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Celebrating Milestones, Keeping the Music Alive

THE AFRO — Twenty years ago Jason Moran’s jazz trio, The Bandwagon wowed audiences with their unique sound and artistic mash-ups, and for eight years the Kennedy Center’s jazz programming has been under his tutelage. With such a seasoned career in jazz, Moran, 44, took a moment to reflect on his music, role at the Kennedy Center and overall duty as an artist to contribute to the growth of jazz in the District and beyond.

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Musician and the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Director for Jazz, Jason Moran (of Jason Moran & The Bandwagon (pictured above) sat down with the AFRO for an exclusive interview about his career and what’s to come. (Courtesy Photo)

By Micha Green

Twenty years ago Jason Moran’s jazz trio, The Bandwagon wowed audiences with their unique sound and artistic mash-ups, and for eight years the Kennedy Center’s jazz programming has been under his tutelage. With such a seasoned career in jazz, Moran, 44, took a moment to reflect on his music, role at the Kennedy Center and overall duty as an artist to contribute to the growth of jazz in the District and beyond.

“Every season at the Kennedy Center we have a real duty to recognize how the music has been developed and also a keen responsibility to mark how it is changing, because jazz is a rare American gem- meaning born on the shores here- and it takes a different documentation,” Moran told the AFRO.

In his eighth season as the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Director for Jazz, Moran is continuing to uphold the institution’s jazz legacy, while also bringing a newness of sound and artistry to the beloved artistic gathering place for locals, tourists and international audiences alike.  Moran explained that part of the jazz program’s growth is remembering its roots.

“My predecessor Dr. Billy Taylor, was from D.C. and also a serious historian, a serious activist and also a serious educator.  So that was the kind of programming he set up even before I got there. And once he passed, I felt like it had to continue to be the duty to make sure the jazz programming had a breadth of understanding of how it got to where it is.  And we can’t isolate traditions- from Ragtime to Avant Garde and Free Jazz, but that is also an aspect of America that America has to confront too,” Moran said.

The 44-year-old musican said that jazz has the ability to serve as the thermostat for the status of America’s health.  “The music always someway forecasts and gives a temperature reading of where the country is. How sick or how well it is,” Moran explained.

Through his artistic curation of performances for The Kennedy Center, Moran hopes to expand the breadth of jazz music to which audiences are exposed.

“This year we’re bringing the art ensemble of Chicago- a pioneering group [celebrating] their 50th anniversary.  Here’s an ensemble that’s been around for 50 years and have never played the Kennedy Center,” Moran said with both surprise and a hint of disappointment. “So there’s still these gaps of programming that I try to make sure we acknowledge as an institution.”

The musician, artistic director and entrepreneur, who co-owns YES RECORDS with his wife, mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran, hopes that through the artistry coming to the Kennedy Center, ‘that [people] kind of wake up to what [Americans] have not been dealing with.”

As Moran enters his eighth season with the Kennedy Center, he also celebrates the milestone of 20 years of his jazz trio, The Bandwagon.  Two decades ago, Moran, who has seamlessly meshed Hip-Hop, rap and jazz, had no idea he’d be part of an-award winning jazz trio. The group was actually part of the rhythm section of another band, yet “we had the best chemistry,’ said Moran.  After 20 years of creating with The Bandwagon, Moran also has seen the changes in jazz and its role in feeding the souls of music lovers throughout the world.

“[Twenty years ago], much of [the music] sounded like dinner jazz- like you hear at a restaurant, meant to help you digest food,” Moran said only mildly jokingly. He explained that he and The Bandwagon wanted to get as far away from that kind of jazz music as possible.

“So we started building on the language…but also worked with repertoire that dealt with where Black music is- and for many decades, not just the recent ones,” he said.  “And then I think overtime it started to form and change where we would position ourselves– whether it was with an art museum or a dance company, or whether it was with a poet.  You might hear the band anywhere, in any kind of setting that was more provocative,” Moran added.

“As we grew, after 20 years we know a lot about each other.  We’re also aging so we’re continuing to figure out what the chapters are to hold.  I think a lot of our future continues to revolve around collaboration because that’s what, I think, helps to propel the band.”

With Moran as the institution’s artistic director for jazz, the trio will be showcasing 20 years of making music and will continue to collaborate with other artists in this season’s programming at the Kennedy Center.

“In a few months we have Ingrid Laubrock, and we’re going to dedicate it to a record we made with a saxophone master called Sam Rivers.  But Ingrid will play his part now that he’s passed on. Then finally we’re bringing in Cassandra Wilson… They’re work is groundbreaking and sometimes subtle, and sometimes forceful.  And they are forces to be reckoned with that I think The Bandwagon can learn from, and we look forward to learning their music.”

With the addition of The Reach, a new multipurpose arts space part of The Kennedy Center, Moran is excited about the potential of expanding artistic programming and introducing new audiences to the world of jazz.

“The possibilities of the way I consider the institution can breathe now, is like a gill on a fish.  It has a new way to get oxygen, Moran said. “I’m excited about really curating films for jazz, that covers jazz history, that I think we should be able to see more frequently.  I’m loving that we have a space that audiences can stand up and dance, and it’s dedicated to that– with Studio K– and that we can continue to build a more chorus way for the institution to work.”

He hopes that through intersectional and educational jazz programming at The Reach, fresh ears can learn the beauty of jazz music.

“I think it’s around intersection.  Would you just jump on the jazz highway, and get in the third lane and go fast?  There has to be an on ramp,” Moran explained. One form of intergenerational programming offered at The Reach will be a Jazz Doodle Jam with Jason Moran & The Bandwagon and host Mo Willems in mid-March.

“Parents and children can come and draw for an hour as we lead them through exercises with art and sound. And I think those entry points are really important for us to magnify,” he told the AFRO.

The 2019-2020 jazz season kicked off on Oct. 4 with Joe Chambers’ M’boom, and continues until June 6, with programming featuring local, national and international musicians within spaces at The Kennedy Center and The Reach.  Jason Moran & The Bandwagon’s next performance at The Kennedy Center is scheduled for Nov. 9 with Ingrid Laubrock in the Family Theater.

For more information on jazz programming at The Kennedy Center visit https://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/genre/JAZ and to keep up with all things Jason Moran check out his website, http://www.jasonmoran.com.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor

Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised. 

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Alethia Browning Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.

According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.

She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.

Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.

The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.

“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.

“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.

“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”

Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.

“Upon the death of Mary Pratt (Tobias had predeceased his wife) in 1795, the plantation, known as Chelsea Plantation, was inherited by their daughter Rachel Belt Pratt,” historians wrote.

“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”

Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com. 

“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.

Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.

“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.

“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.

By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”

Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.

“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.

“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”

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