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Maya Angelou is the Face of the Newest Forever Stamp

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Less than a year after her death, Maya Angelou has been further immortalized on a U.S. Postal Service commemorative Forever Stamp.

An all-star assembly gathered to witness the first-day-of-issue stamp unveiling ceremony, held at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. The at-capacity audience included First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, musician Roberta Flack; two of Malcolm X’s daughters, Ilyasah and Qubilah Shabazz, and other notables.

Melissa Harris Perry, who first came under Angelou’s wing in the early 1990s as her intern at Wake Forest University, emceed the event. Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young gave the invocation. Singer Alyson Williams, who was introduced as Angelou’s “personal songbird,” performed the national anthem and the Black National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice.”

“The truth is, this Forever Stamp registers the applause of tens of millions of readers over the world where the prose and poetry of Maya Angelou is translated in 17 languages and still counting,” said author and educator, Eleanor Traylor, just before reading a passage from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Traylor was on a short list of featured speakers at the ceremony, which included Oprah Winfrey, journalist, Sophia A. Nelson, and Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez, who each recited original poetry. “On this past Saturday, her birthday April 4th, it would’ve been her 87th birthday,” Winfrey said, adding that she had spent the day reading Angelou’s poetry in commemoration. “I miss her so. I’m honored to be here, to stand as her daughter sister-friend at the unveiling of the Maya forever, Forever Stamp.”

In the middle of her tribute, an area-wide power outage cut electricity to the theater, but Winfrey powered through a recitation of “Phenomenal Woman,” without the microphone.

The image featured on the stamp is a reprint of the oil painting portrait by Ross Rossin on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. The portrait’s unveiling, held the day after Angelou’s 86th birthday last year, was her final public appearance.

“Today, this new Forever Stamp serves as a tribute to Angelou’s humanity, and contribution to our nation,” said Megan J. Brennan, postmaster general and CEO of the USPS. “You will notice that there’s some other words on her stamp: forever and USA. It is the postal service’s way of honoring and remembering those who left an enduring and indelible mark on our society, and who represent the best of America.”

The featured words on the stamp, however—“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song”—have caused a bit of controversy. Although Angelou has used the line in her travels and has become widely associated with it as a result, the quote actually originated with another writer.

The Washington Post was the first major outlet to point this out. It also reported that USPS spokesman, Mark Saunders responded via email: “Had we known about this issue beforehand, we would have used one of [Angelou’s] many other works. The sentence held great meaning for her and she is publicly identified with its popularity.”

Currently, the USPS has no plans to alter the quote. Angelou’s stamp is a commemorative one – as such, it will only be issued once and for a limited time. If the USPS does cease production and reissue the stamps with a different quote, this single batch will become an even more valuable collector’s item.

After the actual unveiling, her son, author Guy Johnson delivered an original ode to his mother.

“I point to the life of a little Black girl from Stamps [Arkansas], whose words and actions we honor here today. With heart in hand she stepped out on His word and believed. She spoke out in clarion tones for justice and truth—and look at what the little Black girl from Stamps achieved.”

Sexism and Racism Take Toll on Black Women's Health

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The effects of living in a patriarchal, racist society measurably erode Black women’s physical and mental wellbeing, an emerging body of research finds.

Over time, this steady drip of double-discrimination can lead to higher maternal mortality and lower birth weight rates, hypertension and heart disease, aggressive cancers, and psychological issues, to name a few effects.

“Although the evidence is somewhat mixed, the consensus is that self-reported racial discrimination is associated with a variety of health outcomes—most prevalent being birth outcomes, cardio health concerns…also depression and psychological stress,” says Amani Nuru-Jeter, associate professor of public health at University of California.

Nuru-Jeter, an epidemiologist who has contributed research on these issues, adds that there are lab-based, literature-based, and anecdotal studies to show the link between discrimination and poor mental and physical health.

While discrimination touches most people at one time or another for varying reasons, Black women experience the double-whammy of racism and sexism—and even the triple burden of homophobia for gay, bisexual, or gender non-conforming Black women.

“In general, we know that African Americans report experiencing [racial] discrimination more than Whites. But with Black women, issues of gender come into play,” Nuru-Jeter says.

Women are much more likely than men to experience “network stress,” she explains—when people close to them express their pains and frustrations, they feel that stress indirectly. Men, on the other hand, are more likely than women to only experience the stress that happens to them. This is likely due to the way boys and girls are raised to fit gender norms, with girls being steered toward empathetic nurturing, even at the expense of their own emotional and mental wellness.

Black women report an overwhelming sense of obligation to those around them, in addition to living at the intersection of societal racial discrimination, and gender discrimination even within their community. Nuru-Jeter says that this sense of obligation leaves little room for Black women to express and deal with the stress of everyday slights against their worth as people.

“One of the ways in which chronic discrimination gets into the body and becomes anxiety, depressive episodes, or low birth weights, is in the ways we cope,” Nuru-Jeter says. “We know from psychological [research] that suppressing emotions is bad for your health.”

When Black women do seek acknowledgement and fair resolutions regarding the racist and sexist jabs they meet, they often run into roadblocks.

“This area of research is met with a lot of criticism because some people…don’t think [race discrimination] exists in this day and age,” Nuru-Jeter explains.

“One question might be, how do we known it’s racial discrimination, and not other stress, because we all experience chronic stress. We have experimental data; we go into a lab and we…manipulate only one thing. Then we can measure cortisol [a hormone triggered by stress], heart health, and so on.”

Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment for the National Women’s Law Center, sees similar misunderstandings in legal situations. When the layered discrimination Black women face is acknowledged, it is often met with disdain.

“For African American girls in particular, there have been a number of cases…that really highlight the harassment and violence and inappropriate response by schools.

So a [Black girl] speaks up about violence in her school, and the school takes disciplinary action against her,” Graves says. “That sends a message that we don’t; believe Black girls’ experiences.” Black women often decide that the best option is to endure in silence.

“People don’t want to risk retaliation. The retaliation is a big deal—people risk their jobs, they risk losing their educational status, there’s retaliation that comes in the form of harassment—so there’s a lot at stake,” says Graves. “What ends up happening is, a lot of people never come forward at all. These are the stressors of discrimination…that people end up holding on to.”

To prevent the slow damage of these stressors, Graves says people who are experiencing discrimination should document what happens to them, and tell others—even friends—about incidents when they happen. This documentation and multiple sources can corroborate patterns and serve as evidence to have issues properly addressed.

Nuru-Jeter advocates practicing self-care as the primary priority, and seeking a listening ear when needed.

“Research is ongoing, but we’re trying to come up with ideas [for prevention],” Nuru-Jeter says. “African Americans in general should not have to experience discrimination at all…. [But] that’s not going to happen tomorrow.”

Anti-Gay Protest Backfires at Howard University

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By Rachel Kersey
Special to NNPA from Howard University News Service

WASHINGTON –Westboro Baptist Church, the infamous unaffiliated church known for its hateful, unorthodox protests, especially against homosexuality, brought its hate speech to Howard University – and the university’s students and staff fought back.

Armed with picket signs, the organization, which has been denounced by the two largest Baptist denominations, Friday, April 10, gathered on 6th Street on Howard’s campus to denounce OUTlaw, Howard University School of Law’s organization for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender and queer students.

“AMERICA IS DOOMED,” “MOURN FOR YOUR SINS” and “GOD H8S FAG MARRIAGE,” the signs read. One sign featured a depiction of anal sex.

“It is a shameful sight to see the way that these young people behave, and the parents teachers and preachers have done that to them,” the church said on its website in explaining why it came to Howard. “They have no chance when they stand before the Great White throne on Judgment Day. We come in hopes that one little lamb is out there and may be called to repentance by the Lord their God.”

Howard students met the signs with their own. Dressed in all-black or rainbow colors, the students held signs that read “HOWARD <3s OUR LGBTQ,” “ALL BLACK LOVE MATTERS” and “GOD LOVES EVERYONE.”

Nearly 100 students gathered at the flagpole and marched to the corner of 6th Street and Howard Place, where they promptly turned their backs on Westboro.

With fists raised in defiance, the sea of students sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and more than one student shed a few tears. Only 20 minutes after starting, Westboro headed down the hill to the taunts of Howard students, who turned around to send them on their way.

“I thought it was perfect,” said Nia Johnson, a junior economics major. “I definitely felt the love and I felt proud. I was actually happy it ended early. Our power showed them that it wasn’t worth it here.”

Amber Mason, president of OUTlaw, agreed.

“This sort of hate filled rhetoric is not condoned on our campus, and we want to show them that through a show of solidarity,” Mason said. “That’s now how we think here at Howard. We are inclusive, we’re accepting and their kind of speaking and behavior will not be condoned.”

Lydia Durfler, the organizer of the student protest, said she did so because LGBT community at Howard is often slighted.

“I don’t think it gets enough outright support from the Howard community, especially where the administration and faculty is concerned,” said Durfler, a senior political science major and an Amnesty International intern.

“And if we had a group on campus saying derogatory things about black folk and we weren’t doing something to build ourselves up in the midst of that, that would seem pretty crazy. The same goes for the LGBTQ community.”

Joshua Narcisse, president of the Chapel Assistants, an interfaith organization with Howard’s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel, said his organization stands against Westboro Baptist Church.

“One of the dominant themes in Christianity is love,” Narcisse said. “So, at the end of the day, whether it be Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, this love or respect for humanity is at the center of the work that the chapel does. And this is really just a part of us affirming that.”

Tyleah Hawkins, a senior broadcast journalism major, also objected to Westboro’s belief and its tactics.

“I’m a Christian, but I’ve always been an advocate for gay rights,” Hawkins said. “I don’t agree with preaching hate. I am a proud Christian. I love Jesus . . . and I feel like Jesus would be out here protesting with me.”

In the end, the protest – both sides – was one chapter of the rich social and political saga of the university, and there is undoubtedly more to follow,” said the Rev. Bernard Richardson, dean of the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel.

“This is Howard University,” Richardson said. “Protests and all the other things are what happen here at Howard. It’s part of our legacy. It’s part of our history.”

Economic Recovery Eludes Black Workers

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The slow-moving, uneven economic recovery continues to elude Black workers and some economists predict that even with a falling unemployment rate, at the end of 2015, Blacks will still be further away from full recovery than Whites.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on low- and middle-income families, said that in the fourth quart of 2014, the national unemployment rate for Whites was “within 1 percentage point of pre-recession levels, while the Black unemployment rate was 2.4 percentage points higher than it was at the end of 2007.”

The report also explained that, “True labor market improvements are more likely in those states experiencing both unemployment declines and increases in the share of workers employed,” also known as the employment-population ratio or EPOP ratio.

The study continued: “On the other hand, declining unemployment in those states without increasing shares of workers employed may suggest workers are simply dropping out of the labor force.”

Valerie Wilson, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy for EPI, analyzed 2014 data for the unemployment rate, the EPOP ratio, and the long-term unemployment rate, and said that using the unemployment rate to determine the health of the labor market may be overstating the progress of the economic recovery in the U.S.

“Between 2013 and 2014, the annual black unemployment rate declined most in Arkansas (6.5 percentage points), Indiana (4.6 percentage points), and Tennessee (3.6 percentage points). Of these, only Arkansas had a significantly higher Black employment- to-population ratio in 2014 (from 46.8 to 50.1 percent),” stated the EPI report. “Among states for which reliable estimates could be calculated, 15 states experienced a significant decline in the Black unemployment rate between 2013 and 2014 and in six of those states the Black EPOP increased. On the other hand, between 2013 and 2014 the Black unemployment rate significantly increased in Missouri (3.2 percentage points) and Wisconsin (4.8 percentage points).”

With a Black population of 6.5 percent, Wisconsin recorded the highest annual jobless rate for Blacks in the U.S. in 2014 (19.9 percent).

Paul Randus, a columnist for MarketWatch.com, said that Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin and a Republican presidential hopeful, is known nationally, “as the governor who eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions in Wisconsin – and then beat back a recall motion over it.”

Randus wrote, “The win further emboldened Walker,” and that the governor recently signed a “right to work bill” that economists say will chip away at labor union power in the state. The policies were supposed to spur job and business growth, but the governor has fallen almost 100,000 jobs short of his 2010 pledge to create 250,000 jobs during his first term.

The anti-union policies in Wisconsin are a big problem for both White and Black workers in the Badger State, said Wilson.

Even though, Black workers in Virginia (19.7 percent Black population) experienced the lowest annual Black jobless rate in 2014 at 8 percent, it was still, “higher than the highest White rate of 7 percent in Nevada,” stated the EPI report. In the fourth quarter of last year, the 11 percent Black unemployment rate was, “higher than the national unemployment rate at the peak of the recession (9.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009).”

The Black jobless rate is expected to dip to 10.4 percent, by the fourth quarter of 2015, but that’s nowhere near the pre-recession unemployment level, which was 8.6 percent.

“In 2014, long-term unemployment among African American workers (39.7 percent) was the highest of any racial or ethnic group, although it was down 3.7 percentage points from 2013,” stated the report. “Among states with a large enough sample size for reliable estimates, only three had significant declines in long-term unemployment between 2013 and 2014: North Carolina (14.4 percentage points), Florida (10 percentage points) and Texas (8.2 percentage points). In 2014, the highest shares of long-term unemployed black workers were in the District of Columbia (56.3 percent), Illinois (52.7 percent), Alabama (48.9 percent) and New Jersey (48.6 percent).” The U.S. economy added 126,000 jobs in March, far below analysts’ expectations, and the national unemployment rate was still 5.5 percent.

Wilson said that record-setting snow falls and cold temperatures suppressed hiring and demand consumption in March.

The Black jobless rate decreased from 10.4 percent in February to 10.1 percent in March, compared to the White unemployment rate, which was stagnant at 4.7 percent.

The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 years old decreased from 10.4 percent in February to 10 percent in March and the EPOP ratio also rose from 60.3 percent to 60.5 percent. The jobless rate for White men was 4.5 percent in February and 4.4 percent in March. The EPOP ratio was unchanged at 69.2 percent.

Wilson said that she will be keeping a close eye on the unemployment rate for Black women, which has increased over the last three months from 8.7 percent in January to 9.2 percent in February.

The EPOP ratio for Black women over 20 years old was 55.8 percent in March, the same mark recorded last month. The jobless rate for White women was 4.2 percent in February and March and the EPOP ratio was down 55.2 percent to 55 percent.

“The recovery has been moving at a less than optimal pace for the last five years, partly due to inadequate demand sufficient enough to drive job growth,” said Wilson. “We need strong job growth to continue beyond this year, if we’re going to see the Black unemployment rate drop significantly below 10 percent and get anywhere near what can be considered a recovery-level rate.”

S.C. Cop Charged with Shooting Black Man in Back

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By Barney Blakeney
Special to the NNPA from The Charleston Chronicle

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Leaders of local civil rights organizations had been taking a wait-and- see approach to the April 4 North Charleston police shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, but voiced concern that Scott was unarmed when he was shot and that police said Scott had run away from the officer attempting to arrest him. Officer Michael Slager was charged on Tuesday with murder after a video of the incident revealed he wantonly shot Scott in the back.

The video shows Slager drawing his service weapon and firing eight times as Scott runs away, eventually falling after the final round struck him.

“We’ve lost another Black man shot by the police,” North Charleston Branch NAACP President Ed Bryant said on Monday before the video’s existence was made public. “We have Ferguson right here,” he said alluding to the nationally protested police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson Mo.

Police had not released much information about the North Charleston incident. It was being investigated by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), which follows protocol in such incidents.

On Monday, North Charleston police said 33-year-old Michael Slager shot Scott after a traffic stop because of a faulty brake light. According to a police report made public Monday, Slager called for backup during a foot pursuit before saying he had deployed his taser. Later, however, he said shots had been fired and the suspect was down.

Scott was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS paramedics.

“My thing is Scott did not have to die,” Bryant said Monday. “I think it is the unwarranted killing of another Black man.”

North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers agreed.

In a statement delivered Tuesday afternoon, Driggers said the video obtained by the victim’s family that later was turned over to SLED revealed there was no struggle with Slager. It shows Scott running away from Slager and the officer drawing his weapon and firing at Scott’s back multiple times.

Initially, Slager claimeded that Scott had tried to wrestle the taser from him and use it against him before he shot Scott. Driggers said that version of the incident was proven to be inaccurate by the video that was recorded by a witness.

“Surely some questions must be answered,” said Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott Monday before the contents of the video was made public. “It makes no sense that the officer could get close enough to someone running away and fight over a taser and the man ends up dead. Tragically, another unarmed Black man has been shot by the police.”

S.C. National Action Network President James Johnson said he was present when the witness gave Scott’s family the video, but did not know what it showed. At the time, he agreed that a lot of questions remained unanswered. “We’re asking for transparency,” he said.

That request was met Tuesday. “I knew the tape was damaging although I didn’t know what was on it,” Johnson said after North Charleston police held the press conference to reveal the new development. “North Charleston police made a quick response and the right response,” he said. “The arrest was the right thing to do. Now we hope the solicitor will prosecute.”

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BVN National News Wire