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Sickle Cell is No Barometer for Fullness

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By Sandra Jordan, Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Six years ago, St. Louis native Jacquelyn Whitney retired from KMOV TV Channel 4 after nearly 30 years of working in television production. Rather than flying south where retirees typically flock, Jackie headed west.

It was a day she thought she would never see, because she lives with sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell anemia is a serious inherited blood disorder of persons of color, in which oxygen-carrying red blood cells are stiff and “C” shaped rather than round, causing difficulty moving through blood vessels. Sickle cells clump together, causing severe pain episodes, blocking blood flow to limbs and organs. It can cause infections, organ damage and can be life-threatening.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 90,000- 100,000 cases of sickle cell. The disease occurs in one out of every 500 African American births.

“Indescribable joint pain” is how Whitney calls the sickle cell crises.

“Usually the pain would start in my arms or my legs and they were so extreme, that my father would take me over to the hospital, and of course, the doctors had no idea what was going on, but the usually treatment was they usually end up giving me a penicillin shot,” Whitney recalls. “Most of the time, while I was at the hospital, after about a few hours, the pains would subside.”

When Whitney was 8 years old, Dr. Helen Nash of St. Louis provided her and her parents with news that would shape the rest of her life.

“She explained to me that it was hereditary – that the only way you can get sickle cell disease is that someone in your family has to have either full-blown disease or they have the trait of it.

And, that I probably would still experience the same types of pain and episodes that I had been experiencing all of the early part of my life,” she said. “After taking a big breath she said, ‘I will tell you that most people who have this disease never live past their teens.’”

Hampton University Opens $225M Cancer Center

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By Jeremy M. Lazarus, Special to the NNPA from the Richmond Free Press –

Hampton University (HU) has ushered in a new era of cancer treatment in Virginia with the recent opening of its $225 million Proton Therapy Institute. After three years of construction, the institute has gone into action to deliver on its promise of providing life-saving therapy. This is the first proton therapy center connected with a historically black university and the only one of eight in this country not connected with a medical school.

Institute doctors have begun treating patients, according to Dr. Cynthia E. Keppel, science and technology director for the HU institute. “We’re very excited,” Dr. Keppel said in a telephone interview from her office as the new center began treating patients with prostate, breast, lung and other cancers. HU President William R. Harvey remarkably took the institute from concept to reality in just five years. He rallied local, state, and federal support for a project that he envisioned as creating a “hub for cancer treatment, research, and technology.”

As the institute’s name states, the treatment uses protons, a positively charged subatomic particle, to blast tumors. The equipment allows a stream of protons to be focused with laserlike precision on a malignant tumor anywhere in the body, Dr. Keppell said. While expensive, the treatment has gained favor for being less invasive and less dangerous to the patient than traditional radiation therapy.

This is the first proton therapy center connected with a historically black university and the only one of eight in this country not connected with a medical school. At 98,000 square feet, it ranks as the largest freestanding center among the 23 proton centers in the world. It is located in a Hampton business park off campus. Dr. Harvey was able to jump-start the project with help from former Gov. Tim Kaine. In 2007, Gov. Kaine cut through financing hurdles by allowing the state’s Small Business Financing Authority to issue $220 million in bonds to enable construction to begin. The institute is still feeling its way, Dr. Keppel said.

“We’re beginning slowly. We started with two patients and plan to build up to 12 in the first months,” Dr. Keppel said.

By next summer, she said the center expects to be treating 150 patients at any one time. About 2,000 patients a year are projected at full capacity, she said. The cost of treatment, usually covered by health insurance, is about $50,000 per patient, she said, meaning the institute should generate between $80 million and $100 million a year in revenue.

African-American Columnist, Political Analyst Dr. Ron Walters Dies at 72

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By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Editor-in-Chief –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – He was a political analyst, a professor, a lecturer, a strategist, a mentor, a commentator, a thought leader, a Black Press columnist, a husband and a friend. And he did it all while remaining true to his life’s passion as an advocate for the progress and advancement of Black people. Dr. Ron Walters died of lung cancer Sept. 10, shocking many in the civil rights community who were unaware of the extent of his illness.

“Dr. Ron Walters was the preeminent activist and scholar of our times,” says the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who visited with Walters in the hospital during his final days and will deliver the eulogy next week. Funeral services were incomplete at NNPA deadline.

“He was my issues director in my ’84 and ’88 campaigns. Ron led a sit-in in 1958 as a student NAACP youth leader two years before the 1960 sit-ins in Greensboro. He wrote six books and thousands of articles…We learned to lean on Ron Walters for our frame of reference,” said Jackson. “Today we’re number one in athletics and number one in presidential politics; but also number one in poverty. We’re number one in infant mortality, short life expectancy and in unemployment. Ron kept us abreast of that data. The good news is that Ron taught so many scholars. There are those who will now bear truth. So, that tradition will be kept alive.”

Walters, who submitted his last NNPA column – “…March for Jobs and Justice Where Ever You Are” - to the NNPA News Service on August 16, continued to conduct interviews and phone conferences from his hospital room, Jackson said. “He never stopped giving of himself.”

Former NNPA Editor-in-Chief George Curry, who edited Walters’ column for seven years and also covered him for decades, described him as “a brilliant, dedicated, consistent and unapologetic warrior for African-Americans. While he is best known for teaching at Howard and the University of Maryland, advising Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus, he spent many hours sharing his expertise with small, largely unknown community groups. Black American has lost a scholar whose life exemplified excellence.”

News releases honoring Walters’ legacy were plentiful from top Black leaders and Walters associates around the country. They include Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee; NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous; president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

But, his greatest tributes came from his wife of 47 years, Patricia Ann Walters, a retired social worker.

“He had a diverse, multi-dimensional character to himself in terms of teaching, mentoring, working in the grassroots communities to assist them in any way he could; doing many, many, many things throughout his distinguished career for no pay whatsoever because he had this deep love and affection for the work that he was doing for African-Americans in particular. And he was their spokesperson,” Mrs. Walters said in an interview with the NNPA News Service Sunday morning. “That was his calling. …The African-American community stopped and listened because they understand that the messenger was with clean hands and was telling the truth and always on message and never, never deviated from his message. He never backtracked. You always knew that if you got an interview from him, if you got him on TV, he was going to be consistent with his message and he did that for over four decades.”

Mrs. Walters said her husband had pressed beyond the amount of time the doctors expected him to live. As the cancer spread into his lungs and he was told the end was near, he remained heartened by new accomplishments. He was especially happy about a renewed lecturing relationship with Howard University, where he once served as chair of the Political Science Department before becoming a professor at the University of Maryland.

“As a son of Howard, he never left the Capstone. It was always home,” said Howard’s President Sidney A. Ribeau in a statement. “We are deeply grateful for his enormous contributions to our university, to the field and to the nation. We will truly miss his measured voice and his strategic mind, but his insightful wisdom will endure through the lives he touched.”

Walters was slated to give his first speech at Howard under the new contract on Sept. 9, but he was too ill and died the next day at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md.

Mrs. Walters said he simply wanted to give everything he could; so he kept quiet about his illness in order not to dissuade people from asking for his services.

“He wanted to be able to continue his work, which he did at the very, very last moment. That’s the way he was,” she said. “He wanted to go about his business and have people to treat him like they always treated him in not knowing that he had been battling cancer for six years.”

Walters helped to lay the groundwork for the formation of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1970.

“Professor Walters was a scholarly giant and was one of America’s most insightful analysts of the political landscape, in general, and of the intersection of race, politics and policy, specifically,” said CBC Chairwoman Lee. “His scholarly work and sound advice have assisted many past and present members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and other African American political and civic leaders around the country.”

Walters was born in Wichita on July 20, 1938. He graduated with honors from Fisk University and earned a Masters in African studies and a doctorate in International Studies from American University. He also taught at Georgetown, Syracuse, and Brandeis.

Mrs. Walters said several public memorials will be held, but plans were incomplete.

“We knew that it was an uphill battle. He was such a tremendous fighter and doctors knew that he’d live long beyond what the expectation was. I think he was able to accomplish that because the vast majority of people did not know how sick Ron was when he did things for people and spoke and went on television and conducted radio and television interviews and newspaper interviews. That’s the way he wanted it. And I think he did it with style, elegance and dignity. That is Ron.”

Jackson marveled at the loving relationship between Walters and his wife.

“He stayed close to his wife, Patty, who he loved so much,” he said, noting how she was his greatest encourager.

Jackson said, “He never stopped fighting for a fair and just and comprehensive urban policy to lift up and change the plight of Black people. And that was classical Ron. And at the end, even at the very end, even as he struggled, at the very end, his sensitivity to our constituency, the love of his wife remains such a thing of beauty.”

History-Making 'Little Rock Nine' Member Dies

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By Zenitha Prince, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - On Sept. 4, 1957, then-high school sophomore Jefferson Thomas walked a gauntlet of hate – a boiling-angry White mob spewing spit and jeers, taunts and threats of lynching and an impenetrable barricade of armed soldiers blocking his way into Little Rock, Ark.’s Central High School.

Inside the school’s walls – breached with the help of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, which provided protection to Thomas and eight other Black students – the persecution grew worse: daily insults, humiliation, destroyed property, beatings and attacks with knives, broken glass, dynamite and even acid.

Yet, Thomas and the other members of the “Little Rock Nine” – Minnijean Trickey Brown, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed Wair, Terrence Roberts and Melba Patillo Beals – bore it all and the heavy hopes of a nationwide community on their shoulders, taking the first courageous, though treacherous, steps on the road to desegregation. Their courage inspired a nation. And Thomas’ death on Sept. 5 – 53 years and a day after he made history – has inspired an outpouring of grief and remembered gratitude across the United States.

“[First lady] Michelle and I are saddened by the passing of Jefferson Thomas, who as one of the ‘Little Rock Nine,’ took a stand against segregation and helped open the eyes of our nation to the struggle for civil rights,” said President Barack Obama in a statement.

Arkansas Democrat and U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln said Thomas represented “the best of our state.”

“Jefferson bravely stood up for what he believed was right, at a time when it wasn’t easy or popular to break against convention,” she added. “His courage set an example for future generations, who learned that education and equality go hand in hand. His desire to follow his educational dreams inspired countless Arkansans and Americans, and we all suffer his loss.”

Barbara R. Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, echoed those sentiments. “The Lawyers’ Committee joins the nation in mourning the loss of Jefferson Thomas, who, along with eight classmates courageously integrated Arkansas’s largest public high school, Central High School, in 1957,” she said in a statement. “We commend his outstanding sacrifice and example in testing the federal government's resolve to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling rendering racial segregation in American public schools illegal.”

Previously a student at the all-Black Dunbar Junior High, Thomas joined the other Black students in volunteering as agents in the NAACP’s long-fought efforts to integrate schools – a plan that segregationists, including Arkansas’ then-Gov. Orval Faubus, fought tirelessly.

“We feel that they have done the almost impossible job of facing the camera, enduring thousands of questions from newsmen and holding on through some pretty terrifying days,” said the Little Rock NAACP’s then-field director Clarence Laws in an AFRO Oct. 5, 1957 article.

Thomas would often buoy the group’s spirits with laughter. “According to those who knew him best, Jefferson’s humor and light heart helped fellow members of the Little Rock Nine stay strong as they pursued their studies. Jefferson maintained that strong sense of humor even in his final days,” Lincoln stated.

In 1960 – though Faubus closed Little Rock high schools to stymie the steady march of integration – Thomas became one of the three original “Nine” to graduate from Central High.

He joined the military, serving as a staff sergeant and infantry squad leader in Vietnam and later became an accounting clerk with the Department of Defense.

This past weekend, Thomas, now 68, died from pancreatic cancer, Lanier told The Associated Press.

And while many mourn his death as a sign of the passing of an era, his place in the annals of history will not soon be forgotten.

“America is an infinitely better place because of Jefferson Thomas and the other members of the Little Rock Nine,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. “Mr. Thomas will be remembered for his courage, and his legacy is a reminder that we must remain vigilant in the fight against those eager to turn back the clock to a time when equal rights and justice were denied to many Americans.”

Carol Moseley Braun Considering Run for Chicago Mayor

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By Kathy Chaney, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Defender –

CHICAGO (NNPA) - Carol Moseley Braun may put her hat in the ring to succeed outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, sources said.

The former U.S. Senator was flooded with calls on Tuesday –– the day Daley made the surprise announcement that he would not seek a seventh term in office –– encouraging her to mull a run for the mayoral post.

Braun, who made history in 1993 as the first African-American female U.S. Senator, told the Defender on Friday she is “seriously considering it.”

Braun's political career spans more than two decades.

After leaving the U.S. Attorney’s office as a federal prosecutor in Chicago in 1977, she was elected state representative the next year. In 1987 she was elected Cook County Recorder of Deed. Five years later, history was made in the U.S. Senate. Braun held the post for one six-year term. She served a U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa from 1999 to 2001 under the Clinton administration.

During the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Braun was a candidate for the Democratic nomination.

Braun currently runs her Chicago-based company, Good Food Organics, the parent company of Ambassador Organics, which manufactures several products including coffee, food spices, olive oil and tea. She founded the company five years ago.

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