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George Curry

March Madness on Capitol Hill

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March Madness, the frantic round of tournament showdowns to determine which team will emerge as the top college basketball unit in the nation, has nothing on the Capitol Hill Madness that occurred over the weekend.

Outside the domed deliberations over health care Saturday, so-called Tea Party protesters shouted the n-word at several African-American congressmen, including John Lewis who was brutally beaten in Selma, Ala. as part of the Selma to Montgomery March that led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Another Black representative, Emanuel Cleaver II of Kansas City, Mo., was spat on by one protester, who was arrested by Capitol Hill police.

According to the McClatchey News Service, one colleague walking with Lewis to the Capitol heard the chants of, “Kill the bill, kill the bill.” When Lewis told some protesters that he supported the health care measure being voted on in the House, marchers taunted him, saying: “Kill the bill, nigger.” One Black lawmaker said he heard the n-word 15 times.

“They were shouting, sort of harassing,” Lewis told the wire service. “But it’s OK. I’ve faced this before. It reminded me of the ‘60s. It was a lot of downright hate and anger and people being downright mean.”

Cleaver experienced that meanness when a protester spat on him.

“This is not the first time the congressman has been called the n-word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans,” a statement from Cleaver’s office said. “That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting.”

Cleaver, an ordained minister, former mayor of Kansas City and ex-organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), refused to press charges against his abuser.

Some of these lunatics are out of control. Can you imagine the national reaction if an African-American protester spat on a White member of Congress in public and called him or her a racial epithet? Michael Steele, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and several GOP leaders in the House have denounced the abhorrent actions on Saturday, but were quick to characterize them as “isolated incidents.”

The venom was not isolated to African-American lawmakers.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), an openly gay member of Congress, was called a “homo” and a “faggot.”

He told the Boston Globe, “I was, I guess, surprised by the rancor. What it means is obviously the health care bill is proxy for a lot of other sentiments, some of which are perfectly reasonable, but some of which are not.”

Frank added, “People out there today, on the whole, were really hateful. The leaders of this movement have a responsibility to speak out more.”

But the rancor was not limited to a few “isolated incidents” outside the Capitol.

Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan threatened to vote against the health care bill until President Obama agreed to issue an executive order maintaining the current federal ban on the use of federal funds for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is threatened.

When Stupak urged Democrats to reject a Republican anti-abortion amendment, someone from the Republican aisle yelled, “Baby killer.”

John Campbell, a Republican from California, acknowledged that the person yelling the comment sat in the row behind him, where Texas Republicans usually sit.

“The people who know won’t give it up,” Campbell told reporters.

The March Madness over the newly-signed health care law will probably carry over into the November elections as Democrats and Republicans seek to prove that they reflect the position of most Americans.

The 178 House Republicans unanimously voted against the health care measure, which passed 219-212. On the Democratic side, 34 voted no, including five who supported health care reform when the House first passed it on Nov.7.

Obama has launched a series of high-profile events around the country to increase support for the legislation. Meanwhile, Republicans plan to continue using the newly-passed health care law as a political issue, depicting the measure as unaffordable and unpopular.

The venom expressed over the weekend shows no sign of abating.

The Web site gawker.com carried the headline, “Right-Wing Bloggers Demand Apology From Lawmakers Called ‘Nigger’ By Tea Partyers.”

It noted that conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds posted the following comment: “Does [Rep. James] Clyburn Owe Tea Party Protesters an Apology? The bogus racism card has been played so often that I no longer find such charges very credible. I’m sure, however, that, true or not, they’ll be played much more loudly than the indisputably true statements about the antiwar movement.”

Referring to Black lawmakers who were called the n-word, conservative blogger Ann Althouse wrote, “It’s outrageous for them to pose as victims without very good cause. So what if some idiot said a bad word?”

First, it was more than one idiot. Second, more than just a bad word was uttered. But none of that matters in March Madness. Let the games begin.

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

Reducing the Black Male Dropout Rate

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Boys don’t drop out in the 12th grade. They physically drop out in the ninth grade, but they emotionally and academically drop out in the fourth grade.

That observation is made early by Jawanza Kunjufu, a noted educator, public speaker and publisher, in his new book, Reducing the Black Male Dropout Rate (African American Images, Chicago, 708/672-4909) He issues this challenge to readers: “Visit a kindergarten class and observe Black boys in action. They’re eager, they sit in the front, they’re on task. They love learning.”

But something happens by the time they reach the ninth grade.

Kunjufu says approximately 100,000 African-American males drop out of high school each year; in some urban areas the black male rate approaches 70 percent.

Even a high school drop-out can calculate that rate amounts to 1 million Black males over 10 years. That 10-year figure is larger than the total population of Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Boston, Charlotte, Denver, Baltimore, Memphis or New Orleans.

In his book, Kunjufu provides a lesson plan for reducing the horrendous Black drop-out rate. The turnaround must begin in the home. He notes that schools have students only 9 percent of the time from infancy to 18 years of age. Parents, on the other hand, have students far more longer and must do a far better job of creating the right intellectual atmosphere at home.

“Parents, I’d like for you to do an inventory of your home,” Kunjufu writes.

“Count the number of books you have vs. the number of CDs and DVDs. That will, in part, explain your child’s academic performance.”

He adds, “What you have in your house determines the kind of student that comes out of your house.”

Parents should also take firm control of their homes. The author scoffs at the idea of a child telling parents paying rent or a mortgage: “You have no right to go into my room.” Parents not only have the right to go anywhere in their house, they should also exercise the right to inspect their child’s room at anytime.

They should also listen to their children’s music and check out their friends.

“Parents, if you don’t do anything else, you need to know your children’s friends. You can tell an awful lot about your child by his selection of friends.

Many parents believe their sons are angels. You need to observe your son’s friends in action. Invite them over to your house. Meet the parents of your son’s friends. Why is this so important? Because the peer group is the number one influence on African American males.”

Because of that influence, parents should know where their children are during the crucial hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., when children are most likely to get into trouble.

Poor parents should not expect their children’s performance levels to be lower than those from rich families. “Wealthy parents don’t have smarter kids than the poor and working poor, than Blacks or Latinos, but what they perhaps do better is insist that the school do its job better no matter what it takes,” Kunjufu believes.

He notes that because African Americans suffer from PTSD – Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder – it is crucial that Black males be exposed to culturally- relevant learning materials.

Another suggestion is better recognition of academic achievement.

“If you have an assembly program of 500 students but are giving out two awards, there’s a very good chance that African-American males will call those two students nerds,” Kunjufu explains.

“A more effective assembly program would honor many students. If a student moves from a D to a C, he should receive an award. If he moves from a C to an A, he receives two awards. In this way, it is very possible that all 500 students will receive an award and just maybe the students will buy into academic achievement.”

Educators should not buy into the notion of social promotions, the act of promoting non-achieving students to the next grade.

“I acknowledge the pain students must endure when they are held back,” Kunjufu says. “But the pain is even greater when, in the ninth grade, they are trying to get through the school day with a fourthgrade reading level.”

Churches and community groups also have a role to play in reducing the dropout rate.

“The most important institution in the African American community is the church, and there are 85,000 African American churches,” the author writes.

“The One Church, One School program created the concept that churches should sponsor or adopt schools in their community.

Can you imagine if each of the 85,000 churches adopted a school? There are some 15,000 elementary and high schools in Black America, which means there would be five to six churches for one school! That’s a winning combination for our children.”

In his book, Kunjufu Jawanza has given us the winning formula for halting the Black male drop-out rate. The sooner his book is read and his ideas are implemented, the sooner we change the destination of thousands of Black males from prison to educated and productive lives.

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.

Tavis Goes into Battle of Wits with Sharpton Unarmed

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If Tavis Smiley were doing the commentary on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, he might begin by saying, “As Big Mama would say, he created a new behind in his opponent.” But Tavis is not providing disinterested commentary on this feud, primarily because it was Rev. Al Sharpton who created a new butt in Tavis when the verbose talk show host tried to take on The Greater Debater.

It was a Tavis commentary on February 23 that ignited the fireworks between Sharpton and Smiley. He accused Black leaders – Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous, Marc Morial, Dorothy Height, Professor Charles Ogletree and Valerie Jarrett – of singing the song that President Obama does not need to focus on a Black agenda.

“I must have missed that choir rehearsal, J., because I don’t know the words to this new hymn,” Tavis proclaimed.

“The president doesn’t need a Black agenda, they sing. He’s not the president of Black America, he’s the president of all America and he need not focus specifically on the unique challenges Black America is facing, they sing.”

Sharpton said not only was Tavis off key, he cited the wrong lyrics.

“First of all, we never said that,” an enraged Sharpton told Smiley. “And second of all, the New York Times never said we said that.”

Sharpton said he placed a call to Tavis and did not get a return call. And when Tavis unexpectedly called Sharpton’s syndicated radio show, the civil rights leader issued a scorching point-by-point rebuttal.

Tavis kept saying how much he loved Sharpton and no matter what Sharpton does, he can’t diminish Tavis’ love for him. Sharpton basically said, “What’s love got to do with it?” and proceeded to dismantle Tavis’ feeble defense. Tavis Smiley essentially showed up for a battle of wits unarmed.

For the record, I’ve never been a Tavis fan. I think he is a poor interviewer who has more style than substance.

No journalist worth his or her salt makes the question in an interview longer than the answer. But Tavis is not a journalist. Never has been one.

And it shows. Until now, I’ve never mentioned Tavis’ name in print. But now that he has publicly questioned the integrity of civil rights leaders he formerly courted, it’s time to place some additional things on the record.

When I was editor of Emerge magazine, I got a call from Deborah Tang, his producer and one of my longtime friends. “Tavis wants to be on the cover of Emerge,” she said. I thought Deborah was joking and replied, “People in hell want ice water.” She continued, “George, I’m serious. Can we go to lunch to talk about it?”

Realizing that she wasn’t joking, I asked, “Has Tavis ever read Emerge? If he had, he would already know that he’ll never be on the cover of Emerge.”

Tang persisted until I told her that I could afford my own lunch and there was no need to waste time discussing the prospect of Tavis being on the cover of Emerge.

I chalked the exchange up to Tavis’ oversized ego and didn’t think about the it again until more than five years later when two producers on Tavis’ radio show independently asked me if I knew I was on Tavis’ secret hit list. I replied that I didn’t know that Tavis kept such a list. Each producer told me in separate conversations that they had suggested using me to discuss stories on his radio show and were later taken aside by other staffers and informed that I would never be on his show because I had done something in the past to offend Tavis (I was actually on time once when Karen Bates was the guest host).

When told that I had offended Tavis, I searched my memory but came up with a blank. Tavis and I were always cordial when we met in public. We were neither friends nor enemies. At least, I didn’t consider him an enemy. I was never a fan of his in any sense of the word. I was never invited to any of his dog-and-pony shows and never wanted to participate in them.

One of the producers told me that I was on Tavis’ enemies list because I didn’t put him on the cover of Emerge.

All I could do at the time was laugh and shake my head. What an egomaniac, I thought.

The nation got a glimpse of Tavis being a legend in his own mind during the presidential election. In 2008, he asked candidate Barack Obama to participate in one of his town hall selfpromotions in Louisiana, a state that he had already carried two weeks earlier.

Hillary Clinton, seeking to win over more Black voters, accepted Tavis’ invitation. Obama, trailing Clinton in Texas, declined to attend but offered to send his wife, Michelle.

Tavis rejected the offer as well as a second plea from Obama that Michelle participate. Consequently, many of Tavis’ previous followers on Tom Joyner turned against him, prompting him to quit the show.

Tavis likes to pretend public opinion turned against him because he had the gall to stand up to Barack Obama. No, people were more disappointed that he was eager to lie down for Hillary Clinton. And he still lies down for the Clintons, even calling Bill the nation’s first Black president.

Tavis’ testy exchange with Al Sharpton is merely exposing a side of him that others of us had already experienced.

It’s a pity that he chose to be so petty.

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's Undying Faith in Republicans

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You would think that after Republican leaders in the House and Senate united to oppose every major initiative that President Obama has proposed – ignoring how Americans would benefit from such programs – that he would finally get the message. Unfortunately, he hasn’t.

Instead of seeing Republicans as the obstructionists that they are, Obama has announced that he is calling yet another meeting with GOP leaders on February 25 to solicit their ideas on healthcare reform.

“What I want to do is ask them to put their ideas on the table and then after the recess, which will be a few weeks away, to come back and have a large meeting –Republicans and Democrats – to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward,” Obama said in an interview with Katie Couric on CBS.

What were all those bi-partisan parties in the White House about last year? Didn’t Obama pretty much ask for the same thing when he visited Congressional Republicans on Capitol Hill?

The president has been down this road before and should know what lies ahead: Republicans will profess interest in bipartisanship, get Democrats to water down proposed legislation and then walk away from the table. This is exactly what happened before and nothing has changed in the meantime that makes me think things will turn out any differently this time.

Republican House leader John S. Boehner of Ohio reacted to Obama’s invitation by saying, “The problem with the Democrats’ healthcare bills is not that the American people don’t understand them; the American people do understand them, and they don’t like them.”

That’s only partially true. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 48 percent of the public opposes Obama’s handling of healthcare, with 39 percent supporting him. But much of that opposition is fueled by confusion over what healthcare reform would accomplish. For instance, only 39 percent believe coverage of pre-existing conditions would improve under pending legislation and only a third believe the change would help them if they lose or change jobs.

Additionally, there is widespread public ignorance about what is happening in Congress. Only 32 percent of those polled by Pew know that the Senate version of healthcare reform passed without the support of any Republicans. Even fewer – 26 percent – know that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster in the Senate.

Republicans intent on crushing President Obama add to the confusion by reversing their previous positions and lying to the public with a straight face.

Look at the record.

When Michael Steele was lieutenant governor of Maryland, he said he was disappointed that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott had praised the 1948 presidential campaign of segregationist Gov. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Steele said that although he objected to the remark, he did not think Lott should lose his leadership post.

However when Senator Harry Reid made a less offensive racial remark about Barack Obama being light-skinned and not speaking with a “Negro dialect,” GOP Chairman Steele called for his immediate resignation as Senate Majority Leader.

Another Republican, Senator John McCain, speaking on the military’s don’t ask,don’t tell policy at Iowa State University in 2006, said: "The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it."

Acting on the advice of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullent, President Obama has announced that he will seek a congressional repeal of the policy. Now, McCain, however, is reversing his original position, saying "At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy.”

Several GOP Senators, including McCain, Orrin Hatch and Judd Gregg, have asserted that if Senate Democrats resort to a procedure called budget reconciliation, which would require only a simple majority in the Senate instead of the 60-vote super majority to pass legislation, they would consider it an all-out attack on Republicans. However, each of them supported the tactic when Republicans were in power.

Republican double-standards notwithstanding, the Democrats’ biggest problem is Democrats. Unlike Republicans, they have difficulty keeping their party members in line. Equally disturbing, they don’t have the courage to exercise the power they won last year at the ballot box.

Some have rejected budget reconciliation as an option.The end result is that this will mean certain death for the public option, competition that would offer more affordable insurance premiums, in order to appease the GOP.

Curiously, nothing is being said about appeasing the long-suffering progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Instead of going hat-in-hand to Republicans, Obama should be huddling with his own party. If unapologetic Republicans could pass their so-called Contract with America agenda with simple majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats should borrow a page from their playbook and use that as their blueprint for governing in this combative environment.

If President Obama continues to be obsessed with wooing unsupportive Republicans and conservative Democrats, the progressive wing of the party should hold out for concrete concessions. If Obama fails to accommodate progressives, they should withhold their support. Perhaps Obama needs to be shown how far he will get by courting conservatives at the expense of his base.

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.

Being True to Black Historymakers

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The news media is fascinated with anniversaries, especially those ending in round numbers. Therefore, it came as no surprise that the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins was celebrated this week. On February 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina A&T University – Ezell A. Blair, Jr., David L. Richmond, Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain – initiated a successful effort to desegregate the lunch counter at the downtown Woolworth’s store.

Although the four college students are hailed for taking a seat in order to stand up for their rights, it is important to remember that they were not alone. In fact, after they were refused service, they returned the following day with more than two dozen students. The numbers continued to swell, reaching 300 on February 5, four days after the initial protest. Among the protesters were students from Bennett College, the allfemale Black college in Greensboro, and Dudley High, the school that African American students attended under segregation.

Coming six years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregated public schools and five years after the tragic murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till near Money, Miss., the Greensboro sitin movement sparked similar movements in other cities, including Durham, Nashville, Atlanta, Little Rock and Miami.

This was three years before the March on Washington, five years before the Selma-to-Montgomery March in Alabama, four years before passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and five years before the Voting Rights Act.

Today, we don’t think twice about whether we’ll be served if we enter any downtown restaurant. But that hasn’t always been so. In the case of Greensboro, African-American shoppers were encouraged to spend their money at such stores as Woolworth’s, a five-anddime discount retail chain. However, they weren’t allowed to try on clothes before taking them home, were relegated to separate toilets and certainly weren’t allowed to sit next to whites at lunch counters. In Greensboro, as was the case in other cities across the South, Blacks were not allowed to sit at all. The Woolworth’s store in Greensboro had four counter seats for Whites. African Americans, at least prior to the protest, had to eat while standing on their feet. As we begin our annual celebration of Black History Month, it is important to celebrate the thousands of nameless and faceless brave men, women and children who formed the nucleus of the modern civil rights movement yet never received the acclaim of the four students who led the Greensboro protest. Their names are not in the history books, they gave no speeches about their dreams and their graves are not enshrined with markers listing their brave accomplishments. Yet, they are at least as important as Dr. Martin Luther King, Roy Wilkins, John Lewis or Whitney Young.

It’s great to celebrate the epic moments of the civil rights movement, but it is even greater to realize that Blacks have always struggled against oppression in this country. Many of the protests that are among the most celebrated were predated by similar protests that, for some reason, did not capture the national imagination of later movements.

For example, before there was a Greensboro sit-in protest in 1960, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had organized sit-ins in Chicago (1942), St. Louis (1949) and Baltimore (1952). Greensboro wasn’t the first sit-in site in North Carolina. On June 23, 1957, seven students were arrested in Durham at the Royal Ice Cream Shop for staging a sitin, in the “Whites Only” section. They were convicted and the U.S. Supreme Court later refused to take up their appeal.

The 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott launched the career of a young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King and made Rosa Parks a household name. Two years earlier, Rev. T.J. Jemison, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., had organized a successful bus boycott that served as the template for Montgomery. Volunteer drivers, traveling on routes normally traversed by city buses, picked up passengers and drove to their normal bus stop. To avoid being prosecuted for operating as an unlicensed taxi or bus, drivers did not charge riders.

The boycott ended June 25, 1953 with Jemison and other Black leaders reaching a compromise with city officials. The settlement called for the first two front seats being reserved for Whites, the long seat in the back of buses reserved for African Americans and all sets in between offered on a first-come-firstserved basis.

There are many other instances of early Black protests, including a 1939 sit-in at the Alexandria, Va. library, organized by attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker, and a successful 1958 drugstore lunch counter sit-in in Oklahoma City.

Perhaps the lesson we should emphasize this Black History Month is that African-American protesters have always made history, even when their efforts were ignored by the media and went unrecognized by their own people. We to need worry less today about whether our work is covered by network television crews and daily newspapers and care more about whether we are being true to the dedicated souls who came before us.

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