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Julianne Malveaux

Robert Champion: Drum Major for Change

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(NNPA) Most parents of college students look forward to December, when their students come home for the holidays. Some are so excited to see their offspring home that they actually come to their colleges to pick them up. Others prepare special treats and goodies as an antidote to the oft complained about cafeteria food.

Robert and Pam Champion won’t have that opportunity. Their son, Robert, died on November 19. His death has been ruled a homicide and he is allegedly the victim of hazing. Florida A&M University , one of our nation’s most respected HBCUs, is in the headlines now, not because of its excellent academic programs, but because its celebrated marching band has apparently had a culture of hazing.

Robert and Pam Champion are to be commended for turning their pain into a force for change. In a recent media interview, they indicated that they have set up a Facebook page in honor of their son, who they describe as a “drum major for change” because they will use his story to help other victims of hazing. Mrs. Champion also indicated that she would set up an anti-hazing hot line so that young people can, anonymously, deal with issues of hazing. The younger Robert Champion has apparently not been the only victim of hazing in the FAMU Marching Band. In the past, one student has had her hip broken, and two have been hospitalized with kidney damage. And these are only the cases we know about.

The FAMU Marching Band isn’t the only organization that hazes. Sororities and fraternities, whether part of the African American Divine Nine, or part of the larger Greek-letter organization atmosphere, seem to think hazing is part of the culture. Whether it is yelling and screaming at pledges, to the use of actual physical violence, hazing is prevalent. The National Study of Student Hazing, which got results from more than 11,000 students at 53 colleges indicated that "8 percent of women in Greek life have experienced hazing”. This study didn’t focus on HBCUs, but it would not be surprising to learn that our numbers mirror these. Two questions – why is membership in a group so important that you’d risk your life; and why must people verbally and physically abuse those who want to join their group.

Our young people are no better than what we show them they can be. I have heard sorority women make the distinction between “pledging hard” and “pledging soft”, with the implication that the brutal former is better. Young men and some not so young men, sport brands, some of which have been infected, as symbols of their fraternity and their “manhood”. Many of those branded were either willing or subject to coercion. When elders show their sons these brands, they may well co-sign the continuation of a brutal trend.

What is hazing about? It’s bullying, it’s coercion, and it’s descent into groupthink in the worst way. I’ve got something you want, and I’m going to make you suffer to get it. In order to join a band you ought to be able to play music, not survive a beating. How does the beating make you a better band member? Actually, it allows some folks to play a game of false superiority to the detriment of others.

The bottom line, though, is that it has to stop. The college experience should not be a brutal experience, or an experience where coercion and intimidation are ingrained into the process of joining a group. To be sure, there are bonding opportunities in ritual – in learning songs, history, steps, or chants. And there may be penalties when band members or pledges don’t toe the mark in learning things on time. But the penalties should not be physical abuse, and that abuse has become too acceptable.

What do we do about it? Some parents whose children have been hazed have brought criminal charges or civil lawsuits. Others have pushed for systemic change. Leaders in higher education must assert zero tolerance for hazing and enforce zero tolerance policies with appropriate actions. Four members of the FAMU band have been dismissed from school, but only after young Robert Champion’s death. Had they been expelled sooner, might Champion still be among us?

Robert and Pam Champion are to be commended for turning their pain into change. But if hazing cannot be stopped, those organizations that allow it simply need to be disbanded.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

When a Child Kills Himself: Bullying and its Consequences

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(NNPA) I hope you watched Extreme Home Makeover on December 2, as I did. For me it was an opportunity of pride, as Bennett student Dominique Walker was featured, with her family, for a trip to Los Angeles, and a home upgrade. Why? Because her family remained in pain because their 11 year old brother killed himself after vicious bullying.

Carl Walker-Hoover was hazed because folks thought he was gay. He was bothered, bullied, and besieged. He tried to talk to folks, but he eventually found out that no one wanted to hear what he had to say. He hung himself at home, and the family avoided his b3edroom because they were in pain.

Our pain. The child was bullied and badgered and he couldn’t take it. He was like more than 1 in 6 young people who say that bullying is part of their life. Many manage, and many manage by becoming bullies themselves. Many don’t manage. They are left out, dropped out, worn out, pulled out with parents so oblivious to the effect of bullying that they think it is just a childhood thing. A game young people play with each other. Not.

The worst of it is that the Internet compounds what used to be simple schoolyard chatter. Now, young people put rumors and nonsense into cyberspace about each other. And cyberspace doesn’t simply whisper, it yells. Young people’s reputations are on the line because bullying has taken on an Internet space.

Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11 year old, was “outed” as gay when at 11 he probably was only different. Young people decided to play with him in the worst way, picking at him and on him and around him and through him. One day he awakened and told himself he couldn’t take it anymore. Now his life can be our light and his family can be a symbol against bullying.

What is it about us, human beings that allow us to batter each other? Does it make us feel better? Do we grow when others shrink? Do we flourish because they shrivel? While we pay lots of attention to yo0ung people and their bullying, shouldn’t we also pay attention to the adult among us, those who thing that we gain because others lose, we rise because others fall, we use our tongues in a way to diminish, not flatter? As I watched the pain of the walker family on Extreme Home Makeover, I realized that perhaps few meant harm, but many contributed to the utter tragedy that family had to manage.

We are all indebted to ABC and the Extreme Makeover team for deciding to help this family. They remind us that pain and passion reverberate. I say lots of ads following the special, and into the next few days, of young people talking about the effects of bullying. Carl Walker-Hoover’s suicide puts a face on bullying and reminds us that there is a possibility of an anti-bullying movement. The ads tell the story, but can the people tell more?

Here’s the bottom line. We have all been bullied, one way or another, with a friend or colleague with a vicious, ugly mouth. And because we have all been bullied, we have all been bullies in our space. Humanity requires us to understand that the behavior we model is behavior that young people replicate. It requires us to understand that everyone can’t meet a bully, face to face, eye to eye, and resist the nonsense that can be called hazing.

For whatever reason, Carl Walker-Hoover could not stand up to his bullies. He had enough. He shared how much of enough he had with his suicide. Who knows what he might have been – an author, a scientist, a leader. When he died he was a young black man whose life spread out before him, a life he chose to end because he could not endure bullying. How many more lives will we lose? How can we learn to value every life, and to kick bullying to the curb?

I am so proud that Carl’s sister, Dominique, is a Bennett student. We hope to use her knowledge to help us grapple with the many ways we choose to hurt ourselves. She is a survivor of this bullying nonsense, as so many are. She is one of the leaders we have been waiting for!

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Did So-Called Black Friday Trump Thanksgiving?

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(NNPA) First of all, I never understood why they called it “Black” Friday. I never saw any red, black and green adorning the shopping mall sales. Yes, I know that theoretically this is the day that puts stores in the black, out of the red they’ve been managing all year. Nearly 40 percent of jewelry sales happen between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and other sales are up in the weeks that end the year. But I’m enough of a nationalist to resent the day after Thanksgiving being called “black” for commercial purposes.

Call it what you will, though, it was a rousing success for retailers. Record breaking, according to the National Retail Federation. More than 226 million shoppers spent $52.4 billion during Thanksgiving weekend. (There are 312 million Americans, which means that at least a few of us sat this drama out). At least 50 million of these folks hit the stores before midnight. They spent an average of nearly $400 per person, undaunted by crowds, pepper spray and long lines. When did they find time to give thanks? And whatever happened to the recession?

I am frankly puzzled by the hype of post-Thanksgiving shopping and the way so many people have shrugged off their concerns of economic survival to crowd the stores. At the same time, it underlies the way that consumerism so drives our society, our need for more, more, more of things, things, things. To be sure, it would make no economic sense to put retailers out of business, and we know that consumer spending drives 70 percent of gross domestic product. But there is something sad about the crowds, the energy, and the profligate spending that drives people to spend part of Thanksgiving Day standing in line waiting for a chance to buy stuff, something tragic about some fool pepper spraying folks for a chance at an X-Box (I suppose I show my own ignorance by wondering what an X-Box is).

Retailers are touting their successful weekend – with spending up by more than 6 percent from last year – as a good sign that economic recovery is on the way. I’m not so sure – unemployment rates remain high and there are more than 14 million officially unemployed people, and probably an equal number marginally connecgted to the labor market. Wages have been stagnant for quite some time, and the Occupy Wall Street movement has only gained momentum because of the enormity of economic misery.

But the Occupy Wall Street movement has attracted curiosity but hardly the interest of 226 million people. I can’t think of ANYTHING that gets 226 million people together. Imagine that as many people cared about the environment, economic justice, or anything else. We don’t even get that many people voting in so-called close elections.pointing to the 99 percent at the bottom.

So how is it that we spend Thursday counting our blessings, surrounded by friends, family, and other loved ones, and thanking the Lord, and then collectively spend Friday swarming the stores. How is it that some of us actually get up from the dinner table and make it to the stores. And how is it that retailers force employees to come to work to sell “stuff” to the rest of us in the name of post-Thanksgiving sales?

According to those who study spending the post-Thanksgiving sales aren’t actually the best ones. Prices next week, according to some experts, are actually going to be better. And the quality of the merchandise that was put out there on sale wasn’t “all that” either. Still, we swarmed the stores.

I realize that I have Grinch-like tendencies when it comes to holidays, but the economist in me is more puzzled than anything else at this holiday behavior (especially the pepper spray wielding fool). I’m also wondering if the energies of 226 million people could ever be harnessed for good.

I surely hope that Black Friday did not trump Thanksgiving, but it surely got a lot more ink than Thanksgiving. Shopping may well be both the great American pastime and our substitute for religion, for industry, and maybe even for morality. No wonder the Chinese are planning to eat our lunch in 20 years or so. We’ll probably buy new place settings for them at a holiday sale!

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women.

Stop the Violence Against Women

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(NNPA) The Fort Worth Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated held its annual Sisterhood Luncheon last Saturday, and I was privileged and honored to be the keynote speaker. A cloud hovered over the luncheon, though, and the media was there to talk about it. Four Delta women have been raped in the Dallas Fort Worth area in the last year by a serial rapist who appears to be targeting women in their 50s and 60s. The rapes have caused such alarm that the national President of our sorority, Cynthia Butler McIntyre, has issued an alert, suggesting caution in displaying Delta identification on automobiles, and in wearing identifying t-shirts and sweaters.

Every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted. More than 200,000 people, mostly women, are sexually assaulted each year. But only one in sixteen rapists will spend even a moment in jail – more than 60 percent of all rapes are not reported to the police. Most rapes occur within a mile of a victim’s home, or in her home, and almost two-thirds of all rapes are committed by someone the victim actually knows. Nearly 80 percent of all rapes are perpetrated on women under 30, so the Delta rapes are unusual in many respects. Still, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority has the opportunity to turn the pain of these rapes into an empowering moment by organizing to stop the violence against women.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was authored by Vice-President Joe Biden when he was the senator from Delaware. It became law in 1994, and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. It is up for reauthorization again this year, and while it should face no trouble in Congress, who knows with this Congress? While there should be no resistance to this reauthorization, it is important for women to remind their congressional representatives that this critical legislation must be reauthorized.

Additionally, there is a federal agency that focuses on implementing VAWA by providing resources to organizations dedicated to preventing violence against women. The Office on Violence against Women (ww.ovw.usdoj.gov) is part of the Department of Justice. Earlier this fall, they held a meeting of university chancellors and presidents to talk about campus safety and violence against women, since college-aged young people are more likely to be victims of such violence than others are. The office urges people needing assistance to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

Although we are well into the twenty-first century, we still treat the crime of rape with nineteenth century sensibilities. Many women lack the courage that the Guinean victim of former World Bank President Dominique Strauss-Kahn (also known as DSK) showed. Yet her treatment is a cautionary tale about why so many victims are silent. After Naffissatou Diallo spoke up, we learned all her business – that she cleaned rooms for $25 an hour in New York, that she had an acquaintance or fiancé who may have been involved in drugs and was incarcerated in Arizona, that she may have lied on her immigration application, and that she may have earned income that she did not report. Before it was all said and done, charges were dropped. Then DSK fled back to France where he spoke of an “inappropriate relationship” with Diallo. Give me a break! When does spilling your semen on someone you do not know constitute a relationship? I digress. The point is that many women don’t speak out because they don’t want to be dragged through the media mud of scrutiny into their past lives. Even a prostitute can be raped, but the prostitute wouldn’t likely get a fair trail, especially if her abuser were rich and powerful. The victim’s character is still placed on trial, and that shouldn’t be the case. And yet, how many women judge victims of rape with the same harsh scrutiny that others have. What was she wearing? Was she asking for it? Was it just miscommunication?

VAWA does not address many of these questions, and perhaps it cannot. We have to change the culture so that rape is so repugnant an act that most people will not consider it as an option, that penalties are so harsh that people can be thrown under the jail for such crimes. Four members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were violated in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and more than 200,000 people are violated in our nation each year. Delta can use the pain of these rapes to lead the nation in drawing a line in the sand. Enough is enough. It is time to stop the violence against women.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC.

CBC Gathering Shows Complexity of Black America

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(NNPA) I don’t know how many African American people came to Washington for the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, but there were more than 5,000 gathered at the dinner that featured President Obama as a speaker. Though the halls of the Washington Convention Center were full, and it did my eyes good to see people lined up to buy books, some say that the economy may have dampened attendance. To be sure, the corporate presence did not seem as strong as it has been in the past, yet it is always gratifying to see Ingrid Sanders Jones and the Coca-Cola company sponsoring the prayer breakfast, which sizzled this year when the Rev. Freddy Haynes totally threw down.

The high point of the conference may have been President Obama’s strident and almost angry speech, challenging Congress to pass the jobs bill, and explaining why it must pass. Watching the President, he appeared to be undaunted, but certainly frustrated, by the legislative gridlock and the total lack of cooperation he has been experiencing from Congress. If those assembled reach out to their legislative representatives, not all of whom are CBC members; perhaps it will make some difference.

Another high point of the dinner was the range of wonderful honorees present. They included EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, and also the indomitable Rev. Joe Lowery, who at nearly 90 has as much fire in his belly as he did 50 years ago. He lifted his fist, roused the crowd, and exhorted us to keep fighting injustice. He is an amazing example of a civil rights warrior, and he deserves every honor that is bestowed on him.

That may have been the highest point but, from my perspective, the legislative conference contained many highs. There were more than one hundred brain trusts, panels, or other gatherings both at the convention center and in nearby places, as several organizations also use the legislative conference week as a time to organize their own meetings. The White House HBCU initiative, for example, held its conference on the Monday and Tuesday before the CBC legislative conference. With everything that is going on, the ALC is a cross between a policy conference, a family reunion, with a few evening parties thrown in for good measure.

Somehow the majority press gets away with focusing only on the party aspect of the gathering. The Washington Post printed a piece that talked about the ingredients for a successful CBC party. Ho, hum. Why not a piece about the ingredients for a successful brain trust? Why not some reporting on the range of issues addressed. There were panels on the environment, the foster care system, education, wealth, business development, criminal justice, global affairs and more. A highlight for me was visiting with students from four elementary and high schools that were organized by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). Our panel’s task was to encourage them to consider careers in math and science. With a NASA astronaut, a math educator, an engineer, and this economist on the panel, the students got lots of reinforcement to consider untraditional careers. It was great to see young people gathered and open to learning. Too, Congressman Elijah Cummings always puts together a panel on youth, which is attended by young people from his congressional district in Baltimore. This year, Cora Masters Barry moderated the panel and brought her young people from D.C.’s Southeast Tennis and learning center. Four Bennett students, and hundreds of college students from other campuses, were in attendance. While the cynical may say that the CBC conference is the “same old, same old”, it is interesting to view the ALC through the fresh eyes of our young people who are so eager to learn and to make a difference.

Women’s issues were well represented. Melanie Campbell convened the Black Women’s Roundtable with an overflow crowd. Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) convened the International Black Women’s Policy Forum to explore the issue of health disparities.

Tony Brown once said that if the ALC were cancelled for just one year, that money could be used to fund significant initiatives in Black America. He may be right. At the same time, I’d like to challenge the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to document some of the outcomes of the ALC, which might include legislation inspired, business deals closed, scholarships funded, students exposed. If the accomplishments were clearly documented, perhaps the mainstream press would talk purpose, not party, when they reference next year’s ALC.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC.

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