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Insufficient Vitamin D Linked to Prostrate Cancer in Blacks

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) — The relationship between melanin and vitamin D—the nutrient that sunlight provides—may explain why African American, Caribbean, and men of African ancestry have the highest rates of prostate cancer than anyone in the world, according to a new study.

The study by a team of researchers at Northwestern University, which appears in this month’s issue of Clinical Cancer Research, finds that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of diagnosis among Black men—but not among White men.

“Our report is the first to describe the association of vitamin D deficiency and outcomes of prostate biopsies in high-risk men with an abnormal [blood test or clinical exam],” the study states. “If vitamin D is involved in prostate cancer initiation or progression, it would provide a modifiable risk factor for primary prevention and secondary prevention to limit progression, especially in the highest risk group of African American men.”

Among American men, prostate cancer is the most common cancer, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. One in seven American men will develop it in their lifetime. However, Black men are 60 percent more likely than Whites to be affected, according to the American Cancer Society. Although the mortality rate is among the lowest of all cancers, it is more than twice as high for Black men than White men. (The incidence of prostate cancer is low among Latino and Asian men).

It’s especially a concern for men over 50, as the risk of onset rises steadily over time; cancer (in general) is the number one cause of death for Black men age 65 to 84 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study tested the vitamin D levels of nearly 700 men in the Chicago area undergoing their first prostate biopsies, which is the usual recommendation after an abnormal test result or clinical exam. Researchers found that while severely low vitamin D levels were associated with more aggressive tumors, across race, African American men with even moderately low vitamin D levels had higher odds of being diagnosed after that initial biopsy. There was no similar link among the White men studied.

Vitamin D primarily allows the body to absorb calcium, but it also plays a role in regulating cell growth and creation.Although the nutrient can be found in a handful of foods—most significantly in fatty seafood, such as wild-caught salmon—the body primarily creates its own vitamin D by absorbing sunlight. Melanin, which naturally blocks the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, alters this process.

“The darker the color of the skin, the less effective sunlight is in producing vitamin D in skin,” says Dr. Donald Trump, president and CEO of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the first cancer center in the nation. (Trump was not involved in this particular study). “An African American person is more likely to have lower levels of vitamin D than a European person, because the same amount of sun exposure doesn’t generate the same amount of vitamin D for darker skin as it does for lighter skin.”

Additionally, people who are overweight are more likely to have low vitamin D levels. According to 2011 data from the Office of Minority Health, 70 percent of African American men 20 years and older are overweight or obese.The National Cancer Institute asserts that studies have shown obese men to be at greater risk for aggressive prostate cancer than men at a healthy weight.

“The fatter I get, the lower my vitamin D level goes, because it gets absorbed into body fat instead of my blood. That could be one possible explanation for the [racial] disparities in data,” Trump said. “So maybe vitamin D is just a surrogate or marker for obesity. You see a few of these confounding factors in the vitamin D literature.”

Although the association between vitamin D and cancer has already been discovered and is still being explored, this study takes a targeted look at how this link manifests differently between Blacks and Whites. There is still controversy in the medical community regarding how significant this link is, or if it has real-world treatment orprevention implications. Further complicating matters, a study released last year in the New England Journal of Medicine asserts that Black people generally do have sufficient vitamin D levels—it’s just a different, more readily-available form than the one measured by the standard test.

“We know a lot about the fact that in a lab test tube or animal, the active form of vitamin D can moderate, slow, or stop prostate tumor cells, and at high doses can even kill them. We don’t know yet whether treating people with vitamin D will reduce the chance of getting [cancer],” Trump said. He recommends a vitamin D-level test for his patients who are diagnosed with prostate cancer. In his experience, at least 70 percent diagnosed men are deficient, and he does prescribe supplements.

“We don’t know for sure that it makes a difference, but I believe it does” Trump said. “I think there is a distinct possibility that low vitamin D levels might contribute to the severity of prostate cancer in African American men—but we don’t have proof of that at the moment.”

Mentoring Groups Worry about Funding for 'My Brother’s Keeper'

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A controversy last week over potential funding linked to President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative underscored concerns that groups led by people of color have expressed over access to public and private sector resources.

At the heart of the confusion was a request for proposal (RFP) issued through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for a youth mentoring program grant. In March, the grant required groups that wanted to apply be active in 30 states. By April, that requirement had been revised upward to 45 states, placing the grant far beyond the reach of most minority-led groups that mentor underserved minority youth in the United States.

A paragraph in the RFP connecting the grant to the president’s My Brother’s Keeper program seemed to complicate the matter.

In a letter dated April 28, addressed to Robert Listenbee, the administrator for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Michael Brown, president of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., said that the rule change, “not only effectively eliminated our organization from meeting the eligibility requirements for funding, but also dashed any hopes that such venerable institutions as the National Urban League, the NAACP and each of nine Historically Black Greek Organizations may have had for competing in this significant funding opportunity.”

In a separate letter, Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, wrote that his group was “surprised,” “greatly disappointed and deeply concerned” about the rule change.

“The Department’s stated commitment to ‘include mentoring opportunities for young men and boys of color in order to build resilience, encourage empowerment, and facilitate community engagement and participation’ is directly undermined by the reframing of the national program that by definition, removes organizations such as the National Urban League from even competing for funds,” wrote Morial.

Both letters were later posted on Politics365.com.

By May 1, however, 100 Black Men of America seemed to step back from their criticism of OJJDP, offering a brief statement through their Twitter account that said that they met with the Department of Justice and found that their concern “was not related to My Brother’s Keeper which is still moving forward.”

Last week, all media inquiries for 100 Black Men of America were referred to Greg Heydel, vice president and group director of reputation management at Matlock Advertising and Public Relations in Atlanta, Ga., who e-mailed the 100 Black Men of America’s May 1 statement to reporters.

The OJJDP removed the language about My Brother’s Keeper from the grant application.

Broderick Johnson, White House cabinet secretary and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, said, “The Department of Justice readily admitted that it led to a misunderstanding that’s been corrected and we made it clear to other agencies that they shouldn’t put things out like that with regards to their solicitations.”

George Garrow, executive director of Concerned Black Men, a national organization that works to enrich the lives of young Black males, said that the mistake was unfortunate for the president’s fledgling project.

“They are people that are out there that don’t want to see this [My Brother Keeper’s program] happen at all and will take those types of things and use that against all of us. That little dust up that happened on Politics365.com, that could have been cleared up with a phone call,” said Garrow. “The next thing you know, it’s a bunch of mess.”

The task force’s report, that will be ​released in less than a month, will offer a review of best practices and evidenced-based strategies focused on early learning and literacy, pathways to college and careers, ladders to jobs, mentors and support networks, and interactions with criminal justice and violent crime.

The crisis facing boys and young men of color as they transition to adulthood has been chronicled for decades.

Black males are more at risk to be suspended than their White peers, suffer a disproportionate number of expulsions and more than 40 percent of referrals to law enforcement while in school.

A 2012 study titled “The Urgency of Now” by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, reported that barely half (52 percent) of Black males graduate from high school in four years, compared to 78 percent of White males.

Research by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., found that 9 percent of male high school dropouts, ages 16–24, are incarcerated or in detention. For young Black male dropouts of the same age, that number is 23 percent.

And when one high school dropout can cost the nation more than a quarter of a million dollars, over their lifetime in lost earnings, taxes and productivity, allowing Black males to dropout in droves threatens the country’s economic security.

“If you say that you want to increase the high school graduation rate, you can do some generic things with generic young people, but if you’re really going to impact the high school graduation rate, you need to develop strategies that are specifically focused on Black boys, because Black boys account for a disproportionate number of students graduating at low rates,” Garrow said.

He said that he’s hopeful that this effort, with the president putting his weight behind it.

“To really have a lasting impact on Black kids you have to get those multi-year funding bequests to sustain a program over a lengthy period of time. That’s when you see positive outcomes for our kids, when you’re able to stay the course,” he explained.

Garrow also expressed concerns that some groups, that have worked for years to help young Black men, don’t have the infrastructure to independently evaluate their programs and present concrete data that their programs work. The very type of evidence-based strategies that President Obama called for in his speech on the My Brother’s Keeper program in February.

“If you’re going to foundations and seeking federal funding you have to have those evaluation pieces in place, because you’re going to have to show people that you’re having a measurable impact and seeing positive outcomes in the population that you’re serving,” said Garrow.

Johnson said that it’s critical to work with people who are on the ground and in the neighborhoods doing the hard work and that the My Brother’s Keeper program isn’t viewed as something crafted by people who run national organizations that are based in a handful of cities.

“This is a long-term project and it’s important that people understand that the president didn’t get into this for a 90-day report or a 90-day project or short-term grants for FY2014, or ’15,” said Johnson.

“Throughout his administration and beyond, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ will exist to make a difference for a long time.”

USDA to Accommodate Religious Diets

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) — As it stands, Muslim and Jewish families in need might have to choose between following their faith and adequately feeding their families. But thanks to an amendment tacked on to the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the farm bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture must begin providing halal and kosher food to community emergency food providers.

More than a dozen metro areas are home to large African American Muslim and/or Jewish populations, including Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Philadelphia, and Memphis. Incidentally, a few of these areas have high poverty rates, particularly among Blacks, between 2008 and 2012. For example, 26 percent of people in Memphis were living below the poverty line.

According to the Pew Center, about 15 percent of the nation’s population is considered food insecure. At the same time, enrollment in the food stamp program is three times as high as it was in 2000.

“In these tough economic times, food banks and pantries are playing a critical role in serving our most vulnerable communities by helping to ensure they have access to nutritious meals and food. However, many pantries face an uphill battle in trying to meet the needs of observant families because they have difficulty identifying and obtaining kosher food,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY.), a co-sponsor of this amendment to the farm bill. “Our amendment will make it easier for food banks to provide kosher and halal foods and, in turn, ensure no family has to choose between abiding by their religious beliefs or having enough food to eat.”

Originally, Rep. Crowley (in partnership with Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York) suggested the halal and kosher provisions in 2012 as a stand-alone bill, after the need became apparent in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. When it didn’t pass, he repackaged the idea as an amendment to the farm bill, which President Obama signed into law this past February.

The USDA already provides emergency food to state providers through the Emergency Food Assistance Program. These government supplies feed food banks;then, local pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, and other anti-hunger community organizations purchase items from the food banks at discounted and subsidized rates.

Crowley’s amendment requires the USDA to inventory and track items that are inherently kosher and halal, and ensure the provisions get to food banks where they are most needed. It also directs the Secretary of Agriculture to improve efforts to seek and purchase food from certified kosher and halal vendors, at the same price as non-kosher or halal products.

As Stephan Kline, associate vice president for Public Policy for the Jewish Federation of America explains, “If this works, what is likely to be the best benefit is a greater degree of meat and fish protein [pantry managers] would be able to access so clients can have more choices, and more variety in their diets.”

Choice is a key component at the Mitzvah Food Project, based in the Philadelphia metro area. The project is a network of five fully kosher pantries (including three with delivery service) that serves 2,600 families each year. Unlike many pantries, the Mitzvah Project allows clients to choose their groceries, instead of providing pre-packaged bundles.

When faced with the choice between adhering to religious dietary laws and feeding their families, many choose to contend with hunger, says Deirdre Mulligan, the program’s manager.

“For the people who are keeping to their religious practice, they will eat less to make sure they are being observant from what I’ve seen,” she says, sharing an example of a family who had requested kosher beef. “The mother from one of my families told me that’s the first time she had had beef in years. Kosher beef is more expensive than organic. She has a large family, she’s a stay-at-home mom, her husband doesn’t make a whole lot of money, and she has a special needs son who will need care for the rest of his life.”

The words “halal” and “kosher” refer to food that is in line with regulations laid out in the Holy Books. The regulations encompass both foods that are forbidden (as in pork for Muslims and shellfish for Jews), as well as the ways in which food is prepared (such as humane, ritualized slaughter). For those who follow the Quran’s and Torah’s teachings, eating against these guidelines is forbidden.

The need for emergency kosher and halal provisions comes out of many factors. For example, much of the food at standard food banks is unacceptable for a kosher or halal diet.

“I wish the bank was able to provide the kinds of products we can purchase…that meet our [religious] codes. But I guess because they are government affiliated [the food bank] can’t advertise the brands they use. We have no way of knowing what good brands they may have,” says Brenda Sharif, program manager for the Halal Food Pantry at Masjid Al-Muminun in Memphis. When it was founded two years ago, it was the first halal pantry in the metro area. Today, it serves 70 to 75 families per month.

Sharif also asserts that this is the only halal pantry formally affiliated with the local food bank. “Something has to be done, because there are halal pantries across the United States that are not affiliated with their local food banks that would benefit greatly from that, but can’t because they’re not sure of the food.”

Lack of mobility also hinders people from using food banks. Many in need are physically unable to get to pantries; for this reason, some specialized pantries have gone mobile.

The Madinah Food Pantry, which serves 10 counties in northeast Georgia (and border towns of South Carolina), is one such pantry. It’s the only one in the area catering to Muslim community needs, and it is totally mobile—each of the 400 to 500 families per year receive each customized groceries delivered to their doorstep.

“Most pantries are only open certain times and a lot of families we deal with have no transportation, some are elderly, or in poor health. We deal with a lot of low socio-economic status families living on one SSI check or child support, or people out of work who can’t afford the gas,” says Salimah Hunafa, the pantry’s director.

There’s also the lack of food security and access, which is magnified for those with dietary restrictions.

“Many of our seniors can’t get around to places, and so many places in our communities are food deserts. Knowing food is going to be delivered takes the anxiety off,” says Amy Krulik, executive director of the Jewish Relief Agency. This mobile food pantry delivers customized kosher groceries to 3,200 homes in the Philadelphia metro area each month. “Then there’s the whole issue of making sure the food meets dietary needs.”

Mulligan, at the Mitzvah Food Project, points out that cultural tastes matter almost as much as religious regulations. “Some of my families have cultural likes and dislikes. For example, we have a large Russian population that will not eat peanut butter, it’s like it’s not considered fitfor human consumption. Or, many Nigerian adults won’t eat popcorn, because it’s meant for kids.”

Since the farm bill was signed in February, no further updates on the USDA’s compliance with this amendment have been issued. Everyone featured expressed that the government has the capacity to handle this task (since their organizations manage to connect and negotiate with vendors)—though both Kline and Mulligan said that finding low-cost meat options and smoothing out logistics might complicate matters.

In the meantime, community service organizations will continue to network, haggle, and and do the work of providing appropriate food for those in need, regardless of diet.

“We have to be real. The general population of the United States is becoming more and more diverse,” Sharif said.“When people emigrate here they bring their culture. Food is a part of culture, and religion…often drives people’s lives. To make it challenging that some can’t eat healthily in the so-called land of plenty, is a travesty.”

CBC Excoriates 'Despicable' Abduction of Nigerian Schoolgirls

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The Congressional Black Caucus lent its voice to the growing global outrage about the abduction of hundreds of girls and young women in Nigeria.

“The kidnapping of more than 300 young women last month and eight girls in Nigeria today is horrific and despicable,” read a statement issued Tuesday by the caucus.

“Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram who claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, has referred to these young women as ‘slaves’ and threatened to sell them in the market. Shekau is the lowest and worst type of human being and his words and Haram’s action run afoul of Islam, international law and basic humanity.”

The caucus supported U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to send a security team to Nigeria that will assist that country’s government in the areas of intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiating and victim assistance.

“It is troubling that the kidnapped girls might have been moved out of Nigeria to neighboring countries, and therefore we call on the international community, especially African nations and the African Union, to work together to find these girls and unite them with their families,” the statement said.

Hundreds Rally to Support Kidnapped Girls

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By Barrington M. Salmon
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Islamist rebels three weeks ago has frayed the nerves, tested the patience and deeply angered Nigerians already weary and increasing nervous over a bloody four-year insurgency.

The pre-dawn raid on April 14 by Boko Haram – in what many call their most brazen action yet – has prompted marches by distraught and angry parents in Chibok, where the girls were taken, and demonstrations and rallies in other Nigerian cities around the world. Images of anguished, crying mothers and fathers have pulled on peoples’ heartstrings.

More than 600 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, May 2, to raise awareness of the victims’ plight and express concern and indignation. They were not alone as over the weekend, similar protests took place in Abuja, Lagos, across Africa, in London, New York and Toronto. While on Tuesday, a throng of demonstrators gathered in front of the Nigerian Embassy in Northwest.

The Saturday crowd, primarily college students and people from across the African Diaspora, chanted vigorously, sang, prayed, demanding word from the Nigerian government of what was going on and the location and quick release of the girls and young women.

“It took me a while to understand. I didn’t understand how they could take the girls. I’m outraged, livid,” said Jennifer Pearse, 21, a University of Maryland student of Nigerian descent. “I wanted to know what the authorities were doing. Where are the tycoons, emirs, sultans, kings of the north, politicians and former presidents?”

“Not doing anything now makes it worse.”

At the rally, Pearse’s anguish was palpable.

“I don’t know why nothing’s been done. It’s really frustrating,” she told the crowd, most of whom wore red and burgundy shirts and T-shirts armed with placards and posters. “Our girls are important. They are our future. I congratulate you for coming out. It’s not easy coming out on a Saturday under this hot sun. Please raise your voice. We need to do something.”

Juliette Bethea agreed.

“I came here as a human being, not as a woman or a mother,” the longtime D.C. resident said. “It’s so inhumane. I have to take a stand for these girls. It shouldn’t happen and when it does, it cannot be ignored. I felt that I couldn’t be alive and not take a stand.”

The organizers –students from local universities and colleges – pulled the rally together on short notice. Word of mouth and social media brought the crowd assembled to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

“This started as a conversation among friends,” said Ronke Oloyede, 22. “When I came down the steps (of the memorial), honestly, I was shocked. I was stunned and wanted to cry. We did this in two days. We’re going to keep it going. We won’t stop today. We will keep doing this until someone addresses it. Let’s not just stop at words, let’s take action,” Oloyede, a lead organizer of the event said.

Godwin Akinlami said the reason for his presence was simple.

“We’re here to show we care,” said the 22-year-old graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “We feel for the mothers and fathers and we want the government to do whatever it can. We haven’t seen or heard anything from someone (in charge). This is not a protest. We want answers.”

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