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U.S. Mobile Court Brings Justice to Congolese Women

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

At a makeshift courtroom in the lakeside Congo village of Baraka, a military judge delivered justice last week for the women of South Kivu Province.

Lt. Col. Mutuare Daniel Kibibi received 20 years of hard time for inciting the mass rape of village women by his troops earlier this year. The somber faced Kibibi was taken away in handcuffs amidst hundreds of witnesses who gave the departing officer a piece of their mind.

Kibibi had turned his men on the village just after New Year’s in retaliation for the death of a soldier. His marauding troops smashed down doors and went house-to-house, pillaging, beating and raping for an entire night, from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next day, witnesses said.

Activists hope this will be the first strike against soldier-rapists who act with impunity, unpunished for despicable crimes that are well-known to local leaders and the international community.

"The untouchable has been touched," Therese Kulungu, the lawyer representing the victims, told Reuters. Compensation was promised to the 49 women who testified and face "humiliation, degradation of their health, social stigmatization, risk of divorce, and possibility of HIV," presiding judge Col. Fredy Mukendi said.

The mobile court was paid for by George Soros' Open Society Initiative and aided by several other agencies, including the American Bar Association, Lawyers Without Borders and the U.N. Mission to Congo.

Artifacts from Lena Horne's Estate Auctioned

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

A Feb. 23 auction of approximately 200 items from the late legendary performer Lena Horne’s New York estate raked in $316,000, more than double the original estimates.

Doyle New York auction house sold the items, which once graced the singer’s elegant home on Manhattan’s upper east side. The loftiest prices was the winning bid for an abstract painting by Black muralist Charles Alston that sold for $20,000.

Other luxurious pieces included gowns, costume jewelry, memorabilia, books, photographs, and European-style furnishings. Several pieces fetching bids surpassing pre-sale estimates included a Louis Vuitton trunk bearing Lena Horne’s name that was expected to sell $500-$700 but sold for $20,000, a leather vanity case with her engraved initials that sold for $6,250 despite estimates of no more than $400 and a sequined sweater thought to be worth $100-200 that sold for $1,125.

Further, a Giorgio di Sant’Angelo-made reversible mink overcoat sold for more than $7,600 above its asking price, and a Chanel choker with gold-tone metal links and faux baroque pearls was sold for $1,000 more than pre-sale appraisals.

“She was a citizen of the world and there are so many parts of her exhibited by her wardrobe,” Louis Webre, a representative of the auction house, said at a private auction preview.

Horne, a civil rights activist, singer, actress and dancer, died last May at age 92.

White Out – Oscar and Culture

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COMMENTARY

By Julianne Malveaux, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Months ago, we knew that there would be no African American Oscar winners, mainly because we knew there were no Oscar nominees. What a denouement from that glorious year when both Denzel Washington and Halle Berry were winners for films that, if flawed, celebrated their artistic genius. While the Oscars have not been an equal opportunity experience, there have been celebrated nominations and wins that have lifted up African Americans in film, and it may be a mistake to take just one year and turn it into a trend. Still.

What do films depict? In some ways they are reflections of our hopes, dreams, visions, fantasies and realities. Those who “green light” films offer opportunities to films that resonate – a stuttering king, a troubled ballerina. Those of us who know writers and thinkers in the African American world know there are equally compelling figures, but those who see film often reflect the sensibilities of their own age. In other words, what did it take for someone to decide that The Great Debaters would be a film that resonated? Why has Tyler Perry had to go the independent route? Who interprets culture and reality? Through which prism do they view the world? What do they see?

I think this question is especially pointed during this Great Recession, when there are such compelling economic stories that can be cast in a comedic and/or a dramatic light. I know that entertainment is partially about escapism, not just reality. Why else would a king’s stutter be more compelling than a sister’s foreclosure? Still, if I could give a green light, I’d ask someone to dramatize the story that Iyanla Vanzant tells in her latest book, Peace from Broken Pieces. How does a nationally acclaimed spiritual leader, teacher, and commentator emerge from a woman who has been broken, battered, abandoned and then some? Isn’t there some drama there? Why not tell that story?

Or if a king is so compelling, what about a queen? Why not tell the stories of the African American women in Black History who have made tremendous contributions. If we can talk about Ray Charles through Jamie Foxx, what about Cathy Hughes through Angela Bassett? Imagine the resonance of an entrepreneur so dedicated to her dream that she slept in the radio studio when she could not afford rent so she could keep her dream alive. Or what about Maggie Lena Walker, the woman who founded Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, a woman with a scant second grade education? Can we get some drama from the story of Elizabeth Keckley, the seamstress who supported a dissipated White master and his 17 relatives with her needle, a woman who bought her own freedom, became the confidant of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, and only fell out with her when she wrote a book because she needed the money?

Popular culture does not lift these women up, no matter how dramatic their stories, because we have not often been able to bridge the racial divide in drama, culture, and entertainment. Whatever is compelling in these stories is often muted by the racial aptitudes that shackle our nation. Thus, it is more interesting to learn of a British king who can’t speak the King’s English than an enslaved man like Frederick Douglas whose elocution inspires a nation. We could put the Frederick Douglas story on film, but they we’d have to deal with the miscegenation that makes many uncomfortable, the Black man, the White wife, the cultural barriers. Better to run to England with a stuttering King.

I’m not mad at Colin Firth and The King’s Speech, but I’m mad at a Hollywood that won’t take chances, a Hollywood that won’t lead with the films that are “green lighted”. If films reflect our turgid reality and our royal fantasies, not the vision for a redemptive future, then films hold us back instead of moving us forward.

This Oscar season is an exciting season for many individual artists. It is repudiation for African American people.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her most recent book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History, is available at www.lastwordprod.com

Congressman Rangel Says He's Ready for 2012 Election

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By Cyril Josh Barker, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

It's never too early to start.

Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel is “fired up” for the 2012 election season, with hopes of winning his 41st term as representative of the 15th Congressional District.

Rangel has officially filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission allowing him to run in 2012 and begin to raise funds for his campaign.

The Democratic Party congressman hit a few bumps last year when he was censured by Congress on ethics charges, and stepped aside from his position as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee before the Democrats lost the House of Representatives in the fall elections. However, Rangel's camp said the congressman is gearing up for another victory.

“I would assume he's confident,” said Bob Liff, a spokesman for Rangel's campaign. “We were up against some significant obstacles and went through the toughest election since 1994, and it was extremely gratifying for him. He won every single part of the district and he won against five other candidates.”

Liff added that Rangel is one of several sitting representatives who have already made a running start for 2012. Michigan Rep. John Conyers from Detroit told a newspaper that he plans to run for his 25th term.

Rangel won the 2010 Democratic primary congressional race for the 15th District seat with 51 percent of the vote against five opponents, and in the general election he received 81 percent of the vote.

Several candidates from the 2010 election have expressed interest in running again, including Joyce Johnson, who was endorsed by the New York Times for the seat in 2010, Vince Morgan and Craig Schley.

Harlem Students Making the Grade

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

Last week while most New York City kids enjoyed their winter recess from school, a group of students in Harlem continued their learning process at the North Harlem Kumon Learning Center, where the learning never stops.

For many of uptown kids, getting the educational edge is always a challenge and it bears out in the statistics. Last week, for example, the New York Amsterdam News reported the release by the city of a report that shows a crisis in the number of Black and Latino students attending specialized high schools in New York City.

Despite the fact that Black and Latino students make up more than 70 percent of the students in New York City schools, only four percent of the students admitted to specialized schools were Black and six percent were Hispanic, while 35 percent were Asian and 30 percent were White.

This week we take a peek inside a decades-old learning center first begun in Japan that has recently set up shop in Harlem and other communities of color, and we wonder if the method holds the key to broad educational achievement for Black and Latino children.

This New York Amsterdam News reporter took a trip to the Kumon Learning Center located on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard between 129th and 130th streets to speak with the center’s director and parents and see how successful the Kumon center is in Harlem.

Upon arriving, one finds an environment of children quietly studying and working, surrounded by pennants from elite colleges and universities on blue, orange and yellow walls. The center’s director, Elizabeth M. Ebbits, discussed her vision of the company and the method that has made it such a successful learning experience for millions of children around the world.

“We’re a supplemental program, so we’re meant to complement what the students are doing in the classroom,” said Ebbits. “We’re an independent-based program. We basically start our students at what is called a comfortable starting point, and that is a point that is below grade level. We do this to fill any gaps in learning they might have; we do this to build up their confidence and their self-esteem to build up momentum.

“And from that low starting point we progress them through the program at their own pace, but each child starts at their own placing point and progresses from that placing point going forward,” continued Ebbits. “Regardless of where they place, they all have to go through the levels. Every child has their own placing point.”

Established in 1958 in Japan by Toru Kumon, a high school math teacher, the Kumon method is designed to teach while leading the child to academic excellence. The goal is to master a subject before moving on to the next step. Since these programs are after school, there is no stopping point, and children can sail past their peers, who are done with school at 3 p.m. The program covers pre-school through high school and is has centers in 46 countries with 4.2 million students worldwide and 211,957 students in America make the trip to Kumon after their school day.

When the New York Amsterdam News asked several parents how they first found out about Kumon, their answers were always the same: Word of mouth, usually from a friend.

“The way I found out about Kumon; my daughter was 3 years old and she was going to the St. Aloysius School [in Harlem] when she and another little girl became friends,” said Shanise Thomas. “So when she had a play date with her friend, the parent showed me the work of Kumon. The parent started telling me about Kumon and how it was really good for her child—how her child was so advanced from coming here. So, she showed me the work and I said let me try them out. I came to the orientation and I think, like, the following week I brought my daughter so they could give her a test to start the program.” Her 6-year-old daughter, Yeali Ulaba-Samura, who has been a student at Kumon for two years, is currently at a fourth-grade reading level.

Delys St. Hill-Lopez’s 6-year-old daughter, Tibisai, has also been in Kumon for two years and currently reads at a second-grade level. “I had a very good friend whose son had been in Kumon from age 4—she found out about it from another friend of hers whose son did so well in Kumon in math that it encouraged her to put her son in,” she said. “And, it encouraged me to put my daughter in.” St. Hill-Lopez enrolled her daughter at age 3 despite having known about it for a year. She wanted to be proactive in her approach and not wait until her daughter had any problems in school to make a move.

“The beautiful thing is that you get them at 3 years old and you start training them to sit down at a table and focus and concentrate,” she said. “And it’s a beautiful thing.”

St. Hill-Lopez’s desire for her child to succeed academically not only stems from the love of a mother, but also from an awareness of the global competition her daughter will face when she’s older. “That’s why I think it’s important to be proactive,” she said. “I’m not confident in our educational system in this country. I look at what this country is accomplishing and other countries that have a GNP maybe one-tenth of what this country produces, but yet their students accomplish so much more. A lot of people think they can just send a kid to school and that’s it: ‘Oh, my kid goes to school. They’re gonna learn.’ And, that’s not true.”

St. Hill-Lopez told the New York Amsterdam News several stories about other friends’ children to demonstrate, in her eyes, why even the prestige of a school doesn’t matter when it comes to a child’s education. “At a school like Trinity or Dalton—a number of those children end up having to leave those schools. I had a friend whose son started at Trinity in kindergarten. By the time he got to seventh grade, they told her that her son is not up to par in reading and math. They have failed her son. Her son had to leave and go to another school. Why is that from kindergarten to seventh grade they did not make sure or give him extra tutoring?

“This country doesn’t value education. It’s about making money and it’s about taking advantage of people and getting them to make money for you. Even at the best of schools,” said St. Hill-Lopez who proceeded to mention well-known private institutions like Fieldston and Horace Mann to further emphasize her point. “And, they won’t hesitate to show your child the door…especially an African-American child.”

With all the positive stories about Kumon, you would think that it’s hard to be admitted to such a program. When asked about the criteria for getting into one of the learning centers, Ebbits said, “As long as they don’t wear a diaper and can sit in a chair for a few minutes. That’s it,” she continued.

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