“Today in America, 152 people will become infected with HIV. Half of them will be Black.”
The stark reality of this statement is brought to the forefront in “Endgame: AIDS in Black America,” a “Frontline” special presentation airing at 9 p.m. on July 10 on WHYY TV12.
Statistics show that every 10 minutes, someone in the U.S. contracts HIV, and of those individuals, half are Black. Thirty years after the discovery of the AIDS virus among gay white men, nearly half of the 1 million people in the United States infected with HIV are Black men, women and children.
The two-hour documentary explores “one of the country’s most urgent, preventable health crises. tracing the history of the epidemic through the experiences of extraordinary individuals who tell their stories; people like Nel, a 63-year-old grandmother who married a deacon in her church and later found an HIV diagnosis tucked in his Bible; Tom and Keith, survivors who were children born with the virus in the 1990s; and Jovanté, a high school football player who didn’t realize what HIV meant until it was too late.
The film also examines how fear and silence perpetuate the spread of the AIDS virus in the Black community. “Endgame” also brings to light the challenges faced by those who are born with the virus.
“AIDS is God’s curse to a homosexual life. I think it stinks in the nostrils of God,” one clergyman observes.
From Magic Johnson to civil rights pioneer Julian Bond, from pastors to health workers, people on the front lines tell moving stories of the battle to contain the spread of the virus, and the opportunity to finally turn the tide of the epidemic.
“I’m not cured, I’ve been taking my meds,” said basketball great Ervin “Magic” Johnson, who shocked the world when he announced that he was HIV-positive in 1991. “I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m living with the virus in my blood system and in my body.”
“We thought about AIDS as afflicting only white people, and then only gay white people,” said Julian Bond. “There were no gay black people.”
“Endgame: AIDS in Black America,” is directed, produced and written by Renata Simone, the producer of the 2006 award-winning “Frontline” series “The Age of AIDS.”
When the National Assessment of Educational Progress — commonly referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card” — was administered to 12,000 high school seniors last year, it became clear that when it comes to teaching the civil rights movement in America’s classrooms, there is a terrible disconnect.
Asked to describe the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas — which made it illegal to segregate schools — just two percent of the students were able to sufficiently answer the question.
A new study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Teaching the Movement,” found this type of ignorance rampant in schools across America. The study gives 35 states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, failing grades when it comes to teaching students about the Civil Rights Movement. The civil rights movement period is generally recognized to be from 1954 up to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
“An educated populace must be taught basics about American history,” said civil rights activist and former center president Julian Bond, in his preface to the report. ”One of these basics is the civil rights movement, a nonviolent revolution as important as the first American Revolution. It is a history that continues to shape the America we all live in today.”
“Schools across the entire state teach civil rights in detail,” said Tim Heller, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. “It has always been an area of emphasis in curriculums across Pennsylvania.”
In the SPLC’s evaluation, states were given a grade of F if they required less than 20 percent of the content recommended by the SPLC based on textbooks, existing curriculum and expert opinion. As an example, just 12 states require their schools to teach about Rosa Parks, largely viewed as the “Mother of the movement” for her 1955 refusal to sit in the back of a Montgomery, Ala., bus.
Pennsylvania scored 0; New Jersey notched 15 percent.
To receive and A, a state had to include at least 60 percent of the SPLC recommended content. Alabama, with 70 percent, received the highest grade. Also receiving an A were New York and Illinois, with scores of 65 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
In Philadelphia, a course in African American history, including the civil rights movement, is a graduation requirement.
This left some Pennsylvanians puzzled.
“It has been a part of our curriculum for a long time,” said School District of Philadelphia spokesperson Fernando Gallard. Gallard said that the school district’s policy of making the study of the civil rights movement mandatory has been in place for years, adding that he believed that Philadelphia was, for a long time, “the only large district” in the country where it was mandatory for graduation.
In New Jersey, a 2002 state law made it mandatory for African American history to be a part of the social studies curriculum. From the law sprang the Amistad Commission, which provides and promotes an African-American history curriculum, related teaching resources, professional developmental opportunities and grants.
“For too many students, their civil rights education boils down to two people and four words: Rosa Parks, Dr. King and ‘I have a dream,’” said Maureen Costello, SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance director. “When 43 states adopted Common Core Standards in English and math, they affirmed that rigorous standards were necessary for achievement. By having weak or non-existent standards for history, particularly for the civil rights movement, they are saying loud and clear that it isn’t something students need to learn.”
The SPLC said it issued the report to encourage a national conversation about the importance of teaching the civil rights movement. The report calls for states to include civil rights education in K-12 history and social studies curricula. It urges colleges and other organizations that train teachers to ensure that they are well prepared to teach it.
The report found that students in regions where the movement took place knew the most about the movement. It also determined that physical distance from the region where the movement took place – the south – also influenced the way it was taught.
“Region and proximity to the movement mean a lot,” Costello said.
In December 1969, the then head of the national NAACP, Roy Wilkins, joined with other top Black civil rights leaders and white civil liberties/equal rights leaders in condemning the police murder of Chicago Black Panther Party head Fred Hampton.
Last week Philadelphia’s NAACP head and a local Black filmmaker faced stiff criticism for their stances on a contentious local murder case containing a connection to that 1969 Hampton slaying — a blood-soaked fatality that later congressional investigations and court proceedings determined was a FBI-aided assassination.
That criticism erupted during a tense Q-&-A session following a screening of “Barrel of a Gun” the latest film by Tigre Hill.
Hill’s film purports to provide irrefutable proof that acclaimed Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal brutally murdered a Philadelphia policeman in December 1981.
Hill sees no problems with Abu-Jamal’s 1982 murder conviction feeling Abu-Jamal is properly serving life in prison following removal of his death sentence last fall.
Hill, Philadelphia/Pennsylvania NAACP president Jerry Mondesire and attorney/activist Michael Coard were panelists on a program following the “Barrel” screening at the International House.
Hill and Mondesire said their investigations — conducted separately — convinced each of Abu-Jamal’s guilt.
Mondesire, The Philadelphia Sunday Sun newspaper publisher, said he conducted his investigation after Abu-Jamal refused his request to tell “what happened” when incarcerated Abu-Jamal asked to write for The Sun in the early 1990s.
Attorney Coard, however, said his investigations of all court transcripts and court filings in this controversial case convinced him that Abu-Jamal was both legally not guilty and factually innocent. Coard called Hill’s film “a great work of fiction.”
Hill’s documentary pushes the unsubstantiated theory that Abu-Jamal’s hatred of police, developed during Abu-Jamal’s 17-month, teenaged membership in the Black Panther Party, triggered his killing Officer Daniel Faulkner on 12/9/81 — 12 years after Abu-Jamal voluntarily left the BPP.
That “Barrel” title of Hill’s film comes from a response Abu-Jamal made to a Philadelphia newspaper reporter in January 1970 when Abu-Jamal, then a 15-year-old BPP member, told the reporter that Hampton’s murder during a midnight Chicago police raid provided proof that power comes from the barrel of a gun.
Abu-Jamal used that power-from-gun quote for emphasizing how police were killing BPP members nationwide to destroy the BPP — an organization founded partly to confront rampant police brutality against Blacks.
That quote came from Mao Tse-tung, the communist founder of contemporary China. Hill’s film harps on Mao being a prime influence driving Abu-Jamal’s radical behaviors.
That police campaign to slay BPP members — 28 deaths between January 1968 and December 1969 — is what outraged leaders like the NAACP’s Wilkins and former U.S. United Nations Ambassador Arthur Goldberg.
During Abu-Jamal’s 1982 murder trial the prosecutor perverted that power-gun remark, shifting from Abu-Jamal applying it to police killing Black Panthers to proclaiming Abu-Jamal’s intent to kill police — one of many factual mischaracterizations that millions worldwide constantly cite when charging Abu-Jamal received an unfair trial.
During last week’s tense Q-&-A audience members assailed Hill for his one-sided depiction of Panthers as crazed cop killers without referencing any campaigns to kill Panthers like the FBI’s COINTELPRO later exposed as operative in Hampton’s murder.
Hill’s film portrays police as victims without referencing police brutality historically victimizing Blacks.
That brutality problem still persists including in Philadelphia — a problem Mondesire raised when deflecting audience criticism by rightly praising the local NAACP for constantly filing lawsuits against “police brutality.”
Less than six months before Hampton’s murder the Chicago Black Police Officer’s Association blasted the Chicago Police Department for conducting “racial genocide against Black people” through brutal beatings, fatal shootings and false arrests.
Eighteen years before that 1969 Chicago Black police condemnation an interracial group filed a petition with the United Nations charging the U.S. government with committing “Genocide” against Blacks.
That petition listed “the policeman’s bullet” as the new form of lynching. Two of the first eight police brutality cases cited in that 1951 petition came from Philadelphia.
In 1969, the NAACP’s Wilkins dismissed Chicago police explanations defending their Hampton killing as “not even plausible.”
Last week attorney Coard and audience critics lambasted Hill for his film’s implausible construction omitting evidence questioning Abu-Jamal’s guilt.
One example is Hill using former Philadelphia Police Inspector Alfonzo Giordano as his film’s featured expert on Abu-Jamal crime without revealing Giordano’s corruption conviction and/or emphasizing Giordano’s intimate involvement in the two-tiered emergence of Abu-Jamal’s alleged confession.
The confession prosecutors used during Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial suspiciously surfaced during a Police Department investigation into Abu-Jamal’s charge that Giordano beat him at the crime scene.
Mondesire drew fire from audience members by declaring the national NAACP had “never taken a position” on Abu-Jamal’s case during his pre-Q-&-A panel presentation.
Audience critics produced resolutions adopted at NAACP annual national conventions supporting investigations into Abu-Jamal’s disputed conviction and statements by former NAACP board chairman Julian Bond supporting Abu-Jamal.
Mondesire, responding to those critics, said he said the NAACP never picked up the Abu-Jamal case as a “major matter.”
Filmmaker Hill, under questioning from panel moderator Annette John-Hall, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, grudgingly admitted that Philly’s police union initially refused to assist him believing he was pro-Abu-Jamal simply because he is Black.
Racism evidenced by police-prosecutorial and judicial misconduct against Abu-Jamal, while dismissed by appellate courts and many like Philadelphia’s first Black DA Seth Williams, fuels doubts worldwide about Abu-Jamal’s guilt.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
Speak no ill of the dead. So goes a saying from ancient Greece. I must beg for an exception in the case of the late Andrew Breitbart. Like Donald Trump, Breitbart had his sweet and gentle side, but that’s not what made him interesting.
The Internet news entrepreneur and right-wing political activist, who I interviewed several times, died Thursday, March 1 of a heart attack at age 43. He leaves a mixed legacy. When his self-described “citizen journalism” got the story right, he demonstrated the Web’s ability to empower people previously frozen out of the mainstream media spotlight. When he got the story wrong, he showed how much more responsibility the new Information Age puts on news consumers to figure out when they’re being informed and when they’re being bamboozled.
Breitbart made himself matter by using the Web with a frat-boy zest to drive a conservative message and embarrass liberal targets. Most prominent was Rep. Anthony Weiner. The New York Democrat was driven out of office when his Twitter-tweeted cheesecake photos of himself were revealed on Breitbart’s news sites.
Breitbart’s biggest coup was to take down ACORN, an alliance of community development organizations in poor neighborhoods. Over his websites and Fox News, the rising Web mogul publicized the videos of James O’Keefe, a young conservative who visited ACORN offices posing as a pimp. The videos appeared to show ACORN staffers advising O’Keefe in ways to best report income from child prostitutes on his tax returns. At least some of O’Keefe’s videos later proved to be bogus, cleverly edited to give a false appearance of illegal activity. But by then ACORN had lost its federal support and reputation and closed up shop.
Sometimes Breitbart used his money and his media merely to make a point in an activist style that would have made old-school yellow journalists smile. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus charged that tea party protesters had called them “the N-word” near the Capitol in March 2010. Breitbart offered a reward of $100,000 to be donated to the United Negro College Fund if anyone produced video and audio evidence that the charge was true. No one claimed the money, and Breitbart claimed victory.
Episodes like these left him loved or reviled, depending on your point of view. The ill-speaking after his death was robust in the Twitter universe with various off-color ways to deliver expressions of “good riddance” and less-printable send-offs.
Shocked? Many see it as payback for Breitbart’s own memorial tweets of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, whom he called a “villain” and “a special pile of human excrement.” Civility was not always a big deal for Andrew.
By comparison, former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond’s post-mortem comment that he emailed to me, among other acquaintances, sounds almost mild: “The death of Andrew Breitbart,” he wrote, “disproves the adage that only the good die young.”
The civil rights community has bitter memories of a story Breitbart got wrong, the video he posted of Shirley Sherrod, an Agriculture Department official, because she appeared to be advocating anti-white racism at an NAACP conference. When the entire speech was viewed, it turned out to be quite the opposite, a poignant plea against racism of any kind.
To me, it was a lesson for Breitbart and other new-age journalists: Respect old-school media values like accuracy and accountability, despite your skepticism about old-school media. Our first mission, whether in old or new media, is to help clear up the public’s confusion, not add to it.
Yet an unapologetic Breitbart was determined to rewrite the traditional standards of accountability, too. When we last talked a few months back, he still wanted an apology from the Black caucus, but remained unapologetic about his own unfairness to Sherrod. Instead he was trying to sell me on his new suspicions about her long-time activism to win back payments from the Department of Agriculture for Black farmers. I listened politely, but he had a lot more suspicions than evidence. Journalism can be frustrating.
At least Sherrod, whose defamation suit against Breitbart is still working its way through the courts, spoke no ill of the dead. In a statement, she sent her prayers and condolences to Breitbart’s family. So do I.
Each year, street corner payday loans strip consumers of $4.5 billion. Now, at least four large banks joining the ranks of those offering one of the most predatory products sold to unsuspecting consumers. Banks like Wells Fargo, US, Regions and Fifth Third are all offering their checking account customers payday loans that typically require full repayment within 10 days with interest rates of 360 percent or higher.
Due to federal bank regulation, these payday loans, sometimes called ‘advance deposit loans’, circumvent state rate cap laws in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Further, as banks repay these loans from funds already on deposit in checking accounts, borrowers run the risk of running short of money for other living expenses as well as incurring overdraft fees. Under fee-based overdraft systems, transactions made when available funds are insufficient will result in an average fee of $35 per transaction.
For banks, the ability to take funds automatically to repay loans means it is a winning proposition. But for consumers, every loan renewal means another fee and a longer stretch of high-cost debt. And some banks have practices that lead to account closure when low or modest balances result in frequent overdrafts.
Fortunately, there are African-American leaders who are standing up and speaking out on the ills of payday and bank payday loans.
According to Julian Bond, former NAACP Chairman, “A drive through minority neighborhoods clearly indicates that people of color regardless of income are a target for legalized extortion. Payday lending is an economic drain that threatens the livelihoods of hardworking families and strips wealth from entire communities.”
The Rev. Frederick Haynes, senior pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, has also spoken against payday lending. “Storefront payday lenders are more common than fast food restaurants — especially in my church’s neighborhood” said Pastor Haynes. “There are 20 payday loan stores within a five-mile radius on my church. As a pastor and community activist, I have personally seen how quick cash payday loans wind up placing borrowers in financial debt shackles.”
Speaking directly to the ills of bank payday loans, Haynes added, “This practice of lending is especially troubling when one considers that banks, according to the Federal Reserve, are able to receive loans with interest rates of less than one percent.”
Haynes’ observation is one worth expanding. Courtesy of the federal government, banks get loan rates near zero percent interest. These banks then loan funds to payday lenders at competitive market rates. Then these lenders offer consumers interest rates of 360 percent or more. When banks enter the payday loan market, they eliminate the middle lender and reap all the profits for the institution with the same triple-digit rates charged consumers.
Legal? Not by some state consumer protections; but unfortunately, we need strong federal action to stop this abuse and level the lending field for all consumers.
There’s nothing wrong with a business making an honest profit. But there’s something seriously wrong with price-gouging interest rates for customers needing a small-dollar loan. — (NNPA)
A crisp fall forecast of mostly sunny skies near 70 degrees seemed to give the atmospheric green light for the formal dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial scheduled for Sunday. It was a clear contrast to the confusion and insufferable sadness of the last round when Hurricane Irene’s tempest dropped in like a tear-jerking Greek tragedy, leaving behind ruined festivities that had been planned as one of the year’s most memorable.
But, this time around, the abrupt injection of high wind and chilly air, mixed with a weekend of worldwide “Occupy” protests only blocks away, was a stark reminder of the complicated political dynamics surrounding the Sunday event. Perhaps it was fitting that the Memorial dedication, a gala event showcasing performances and readings by Nikki Giovanni, Aretha Franklin, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Jennifer Holliday and others, was preceded by a wave of global protests spanning from New York to Seoul, South Korea on Saturday. King, after all, was the true embodiment of civil disobedience and massive protest, hence the reason for a monument on the Washington, D.C. Tidal Basin in the first place.
The spirit of King, however, appeared to hold no punches the past couple of months, perhaps reminding Memorial planners and fans that there was still much work to do and uncertainty to sort out. Some 43 years after the legendary civil rights leader’s untimely death, there was the matter of a continued financial meltdown, a decimated Black middle-class, official Black unemployment at nearly 20% (or higher in some places) and paralyzing legislative gridlock in Washington that was giving the battle over civil rights a run for its money.
“[The] dedication will be a wonderful way to celebrate the life, the dream, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Memorial President and CEO Harry E. Johnson, Sr. told reporters earlier in the week. “Although our plans have been scaled back, I am confident Sunday’s event will be momentous for all who tune in from across the country and around the world to witness this long-awaited moment in our nation’s history.”
Johnson may have been all gleaming teeth and nervously wiping sweat from his brow this week, relieved that a reported $4 million fundraising gap was closed prior to dedication of the $120 million memorial. Now, it would all fall in place, with a mass pilgrimage of dignitaries and celebrities converging on D.C. once again, many coming back to the nation’s capitol only a few weeks after showing up for the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Conference (a scheduling redundancy that some critics felt could have been resolved had the Memorial and CBC Foundations made adjustments to hold the dedication then).
But, there was the ongoing battle over the “I was a drum major for justice” inscription on the monument. Poet Maya Angelou balked over what she characterized as “arrogance” in the tone of it, a controversy in which monument organizers came short of calling Angelou – a legendary Jedi-like master of the written word – petty. Yet, Angelou’s call for a retraction and fix was enough to prompt Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to talk with National Park Service officials about what it would take to modify the quote given that the issue of cost may have been one real reason for the pushback.
“Designing monuments is a tricky business,” observes Reed College History Professor Margot Minardi. “The ‘monumental’ and the ‘historical’ are two different ways of bringing the past into the present. The monumental seeks to unify, while the historical often threatens to divide. Monuments aim to fix a certain interpretation of the past—and thus a certain present identity—in the minds of all visitors. Monument-building has long been the prerogative of the powerful. But how do you design a monument to a man who spoke truth to power?”
That controversy, however, shrunk in comparison to the palpable tension and sniping between the nation’s first Black president and the veritable league of Black politicians know as the CBC.
Some observers were hoping the memorial ceremony could bridge what is being described as a gaping divide between President Obama, speaking at the dedication, and many African American politicos, underscored by tension that is typical for any reelection bid in 2012. Many had wondered what tone the president would take in his memorial dedication speech: would it be a continuation of the combative stance he’s adopted over the past month in pushing his American Jobs Act, considering King was very much focused on economic inequality? Or, would it be a repeat of the tough love “self responsibility” message that some critics argue is dropped a bit too much as there is a growing perception from others in Black political circles that the President is too hard on his national Black family?
“Treat him as you would any other president,” former NAACP Chair Julian Bond was quoted as saying in POLITICO. “None in my lifetime has totally satisfied me.”
There is an uncomfortable sense that this particular president won’t address many of the concerns over high unemployment, poverty and other disparities. The White House begs to differ, with one top Democratic official noting that “there are those things that the president has, quietly, done for Black folks that he gets little credit for. But, with Republicans on his back and the question of whether or not many White voters will re-elect him hovering over his head, it’s not like he’s going to publicize a lot of that.”
While that may be recognition of political realities, it will probably do little to soothe the bruised egos of aging civil rights leaders who feel scorned by the obvious generational gap between them and the younger President Obama.
Many observers, however, believe the President is simply borrowing from historic “call-and-response” tactics employed by Black preachers to mobilize African American congregations into action. “Most Black people are ready for a good fighting song and kick in the butt,” argues Hiram College political science professor and Politic365.com Chief Political Correspondent Jason Johnson. “They want it, they need it and they want to see a fire breathing, bible quoting president telling them he’s kicking down the door waving the .44 with [House Speaker] Boehner saying ‘Bama don’t hit me no more. Some members of the Black political community, however, are a bit less receptive to this. They’ve transcended the common masses, and are insulted to get the same types of speeches and exhortations that have motivated the African American community for generations.”