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TransAfrica President Lee Resigns

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By Margaret Summers
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

TransAfrica President Nicole Lee announced Thursday she will step down after eight years in the position.

Lee is the first woman to lead the D.C.-based nonprofit, which has advocated for Africa and the African diaspora since 1977.

“Upon assuming my role, and with the board’s encouragement and stated support, we set out to build upon TransAfrica’s legacy as a voice for social justice, and create a body of work that was true to its Pan African and civil rights history,” Lee wrote in a letter to actor Danny Glover, chair of TransAfrica’s board of directors. “Today, TransAfrica stands as a renowned thought leader on issues relating to the African diaspora, and serves as ‘the voice’ of advocacy with regards to matters of social, political and economic justice for members of the diaspora.”

The Buffalo, N.Y., native, who was a human rights attorney before joining TransAfrica, is credited with revamping the organization’s communications infrastructure and enhancing its social media platforms to better communicate with international nongovernmental organizations (NGO).

Recently, she was instrumental in bringing Ugandan civil rights leader Frank Mugisha to the U.S. to meet with rights leaders concerning the African nation’s anti-gay policies.

Lee said the death of Nelson Mandela influenced her decision to resign. She coordinated the memorial tribute to the former South African president in December at the Washington Cathedral, which was attended by Vice President Joe Biden, actress Alfre Woodard and South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool.

Lee said she is proud of what TransAfrica accomplished during her tenure.

“Now I want the opportunity to work more closely with other international movements and organizations and work with communities here at home in understanding international affairs,” she said.

The Silent Wars of African American Girls

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – March 1 was the last time eight year-old Relisha Rudd was seen, leaving a local hotel here with Kahlil Tatum, a 51-year-old custodian who had been tasked to babysit her. Exactly a month later, Tatum was found dead; Rudd remains missing and the trail has gone cold.

The same week Kahlil went missing, the body of 30-year-old, first-year medical resident Teleka Patrick was pulled from a lake in Indiana. In the days leading up to her December disappearance, she and others expressed concern over her mental health. The circumstances of her death remain unclear.

One week after Patrick’s body was found, 22-year-old Karyn Washington, founder of For Brown Girls, a well-known blog dedicated to combatting colorism and promoting self-love for Black women, was found dead in an apparent suicide.

The plight of Black boys garners well-deserved attention, even from the White House—but Black girls are fighting epic wars of their own, too.

“Black girls are under the radar,” says Monique Morris author and president of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. “At this point, all of the conversations are geared toward men and boys, and now at least a billion dollars annually will be invested in ensuring that men and boys of color have services that are uniquely responsive to their condition. And we don’t see that similar investment in girls.”

This lack of investment may be because Black girls seem to be winning their wars, especially when compared to their male counterparts. On standardized math and reading tests, they outscore their male counterparts. They report lower levels of tobacco and alcohol use than their White counterparts, according to the Center for Disease Control’s youth surveillance survey. And 2012 National Education Statistics reports of gains in higher education, with African American women and girls coming from behind to outpace everyone in the rate of college enrollment.

At the same time, four in 10 Black girls don’t graduate from high school. Starting as early as preschool, they are more likely to be suspended than all other girls, and most other boys. In some states, such as Wisconsin, they are the group most likely to be disciplined in this way. Social justice organization Black Women’s Blueprint finds that nearly 60 percent of Black women have been sexually assaulted by age 18. And in 2009, University of Southern California researchers found that Black girls are actually 50 percent more likely than White girls to be bulimic.

Even ordinary growing pains can be magnified at the intersection of racial and gender discrimination.

For example, a 2012 study published in Sociology of Education points out that African American teen boys are more likely than African American girls to be embraced when bussed to predominantly White schools; Black boys gain social capital through the sports they are encouraged to play and through presumptions about street-cred and coolness, while Black girls are unable to use an equivalent stereotype or sport to ease their interactions.

In short, Black girls live in a state of limbo, where their race, their gender, or a combination of both can work against them.

“It’s important to have conversations with girls about patriarchy and about racism, so they understand the structures they’re living in and can develop the language and analysis on how to navigate these systems,” Morris explains “They get it. They know when they’re being victimized, and they understand that there are constructs of oppression. What they might not understand is the ways they’re internalizing it, and believing it, and reenacting it in ways that are destructive to their own wellbeing.”

Saving Our Lives, Hearing Our Truths is one program that’s trying to help foster that understanding and sense of self-examination. Based in Illinois’ Champaign-Urbana metro area, SOLHOT creates safe spaces for Black girls through art, storytelling, camaraderie, and the support of the eight Black women (called “Homegirls”) who shepherd them.

“Black girlhood is rather complex,” says Claudine “Candy” Taaffe, a SOLHOT Homegirl and doctoral student in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Education. “Because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Black girls are not asking to be saved, and I’d argue that Black boys are saying the exact same thing.”

So what are Black girls asking?

“A lot of it is just not being understood, not being listened to, not being expected to be as smart as other people,” Taaffe says of the middle- and high-school girls she works with.

“They’re trying to figure out their relationships with their mothers. And sexuality is a big thing. They’re so into their intimate relationships, and not just with boys. We have queer and questioning girls in SOLHOT, just as we have heterosexual girls in our group.”

Black girls may not be asking to be saved, but as SOLHOT’s success suggests, the positive, judgment-free support of adults is helpful.

The National CARES Mentoring Movement brings this idea to life with a blend of education programs, community partnerships, mentor recruitment and training programs, and both one-to-one and group-mentoring programs. And although CARES Mentoring seeks to lift the boats of all Black children, Founder and CEO Susan Taylor has noticed specific challenges facing girls.

“What I have found, in listening to girls, is a profound loneliness. More than anything I would say that Black girls are saying that they need to speak,” she said. “I see a cry for guidance, and for the wings of more mature women to cover them. And to hear them.”

The National Council of Negro Women has also prioritized such work for nearly 80 years, through components such its Bethune Program Development Center. The initiative creates and supports community-based, empowerment and mentoring programs, particularly for Black girls.

The NCNW Los Angeles View Park section, for example, works with the girls of South-Central L.A.’s Imperial Courts housing projects. Through the eight-week Phoenix Leadership Academy, girls ages 8 to 14 enjoy etiquette class, cultural field trips, yoga, mentorship, and other activities designed to enrich their lives.

“It’s important to expose our girls to see other ways of life,” says Carolynn Martin, president of the NCNW Los Angeles View Park. “Because if I [for example] live in a disadvantaged community with parents who are also not exposed, it’s a very limited life. For example, some of the girls we work with have never been to the beach, even though it’s less than 10 miles away. Exposure to schools, colleges, careers, to give them ideas on what they might want to try.”

The importance of exposure, in tandem with providing sanctuaries where Black girls can be heard and understood, was continually echoed.

When girls aren’t exposed to talent and career possibilities (or are not trained for them), the result is underrepresentation across both industry, and career level. The science, technology, engineering, and math-related (STEM) fields, for example, are still facing a deep gender gap; correspondingly, these fields are nearly void of Black women, particularly in managerial and executive roles.

“It’s difficult, to say the least, growing up in tech as a woman of color,” says Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code. “It’s difficult to move through corporate settings, and it’s even harder to find mentors and sponsors to relate to on a cultural level. There’s simply not a lot of role models or mentors in leadership positions.”

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Black Girls Code offers workshops, after-school programs, and training camps to expose middle- to high-school Black girls to the varied world of technology. The activities teach everything from web design, to app creation, to robotics. Bryant explains that part of the mission of Black Girls Code (which has installations in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Las Vegas, and more), is to make sure that today’s middle school Black girls never have to get used to being the only one in the room.

On the other side of the country, Maura Hackett, teen program director at Science Club for Girls, is also trying to reach this goal. SCFG, an extracurricular STEM program aimed at K through 12 grade girls in the Greater Boston area, offers free hands-on workshops, mentorship, competitions, and field trips to foster interest in STEM fields.

“It’s hard to find Black women mentors for our girls, and it’s something we’re working toward [correcting],” she says. “The girls get really into [STEM forums] when they find and can talk to people who look like them; you see them open up a lot quicker. You can see the hesitation when we enter all-male rooms. One girl actually told me, ‘I can be that because there’s someone in there who looks like me.’”

Great Recession May Cause Some to Retire Later

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Many Black families, ill prepared to weather personal financial storms, lost their homes during the Great Recession and burned through what little assets they had just to keep from going under.

A new report by the Urban Institute details why many Blacks will be working well into their golden years and how the federal government perpetuates the widening wealth gap between Blacks and Whites.

The report titled, “Impact of the Great Recession and Beyond,” said that plummeting home prices and skyrocketing unemployment rates “made matters worse” for many homeowners, especially Black homeowners.

“The young and families of color experienced the largest percentage declines in wealth as a result of the Great Recession, driven in large part from declines in housing,” stated the report.

The Urban Institute said that family wealth was not only lost through the housing market, but also through the stock market and early withdrawals from retirement savings.

During the Great Recession, Blacks lost more than 30 percent (31.7) of their retirement savings, and Whites lost 18 percent of their retirement savings. Researchers say that it’s possible that Blacks, facing Depression-era levels of unemployment, borrowed from meager retirement accounts, which means that some older Blacks may be forced to stay in longer or re-enter the job market in their golden years.

Black families also lost 47 percent of their nonretirement assets, including cash, stocks and bonds compared to Whites, who lost 21.7 percent of their nonretirement assets.

As White families get older, their wealth trajectory increases, which means they’re able to save more money for things such as college education, financial emergencies and retirement, but for Black families the passage of time had little or no effect on the rate of wealth they were able to accumulate.

“In their 30s and 40s, Whites have about 3.5 times more wealth than African Americans and Hispanics,” stated the report. “By the time people reach their early to mid-60s, Whites have about seven times the wealth of African Americans and Hispanics.”

During the Great Recession, United for a Fair Economy, a group that advocates for economic justice, estimated that it would take nearly 600 years for Blacks to achieve wealth parity with Whites.

Even worse, policies crafted by the federal government to help all homeowners often hurt low- and middle-income homeowners.

Black families don’t often benefit from the money the federal government spends on “long-term asset development” like the mortgage interest deduction program.

“These subsidies primarily go to high-income families and do not seem well geared to dealing with particular economic conditions and cycles, nor the low wealth of the young and low-income,” stated the Urban Institute report. “A common misconception is that poor or even low-income families cannot save, but, in fact, many can and do—especially in homes and saving accounts.”

A report by The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said that the mortgage interest deduction program cost $70 billion a year, “but it appears to do little to achieve the goal of expanding homeownership.”

The report said: “The main reason is that the bulk of its benefits go to higher-income households who generally could afford a home without assistance: in 2012, 77 percent of the benefits went to homeowners with incomes above $100,000. Meanwhile, close to half of homeowners with mortgages — most of them middle- and lower-income families — receive no benefit from the deduction.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggested that mortgage interest deduction be converted into a mortgage interest credit that could help struggling families afford to be homeowners.

In a 2012 report, the CBPP recommended that a renters’ tax credit could also help level the playing field in the housing market.

“It could reduce each household’s monthly rent by an average of $400; its value alone would lift 270,000 families out of poverty and lift four of five of the poorest families it assists out of deep poverty,” the report said.

At the state-level, the renters’ tax credit could help reduce homelessness among veterans, keep at-risk families together and assist low-income elderly and people living with disabilities find housing.

The CBPP report on the renters’ tax credit said that, “Such initiatives would not only further important policy goals and provide needed help to some of the nation’s most vulnerable people, but they would also generate savings in health care, child welfare, and other systems.”

Med Students Don’t Wait to Give Back

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, there are only 2.3 physicians for every 1,000 people in the United States. That number is even lower in some states with large African American populations, such as South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Enter the Student National Medical Association. The SNMA is the oldest and largest student-run organization of medical students of color. It not only cultivates the pool of medical professionals of color and nurtures thousands of mostly African American student members as they matriculate through medical training, but it also instills a duty to serve, particularly in communities where health care access is inadequate.

“The people in this organization are the next wave of medical leadership, and will practice largely in underserved communities of color,” says SNMA national marketing manager, DeJuana Thompson. She began positioning herself for her current position after seeing SNMA members from the University of Alabama chapter volunteer clinic services around her hometown of Birmingham. “They were offering medical services in our community that we normally didn’t have access to. Once I saw that, I’ve been involved ever since.”

In 2011 when Thomson began working with the SNMA, a new initiative to deepen the SNMA’s community impact was brewing next door in Mississippi. That year, a team led by Michael L. Jones at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, launched the Community Health Advocacy Training Program. The program partners with churches and other community hubs to train laypeople to become health advocates in their neighborhoods.

“Mississippi leads the nation in most chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease,” says Jones, who works as the director of Healthy Linkages at the University Medical Center while running the CHAT program in his spare time. “But we also have low rates of health literacy, and a low number of primary health care physicians.”

In one free six-hour training, volunteers learn to accurately measure blood pressure, weight, body mass index, and glucose levels, interpret medication instructions, provide basic nutritional counseling, and help others navigate the health care system. The program also trains both lay people and medical professionals to create more advocates by teaching others these clinical skills. To date, Jones and his volunteer partners have trained approximately 2,500 advocates, mostly in the Jackson, Miss. area.

“We wanted to devote attention and resources to laypeople in the community, and empower them to take a more active role in their healthcare,” Jones explains. “Because if we could empower those individuals, they’re the ones who touch people every day. They’re the ones who are trusted in their communities. I’m not going to be able to have the same reach.”

The following year, Amber Clark, a student at Brown University Alpert Medical School (and then-community service liaison for SNMA Region 7), learned about Jones and the CHAT program through a mutual colleague and brought it to the SNMA. For the 2013 SNMA Community Health Advocate Training pilot program, Jones trained 25 medical students of color from all over the country to go into their schools’ surrounding communities and develop more community health advocates.

“We wanted a wildfire effect,” Clark explained. “This program is important for minority communities because we’re the most adversely effected by these disparities that are 100 percent preventable. We have to let [communities] know, you have a say in your health, and we’re giving them the tools to do that. It’s very uplifting and empowering.”

The CHAT program isn’t the only way SNMA student members address their communities’ disparities.

Project H.O.P.E. (Health Optimization through Patient Education) is another major initiative from the student members of the University of South Alabama College of Medicine chapter. The program brings together high school students and members of their community living with HIV/AIDS for monthly conversations. “African Americans ages 15-24 are among the highest groups of individuals being infected with the HIV/AIDS virus,” the project’s mission statement explains. “It is our belief that by educating our youth about the detrimental effects of HIV/AIDS, we can counteract and/or slow this number.”

The organization is also looking beyond the big-name ailments that Black communities suffer disproportionately. The Michigan State University College of Human Medicine chapter of the SNMA, for example, hosts an annual bone marrow drive targeted at donors of color in the Lansing, Michigan area.

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, (the largest marrow registry in the world, each year 12,000 Americans need a bone marrow transplant to save their lives, and 70 percent will not have a donor match within their families. They will need to look to unrelated donors, who must be the same race and ethnicity to increase the chances of success. But only 7 percent of bone marrow donors are African American. Black patients who need a transplant to survive have a less than 50 percent chance of finding a matching nonfamily donor.

“MSU-CHM SNMA is dedicated to making bone marrow available for those groups that are less likely to find a match,” the chapter explains. “The National Marrow Donor Program could save the life of anyone anywhere in the world.”

Incoming SNMA national president and Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine student, Topaz Sampson, takes the commitment to serve underserved populations very seriously. With her tenure, she plans to broaden the SNMA’s focus to include the needs of LGBT, immigrant, and refugee communities.

“Because we’re a socially conscious and culturally competent organization, we have to be prepared to treat patients from all walks of life,” says Sampson, who is interested in becoming a psychiatrist. “We recognize this great lack in representation and access and we have to be the best physicians we can be in our communities.”

Clark, who hopes to go into physical medicine and rehabilitation, also believes that an emphasis on community service within medical training has far reaching effects.

“This may sound crass, but just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you’ll make a great physician. You need people skills, you need to be able to relate to your patients, and serving the communities in which you’ll be working fiver you those skills,” she says. “For a community, it’s great to see people who look like you, screening you. It’s very empowering and uplifting, and it leads to better health for all of us.”

NAACP Outraged Over Georgia's New Gun Law

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The interim president of the NAACP on Friday excoriated Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to sign a bill that allows gun owners to carry weapons into churches, bars, schools and some state government buildings, calling the move unwise and unsafe.

Lorraine Miller, who also is the NAACP’s CEO, said the Republican governor and the state legislature “have placed the state of Georgia in grave danger.”

“We are appalled and outraged,” she said. “Not only are our streets less safe due to a lack of common sense gun safety laws, but now our churches, schools and restaurants are too.”

The bill, signed Thursday by Deal, also licenses residents with concealed carry permits to possess guns in certain areas of airports. The new law will go into effect in July.

Miller lambasted the decision, opining that “even in the Wild West, gun owners were required to turn over their guns before entering bars.”

The NAACP has long been an advocate for gun control laws nationwide. It has often cited statistics that show that blacks die at higher rates because of gun violence than whites.

“This law, combined with the state’s destructive ‘stand your ground’ law will put more innocent people, particularly young men of color, in danger when an armed person substitutes racial bias for reasonable fear and fire away,” Miller said. “This is an insult to the thousands of families who have lost a loved one to gunfire in Georgia.”

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