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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.”

Blacks, Latinos Hit Hardest Amidst Nation's Worst Foreclosure Crisis

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By Nisa Islam Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

(NNPA) - Luis and Michelle Gonzalez wanted the American dream of home ownership. They shopped around and found an affordable house in a good neighborhood. Things were going fine until Gonzalez lost his job. Their dream has become a nightmare with foreclosure looming.

“I don't know how we got here,” said Michelle Gonzalez. “We could afford this home but the mortgage kept going up and up and up. I didn't know this was going to happen. We want our home but it may be too late.”

This family has joined the ranks of Latinos and Blacks in California experiencing significantly higher foreclosure rates than non-Hispanic borrowers in the state, according to first-of-its-kind research released in August by the Center for Responsible Lending.

California leads the United States in the worst foreclosure crisis since the Great Depression. Across the country, foreclosures have hit an all-time high, with nearly 1 in 10 homes with a mortgage currently in some stage of foreclosure.

In the Golden State, nearly 1 in 8—or approximately 702,000—homes is currently in foreclosure, the economy is in ruins and unemployment stands at 12 percent and higher in Latino and Black communities.

These groups represent more than half of all foreclosures, with 48 percent of foreclosures hitting Latinos and 8 percent hitting Blacks.These borrowers were more likely to receive higher-cost subprime mortgages with loan terms that typically increased the risk of default, compared with safer loans made to similarly situated non-Hispanic White borrowers.

“Whether we are from Los Angeles or Modesto, all Californians are severely impacted by the foreclosure crisis,” said Paul Leonard, director of the Center for Responsible Lending California office.“We need solutions now that ease the pain everywhere.” His office has been at the forefront of efforts to respond to the state's foreclosure crisis.

The report, “Dreams Deferred: Impacts and Characteristics of the California Foreclosure Crisis,” analyzed more than 600,000 foreclosures in the state and also found that over three-quarters of all California foreclosures were on relatively modest properties, not “McMansions” as often believed.

Additionally, while major cities like Los Angeles and Sacramento have suffered the greatest number of foreclosures, communities in the Central Valley and Inland Empire have been severely harmed by high concentrations of foreclosures.

The report explains multifaceted damages to families from foreclosures. First, the disruption and upheaval associated with being evicted from one's home, and the effects this displacement can have on a family's education, health and employment, are significant.

“Where will we live now? Where will my children go to school? I don't have answers. This is so terrible,” said Luis Gonzalez.

Second is the loss of homeownership and the tax benefits and wealth that historically have accompanied it. Homeownership has been the primary source of economic mobility and financial security in this country, as home equity is often tapped to start a new business, pay for higher education and secure retirement.

In addition, home equity provides a financial cushion against unexpected financial hardships, such as job loss, divorce or medical expenses. Homeownership is also the primary means by which wealth is transferred to future generations.

The foreclosure crisis threatens the financial stability and mobility of families across the country, not just now but also into the future. Further, in addition to the individuals and families who lose their homes to foreclosure, nearby homeowners are affected when they experience depreciated home values, as are communities, which suffer the financial and non-financial consequences of abandoned properties and neighborhood blight.

“NCLR has sounded the alarm for the last two years about the devastating impact foreclosures have had on communities of color, but this report reveals a shocking level of concentration among Latino homeowners in California,” said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino rights group.

“Dishonest brokers peddled their high-cost loans, steered our families into risky products designed to fail and now Latinos and all of California are paying the price.”

The report provides policy recommendations to reduce unnecessary foreclosures:

Require servicers to complete the review of loan modification applications before beginning the foreclosure process.This is the central feature of California bill SB 1275 which will be considered by the full California Assembly this week before being sent to the governor.

Incorporate principal reduction into loan modification programs, especially where housing prices have contributed to a lack of affordability.

Lift the ban on judicial modification of principal residence mortgages by bankruptcy judges.

Expand funding and capacity of housing counseling agencies and legal aid providers.

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