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Spelman's LGBT Forum Earning National Kudos

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By Adrienne Leon, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

ATLANTA – Spelman College is receiving national media attention for hosting an unprecedented summit on lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender issues at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The Chronicle of Higher Education, National Public Radio, BET, and Color Lines News for Action are among the media outlets that wrote about the significance of the conference in dealing with gay and lesbian issues on Black college campuses.

Many observers, HBCU alumni, and fellow students commended Spelman administration as well as young panelists for leading the charge.

"Spelman College is leading HBCUs in opening up conversations about the needs and concerns of LGBT students," according to a column published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

"These types of conversations need to take place on HBCU campuses throughout the nation," it continued. "For too long, gay and lesbian issues have been ignored at HBCUs, leaving behind a significant percentage of African-American students who are looking for support as they pursue their educations and develop their personal identities."

Dr. Beverly Guy-Shefthall, who helped spearhead the inaugural event, said she was "pleased and a little pleasantly surprised by the national coverage." She said the forum is just one of many initiatives she hopes to see in 2011.

Students and faculty from nine colleges, including Howard, Morgan State, North Carolina Central, and Southern universities, met in late April for the historic event titled "Facilitating Campus Climates of Pluralism, Inclusivity and Progressive Change at HBCUs."

Besides raising awareness of alternative lifestyles topics – often considered taboo in Black communities – participants also offered suggestions on how to make Black campuses more inclusive to LGBT students.

JeShawna Wholley, former president of Afrekete, Spelman's LGBT/Queer advocacy group, called the forum "brave but necessary." "It's our privilege and right to be out," she said. She and fellow panelists shared their vision for broad-scale transformation in 10 years at Black institutions concerning diversity and homophobia that exists on campus.

Howard alumna Victoria Kirby recommended more discussions on gender and sexuality across the board in curriculum.

Spelman alumna Moya Bailey identified a need for LGBT resource centers at every HBCU. She added that at least one staff member sensitive to the issue should be consulted when policies are made.

Guy-Shefthall said many Black colleges have been slow to launch LGBT initiatives because of their historic religious affiliations. She said the Spelman forum was held at an urgent time, however, referencing national reports of gay and lesbian students committing suicide out of fear of discrimination or ostracism.

Last September, a gay Rutgers student jumped to his death after discovering his sexual encounter had been exposed online.

The LGBT "intolerance" issue was raised at Morehouse College in 2009, meanwhile, when a newly implemented dress code prohibited students at the all-male school from wearing pumps, dresses and other attire associated with women's clothing.

The situation prompted some Morehouse students – including activists from the sister college, Spelman – to better promote a "safe space" through programs and clubs for those who choose alternative lifestyles.

Guy-Shefthall said promoting a safe space for LGBT students was the purpose of the pluralism forum. She said a 300-page packet given to summit attendees – which contains recommendations to promote course offerings, staff training, and campus activities – also will be distributed to all 105 HBCUs.

"We're planning to get a working committee in an effort to continue projects on Black campuses," she added.

'Remember Me' Organization Works to Memorialize Missing, Murdered Black Women

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By Shernay Williams, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Like so many around the country, Victoria Kent was horrified by the disappearance of 16-year-old Phylicia Barnes. But, while many residents merely followed Barnes’ story, Kent, 23, was inspired into action.

It was at a local vigil for the teen that Kent decided Barnes and the countless other Black women who had experienced similar tragedies deserved better. “The ceremony was poorly organized and very few people showed up on time,” she said.

“I’m a young African-American female and I grew up in Baltimore and it was heartbreaking [to learn about Barnes]. I thought that there must be a lot of girls who have been raped and murdered and she got some coverage, but there are a lot that didn’t.”

This month, the Loyola University graduate and two friends formed Remember Me, an organization that memorializes Maryland’s missing or murdered Black women.

Kent says a victim’s story might initially appear in a newspaper, but by the following week, everyone has “forgotten about her,” and she is merely added to the police’s missing or murdered statistics. “That’s a tragedy,” Kent said. “If something were to happen to me or someone I knew, God forbid, I wouldn’t want to be just a statistic.”

According to the police department, four Black women have been killed this year and 18 were murdered in 2010.

The group plans to highlight one missing or murdered woman a month, holding vigils for the dead and a gathering called “Honk for Her” for the missing. During “Honk for Her,” the organization, along with supporters and the victim’s family members, wield signs and photos at the location of the disappearance and urge passing drivers to honk their horns to bring attention to the woman.

Remember Me’s first vigil, held earlier this month outside City Hall, attracted support from Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld and state Del. Mary Washington, who both spoke while supporters waved placards in honor of several brutalized women.

Police spokesman Kevin Brown said groups like Kent’s are “very helpful” as police conduct investigations into disappearances. “The commissioner is committed to working hand in hand with the community,” he said, “and groups like this do lead to many tips being received that help in the investigations of missing person cases.”

Tanise Ervin, a 19-year-old killed by crossfire outside a Better Waverly carryout last March, will be the first woman officially spotlighted by the group in June.

Kent is working on obtaining non-profit status for Remember Me and is teaming up with other groups with similar missions, including the human rights organization Power Inside, which supports women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence and oppression.

Kent’s ultimate goal is for the group to maintain a national database of missing and murdered Black women and keep the memory of the victims alive.

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said.

Black Fraternities Visit Maryland's Cheltenham Youth Facility to Inspire Young Men

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By George Barnette, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

On May 21, several local chapters of Black fraternities made the trek to Cheltenham Youth Facility in southern Prince George’s County, Maryland to speak with the young men about becoming better men.

“A lot of these young men definitely come from families where no one had gone to college, so we wanted to introduce them to some men who’d done that,” said Frank Malone, community service chairman of the Pi Upsilon Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. “We have lawyers, doctors, masters of divinitym and just a wide range of people to talk to the kids.”

The event was Malone’s brainchild. He said that his chapter had visited the facility previously and wanted to do something bigger.

“We’d been out here three times before and we reached out to the other frats to see if they wanted to do an event with us,” Malone said. “All of the frats wanted to do it.”

Members of local chapters of Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Iota Phi Theta and Groove Phi Groove started meeting in February to plan the event. Then, on a sunny day in Cheltenham, the men met a group of juvenile offenders who needed the help.

The members broke up into six different groups with different age groups of youth to discuss topics such as conflict resolution, self-esteem, sexually transmitted diseases, respecting women, and leadership. At the end, there was a free-flowing wrap-up session where speakers gave testimonies about their own life experience.

Perhaps the most poignant testimony came from WPGC 95.5 on-air personality Aaron “Herkules” Graves. Graves, who graduated from nearby Gwynn Park High School, spoke of his trials and tribulations growing up, including his run-ins with street life, surviving brain cancer and his father doubting his career choice.

“I was excited. I had my first offer to work in Virginia Beach and I went to tell my parents. Do you know what my father said?” The now cancer-free Graves asked rhetorically. “He told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life.”

For a while Graves too thought he’d made a mistake as he spoke of how he was on the radio and still broke. He decided to ask a friend to help him make some easy money, but that friend warned him against it.

Graves took that friend’s advice and kept working and now he said his dad is his biggest fan. “My dad calls me ‘Herk’ now,” Graves said. “He tells everyone ‘My son Herk is on WPGC.’”

It’s unclear how receptive the kids were to the message. Many times they were rowdy and seemed preoccupied with other things. However, one thing for sure is that this will not be the last time the fraternities visit Cheltenham.

“This just has to be the start,” said Eric Hollins of Iota Phi Theta. “We have to keep coming back.”

Malone said he’s hoping to do the event in the future with even more frat members. He also wants to incorporate sororities and visit a detention facility for girls as well.

African Studies Centre Faces Worldwide Closure

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

The impending closure of the African Studies Centre, at the University of Cape Town — the flagship institution for the continent—and news that the Africa Centre plans to do the same in London, together comprise a tremendous loss for Africa-based scholarship.

To top it off, a recent post on the U.S. Department of Education’s website quietly notes that the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program is cancelled for 2011.

PhD candidate Maura Cunningham responded with regret on her blog: “It worries me—even frightens me—that with this action the U.S. government is signaling its lack of commitment to education and forging bonds with communities abroad. Programs like the Fulbright-Hays grants aren’t just about supporting individual scholars; they promote work that helps all of us contextualize the world we live in and recognize how it has come to look the way it does.

"By not providing the funding necessary to support this year’s applicants, the government is implying that such work isn’t important, that we can exist in a global community but don’t need to understand it,” wrote Cunningham.

In possibly one of its last awards, the Fulbright-Hays Program tapped Judith Corbett Carter, assistant professor in the SEEK program at Brooklyn College in NYC to join 16 educators travelling to North Africa to study religious diversity. The group will travel in June and July, exploring issues of "religious tolerance and cooperation among the faiths in shared environments," according to the program.

Oprah's 'All Time Favorite Guest' From Zimbabwe to Receive $1.5 Million

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

A young girl from rural Zimbabwe, who lived her dream of moving to America, is going to school and getting a degree. Tererai Trent, this month received a special accolade. She was acknowledged as the most favorite guest of Hollywood’s great lady, Oprah Winfrey.

Trent’s story has been chronicled in both The New York Times and a book called “Half the Sky”. Winfrey described Trent as a woman who “epitomizes everything I’ve been trying to say on this show for 25 years.”

Oprah had one more surprise for her favorite guest – a $1.5 million donation towards a school Trent plans to build in Zimbabwe. Save the Children will work with students and parents in the village. An estimated four thousand kids will benefit.

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