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Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation Showcases Progress

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By Dorinda White, Special for NNPA Wire Service –

On the anniversary of the historic actions of Rosa Parks on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation showcased the progress of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Wednesday, December 1)

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project is fifty percent completed. It is situated on one of the most prestigious sites remaining on the National Mall. “The Memorial will capture the essence of Dr. King’s passion and vision for all to enjoy a life of freedom, opportunity, and justice,” said Harry Johnson, President and CEO of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.

“As such, it will serve as a stage to honor his national and international contributions to humankind, acknowledging his unbridled teachings for achieving social change through non-violent methods. The Memorial will remind the world of his dedication to the idea of achieving human dignity through global relationships, and instill a sense of duty within each of us to be responsible citizens and conscientious stewards of freedom and democracy.”

The Foundation’s presentation highlighted how the entire site will look upon completion. A combination of inscribed granite walls and green space areas will surround the “Mountain of Despair” leading to the “Stone of Hope” and the imposing statute of Dr. King. Under the gray skies of Washington, D.C. with scaffolding surrounding it, the statute seemed ready to step forward out of the stone encasing it.

“The Memorial is a memorial to a man who was a citizen of the world whose messages of democracy, justice, hope and love transcended racial barriers and resonated around the globe,” stated Johnson.

“This was confirmed when he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.”

Johnson reminded the audience that the fundraising for the Memorial has not met its goal stating, “We have not met our fundraising goals, but the Memorial project is moving ahead as scheduled. We hope that each American and those around the world will make a contribution towards the completion of this Memorial. Dr. King touched lives on an international level and we know that in the end, those who believed in his words and actions will contribute to his Memorial.

The press conference held on the site of the Memorial included remarks from John T. Montford, GM Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Memorial Foundation’s Executive Leadership Cabinet, Robert G. Stanton, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior and Dr. Ed Jackson, Jr., Executive Architect of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc.

For more information and to make a contribution go to www.buildthedream.org

African-American Achievement Gap to Disappear in 40 Years

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By Rebecca Nuttall, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

The latest report by A+ Schools revealed that the achievement gap between White and Black students continues to decrease. However, at the rate it is narrowing, it would take 40 years to be eliminated.

Even more disappointing is that the report also notes that while Black student achievement, as demonstrated through performance on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, has increased, a decline in White student achievement also contributed to narrowing the gap.

Despite an unclear picture of how the achievement gap is changing, the report, released in mid-November, concluded that high schools, which have the largest achievement gaps in the district, remain the key areas most in need of improvement. Despite gains made in elementary schools, PSSA scores for grade 11 declined in all subjects.

“Gains made in earlier grades are disappearing in high schools. That threatens our youth’s future prospects for achieving the Pittsburgh Promise, college or job training, and becoming independent members of our community,” said Carey Harris, A+ Schools executive director. “These issues deserve our urgent attention.”

The achievement gap narrowed at all grade levels except third grade. Overall, since the previous school year, the gap narrowed by 0.3 percentage points in math and 1.8 percentage points in reading.

The total gap for the 2009-2010 was 28.7 percent in reading and 27 percent in math. However, at Oliver, Carrick, Brashear, and Westinghouse high schools the gap was greater than 50 percent.

“High schools are very much where our greatest efforts need to be,” said PPS Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. “The results at high schools are still unacceptable.”

Upon announcing his retirement in October, Roosevelt touted the creation of the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship as one of his greatest accomplishments. When you look at schools with grades 9-12, disparities between Black and White students exist in their eligibility to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise.

More than 60 percent of White students were eligible for the scholarship in every high school where White students attended. However the highest percentage of eligible Black students at any school was 52.3, dropping as low as 20.9 percent at Langley High School.

One requirement for eligibility is that students must have a grade point average of 2.5 or higher. On average 39.9 percent of African-American students meet this requirement as compared to 74.4 percent for White students.

The report also examined differences in achievement at different types of schools. Magnet schools and charter schools had higher percentages of Black students who scored proficient or advanced on PSSA tests.

“Overall, we see progress in schools across the district. We have good examples of district and charter schools that are educating students to high levels,” Harris said. “But there is much more work to be done, especially in our high schools.”

The report states that in comparison to all PPS students, Black PPS students made greater gains. However, the relationship between the increase in dropout rates at many schools and the high percentage of Black males who dropout of high school, might have impacted these numbers. If poor performing Black males are dropping out, they are not being tested with their higher performing counterparts.

Two high schools where the student body is predominantly made up of African-Americans, both above 80 percent, have seen the highest drop in graduation rates. Oliver High School went from 79.7 to 44.7 percent and Westinghouse High School went from 83.2 to 67.6 percent. However, graduation rates at Peabody High School, which is 92.8 percent African-American, rose from 72.2 to 80.5 percent.

The report also examined changes in student enrollment. Despite increases during the 2008-2009 school year, enrollment throughout the district continued to decline during the past school year, reaching its lowest point in four years for all grade levels except K-5.

Last week, A+ Schools mailed their sixth annual report to 20,000 city households with children enrolled in PPS and children ages 5 and under. The report will also be available in local libraries, city schools and at elected officials’ offices, or by calling A+ Schools and can be accessed online at www.aplusschools.org.

Kamala Harris Officially State Attorney General

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By Yussuf Simmonds, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

After a long-fought and bruising battle to be the state’s top law enforcement official, Kamala Harris has prevailed to become the next attorney general of California. She will be the first woman and the first African American to be elected to statewide office in more than three decades. A career prosecutor, Harris embarked on a campaign that many thought was insurmountable, but she overcame all the obstacles and barriers that were thrown in her path – and like her campaign slogan stated, she is not only “Smart On Crime,” she is smart.

More than three weeks ago, the Los Angeles Sentinel declared victory on behalf of D.A. Harris in the race for state attorney general, amidst a premature victory press conference call by D.A. Steve Cooley. But, apparently the subsequent counting of the mail-ins and absentee ballots forced Cooley to concede, and he did, recently as he trailed by more than 50,000 votes in what was one of the closest statewide races in California history.

His concession means that San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris will be transitioning to the post of California’s next attorney general. And now California Democrats can claim a clean sweep of California statewide offices in the 2010 midterm elections.

Cooley issued the following statement: "While the margin is extremely narrow and ballots are still being counted, my campaign believes that we cannot make up the current gap in the vote count for Attorney General. Therefore, I am formally conceding the race and congratulate Ms. Harris on becoming California's next Attorney General.”

Congresswoman-elect Karen Bass said, “I think this is a wonderful day for the state of California to have an attorney general who focuses on being smart on crime instead of the policies that we’ve had over the last few decades that relied on incarceration in a disproportionate manner to African Americans.”

Assemblyman Mike Davis, a stalwart in the Harris campaign said, “This was a necessary and wonderful struggle to make California what it ought to be. This is a state of a majority of minority culture and we need to have leadership in the state that reflects the people being served. We had two outstanding candidates, who ran for attorney general; both of whom would provide excellent service. But, the uniqueness of what Kamala Harris brings to the table is to give to California the opportunity to have women, and minorities such as African Americans and Indian Americans to demonstrate their ability to be included in the criminal justice system of California in a significant way.”

Former Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, who himself was the last statewide elected office holder said, “The election of San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris to the office of California Attorney General is historic. She set an example of running a "smart" campaign by appealing to the public with an intelligent approach, and not demagoguery. She defeated the big money interests of the country, and all Californians could be justly proud of her accomplishments. She will make a great Attorney General.”

Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., executive publisher of the Sentinel and Chairman of the NNPA, a strong supporter of Harris was exuberant in hearing the news of her victory: “This is a great day for California and for African Americans. Kamala Harris has demonstrated that she is ready, willing and able to reform the state’s criminal justice system and bring it more in line with the will of the people. Her historic rise from prosecutor to district attorney and now to attorney general is a culmination of her campaign slogan, “Smart on Crime.” She has an innovative approach to fighting crime and has been an advocate for significant changes in current outdated system. She will be an excellent attorney general.”

Chariss Bremond Weaver, president and CEO of the Brotherhood Crusade, issued the following statement: “California cannot thrive unless its communities are equipped to raise healthy, responsible, productive, and joyous children. The challenges facing California’s urban communities are a major hindrance to the achievement of this goal. While there are a lot of people who claim to be “working on” these issues, there are very few of us who are actually working “in them”. Kamala Harris is one of those people. Her understanding of the need for more prevention, redemption and second chances is keenly tempered by her ability to still effectuate prosecution and ensure the guilty are resolved to appropriate consequences. This is a great day in the State of California because we’ve elected an attorney general that equitably represents the needs of all Californians and can effectively transition those needs into action.”

It is important to note that Wilson Riles was the first Black statewide office holder; he was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1971.

And former Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke laid the groundwork for Harris’ victory as she too had run for the office of attorney general of California in 1978.

Maya Angelou's Rainbow Returns to St. Louis

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By Kenya Vaughn, Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American –

An icon who transcends genres and traditions, Maya Angelou began her evening in St. Louis onstage discussing her early years – spent in the very city where she was presenting her sold-out conversation at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri.

She discussed the childhood trauma made famous through her best-selling book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It was familiar territory, but there was something special about hearing it first-hand. She talked about being raped as a child by her mother’s boyfriend and how that led her to refrain from verbal communication for several years. “The only person I told was my younger brother Bailey,” Angelou said – almost appearing to relive the conversation she had with him. “He said I had to tell him the name of the rapist,” she said. She told her nine-year-old brother, “He said if I told, he would kill you.” She said her brother told her, “I won’t let him kill me. So I told him, of course,” she said.

Her rapist ended up in jail. A few days later, he would be dead. Angelou felt responsible. If her words had the power to take a man’s life, she no longer wanted them. “I thought if I spoke, my voice might just go out and kill people, so I stopped speaking,” she said.

Frustrated with her daughter’s state as a post-traumatic mute, her mother sent her to live with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. How ironic that her words would make her an ambassador for self-empowerment and humanitarianism – and she would credit the very city that served as the setting for an act that could have ruined her life as a source of personal joy.

“I want you to know, St. Louis, that you are the rainbow in my clouds,” she said. She offered affirmation to her birthplace, as she discussed the events in her life. “Mama would sit me down on the floor the way old ladies still braid Black girls' hair in the South,” Angelou said. “Mama would bend her hand like that and put it behind my neck so she wouldn't break my neck by accident. She would say, ‘Sister, Momma don't care that you don't talk. Momma don't care that these people say you must be an idiot or a moron. Sister, Mama don't care. Sister, you know what? Mama know when you and the good Lord get ready you going to be a teacher – and you are going to teach all over the world.’” Angelou reflected, “I used to sit there and think, ‘This poor ignorant Mama.’ But here I sit, all these years at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, with more than 60 degrees.”

Her testimony alone was inspiring enough, but true to form the audience would leave the hour-long event with enough in their spirit to fuel a movement of gratitude, inspiration, and commitment to making the world a better place.

“When it looked like the sun wouldn’t shine anymore, God put a rainbow in my cloud,” Angelou sang in a weathered voice. Minding her poetry business “I’m about the business of being a poet, and being a poet is no small matter,” Angelou said. “Estimates say there are 50 million Black people in the United States, and plenty say that is a modest number. Some say there are 50 million Black Baptists … and that’s not counting the backsliders, AME, CME, and the four Black atheists.”

Angelou said that it was her beloved art form – one that has become synonymous with her name – that served as the ultimate survival mechanism from 1619 until now.

“When you think about our experience, many people wonder, ‘How did they survive?’” Angelou said. “I believe that it was poetry.” She then recited mostly humorous excerpts from the Black experience and beyond to a delighted crowd. “‘My woman is chocolate and bad to the bone. And, every time she shakes, a skinny woman loses her home,’” Angelou recited. “And that was from the 19th century.”

She name-dropped greats such as James Weldon Johnson, Anne Spencer, Langston Hughes, and Nikki Giovanni. “‘Where have you gone with your confident walk, your crooked smile, the rent money in one pocket and my heart in another,’” Angelou recited Mari Evans’ 1970 poem Where Have You Gone. “You need to know that someone was there before you, and poetry does that,” said Angelou.

Courage in the rainbow

“Courage is the most important of all of the virtues because you can’t practice any of the others with consistency without it,” Angelou said. “You have to have courage enough to say, ‘Yes, and so what.’ If in fact you have a chance to better your lives and someone else’s life, you are being courageous.”

She had the courage to move beyond her circumstances of racial inequality, childhood sex abuse, and being a teenage mother. Her courage began an ascent that led to greatness beyond measure. “You should be ashamed to die before you’ve done something magnificent for humankind,” Angelou said.

“Always rush to say yes to the good thing. And, then pray about it. My prayer for you tonight is that you look at yourself and see how blessed you are and you all remember the rainbow in your cloud. Who can say where your influence will reach?”

Nation Mourns Museum Founder: Legacy of Dr. Margaret Burroughs Lives on at DuSable Museum

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By J. Coyden Palmer, Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader –

As word spread about the death of national and international Black historian Dr. Margaret Goss Burroughs condolences poured in from the White House and throughout Chicago. Extolling Dr. Burroughs as one “who was widely admired for her contributions to American culture as an esteemed artist, historian, educator and mentor, President Barack Obama said “Dr. Burroughs’ legacy will continue throughout the world.” Dr. Burroughs, who co-founded Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History with her late husband Charles Gordon Burroughs in the living room of their home in 1961, continued to serve as director emeritus of the museum until her death. She died at her Chicago home with her family at her bedside. Dr. Burroughs was 95.

President Obama also lauded Dr. Burroughs as one “who was also admired for her generosity and commitment to underserved communities through her children’s books, art workshops and community centers that both inspired and educated young people about African-American culture.”

“Michelle and I are saddened by the passing of Dr. Margaret Burroughs. Her legacy will live on in Chicago and around the world,” President Obama said.

Dr. Burroughs, poet, visual artist, educator, and arts organizer was born on November 1, 1915. She attended school in Chicago, including Chicago Teachers College and received a Bachelor’s Degree (1944) and a Master’s (1948) of Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Mayor Richard M. Daley joined a host of others who sent their condolences to Dr. Burroughs’ family, stating “the city has truly lost one of its iconic figures in the art world.” Daley said the loss of one of the city’s most prominent members who can never be replaced will be balanced out by the thousands she helped personally and millions she influenced around the world. “Chicago is a better place because of Dr. Margaret Burroughs,” Daley said. “Through her artistic talent and wide breadth of knowledge, she gave us a cultural gem, the DuSable Museum of African American History. But, she herself was a cultural institution. She spent a lifetime instilling a love of arts and culture in people young and old. She will be deeply missed.” U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Il, called Dr. Burroughs “a keeper of history. With her passing she attains the distinction as ancestor and leaves behind a formidable imprint of struggle, triumph and hope,” Rush added.

“Dr. Burroughs was a historian for a lost and often disregarded people, and a champion for those whose voices often go unheard,” Rush said. “Over the years I have appropriated nearly a million dollars to the DuSable institution because it is just that important—it is an important landmark in American history.” U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Il, added that (Dr.) Burroughs was not a typical artist. He said her works were all socially responsible and forced people to question their own values and attitudes about the African Diaspora.

“She was an artist with a conscience, equally committed to her creative work and her social activism,” Jackson added. “Dr. Burroughs was deeply committed to everything she did. When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia and the first woman head of state of an African country, visited Chicago and spoke at the DuSable Museum, Dr. Burroughs prepared a special presentation of one of her paintings. But, Dr. Burroughs was not there to present it herself because the event occurred on the day she had set-aside each week to spend with people who had been incarcerated. Even on such a special day, Dr. Burroughs would not step away from the important work that she did.” In 1985, Dr. Burroughs was appointed by Mayor Harold Washington as a Commissioner of the Chicago Park District. She also founded the South Side Community Arts Center, a community organization that has served as a gallery and workshop studio for artists and students for 70 years. Although Burroughs has worked in sculpture, painting, and many other art forms throughout her career, she is best known for her work as a printmaker.

Burroughs believed establishing the DuSable Museum would be her legacy. “Every individual wants to leave a legacy; to be remembered for something positive they have done for the community,” said Burroughs. “Long after I’m dead and gone the DuSable Museum will still be here. “ A lot of Black museums have opened up, but we’re the only one that grew out of the indigenous Black community. We weren’t started by anybody downtown. We were started by ordinary folks.” She said the museum gives young African Americans a chance to see themselves in a different light than what many have been taught. “A museum shows children they can be somebody,” Burroughs once stated. By emphasizing the cultural and racial roots of Black people, Burroughs hoped to teach young people that not only could they be somebody but that they came from a proud and strong Black heritage.

Burroughs said the DuSable Museum is different from any other African American museum in the country because it started and grew from within the community. Attorney Cheryl Blackwell Bryson, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees stated, “Dr. Burroughs was a true renaissance woman, a visionary and a role model for all. She was a prime example of someone who lived ‘The Golden Rule,’ you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” One of Dr. Burroughs’ former students spoke of what it was like to be a student of an icon. Howard Brookins Sr., father of Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. said Dr. Burroughs was his division and art teacher at DuSable High School. He described Burroughs as an attractive woman whom all the school boys loved. He remembers Burroughs as one of the first women he had seen wearing an Afro and said she was a visionary.

“Dr. Burroughs gave her all to her students and she encouraged us all to achieve through school and she followed us and remained as counsel to us as we went into our respective professional careers,” Brookins said. “I will miss her but never forget the memories we shared and all the physical gifts she gave me, and we must continue her legacy of leadership in providing support for the sustaining and growth of The DuSable Museum as well as institutionalizing her leadership and public service training to a new generation for generations to come.”

Dorothy R. Leavell, publisher of the Crusader Newspapers – Chicago and Gary, said that Dr. Burroughs had a long and rich relationship with the Crusader Newspapers. It was in the late 1950’s and 1960’s that she and her first husband, Bernard Goss curated an “Exposition of the Negro in Business and Culture” featuring some 150 paintings of distinguished and historically significant Blacks and dioramas depicting the rise of Blacks in America from their native Africa, under the leadership of the late Balm L. Leavell, Jr., founder of the Exposition and newspapers. The paintings were a part of Chicago’s Sesquicentennial in 1976 and displayed at The Daley Center, among other venues in the city. The collection is now housed at the DuSable Museum of African American History, donated by now publisher Dorothy R. Leavell. “Someone of Margaret’s dedication, foresight and tenacity comes along once in a lifetime. Her legacy shall be forever preserved in the institutions she founded,” Leavell concluded.

Highlights of Dr. Burroughs career include: Director and Founder, DuSable Museum of African American history, 1961-1984; Art Teacher, DuSable High School, 1946-1969; Professor of African American Art and Culture, Elmhurst College, 1968; and Professor of Humanities, Kennedy King College, 1969-1979. Dr. Burroughs has also made a distinctive contribution as a poet and as an editor of poets. The majority of her poems are published in the volume What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black? (1968) and Africa, My Africa (1970).

At the request of Dr. Burroughs there will be no funeral services. Instead there will be a public memorial at a later date.

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