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George Curry

"Run, Jesse, Run" – 30 Years Later

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(NNPA) The recent Wall Street Project conference in New York City was old home week for many of us who were involved with Jesse Jackson’s first presidential campaign in 1984. There was Frank Watkins, the former candidate’s longtime press secretary and the driving force behind Jackson’s decision to run. Also present were Emma Chappell, the campaign’s national treasurer; Rev. Herb Daughtry, senior pastor of The House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn and an early supporter; economist Julianne Malveaux, who worked in Jackson’s presidential campaigns and four key parts of the 1984 rainbow – Jim Zogby, Butch Wing, Steve Cobble and Robert Borosage. Former Louisiana Congressman Cleo Fields shared memories as did former New York City Mayor David Dinkins.

I was asked to moderate a discussion about the impact of the 1984 campaign on the nation and, yes, an African American now sitting in the White House. I covered Jackson’s first presidential run while working for the Chicago Tribune. I knew most of the major players, but it wasn’t until we sat down as a group with Jesse Jackson that we had collectively reflected on the historic events of three decades ago.

Cleo Fields recounted what the campaign meant to him in deeply personal terms.

“When I was in the fifth grade, I was going through a lot of depression,” Fields said. “The first day of school you had to state your name and what you wanted to be in the future. At the time, I wanted to be a police officer, but everyone before me had said doctor, lawyer or engineer. My mom had 10 children, my daddy had died and I had hand-me-downs.

“I stood up – I wanted to say something bigger than everyone else – so I said, ‘My name is Cleo Fields and I want to be (and the only thing I could think of was president) president of the United States of America.’ Everybody laughed, including the teacher. I didn’t want to go back to school because they thought it was a big joke and I was depressed about it.”

Two years later, Fields was present in the audience when Jackson asked students to repeat his trademark “I am Somebody” exhortation.

“It was at that moment that I started believing I can be anything I wanted to be,” Fields said. “I became a state senator at the age of 23. And that was because of Jesse Jackson. And a congressman at the age of 28. I became the Democratic nominee for governor at the age of 33. And that’s only because of the inspiration from Rev. Jesse Jackson and I just want to say thank you.”

While working as a student organizer for Jackson, Fields was invited to join Jackson’s national staff.

Jackson’s presidential runs also represented a breakthrough for James J. Zogby, an Arab-American.

“For me and my community, what was historic about this was it brought together two parts of my life,” he said. “I had always been involved in civil rights and anti-war work. But when you became an Arab, when you put on the Arab hat, then allies you had in those movements wouldn’t talk to you anymore.”

Zogby told of politicians, including former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode, returning campaign contributions donated by Arab-American groups.

“He [Jackson[ said, ‘Our time has come.’ It was my community’s time, too. We felt welcome and included for the first time in an American political campaign.”

David Dinkins, New York City’s first Black mayor, said he would not have been elected without the ’84 presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. He said, “I know what Jesse did for me.”

Frank Watkins, the former press secretary, had urged Jackson to run for president against Jimmy Carter in 1979, but Jackson declined. But this time around, Jackson was willing to listen.

“I wrote a memo outlining the reasons for Rev. Jackson to run: increase voter registration, to increase political awareness of people and to galvanize the Black community to get more involved in politics,” Watkins remembered of his 1982 document. “I didn’t necessarily think that we would win, but I tried to put together a strategy where we could win.”

Jackson said a number of Black leaders were urged to run before he made his decision to enter the contest, including former Atlanta mayors Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young. When they declined, Jackson stepped forward.

“It really was not running for office, I was running as an organization,” Jackson stated. “…We kept trying to pull the party back to the moral center, which we called the Third Rail. What became clear was that civil rights, social justice, gender equality, workers’ rights were not on the agenda. Somebody had to get to the stage to get the cameras to hear us. We had no platform on which to stand to make our case. In the end, that was driving the situation.”

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

Another Florida Man Gets Away with Murder

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(NNPA) As we approach the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder on Sanford, Fla., justice again has been shortchanged in the Sunshine State. It was incredulous that George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman and wannabe cop, was found not guilty of murder after killing the unarmed Black teenager who had visited a nearby convenience store to purchase a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Tea.

Last Saturday, a hung jury could not decide whether Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old White computer programmer, was guilty of murdering Jordan Davis by fatally shooting him in the chest groin. According to court testimony, Dunn pulled into the parking lot of a Jacksonville convience store and became involved in an argument after he accused 17-year-old Jordan Davis and three of his teenage friends of playing their music too loudly.

Apparently, an argument erupted. Dunn’s lawyer claims that Davis used vulgarity-laden language to tell his client what to do to himself. Witnesses said Dunn shouted at Davis: “You can’t talk to me that way!”

Taken by themselves, the words have no special meaning. However, when uttered by a White man to a Black teen in a region that prided itself as this nation’s last bastion of White supremacy, they take on a separate life of their own. Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago when Blacks were expected to stare at the ground when speaking to White folks. They were expected to say “Yes, sir” and “Yes, Ma’m,” knowing that their parents, regardless of their age, would always be addressed by their first names, even by White children. Refusing to show what was considered proper respect to Whites often had violent repercussions, even death.

I can almost hear the words: You can’t talk to me that way!

And to prove his point, Dunn opened fire on the Black teenagers, striking Jordan Davis twice. Even as the teens peeled rubber trying to get away, Dunn, 6’4” and 280 pounds, continued to shoot into the vehicle, firing 10 times in all.

He would later say that he thought he saw the barrel of a shotgun protruding from a window of the Dodge Durango SUV. But no such weapon was ever found and for good reason – it did not exist. Even Dunn’s girlfriend said he never told her about the teens having a shotgun.

And what did Dunn do after he killed the Black teenager? He returned to the hotel room where he was staying after attending his only son’s wedding. He acted as if he had just finished a routine day at the office. He didn’t bother to notify police. Dunn acted as if nothing had happened.

But something did happen. Jordan Davis had his life cut short that day. The high school senior would never get the chance to make his parents proud by donning a cap and gown and walking across a stage to receive his high school diploma. He would not get a chance to attend college or pursue a career. He wouldn’t even get a chance to breathe again because he wasn’t supposed to talk to a White man that way.

According to Rolling Stone, Dunn told detectives, “They didn’t follow my orders. What was I supposed to do if they wouldn’t listen?”

For starters, he wasn’t supposed to take the kid’s life. But he did. His lawyer plans to argue that Dunn was Standing his Ground.

His lawyer, Corey Strolla, told Rolling Stone last year, “I don’t have to prove the threat, just that Mike Dunn believed it.”

Evidently, Strolla sold the jury on that belief. They couldn’t agree that his client murdered Jordan Davis, who was shot twice. But in their contorted reasoning, they found him guilty of three counts of attempted second degree murder. In other words, he was not guilty of murdering Davis, but was guilty of attempting to murder Davis’ three friends, neither of whom were struck by a bullet.

Florida State Attorney Angela Corey said she will retry Dunn on first-degree murder charges. But this is the same State Attorney who unsuccessfully prosecuted George Zimmerman for first-degree murder. If she puts on a case as poorly as she did against Zimmerman, Dunn won’t have anything additional to worry about.

Still, he’ll probably die in prison. And if some of the true thugs catch up with him in the slammer, he might like how they are going to talk to him.

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

Seattle 'Misfits' Fit Enough to Win the Super Bowl

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(NNPA) Prior to Sunday’s Super Bowl, I told anyone who would listen that I like both the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, so I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed regardless of who won the game. But…I was hoping Seattle would emerge the victor and I will tell you why.

First, because as a former high school and college quarterback, I am partial to teams with a Black starting QB. In Seattle’s case, their first and second team quarterbacks are African American. To understand the significance of this breakthrough, for years, Blacks were not allowed to play quarterback or middle linebacker at major universities or in the pros. Quarterback in particular was the glamour position and any African American coming up through the ranks as a quarterback was usually converted to a defensive back or a wide receiver, if they made it to the NFL.

Regardless of how great a Black quarterback was at an HBCU, for example, he didn’t get a chance to showcase his quarterbacking skill at the pro level. It was as if the scouts thought Black teams played football with 10 men instead of 11. Even a, shall we say, passing look at history would have dispelled that notion.

“Fritz” Pollard was professional football’s first Black quarterback in 1920, leading the Akron Pros to victory in the NFL’s first championship game. In the modern era, James Harris, the Grambling great, became the first regular starter for the Buffalo Bills in 1969. Nearly 20 years later, in 1988, another ex-Grambling QB, Doug Williams, became the first Black to start and win a Super Bowl. This season was hailed as the Year of the Black Quarterback in the NFL, with nine starting on the third weekend of the season.

The second reason I was pulling for Seattle was their coach, Pete Carroll. I always enjoyed his brand of football when he was head coach of the University of Southern California (USC). But my respect for him deepened when I learned he regularly made midnight trips to the ‘hood in an effort to curb gang violence.

LA Times columnist Kurt Streeter would later write: “Few know that about twice a month Carroll leaves his comfy digs at USC, hops in the back of a beaten Camry driven by a former gang member and heads to South L.A. neighborhoods where the snap of gunfire and the anguish of death occur with the steady regularity of a metronome.

“These are not recruiting visits. He’s trying to save lives.

“Most often, he arrives near midnight and walks shadowy streets with that familiar, electric strut, surrounded by little boys, grandparents, crack heads and gang toughs. He empathizes, listens, encourages, laughs. He talks about jobs and kids and marriage, about perspective and courage, about how difficult it must be to be caught in the madness of the streets.

“He realizes that some might think he’s a fool, that some might say he should pay no mind to gang members. Naysayers do not stop him.”

My third reason for cheering for Seattle is that they’ve often been called misfits, with many so-called experts questioning their ability to play in the NFL. However, one-by-one, the players, many of whom were drafted in the low rounds, if at all, have proven their critics wrong.

Case in point: Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith, the game’s Most Valuable Player, wasn’t picked until 242nd in the 2011 NFL draft. Yet on Sunday, he was the star among stars, making nine tackles, recovering a Demaryius Thomas fumble early in the third quarter, and with less than four minutes remaining in the game, intercepting a Peyton Manning pass and returning it 69 yards for a touchdown.

And there was that quarterback who, at 5’11” would never make it in the NFL. At least, that’s what they told Russell Wilson. All he did Sunday was lead his team to a Super Bowl victory in his second year as a pro. When he was younger, he attended a football camp organized by Peyton Manning. But on Sunday, Wilson was playing as though he were the instructor and Manning was his pupil.

Richard Sherman again proved he is NFL’s best cornerback. After Seattle’s division playoff game against San Francisco, he was depicted as a loudmouth defender lacking class. What the talking heads didn’t say was that he had extended a hand to Michael Crabtree, a gesture that was rejected, before he boasted that the 49’ers should have known better than trying to complete a pass on his side of the field. Anyone who has ever played organized football realizes that’s the mindset of defensive backs: Don’t even think about it. When Colin Kaepernick, another Black quarterback, tested him near the end of the division title game, Sherman may him pay.

For a group of so-called misfits who routed the favored Denver Broncos 43-8, the Lombardi Trophy seems to fit them very well.

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

Obama Seeks to Do Something with Do-Nothing Congress

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(NNPA) President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, parts of which were shared over the weekend, was designed to be upbeat and to again sketch his vision for an economically “United” States of America. But this year’s speech, like the one a year ago and like his second inaugural address, was a gallant effort to remain relevant during an era of a do-nothing Congress that will do even less in 2014.

Heading into his sixth year of office, President Obama has finally accepted the reality that he can’t change Washington. At least, not for the better. Having already passed the Affordable Health Care Act, the signature accomplishment of his administration, Obama’s goal in his last two years will be less ambitious: to continue to improve the economy, lower the unemployment rate, expand access to early childhood education, enact immigration reform, make progress on climate control and curb the nation’s propensity to get entangled in wars that have little, if anything, to do with our national security.

With many of his proposals lost in the logjam of Congress, President Obama now plans to do more by executive order, according to his aides. Speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “What we saw in 2013 was a Washington that did not deliver for the American people. The president sees this as a year of action, work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary…”

According to the Washington Post, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer has submitted a three-page memo that outlines a different strategy for 2014.

“Among its conclusions is that Obama, a former state legislator and U.S. senator, too often governed more like a prime minister than a president. In a parliamentary system, a prime minister is elected by lawmakers and thus beholden to them in ways a president is not. As a result, Washington veterans have been brought into the West Wing to emphasize an executive style of governing that aims to sidestep Congress more often.”

That means more executive orders and leaving the legislative haggling primarily to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

Obama understands that the Republican-controlled House in particular will continue to obstruct whatever legislative plans he might offer.

According to the Pew Research Center, the 113th Congress is on track to be one of the least productive.” Unlike most measurements that only take into account the amount of legislation passed, Pew tallied only substantive legislation and found this Congress lacking.

Consequently, according to another Pew survey, “Views of Congress remain historically negative: just 21% have a favorable opinion of Congress while 70% view it unfavorably. Opinions of Congress fell to a 20-year low in August 2011, following the contentious debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, and have never recovered.

“Large majorities across nearly all demographic and partisan groups have an unfavorable impression of Congress. About seven-in-ten independents (73%) view Congress unfavorably, as do 69% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans.”

In a break from his normal over cautiousness, President Obama acknowledged that race may be a factor in the strong oppositions to his programs.

“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President,” Obama told the New Yorker magazine in an interview. “There is a historic connection between some of the arguments that we have politically and the history of race in our country, and sometimes it’s hard to disentangle those issues.”

Obama is not the only one who thinks race drives many of his opponents. A Rasmussen poll last November found: “One-in-four voters believes racism is the driving factor behind opposition to his [Obama’s] policies.”

While Obama is unlikely to make any progress on race, he hopes that anger over huge corporate profits and record Wall Street gains will be a rallying point for both Democrats and Republicans.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the top fifth of the population receives 66 percent of tax-expenditure benefits, the middle 60 percent of the population receives a little more than 31 percent of tax-expenditure benefits, the bottom fifth receives just 2.8 percent of tax-expenditure benefits and the top 1 percent of the population receives 23.9 percent of tax-expenditure benefits. And the report pointed out, “That’s more than eight times as much as the bottom fifth of the population, and nearly as much as the middle 60 percent of the population.”

Republicans, traditional protectors of the rich, aren’t likely to join President Obama in trying to narrow the gap between rich and poor. And they’re even less likely to do so in a mid-term election year, a time the party in power usually looses seats in Congress.

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

'If I Dated Black Girls…'

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“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

(NNPA) Last Friday, I gave the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day speech at the University of North Alabama in Florence. I was glowingly introduced by my niece, Rachel Gandy, who is a senior at UNA.

I told the audience that having grown up in segregated Tuscaloosa, Ala., how satisfying it was to see “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners” sit in the same classrooms, if not at the table of brotherhood. I didn’t use those exact words, but they got the point: revolutionary changes have taken place in my home state since the 1960s and the South in general. So many changes, in fact, that public schools in the Deep South are more desegregated than any other region in the nation.

During my visit, I met a young White male – who shall remain nameless – who works in the same campus office as my niece, spoke fondly of Rachel, and recounted with glee their study together last summer in Costa Rico.

After my speech, when I was doing my usual Friday afternoon radio segment with Rev. Al Sharpton, I was told that this young man said, “If I dated Black girls – I tell Rachel this all of the time – she would be at the top of the list.”

I am sure he meant that as a compliment – it wasn’t.

First, it’s presumptuous to think that Rachel, who is smart and beautiful inside and out, would want to date him. Second, for all the talk about racial progress, there are large segments of our society who make decisions based on race and nothing else. Whites do it. Blacks do it. Latinos do it. And so do Asians.

After I got over the shock of the young man’s comment – well, I still haven’t gotten over it, as you can see – I thought back to a 2010 Pew Research Center study that found that a record 14.6 percent of all new marriages in the United States in 2008 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another. That’s more than double the percentage for 1980.

Interestingly, rates more than doubled among Whites and nearly tripled among Blacks. But for both Hispanics and Asians, rates were nearly identical in 2008 and 1980.

For me, there was another story within the story: “When Whites, Hispanics and Asians decide to marry outside their group, African-Americans rank last in their choice of mates.”

It’s easy to dismiss the kooks such as former Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell who resigned under pressure in 2009 after he refused to perform a marriage between a White woman and a Black man.

But things are supposed to be different with this so-called “post-racial” generation. My niece is an honor student, was in the university’s homecoming court, is charming and beautiful. Yet, the young man at UNA couldn’t see beyond her color: “If I dated Black girls….”

Fortunately, Rachel’s love life is not dependent on whether this young man dates “Black girls.” There are plenty of African American and every other kind of men vying for her attention. It’s the idea that this fellow got to know my niece as a person yet found her unqualified to date solely because of her race is what galls me.

While growing up in Alabama, I was told that part of the problem was that Blacks and Whites had not been allowed to interact under Jim Crow, not even in sports. However, when those barriers came down, or so the thinking went, racial prejudice would vanish and people would be judged as individuals, not as part of a supposedly superior or inferior race.

In three decades, there will be no majority race in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. And that means that all racial and ethnic groups will need to learn to step outside their comfort zone to interact as equals with those who don’t look like them.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Obviously that day has not arrived. Until it does, it’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure that it doesn’t just remain a distant dream.

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

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