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Concussions a Greater Problem for Black Youth

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite the flurry of news about NFL lawsuits over concussions, the problem affects far more athletes at the high school and junior high school level, according to the federal government statistics.

In 2009 alone, nearly 250,000 youth age 19 or younger were treated in emergency rooms for sports and recreation-related injuries that included concussions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2001 and 2009, the rate of such visits rose 57 percent.

Concussions occur when the brain is shaken violently against the skull. Although concussions are the most common brain injury, widespread awareness and concern about this issue in the world of student athletics is fairly recent.

But it is especially relevant for Black communities, particularly young men most likely to die from traumatic brain injuries, according to the CDC. And according to data from research nonprofit, Child Trends, 50 to 60 percent of Black American high schoolers were on a sports team in 2011.

In severe or untreated cases, they can cause brain damage, seizures, emotional distress, and death—in fact the CDC estimates that 5.3 million U.S. citizens are living with disability as a result of a traumatic brain injury (or TBI, an umbrella term that includes concussions).

“From an athletic trainer perspective concussions have always been a big concern. Coaches seemed to think that injuries increased because [athletic trainers] were there, but really it’s that awareness is increased,” says Jennifer Rheeling, a veteran athletic trainer in D.C. Public Schools and chair of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for the D.C. State Athletic Association.

“In the last five years particularly with the NFL starting to talk about it, and the lawsuits, has helped immensely now that people get it on a mainstream level. What they thought was just getting their bell rung was really a concussion.”

On the most diligent and well-resourced student teams, players take baseline tests—a battery of motor skill drills and survey questions to record their individual peak cognitive health—and have athletic trainers who check for signs of decline. If a concussion is suspected, a player does another test to compare those results to his or her baseline. The ImPACT Concussion Management program is currently the program of record for these tests among school athletic programs.

But according to Dr. Vernon Williams, neurologist and medical director of the Sports Concussion Institute, a lack of access to care compounds the (now fading) problem of awareness. ImPACT, for example, costs a minimum of $400 per year for 100 baseline tests and 15 post-injury tests for one school. Meanwhile, many schools and school districts, largely populated by Black and brown children, routinely have to make cuts to balance their budget.

“We have coaches who understand the need, but they have different resources. For example, we know baseline testing for people in contact collision sports can help evaluate when people get injured,” Dr. Williams explains. “But it’s uncommon for people to have access to state-of-the-art baseline testing. Players, school systems, and parents don’t have access to those funds. But we can still implement treatment using creative measures.”

Currently, Dr. Gary Harris, who specializes in computer engineering and serves as associate provost for Research and Graduate Studies at Howard University, is working with engineering students and the Bison football team to devise an inexpensive concussion monitoring system, using an open source platform.

(“Open source” is a tech industry term that means the equipment and information to create this system is public as opposed to proprietary, so as to encourage others to innovate and improve on the idea).

The project uses a computer chip attached inside the helmet that measures impact up to 100 gs of force. For reference: a sneeze is about 2 or 3 gs of force on the human body; an F-16 fighter jet barrel roll exerts 7 to 9 gs; a car crash at 45 mph is about 60 gs. Concussions usually happen with collisions between 80 and 120 gs.

The chip records the force of impact for every collision—it can be programed to transmit this information wirelessly, say, to a cell phone app. Or, it can be downloaded from the helmet using a USB cable. It can also be programed to send an alert when a hit exceeds a certain threshold.

“You can have an entire team’s list where you know all their shock, trauma, and incidents on file,” says Dr. Harris. “We still don’t know the threshold of force for brain damage, we don’t know how many hits it takes, but the first thing we have to do is collect the data.”

Each of these chips costs approximately $30.

Technology is also being used to improve care and outcomes the aftermath of serious concussion cases. Interactive Metronome, a health tech company that creates neurological research-based brain training programs and activities, is one example. The activities are designed around “brain timing”—the ability to clap to a beat, for example. As users play games and do activities that test their reaction time, those brain cell connections are repaired and strengthened. Originally (and primarily) used to improve motor skills and cognitive function in children with ADD/ADHD, the program is beginning to see success with TBI rehabilitation.

“We fit into concussions in a new way, which is helping out when those [post-concussion] symptoms don’t dissipate,” says Nick Etten, vice president of Strategy and Business Development at Interactive Metronome. “There’s a lot of emphasis on technology these days—it’s really important in the world of concussions and cognitive rehab. We’re starting to understand that there was a big void in information.”

Technology has helped improve identifying and treating concussions; on the prevention front, sports health care professionals now have the backing of the law. In all 50 states, a student athlete must be immediately removed from play if a concussion is suspected, and cannot return to practice or play without medical clearance. Some states also mandate that a student must remain free of symptoms or remain on the injured list for a set period of time, even if they gain medical clearance immediately.

But there are still holes in preventing these injuries.

“There’s clearly benefits to legislation in terms of drawing attention to the issue of concussions and having some foundation across the board with how they should be managed,” says Dr. Williams. “I think there are some variables…related to who should be allowed to clear players.”

He and Rheeling have both seen athletes on under-resourced teams get clearance from an emergency room resident, for example, in contrast with athletes who take a concussion test against their baseline with their team’s athletic trainer. They’ve also seen instances of students underreporting their symptoms, coaches resisting care recommendations, and parents being lax in monitoring their child’s rest after a concussion.

Emerging laws are attempting to add another layer of protection by regulating the number of weekly practices involving rough contact drills, thus reducing exposure to collisions and risk of concussion. Trainers, coaches, parents, and athletes can also receive guidance through resources such as the American Academy of Neurology online Sports Concussion Toolkit, and organizations such as the Sports Legacy Network.

“We’re at the end of the beginning as relates to concussion management. We’re learning more every day and the process will continue to evolve,” says Dr. Williams. “We’re out of the phase of explaining what a concussion is, identifying symptoms…. It’s no longer an unrecognized epidemic, we’re aware of the issues and that [a concussion] has to be managed effectively.”

Locked Up, Left Behind: Juvenile Justice System Failing Southern Youth

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By Michael McGee
Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Examiner

“The most disadvantaged, troubled students in the South and the nation attend schools in the juvenile justice systems,” the 2014 report from the Southern Education Foundation begins. The document, Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems into Effective Educational Systems raises a number of questions: If so many children with educational needs are segregated or incarcerated, what will become of them and the society they will enter once they age out of the system? Are their needs being met? What can be improved?

Data within the report suggests that the current condition the juvenile justice system is in creates the potential for lifelong disadvantage for many youth who are a part of the system. Dr. Kent McGuire, president of the Southern Education Foundation, is concerned by what he saw in the report.

“The first thing I think we need to remember is that we’re talking about kids, not adults,” he said. “Kids need help and support as they grow up, as they develop, and they’re entitled to and deserve opportunities to learn through education so that they can participate fully in the economy and the democracy.” The president noted that all children have such needs, be they in an off-campus alternative school, a boot camp or high school in a suburban community.

“So we’re talking about school,” McGuire said. “The good news is that they’re set up to do education. The bad news is, from our look in, is that the education function, we think, gets short shrift.” He said if education was understood to be a primary focus to juvenile justice the dividends would be greater in the future.

“In terms of lower recidivism rates, high school graduation rates and smoother transitions into post-secondary opportunities and the world of work,” McGuire stated. “So there’s just lots of reasons, before we even get to the cost associated with the population of that system, lots of reasons to get the education piece right.”

The report from 2010 suggests that there were 70,000 young people across the U.S. detained within the system on any given day. About one-third of those kids were found in 15 states of the Southern U.S. McGuire reflected upon how those numbers got to be so high.

“Most things we come to worry about don’t happen overnight, which means that they’re long, slow, developing trends which take a trained eye to see,” he admitted. To some extent, he praised aspects of the No Child Left Behind legislation for identifying problem areas for many school-aged children.

“On the other hand, [there’s] this preoccupation with accountability to the absence of what I’ll call capacity-building,” McGuire criticized. “It’s one thing to hold adults accountable; it’s another to actually help them get better results. We’ve done a lot of one. We haven’t done very much of the other.”

Many kids within the system have learning disabilities, behavioral and emotional problems, and are behind in their education to begin with, the SEF report cites. The report also notes that, of the total number of youth detained in 2010, almost two-thirds “did not involve any wrongdoing directly against another person.” Most kids in the system were there not due to violence, but because of property damage, drug issues, or they “had been unruly, incurred technical violations, or had committed a status offense,” the SEF said.

What is the Future of Pan African, Black Nationalist Movements?

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By Saaed Shabazz
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call


The deaths of Chokwe Lumumba, Amiri Baraka, Jitu Weusi and most recently, Elombe Brath raises critical issues and questions on the status, direction and future of Pan African and Black Nationalist movements inside the United States.

The modern-day drum, now known as the text message, continued for hours May 19, announcing the passing of Mr. Brath, described by Empress Phile Chionesu, convener of the historic 1997 Million Woman’s March, as “a true champion of African liberation, who lives his Blackness – walks and talks his Blackness like a robe of honor.”

Pam Africa, the Minister of Confrontation for the Philadelphia-based MOVE organization and coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu Jamal said drummers and chanters outside of Harlem’s famed Abyssinian Baptist Church set the tone for Mr. Brath’s home going memorial. “But, the most important thing was the young people who were out there chanting “Elombe, Elombe,” she said, adding, “That shows us that the spirit of his work continues,” said Ms. Africa.

Born out of love, concern and recognition for the need of unity among Blacks throughout the Diaspora, Pan African and Black Nationalist grassroots organizations have birthed and influenced many and their continued significance is needed, say activists and analysts.

“Though these were different men – and [Amiri] Baraka was clear to define himself as a Communist—their general direction was one of communal people’s intellectualism, art and radical organization for the purposes of mass movement building,” said Dr. Jared Ball, associate professor of Communications Studies at Morgan State Univ. in an email to The Final Call.

“They were dedicated to developing autonomous space where Black/Afrikan people could engage, exchange and build those movements. We have absolutely no reason at all to deviate,” he added.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of African Studies at California State University, Long Beach said the critical question is; What can the Black community extract and implement from the lessons and examples from these great revolutionaries that are admired and honored?

“Those lessons and examples are ancient, ongoing and endless. So the need is to study seriously our history, learn its lessons, absorb its spirit of possibility, extract its models of human excellence and achievement, and practice the morality of remembrance in honor of those who left a legacy which we try to live by as best we can,” said Dr. Karenga.

Longtime activist, Dr. Conrad Worrill, director of the Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois Univ. and past national chair of the National Black United Front (NBUF) told The Final Call the legacy of these movements has a 175-year history in America.

These movements can never be wiped out because they are deeply embedded in the spirit of Black people, he said.

“Self-determination, self-help; efforts to dismantle White supremacy—all associated with Black Nationalism— deeply connected  with Pan African ideals. It won’t go away!” he argued.

Pan African and Black Nationalist seeds have been planted and young people in the NBUF and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement are examples, “of the next generation taking up the struggle,” Dr. Worrill pointed out.

Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and an avowed Black Nationalist / Pan Africanist told The Final Call there is a tremendous need for an intergenerational dialogue.  He agrees the question must be raised on who takes up the torch in terms of the next generation.

“Here there is a need also to not cater to youth, but to cherish and challenge them; to listen, but also to offer guidance where appropriate based on accumulated wisdom and experience,” added Dr. Karenga.

Author and activist Bill Fletcher Jr. said he also favors intergenerational dialogue, but adds, what is missing the struggles of the 1950s, 60s and 70s  that developed young Blacks to go forward in that generation.

“Having to ride in the back of the bus is an experience that cannot be replicated. We need to build Pan African and Black Nationalist organizations around struggle,” argues Mr. Fletcher. He said there is also a need to redefine Pan Africanism and Black Nationalism.

Ms. Chionesu agreed with arguing that Pan African and Black National movements have been “co-opted by the academic intelligentsia”. But, she said grassroots groups have had to hold the line over the years which has been complicated.  “So, now with the elders returning to the ancestors; and they did incredible work, but we need to redefine their legacy,” she said.

“Pan Africanist and Black Nationalist wanted to build a system to stand up to the White system; and for years Dr. Francis Cress Welsing has been warning us that we are still on the White side of the problem,” argues Dr. Leonard Jeffries, retired professor of Africana Studies at City College in NYC and co-founder of the World African Diaspora Union (WADU) told The Final Call. Dr. Welsing a lecturer, writer and psychiatrist is author of the critically acclaimed book The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors.

“What she was trying to tell us was we are suffering from a ‘shattered consciousness and a fractured identity’, said Dr. Jeffries, a longtime Pan Africanist scholar.

What must take place in the current discussion is “a system’s analysis,” he told The Final Call.

“Chokwe, his direction, his mission is still going—we can tap into his idea—even though there may need to be adjustments. However, his son does not have the 30 to 40 years in the movement,” he explained.

Dr. Worrill said Amiri Baraka was a beneficiary of the early path set forth by those Black Nationalists that went before him.

“Hopefully the next generation would be capable of building new movements in the next 20, 30, 40 years,” added Dr. Jeffries.

Dhoruba al-Mujahid bin-Wahad, writer and activist, former Black Panther, U.S. political prisoner and co-founder of the Black Liberation Army told The Final Call “we are in a perfect storm for change”.

“We must change the institutions that work against our people, not reform them. The radical traditions that formed the basis for the Pan African/Black Nationalist movements,” said Mr. bin Wahad.

“Our first struggle now is not against the enemy, but against the people of color who are in power – who have completely separated themselves from the masses, especially the youth.”

OAS Pledges Assistance to Haiti Ahead of Local, Legislative Polls

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – The Organization of American States (OAS) has pledged its continued support for the initiatives being undertaken in Haiti to ensure local and legislative elections are held in the French-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country in October.

Haiti’s politicians have put aside their differences and in March signed an agreement ending a political impasse that had threatened to delay the polls.

The accord was signed by President Michel Martelly and Senator Steven Benoit, who was mandated to sign on behalf of the president of the Senate as well as by more than 50 parties of different political affiliations which were part of the talks held under the mediation of the first Haitian Cardinal, Chibly Langlois.

However, three political parties, including the Lavalas Family party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had withdrawn from the talks because they wanted the departure of the entire government. Aristide’s party is also engaged in a movement to try to force President Martelly from power.

OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin, who is expected to meet with CARICOM leaders during their 35th annual summit here, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that the hemispheric body would continue to provide support to all the stakeholders to ensure the October polls are held.

“The relationship between Haiti and the Organization of American States is a long standing one particularly in the context of elections and efforts at strengthening of democracy…and so in this case also we have been constantly in discussions with the government, the executive authorities, with the CEP, the authorities that will have to be responsible for organising the elections.

“At this point in time we all that the elections are long overdue, these elections should be held as soon as possible but under the right circumstances,’ Ramdin said, adding that the OAS was pleased with the fact that for the first time “political parties met to discuss how to move forward

“That was a very encouraging sign, we supported that and this is something that we must not under estimate the importance of this national dialogue”.

Ramdin said as a result of the talks, “there are responsibilities on the side of the government and the side of the legislative authorities” to move forward the process of holding the elections.
“We have always stated that we want these elections to be held as soon as possible. But it is a Haitian election, it is under Haitian leadership and they have to agree on the conditions under which these elections will take place.”

But Ramdin stressed that the elections were important “because in the context of strengthening democracy we need a full fledge complete House of Deputies and a complete House of Senators to be able to move forward with the economic agenda, the political agenda.

“So we hope that President Martelly and the legislative authorities will be able to agree on how to move forward, approve the electoral law and we stand ready to provide technical assistance to the CEP, the elections bureau to make sure that whatever assistance they need that they can count on the OAS and other international partners”.

Ramdin told CMC the OAS was already playing a role in terms of registration of voters and out of that project “there is the electoral list will be extracted”.

He said he OAS had discussed last week with Martelly the need to observe the elections “as we have done in the past.

“So this is the role of the organisation, helping out behind the scenes, accompanying the process in the context of strengthening democracy but providing as well technical assistance and observing the election.”

The first round of the elections is scheduled for October 26 and Ramdin said the OAS is hoping that the CEP would be able to organize the polls within the timeframe.

“There are some political issues the president and the legislative authority need to work out and we are encouraging them to do that as soon as possible. If the CEP is able to hold these elections from an organisation point of view…we will support that, there is no doubt that Haiti needs these elections, the Haitian people need these elections, the constitution prescribe these elections and it is good for Haitian democracy and democracy in general that the election is taking place,” Ramdin said.

Nigeria’s Finance Minister Addresses UK Parliament, Announcing Enhanced Counter-Terror Efforts

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

On July 2, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance, addressed the Parliament of the United Kingdom on the recently launched Safe Schools Initiative, a component of the government of Nigeria’s large-scale intervention program to counter terrorism within its borders and provide strong support to the areas of northeastern Nigeria that have been affected by terrorism.

The Safe Schools Initiative aims to prevent future attacks on schools by installing modern alarm systems and proper fencing, facilitating community participation in protecting the schools and training security guards. The initiative will also fund the reconstruction of schools that have been damaged or destroyed by terror attacks. Lighting for renovated schools is planned to include the introduction of modern and environmentally friendly sustainable systems such as solar power.

To ensure program success, Nigeria will work closely with state governments, local communities and the international community, led by United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. Funding for the Safe Schools Initiative is provided by Nigeria’s contribution of $10 million, with a matching contribution of $10 million from the Nigerian private sector. Additional financial support is expected from the African Development Bank, Norway, the World Bank and the U.K. Department for International Development.

The Safe Schools Initiative is one of three components of Nigeria’s wide-reaching counter terrorism strategy. The other components focus on the provision of emergency relief to affected communities and reconstruction of infrastructure and public facilities in northeastern Nigeria.

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