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Charleston Chronicle

At Black Colleges, the Baseball Teams Increasingly Aren’t

CHARLESTON CHRONICLE — Before each game, Clarence Carter III glances across the diamond as the opposing team warms up. He peeks in the dugout, scans the outfield and takes inventory around the infield during batting practice, counting how many African-Americans he can spot on the other team.

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 By Black PR Wire

Before each game, Clarence Carter III glances across the diamond as the opposing team warms up. He peeks in the dugout, scans the outfield and takes inventory around the infield during batting practice, counting how many African-Americans he can spot on the other team.

This is not an unusual drill for African-Americans playing in the major leagues, where their numbers have dwindled in recent decades, or in the similarly exclusive world of youth travel baseball.

But what makes this exercise striking is that Carter, a junior infielder at Bethune-Cookman University, plays for — and often against — one of America’s historically black colleges.

“It did catch me by surprise; I’m not going to lie,” said Carter, who transferred to Bethune-Cookman from a community college in Fullerton, Calif. “I would have thought coming to an H.B.C.U. there would be more black people, but things aren’t always what you expect.”

While baseball’s struggles to attract African-American talent and fans are well documented, the depth of the issue comes into sharper relief for teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, a group of historically black colleges and universities stretching from Maryland to Florida. At each of the nine MEAC colleges that compete in baseball, the baseball teams often feature more white and Latino players than African-Americans.

Consider the standard-bearer for the conference, Bethune-Cookman, which has won 19 MEAC championships and plays its home games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, the same field where Robinson first suited up for a game after signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers. At times this season, the Wildcats have not started a single African-American player.

There is a litany of reasons African-Americans have turned away from baseball, including the decimation of youth programs in areas where there historically have been large African-American communities and the sport’s ballooning costs — both for equipment (a top-shelf aluminum bat runs about $325) and exposure (participating on travel teams can cost thousands of dollars a year).

Billy Hawkins, a University of Houston professor who has written extensively on race and college sports, said young black athletes have become less likely to gravitate toward baseball because they — and their parents — have an easier time envisioning success in football and basketball. The numbers reflect that: African-Americans comprised 7.8 percent of opening day roster spots in the majors this year, down from the peak of 18.7 percent in 1981.

“Major League Baseball hasn’t developed a cultural relevance similar to those other leagues,” Hawkins said of the N.B.A. and N.F.L. “These other leagues have prospered in attracting black players, but also having a blackness like you’d talk about in music or dress. For some reason, M.L.B. hasn’t evolved similarly.”

To stay competitive, H.B.C.U.s have had to cast a wider net. Lynn Thompson, the athletic director at Bethune-Cookman since 1990, said he saw the start of the decline of baseball growing up in Daytona Beach in the late 1960s; in neighborhoods where his friends once rode their bikes to play sandlot ball, redevelopment paved over ball fields in favor of basketball courts and parking lots.

Bethune-Cookman began recruiting out of Florida’s deep pool of Latino players early on, and Thompson said that he has given the same marching orders each time he hires a baseball coach, something he did for the sixth time last August.

“We just happen to be historically black; we’re not exclusively black,” Thompson said. “Our job is to tell the great story of Bethune-Cookman through the lives of these great kids who wear our uniforms, wherever they come from and whatever they look like.”

This is a complicated stance, and it has drawn criticism. It is not unusual for H.B.C.U. football teams to recruit white kickers or punters, or to look farther afield to fill out their tennis and golf teams. But baseball can strike a different chord, particularly because of the legacy of the Negro Leagues and Robinson’s stature as a civil rights icon.

“We’ve taken some heat from some people,” Thompson said. “But look, we’re Division I, and if you’re a high school kid and you’re playing right field and batting .198 and you think just because we’re an H.B.C.U., you think you ought to be able to get a scholarship, you’re wrong.”

He continued: “When you come to bat against the University of Miami and this guy’s throwing 96 miles per hour with a slider that falls off the earth, you’ve got to be able to perform. Ain’t no excuses then.”

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If Bethune-Cookman’s baseball team, which has four African-Americans, does not resemble its student body, which is 79 percent African-American, it is nevertheless a melting pot. This year, there are players who are Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Colombian, Peruvian, Mexican and Jamaican; there also are white players, who make up about half the 28-player roster.

The team’s first-year coach, Jonathan Hernandez, 33, grew up in Hialeah, Fla., a heavily Cuban community near Miami, where he was a product of Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities youth program. He has put together a promising recruiting class — including two African-American players — that is ranked 60th among Division I programs, according to one analysis. Bethune-Cookman is the only H.B.C.U. on that list.

“I know that we’ve got to be able to give black players more opportunities,” Hernandez said. “There are definitely talented baseball players out there, and we have to find them.”

Finding them, though, is getting harder; N.C.A.A. data from 2018 showed only 4 percent of college players are African-American. And when an H.B.C.U. identifies an exceptional black prospect, it soon finds itself competing against both elite programs with more resources and professional teams dangling signing bonuses.

Sherman Reed, in his ninth season as the coach at Coppin State, said that he commiserates with a handful of African-American college coaches, like Edwin Thompson at Eastern Kentucky and Kerrick Jackson at Southern University, about the difficulties of recruiting.

“Economics plays such a big part of this,” Reed said. “More than people want to say.”

Showcase events that gather the best talent, for example, can cost about $800 for a player to attend, and include as many as 1,000 players — but perhaps only a dozen African-Americans, Reed said. Of those, he said, eight might have major-college tools.

“It’s a rat race to get those kids,” Reed said. “We like the kid, but Penn State is there and likes the kid, Vanderbilt is there and likes the kid. They always ask, ‘Coach, how many guys have you got drafted?’ I tell them, ‘If I get you, you’ll be the first one.’”

At the other end of the food chain, he said, are the emails and phone calls from African-American high school players who Reed believes should be aiming lower than Division I. “Instead of ignoring the kid’s video, I try to be truthful,” Reed said. “I might say, ‘There’s some tools I like, but there’s a good junior college in your area where you can learn your trade.’”

The sweet spot for Reed works something like this: a tip from his extensive web of contacts about a player who, for whatever reason, has fallen through the cracks. Someone like Jahmon Taylor, a live-armed pitcher from Altamonte Springs, Fla., whom Rickie Weeks Sr. — the father of a former big leaguer and top overall pick out of Southern University — said was not being recruited. Or a player like Nazir McIlwain, a first baseman from Passaic, N.J., who could not afford the admission fee to a showcase that might have showed off his sweet swing to bigger programs.

Lynn Thompson, the athletic director at Bethune-Cookman since 1990, gives every new coach he hires the same marching orders: “We just happen to be historically black; we’re not exclusively black.”

Both are seniors at Coppin State now. Taylor owns the record for career strikeouts, and McIlwain set the one for hits. But they are among only six African-Americans on Reed’s current roster.

Back at Bethune-Cookman, Hernandez hopes for a similar progression for Khalil Smith, a freshman outfielder from Southfield, Mich. Smith starred on an entirely African-American team in high school, and he was close to Demetrius Sims, a minor leaguer in the Miami Marlins organization who starred at Bethune-Cookman.

Sims was part of one of the brightest moments in the program’s history: in 2017, the Wildcats briefly became baseball darlings — winning three N.C.A.A. tournament games, including one against Florida, the eventual national champion.

But maintaining that level has proved challenging. The Wildcats, who missed the postseason at 17-38, have had three coaches in the last three seasons, and operate with a fraction of the resources that other college teams in their baseball-rich state enjoy. They travel by bus to away games — as far as nine hours to Greensboro, N.C. — and played their last home game on March 27, before Jackie Robinson Ballpark was taken over by a minor league team. Since then, the Wildcats have practiced at a local park.

The players, though, are appreciative that Hernandez allows them to be themselves, something that is not a given in the buttoned-up baseball world.

“There’s more swagger to it,” Joe Fernando, a senior infielder from Brooklyn, said of H.B.C.U. baseball. “You look at our team, you’ve got guys here with gold chains, dark shades, whatever. Look good, feel good, play good.”

Carter said his experience as a student at a historically black university has been similarly liberating. He is not judged by the way he dresses or the way he talks, and says he does not have to mute himself to fit in. “I’m not an outcast,” he said.

Ignoring the unwritten codes of conduct that many blame for pushing the sport toward cultural irrelevance, Carter said, could be the path to drawing African-Americans back to the game.

“If people could just accept us more in this sport,” Carter said. “If they let us express ourselves — not in a disrespectful way — but just learn to accept how we actually play we will come out of our shell and start picking up the bats again.”

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle.

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Black History

Women’s Suffrage Forged by Founding Sisters: Happy Birthday to Ida B.

CHARLESTON CHRONICLE — So proclaimed Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who fearlessly shined a light with words on the abominable dark days after slavery and into the 20th century. Journalist, publisher, author, activist, and suffragist leader, Ida B.’s spirit soars. July 16 marks the 157th anniversary of her birth. Blood, sweat, and ink sealed her legacy and the future of a nation still struggling to be whole.

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By Gwen McKinney

“The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.”

So proclaimed Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who fearlessly shined a light with words on the abominable dark days after slavery and into the 20th century.

Journalist, publisher, author, activist, and suffragist leader, Ida B.’s spirit soars. July 16 marks the 157th anniversary of her birth. Blood, sweat, and ink sealed her legacy and the future of a nation still struggling to be whole.

Ida B. revered the Black press as an organizing tool. Though her newspaper The Memphis Free Speech was destroyed by racist mobs, she was never silenced. During her life, she would publish three newspapers and authored “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases” and “The Red Record,” investigative reports that remain definitive sources on racist violence more than 100 years later.

Small in stature but huge in courage, Wells, an emancipated slave, joined a cadre of Black contemporaries – scholars, activists, and thought leaders – who pledged to change the trajectory of bondage and demand that Black women have a voice.

They defy the clichés and caricatures planted in popular culture with their searing voices. Their cadence would not be paraphrased or translated into the often quoted “Ain’t I A Woman” reprise. But forever burdened by their womanhood and Blackness, their path – then and now – is littered with obstacles.

Educator and writer Mary Church Terrell observed, “Nobody wants to know a colored woman’s opinion about her own status [or] that of her group. When she dares express it, no matter how mild or tactful…, it is called ‘propaganda,’ or is labeled ‘controversial.’”

Poet, teacher, and Baltimore abolitionist Frances Ellen Harper was among the suffragists who pleaded the case for linked fate unity. “We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity,” she said. “Society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul.”

These Founding Sisters forged civil rights organizations with Black men, sororities, and service clubs with their women peers, and joined “woke” White women against lynching and disenfranchisement and for education and economic development.

It was Ida B. and a coterie of Black women publishers, writers, and teachers of the era who led the movement for universal suffrage even when Black women were shunned and excluded.

Nonetheless, women’s suffrage, deeply rooted in abolitionism, is depicted in a single dimension as the jumpstart for the white feminist/voting rights movement.

Regarded as social reformers, White suffragist – many of them supporters of abolition – confronted a fork in the road, conflicted between the “Negro question” and universal suffrage.

With passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 granting Black men voting rights, universal suffrage would be sacrificed on the altar of patriarchy and white supremacy. Defended or oversimplified, the words of Susan B. Anthony, crowned the mother of women’s suffrage, illustrate the entrenched stranglehold of whiteness.

Though she counted abolitionist Frederick Douglas as an admired cohort, Anthony’s contradictions can only be measured today in the context of racism and exclusion.

“I would sooner cut off this right arm of mine before I would ever work for or demand the ballot for the black man and not the woman,” she said. One might conclude that she was seduced by the divide-and-conquer tactics of the male proponents of the 15th Amendment. But Anthony’s view was widely embraced by the White women’s suffrage movement.

Her friend and suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, arguing against the 15th Amendment, protested: “It’s better to be the slave of an educated white man than of a degraded black one.”

One year away from the centennial of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, how much ground have we gained as women and a nation? How much of the conversation about gender equality denies the overlapping impact of white nationalism, patriarchy, and privilege? Where and when do the voices of Black and Brown women enter?

But first and foremost, when do Black women get the recognition that they have earned in their unbroken march to freedom?

Our compass should be guided by that path forged by Ida B. Wells and other courageous Black women whose intersectional quest to make America stand upright changed the world.

This opening salvo embraces Suffrage. Race. Power. Spurred by my collaboration with a small collective of women that is Black-led, cross-generational, and supported by “woke” White women, we’ve named ourselves “Founding Sisters.” This space will offer regular installments that honor our Founding Sisters of the last centuries and spotlight the unfinished business of Suffrage. Race. Power.

To kick it off: Happy birthday Ida B.!

Gwen McKinney is President and Founder of McKinney & Associates Public Relations, for which she is responsible for translating the vision of “public relations with a conscience” into a sustained, bold and tested suite of communications services and activities. She is also the founder and lead collaborator for Suffrage.Race.Power.

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle

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Charleston Chronicle

Home Telecom Partners with Berkeley County School District to Roll Out Free Internet to K-12 Student Households in Cross Schools

CHARLESTON CHRONICLE — Award-winning Lowcountry technology provider Home Telecom announces the rollout of free internet to households with school-age children in the Cross community this upcoming school year. As part of their partnership with the Berkeley County School District (BCSD) who has support from Google via a grant, Home Telecom will be making network improvements that make the free service available to households with children from kindergarten through 12th grade that are attending Cross Elementary or Cross High Schools.

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By The Charleston Chronicle

Award-winning Lowcountry technology provider Home Telecom announces the rollout of free internet to households with school-age children in the Cross community this upcoming school year. As part of their partnership with the Berkeley County School District (BCSD) who has support from Google via a grant, Home Telecom will be making network improvements that make the free service available to households with children from kindergarten through 12th grade that are attending Cross Elementary or Cross High Schools.

Previously, BCSD implemented the  One Berkeley Connects initiative by supplying students in the district with Chromebooks to be used in school and at home to assist in the learning process. In order to benefit from this initiative, it is important to have reliable broadband internet access in students’ homes. Access to the internet for the betterment of education is a priority for Home Telecom.

Home Telecom began a project in late 2017 to invest a significant amount of capital into making higher speed internet available to the Cross community. Currently, only 60% of homes with school-age children in that area have internet service. Additional capital is being invested by Home Telecom to improve the internet speed available, and to provide access to at least 95% of the remaining homes without internet access.

BCSD is partnering with Home Telecom to provide greatly discounted high-speed internet service with in-home WiFi to 365 addresses identified by BCSD as being occupied by Cross school students. Funding provided by a Google grant will allow internet service to be provided to these homes at no charge for the 2019-2020 school year.

BCSD has begun notifying eligible families and requesting they contact Home Telecom to begin the process to set up the free internet service in their homes. From now through August, Home Telecom technicians will be performing necessary construction and installations to ensure these homes are internet-ready by August 2019.

Residents in the designated area with school-age children who currently have Home Telecom internet services that are slower than 10Mbps may upgrade to 10Mbps in order to take full advantage of this program. Residents who are capable and desire to have speeds higher than 10Mbps will be able to upgrade at a discounted price.

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle

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Charleston Chronicle

Regulatory rollback on student loans takes away borrower protections

CHARLESTON CHRONICLE — Every Fourth of July celebrates this nation’s founding. But this year, only a few days before the annual freedom celebration, an ill-advised governmental action will financially doom rather than free millions of student loan borrowers – as of July 1. Moreover, this action arrives as the cost of higher education continues to soar and household incomes remain largely stagnant.

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By Charlene Crowell

Every Fourth of July celebrates this nation’s founding. But this year, only a few days before the annual freedom celebration, an ill-advised governmental action will financially doom rather than free millions of student loan borrowers – as of July 1. Moreover, this action arrives as the cost of higher education continues to soar and household incomes remain largely stagnant.

Charlene Crowell

Charlene Crowell

On June 28, the Department of Education announced the end of an important student loan regulation that since 2015 has held colleges with career training programs accountable for failure to provide an education that resulted in marketable skills and earnings high enough to repay student loans.

Known as the Gainful Employment rule, it required career and technical training programs that receive federal financial aid to prove that students would receive the education promised or forfeit future federal funding dollars. Additionally, covered institutions and programs were required to disclose to prospective students the career earnings and student debts of recent graduates.

In other words, the rule was intended to rein in abusive schools before they could harm students or waste taxpayer-funded aid.

Finalized in 2014, the rule was too late to help the tens of thousands of student borrowers affected by the failures of huge for-profit institutions, Corinthian Colleges, and ITT Technical Institute.  Borrowers at these now-shuttered colleges were left without degrees, or credits that could be transferred, but carried with them unaffordable debts that have devastated the stability of their families. These closures also resulted in massive losses to taxpayers who fund federal financial aid.

Even so, the Gainful Employment rule has been effective in two other ways. First, it pushed many other for-profit institutions to cut their worst performing programs. Secondly, it controlled tuition costs. Either violation brought regulatory sanctions.

Now, instead of these protections, consumers are left on their own — directed to an expanded web resources known as a ‘College Scorecard’ where information on student debt and earnings now includes 2,100 certificate-granting programs.

“These important reforms are a more complete and effective way to hold all types of higher education institutions accountable and make sure that students have a full suite of data when making a decision about their education,” said Secretary DeVos in a statement.

Saying that information is the equivalent of regulation is simply not true. Effective regulations impose penalties, fines, and conditions on future actions – all to deter bad actors from repeating behaviors. By contrast, information only discloses with no guarantee that what is shared will be truthful, complete, or current.

Elected officials and consumer advocates were quick to point out the shortcomings of student loan deregulation.

“[B]y eliminating this rule without enforcing any alternative standard the Education Department is giving low-quality, for-profit colleges a free pass to charge high tuition for worthless credentials that leave students with insurmountable debt,” noted  U.S. Representative Bobby Scott, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

“Students need protection against unaffordable loans,” said James Kvaal, President of The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). “This rule rolls back the clock on those very protections. At a time when millions of borrowers are struggling with debt they cannot afford, the Department’s repeal of the gainful employment rule is reckless and irresponsible.”

The ills that TICAS’ Kvaal points out are well-documented.

A 2018 research report entitled, The State of For-Profit Colleges, by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) analyzed student debt on a state-by-state basis. It concluded that investing in a for-profit education is almost always a risky proposition. Undergraduate borrowing by state showed that the percentage of students that borrow from the federal government generally ranged between 40 to 60 percent for public colleges, compared to 50 to 80 percent at for-profit institutions.

CRL also found that women and Blacks suffer disparate impacts, particularly at for-profit institutions, where they are disproportionately enrolled in most states.  For example, enrollment at Mississippi’s for-profit colleges was 78 percent female and nearly 66 percent Black. Other states with high Black enrollment at for-profits included Georgia (57 percent), Louisiana (55 percent), Maryland (58 percent) and North Carolina (54 percent).

“Betsy DeVos’ decision to eliminate this important education protection is a disservice to the public and only serves to put corporate interests ahead of struggling students and taxpayers,” said Debbie Goldstein a CRL Executive Vice President, following the recent rescission of the Gainful Employment rule. “Completely removing oversight of these programs and leaving parents and students to navigate the college loan system is irresponsible and wastes federal money on programs that aren’t performing.”

Similarly to CRL, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) has found that for-profit college students borrow more, and more often. More than 80% of for-profit college graduates incurred nearly $40,000 in debt at the time of graduation. Further, Black and Latino student loan borrowers were found to default on their loans at twice the rate of similarly situated whites.

“Repealing the Gainful Employment rule will cost taxpayers over $6 billion over the next decade, and ending this rule will worsen the student loan debt crisis, especially for the people of color and low-income students who disproportionately attend career education programs and who are often targets of predatory recruitment practices,” said Abby Shafroth, an NCLC attorney who works with its Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project. “The Department’s unfounded claims that students will benefit from “more access” as a result of the repeal are bogus: Students don’t need access to more failing schools, they need a student loan system that doesn’t set them up to fail.”

With 44 million student borrowers owing $1.5 trillion nationwide at the end of 2019’s first quarter, removing federal guard rails against future borrower risk is as costly as it is unsustainable. As the federal government turns its back on these borrowers, perhaps another level of government can and will fill the void.

“Now more than ever,” concluded Goldstein, “states have important roles to play in regulation, oversight, and enforcement.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s Communications Deputy Director. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.  

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle

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