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A Black Man, Father of the Cell Phone?

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By William Reed, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) To this point, the economic growth leader of the 21st century is the wireless communications industry. Millions of people regularly use cellular phones. With today’s cell phone, you can talk to anyone on the planet. Inside your cell phone are: a compact speaker, microphone, keyboard, display screen, and a powerful circuit board with microprocessors that make every phone a miniature computer. When connected to a wireless network, this bundle of modern-day technologies allows you to make phone calls or exchange data with other phones and computers around the world.

Jesse Eugene Russell is an African-American inventor who brought the world cell phones. Trained as an electrical engineer at Tennessee State University, at 63, Jesse Russell is recognized globally as a thought-leader, technology expert and innovator of wireless communications. He has over 30 years experience in advanced wireless communications and is the recognized father of digital cellular technology. The Historically Black College and University (HBCU) graduate is former Chief Wireless Architect for AT&T Bell Laboratories and served as Chief Technology Officer for Lucent Wireless. An icon in the industry, Jesse Russell holds over 75 patents in digital cellular technologies, dual-mode digital cellular phones and digital software radio. An American legend, in 1995 Russell was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering for “pioneering work in digital cellular communications technology.”

Russell’s innovations continue to spark the international economy. The globe expects some 2.5 billion smartphones to be sold from 2010 to 2015. The main reason for cell phones’ popularity over the past 20 years is the faster and easier communications it provides. A cell phone is really a very sophisticated and versatile radio. Much like a walkie-talkie, a cell phone receives and sends radio signals. Wireless networks operate on a grid that divides cities or regions into smaller cells. One cell might cover a few city blocks or up to 250 square miles. Every cell uses a set of radio frequencies or channels to provide service in its specific area. In each cell, there is a base station consisting of a wireless antenna and other radio equipment. The wireless antenna in each cell links callers into the local telephone network, the Internet or another wireless network.

African-Americans can take pride in what Russell has achieved in the planet’s business advancements. From being honored by the Clinton administration for his work in cell phones and wireless communication, Russell continues to innovate, specifically in the next generation (4G) broadband wireless communication technologies, products, networks, and services. Rising from a disadvantaged background, Russell's career, and knowledge in wireless technology and standards advanced as he served in numerous high-level corporate positions; Director of the AT&T Cellular Telecommunication Laboratory (Bell Labs), Vice President of Advanced Wireless Technology Laboratory (Bell Labs), Chief Technical Officer for the Network Wireless Systems Business Unit (Bell Labs), Chief Wireless Architect of AT&T, and Vice President of Advanced Communications Technologies for AT&T Laboratories (formerly part of Bell Labs).

Jesse Russell’s early childhood was spent in economically and socially challenged neighborhoods within inner-city Nashville. Russell says a key turning point in his life was the opportunity to attend a summer educational program at Fisk University. It was here that Russell began his academic and intellectual pursuits. Russell continued his education at Tennessee State University where he focused on electrical engineering and received a Bachelor of Science Degree (BSEE) in 1972. An excellent example of “a Black achiever,” Russell was a top honor student in Tennessee State’s School of Engineering and became the first African American to be hired directly from an HBCU by AT&T’s Bell Laboratories and subsequently he became the first African-American to be selected as the Eta Kappa Nu Outstanding Young Electrical Engineer of the Year in 1980. Russell continues his personal and corporate leadership in the industry and is currently Chairman and CEO of incNETWORKS,Inc. a New Jersey, USA based Broadband Wireless Communications Company focused on the next generation of broadband services (4G) Broadband Wireless Communications Technologies, Networks and Services.

William Reed is Publisher of Who’s Who in Black Corporate America and available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org.

Offensive Anti-Obama Signs Spark Anger, Debate About Race

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By Edmund W. Lewis, Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly –

Uptown New Orleans resident Timothy Reily touched off a firestorm of anger and criticism recently when residents throughout the city learned of several signs on his property that portrayed President Barack Obama in a negative light. The signs on Reily’s property include one billboard with an image of President Obama in a diaper, another of the president in a dunce cap and a third that suggests the president is being controlled by George Soros, who the sign describes as a “Puppetmaster, Communist and Antichrist.” That same sign describes Obama as a “Puppet, Socialist and Incompetent Economy Wrecker.”

“It disrespects the nation — and President Barack Obama represents our nation,” longtime community activist Skip Alexander said outside of Reily’s home in the 1500 block of Calhoun Street Wednesday. “He represents everybody, not some people.”

“This is nothing put pure racism,” community activist Raymond Rock told WWL-TV. “This is a disgrace.”

Among those who spoke with Reily in his home at the intersection of Calhoun and Coralie streets were former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who would not comment on what was said in a meeting with Reily, and New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who did in fact speak with the media after a conversation with the homeowner.

Guidry, who was accused of being racist last year by an opponent in the City Council District A race, told reporters that she didn’t convince Reily to take down the controversial signs. She added that she planned to research whether the signs are legal and voiced concerns about how the reaction to the signs would impact public safety. She said that whatever steps are taken to resolve the conflict would have to take into account Reily’s free speech rights.

“We have to determine that there is a zoning law that prohibits perhaps the size of the sign, perhaps the way that it’s erected, that it is leaning over onto public property,” Guidry told reporters. “Whatever we can use, we will, but of course, we do have to balance that with First Amendment rights.”

“I think it’s fine. It’s on his property,” Katherine deMontluzin, one of Reily’s neighbors, told WWL-TV. “He can say whatever he wants.”

Radio talk-show host Kaare Johnson, a friend of Timothy Reily, stepped into a hornet’s nest when he showed up at Reily’s home to voice his support for the homeowner’s right to free speech.

“If the community chooses not to accept it and the neighborhood group finds it not appropriate, it will come down,” Johnson told the protesters. “Right now it’s within the law, it’s within the law. Y’all just don’t agree with the opinion.

“I’m taking up for the right for him to have this sign,” Johnson added. “Whether I agree with him or not is irrelevant.”

Johnson was surrounded by angry protesters, one of whom repeatedly called him a “white boy,” “racist” and “peckerwood.”

“We want to find out about his business interests,” community activist C.C. Campbell-Rock told Johnson. “We want to drive him out of business.”

An unidentified protester said that those who disagreed with the way Reily chose to exercise his right to free speech should exercise their right to boycott all products associated with the businessman.

He said that to the best of his understanding, the owner of the sign is related to “The Reily Foods Company that sells Luzianne Coffee, CDM Coffee, French Market Coffee, Luzianne Iced Tea, Swans Down Cake Flour, Presto Cake Flour, Old Dutch Salad Dress­ing, TryMe Sauces & Seasonings, La Martinique Salad Dressings and Blue Plate Mayonnaise.”

“You’re wasting your time,” Johnson told them. “He’s honest, hard-working guy who’s not racist. He doesn’t like the president. He doesn’t like liberals, that’s it. He’s a Republican. That’s his way of sending out the message. It could be Clinton up there.”

“If anybody had swastikas with one of the Jewish rabbis in the same position up there, how long do you think that sign would be up there?” community activist Ray­mond Rock asked Johnson.

“You’re going to compare the president in a diaper to swas­tikas?” Johnson shot back.

“When it happens to Jewish people it’s a tragedy, but when it happens to us it’s not so much,” an unidentified Black woman told Johnson.

“Why do you say ‘us’ like you represent all Black people?” Johnson asked the woman. “I got Black friends — you do not represent them, I promise you.”

“If you’re Black and this doesn’t upset you, you need to check for a pulse,” Ruth Washington, a pharmacist who lives in Gentilly, told The Louisiana Weekly. “This is a wake-up call to everyone in the Black community who has bought into that bull about a post-racial society after President Obama was elected and a colorblind New Orleans.

“Every day we see more proof that white people in New Orleans and across the country are making moves to marginalize and control Black people,” Alexander continued. “The sad part about it is that many of us see it and do and say absolutely nothing about it.”

Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a former Congressional candidate and Internet radio talk-show host, told The Louisiana Weekly that he witnessed a man he believes to be Reily come out of his home Thursday morning and get into an argument with several men standing outside of his home. Reily reportedly got into a heated argument with one of the men, who was Black, and the two men exchanged expletives, Aha said.

Timothy Reily told WRNO Friday morning that he is not a racist and has Black friends. He also said that he has turned over security tapes to determine who removed several posters supporting Black GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain from his property and who attempted to remove the anti-Obama signs. The businessman added that he has the cell phone numbers of several members of the New Orleans Police Department and will use them if he has any more trouble with protesters who cross the line.

“If you look at the location of the signs and you see the area of the city that they’re in, that’s an area of the city that has some of the more influential residents,” attorney Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, told The Louisiana Weekly. “The virulence of the sign, the mockery that it’s making out of the position of the Presidency — that’s something that I haven’t seen (before). I think that there are some racial overtones to it. It tells the city that because the man that put it up felt comfortable enough about putting it up and that there wouldn’t be repercussions from his neighbors and his circle of friends — that tells me that in the broader area maybe other folks might not be saying the same things out in the open but when he’s among his friends and neighbors behind closed doors they have made him feel comfortable enough that he put that up in front of his house. It is indicative of the problems that still exist in this city.

“It’s encouraging that just like that man exercised his constitutional right to put that sign up — and yes it could be classified as political speech, which is a protected area of free speech — those who disagree with his opinion are exercising their constitutional right to make their opposition known,” King continued. “That’s good to see folks out there doing that.

“Hopefully, some of this activism will translate into activism on October 22,” King told The Louisiana Weekly. “From the news accounts, this man has identified himself as being someone with a political party affiliation. If he is indeed someone that has money and his political beliefs are so strong that they have moved him to spend money to put up this billboard, that’s telling me that his political feelings will encourage him to contribute to candidates. And if he’s going to contribute to a candidate, common sense would tell me that he’s going to contribute to candidates that share his political views. Hopefully, folks out here will see that we have people that have such a strong opinion and have money that are going to fuel the candidacies of candidates that share their opinions. In addition to galvanizing us and getting us out on protest lines, hopefully it will also let us see that one of the things that we need to do is look at candidates ourselves and see if they are candidates that share our opinions about issues and help finance their campaigns. We need to let this incident translate into something that will help the community. We can let our emotions burn us up, or we can take that incident and let our emotions drive us to do things in addition to coming out and marching in front of someone’s home.”

“The underlying issue here is a fundamental lack of respect for the Office of the President of the United States,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha told The Louisiana Weekly. “That disrespect is the byproduct of the anger and frustration some white Americans still feel about the fact that a nation intended to be a white, Christian republic controlled by wealthy white men has allowed an Ivy League-educated Black man to rise to the top to become America’s first Black president.

“What this gentleman — and I use the term loosely — and all the others who have attacked President Barack Obama are saying is that it really doesn’t matter if you’re a highly educated, well-mannered elected official or a ditch-digger who can barely read — the color of your skin trumps everything else in America. If you’re Black, you belong at the bottom of society, no matter what.”

The 'Crazy' Life of Rev. Joseph Lowery

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By George E. Curry, TheDefendersOnline.com –

Rev. Joseph Lowery is a civil rights icon. He participated in all of the epic civil rights battles of his day, including the Montgomery, Ala. bus boycott, the violent showdown with “Bull” Connor in Birmingham, the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the famous 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. He was a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and others.

Lowery presided over the Atlanta-based SCLC from 1977-1997, a tenure as long as the combined time of his two predecessors, Dr. King and Abernathy, and longer than the combined service of all five presidents who succeeded him.

On Sunday, a star-studded gala was held at the Atlanta Symphony Hall to celebrate Lowery’s 90th birthday, which was Thursday, October 6. Fellow civil rights icons C.T. Vivian, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Holiday, the Blind Boys of Alabama and others participated in the celebation.

Joseph Echols Lowery, who was born October 6, 1921 in Huntsville, Ala., always jokes that one has to be a little crazy to practice nonviolence in the face of violence and brutality – but it’s what Lowery calls “good crazy.”

President Obama discussed the concept last month in his dinner speech before the Congressional Black Caucus.

“A few years back, Dr. Lowery and I were together at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma,” Obama recounted. “… And Dr. Lowery stood up in the pulpit and told the congregation the story of Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. You know the story – it’s about three young men bold enough to stand up for God, even if it meant being thrown in a furnace. And they survived because of their faith, and because God showed up in that furnace with them.

“Now, Dr. Lowery said that those three young men were a little bit crazy. But there’s a difference, he said, between good crazy and bad crazy. Those boys, he said, were ‘good crazy.’ At the time, I was running for president – it was early in the campaign. Nobody gave me much of a chance. He turned to me from the pulpit, and indicated that someone like me running for president – well, that was crazy. But he supposed it was good crazy.”

Without the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March that originated at Brown Chapel in Selma, Barack Obama would not be in the White House, a fact the president freely acknowledges.

As much as President Obama has lauded Lowery, from selecting him to deliver the benediction at his inauguration to awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the nation, that’s not where Lowery made his greatest contribution. His greatest impact was breaking down racial barriers in the Deep South and giving African-Americans hope, even hope that one day an African-American family would live in the White House.

I know that from personal experience. Growing up Black in Tuscaloosa, Ala. during the 1950s and early 1960s meant riding in the “colored” section at the back of the bus. It meant drinking from separate water fountains and using “colored” restrooms. America’s version of apartheid didn’t allow African-Americans –actually, we called ourselves Negroes back then – to try on clothes in department stores or eat in the same restaurants as Whites. A decade after Brown v. Board of Education, we attended separate schools and lived in different neighborhoods.

I was thrilled when Lowery, Dr. King, Abernathy, Andy Young, James Orange, Jim Bevel, Harold Middlebrook, Dick Gregory and other civil rights warriors would come to Tuscaloosa to support T.Y. Rogers, the head of our local SCLC chapter. They instilled deep pride in me and thousands like me. We dreamed of a better day and that day was realized because of the work of Lowery and others with an abundance of courage and dedication.

President Obama said at the CBC, “Dr. Lowery – I don’t think he minds me telling that he turns 90 in a couple weeks. He’s been causing a ruckus for about 89 of those years.”

Although I didn’t know it while growing up during that tumultuous period, I would get to know Lowery later in life. In addition to both of us being from Alabama, we also share the same alma mater – Knoxville College in Tennessee. Two years ago, I gave the commencement address at Alabama A&M University, when Lowery was presented an honorary doctorate. As a journalist, I’ve interviewed him dozens of times, but none were as special as the 1-hour conversation we had on Wednesday, the same day Fred Shuttlesworth died in Birmingham at the age of 89. With Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams and now Shuttlesworth deceased, not many old civil rights warriors remain on the scene. Only Lowery, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young and a few other stalwarts remain.

When I asked Lowery how he was able to remain on the civil rights battlefield so long, he replied: “I felt a calling and because I felt God called me to work in the struggle, He would be with me. So, I didn’t feel alone. I worried about my family sometimes. But worry about my own well-being was minimal because I felt I was answering a call. I am thankful that He stayed with me.”

That faith was evident when Lowery and his wife of 64 years, Evelyn, got involved in the case of Tommy Lee Hines in Decatur, Ala. Hines, who at 25 was diagnosed with the IQ of a 6-year-old, was accused of raping three White women in 1978. Hines did not attend school until he was 20 and was unable to assist in his own defense. He was found guilty by an all-White jury and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

“Tommy Lee Hines was mentally handicapped,”Lowery explained. “He couldn’t ride a bicycle yet they accused him of driving a car when he raped these women.”

Lowery, then president of SCLC, help lead a protest that summer in Decatur. Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkenson rallied his local forces.

“The news media came and said, ‘The Klan is waiting downtown and they say they’re going to kill you,’” Lowery recalled. “I still went on. I probably should have said, ‘We’re going to go tomorrow.’”

After reaching downtown Decatur, the protesters were beaten and three were shot, though not fatally. Because of the heightened danger, women were not allowed to march that day. Mrs. Lowery followed demonstrators in a car. One bullet pierced her windshield, prompting her to duck. While her head was down, a second bullet whizzed past the steering wheel.

Like her husband, Mrs. Lowery accepted the danger that accompanied ground-breaking civil rights work.

“It was a narrow escape, but I knew that we were all in together,” she told Atlanta Woman magazine. “I was part of the Civil Rights Movement and I became very focused. I knew why God had put me here.”

After being attacked by the KKK in Decatur, Joseph Lowery returned the next day with 10,000 additional marchers.

Of the many civil rights struggles he has been engaged in, Lowery doesn’t hesitate when asked about the one that stands out most.

“If I had to pick one – and you would hold me to it – I would say the campaign for the right to vote,” Lowery stated. Dr. King appointed Lowery as chairman of a committee to present the demands of Selma-to-Montgomery marchers to Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace. However, Wallace refused to meet with Lowery and his committee.

“They wanted to take the demands and give them to the governor, but I wouldn’t give them to them,” Lowery stated. “We had marched 50 miles. I wasn’t going to give them to the secretary.” Wallace met with Lowery several weeks later and received the demands to expand voting rights protection.

The highlight of the 1965 campaign was witnessing President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Southerner, signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act that paved the way for increased voter participation, especially in the Deep South. Borrowing a phrase from a popular civil rights song, Johnson proclaimed, “We shall overcome.”

King lived long enough to see the growth of Black elected officials, but not a Black president.

“I’ve lived long enough to see an African-American president,” Lowery said, still beaming with pride. “When we got the Voting Rights Act passed, we all thought there would be a Black president one day. But none of us believed we would live long enough to see it, I certainly didn’t. The Lord let me live to see it and he let me participate in his inauguration. Then, he gave me the highest award in the nation bestowed on a civilian. I wish so much that people like Martin, Ralph, T.Y. Rogers, Hosea and the others could have lived to see the day we have a Black president.”

When asked how he would like to be remembered, Lowery paused for several seconds.

“I guess I want them to remember that I was a small-town preacher, from a small town in North Alabama, who tried to apply the moral imperatives of the faith to social and political problems,” he said. “That’s all I was trying to do.”

That and being good crazy.

Are Blacks Seen as Brainwashed?

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History points to reasons why ethnic group is loyal to liberal candidates

By Zack Burgess, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

In 1932 there was a sharp realignment in the way people voted in this country, when most African Americans voted the Republican ticket.

The Depression had wrecked the economy; the unemployment rate was 29 percent for the country and 50 percent for Blacks. With the country in peril, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw the need to help a hurting populace.

Therefore, the “New Deal” was born, full of policies that helped establish a political alliance between Blacks and the Democratic Party that has survived well into this century.

So when Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain described African-American voters as being “Brainwashed,” to oppose conservative candidates, he opened up a Pandora Box.

“Brainwashed? I probably wouldn’t use that word,” said Lenny McAllister, a conservative political pundit and supporter of the Tea Party. “Do (Blacks) vote cart Blanche without accountability for the Democratic Party the last 30 years? Yeah. Do they ignore certain obvious contradictions and still vote Democrat? Yeah. Do they make excuses for the inadequacies of the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama when it comes supporting and or advocating for African Americans at the level that we need? Yeah. If you call that being brainwashed, then it’s brainwashed. I wouldn’t use that word, but I will definitely say that the expectation of accountability has been wiped away between Democrats and the African American community…at least the last 30 years.”

As the 20th century dawned and the Republicans increasingly became indifferent to the political and economic interests of Blacks, while taking stances to gain more white and wealthy voters, Blacks became more and more politically restless.

And during the Roosevelt administration, Democrats started to target their policies in a direction that focused on African American human rights and economic interests; that continued under Presidents Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

But as Democrats changed, Republicans failed to keep pace, losing votes and the Black vote, which had been loyal to the party for decades.

The political divorce happened in 1964 when Barry Goldwater was nominated to oppose President Johnson, who got the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Right Act of 1965 passed during his administration. As a result, Dixiecrats fled the Democratic Party to become Republicans.

It didn’t stop there, as the Democratic Party continued to wield change throughout the nation. They nominated and appointed the first African American Supreme Court Justice in Thurgood Marshall.

Since the 1960s Democrats have been at the forefront of civil and human rights. They nominated the first African American cabinet secretaries and had African Americans running for president under their party’s name in 1972, 1984, 1988, 2004, and 2008. It was also Democrats that had Ronald H. Brown run the party in 1988.

The majority of Black people support the Democratic Party because it has been in their best interest to do so. A Democratic administrations enacted major civil rights legislation ending Jim Crow. Democrats supported and continue to support affirmative action. Democratic presidents have appointed judges and Attorney Generals who have defended civil rights.

The Democrats were the first major political party to nominate an African American for President. The Democrats were the first party to appoint an African American as a Supreme Court justice. Most Black elected officials are Democrats. And many African Americans hold key positions and wield substantial influence in the Democratic Party.

More than likely, the Democratic Party cannot win the White House, without the support of African American voters in the 2012 election. And to claim that Blacks are the most loyal block of voters the party has is not necessarily an understatement. Just look at the numbers.

In 1996, Bill Clinton trailed Bob Dole among whites 46 to 43 percent, but got 84 percent of the African American vote and won the election handily. In 2000, Al Gore won an historic 90 percent of the African American vote, which was critical to his success in the popular vote. Given the increased polarization of the electorate and the disappearing “swing voter” in 2004, African-American voters are more important than ever, especially when it comes to re-electing president Obama.

The Republican Party that William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and President Ronald Reagan built was not been designed to reach out to a group on the basis of identity, but on the basis of a given group’s ideas and values. And J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma congressman who once was part of the GOP House leadership, has criticized the Republican Party for neglecting the Black community. Black Republicans, he said, have to concede that while they might not agree with Democrats on issues, at least that party reaches out to them.

“Obama highlights that even more,” Watts said, adding that he expects Obama to take on issues such as poverty and urban policy. “Republicans often seem indifferent to those things.”

African-American voters have especially forceful reasons to turn out to vote against the republican nominee in 2012.

Chief among these is the high unemployment numbers the African-American community has faced over the past three years. Corporate earnings may be back up, but the unemployment rate for African-Americans rose to over 16 percent this fall. African-Americans have been particularly affected by job losses in the manufacturing sector, which have been tough as Blacks have struggled to find new jobs.

Which have left many puzzled with Cain’s assertions and conservative commentator Pat Buchanan’s description of the Democratic Party as a plantation.

"Cain makes it sound like African Americans are too weak-minded or stupid to recognize what's in their own self-interest." NPR blogger Frank James said. "Again, not the best way to win over voters."

Zack Burgess is the Enterprise Writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and Editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.

Afro Latinos: Everywhere, Yet Invisible

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Struggles with self-image, assimilation mirror Black American experience

By Cynthia Griffin, Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly –

Last year, during a discussion on increasing the number of African Americans in Major League Baseball, Angel’s centerfielder Torii Hunter in a USA Today interview called the dark-skinned Latino baseball players “imposters” and said they are not Black.

Hunter’s comments strike at the heart of an issue that is one reason scholar Miriam Jimenez Roman is undertaking a three-day conference called “Afro Latinos Now! Strategies for Visibility and Action,” on Nov. 3-5 in New York that will be the biggest such effort her organization, The AfroLatin@ Forum, has undertaken.

“This is the first time we have done such a comprehensive event where we discuss Afro Latinos specifically. We’re going to look at the state of the field and where we want to be, and there is going to be a heavy emphasis on youth, especially those in middle school years.”

Jimenez Roman says the confusion Hunter demonstrated about the connection between Africans born in Latin America and those born in the United States is particularly acute for U.S.-based 11- to 15-year-old Afro Latinos. In the context of a racist society like America, they are not only struggling to figure out how they feel about themselves, but also how they connect in relation to others, especially African Americans.

There are millions of Afro Latinos in America who live their lives in what is essentially a “Black” context but identify themselves as White, because of the perceived stigma of being African American, said Jimenez Roman, who last year came to the West Coast promoting her newly released book “Afro-Latino Reader,” co-edited with Juan Flores. The 584-page publication, which grew out of the notes the two professors always pulled together for classes they taught, explores people of African descent from Latin America and the Caribbean.

“In the Latino community, we tend not to talk about race; it’s in poor taste to bring up race and racism. It’s the notion of complaining. If you make a big deal out of it, you are the problem, and they say you’re playing the race card,” explained Jimenez Roman, who is of Afro Puerto Rican background, and noted that during book events, African Americans were much more receptive to the reader than were Afro Latinos.

She attributes that to a dichotomy about race many Afro Latinos experience in their countries of origin.

“There is the idea that Latino culture is Mestizo and European and Indian, and Black people don’t belong,” said the race and ethnicity professor about how many Latin American countries think about themselves. In fact, Latinos of African descent have been in many countries for at least 200 years.

If they do acknowledge their Black citizens, Jimenez Roman said officials will say “they all live on the coast.”

“This isolates them. Or in Bolivia, for example, there are Black communities in the mountains. They are totally isolated and ignored.”

But in reality, Afro Latinos are everywhere in Latin America as they are in the United States, says the head of the AfroLatin@ Forum.

In Los Angeles, there is large community of Garifuna people and many Afro Mexicans in Pasadena.

The Garifuna are found primarily in Central America along the Caribbean coast in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, and are descendants of shipwrecked slaves who intermarried with the Carib Indians on the island of St. Vincent.

Both the British and French tried to colonize the island, but were initially rebuffed by the inhabitants. By 1796, however, the British were victorious in gaining control and shipped Black-looking Caribs to Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras. Only about 2,500 survived the voyage.

Because the island was too small and infertile to support their population, the Garifuna, originally called the Garinagu, petitioned the Spanish authorities to be allowed to settle on the mainland.

New York has the largest Garifuna population, heavily dominated by Hondurans, Guatemalans and Belizeans. Los Angeles ranks second and is populated by the Belizean Garifuna.

The City of Angels is also home to a growing number of Afro Mexicans who have both a contemporary and historical space in the city.

According to Alva Stevenson, program coordinator with the UCLA Department of Special Collections, who has spent the last 12 years researching and lecturing about Afro Mexicans, there were some Afro Mexicans in California in the early days prior to statehood, including the Pico family.

Two of the most prominent members of the Pico clan, Pio and Andres were intimately involved in the development of the region and the state. Both were businessmen who amassed fortunes from their various ventures, including a hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Both also served as key political figures—Pio as the last Mexican governor of California and Andres as a member of the Assembly once California gained statehood. Reminders of their presence today include a major thoroughfare, Pico Boulevard, named in honor of Pio.

Their paternal grandmother, María Jacinta de la Bastida, was listed in the 1790 census as mulata.

Stevenson said what is important to note is that the Pico family originated from a town in Mexico, Sinaloa, where two-thirds of the inhabitants were of African descent. And that sort of mixing was not unusual.

“In fact, a professor did a DNA study (in the last 20 years) in Northern Mexico and found that two-thirds of the people living in the region have African ancestry,” Stevenson said.

Sinaloa was also one of the areas where the 44 Mexican settlers who helped found Los Angeles came from. About half of those pobladores, as they were called, were of African descent.

Contemporary Afro Mexicans have migrated to the Pasadena area. Trying economic times have also prompted many younger Afro Mexicans to migrate northward to the U.S. seeking work, and Stevenson said they have landed in locations like Santa Ana in Orange County and the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., region.

Jimenez Roman adds that while Afro Latinos are everywhere in the United States, there are larger pockets in regions like California’s Bay Area, Louisiana (helping rebuild New Orleans), Florida, Detroit, Chicago, other parts of the Midwest and the Carolinas.

“There is a small community of Afro Mexicans who migrated across the border and are now working in processing plants in the Carolinas,” said Jimenez Roman pointing out there are African-descended people from Colombia, Panama, Guatemala and Brazil in the United States.

For Afro Brazilian artist Bakari Santos, his arrival in Los Angeles was a just stopover during a backpacking journey to Europe 33 years ago; he visited a friend who is now the U.S. ambassador to Niger. He laughingly says, “I’m still on my way to Europe.”

“I came here and had a tourist visa, and I found a job at the Brazilian Consulate,” said Santos, who ended up in America after graduating college in Brazil with a biology degree. “I spent 10 years with the consulate, then after 10 years, I was tired of working for the government.”

So, Santos drew on his longtime artistic bent and began to focus on making a living with his art.

“There were very few Brazilians in town at the time; the community who really helped me and gave me a good start was the African Americans,” recalls Santos, who at that time in the ’60s was still wearing his Afro.

Santos, is an example of the types of Afro Latinos that will typically immigrate to America, said Jimenez Roman—middle or upper class with the resources to travel. Many Afro Latinos are relegated to the bottom of the economy in Latin America and just do not have the resources to do much more than subsist.

They are often ignored, added the scholar, and she said that invisibility traditionally follows those who are able to immigrate to the United States.

That’s one reason why it is so difficult to actually pinpoint exactly how many Afro Latinos are in the U.S. It’s also a reason that the AfroLatin@ Forum partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to promote a campaign that urged Afro Latinos to check both the Latino and Black boxes.

“In the 2000 Census, there were 3 million Latinos who said they were Black; almost 2 million of them live in New York,” said Jimenez Roman.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Understanding the reality of living as an Afro Latino in a very Black and White America means recognizing and talking about the fact that the lighter a person is, the more likely that individual is to say they are White and downplay, underplay or even ignore their African roots.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the darker Afro Latinos, who Jimenez Romano say often live with or next to African American communities, intermarry with them and take on the African American identity.

And then there is a third reality that is explored in a one-hour documentary, “The Neo-African Americans,” by Ghana-born filmmaker Kobina Aidoo that questions ethnic identification in the context of rapid, voluntary immigration from Africa and the Caribbean (and Latin America) to the United States that is transforming the “African American” narrative. From Somalis in Minnesota, to Trinidadians in New York, to Afro Cubans in Miami, to Nigerians in Maryland, the term “African American” means something unique to everyone. But the film asks if these individuals are considered African Americans.

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BVN National News Wire