigrant roots and family ties and our collective humanity, “We are all immigrants. Nobody is better than anyone else, we are all the same, we are all humans. There is no races, there is only one kind and we are all humans.” Regardless if his words reach the president, Trump has punted the issue to Congress almost superficially reassuring DACA recipients and the thousands who spoke out against his decision in an audio clip provided by The Washington Post that, “We’ll see what happens in Congress. I have a feeling that’s not going to be necessary, I think they’re gonna make a deal. I think Congress really wants to do this.” He goes on to say that he wants to see in the legislation some “good border security” measures and a “great DACA transaction where everybody is happy and now they don’t have to worry about it anymore.” If history is any indication of how Trump’s promises play out, Dreamers and immigration advocates should definitely worry until the proof is in the pudding. And, that proof will come in the form of firm, realistic and enforceable immigration policies that embodies the spirit and culture of America.

 

 

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh Is Leading The Charm City By Example In A Climate Of Transition

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore police officers in April 2015 unquestionably had an impact on the city’s image. Nonetheless, Catherine E. Pugh, the Charm City’s 50th mayor and 3rd consecutive female at the helm, says there’s much more than what meets the eye and enough spirit to debunk any perceptions one may have of Baltimore. “We’re the 9th city in America considered by millennials to be the great city that people should move to. I think Freddie Gray had its impact but certainly not the greatest impact in terms of what Baltimore is today.”

Pugh is proud of her role as the city’s leader, a place she’s very comfortable occupying as a highly successful business owner herself. “It was something I desired but it was certainly not something I thought was in my reach at this particular point in history in my own life because I was Majority Leader of the Senate and doing an important job on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore. So, I was very focused on making sure that I created and passed legislation that would have a tremendous impact on our city and in the state, and hopefully lead in terms of some of the innovative legislation that would pass in the nation.”

During her first State of the City Address, Pugh made her mission to continue improving the quality of life for Baltimore citizens clear by rolling out her plan on five major areas her administration will pay close attention to; Education, Youth Development, Public Safety, Economic and Workforce Development, and Expansion. And, the mayor leads by example. A rare form to see in modern day American politics. However, taking into account her own life’s journey, healthy lifestyle and the work she’s done for her community during her years in public service, it’s not hard to surmise that Mayor Pugh’s heart, along with her vision, expertise and blueprint to bring Baltimore out of the shadows of Freddie Gray and beyond, is a welcome trajectory for a city desperately in need of reconditioning.

 

 

“When I think of my entire vision for Baltimore, it’s not centered around Freddie Gray. It’s centered on a city that’s been neglected for decades in certain parts of the city. It’s also centered around the vision for being more inclusive and diverse in a city that has so many opportunities and has created opportunities for so many, but had neglected others. And, my vision is about housing and homelessness, and how do you reduce violence but at the same time, create public schools that everyone would want to come to, and so we see that happening in our city.” Even so, Pugh says Freddie Gray played an important role in terms of how the city looks at its police department. “I see it as something that occurred in our history that made us pay attention to community policing and how we go about the business of reforming our police and creating relationships between the police and community that would bode well for how we move forward and resolve our criminal activity in our communities.”

Pugh says her work to help reform the criminal justice system—a system marred by vast racial disparities—happened before Freddie Gray. “For me it began back in the Legislature when the Ferguson situation occurred and when you think about New Orleans and the issues that they face and other cities faced around the country…I think it made all of us pay attention to criminal justice reform. Pointing to former President Obama’s work to reform police departments and improve community policing, Pugh says, “Those things occurred before Freddie Gray. Freddie Gray was a wake-up call for our own police department but certainly not the wake-up call for the entire city in terms of all the issues that the city faces.”

Criminal justice reform is “absolutely necessary” she emphasizes, adding that the city is currently under a Department of Justice consent decree following a resolution adopted by the city, aimed at controlling the rapid growth in gun violence and to get guns of the streets. Pugh along with Police Commissioner Kevin Davis are behind the new city ordinance that would impose a one-year minimum sentence for carrying an illegal firearm in Baltimore, essentially treating illegal guns like a public health crisis. “I thought it was important to get that done because of the situation that happened with Freddie Gray.”

Nevertheless, and despite the city’s crime rate—Forbes Magazine ranks Baltimore #7 on The 10 Most Dangerous U.S. Cities list—Attorney General Jeff Sessions objected to the city adopting the consent decree that also seeks to address rampant racial discrimination and constitutional violations among police officers against residents. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar overruled his attempt to block the agreement. Pugh says, “We thought it was important that we move forward with the consent decree and so we’re just about finished with that process. The Federal Judge did sign the consent decree so, we’re well on our way of doing what’s important for the City of Baltimore.”

Pugh says despite Sessions suggestions and agenda for Baltimore and the rest of the country, DOJ has been helpful in facilitating the consent decree process. “In terms of providing us with consultants to review our own police department, providing us with resources…every federal agency is engaged here.” In addition to the assistance the city is receiving, a new ATF site is being designated to help enforce the agreement. “Our federal partners have been very helpful to us.”

Another positive and measurable move for the city deals with its beleaguered school system. The mayor says the city has worked out a deal to repay the $1 billion in bonds the school system needs to improve its crumbling schools and build 23 new ones, (the state, city and school system each pledged $20 million a year over 30 years). “We just opened up another one recently and built the first new school in the public school system in 30 years. So, I know the possibilities, I know of some of the pitfalls but at the same time, I see through all of this as an opportunity to change the trajectory of the city based on its people, its population and its opportunities.” She says government does two things, “it provides services and it creates opportunities.” Pugh goes on to explain that the difference with her administration is inclusion. “What we’ve done is not included everybody in the process in the past.”

 

 

Baltimore’s economy and the $15 minimum wage increase proposal, a focus point for Pugh’s administration, came up for a vote back in March but was vetoed by the mayor. The minimum wage hike was a bill she supported at the state level before taking control as Baltimore’s Mayor. And, naturally, the mayor’s veto was met with some opposition from critics who accused her of breaking her promise to support the bill, to which she says, “I was a big proponent at the state level. We raised the minimum wage in 2014, we raised the minimum wage in 2015, we raised the minimum wage in 2016, we raised the minimum wage in 2017, we’ll raise the minimum wage again in 2018. So, the next time the minimum wage should be taken up is in this General Assembly session.”

She adds the bill was moving along the same lines as previous wage increases, “and, so it really picked up from where we already were and went to 2027. I would hope that anybody who is living today, making less than minimum wage, would make more than $15 an hour in 2027. So, to have a bill that projects to 2027 was to me inappropriate for the citizens of Baltimore, especially when the surrounding jurisdictions weren’t pushing that because it made Baltimore the hole in the donut. And, we got to be competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions.” Pugh says her decision to veto the bill was based on the best interest of all the people of Baltimore, adding that she will follow the state’s lead in a gradual and sustainable increase of wages. Her supporters, according to local media outlets, credit her for making the tough decision, saying that it showed real leadership in a time of transition, growth and future jobs.

Another social strife impacting Baltimore and the nation, and budding an all too familiar climate across the country centers on the take down of Confederate monuments and an uptick in neo-Nazi, KKK and alt-Right led demonstrations. Following the violent unrest in Charlottesville, VA the mayor took immediate action to circumvent any possible violence in her own city by taking down four Confederate monuments. A move the previous administration had taken up but didn’t complete. Pugh says the monuments were taken down under the cover of darkness and in the best interest of the city. “We had four statues that needed to be removed, three of them Confederate statues, and one of the judge who presided over the case that said that African Americans specifically were not full human-beings, and so we thought that his statue should be removed as well, (Chief Justice, Roger Brooke Taney, who oversaw the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision). My plan and meeting with my contractor was that we should move them as quickly and as quietly as possible.”

Pugh says her decision to act quickly and under the cover of darkness was intentional and based on sound information. After meeting with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu about the process he followed to remove his city’s four Confederate monuments back in May, Pugh decided to take a different route. “He told me about all the hate mail and everything that he had received, how contentious it was and what a painful experience it was for his staff, and I decided then that we would not do it that way.” Pugh says her experience working in news rooms and being in the news business for a long time allowed her to act strategically to avoid any media coverage. “I knew that news rooms closed up at 11:30…people would not be around and so it would be very difficult for people to begin reporting as we began moving.” Pugh says the process to take down all the monuments was estimated to take between midnight and 5:00 a.m. “We were finished at 4:57 a.m. and the media caught up with us around 3:30 when we were on our 3rd statue.”

What becomes of the statues is yet to be determined however, Pugh says her administration has appointed a commission to look at the issue and even taking suggestions from citizens. She says the monuments could be placed at Confederate cemeteries and museums across the country. “This is the United States of America and according to the Constitution we are all equal. And, in the Bible we’re all equal in the eyes of God and we should be treated as such. And so, any symbolism of hate I think should be removed but I think at the same time we shouldn’t rewrite history. I think that they should be contextualized in such a way that we remember who they are and why they existed because they are part of our history, but we’re not the Confederacy. We are the United States of America.”

She says her advice to everyone, especially young people is, “We have to learn how to love and respect each other, and that we work together, we learn to be more inclusive and diverse because that’s what this country is becoming; more inclusive and more diverse.”

 

An avid runner and healthy lifestyle advocate, Pugh stresses the importance of taking responsibility of your health and incorporating a healthy diet as part of a well-balanced life; a message she consistently shares with young people. Referencing another Bible scripture, Pugh says, “Moses lived to be 120 years old and it says you couldn’t tell how old he was by his face or his energy and that’s because he lived a purposeful life. If you want to live a purposeful life than you have to take care of yourself. You got to make sure you’re exercising and eating right.” If it wasn’t for public records, one would be hard pressed to guess the mayor’s age as well.

Pugh founded The Baltimore Marathon 17 years ago with 6,600 registered runners, “today its 25,000 plus,” she says. “It’s a very hard marathon to get into but we just encourage people to exercise and eat right. Do what’s best for you because without your health, there’s nothing.”

How does she do it all during a tumultuous time in the country’s history when race relations, police brutality, living wage concerns and numerous other social woes are rolling down a steep hill towards her and picking up speed? She says, “You lead by example, and that’s what we try to do every day.” Pugh says, despite the uphill battle she faces as she leads Baltimore out from the stigma of the Freddie Gray incident, she still pinches herself every day that she gets to do this work. “It’s a lot of work but at the same time; with challenges, we get opportunities.”

It’s clear to see—from the construction projects, new restaurant openings and community investments and enrichment programs—Baltimore is ready for some much-needed opportunities, particularly on the heels of its many surfaced challenges partly exposed by a tragic police brutality incident.

 

AFROPUNK: A Weekend Of Live Music, Good Vibes And Black Culture

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

In its 12th year of bringing a myth busting music festival to people of all walks of life, Afropunk certainly didn’t disappoint this year. The music festival, which started in 2005 with less than 50 attendees according to those close to the festival, lured over 60,000 revelers to come out to Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn, NY over the weekend to celebrate a healthy dose of African American musical culture. Organizers say the festival started as an attempt to debunk the myth surrounding African Americans and their involvement in the Punk/Rock scene and music genre. The festival was born following the documentary AFRO-PUNK; “AFROPUNK – ‘The Rock and Roll Nigger Experience’ was the original title for the movie before it was changed to what we know today as: AFROPUNK – The Documentary, a 66 minute documentary explores race identify within the punk scene.” Today, Afropunk has morphed into a money-making cultural phenomenon that celebrates a fantastic mix of musical talents from across the globe and musical genres. The festival has now expanded into an international celebration of black music and black culture, which is on full display during the weekend long event. And, one doesn’t have to be black to celebrate black culture as clearly evident from the participants.

Organizers say Afropunk celebrates being a person of color and music is a major part of black culture, not just in America but all over the world, making it fitting that the festival is being held in Johannesburg, South Africa in December later this year. According to officials, Afropunk is also working to bring the celebration to Brazil as it continues to challenge the perceptions surrounding black culture and black music. Other locations have been; Atlanta, Paris and London.

 

 

The Black And The Blue: A Peek Into America’s Law Enforcement Culture

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The disproportionate policing of minorities, especially black men in America has been a topic of national debate for some time now. Michelle Alexander captured this evolution poignantly in her book, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Even so, there is another voice chiming into the larger issue in an effort to add a deeper understanding of policing in America. Matthew Horace, Corporate Security Executive and retired Law Enforcement Executive, co-authoring his latest book; The Black And The Blue, says his new book may shed some light into this social justice issue in America’s law enforcement culture.

Horace, a frequent CNN law enforcement contributor, says his first co-authored book, The CALL, started as a project aimed at mentoring young black men but following his frequent guest appearances on national news programs, he realized he needed to reach a bigger audience and decided to write a second book. “I was being called to go on-air, on national news, to talk about the spate of police shootings of black men and others around the country and it seemed that week after week, month after month, there were more incidents… The Black and The Blue started by examining Coptics. I came up with the term Coptics. And, what Copitcs is, is the optics of policing in the digital age.” Horace says he coined the term Coptics because it became very clear that video was changing the course of the narrative, “and was sort of creating a discourse because now people were seeing what some communities had been talking about for so long.”

Alexander alludes to this troubling realization by saying, “…I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control and functions in a matter strikingly similar to Jim Crow.” There’s no debate that African Americans have disproportionately felt the brunt of American policing. This treatment is not new as Horace and Alexander assert. And, the Walter Scott case is more clear evidence of the Jim Crow style of policing subjected to blacks in America. Horace adds, “Had most people not seen that on video, they may never had believed that a police officer would have shot somebody in the back who was running away, you know, five or six times. So, now this puts the whole world into the living room of what actually happens out here.” He says it is incidents like these that galvanized him to take an analytical view on American style policing.  “Taking a look at the different incidences of what actually happens and what the public thinks. But, also, the idea that the 10-second video clip doesn’t create the entire narrative because it doesn’t capture the whole incident.”

Horace says there are several elements to consider when analyzing the Scott case. “There’s the incident; you know, what actually happened, what is the truth. What was the engagement? Were police right or wrong in their use of force? There’s the crisis management and how the police respond to the community after the incident.” Also, he says the media coverage adds to the overall narrative of an incident. “And, whether the coverage accurately reflects the actual incident,” Horace said. He explains that the Scott case was unique because the video came from a private citizen and not a dash cam or body camera most police officers are required to wear now due to these types of police-involved shootings. “The video came in right away and because the Walter Scott case was after some of the other cases like Michael Brown and others, the government, meaning, the Mayor’s Office and the police, had to respond pretty vigorously, and they did. They fired the police officer ASAP awaiting charges. They came out with very strong communications messages that it was abhorrent, despicable and they were going to get to the bottom of it. They met with the community; they voiced their displeasure with the incident with the community. So, in that case, the government in my view did a really good job of managing the crisis from the community perception stand-point.”

Horace says despite the numerous incidents of police involved shootings, citizens must still give law enforcement officials the benefit of doubt before rushing to conclusions based on a short video that doesn’t tell the entire story. “If we can’t believe broadly that police officers are telling the truth, than we can just turn the lights out and go home because broadly we are dependent upon to tell the truth. Not just about incidents, but in court matters and matters of public records.” He adds that the presumption that an officer’s account is the truthful one has a lot to do with culture, more so than the process. “Culturally, other police officers are definitely going to side often times with police officers before they have all the information. So, you have the presumption of truth and then you have the cultural aspect of, ‘we believe the cop first.’”He says sometimes it’s the right move and sometimes it’s not.

Nonetheless, the contradictions lay at America’s ethnic history that encompasses an ugly truth Alexander brings to the forefront in her book when she talks about our racial caste system that’s still on full display in many of these police and even civilian shootings of unarmed black people. She says racism is highly adaptable, adding, “The rules and reasons the political system employs to enforce status relations of any kind, including racial hierarchy, evolve and change as they are challenged.” Giving law enforcement officials the benefit of doubt would be more widely accepted as a cultural norm if our racial history told a different story of how justice is carried out… still. And, although our justice system is structured to be blind, we see case after case, incident after incident that our unyielding past still rears its unsightly head to muddy the American ideology we are striving towards. It is a common assumption that a black American or another minority will experience a heavier hand of justice compared to white Americans, making institutions like the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and Southern Poverty Law Center, (SPLC) extremely necessary in the pursuit of equality for those unable to escape the stigma of brown skin.

Alexander points out that since the abolishment of slavery and Jim Crow, new rules “in the legal framework of American society” have only morphed with language for a new social consensus that produces the same results. It’s no coincidence that the demographics in American jails show minorities—especially black men—being the majority. For Horace’s Coptics to work as intended, America must continue its trajectory towards racial equality. Reva Siegel, a legal scholar at Yale Law School dubbed this phenomenon, “preservation through transformation.” Alexander quotes her saying it is, “the process through which white privilege is maintained, though the rules and rhetoric change.” She adds, “This process, though difficult to recognize at any given moment, is easier to see in retrospect. Since the nations’ founding, African Americans repeatedly have been controlled through institutions such as slavery and Jim Crow, which appear to die, but then are reborn in new form, tailored to the needs and constraints of the time.”

Horace also highlights his book as a discussion on the convergence of black and blue. He says blacks and other minorities in blue uniform are also facing down mostly black protesters that typically follow a police shooting of an unarmed black person. “What we are facing in the world right now is a convergence of technology—everyone is armed with an iPhone—we have the use of video technology and then we have this idea that police actions are now being caught live and in living color by ordinary citizens.” He says law enforcement has not adequately kept up with the pace of technology making them more victims of it than partners to it. Despite this observation Horace says it’s actually a good thing for all involved. “And, here’s the reason why; because the video evidence doesn’t lie. There may be ways to interpret the video evidence, there may be ways to evaluate the video evidence but at the end of the day, there is no better evidence than an accurate account of what exactly happened. So, in that light, in defense of policing, often times the video evidence defense the story or narrative that they’re using. And, not just the story for the public but the story for the police reports, which are used in court rooms. And that can go from a local court all the way to the Supreme Court.”

As it pertains to body cameras, Horace says while it’s a crucial tool meant to protect police and civilians, there was resistance from some in law enforcement that had more to do with the culture of policing. There is a great resistance to change he says, adding, “A lot of departments didn’t want to do it at first but most departments now have body cameras.” He says they have come to embrace it as another avenue of documentation of their actions. “Now, it doesn’t help when officers aren’t doing the job the right way, but when they are doing the job the right way, these video depictions of events actually help them. Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion had never changed throughout the years.”

On the other hand, when Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion become a profiling technique to stalk black men and other minorities, law enforcement officials are inevitably causing more harm than good. A form of profiling called Stop-and-Frisk was a major police tactic that blossomed under former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. However, a Federal District Court in New York ruled that the tactic violated the constitutional rights of minorities. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin who rejected the Stop-and-Frisk tactic concluded in her decision that, “The City’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner. In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of singling out ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution.” Despite her decision, Scheindlin says the Stop-and-Frisk program is a useful tool for law enforcement as long as it’s not used to discriminate against minorities.

The Black And The Blue, as explained by Horace, stresses the importance of seeing the full picture of a police incident or policing in general before rushing to judgments. “We want people to remember that there are several different sides to every story. For instance a 10-minute video of a 30-minute incident does not give you an accurate depiction of what actually happened. Also, people should remember that policing is no different than any other profession. I lived and worked in it for 24 and a half years. Yes, there are racist law enforcement officers. Yes, there are sexist law enforcement officers. Yes, there are officers that should not be on the job. And, police departments need to do a better job of hiring, promoting, screening and retaining or terminating those bad officers. But, the overwhelming majority of police officers do the job well and do it for noble causes.” And, he says the public needs to understand that when it comes to the use of force there is a graduated level of force to the process called, The Use of Force Continuum. “Whenever you see things escalate to the point where police officers are using deadly force, there should have been a graduated level of force process.” Horace says often times there is a time for that but sometimes things escalate too quickly for this process to work as intended. “In dire situations a suspect pulls a gun, or a knife or a hatchet, things are evolving very quickly, you may not have the opportunity to go from talking to walking to empty hand control, to physical control to use of deadly force. In those situations things happen so quickly you don’t have the opportunity.”

He adds that the book is also aimed at shedding light on the typical questions that come up following an incident. When the public wants to know why an officer didn’t use a taser instead of a gun, or why did an officer strike a person rather than subdue them or wrestle them to the ground, etc… “These are all questions that people that are not in the profession don’t really understand the answers to no matter if they’re watching the video or not, so we’re trying to shed light on that.” Horace says police officials need to understand the public’s perception of policing from the early 1600s up to now. “Policing was used back during Jim Crow and prior to that to enforce segregation laws. So, a lot of people still view law enforcement as enforcing laws that were discriminatory from the very beginning of time, and the only way to overcome that is through good community policing strategies.”

He says it’s crucial to understand that policing is not a black and white issue. “That’s why there’s no title in the book that says, white and black and blue.” He goes on to give an example of the Department of Justice, (DOJ) finding wrongdoing and violations of citizens rights in Ferguson, MO—a predominantly white police force and governing body—and in Baltimore, MD—a predominantly black police force and governing body, following investigations on the heels of two high profile police incidents, (Michael Brown and Freddie Gray) that caused rioting and major protests. “So, we as a culture should not assume that this only happens in situations where whites are in control of politics and blacks aren’t. It’s happened in departments throughout the United States where there’s been equal representation of blacks and whites, so it’s a problem that we need to come to the table and solve together but we have to do it truthfully and honestly and with a real open eye.”

Horace explains that in progressive law enforcement circles there is an honest attempt to get officers to understand how their own implicit biases impact their ability to treat people and the public. “And, that goes for police, fire and everyone.” He says policing is very different than other professions because they have the power to take people’s rights and lives away, and he adds, “Implicit bias plays a very big role in policing, it’s not only direct racism. Part of it is recognizing where your implicit biases lie and then understanding how to manage them so that these behaviors aren’t the norm and may become the exception. Things have to change. We have to get better.” He says biases create an issue for all of us when you paint people and communities with a broad stroke and fashion what he calls, “The Boogie Man Factor.” Fear of black men is not a new phenomenon in American culture and Horace says recognizing that it has been a historic and cultural problem in the U.S. is the first step in enacting wholesale culture change.

The International Chiefs of Police, (IACP), an institution founded to support law enforcement members, also joined nationwide efforts to improve policing and law enforcement culture in America in light of the increasing number of police involved shootings and killings of unarmed black men and other minorities. In an October 2016 statement, the group’s then president, Terry Cunningham said, “There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens. In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans. While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational—almost inherited—mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies. Many officers who do not share this common heritage often struggle to comprehend the reasons behind this historic mistrust. As a result, they are often unable to bridge this gap and connect with some segments of their communities. While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future. We must move forward together to build a shared understanding. We must forge a path that allows us to move beyond our history and identify common solutions to better protect our communities.”Horace says the statement started an important dialogue within the law enforcement community. “There were a lot of people in the profession that disagreed with him because they felt like he was painting a broad stroke, but he wasn’t. He was just saying, listen, we’d all be fools to sit here and say that law enforcement is not a part of the problem.”

The country is at a crucial point where the expectations of communities all across America are greater than they’ve ever been. This shift has also paved the way for social justice groups like Black Lives Matter, (BLM) to form and vigorously demand change and equality in policing. And, Horace, who believes BLM is an important and vital movement, says if law enforcement refuses to adapt to these changes taking place, “We risk losing confidence and the faith of people that trust us to police.” He says using technology to support the law enforcement narrative will improve relationships with the public. “You have to be a part of what the community values.” Horace says hiring the right people for the job plays a vital role in policing. “We have to continue to bring people in that will help execute the agenda that communities across America, and the government demands and anything less than that is a recipe for failure.” He also asserts that there are internal processes in place to deal with cops who break the law, saying, “They are no different than anyone else who commits crimes, and make it very difficult for the rest of us to maintain credibility.” Horace says in general the public depends on police officers to show up when they dial 9-11 and appreciate the work they do.

Although America is guided by laws, it is not a perfect system. We still have our work cut out for us. Nevertheless, this experiment that is America still reigns supreme when compared to any other society on earth. Nowhere else on earth have so many different people come together to try and form a union based on shared values and a strong belief system. We’ve certainly come a long way but the road to the American ideal is still being paved and we have to keep working together, and hand in hand with law enforcement, to fulfill it.

 

A Glimpse Of The 2017 Solar Eclipse In The East Coast

 

By Jeanette Lenoir

 

The 2017 Solar Eclipse reached its peak at 2:44 p.m. in the eastern part of the United States. If you missed it and can’t make your way to the West coast by 10:20 p.m. when it will be in its peak view, check out this short video to satisfy your curiosity and get a glimpse of it. Also, Time Magazine has a great interactive video showing the times of the Solar Eclipse.

 

 

 

The Charlottesville Monster March Is A Stark Reminder Of America’s Shameful Past And Fragile Future

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Did you think the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., marching for freedom and equality were over? And, when you listen to old civil rights movement stories of Medgar Evers, James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and even still living civil rights era leaders and social activists like Rep. John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Cornell West and Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., were you relatively comfortable in your existence as an American until the Nazis, the KKK and Alt-Right group took their revolting message to Charlottesville, VA? You’re not alone. And, you should be uncomfortable if you’ve taken comfort on the sidelines of history by not participating in the greatest democracy ever known to man. Simply minding your own business, keeping you head down and your mouth shut can no longer be an option. Not when the days of Hitler and Mussolini are once again upon us like a bad reoccurring nightmare, or a street packed with walkers from The Walking Dead. Yes, that’s how bad it feels when racism is in full bloom.

Despite several attempts to put out the racial fires taking place across the country, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is playing games with American lives and flushing our common values down the toilet. When nearly every major nightly show host like, Jimmy Kimmel, Steven Colbert, John Oliver, Seth Myers and even Jimmy Fallon—who decided to play footsie with Trump during his appearance on his show rather than hold him accountable for his boorish actions and behavior—take a stand against the president’s latest attack on basic human decency…one can’t help but surmise that we are a nation at war with ourselves. We are a nation held hostage by a mad man supported by the most hateful Americans among us. If you don’t believe America is in crisis, you’re not paying attention, you’re not invested in our common ideology that all men are created equal, and your silence equates to support or blatant disregard of the Kraken that’s been released by Trump and the people that support his destructive behavior and administration.

When former Klan leader and white supremacist David Duke, who didn’t miss a chance showing his face at the racist rally in Charlottesville, thanks our president for his support by saying the group’s staunch discriminatory stance represents a turning point in the country, adding, “We’re going to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believe in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump because he says he’s going to take our country back and that’s what he’s gotta do.” …it’s as clear as a cloudless sky, that America is suffering some major social indigestion. So, something has to give, or someone has to go.

 

ITALY – CIRCA 1941: mail stamp printed in Italy showing Hitler and Mussolini, circa 1941

 

A staunch Republican and frequent vocal critic of the president said it best. Ana Navarro didn’t mince her words when she boldly addressed Trump directly on CNN, saying, “Let me talk to Donald Trump and explain to him that as President of the United States, he represents Blacks and Jewish people and Hispanic people and people of every color and every creed. And, it is his job as President of the United States to stand up for each and every American, to stand up vertically against racism and bigotry. Peddling to racism is just as bad as being a racist. So, Donald Trump is either a racists, or he’s peddling to it. And, both are frankly unacceptable and make him unfit to be President of the United States. If you can’t be President, if you cannot stand up and represent Americans, you should not be President.” She also addressed the few Republicans speaking out against Trump’s latest deplorable conduct by asking, “What the hell took you so long? When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.”

And, she’s right. Where are the collective voices of the president’s own party members and leaders? How can they be silent at this crucial moment in our history? How can these so called American patriots remain silent when our president steadily blows his dog whistle, encouraging the spread of the hatefulness we are witnessing in Charlottesville and elsewhere? Trump can’t help but be Trump. He’s an expert at being who he is; a proven and dangerous liar, bigot and sexist individual. This behavior has worked in his favor his entire life and since making his debut on the world’s stage. This is a man who boldly claims that he can commit a heinous crime and still be comfortable on his perch. So, why do we expect him to be anything other than what he’s successfully been? Albert Einstein is credited for the quote: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s a quote we Americans frequently use to describe something or someone we want to lecture, judge or advice. So, why aren’t we as a nation of decent people taking our own advice? Why are we allowing this sore that is Trump to fester?

When South Koreans demanded change after their president, Park Geun-hye—the country’s first democratically elected leader to be forced out of office—was caught embroiled in a cult-like scandal, and accused of abusing her authority, the people took to the streets in massive numbers to demand her ouster. And, it worked. The difference between our two countries lies at the heart of Unity as we know it. We are struggling to remain united, thanks to a single but powerful mad man who refuses to lead our country as a nation of one people beholden to our Constitution and Bill of Rights that has governed and shaped us throughout our relatively young democracy. America is only 241 years old. And, in that time, we have risen from the depths of shame by abolishing Slavery, advancing Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Workers Rights, Voters Rights, and even the LGBTQ movement. We did it together. Hand in hand. We took to the streets and marched on Washington. We crossed the bridge in Selma. We sang songs to stop the lynching of black bodies hanging from poplar trees. We prayed over the bodies of young girls bombed in the most sacred of places; the church. We wept over the sight of Emmett Till. We fought to end segregation. We demanded equality in our schools and elsewhere. We even took our determination to love who we want to love all the way to the Supreme Court in support of Mildred and Richard Love. We hold onto hope for a better tomorrow, singing songs of overcoming…and yet, here we are facing the biggest threat to our precious democracy; President Donald J. Trump, and find ourselves paralyzed.

New York Daily News Columnist and social activist Shaun King didn’t mince his words either when he called upon all Americans united on common goals to take to the streets like the South Koreans did, to oust our destructive and dangerous president. However, it seems that fear of another civil war traps us in our trepidation, like a deer staring blankly into oncoming traffic lights and not moving until it’s too late. If Fox News and the Daily Caller aren’t afraid to post a video basically instructing their followers on how to mow down people that have bravely taken to the streets to fight for our country, we can’t be afraid to meet that message head on. And, even demanding that Laura Ingraham who gave a clear Nazi salute and dog whistle like nod to these bigoted creatures, not be allowed to have her own show on Fox News, as it’s been reported. We have to fight for our beautiful and diverse country. Let’s not get run over. America is our country. America does not belong to Donald Trump, the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, or the Alt-Right Middle Earth-like creatures and haters of humanity. America belongs to all of us that call it home, value who we are and what we stand for and against. The time to stand up for our nobility and virtues is always now. That’s what makes us uniquely Americans. We fight for the rights of all people.

 

NABJ New Orleans: A Significant Moment In America’s Journey In A City Full Of Culture And Black History

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

New Orleans can easily be described as America’s secret gem. Despite the havoc caused by Hurricane Katrina and the negative portrayal of a city plagued by violence, New Orleans stands alone in all its glory, people, culture and revelry.

This year, the National Association of Black Journalists congregated in the historic city, part of the group’s annual convention and career fair. America’s racial turmoil, like the most recent incident in Charlottesville, VA, makes the destination for the gathering a unique one that highlights who we are, what we’re capable of and what we continue to stand for as Americans and NABJ members. The struggle for equality and a more just country isn’t over but neither is our resolve and determination to fight bigotry with education, success and the most powerful armor man has against hate; Love. And, New Orleans has plenty of love, history and black culture for the greater mission to improve our world and American culture as a whole.

The Big Easy, as the iconic and beautiful city is nicknamed, was the perfect complement to highlight NABJ’s work and the people that come out to support it. People like, Roland S. Martin, Charles Barkley, Harris Faulkner, Dr. Jeff Gardere, Nyja Greene with CNN in Atlanta, Tracey Rivers with Fox 26 News in Houston, and many other prominent black figures. And, even the presence of arguably the most unpopular black woman in the White House, Omarosa Manigault, couldn’t overshadow the power of the event in a city full of life, talent, charm and charisma. And, how fitting and telling of the group’s importance, growth and impact that even Facebook joined the convention this year to recruit talent for its own innovative work across the globe.

In our current state of aggressive and divisive nationalism, New Orleans was the perfect backdrop to mark black progress in America. Black folks, specifically those that call the Big Easy home, have come a long way as a people. In the repugnant face of racism and discrimination, to a natural disaster that changed the lives and demographics of the city; New Orleanians are overcoming everything that has plagued their journey with music, food, revelry, an organic entrepreneurial spirit and a potent dose of American culture. Nevertheless, it’s clear to see, especially thanks to an administration fueling anti-American values that the civil rights movement is far from over, making NABJ’s mission and work more important than ever.

Jazz or Jass as it was first spelled, was born in New Orleans, making dancing and singing in the streets to great local bands simply a cultural norm. From Bourbon Street to Frenchman Street, the city cradles its patrons like moths uncontrollably drawn to light, despite all the effects that comes with merrymaking, and an alcohol and drugs infused atmosphere. However, there’s more than the music and revelry to talk about. The local artists on the streets hawking their goods like, Alex Lee Calacuayo, add a certain essence to the bright beautiful colors that is New Orleans and its people. Food venders, like Mr. Joe’s Island Grill—unlike some other cities in America—take a great deal of pride in what they prepare and offer. It’s a constant party that hits you all over, from your dancing feet to your mouth full of the best food on the planet. And, none of it takes away from the cultural significance that is New Orleans.

A significant perspective of NABJ’s presence in the Big Easy is the story of Palmer Park, which according to, New Orleans Historical, was named after a staunch supporter of slavery and segregation; Benjamin Parker. The white’s only park was the scene where during the Jim Crow era, during a 1924 speech, “Shreveport Mayor Lee E. Thomas, challenging Senator Randsell for his seat, drew loud applause when he accused the senator of signing a letter supporting a black man for a federal job; the mayor’s allegation sought to condemn the senator’s egalitarian gesture. Similar racism could be seen in reaction to a 1934 incident. Residents nearby the park and civic organizations complained about an unlicensed shoe shine stand, “Sam’s Shine Parlor,” which appeared in the park. The stand, aimed at people waiting nearby for the bus to Kenner, was originally chained to a tree in the park. The black vendor’s chair was removed. White vendors, like the man who sold hot tamales, were allowed in the park.”

Despite a long and arduous journey plagued with racial prejudice black people in America are still standing, and still working towards their own prosperity as our collective American values instills in each and every one of us. And how fitting that after all these years and racial turmoil’s, NABJ is still working to bring organizations together that recognize the importance and value of diversity in the work place, especially in media. We represent the spirit of Sam’s Shine Parlor.

The country is changing. New Orleans is going through it too, especially following the mass public upheaval brought on by Katrina. Walking the streets of the city you can still hear folks talk about all they’ve lost during the August 2005 storm. The breaking of the levees didn’t just spill massive amounts of water covering the city and destroying lives. Some argue that it also washed away a great deal of its culture and fast-tracking gentrification. Even so, the city full of charm with one of the best American accents you’ll hear is still thriving. And a large reason for it lies at the feet of the local population that make a living in the streets, where a great deal of the city’s booming tourism industry can be seen and deeply felt. New Orleans is not just beautiful; the Big Easy is the epitome of what we recognize as the birth of American culture.