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Med Students Don’t Wait to Give Back

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, there are only 2.3 physicians for every 1,000 people in the United States. That number is even lower in some states with large African American populations, such as South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Enter the Student National Medical Association. The SNMA is the oldest and largest student-run organization of medical students of color. It not only cultivates the pool of medical professionals of color and nurtures thousands of mostly African American student members as they matriculate through medical training, but it also instills a duty to serve, particularly in communities where health care access is inadequate.

“The people in this organization are the next wave of medical leadership, and will practice largely in underserved communities of color,” says SNMA national marketing manager, DeJuana Thompson. She began positioning herself for her current position after seeing SNMA members from the University of Alabama chapter volunteer clinic services around her hometown of Birmingham. “They were offering medical services in our community that we normally didn’t have access to. Once I saw that, I’ve been involved ever since.”

In 2011 when Thomson began working with the SNMA, a new initiative to deepen the SNMA’s community impact was brewing next door in Mississippi. That year, a team led by Michael L. Jones at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, launched the Community Health Advocacy Training Program. The program partners with churches and other community hubs to train laypeople to become health advocates in their neighborhoods.

“Mississippi leads the nation in most chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease,” says Jones, who works as the director of Healthy Linkages at the University Medical Center while running the CHAT program in his spare time. “But we also have low rates of health literacy, and a low number of primary health care physicians.”

In one free six-hour training, volunteers learn to accurately measure blood pressure, weight, body mass index, and glucose levels, interpret medication instructions, provide basic nutritional counseling, and help others navigate the health care system. The program also trains both lay people and medical professionals to create more advocates by teaching others these clinical skills. To date, Jones and his volunteer partners have trained approximately 2,500 advocates, mostly in the Jackson, Miss. area.

“We wanted to devote attention and resources to laypeople in the community, and empower them to take a more active role in their healthcare,” Jones explains. “Because if we could empower those individuals, they’re the ones who touch people every day. They’re the ones who are trusted in their communities. I’m not going to be able to have the same reach.”

The following year, Amber Clark, a student at Brown University Alpert Medical School (and then-community service liaison for SNMA Region 7), learned about Jones and the CHAT program through a mutual colleague and brought it to the SNMA. For the 2013 SNMA Community Health Advocate Training pilot program, Jones trained 25 medical students of color from all over the country to go into their schools’ surrounding communities and develop more community health advocates.

“We wanted a wildfire effect,” Clark explained. “This program is important for minority communities because we’re the most adversely effected by these disparities that are 100 percent preventable. We have to let [communities] know, you have a say in your health, and we’re giving them the tools to do that. It’s very uplifting and empowering.”

The CHAT program isn’t the only way SNMA student members address their communities’ disparities.

Project H.O.P.E. (Health Optimization through Patient Education) is another major initiative from the student members of the University of South Alabama College of Medicine chapter. The program brings together high school students and members of their community living with HIV/AIDS for monthly conversations. “African Americans ages 15-24 are among the highest groups of individuals being infected with the HIV/AIDS virus,” the project’s mission statement explains. “It is our belief that by educating our youth about the detrimental effects of HIV/AIDS, we can counteract and/or slow this number.”

The organization is also looking beyond the big-name ailments that Black communities suffer disproportionately. The Michigan State University College of Human Medicine chapter of the SNMA, for example, hosts an annual bone marrow drive targeted at donors of color in the Lansing, Michigan area.

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, (the largest marrow registry in the world, each year 12,000 Americans need a bone marrow transplant to save their lives, and 70 percent will not have a donor match within their families. They will need to look to unrelated donors, who must be the same race and ethnicity to increase the chances of success. But only 7 percent of bone marrow donors are African American. Black patients who need a transplant to survive have a less than 50 percent chance of finding a matching nonfamily donor.

“MSU-CHM SNMA is dedicated to making bone marrow available for those groups that are less likely to find a match,” the chapter explains. “The National Marrow Donor Program could save the life of anyone anywhere in the world.”

Incoming SNMA national president and Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine student, Topaz Sampson, takes the commitment to serve underserved populations very seriously. With her tenure, she plans to broaden the SNMA’s focus to include the needs of LGBT, immigrant, and refugee communities.

“Because we’re a socially conscious and culturally competent organization, we have to be prepared to treat patients from all walks of life,” says Sampson, who is interested in becoming a psychiatrist. “We recognize this great lack in representation and access and we have to be the best physicians we can be in our communities.”

Clark, who hopes to go into physical medicine and rehabilitation, also believes that an emphasis on community service within medical training has far reaching effects.

“This may sound crass, but just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you’ll make a great physician. You need people skills, you need to be able to relate to your patients, and serving the communities in which you’ll be working fiver you those skills,” she says. “For a community, it’s great to see people who look like you, screening you. It’s very empowering and uplifting, and it leads to better health for all of us.”

NAACP Outraged Over Georgia's New Gun Law

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The interim president of the NAACP on Friday excoriated Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to sign a bill that allows gun owners to carry weapons into churches, bars, schools and some state government buildings, calling the move unwise and unsafe.

Lorraine Miller, who also is the NAACP’s CEO, said the Republican governor and the state legislature “have placed the state of Georgia in grave danger.”

“We are appalled and outraged,” she said. “Not only are our streets less safe due to a lack of common sense gun safety laws, but now our churches, schools and restaurants are too.”

The bill, signed Thursday by Deal, also licenses residents with concealed carry permits to possess guns in certain areas of airports. The new law will go into effect in July.

Miller lambasted the decision, opining that “even in the Wild West, gun owners were required to turn over their guns before entering bars.”

The NAACP has long been an advocate for gun control laws nationwide. It has often cited statistics that show that blacks die at higher rates because of gun violence than whites.

“This law, combined with the state’s destructive ‘stand your ground’ law will put more innocent people, particularly young men of color, in danger when an armed person substitutes racial bias for reasonable fear and fire away,” Miller said. “This is an insult to the thousands of families who have lost a loved one to gunfire in Georgia.”

Wrongfully Convicted Man Files Suit Against City

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By Michael McGee
Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Examiner

“My life has been in upheaval for five years.”

The Dallas Examiner first published Finding Normal After Not Guilty Verdict in June 2013. The article described the story of Reggie Ruffin who stated he was arrested in 2009 and 2010 for unrelated violent felonies. After many court dates and repeated claims by Ruffin of his innocence and improper investigations by the authorities, he was found not guilty of all charges in two separate jury trials.

Recently, Ruffin has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, the police and the offices of the mayor and district attorney for what he claims was malicious prosecution.

He filed case number 3:2014cv00046 in January in the U. S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit Court, Texas Northern District. Through Ruffin v. District Attorney’s Office et al, he maintains that the arrests and subsequent prosecutions left him in economic ruin due to legal fees and time lost from work, despite evidence throughout the investigations that, claim Ruffin and attorney Kevin Kurtz, indicated the felony charges had no merit.

Ruffin also argues that when employers see his arrest data in a background check they pass him over for full-time work because he cannot get his record expunged. Since 2009 Ruffin has had to hop from job to job using temp agencies and said he cannot renew his truck driver’s license.

“I do want financial relief from what has happened because my life has been turned into total chaos,” he said.

Ruffin explained that the legal battle is not just about him. Along with his own case, he and Kurtz are planning to file a class action suit with others who have faced similar circumstances.

“Right now my main objective is to try to reach out and find other people that have gone through this,” he affirmed.

Ruffin pointed out that to make ends meet while on probation, waiting on an expunction, or awaiting trial, some individuals have limited options. “A lot of times people have to resort back to shady types of activities that may cause you to get violated.”

“This is part of their tactic to wear a person down to go ahead and take the plea bargain,” Ruffin indicated.

Ruffin said that in itself showed unfairness within the Texas legal system – a state where there are 15 private correctional or work facilities, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Unit Directory.

“Your chances of finding a suitable job are very, very, very limited,” he stated.

Ruffin estimated that it could take two to five years to resolve his federal case.

Community Saved Seattle's only Black Broadcasting Company

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Special to the NNPA from The Seattle Medium

SEATTLE – Chris H. Bennett, chairperson of Kris Bennett Broadcasting, Inc., announced that on Good Friday at approximately 1:45 p.m., an email was received a new non-profit lender with a crucial message: ”Heritage Bank settlement payoff is wired…”

With those words, the first phase of a community’s effort to “Save Our Voice” was successfully completed. According to Bennett, the transaction ended a fight that lasted more than two years after his company’s future was put in jeopardy when the assets of Bay Bank, its original lender, were awarded to Tacoma-based Heritage Bank, which would not extend or honor the previous bank agreed loan to Kris Bennett Broadcasting.

Bennett Broadcasting extended special thanks to the co-hosts of the community effort, Rev. Ruth Saunders and Rev. Kitti Ward, who worked tirelessly to lead the community’s fight to save KRIZ,KYIZ,KZIZ and KBMS.

Bennett was quick to give all praises to God saying, “This was a total God blessed community effort in this process that started with the very first thousand dollars coming personally from the community Pastor Rev. Dr. Samuel Berry McKinney. It then continued with many more of the community thousand dollar checks, five hundred dollars checks and cash, the hundred dollars checks and cash, the fifties, the twenties, the tens, fives, the ones and the loose change in the ‘message wine bottle’ filled with dimes.”

“The joint effort of Pastors Carey Anderson of First AME Church and Aaron Williams of Mount Zion Christmas Eve worship service with all collections going to ‘Save Our Voice,’ Kris Bennett Broadcasting community advertising partners special fashion show/dinner at the FAME/ MLK Community Center and yes, Quartet Commissioner, Rev. Doc’ Rivers, community Parade of Quartets at Pastor Lawrence Willis’ True Vine Missionary Baptist Church as well as organizations such as the Central Area Chamber of Commerce under the leadership of DeCharlene Williams, Kent Black Action Committee and Black Ministers Alliance. Special Thanks to Pastor Robert L. Manaway and the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church family for a generous collection and for being the ONLY continued faith broadcast partner for over 30 years.”

There were many community ambassadors in this community effort as many gave not only treasure but time and talent and resource contacts, including Elma Horton, Alvin Whittaker, Carol Versey Cobb and their team of community talent that prepared the community’s Black Press Breakfast that raised net proceeds of $15,000. Then there was one of the most profound, God sent and God blessed resource efforts of Attorney Professor Rev. Carl Livingston, who introduced the broadcasting group to the non-profit lender, who restructure the original loan

Bennett said, “Our goal and mission was ‘a million dollars for a million reasons,’ which some naysayers snickered and made jokes about the amount even though many of the naysayers were some of the ‘a million reasons’ benefactors. No, we did not raise the million dollars in plain revenue/cash; the total cash proceeds were approximately $65,000, a tremendous community effort. But every success cannot be totally measured by cash collected in a campaign; resources are just as important. The real answer is YES; we raised enough revenue and resources to reach our goal. And yes, this is another miraculous blessing from God with all praises going to Him. Prayers work! Special thanks to all our prayer warriors; we know God was in the mix.

“What seemed like an impossible battle proves that all things are possible with God. We trusted and kept our faith in God as we humbled and wrapped ourselves in the blood of “Jesus” and the campaign, ‘a million dollars for a million reasons,’ was a huge success. It just goes to ‘the living testimony,’ if you take care of your community, your community will take care of you and we will be forever grateful to this community at large and our faith-based community in general.”

Campaign Co-Coordinator, Rev. Ruth Saunders, stated: The most profound statement throughout the campaign was the message in the bottle. One contributor brought in an empty wine bottle with 700 dimes in it. We wrote on the bottle, ‘SAVE KRIZ.’ It is as if a bottle drifted from miles away with a heart-wrenching cry–“SAVE KRIZ. We made the ‘message bottle’ a symbol of our commitment—hundreds of people coming together and uniting in a common cause.

“From the beginning this campaign was God driven and God directed with the three-fold purpose of reconciliation, restoration and revenue. We call it the three Rs. Mr. Bennett humbled himself before God and this community and trusted the scripture in Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (NIV)

Bennett said, the next phase is retention of the broadcast group and the avoid being placed in a vulnerable position again.

Fight for Justice: Remarley Graham’s Mother Vows "We Will Not Stop"

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A fight for Justice in the Bronx, two years after Remarley Graham was killed in his home by a police officer

By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

If Remarley Graham had lived and not cut down in his own home by a police officer’s bullet, the Caribbean immigrant would have celebrated his 21st birthday less than two weeks ago.

So on April 12, his birthday, the youth’s mother journeyed to her son’s final resting place to think about what should have been and the importance of justice in a case that has troubled New York and the rest of the country as well as Jamaica, Remarley’s birthplace.

“My day was spent at the cemetery,” said Constance Malcolm, the 40 year old Jamaican woman. “I have three kids and one is missing. He’s not here and he should have been here.”

Many community leaders, elected officials, civil rights advocates and others interested in the pursuit of justice think the same way.

“We want justice,” insisted Malcolm after participating in a demonstration outside the federal court house building in Manhattan. “We will not stop until they look at what happened to my son.”

New York State Senator Ruth Hassell Thompson agreed with Malcolm and is supporting the family’s belief that a conspiracy was afoot by the NYPD and members of the criminal justice system to deny them the justice to which they are entitled.

“The whole (New York) Police Department conspired against this family,” was the way the lawmaker put it. What occurred on February 2nd in 2012 was as heart-breaking as it was as deadly.

A police anti-drug squad in the Bronx spotted Graham walking along the street. Believing he was carrying a gun or drugs or both chased him from White Plains Road and East 228th Street to his home at 749 East 229th Street in the Wakefield section of the borough. A cop, Richard Haste, rushed into the youth’s home, according to police reports, confronted Remarley in a bathroom and shot him to death. No firearm was found and only a small bag of marijuana was confiscated by police.

Street demonstrations erupted in the City protesting what most people believed was a travesty and when the Bronx District Attorney’s office investigated the shooting Haste, who said he heard over the police radio that the youth had a gun, was indicted on manslaughter charges but a court threw out them because of an errort by a prosecutor. A second grand jury declined to indict the cop but the U.S. Attorney’s office stated last August that it would review the case to see if Remarley’s civil rights were violated.

The office promised to seek to “determine whether there were any violations of the federal criminal civil rights laws.”

But as Malcolm explained it the other day, there has been “nothing but silence since then.”

And when Bharrat’s office was contacted by news organizations about the status of the case, officials declined to give a status report, saying it wasn’t their policy to comment on an ongoing probe.

That’s why several lawmakers have fired off a letter to Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney-General, whose office has brought more criminal civil rights cases against wrongdoers across the country than any other AG in recent memory.

“In the interest of seeking truth and justice we are asking for an extensive and exhaustive investigation into the killing of Remarley Graham,” wrote members of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus to Holder.

“We believe the investigation will uncover that the action of Officer Haste violated the civil rights of Remarley, his family and the other residents in the home,” the letter added.

Assemblyman Karim Camara, chairman of the Caucus was quite clear on the matter: “It appears this was a gross injustice.”

In the meantime, Malcolm and her family are left to grieve.

“He was just becoming a man and figuring out what he wanted to do in life,” said the dead youth’s mother. “While no federal charges…. will ever bring Remarley back justice can help provide some level of confidence in our system and the concept of right and wrong.”

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