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Backlash sinks magazine cover deemed racist by many

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The magazine featured caricatures of three mayoral candidates — Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, incumbent Mayor Jim Strickland and former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton.

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Tami Sawyer announces her run for Memphis mayor at a small business downtown. (Johnathan Martin)

By Erica R. Williams, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Memphis magazine has pulled its September issue after receiving backlash for what some have called a racist cover.

The magazine featured caricatures of three mayoral candidates — Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, incumbent Mayor Jim Strickland and former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton.

But it’s the illustration of District 7 Commissioner Sawyer that garnered the most criticism.

After the cover was released, several people on social media pointed fingers at the local magazine’s characterization of Sawyer, calling it racist and offensive. Recently the company issued an apology in a column posted on their website titled, “We Failed Memphis.”

“Being a print publication, a certain number of copies already exist in the world. We have, however, halted newsstand distribution of the September issue to as many retail locations as possible,” said Anna Traverse, chief executive officer of Contemporary Media, the parent company of Memphis magazine.

“I took the step as soon as Ms. Sawyer and I spoke on Friday afternoon,” Traverse wrote. “By now, we all know what the cover looked like and what effects it has had, the image has been removed from this website and will never go back up.”

Before the apology, and almost immediately after the cover was released, Sawyer issued a statement regarding the depiction.

“I’m shocked, disappointed, and disgusted by the egregious mischaracterization of my personhood and continued inaccurate reporting by Contemporary Media and other Memphis news outlets on my background, activism, and values. The caricature (reminiscent of Jim Crow era cartoons historically used to demean and demoralize African Americans) printed in the September issue of Memphis Magazine is both insulting and hurtful and represents a false view of how I am seen by my community.”

Sawyer also took issue with the article that accompanied the illustration, calling it an attempt to support her opponent.

“The writing by Jackson Baker and imagery used to support advances racial narratives, reflects clear bias against women and black people, and is simply irresponsible. The article is an obvious attempt to elevate the stature of the incumbent Mayor. While I am portrayed as outlandish, militant, confrontational, and combative, my opponent is portrayed as thoughtful and cautious. We will not stand for the continued willful misrepresentation of and attacks on my womanhood and candidacy.”

While caricatures are often used in political satire and are meant to exaggerate the subject’s features, many drawings featuring black women have sparked controversy as critics argue that they feed into negative stereotypes.

Former first lady Michelle Obama has been the subject of caricatures where she was often portrayed as masculine and irate. And last year, a drawing of tennis star Serena Williams caused a stir when she was depicted as hostile, jumping up in a hulk-like manner after losing a tennis match.

In a recent op-ed, local political columnist, Otis Sanford emphasized the troubling history of caricatures as it relates to African Americans. He also questioned “Memphis” magazine’s lack of diversity for the hiccup.

“There are plenty of appropriate descriptors for the cover, which shows caricatures of Willie Herenton, Tami Sawyer, and Jim Strickland, the three leading candidates for Memphis Mayor. None of the descriptors are flattering, either of the cover itself or of those in leadership at the magazine who approved it,” he wrote in an op-ed column. “…but Sawyer is treated the worst. Her caricature is a throwback to an era when black women especially were depicted in cartoons as horribly unattractive and with exaggerated facial features that suggested the person is subhuman.”

The cover art comes from longtime contributor to Memphis magazine, Chris Ellis who has defended his illustration while also criticizing Sawyer. On Facebook he referred to the mayoral contender as “the black female who was monstrously obese.” He also added that he had submitted several versions to the magazine’s editor, art director and publisher who approved his work.

More local leaders have come to Sawyer’s defense and condemned the magazine cover. Leaders from the Memphis Branch NAACP said they “took issue with the cover’s insensitive and offensive nature.”

“…Upon review of this piece, all I can say is that I’m deeply upset and saddened that we must still contend with blatant racism, sexism, body shaming and an overall abysmal disrespect from some of our most trusted media outlets in this century and climate,” Deidre Malone, resident of the NAACP Memphis Branch wrote in a statement.

“I would call on them to do better and be better in order to set higher and more acceptable standards for the important profession of journalism. I would also ask that they consider the underlying messages that they are sending about these individuals to the local community and to the nation.”

Monday the new Chairman of the Shelby County Commission, Mark Billingsley, said that he won’t be silent regarding the “grotesque” cover. He urged other leaders to speak out against it as well.”

“I feel September’s cover of Memphis magazine, “The Race for Mayor” to be racist, demeaning and an effort to represent candidates as grotesque, especially my Commission colleague Tami Sawyer. This is the second time in my position as a Shelby County Commissioner that I have had to decry misrepresentations of those that offer themselves up for public service, especially as a person’s ethnicity and personal features were misrepresented.”

With the election less than 30 days away, Sawyer is moving forward with campaigning. Most recently she attended the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)’s Labor Day parade. She did post a final message on her campaign page regarding the cover.

“First, I’m a black woman and I’m proud of that. I was taught by black women to never bow nor break and to always stand tall. It is our lot in life. Since moving home, I’ve dedicated my life to serving and strengthening Memphis. To standing up to the racist and oppressive systems, leaders, and policies that keep us poor, lacking opportunities, and disconnected.”

The election is October 3 and today (Sept. 3) is the last day to register. Early voting is Sept. 13 through Sept. 28.

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COMMENTARY: Telling Our Family Stories Keeps Black History Alive

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of our favorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

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Dr. Margaret Fortune, Fortune School, University of Southern California (USC), football, USC marching band, marching bands, drumline, public charter school, Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School, family stories, life in the Carolinas, parents, grandparents, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, children’s book, Rex and the Band, grandma, Dr. Rex Fortune, retired public school superintendent, little Rex, spirited young boy, high-energy marching band, North Carolina A&T football games, sister’s beautifully illustrated book, Telling our family stories, African Americans, history, Griots, storytellers, grandparents, ancestors, passed on, Black press, clearinghouse, many stories, Black community, Ebony Jr., elementary school student, high school, Sacramento Observer newspaper, Cocoa Kids Books, engaging, authentic, uplifting, inspiring
Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

Let’s Talk Black Education

By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO Fortune School

When we were kids, my dad would take us to football games at the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t care much for football, but I loved it when we’d stay after the game to hear the USC marching band play. His love for marching bands is why we have a drumline at the public charter school I founded and named after my parents — Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of ourfavorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

As the story goes, one day back in 1947, my grandma sent little Rex to the corner store to get some eggs so she could bake a cake. My dad bought the eggs and put them in his pockets. On the walk home, he encountered a marching band high-steppin’ down the dusty road to his mother’s house. Little Rex got so excited that he followed the band, beating on his legs like drums all the way home and, yes, breaking all the eggs.

“Rex and the Band” explores a day in the life of Rex, a spirited young boy who dreams of one day playing in a high-energy marching band like the ones he enjoys watching with his father during North Carolina A&T football games.

Reading my sister’s beautifully illustrated book, I cried tears of joy. Telling our family stories is such an important way for African Americans to keep our history alive. Griots, or storytellers, are the reason why we know the truths that we do know about our family history and ancestors.

I believe all of us can think back to when our grandparents would tell us stories about our ancestors who may have passed on before we were born. It was their way of making sure our stories were not only told but preserved.

The Black press has been the clearinghouse for many stories that have impacted the Black community over time. My sister published her first poem in Ebony Jr. as an elementary school student and then in high school she interned at the Sacramento Observer newspaper.

Gwen founded Cocoa Kids Books to publish books like “Rex and the Band” that encourage Black children to dream, aspire for more, and soar because they see themselves reflected in stories that are engaging, authentic, uplifting, and inspiring. I’m so proud of my big sis! You can buy Gwen’s book at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/rex-and-the-band.

Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

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American Cancer Society and Four Historically Black Colleges and Universities Announce Groundbreaking Diversity in Cancer Research Program to Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The awards provided through the DICR program are unique in cancer research. They provide a large amount of salary support for the four colleges to select clinical faculty who need more dedicated time for their cancer research and scholarly activities. They also fund other student and postdoctoral programs and underpin the awards with career development funds and mentorship by established American Cancer Society Professors.

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These grants are designed to build capacity and enhance the competitiveness of faculty at MSIs when applying for nationally competitive grant support and aid in faculty development and retention. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

The American Cancer Society (ACS), along with four historically black medical schools including Charles Drew Medical School, Howard University, Meharry Medical College, and Morehouse School of Medicine, today announced a groundbreaking Diversity in Cancer Research (DICR) Program to help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the cancer research field.

The inaugural initiatives of the overarching program include DICR Institutional Development Grants. The four HBCUs have received DICR grants in a pilot program for 2021-2022.

The awards provided through the DICR program are unique in cancer research.

They provide a large amount of salary support for the four colleges to select clinical faculty who need more dedicated time for their cancer research and scholarly activities.

They also fund other student and postdoctoral programs and underpin the awards with career development funds and mentorship by established American Cancer Society Professors.

The grants will build sustainability for both clinical and scientific cancer-focused careers, launching or sustaining the careers of 104 individuals by 2025.

The impactful program will create a more inclusive research environment to address health disparities more effectively and could lead to targeted recruitment efforts focused on bringing people of color into clinical research protocols.

Establishing a research community that is made up of a diverse group of people is vital to ensuring scientific excellence.

“The American Cancer Society is committed to launching the brightest minds into cancer research and to reducing health disparities,” said Dr. William Cance, American Cancer Society Chief Medical and Scientific Officer.

“To accomplish this, we believe it is essential to invest in the minority workforce and their dedicated efforts to solve disparities and establish equity in cancer care.”

“There are many reasons the Black community continues to experience disparities in cancer care outcomes. But one of the most critical factors behind the imbalance, and one of the most promising paths to closing the gap, is diversity in cancer care research. We must improve diversity and representation in our laboratories if we expect different outcomes in our hospitals,” said Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University.

“As a cancer surgeon and as the president of an HBCU, I believe the Diversity in Cancer Research Program will prove to be pivotal in altering the field of cancer care research and improving cancer care outcomes for Black Americans. I am deeply appreciative of the American Cancer Society’s efforts behind this initiative.”

Data show that African Americans and Black people, Hispanics and Latinos, indigenous people and native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in grant funding.

Fewer than 2% of applicants for the National Institute of Health’s principal grant program come from Black/African Americans, and fewer than 4% from Hispanic/Latino populations.

“We are incredibly excited about this new program with the American Cancer Society,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Ph.D., MD, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College.

“There is a significant imbalance in the representation of minority populations in clinical research which has led to poorer outcomes for specific racial and ethnic minority groups. To eradicate the varying health disparities that affect these populations, we must prioritize diversifying clinical trials and those who conduct trials to ensure treatment is safe and effective.”

This is a fantastic step to ensuring minority populations receive effective treatment and provides great opportunities for our students and faculty to engage in cancer research,” Dr. Hildreth stated.

“The development of diverse, highly competitive, and independent research faculty has been a goal at CDU since its inception 55 years ago,” shared Dr. David M. Carlisle, President and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, located in South Los Angeles.

“This generous grant from the American Cancer Society will directly support a range of programs towards that goal, including the Center to Eliminate Cancer Health Disparities as well as our Clinical Research and Career Development Program, which provides training and mentoring in health disparities and community-partnered participatory research to minority scholars and junior faculty at CDU. This funding will undeniably help CDU in forming a solid foundation in social justice for future cancer research leaders.”

With the DICR program, ACS has committed to a $12 million investment to support four HBCU medical schools with DICR institutional development grants to fund a four-year program that aims to increase the pool of minority cancer researchers by identifying talented students and faculty from HBCUs.

This program will inform efforts to develop a national program to boost cancer research and career development at minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

These grants are designed to build capacity and enhance the competitiveness of faculty at MSIs when applying for nationally competitive grant support and aid in faculty development and retention.

“Here in Georgia, cancer health disparities exist by age, gender, race, income, education, and access to care, among other factors, with Georgia residents in rural communities experiencing worse cancer health outcomes than their urban counterparts,” said Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, president and CEO at Morehouse School of Medicine.

“The DICR program will be a much-needed and welcome contribution to our work at the Morehouse School of Medicine Cancer Health Equity Institute, forever changing the field of cancer research. The program will not only ensure diversity and inclusion in research, but address health disparities in diverse communities, and assist in our mission in leading the creation and advancement of health equity.”

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OP-ED: Welcome Back, NLRB – America’s Workers Missed You!

NNPA NEWSWIRE — All indications show that Jennifer Abruzzo, the President’s new general counsel, is helping to lead the charge and losing no time. She has put together a list of Trump-era decisions for reconsideration and is pushing to get important cases before the board quickly. She also indicated that she is in favor of the PRO Act, the most sweeping piece of labor legislation in 50 years and re-establishing the long practice of ordering companies to bargain with unions based on signed cards of support, rather than secret ballot elections. This is a game changer for union organizing and for workers who want a voice in their workplace.

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Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high.
Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high.

By Ray Curry, President, UAW

Before I get into just what the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) means — and has
meant — to the working men and women of this nation, I want to start by citing a couple of pieces of data because I think they tell a real story.

Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high. So, what does it mean? As a union man myself, I would say it means that America’s workers are hurting, and they know they need a voice in the workplace. And they’re right. My second piece of data: According to a recent AFL-CIO analysis, the average CEO of an S&P 500 company made 299 times what the median worker made in 2020. In other sectors — like retail where Amazon lives — this number is much higher.

But this blog is not about numbers, it’s about people. Working people. And unions, the one force that has the power to close that shameful gap in earnings. The NLRB is a key player in making it possible for workers to organize and improve their lot. So I want to talk a little bit about where we’ve been and where we are going under labor friendly President Joe Biden.

Let me start with a little background on the NLRB. The president appoints this federal board, which has done so much to shape American labor practices since its inception 85 years ago. However, the board that President Biden inherited isn’t exactly what was intended.

In fact, it’s nowhere close.

Dark days

This story begins in the early ‘80s with President Ronald Reagan coming to presidential power and the shift from worker’s rights to corporate profits that his NLRB put into motion. I’ll spare you the decade of gory headlines and cut to the chase. A retrospective 1988 Washington Post article highlighting what the anti-labor, pro-management Ronald Reagan administration created put it perfectly, “It’s one of the great ironies of the day: The National Labor Relations Act, which is supposed to guarantee U.S. workers the right of unionization, is being used to deny them that vital right.”

Under Reagan’s two terms, the Board reversed previous NLRB policy in more than two dozen major cases, almost totally changing the direction the board had followed since its inception under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pro-management positions.

Instead of taking up worker complaints, Reagan’s NLRB backlog of unresolved complaints against employers rose to at least three times what it was before he took office. Delays of up to two years become common. Even more stymying to the labor force, his board took just as long to act on worker petitions to hold union representation elections and to certify fair union wins.

Fast forward almost 30 years to 2017 and President Donald Trump’s first year in office where we find his labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, cheerfully announcing that Ronald Reagan, who did so very much to weaken organized labor, was voted into the Labor Hall of Fame.

There are truly no words adequate to express labor’s outrage at this. President Ronald Reagan joining the ranks of towering labor leaders like George Meany and the UAW’s own Walter Reuther! How cynical and what a harbinger of what was to come under President Trump for America’s workers.

Sadly though, he was just warming up. One could easily argue that President Trump’s NLRB went the furthest in systematically rolling back the right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining, efforts that struck a further blow to America’s wage inequality and directly harmed workers, their communities, and the economy. This board also went on to diminish worker protections under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA/Act) with the administration’s NLRB general counsel (GC), putting into play policies that leave fewer workers protected by the NLRB while working toward changes in the law that directly roll back workers’ rights.

In short, the whole thing was a siege on the American worker.

A new dawn for labor

And then in 2020, the working men and women of this nation had enough and made their voices heard loud and clear at the polls. The 2020 election saw a record number of Americans voting. And what did they say? Enough of the corporate, anti-labor agenda.

This record turnout sent President Joe Biden to Washington and he got to work on the first day. On Inauguration Day, within a few hours of being sworn in, the new president acted boldly and decisively by firing Peter Robb, President Trump’s appointed NLRB GC. Lynn Rhinehart, a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and former general counsel of the AFL-CIO, characterized Robb’s anti-union activities this way: “A report by the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that Robb was dismantling the agency from the inside. He reduced staff size, destroyed employee morale, and failed to spend the money appropriated by Congress. This all occurred while Robb was pursuing an anti-worker, pro-corporate agenda.”

Biden then turned to Deputy General Counsel Alice Stock, who became Acting General Counsel with Robb’s ouster and asked her to resign as well. She also refused. Two days later, she too was shown the door.

Gutsy moves. In fact, it is the first time in more than 70 years that a president has exercised that power. Thanks to President Biden’s swift actions in January, as of August 28, Democrats are now in control of the federal labor board for the first time in four years and pursuing aggressive measures to regain for unions the ground lost during the Trump administration and even looking to go beyond the limits pushed by President Barack Obama’s NLRB.

And all indications show that Jennifer Abruzzo, the President’s new general counsel, is helping to lead the charge and losing no time. She has put together a list of Trump-era decisions for reconsideration and is pushing to get important cases before the board quickly. She also indicated that she is in favor of the PRO Act, the most sweeping piece of labor legislation in 50 years, and re-establishing the long practice of ordering companies to bargain with unions based on signed cards of support, rather than secret ballot elections. This is a game changer for union organizing and for workers who want a voice in their workplace.

We’ve already seen this new NLRB in action. During the month of August alone, the board ruled that Amazon illegally discouraged union organization in Bessemer, Alabama, which may lead to a new vote; heard a case against Google for firing multiple employees for circulating a petition calling on the company to stop doing business with ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement); and filed a complaint against Home Depot for penalizing an employee for wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. These are just a few examples of Biden’s new NLRB.

This new NLRB is an agency returning to its original purpose in a time when America’s workers need it most. Change for the rights and wellbeing of workers is on the way and I expect some of those numbers I cited at the beginning of this discussion are going to improve for my brothers and sisters.

We, as a nation and as a labor movement, are building back!

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