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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.

Black American Muslims Speak Out Against Bigotry, Hypocrisy and Intolerance

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By Ashahed M. Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

(NNPA) - The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan recently joined several Black American Muslim leaders to address the controversy surrounding the proposed building of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York, as well as the general attitude of mistrust and intolerance toward followers of Islam.

The members of the Coalition of African American Muslims, which included the Minister, urged a rejection of anti-Islam hatred and religious intolerance, while connecting the disdain for their faith to America's old history of hate. But, they said, out of the negative attacks on a beautiful way of life comes an opportunity to teach and spread the truth—despite severe opposition.

“This world is not ignorant to the beauty of Islam,” said Minister Farrakhan. “The fear is that Islam will change the religion of the slave that they took it from and make him a bright light of a brand new civilization,” he said at a Sept. 2 press conference held at the prestigious National Press Club and broadcast live worldwide via Internet webcast.

Imam Abdul Malik of Islam on Capitol Hill, a youth advocacy group, agreed saying Islam is under attack by bigots who fear that which is different. “Islam does not mean terrorism,” said Imam Malik. “The real issue is the rise of Islam,” he added.

There are an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. Minister Farrakhan pointed out that in close proximity to where the Islamic center is to be built, there are sex shops, peep shows, strip clubs and other immoral activities not being protested by those who say the Islamic center will violate hallowed ground and disrespect the memories of who died in Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Those who oppose the center contradict the very principles outlined in the United States Constitution which guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly, the Minister said.

International media outlets such as PressTV, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and the India Globe and Asia Today newspapers asked questions and observed as the leaders decried the atmosphere of intolerance created by extremist right wing media talk show hosts, unscrupulous special interest groups, ill-motivated politicians and prominent conservative evangelical leaders.

Opponents have made plans for the center a major political and social question, holding protests at the proposed site, and quizzing political leaders from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to President Obama about their positions on the issue. Violence has also erupted: A Muslim cab driver in New York survived a vicious, bloody knife attack as the debate has grown vitriolic, contemptuous and falsely condemned Islam as a religion of hate and enemy of America. Mosques and Islamic centers in different parts of the country have been vandalized and a site for a center in Tennessee was torched. One pastor has announced plans to publicly burn copies of the Holy Qur'an—the book of scripture of Muslims—on Sept. 11.

“We know when people start burning books, it's not a great leap for them to begin burning people. History has shown us that,” said Islamic scholar Imam Zaid Shakir of the Zaytuna Institute. An entire industry has developed which profits from fostering the Islamophobic climate in America today, said Imam Shakir.

“I think what we have to realize is that there is a lot of money first of all that's been spent to create that climate of fear and suspension and mistrust towards Muslims,” said Imam Shakir. “The books have been cranked out and there are major media outlets that are behind that effort of demonizing Muslims.”

Islam is a force for good, liberation

Asma Hanif, chair of the Washington D.C.-based Council of Muslim Organizations, spoke about her difficult experience as a Muslim woman raising children and interacting with family members who have heard media misreports about Muslims.

“As I stand here, I think about the fact that I'm an African-American Muslim woman born and raised in this country. I think about all of the family members that I have who are listening to the words that are being said about me personally, because they know I am their daughter; I am their sister; I am their mother; I am their niece; I am all of these things. But, if you listen to the media, they say I'm a terrorist, or I'm oppressed, or I'm a bad person,” said Hanif. “I'm not oppressed! I dress this way because I love it!” Ms. Hanif continued. “In fact, if the truth be known, the only oppression I have ever seen was growing up Black in North Carolina! Islam liberated me as a Muslim woman!”

The severe economic crisis along with the sensationalized coverage of the “underwear bomber” in Detroit, the Ft. Hood shootings, the alleged Times Square attempted car bombing and other highly publicized alleged terrorist plots have contributed to fear mongering and hatred.

The controversy, however, is also creating curiosity and inspiring others to learn more about Islam, observed Imam Shakir and Imam Siraj Wahhaj, amir of the Muslim Alliance in North America, agreed.

“That which is happening right now and across the country with hatred against Muslims, I'm telling you, there's good,” said Imam Wahhaj. “All over America people are asking ‘Teach me about Islam.' ”

Coalition wants to help bring solutions to problems

The Coalition of African American Muslims, a group formed within the last month, sees offering solutions to these problems and giving a voice to the growing number of Blacks in America who are followers of Islam as part of its mission. The coalition said it was willing to work across racial, ethnic, religious and other divisions to combat rising hatred in America and help steer the country onto a proper course.

Islam has deep roots within the Black community, in fact, a significant number of followers of Islam in America are Black people who came to Islam as a result of the work of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. In later years, due to the influence of prominent representatives such as Malcolm X, the late Imam W.D. Mohammed and Minister Farrakhan, Blacks have continued to embrace Islam.

Coupled with America's legacy of racism, slavery and Jim Crow laws, Blacks have undergone an experience that has prepared them for leadership roles in a society still suffering from bigotry, racism and inequality present at the birth of the nation, said the Muslim leaders.

“We're not new to this. This is the same toxic soup of hatred and bigotry, just served in a different bowl,” said Imam Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Freedom Society. The rights advocate described how he endures “Driving While Black” and “Flying While Muslim.”

“This is not the climate in which we want to operate,” said Bray.

Nisa Islam Muhammad, who has spearheaded outreach and education efforts regarding the religion of Islam and was one of the lead coordinators of the press conference, said its time has come. “It's a great day to be a Muslim,” said Ms. Muhammad, who is also a staff writer for The Final Call.

Lessons for world present in America

Minister Farrakhan said the world is looking to America for leadership, and watching to see how America handles this particular religious issue. A nation's highways, bridges and roads do not determine its greatness; a nation's greatness is determined by its righteousness, he observed.

“She (America) started wrong. Slavery was wrong. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was not right. The dehumanization of an entire people was not right,” said Farrakhan. “One-hundred and fifty years of Jim Crow was wrong. How do you right a wrong like that?”

“When we go to the cause of all causes, we can't blame the agents of God's cause—we have to look at God and ask him why he permitted it,” said Farrakhan.

If Black people rise above emotion into God's thinking, they will see persecution was preparation for a future mission and duty to humanity after trial in the furnace of affliction, the Minister said.

“We have a unique historical prospective in terms of being people who have fought against racism in this country, bigotry, and attempts to relegate us to second class citizens for centuries,” added Imam Shakir. “That bequeathed in our genes a certain resilience and a certain combativeness that is really lacking from this current discourse. I think bringing that voice to bear will be for the service of our brothers and sisters. Not as an alternative voice, not that we have all the answers, but saying that we have a unique perspective and I think that unique perspective will be galvanizing for the overall Muslim community.”

“I personally think that the Muslims in America have a great role to play not only in Islam in America but really Islam all over the world,” said Imam Wahhaj. “We have to show our brothers and sisters and the rest of the Muslim world how to deal with differences. How to have doctrinal differences and yet sit together at the table and have discussion and have dialogue and not bloody each other's noses, not kill each other.”

Discussing the sectarian violence going on in many places of the world, between Muslims, Imam Wahhaj said he is disheartened when he hears about it.

“It sickens me when I hear about a masjid (place of worship) blowing up and 60 or 70 people dying, it just doesn't make sense and it is so hard for me to imagine that these are really Muslims doing it,” said Imam Wahhaj. “I think our brothers and sisters in the East and the rest of the Muslim world could learn a lot from African Americans in the United States.”

PART II: Doctors Find Ways to Stop African-American Resistance to Clinical Trials

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

(NNPA) - One of history's most glaring violation of medical ethics occurred in Tuskegee, Ala. That was when federal researchers experimented on close to 400 impoverished African-American sharecroppers who suffered from syphilis. The experiments started in 1932 and lasted for 40 years.

Early in the study, researchers found that penicillin was an effective treatment for the disease; yet the U.S. Public Health Service purposely withheld the treatment from its Black participants for decades.

The fallout from that controversial study not only led to a total reform of medical ethics as well as an avalanche of new federal laws and regulations regarding protections for participants in clinical studies but that study and similar incidents shattered whatever trust the Black community had for such research.

“I can tell you as a researcher at a major university that that sort of thing is highly unlikely and almost impossible to happen now,” said Dr. Elijah Saunders, professor of cardiology and medicine at University of Maryland School of Medicine. “But to try to convince the Black public, especially many of the not very well educated part of the Black public, is still very difficult. That distrust is still out there and it still carries over.”

For many African-Americans, clinical trials run deep as a stigma. Their fear is of being turned into human guinea pigs or being recast in another experiment similar to Tuskegee.

According to Saunders research colleague, Dr. Stephen Liggett, professor of medicine at University of Maryland School of Medicine, even though there have been great advances in the field bioethics and protections for participants of clinical trials the general mistrust of the African-American community has led to an under-representation of Black participants in medical research, which can have a substantial effect on findings.

“We know the risk of having certain diseases and their response to therapy is dependent upon a person’s genetic makeup,” said Liggett, who works in pharmacogenetics, the relationship between a person’s genetic makeup and their response to drugs. “The African-American community represents a unique genetic makeup that must be considered when one is designing a clinical trial. For example, we would need to know if a treatment for high blood pressure really works to save lives in those of African descent, of Asian descent, of European descent, etc.

Otherwise, what will happen, and this is unfortunate, if a trial gets approved but doesn’t have proper ethnic representation, once it’s approved, it will be prescribed to everyone.”

Saunders has spent more than half of his 20 year career in research specifically working with African-Americans. He said that there are some cases where drugs may not work the same way in Blacks as they do in Whites. The change can show up as a side effect, as a different response to the drug or may even work at all.

"I don’t want you to think that this is extremely common but it’s common enough, especially in my area, I do studies and clinical trials in hypertension and high blood pressure,” Saunders said. One example that Saunders pointed out is regarding his research involving ACE inhibitors, a popular drug to treat high blood pressure. His research team found that these drugs don’t work the same for Black as it does for Whites.

They had to use a higher dose in order for it to be effective and even found a side effect in the form of a persistent severe cough that was found more consistently in Blacks more than with their White counterparts. Saunders, who is African-American and well-known in his Baltimore community, fortunately, does not have as hard of a time finding Black participants for his trials as other researchers.

He has developed a special way of recruiting participants from the African-American community. He carried a blood pressure program to community churches and barber shops. These church workers and barbers would be trained to screen local residents for high blood pressure and could refer them to doctors for treatment.

“It sounds simple but if Black people didn’t have that kind of screening readily available for them in the community they would never know that they had high-blood pressure,” said Saunders. Since the program started in 1985 thousands of people in Baltimore were referred, according to Saunders.

“High-blood pressure is so common and it’s killing so many Black people that every effort should be made to get them into clinical trials because the drugs is going to be used on them whether or not they are in the trials and the more researchers know about the drugs before it gets to market the safer it would be and probably the more effective it will be,” said Saunders.

“So we want to encourage Black people and let them know that the chances of them being hurt or being used as guinea pigs is almost nil in this day and time.” Africans-Americans suffer from high-blood pressure at a significantly higher rate than other racial groups. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 44 percent of Black women suffer from hypertension compared to 28 percent of White women. The rates for Black and White men share a similar trend though not as great. Clinical trials are now regulated and approved by a governing body called the Institutional Review Board (IRB), which is empowered by the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Participants in clinical trials should only volunteer for IRB-approved studies, Liggett said. All sanctioned studies carry an IRB number that can be verified. Participants must see an informed consent document that must be read in-depth and understood before signed. "Read the informed consent document completely," Liggett advises. "If they have questions they should be able to have them readily answered by a physician before they sign the form. Anything that deviates from that should send up a red flag.” Federal guidelines stipulate that an informed consent form is written simply enough so that a person with a fourth or fifth grade education could read and understand it.

“The pendulum is just about where it need to be,” said Liggett. “You can go so far in one direction and you can never get anyone enrolled and it would be a bureaucratic problem from the beginning. But you don’t want it to be too loose and not give the patients the proper protections and informed content for a study. I think we are right where we need to be and that’s after many years of ethical discussions.”

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