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Tubman Collection Highlights Groundbreaking for Museum

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By Bobbi Booker, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –

The groundbreaking at the construction site of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. begins this week, notable since it is the last full week of Black History Month 2012.

One of the most talked about donations is the Harriet Tubman collection, a gift to NMAAHC from Charles L. Blockson — writer, historian and former board member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. He also is founder and curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection of rare texts, slave narratives, art and other historically significant artifacts. The items came to him after the death of a Tubman relative.

“I inherited her belongings, and for eight months, I kept them with me in my bedroom, but they belong in this museum,” Blockson said of the Smithsonian’s African American museum. “Harriet Tubman is one of the most important women in the history of America, and her story needs to be heard by generations to come.”

Blockson’s family story is intertwined with Tubman’s. His research shows he is the descendant of Jacob Blockson, who escaped slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with Harriet Tubman and settled in St. Catherine, Canada. Tubman, born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, gained international acclaim as an Underground Railroad operator, Civil War spy and suffragist.

“Several of my ancestors escaped with Harriet Tubman, came to Philadelphia, met with (Black abolitionist) William Still and later went on to Canada,” explained Blockson.

Among the items shedding light on the private life of Tubman are family photographs, a hymn book published in 1876 and signed in pencil by Tubman, and a lace shawl (circa 1897) given to her by England’s Queen Victoria. Among the photographs of Tubman’s funeral March 11, 1913, is one showing her lying in state at A.M.E. Zion Church in Auburn, N.Y., and surrounded by seven members of the board of directors of the Harriet Tubman Home.

“She died in Auburn, N.Y., and when I came back, I stood over her grave under the evergreen tree and my emotional armor erupted,” recalled Blockson. “I started to cry, and asked, ‘How did she do it?’ Of all the people in our history, she sort of reigns supreme. Wherever I travel and talk, everyone seems to know of Harriet Tubman. She is paramount — her blood, her soul force — she is the Moses of our people, as we were taught, and here she delivered us to the promised land. To me, the groundbreaking for the NMAAHC is history, and Tubman is the proper one to be the leading soul force.”

The NMAAHC collection holds nearly 10,000 items ranging from fine art, historic photographs and manuscripts, to items documenting the slave trade, the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights era.

“There is something both humbling and sacred found in the personal items of such an iconic person,” said Lonnie Bunch, director of NMAAHC. “It is an honor to be able to show the private side of a very public person, a woman whose very work for many years put her in service to countless others. This donation by Charles Blockson is a selfless gesture that ensures that her story will be enshrined forever within the Smithsonian Institution.”

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was established by an Act of Congress in 2003, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, art, history and culture. Scheduled to open in 2015, the museum will be the first green building on the National Mall on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument.

President Barack Obama will deliver remarks at the NMAAHC groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The event is by invitation only, but will be webcast at http://nmaahc.si.edu/Events/Groundbreaking. For more information, visit the museum at nmaahc.si.edu.

First African American Woman Architect Succumbs

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Special to the NNPA to Our Weekly –

Memorial services were being set for Norma Merrick Sklarek, a celebrated African American architect who accomplished numerous firsts in the field.

Sklarek died Monday at her home in Pacific Palisades. She was 85.

Born Norma Merrick in Harlem to Trinidadian parents, she attended Hunter College High School, then Barnard College and acquired her architecture degree in 1950 from Columbia University School of Architecture, where only one other female student was among the graduates. She was the first Black woman to be licensed as an architect in the United States, with certification in the state of New York in 1954 and in the state of California in 1962.

After receiving her degree, Sklarek was unable to find work at an architecture firm, so she took a job at the New York Department of Public Works. Later she spent four years at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. She became the first African American director of architecture at Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles in 1966, and she also worked with the Jon Jerde Partnership.

Sklarek became the first Black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1985, she became the first African American female architect to form her own architectural firm: Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, which was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the United States.

Sklarek was known for coordinating major projects. Among them are San Bernardino City Hall, the Fox Plaza in San Francisco, Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport, California Mart, Pacific Design Center, and the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, Japan.

Following her retirement, she served on the California Architects Board. She also served for several years as chair of the AIA National Ethics Council. In her honor, Howard University offers the Norma Merrick Sklarek Architectural Scholarship Award. Sklarek is also an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

She is survived by her husband, Dr. Cornelius Welch, a son David Merrick Fairweather and three grandchildren.

NAACP to Honor TV One Founder

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By Kimberly Roberts, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –

Accomplished actors Sanaa Lathan and Anthony Mackie will host the 43rd NAACP Image Awards, airing live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17 on NBC.

Celebrating the accomplishments of people of color in the fields of television, music, literature and film, and honoring individuals or groups who “promote social justice through creative endeavors,” the NAACP Image Awards are considered the “premier multicultural awards show.”

Special honorees include Cathy Hughes, founder and president of TV One and the owner of Interactive One, who will receive the prestigious Chairman’s Award.

“I am thrilled to offer Cathy Hughes the NAACP Chairman’s Award,” said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman, NAACP Board of Directors. “This recognition is long overdue for her accomplishment as a trailblazer in the media industry. As the founder of Radio One and TV One, an advocate for small business entrepreneurship, and philanthropist, Cathy Hughes reminds us that collectively and as individuals, we can make a difference. Her presence at the Image Awards continues the NAACP’s quest to celebrate and uplift individuals who model principles of hard work, perseverance and community empowerment.”

The Vanguard Award will be presented to “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, executive producer of “Red Tails,” the feature film inspired by the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen. In addition, the Founding Members of the Black Stuntmen’s Association will receive the NAACP President’s Award.

Among those scheduled to perform are Lenny Kravitz, Jill Scott, Kirk Franklin and Ne-Yo, while the evening’s star-studded roster of presenters includes LL Cool J, Paula Patton, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Vanessa Williams, Jordin Sparks, Corey Reynolds, Judge Greg Mathis, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Holly Robinson Peete, Regina King, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Samuel L. Jackson, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Archie Panjabi and Hill Harper.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the “premier advocates for civil rights in their communities,” conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

Bobby Brown Explains Exit from Whitney Houston Funeral

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Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American –

Bobby Brown is speaking out about the brief dramatic moment that led to him and his children leaving the funeral of his ex-wife Whitney Houston Saturday morning.

He released an official statement where he offers an explanation to the turn of events that were captured by cameras covering the beloved singer’s final services. Excerpts from the statement are as follows:

“My children and I were invited to the funeral of my ex-wife Whitney Houston. We were seated by security and then subsequently asked to move on three separate occasions. I fail to understand why security treated my family this way and continued to ask us and no one else to move. Security then prevented me from attempting to see my daughter Bobbi Kristina.”

“In light of the events, I gave a kiss to the casket of my ex-wife and departed as I refused to create a scene. … I will continue to pay my respects to my ex-wife the best way I know how.”

Describing what happened at the service, the Rev. Al Sharpton posted on his Twitter account: “I am at Whitney’s funeral. I spoke with Bobby Brown trying to calm him down and not distract from the services. Today is about Whitney.”

In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemons following the service, Rev. Jesse Jackson said that Bobby Brown did his best not to cause a scene. He also quickly diverted attention from the incident while implying that it was beside the point and returned to the topic of Houston’s services and how loved she was by the world.

Information from CNN contributed to this report.

Human Tragedy and Triumph = Ratings Magic

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By Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) I am always fascinated by the impact of human emotions on our consumer behavior – whether those emotions are inspired by tragedy or triumph. Two television broadcasts made ratings history recently, one because of a tragedy and one because of a triumph: the 54th Annual Grammy Awards on CBS and the contest between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks, February 10, on ESPN.

Nielsen research has proven Americans love sports and music programming. African- Americans are typically well-represented in both. The Grammy Awards have been a viewing favorite. Research backs up the common sense notion that Blacks tend to gravitate to programming where there are larger numbers of people who look like us – but this year, the number of us who watched the Grammys was almost off the charts (no pun intended). The recent 54th Annual Grammy Awards attracted nearly 40 million viewers (39.9 million), which made it the largest Grammy audience since 1984 and the second largest in the history of the broadcast. Of those 39.9 million viewers, African-Americans made up 6.21 million. That means a whopping 60% more Black folks watched the Grammys this year than last (3.7 million out of a total viewership of 24.7 million in 2011).

Some people like me may tune in to see who’s wearing what. How fabulous will our favorites be, or how outrageous? Others are true music aficionados. While the why for this year’s phenomenal success of the Grammys has not yet been officially analyzed, I suspect that the tragic news of the sudden death of beloved music icon Whitney Houston the night before piqued the increased interest. If you were like me and my friends, we were reeling with disbelief. Tuning into the Grammys seemed to offer a kind of solace and comradery in our collective desire to pay homage to a musical phenomenon who was one of our own.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, the show didn’t hold my attention for long beyond the luscious LL’s prayer for “our fallen sister” (a very nice touch). But after his intro and having glimpsed the outrageous outfits of Nicki Minaj, Gaga and the sweet acknowledgements from Alicia Keys and Bruno Mars, I begged my Facebook friends to wake me up when they got to the Whitney tribute. Someone from Ft. Wayne, Ind. (my hometown) actually alerted me when Glen Campbell’s tribute came on. (You couldn’t grow up in the Fort without being inundated with his music back in the day). So I loudly and proudly sang along to the tribute. My son watched me with his mouth hanging open in disbelief. “Really, mom?! Seriously, you LIKE this country music?” (If he reacted like this to my Glen Campbell tribute, he does NOT want to be around when my sister, his Aunt Natalie, goes berserk over Kenny Rogers). Following Jennifer Hudson’s moving tribute of “I Will Always Love You,” and after fighting back tears, I clicked off.

On the flip side, Americans love to cheer on an underdog, a “Rocky,” a champion who rises from the ashes of obscurity to achieve victory. In two words: Jeremy Lin. It was my basketball-playing son who turned me onto the phenomenon that was taking place with the undrafted 23-year old, Harvard-educated Asian-American from California and his fortuitous match-up against the New Jersey Nets. Lin has averaged 27 points per game – launching him from bench warmer to global superstar. In addition to a 73 percent increase in viewership of Knicks games on MSG and ESPN in New York, nationally the February 10 game between the Knicks and the Lakers on ESPN was the most-watched Friday night regular season NBA game on the network, so far this season – with just over three million viewers.

On top of that, NM Incite (a Nielsen McKinsey company) reports that social media buzz has also hit a frenzied pitch around the world since the first February 4 game. Even the phrase “LinSanity” has been coined. The online chatter about Lin has surpassed conversations about the Knicks, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant combined. Now, that’s powerful. And so are you. Because, if you follow these ratings stories, you know these surges in increased viewership are a result of people just like you and me tuning in. It’s great news for the networks as well as the advertisers. Those advertisers are dedicated to reaching us – the consumers. Which brings me to my mantra, “Knowledge is power.” The power is in your hands, and so is the remote control.

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies go to www.nielsenwire.com.

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