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George Curry

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.

SCLC Tarnishes Dr. King's Image

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On Tuesday, the day after the nation officially celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suspended Southern Christian Leadership Conference Board Chair Raleigh Trammell of Dayton, Ohio and Treasurer Spiver Gordon, a resident of Eutaw, Ala., are scheduled to appear in an Atlanta court to contest their dismissals amid allegations that they directly benefited from a secret $500,000 board account. To the public, SCLC, co-founded by Dr. King, has been on the rise after almost going out of business in 2004. Charles Steele, Jr., one of my childhood friends from Tuscaloosa, Ala., brought the organization back from the brink of extinction as president and CEO, raising $8 million during his tenure from 2004 to 2009.

Approximately $3.3 million of that amount was used to build a new SCLC headquarters on historic Auburn Avenue. Even civil rights icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth –who once referenced SCLC by saying, “Only God can give life to the dead” –acknowledged the civil rights group had returned from the dead under the leadership of Steele, now an Atlanta businessman. While the public perception of SCLC was that it had finally rebounded, Trammell was busy getting the board to revise the organization’s bylaws, shifting many of the powers traditionally held by the president to him. Dexter M. Wimbish, the general counsel, was directed to report to Trammell instead of President Steele. Against the counsel of his closest advisers, Steele went along with the power shift, arguing that his personal friendship with Trammell would still allow him to function effectively.

That Trammell and Gordon could rise to top board positions should have been an embarrassment within itself. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Nov. 10, 2004 that Trammell “went to prison in the 1970s for cheating a county welfare department in Ohio.”

Gordon, the SCLC treasurer, lost his city council seat in Alabama after pleading guilty in 1999 to federal vote fraud charges. He admitted that he had asked a person who lived outside of Greene County to fill out an absentee ballot and falsely list a county address. Gordon was sentenced to six months in federal prison, given three years of supervised probation and fined $2,000. In the rough-and-tumble world of SCLC board politics, Trammell and Gordon have survived because they were among the last people standing.

Their fall from favor is tied to the unaudited secret account, described by one SCLC insider as “a slush fund.” Approximately $500,000 has flowed through the account over the past three years, including about $200,000 said to have been siphoned off from a prison ministry program operated by Gordon. Although some SCLC staff members were told that the account, opened in Eutaw, Ala. and supervised by Gordon, was subject to an outside audit, no record of an audit has been uncovered. Also, there is no known record of tax returns ever being filed for the account. Some SCLC board members said they had no knowledge that the secret account existed.

Charles Steele raised questions about the account before he resigned a year ago. Steele feared that contributions to SCLC would dry up if the public ever learned about the secret fund. Once Attorney Wimbish and Executive Director Ron Woods learned that there were no independent controls on the board account and suspected that some SCLC funds may have been embezzled, they felt a responsibility to share their concerns with Interim President Byron C. Clay. On October 29, the board, which had recently elected a half dozen new members, was made aware of the special fund. On November 13, Trammell and Gordon were removed from their board positions, with the new members casting the critical votes against them.

Even before the vote, efforts were made to get Trammell to quietly step aside. A longtime former assistant, based in Dayton, filed a sexual harassment complaint against him with a state human rights agency. Persons familiar with the complaint say the assistant claims to have sexually-explicit videotapes of Trammell, a married minister. She is also said to be ready to make additional allegations that, if true, could lead to his returning to prison.

Rather than stepping aside, a request for an injunction was filed December 29 in Atlanta seeking to restore Trammell and Gordon to their former positions. The board infighting continues as Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the late civil rights leader, prepares to take over as the first female president of SCLC. Her oldest brother, Martin Luther King III, served as president from 1997 to 2004, but left after a bitter dispute with the board.

According to several people who serve on the board or staff of SCLC, Trammell said that under his leadership, no woman or another member of the King family would serve as president of the organization. However, the self-styled master politician made a major miscalculation.

As a condition for accepting the job as interim president and CEO of SCLC, Byron Clay requested – and got – about six people added to the board. Trammell campaigned for the election of former Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Wendell Griffen as president and presumed he had the votes of the new board members recruited by Clay. He presumed wrong. Instead of going with Trammell’s candidate, all of them backed King, providing the margin for her 23-15 victory.

If Bernice King is to be successful at SCLC, she’ll need to get rid of Trammell, Gordon and those aligned with them for good.

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.

There is Nothing Good About 'Good Hair'

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George E. CurryWhile new movies such as “Precious” and “The Princess and the Frog” are stirring intense debate among African Americans, no recent movie or documentary has hair stylist Bo Bogard more riled than “Good Hair.” To Bogard, the owner of Bo26, an upscale salon in northwest Washington, D.C., there is nothing good about “Good Hair.”

He asked, rhetorically: “What was the point?” And then he lists the major points that made him hotter than a hot comb poised for action. Bogard was most perturbed by the scenes showing how sodium hydroxide, a chemical used in hair relaxers, can eat through the skin of chickens and dissolve aluminum cans.

“When Chris Rock presented sodium hydroxide in the movie, he was showing it in its purest form,” explained Bogard. “When you show almost anything in its purest form, it can be dangerous. However, when sodium hydroxide is in a relaxer, it has been diluted with all of the other elements in the relaxer. So, it pissed me off when he was showing the cans inside the cylinders being dissolved.” Bogard was further irked after a White friend who had seen the movie asked: “Why would Black women subject themselves to that?”

That’s a question many viewers asked after seeing the documentary that was inspired when one of Chris Rock’s daughters asked him why she doesn’t have good hair. For Americans bombarded with images of Europeans as the standard of beauty, straight hair was widely viewed as being “good hair.”

Bogard argues that is only one reason Black women straighten their hair.

“There was a time in history when Black women felt they needed to straighten their hair in order to fit in,” he stated. “I will acknowledge that.  Today, in 2009, I think if a woman chooses to straighten her hair with a relaxer, I don’t think it’s just to fit into society or to be like their White counterparts.

They’re doing it now because of style – it’s a look.”

For some, straight hair is not enough – it must also be long. Chris Rock made a big deal of Black women purchasing fake hair – sometimes at a cost of $1,000 to $3,500 – and having it woven into their heads. One salon owner featured in the movie offered a layaway plan.

Although Bogard said he has had less than five women come to him for weaves over a 17-year-career – each time he referred them to someone else – the typical African-American customer has no interest in weaves.

“I wish he had balanced that with Black women who are very proud of who they are and they don’t need to wear weaves in order to fit into society,” Bogard said. He conceded the movie featured women with natural hair and even one interior decorator who is bald. But he said those examples were easily overshadowed by the overemphasis on weaves, something that did not go unnoticed by moviegoers.  “I have a client, a very beautiful lady, who is an attorney,” Bogard recounted. “After the movie came out, she went to work and a Caucasian coworker said, ‘Girl, I didn’t know you had a weave.’ She said, ‘I don’t have a weave. Why would you assume I have a weave?” The woman said, ‘Chris Rock said when you see Black women with long hair, they have a weave.’ This opens up another door. If you’re a Black woman and your hair is long, it must be a weave.”

The movie noted that in India, 10 million people have all of their hair cut each year as an offering to the Hindu gods. With Koreans and Chinese merchants functioning as middle men, much of that hair ends up on the heads of African American women.

“Another thing that annoyed me was the economic aspect of the business,” Bogard stated. “They were saying this is a $9 billion industry and we don’t have anything to show for it.  Well, how many movie studios are owned by Blacks? How many car companies are owned by Blacks? Is that something we should strive for? Sure.  But don’t pretend that this is the only industry like that.

“Living in America, unfortunately, we don’t own a lot. On another level, there are a lot of Black-owned salons, which brings me to my next point. It seemed like he picked all the mom-and-pop salons he could find. There are a lot of Black-owned salons that are upscale that don’t put weaves on layaway.  Their clients can afford them.”

After combing through most of the flaws the “Good Hair,” Bogard found another one—the definition of good hair.

“Chris Rock made it seem like if hair is straight, it’s good hair,” Bogard said. “One of the things we teach in our salon is that if the hair is not healthy, it isn’t good hair. Good hair is healthy hair, whether it’s straight, kinky, curly or wavy.”

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

 

 

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