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Parents of unsolved homicide victims rally for change

Yullio Robbins longed for a son. She had five daughters and prayed to have a boy. Finally, she had her first son, James Walke III. But on Friday, Robbins stood in front of a crowd at City Hall wearing a black shirt memorializing Walke. On Feb. 23, 2016, her son was heading out of the house, but for some reason, he came back twice to tell his mom bye, and he loved her. He was killed that day in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.

“I wear this shirt, not with pride. I wear it because my heart aches for my son. He was murdered,” Robbins said. “He (the shooter) stood over top of my baby, shot 12 bullets. I got a terrible call at 1:30 in the afternoon,” she said.

Walke, 28 at the time of his death, left behind a pair of sons who are now 15 and 14 years old, and nobody has solved his murder five years later.

“We’ve got to do something,” Robbins said. “I’m not blaming anybody but the communities. I’m not blaming the police. Us as communities need to get together. We need to go out into the neighborhoods. I’m out in the neighborhoods all the time, but I need help,” she said.

Stanley Crawford remembers every excruciating detail from the morning of Sept. 8, 2018, when his daughter frantically called him and said his son William had been shot.

“I see my son’s blood from the gunshot to his right temple, his right cheek and chest, splattered on the ground,” Crawford said.

William was 35 and his killer was never arrested.

“Every murder is real. But every murder affects more than the person that was murdered,” Crawford said. “When they killed my son, they killed a relationship, me and his relationship, his mother, everybody that was related to him no longer had that relationship.”

According to the Office of the City Controller’s gun violence database, of Thursday there have been 397 homicides in Philadelphia this year, 18% higher than in 2020 at the same point.

This weekend coincides with the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, which has been observed every year on Sept. 25 since 2007.

Friday afternoon, several parents who lost children to homicide gathered in front of City Hall to call for change and plead for help solving the murder cases of their children. This was in partnership with the Peace Not Guns Faith-Based Coalition’s Call for Justice Rally.

City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, chair of Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, worked with on the coalition's rally to support the families of murdered gun victims throughout Philadelphia and provide them with a voice.

“Philadelphia is at a crisis point when it comes to the number of people being shot and the number of people being killed,” Johnson, D-2nd District, said.

Cheryl Pedro said she wakes up sick to her stomach on Monday mornings. Every week, Mondays remind her that her 34-year-old son Mario was murdered on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015.

“My son has been dead almost seven years. Nobody is calling me saying anything. Enough is enough,” Pedro said. “Put the guns down, and I don’t have my boy anymore because people think this is the wild, wild West.”

Bishop James Darnell Robinson of Yesha Ministries in South Philadelphia is tired of seeing young men being eulogized.

“I began to think about this level of victimization and how deep it runs because the problem is so much deeper than what we understand. Because the culprits, the ones that are perpetrating these crimes, are also victims,” Robinson said. “They’re growing up in communities, and they’re in environments that are raising them up and that are conducive for the kind of behaviors that are happening.”

He said he believes the community environment makes people more prone to pick up guns when all they hear in music and see on their blocks is violence.

“But we can’t play the blame game. And the reason we can’t play the blame game is that we can all do better. Police can do better; politicians can do better; preachers and pastors and priests and prophets can all do better. So I think that we’ve got to communicate a different message,” Robinson said.

Annual event offers high-schoolers insight to HBCU experience

High school students who are interested in attending historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) will have the opportunity to experience the academic offerings, history and pride of the colleges and universities through a week-long series of events.

HBCU week, which opened on Sunday and runs to Oct. 3, will have events virtually and in-person in Wilmington, Delaware.

Twenty HBCUs will participate in events in-person and 54 HBCUs will participate virtually. There are 104 HBCUs nationwide.

“Our goal with HBCU week is to provide Black and Brown students the chance to experience what life is like at an HBCU, a clear path to enrollment, scholarships and the connections to confidently own their power throughout their careers,” said Ashley Christopher, founder and CEO of the HBCU Week Foundation Inc.

“As a double HBCU alumna, I know firsthand that culture and community played an integral part in growing confidence and helped me find and amplify my voice as a Black woman,” she added.

Christopher, who is an alumna of Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C., came up with the idea of an HBCU event for students after a conversation with Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki.

“In 2017, I was employed under Mayor Mike,” Christopher said. “He asked me to come up with some programming for Wilmington’s most underserved communities. I immediately thought of HBCUs.

“We started out with just one event, which was the HBCU college fair,” she added. “The success of the college fair eventually led to us having an HBCU Week. While the program is no longer under the mayor’s office and is now under my nonprofit, I’m grateful to Mayor Mike for supporting my vision from day one.”

Among the many highlights of the week is the in-person and virtual 5th Annual College Fair in which students have the chance to meet with HBCU recruiters from across the country and earn on-the-spot acceptances and scholarships.

Last year’s college fair delivered 803 on-the-spot acceptances and $7.3 million in scholarships, including 226 partial and 44 full-ride offers.

Since 2017, the college fair has resulted in more than 3,000 on-the-spot college acceptances and more than $12 million in scholarships awarded by HBCUs.

This year’s fair includes a variety of corporate partners including Barclays and the city of Wilmington.

“If you’re a graduating senior and you come with your SAT or ACT score and your transcript, then you could be accepted into college on the spot,” Christopher said.

“We have additional scholarship money from our corporate partners this year,” she added. “In addition to what the HBCU offers students due to their SAT scores and transcripts, we will have an additional $6.6 million in scholarships coming directly from our corporate partners.”

HBCU Week will also include a 5K run/walk, a middle school college tour of Delaware State University (DSU), a panel discussion featuring DSU President Tony Allen along with other HBCU alums and advocates, a Battle of the Bands with North Carolina Central University, Winston Salem State University and DSU, an R&B concert featuring rapper Wale and singer Queen Naija, and a comedy show hosted by comedian and HBCU alumna Wanda Sykes.

“There are three events that require tickets including the R&B concert, the comedy show, and battle of the bands,” Christopher said. “All of the other events are free, but do require registration. We’re following the COVID protocol that our governor has mandated in Delaware and we’re following the CDC guidelines.

“The events taking place indoors require the signing of a waiver to either certify you’re vaccinated or have recently tested negative for COVID,” she added. “We will also have 20,000 masks and 20,000 mini bottles of hand sanitizer to hand out to people coming to the events.”

In the future, Christopher said she hopes to take the HBCU Week on the road.

“Our week-long events attract more than 20,000 people and we want to translate that same experience across the country to students everywhere,” Christopher said. “Our plan is to make this available to students in every region every year.”

Christopher said that what she wants students to take away from the HBCU Week is the opportunities.

“I want students to know that HBCUs are not second-grade institutions,” Christopher said. “They continue to graduate some of the best and brightest talent every year from Kamala Harris and Stephen A. Smith to Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Martin Luther King.

“The list goes on and on of all the invaluable people that have graduated from HBCUs and have made a significant impact on the world,” she added. “I just want the students to know that you can do and be anything coming from an HBCU.”

For more information about HBCU week visit www.hbcuweek.org.

Haitians see history of racist policies in migrant treatment

The images — men on horseback with long reins, corralling Haitian asylum seekers trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico — provoked an outcry. But to many Haitians and Black Americans, they’re merely confirmation of a deeply held belief:

U.S. immigration policies, they say, are and have long been anti-Black.

The Border Patrol’s treatment of Haitian migrants, they say, is just the latest in a long history of discriminatory U.S. policies and of indignities faced by Black people, sparking new anger among Haitian Americans, Black immigrant advocates and civil rights leaders.

They point to immigration data that indicate Haitians and other Black migrants routinely face structural barriers to legally entering or living in the U.S. — and often endure disproportionate contact with the American criminal legal system that can jeopardize their residency or hasten their deportation.

Haitians, in particular, are granted asylum at the lowest rate of any nationality with consistently high numbers of asylum seekers, according to an analysis of data by The Associated Press.

“Black immigrants live at the intersection of race and immigration and, for too long, have fallen through the cracks of red tape and legal loopholes,” said Yoliswa Cele, director of narrative and media at the UndocuBlack Network, a national advocacy organization for currently and formerly undocumented Black people.

“Now through the videos capturing the abuses on Haitians at the border, the world has now seen for itself that all migrants seeking a better tomorrow aren’t treated equal when skin color is involved.”

Between 2018 and 2021, only 4.62% of Haitian asylum seekers were granted asylum by the U.S. — the lowest rate among 84 groups for whom data is available. Asylum seekers from the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, have a similarly low rate of 5.11%.

By comparison, four of the five top U.S. asylum applicants are from Latin American countries — El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras. Their acceptance rates range from 6.21% to 14.12%.

Nicole Phillips, legal director for the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said racism has long driven the American government’s treatment of Haitian immigrants.

Phillips, whose organization is on the ground helping Haitians in Texas, says this dates back to the early 1800s, when Haitian slaves revolted and gained independence from France, and has continued through decades of U.S. intervention and occupation in the small island nation.

She said the U.S., threatened by the possibility of its own slaves revolting, both assisted the French and didn’t recognize Haitian independence for nearly six decades. The U.S. also loaned money to Haiti so that it could, in essence, buy its independence, collecting interest payments while plunging the country into poverty for decades.

“This mentality and stigma against Haitians stems all the way back to that period,” Phillips said.

The U.S. violently occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and backed former Haiti dictator Francois Duvalier, whose oppressive regime resulted in 30,000 deaths and drove thousands to flee.

While the U.S. long treated Cubans with compassion — largely because of opposition to the Communist regime — the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton took a hard line on Haitians. And the Trump administration ended Temporary Protected Status for several nationalities, including Haitians and Central Americans.

Over and over, the U.S. has passed immigration legislation that excluded Black immigrants and Haitians, and promoted policies that unfairly jeopardized their legal status in the country, advocates said.

When they manage to enter the U.S., Black immigrants say they contend with systemic racism in the American criminal legal system and brutality of U.S. policing that has been endemic for people from across the African diaspora.

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a national racial justice and immigrant rights group, largely defines Black immigrants as people from nations in Africa and the Caribbean. By that definition, AP’s analysis of 2019 Department of Homeland Security data found 66% of Black immigrants deported from the U.S were removed based on criminal grounds, as opposed to 43% of all immigrants.

Nana Gyamfi, BAJI’s executive director, said crimes of moral turpitude, including petty theft or turnstile jumping, have been used as partial justification for denying Black immigrants legal status. “We have people getting deported because of train fare,” she said.

Leaders within the Movement for Black Lives, a national coalition of Black-led racial justice and civil rights organizations, have pointed to the treatment of Haitians at the border as justification for their broader demands for defunding law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

Last year, following the police killing of George Floyd, the coalition proposed sweeping federal legislation known as the BREATHE Act, which includes calls to end immigration detention, stop deportations due to contact with the criminal legal system, and ensure due process within the immigration court system.

“A lot of times in the immigration debate, Black people are erased and Black immigrants are erased from the conversation,” said Amara Enyia, a policy researcher for the Movement for Black Lives.

Ahead of a Thursday tour of the migrant encampment in Texas, civil rights leaders called for an investigation into the treatment of Black migrants at the border and for an immediate end to the deportation of Black asylum seekers.

The camp is “a catastrophic and human disgrace,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said after an hourlong tour with several Black American leaders in Del Rio. “We will keep coming back, as long as is necessary.”

At the border and in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where hundreds had already been sent on flights from the U.S., Haitians said there was no doubt that race played a major part in their mistreatment.

“They are grabbing people, they bother us, especially Haitians because they identify us by skin,” said Jean Claudio Charles who, with his wife and year-old son, had been staying in an encampment on the Mexico side near Texas out of fear of arrest and deportation to Haiti.

Claude Magnolie, a Haitian citizen removed from the U.S. this week, said he didn’t see Border Patrol agents treating migrants of other nationalities the way he and others were treated: “This is discrimination, that is how I call it, they are treating us very badly.”

And in Miami, immigrant rights advocate Francesca Menes couldn’t believe her eyes as she watched images of the asylum seekers being corralled by men on horseback.

“My family is under that bridge,” Menes said, referring to a cousin, his wife and their newborn who recently met up in a small border town in Texas. It took Menes’ cousin two months to make the trek from Chile, where he had been living with his brothers for three years to escape Haiti’s political tumult, violence and devastation.

“It made me sick,” Menes said. “This didn’t happen with unaccompanied minors. You didn’t see people riding on horseback, basically herding people like they were cattle, like they were animals.”

Menes’ outrage has only grown, as have her fears for her family. When she overheard her mother on the phone with family members this week, Menes said she wanted nothing more than to tell them to return to Chile.

“We’ve actually tried to discourage our families,” she said. “People are looking for a better life. And we try to kind of ground our families: Do you know what it means to be Black in America?”

Dr. Ala Stanford to be honored by Points of Light

Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, is receiving more national recognition for her commitment to serving Philadelphia’s most vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Stanford will be honored with The George H.W. Bush Points of Light Award during a live event Tuesday at New York’s Cipriani’s.

“The Points of Light organization was founded by President George H. Bush Sr. and his description of Points of Light were volunteer individuals and organizations all across our nation that were giving of their service to make this world literally a better place,” Stanford said during a news conference Friday at Deliverance Evangelistic Church in North Philadelphia.

“It’s truly an honor to be able to be alongside the other awardees. I’m excited and humbled and it forces us to pause because we are continually working and allows us to acknowledge the work we do as we serve others,” she said.

Stanford will join Hugh Evans, co-founder and CEO of Global Citizen; Francine A. LeFrak, founder of the Francine A. LeFrak Foundation and the Same Sky Foundation Fund; and Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in being honored by the Points of Light. The event will be hosted by ABC Live anchor Linsey Davis and will feature appearances by Dr. Anthony Fauci, John Legend, Dana Perino and Usher Raymond.

“Points of Light is honored to recognize the impact of Dr. Ala Stanford, her leadership, vision and tireless efforts to meet the most pressing needs of Philadelphians throughout the global pandemic,” Natalye Paquin, president/CEO of Points of Light, said in statement. “Her desire to care for people and her actions demonstrate the true power of the human spirit, bringing great light in a time fraught with darkness.”

Stanford founded the BDCC in response to the disproportionate number of African Americans being diagnosed with and dying from the coronavirus in Philadelphia and the lack of swift intervention to mitigate disease spread.

To date, BDCC has tested more than 25,000 patients and vaccinated over 52,000 Philadelphians.

Stanford also spoke about the BDCC’s plans to administer Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots to eligible populations as of Saturday.

On Thursday, a panel of CDC advisers voted against vaccine boosters for frontline workers and others with higher risks of infection in their workplaces, but CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky disagreed. Her decision cleared booster shots for people in high risk and institutional settings and other groups.

“I think it was a courageous stance to take, particularly when we have a protocol, we have a process but sometimes it takes a person to say this is what’s needed right now,” Stanford said.

“In essence, what she said for health care workers that are out testing people for coronavirus, that are administering coronavirus vaccines like the BDCC, the people who are working in hospitals that are overrun, ICUs that are filled to capacity with people that have coronavirus disease — she is saying that we want you to have this booster because we know it provides an additional layer of protection.”

The CDC announced that booster shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can now be officially administered to certain U.S. adults. The CDC recommends boosters for older adults, long-term care facility residents, some people with underlying health conditions and adults at increased risk of COVID-19 because of their jobs.

“Our plans about administering the booster shot is first to make the message ridiculously clear because it’s very muddy right now,” Stanford said.

“We need folks to understand that the current booster that was approved last night was for Pfizer boosters only. Even though you may be 65 and you received Moderna, right now you cannot get a Moderna booster. That has not been approved.”

She said the only people who can receive a Moderna booster shot now are those approved on Aug. 13, which includes cancer patients, transplant patients, people on chronic steroids and those with autoimmune diseases and immunosuppressive conditions such as cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis and HIV.

Stanford addressed the issue of vaccine hesitancy and its impact on the spread of the coronavirus.

“We still have about 75% of Americans who are still vaccinated and 25% who are not,” she said. “I should reinforce that in Pennsylvania, the latest data shows that 94% of those who have coronavirus disease are unvaccinated, 95% of those who are hospitalized are unvaccinated and 97% of those who died from coronavirus disease are unvaccinated, and those are facts.”

The push to encourage people to become vaccinated comes as officials are preparing for the possibility of a winter surge.

“Right now I believe that there is a race between the variants and the vaccines and right now we are about neck-and-neck and if we can get some of those 25% to get us closer to 80% we’ll be in a better place,” Stanford said.

“The longer people go unvaccinated, the more variants have the opportunity to develop, to become more virulent, more powerful, more infectious and more deadly and that’s what people not getting vaccinated is doing.”

She’s been working to provide education and answer questions about the vaccines by having personal conversations and conferences with individuals, employers, school district employees and vocational/tech high schools.

Stanford highlighted BDCC’s plans to open a primary care clinic in October that will focus on addressing health disparities. The clinic called the Dr. Stanford Center for Health Equity will be located at Deliverance.

The organization was spurred to launch a center after realizing that the community’s needs went beyond what was being offered at its vaccination clinics.

“In the last year and a half what we have recognized is that people need us not just to give out flu and COVID vaccines and tests,” Stanford said. “People were coming to us and saying, can you look at my labs? Can you look at these instructions with this new medication? Do you think I should take it?”

She said there wasn’t enough time to address those issues during the mass vaccination clinics so the consortium decided to open a new center funded by donations.

“We basically decided that for all the money that has been donated and given to reinvest it into the community because the need is great and our desire to serve is strong,” Stanford said.

“As long as they need us we will plan to be here but we cannot go back to the health inequity and disparities that were present, and the pandemic exposed that in no other way like anything has done in history. So we are changing that narrative by providing preventative care and for it to be a one-stop shop.”