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George Curry

Celebrating Women Beyond Mother's Day

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At the invitation of Michael McMillan, I traveled to St. Louis last week to address the annual Salute to Women Leadership awards luncheon. For seven years, McMillan has been sponsoring this extravagant event. The fact that a man would sponsor it and have the temerity to invite another man to serve as the event’s keynote speaker makes a significant public statement: It’s fine for women to honor one another, but it’s equally important that males honor and respect women.

Violent assaults on elderly women, rape, offensive rap lyrics that refer to women as synonyms for female dogs and garden tools, domestic violence and lack of basic manners are all deeply rooted in male attitudes toward females. And there’s no better way to change such negative attitudes than by instilling in males, beginning at an early age, a respect for the opposite sex. After all, they all have mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, girlfriends or wives whom they would like to see respected by males.

McMillan is the license collector of St. Louis, but operates his glowing tribute to women in his unofficial capacity. He is unopposed in this year’s election and therefore is not seeking any political gain from his decision to recognize successful women or his other events to spotlight education and the plight of poor people.

This year, 14 “she-roes” were honored: Olympic star Jackie Joyner-Kersee; Gwendolyn D. Packnett, director of the Office of Multicultural Relations at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; Donna Wilkinson, a local fund-raiser and wife of legendary University of Oklahoma football coach Budd Wilkinson; Merdean Fielding-Gales, a prominent gospel music leader and co-host of the Bobby Jones Gospel Hour; Debbie Pyzyk, a realtor with offices in eight states; Carol Daniel, a local TV host; Pat Shannon-VanMatre, a St. Louis restaurant owner; Cheryl D. Polk, a United Way official; Alderwoman Marlene E. Davis; Comptroller Darlene Green; Thelma E. Steward, a registered nurse and tireless civic volunteer; Lois D. Conley, an expert on African-American history; Sister Mary Jean Ryan, CEO of SSM Health Care and educator Johnetta R. Haley, the first female president of a Southern Illinois University campus.

Each honoree received 32 gifts, including a dozen roses, monogrammed chocolates, wine, champagne, a designer hat, a custom-designed necklace, a field pass to a St. Louis Rams football game with access to the owner’s suite; a mink monogrammed draw string purse, a Neiman Marcus gift set, free use of the Cabanne House in Forest Park and a White House pen set and tote bag.

I speak at events around the country, but I’ve never attended one that comes close to matching this one. As elegant as this event was, we cannot lose sight of Michael McMillan’s original vision, which was to honor women.

Society can’t be reminded enough that African-American women carry the dual burden of being Black and being female, earning less than all males and White women. Despite passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, White females earn 73.5 percent of what White males are paid; Black males earn 72.1 percent; followed by Black women at 63.6 percent or less than a third of the pay of White men; Latino men receive 57.5 percent and Latino women, 51.7 percent.

Black girls suffering from poor selfimages would benefit from seeing successful women like those honored in St. Lois. We all know about the ground-breaking experiment that Kenneth B. Clark and his wife, Mamie, conducted in 1939. They administered a doll test to African- American kids, ages 6-9, showing them dolls that were identical in respect except color. Most of the children picked the White doll as being nicer than the Black doll. The couple’s research was used in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

In 2005, Kiri Davis repeated the doll experiment with children in Harlem.

Although she used a small sample, 71 percent of the children said the White doll was nicer. In 2009, the year Barack Obama was elected president, ABC-TV decided a conduct a similar test, this time altering the question to: Which doll is pretty? In that test, 47 percent of the girls described the White doll as the pretty one.

Clearly, there is plenty of work to be done among both girls and boys. Perhaps in our various manhood training and rites of passage programs, we should add a component that focuses on respect toward females. Organizations such 100 Black Men should also host programs that honor the hundreds of females in their local community.

It’s not enough for women to honor women. It’s time that men break the gender barrier and realize how all of us benefit from women being honored and respected.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Is Gay the New Black?

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(NNPA) Leave it to Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, to organize a panel discussion on the provocative topic: “Is Gay the New Black?” The lively and sometimes passionate discussion was held as part of Freedom Weekend activities in Detroit and mirrored a long-running debate around the country among African- Americans and between Blacks and the lesbian and gay community.

The question is premised on whether the LBGT community (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) is discriminated against in the same manner that African- Americans were prior to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Acts and, to a lesser extent, today. City Council President Charles Pugh, who is openly gay, was the only panelist who took a different tact, thinking the question was about the color black as a fashion statement.

“The gay agenda does not and cannot supercede the agenda for Black people as a whole, as far as human rights, and as for economic empowerment,” argued Malik Shabazz, Detroit leader of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. “I believe we’re being socially engineered and manipulated into a lifestyle that’s in many ways hurting our community.”

When Shabazz blamed Blacks leading alternative lifestyles for the low marriage rate of African-American women and the number of fatherless households, Sharon J. Lettman, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization dedicated to empowering Black LBGTs and ending homophobia and racism, became incensed.

“There are brothers in jails, there are brothers with White women and other women of color, there are jobless brothers wrought with drug abuse and alcohol abuse. How dare us try to marginalize the existence of the LBGT community by trying to pigeonhole our crisis as a Black community on the gay community. How dare us!”

Curtis Lipscomb, who said he lost a job because he acknowledged being gay, declared: “All life is precious, including gay and lesbian life. Discrimination is discrimination, is discrimination, is discrimination.

Against gays, it’s wrong.

Against Blacks, it’s wrong. Against anyone, it’s wrong. The African-American gay community is part of the greater African-American community.”

Anthony Samad, a Los Angeles-based scholar, social activist and columnist, said African-Americans are in a quandary, opposing discrimination against homosexuals because of their sexual orientation yet unwilling to endorse same-sex relationships or marriages.

“Most of us have a family member – I have a family member – who is gay,” Samad explained. “That does not necessarily mean that I am prepared to put aside what my moral imperative is.

African-Americans had the church when they didn’t have anything else. And that’s the conflict.”

He added.”We are a society that’s structured as males and females. If you want to advocate for a third gender, that should be the fight. Until that is, in fact, what you’re asking for, what you’re asking African-Americans to do is to go against their belief system, which is the church.

Most of them believe a marriage should be between a man and a woman. You’re asking them to choose between your cause and their church.”

Rev. Horace Sheffield III, executive director of the Detroit Association of Black Organizations, said while moral issues are raised about homosexuality, equal outrage is not directed at what he called “heterosexual whores.”

He said, “We don’t have the same uncomfortableness with other forms of immorality in our churches. I know pastors who are on the Down Low, or whatever, and they preach against homosexuality.”

Lesbian activist Terri Leverette said White gays and lesbians pushed for marriage equity without consulting the Black LBGT community. She said she carries the triple burden of being Black, a woman and a lesbian.

“I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in re-enfranchising or fully enfranchising not one more White man until my other two burdens are lifted,” she said.

Bernadine Brown, director of policy for the Triangle Foundation, a Michigan LBGT advocacy group, talked about not only being rejected by African- Americans, but also by White-led gay and lesbian advocacy organizations.

“The organizations have a poor reputation for hiring people of color and retaining them,” Brown said. “I can tell you I’ve been Black all of my life, I’ve been a woman all of my life and I have never experienced the degree of racism that I’ve experienced since I became a professional lesbian doing this work.” Both gays and straights on the panel agreed that the Black community is conflicted by how homosexuals should be treated.

According to Associated Press exit polls, 70 percent of African-Americans supported Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative aimed at overturning the California Supreme Court’s decision in 2008 allowing same-sex marriages.

However, other polls show that a majority of Blacks oppose employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Georgia State University researchers, after reviewing 31 national polls from 1973 to 2000, concluded: “Blacks appear to be more likely than whites both to see homosexuality as wrong and to favor gay-rights laws.”

After repeating that he opposes harassment of and discrimination against gays and lesbians, Shabazz said: “If you ask me do I have some uncomfortableness with it, yes. If you want to ask me if it’s alright for Fred to have anal sex with John, if you’re asking me if it’s alright, no. If you do it behind closed doors, go right ahead. That’s fine. But if you want my blessing on it, I can’t give it to you.”

Samad asked: “How do you have a movement when the moral question, specifically for African-Americans, is still an issue and still a question? Has the Black community first accepted the moral question before talking about the civil rights question?”

If the panel discussion is any indication, African-Americans are still searching for answers.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge

Revisiting the State of Black America

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Although the National Urban League has been issuing the annual “State of Black America” report for 34 years, for some inexplicable reason, everywhere you look these days, some group is sponsoring a panel discussion titled the “State of Black America.” Tavis Smiley scheduled one in Los Angeles, canceled it, and then revived it in Chicago. Last Saturday, Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network hosted a televised panel discussion on the State of Black America at its national convention in New York.

In the interest of full disclosue, I will be moderating a panel May 1 as part of Detroit’s Freedom Weekend activities.

Marc Morial has also asked me to moderate a State of Black America discussion for the National Urban League on July 28 as part of the organization’s centennial convention in Washington, D.C. I am happy to oblige Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP chapter, and Marc Morial because I think such discussions can be useful. When it comes to any activity that keeps us focused on the important issues of the day, I count that as a plus.

But we must move beyond these separate discussions. During my semimonthly radio appearance on the Bev Smith Show last Friday night, I suggested that instead of having separate-but-unequal panels, we need to have a major one jointly sponsored by all of the major civil rights organizations. Instead of certain leaders loading their respective panel with their buddies, as they usually do, the head of major professional organizations should serve as co-panelists with the civil rights leaders.

Bev Smith, who has attended more civil rights conventions than she’d like to admit, said that such an arrangement would mean less talk time for the traditional civil rights leaders. That would be a good thing. They need to move beyond competing for face time on TV and take the time to face persistent problems afflicting Black America. Leaders who profess to want unity among African- Americans can set an example by demonstrating some among themselves.

A joint panel should include the presidents of the National Bar Association, the National Medical Association, National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the Congressional Black Caucus, National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO), National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), National Association of Black Political Scientists, Urban Financial Services Coalition and Blacks in Government, among others.

If questions arise about health disparities, political empowerment, the prison industrial complex, or education, specialists in those areas would be on hand to provide informed and thoughtful answers and recommendations. Better yet, the professional groups could each provide a “Black Paper” on their respective issues prior to the gathering. They could be questioned by a panel of seasoned journalists and civil rights leaders could sit for a second round and be questioned on how they plan to implement the recommendations.

Questioning both groups would be a pool of journalists that would include the likes of Joe Davidson, DeWayne Wickham, Roland Martin, Joe Madison, Bev Smith, and Michael Cottman, and Hazel Edney. The moderator could be either Ed Gordon or Gwen Ifill.

Having such a well-rounded mix of experts and journalists would provide a high-quality discussion that could lead to a far-reaching action agenda.

My second suggestion, which could work in concert with my aforementioned panel, would be for all of the major civil rights organizations to hold a joint convention, perhaps five years from now. In fact, it could become a 5-year ritual. The advantage of such a gathering would be a more concentrated focus on problems and less concentration on individual egos.

Other groups are already holding joint conventions. African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American journalists hold a joint convention, called Unity, every four years. Recently, Black Methodists convened the Great Gathering in Columbia, S.C. and agreed to work together on problems facing Black males. The civil rights community would do well to emulate those efforts. In the meantime, civil rights leaders – as well as the Black community – would be better served by strengthening ties with Black professional groups. For example, I have heard a couple of civil rights leaders say they are considering assembling a list of potential candidates for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens at the end of this court term. It makes more sense for the National Bar Association to take the lead on this issue.

Mavis T. Thompson, president of the National Bar Association, has written a letter to President Obama recommending the appointment of Appeals Court Judge Ann Claire Williams of the Seventh Circuit.

Thompson wrote, “a moderate and faithful adherent to constitutional principles of government, Judge Williams is extremely well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and has all the necessary experiences and the professional expertise to succeed Justice Stevens.” If appointed, Williams would become the first African-American female to serve on the Supreme Court."

If the civil rights community rallies behind the recommendations of the National Bar Association on judicialrelated issues, behind the National Medical Association on health disparities and the National Association of Black Political Scientists on political empowerment, the State of Black America would be better than it is now.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Obama Should Reject Top Supreme Court Candidate

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Solicitor General Elena Kagan, said to be President Obama’s leading choice to replace Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, would be a poor appointment and would be unlikely to mirror Stevens’ progressive voting record.

Kagan, former dean of the Harvard Law School, was a finalist when Sonia Sotomayor was appointed by Obama to the court last year. Because she has already been vetted -- and has won praise from some conservative quarters – White House sources have stated that she heads Obama’s short list of candidates to replace Stevens, the leader of the 4-member progressive block of Supreme Court justices.

“When President Obama chose Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter, that had very little effect on the ideological balance of the Court, because Sotomayor was highly likely to vote the way Souter did in most cases,” Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and former civil rights litigator, wrote in Salon.

“By stark contrast, replacing Stevens with Kagan (or, far less likely, with [Cass] Sunstein) would shift the Court to the Right on a litany of key issues (at least as much as the shift accomplished by George Bush’s selection of right-wing ideologue Sam Alito to replace the more moderate Sandra Day O’Connor).”

No one claims that Kagan, who supports abortion rights and gay rights, is a conservative. However, she is more likely to vote with the court’s conservative wing on such issues as executive power and civil liberties.

Candidates favored by progressives include Appellate Court Judge Diane Wood, former Yale Law School dean and current State Department legal adviser Harold Koh and Stanford Law professor Pamela Karlan. The only African- American mentioned has been former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah W. Sears, who is considered a longshot.

Attorney General Eric Holder should be added to the list of serious candidates.

Writing in the Nation, Ari Melber said, “With Justice Stevens retiring, it will take a nominee like Harold Koh just to maintain the Court’s status quo.” Greenwald predicts that Obama’s next appointee will be more conservative than Stevens.

“The danger that we don’t have such a status-quo-maintaining selection is three-fold,” he wrote. “(1) Kagan, from her time at Harvard, is renowned for accommodating and incorporating conservative views, the kind of ‘post-ideological’ attribute Obama finds so attractive; (2) for both political and substantive reasons, the Obama White House tends to avoid (with few exceptions) any appointees to vital posts who are viewed as ‘liberal’ or friendly to the Left; the temptation to avoid that kind of nominee heading into the 2010 midterm elections will be substantial… and (3) Kagan has already proven herself to be a steadfast Obama loyalist with her work as his Solicitor General, and the desire to have on the Court someone who has demonstrated fealty to Obama’s broad claims of executive authority is likely to be great.”

The most disturbing aspect of a possible Kagan appointment is her admiration of the Federalist Society, a network of conservative and libertarian students, law professors, attorneys and judges whose goal is to advance the conservative agenda by pushing America’s legal system to the right.

Five of the nine members of the Supreme Court --- Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy – have been members or close affiliates of the Federalist Society. Federalist board members have included Orin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the most conservative members of the Senate; Ed Meese, attorney general under Ronald Reagan; and C. Boyden Gray, President George H.W. Bush’s chief White House counsel.

The group is so influential that in 2001 George W. Bush discontinued the practice, dating back to Dwight Eisenhower, of presidents relying on the National Bar Association to vet judicial appointments. Under Bush, the Federalist Society served that function for judgeships and some cabinet positions.

In an article Trevor Coleman and I wrote on the Federalist Society for Emerge magazine in October 1999, titled “Hijacking Justice,” Francis A. Boyle, a law professor at the University of Illinois, said: “…They want to go beyond getting rid of affirmative action. They want to go back to Brown v. Board of Education.”

Boyle noted that in a lecture at Columbia University, Scalia said if the landmark school desegregation case came before him today, he would vote against the plaintiffs, which would have the effect of maintaining segregated schools.

At a reception for the Federalist Society at Harvard, members gave Kagan a standing ovation.

One Federalist Society site carries this quote from her: “I love the Federalist Society…They are highly committed, intelligent, hard-working active students who make the Harvard community better.”

Other conservatives seem to love Kagan as much as she loves the Federalist Society.

Eric Lichtblau began a May 17, 2009 story in the New York Times: “When Elana Kagan went before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February as President Obama’s nominee for solicitor general, Republicans were almost as effusive as Democrats in their praise for her.”

The story continued, “…Indeed, there was so much adulation in the air from Republicans that one Democrat, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, joked at the hearing that she understood how Ms. Kagan ‘managed to get a standing ovation’ from the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.”

But appointing Kagan because she might be easier to confirm would be a major mistake. President Obama should appoint someone in the mold of Thurgood Marshall, William O. Douglas and William J. Brennan.

Many people voted for Obama with the expectation that he would appoint progressive judges to the bench. To do anything less, especially to placate conservatives, would be a betrayal of trust.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Tiger Woods and the Masters: The Ultimate Odd Couple

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(NNPA) The Second Coming of Tiger Woods, just four days after Easter, will dominate the airways this weekend. Woods chose the tradition-laden golf course for his return, in part, because it provides him the best buffer to separate him from fans and journalists who want to know about his extramarital dalliances with the likes of former porn stars and his one-car accident with a tree and fire hydrant last November near his Orlando-area home.

The curiosity factor has been heightened by Woods’ carefully-scripted reaction to his very public fall from grace: his refusal to meet with police after the accident, his staged press conference in which he read a statement but declined to take questions and the 5-minute “interviews” with two news outlets leading up to the Augusta National. In a poor tactical move, he did not hold a formal news conference until Monday, more than four months after the incident.

To orchestrate his PR, Woods hired Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary under George W. Bush. Of the many competent public relations firms around, both Black and White, Team Tiger selected one whose owner had to explain why Bush lied to American citizens about Iraq purportedly possessing weapons of mass destruction. I guess when you’ve been as self-destructive as Tiger Woods, with the skank-of-the-day disclosures, it’s best to turn to a master of mass distortion.

Even more surprising than turning to a former Bush mouthpiece to repair his tarnished public image was the selection of Augusta for his return to golf. The first Masters tournament took place in Augusta in 1934. African-American golfers were not allowed to play there until 40 years later when Lee Elder broke the color barrier.

The country club did not have its first Black member until 1990. That happened just months after the all-White Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. was warned by the Professional Golf Association (PGA) that it would not be allowed to continue hosting major tournaments if it continued its Whites-only policy. Hall Thompson, the Augusta founder, declared at the time, “This is our home, and we pick and choose who we want.”

Civil rights groups threatened to picket the tournament and major corporations withdrew as sponsors. To end the controversy, the country club decided to “pick and choose” Louis Willie, a local Black insurance executive, to become an honorary member before graduating to full membership. It now admits African-Americans, Jews and women as members. Last September, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a native of Birmingham, became a full member of Shoal Creek.

The Augusta National hasn’t made as much progress. In fact, women are still prohibited from joining the country club.

Augusta’s history of racial exclusion was broken by Lee Elder but shattered by Tiger Woods. En route to earning the fabled green jacket in 1997, Woods shot a record 18 under par, earning a 12-shot victory. In 2001, Woods won another green jacket with a two stroke, 16 under par victory.

In a not-so-subtle effort to “Tiger-proof” the golf course, the Augusta National Country Club lengthened nine holes, adding a total of 285 yards. The result? Tiger Woods won the Masters again in 2002, becoming the second-youngest player to win the tournament three times. He won a fourth Masters in 2005.

Professional golf for years was known as one of the most segregated professional sports. It was not until 1961 – long after most major sports were desegregated – that it removed the Whites-only clause from its membership requirements. That does not mean, however, that African-Americans have not been involved in the sport.

John Shippen, the son of a Black father and Native American mother, competed in the U.S. Open in 1896. George Grant, a Boston dentist, is credited with inventing the modern wooden tee in 1899. Calvin Pete won the 1979 Greater Milwaukee Open, the first of his 12 career PGA victories.

When Tiger Woods exploded on the professional golf scene in 1996, it was supposed to usher in a new era of African-Americans who wanted to be like Tiger. Inner city youth were encouraged to take up golf and the PGA pledged to initiate more activities to encourage Blacks to take up golf, a sport long associated with privileged White males.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were at least 10 Black golfers on the PGA tour, including Calvin Pete, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder and Pete Brown. Today, even after Tiger Woods’ success on the golf course, he is the only African-American on the tour. The only other dark-skin PGA golfer is Vijay Singh, a Fijian.

When asked about the lack of Blacks on the tour, Woods told reporters: “Am I disappointed? Yeah. I thought there would be more of us out here.”

If there were, there might be less of a burden on Tiger this week in Augusta.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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