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Hurricane Katrina: Two Years Later Finally Finding a Way

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INDIANAPOLIS (NNPA)

By Ericka P. Thompson
Special to the NNPA from The Intelligence Report


Two days before Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans, Kandis Williams, along with her three children packed a weekend's worth of clothes and headed to Memphis, Tenn.
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Two years later, homes in the 9th ward are still devastated from the affects of Hurricane Katrina.


"I had no idea we would only be left with the clothes in those bags," Williams, 43, told the Recorder.

A native of New Orleans, Williams says her large, close-knit family was used to tropical storms and hurricanes. With a threat of a storm approaching, they would pack enough water, batteries and canned food, and together wait until the storm passed.

"People wonder why so many stayed behind and I can tell you," she says. "People didn't have money to pick up and go. All you could do was hope and pray for the best. I left New Orleans with three kids packed for the weekend, a tank full of gas, six dollars in cash and a wallet full of credit cards - that's it."

However, this time was different. "We knew we had to leave," she says.

With four carloads trailing each other to Memphis, Williams says the normal six-hour trip took nearly 18 due to heavily congested traffic on the highways as people tried to escape the hurricane.

"It was like you were in a bad dream," she says. "There were broken down cars on the side of the road, people running out of gas and gas stations were closing. At one point we had to shut the engines off and wait. It was like a nightmare."

As the disaster's Aug. 29 anniversary approaches, Williams feels slightly conflicted. On one hand she misses New Orleans terribly and her family, but she's also thankful for how her life has changed for the better.

When close friends Carla Shelton and Christy Anderson learned that Williams and her children were staying with relatives in Memphis whose home was extremely overcrowded, they begged her to make a way to Indianapolis. She did, with an additional eight relatives.

"It didn't matter how many people she brought with her, I had no choice but to help," says Shelton. "She was my friend."

"We were greeted with so much love and warmth," adds Williams. "People brought us clothes, food, money, and whatever I needed for the kids. It was a phenomenal show of love from people we didn't know."

Thanks to the help of Shelton, Anderson and Eastern Star Church, Williams was able to move her family into a new, furnished home on the Eastside of the city. After meeting Father Boniface Hardin, founder and president of Martin University, and explaining her situation, Williams was granted a full scholarship to pursue a bachelor's degree in business accounting.

Since 1986 Williams had worked in the banking industry and before Hurricane Katrina was holding down two jobs as a loan processor at a bank and mortgage company.

"Finishing my education is an answered prayer and a long awaited desire," says Williams who attends school full time while working part time as a substitute teacher. "I have the experience in banking but never had the opportunity to advance because I lacked a degree."

With New Orleans always in her heart, Williams often reminisced when she returned home two months after the hurricane.

"It was an unbelievable sight," she says. "It was like a deserted city, a place I didn't recognize."

Wearing protective masks and gloves due to mold, Williams describes seeing the inside of her home for the first time as heartbreaking.

"We tried to salvage whatever we could and that was minimal," she says. "Everything was piled on top of one another, the roof was too severely damaged to be fixed and the water damage was unbelievable. Marks showed that the water had reached as high as five feet."

Williams was able to salvage a few pictures and a 13-inch television.

"It was devastating to go through Katrina and lose everything, but I'm gaining more than I lost," she says. "It's going to work out in my favor and all of us that were affected. We survived for a reason."

Although her 17-year-old son was unable to make the adjustment and has since moved back to New Orleans to live with his father, Williams' 15-year-old daughter began her first year of high school last week and her 6-year-old son loves his new home.

Since being displaced, the majority of Williams' family has returned to New Orleans but will visit Indianapolis when the Colts host the Saints Sept. 6.

She jokes, "Indianapolis has been good to me but I only love the Colts when they're not playing the Saints."


Black Students Trail Whites, STAR Testing Shows

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INLAND EMPIRE

By Susan Min

Although standardized test scores continue to improve across all grade levels in San Bernardino County, Black and Latino students still lag behind White students in both English language arts and math, the 2007 Standardized Testing and Reporting Program STAR demonstrates.

"We do acknowledge that African American and Latino students have had growth over the years. They do still trail behind white students, and this continues to be an area of concentration for the school district and state supervisor," said Christine McGrew, County Office of Education.

San Bernardino County schools grew or maintained their highest-ever levels in proficiencies in 15 of 16 categories on the 2007 STAR report. On the California Standards Test (CST), administered to 329,449 students in grades 2- 11, all 11 grade levels county wide showed growth or maintained their highest proficiency levels in English language arts, while five of the six grade levels show improvement or maintained their proficiencies in math.

"We continue to see improvement across grade levels in math and English language arts, which are positive developments. We still have work to do so that every child is achieving academically," said Herbert Fischer, county superintendent.

The gap between Hispanic (30 percent proficiency) and Black students (29 percent) remains significant with those of White students (53 percent) in English language arts. In math, African American (24 percent proficiency) and Hispanic students (29 percent) trail White students (45 students).

As for the causes of the disparity, San Bernardino County School Board member Danny Tillman says the reasons are not socioeconomic. "Studies show that poor white students do better than middle class African American students," said Tillman, who cites classroom culture as the main problem.

"The current curriculum isn't designed for African American students. The books they read, for example, don't reflect the African American culture or voice. There's a disconnect between black students and their learning materials."

Danny Tillman, a Black school board member for twelve years, remains frustrated at the lack of progress he has seen at county and state levels in addressing the achievement gap.

"We have implemented a program in Rialto schools that specifically targets African-American students, but our effectiveness is limited by lack of state funding and leadership," said Tillman. "There have been a lot of studies done-for four years now-about how African American students are trailing whites, but nobody is doing anything about it. The state needs to step up. We need somebody to have the courage to seriously look at the issue and implement the necessary programs."

Representatives of the County Office of Education say the State Superintendent has pledged to work with districts in solving the problem.

"We are looking at data and research and proven practices. P16 councils in SB county are directly addressing the access and achievement gap," said Christine McGrew of the County Office of Education. "There are a number of reasons why students don't perform in school. Regardless of any reasons, we still have a moral obligation to help all students."


UC President Dynes To Step Down

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INLAND EMPIRE

Championed Campus Diversity


By Chris Levister

 
University of California President Robert C. Dynes, whose tenure has been marked by budget woes and a compensation scandal, says he'll leave by June 2008.

Praised by women and minority activists for his push to diversify UC's 10 campus system and by associates for his "extraordinary intellect," Dynes, 64, says he was not pressured to step down because of the debate over executive pay that clouded the last year of his tenure.

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Departing University of California president Robert Dynes (l) talks with San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Herbert R. Fischer during a May visit to San Gorgonio High School.
An upbeat Dynes told reporters at a news conference Monday, his decision to step down was motivated by a desire to spend time with his wife, who he married in March, and by a feeling that he had accomplished what he could in the five-year time span he set for himself when he took the job.

"Leaving is bittersweet. You never accomplish everything you want to accomplish." Peppered with questions about the university's compensation practices including quietly awarding millions of dollars in perks to top UC executives without regents' approval, Dynes said he chose not to leave in the middle of the scandal.

"With that resolved and behind me, I'm in love with my wife and its time to spend some time with her before it's too late."

As president Dynes, a well known physicist, was an energetic and enthusiastic advocate for a public university system hailed as one of the world's best, with an enrollment of nearly 200,000 students.

He said he faced a series of difficult challenges, including maintaining UC's quality with fewer state resources and expanding it's diversity without the help of affirmative action.

"I believe deeply that every child who qualifies and works hard should have access to the UC.  We've tried a variety of things, some of which worked, some didn't work. Looking at California's rapidly changing demographics, my successor will have to work very hard on that," he said.

In May Dynes told students at San Bernardino's San Gorgonio High School he failed calculus during his freshman year, but as he put it, "got his head screwed on straight" to become a first generation college graduate, distinguished physicist and leader of a world class academic institution.

"If you keep your head screwed on straight, the world is yours," Dynes told the students many of them from low-income families.

Battered Woman Freed from Prison after 24 years Knows Parole System Too Well

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SAN BERNARDINO

By Chris Levister

BUSTED FOR POSESSION OF ‘JOLLY RANCHERS’

Sandra Redmond shot and killed her abusive live-in boyfriend in 1982 during a confrontation in which she feared for her life. She was convicted of second-degree murder in 1983 and sentenced to 17 years to life.

Even as Redmond walked out of the California Institute for Women in Corona, the former Orange County resident's voice vibrates with outrage. "High hopes and crushing disappointment," she says of waiting to be paroled.

Redmond, 47 a soft spoken woman with a ready smile was released after testimony that  Arthur Moore, 58 raped and abused her. Testimony not permitted at the time of her trial.

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Sandra Redmond (r) is elated, relieved and happy. She was freed after serving 24 years in prison. The domestic abuse survivor mentored Time for Change president Kim Carter (l) while the two were in prison. Redmond hopes to become an advocate for women and teens in abusive relationships.
California law did not allow criminal defendants to introduce expert testimony on intimate partner battering and its effects, previously referred to as battered women's syndrome. A petition filed by the Habeas Project and Redmond's lawyer, Carrie Hempel argued that if such testimony had been allowed jurors would have heard evidence that Redmond had been physically, sexually and emotionally abused by Moore, as well as others, and that, on the day of the shooting, she had been raped.

Redmond was granted parole twice but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed it both times, most recently in March. It was only in 1992 that a law allowing such testimony took effect. In 2001, the law was allowed to be applied retroactively.

That California affords little sympathy for battered women who've killed is not surprising. What is remarkable is that after 24 years behind bars Redmond is not bitter.

"I'm looking up. You can never plan the future by the past." said Redmond gazing at a starry sky during a recent retreat in the San Bernardino Mountains. "Today I took my first bubble bath in 24 years." The time warp followed her to the toilet. "I was sitting there and all of a sudden I heard this loud swish of water. I jumped up and shouted oh my God, an automatic flush."

 "We worked so hard to get her out - she's finally free." That's Kim Carter, accountant, prisoner advocate and founder of San Bernardino based Time for Change, a sober living re-entry facility where Redmond works as an office clerk.

"She's a walking textbook on a parole system that makes up its lines as it goes along." Carter should know.

"I met Sandra while cycling in and out of prison for drug use." The two women bonded immediately. "Over and over she'd see me get out on parole only to return through the revolving door.  She'd say you're back! She would scold me and mentor me.

She told me self destruction never looks like self destruction when you are living through it," said Carter.

Carter remembers Redmond's simple advice. "What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"

"That day I walked out of prison. I never looked back," Redmond's endless optimism sent Carter on a journey toward relentless activism.

"Once you push the curtains back you see the system for what it is. Watching Sandra fester along with the thousands of other inmates needlessly imprisoned is not a pretty sight."  

"The waiting process was excruciating." said Andrea Bible project coordinator for  San Francisco-based Free Battered Women.

 "You wait for your hearing. There's a gripping ache when you find out you've been rejected because you were caught with something as stupid as two ‘jolly rancher' candies in your pocket."

Referring to one of many ‘parole busting' infractions, Redmond, a veteran prison counselor, recalls minutes before she was to give a lecture to inmates.

"Out of no where several guards rushed me. They said empty your pockets. They found two cellophane wrapped jolly rancher candies. I used them to freshen my breath. They wrote me up: ‘possession of unauthorized contraband'. It knocked the wind out of my sails."  Worst yet says Redmond "they used the infraction to suggest I was a risk to society. My parole was denied."

Redmond says despite a lengthy list of positive reports from prison officials on her behavior and mental health she was almost systemically denied parole.

"You can't get excited when it boils down to whether you are suitable for parole based solely on whether you are a risk to society," says Bible.

In June an Orange County judge in the case changed her conviction to voluntary manslaughter and released Redmond on time served.

Politics may propel the charge toward freedom for battered women. Free Battered Women is optimistic about Gov. Schwarzenegger's attitude and approach to battered women seeking release. They hope he will support measurable system wide reform.

"Even if he does so for self-serving reasons, battered women in prison and the people who care about them anticipate that his administration will be more receptive to their pleas," says Bible.  

As for Redmond, she hopes eventually to work as an advocate for women and teenagers in abusive relationships - "I don't want to see them crushed by a system that ultimately must break before its captives can fly."


Conference Shows Blacks And Latinos How To Live Longer

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RIVERSIDE
 

By Ashley A. Jones


According to Phyllis Y. Clark, President and Founder of Healthy Heritage, this year's overall goal was to get as many people as possible to commit to a change. She said she wanted to provide enough information to assist the public in making an informed decision. 

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Pictured from left are Phyllis Clark, founder of the Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference; San Bernardino County Supervisor, Fifth District Josie Gonzales and Lisha Smith, a field representative to Gonzales’ office. Gonzales was one of several elected officials who awarded certificates of recognition to Clark and the Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference.
Last Saturday's event was held on the campus of California Baptist University. The program offered several information booths and workshops focused on promoting healthy eating habits, physical awareness and personal care. Attendees of this year's event had the benefit of participating in free bone marrow, HIV/AIDS, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and blood sugar level screenings.

The conference featured keynote speaker Kimlin Tam Ashing-Giwa, Ph.D, Director of the City of Hope Center of Community Alliance for Research and Education of Duarte, California. Dr. Ashing-Giwa educated the audience on "A Multi-Dimensional Approach to African American Wellness." She highlighted the status of African Americans both historical and current, slave experience, health, education, and economic conditions.

Dr. Ashing-Giwa said, "It's so critical to address the issue of healthy disparity and health equity among our community. It's very important to give back and foster healthy heritage." She also said, "We need to use this opportunity to grow, respect and value our community. We need to be healthier."

Robin Allen, Founder/President of De-Ivy Management of Riverside motivated the audience in her presentation on "Life in Balance, How to Strategically Design Your Life." Allen focused on organizing a healthy lifestyle including good diet and exercise. She also advised her audience to have a "Yes I can" approach to health and wellness.

Among the supporters was Councilwoman Nancy Hart, who said, "This conference gives women the opportunity to gain valuable information, internalize it, take it home and spread it throughout their community."

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Sandy Bradley, executive director of the American Cancer Society, Border Sierra Region, shares information with an attendee of the Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference. The event was held Saturday at California Baptist University.
Attendees and residents of Riverside County said they found the conference to be very beneficial. Julie Burgess of Riverside said, "This conference has helped me in so many ways, specifically in providing health resources." Mark Sanders said, "The conference has extended my knowledge on health and wellness."

4D College nursing students were also in attendance. Instructor Terri Jackson brings her students each year so that they can get more involved and understand the real issues. She also added that the conference was great and that she would be back next year.

Clark's goal is to take the Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference nationwide, to educate more people. She said, "This conference is unique because it is solution oriented. My speakers offer solutions the audience can implement." She concluded by encouraging members of the African American community to, "Live life consciously."

At the conclusion of the conference, attendees did make commitments in writing to change and in return they received a free Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference "I Commit Photo."


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