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COMMENTARY: Remembering the Silver Linings of 2020

NNPA NEWSWIRE — So, as the calendar turns to 2021, and many wish friends, family and associates, “Happy New Year!” we’ll place an overwhelming emphasis on the “New Year” portion of the sentiment.

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While some might argue that detecting a silver lining over the past 365 days is difficult, there was good news. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
While some might argue that detecting a silver lining over the past 365 days is difficult, there was good news. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

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

There was little to celebrate or be happy about in 2020, particularly for Black America. So, as the calendar turns to 2021, and many wish friends, family and associates, “Happy New Year!” we’ll place an overwhelming emphasis on the “New Year” portion of the sentiment.

The year began with devastating news as the world learned that a helicopter carrying NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi, had crashed into a mountainside just outside of Los Angeles. Bryant, his young daughter, the pilot and six other passengers were all killed in the accident.

In unfortunate, but anticipated news, 2020 headlines continued to report on two areas of disproportionate death tolls for Blacks: Police killings of unarmed African Americans, and the novel coronavirus pandemic, or COVID-19, which disproportionately affected communities of color.

While some might argue that detecting a silver lining over the past 365 days is difficult, there was good news.

The outgoing year saw many firsts and accomplishments for African Americans, including many from the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), representing the Black Press of America.

Presidential candidates Joe Biden, Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg all sat for interviews with NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

Chavis, a civil rights icon, also helped raise the profile of the Black Press when he launched The Chavis Chronicles, a national television show with American Public Television.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation continued a campaign with the NNPA to raise awareness about education barriers for students of color and bridging the learning gap for minorities. That partnership has proven even more vital during the pandemic.

The United States, and much of the world, underwent an awakened awareness that Black Lives Matter now more than ever in 2020.

Following the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others, major sports leagues, corporations, and others began acknowledging their responsibility in the fight for social justice and civil rights.

Led by LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, NBA players exerted their popularity and authority by successfully demanding that the league honor the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Because of the players’ actions, the NBA opened its arenas to use as polling places, and the league agreed to promote social justice and civic engagement.

Major League Baseball and the National Football League also instituted initiatives with promises to do more for minorities at all levels.

The Google News Initiative (GNI) Innovation Challenge awarded Black Voice News (BVN) $300,000 in support of “Save the Black Press,” a bold call to action to innovate revenue and sustainability solutions at Black news organizations through the creation of the Data Access and Content Discovery Hub (DACDH).

Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts announced that Comcast would fight injustice and inequality against race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability. With that, Roberts committed $100 million to a three-year plan to advance social justice and equality. The initiative includes a $75 million cash commitment and $25 million in media.

Facebook announced that 15 member publishers of the NNPA would receive $1.288 million in grants through the Facebook Journalism Project’s relief fund for local news.

The social media giant said more than 200 news organizations would receive nearly $16 million in grants, which stem from $25 million in local news relief funding announced in March as part of Facebook’s $100 million global investment in the news.

MSNBC named Rashida Jones the first Black person and Black woman president of the network. Jones, who quickly becomes the most prominent woman in cable news, is scheduled to step into the top role on Feb. 1, Black History Month, replacing Phil Griffin, who had been at the cable news channel for more than 25 years.

Mellody Hobson, a Princeton graduate who, in 2019, earned the Woodrow Wilson Award, the university’s highest honor, was named Chairwoman of the Board of Starbucks.

With the promotion, Hobson became the only African American woman to chair a Fortune 500 company.

Midshipman First Class Sydney Barber, a mechanical engineering major from Illinois, was named Brigade Commander for the spring semester at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Barber, a track star with a stated desire to work as a Marine Corps ground officer, becomes the first Black woman to lead the Naval Academy’s student body.

The Brigade Commander heads the Academy’s day-to-day activities and trains the class of approximately 4,500 midshipmen. Barber becomes the 16th woman to serve in that role.

There were significant changes in the world of entertainment as Valeisha Butterfield Jones, a leader, global influencer, and culture shifter, who co-founded the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WENN) and served as the National Youth Vote Director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, was named the Recording Academy’s first Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer.

While the traditional annual festival which hosts more than 350,000 people on Los Angeles’ Crenshaw Boulevard wasn’t in the cards because of the pandemic, Bakewell Media and the Los Angeles Sentinel found a new way to bring even more people together. The 15th annual Taste of Soul, the largest one-day street festival in Southern California, took place virtually in October.

Carol H. Williams received Ad Age’s Vanguard Award during this year’s Women to Watch Awards event. Williams, the CEO of Carol H. Williams Advertising, was honored for a lifetime of significant achievements, including being named to the AAF Advertising Hall of Fame.

2020 also answered the question, “What do Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Delores Tucker, Roland Martin, Gayle King, and Brent Staples have in common?” Each has made the Ebony Power 100 List, which annually recognizes leaders in their respective fields whom the iconic publication’s editors say have, “positively impacted the African American community.”

Retired NBA Star Junior Bridgeman announced the purchase of Ebony for $14 million. Ebony’s archives were previously sold for more than $30 million.

With death and hospitalizations piling up from the pandemic, a Black woman, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, was at the forefront of a National Institutes of Health’s team that worked with Moderna on its coronavirus vaccine.

Corbett, an expert on the front lines of the global race for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, will go down in history as one of the key players in developing the science that could end the pandemic.

Many others on the front lines of the fight to educate and advocate for African Americans are also celebrated. African American physicians at the University of Virginia, including Drs. Ebony Hilton, Leigh-Ann Webb, Taison Bell, Rochanda Mitchell and Cameron Webb all proved to be trusted and vital sources of objective information throughout the pandemic.

Critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay, an African American in New York, became the first person in the country to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

In November, the ticket of Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris earned 306 electoral college votes and recorded more than 81 million popular votes to defeat President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Harris will become the nation’s first African American and first woman vice president.

In December, L+M Development Partners formally announced financing for a $349 million development project on the Bronx Harlem River waterfront in New York, including the Universal Hip Hop Museum. Construction is scheduled to commence in January.

The NNPA embraced online video and went “viral.”

With the goal of presenting each of the NNPA member media companies via an online panel format, the NNPA entered into online streaming aggressively under the theme, “Save Local Journalism.” Each of the streams featured up to four publishers who were able to share valuable insights, creativity, challenges and solutions.

Live audience interaction, in the form of questions and comments from those viewing the streams verified that the series of NNPA livestreams with African American newspaper publishers were an instant hit.

Other livestreams included interviews with superstars and legends like Ice Cube, Stephanie Mills, Ziggy Marley, Sugar Ray Leonard, Isiah Thomas, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and LL Cool J.

Because of the livestreams, the NNPA gained new followers on all of its social media platforms and a dramatic increase in visitation to the BlackPressUSA.com website.

The 2020 Virtual NNPA Annual Convention — a first completely online event for the NNPA — proved wildly successful with several hundred thousand attendees viewing the event live and over the days that followed.

NNPA Livestream guests included a host of Congress members, including Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), and many others.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, and Meharry Medical College President and CEO Dr. James Hildreth also appeared on livestreams with the NNPA.

Live broadcasts also included several from the 2020 Afro-Comic Con, including a special broadcast featuring comedian Sinbad. The NNPA’s Dr. Nsenga Burton hosted a series of livestreams on the future of higher learning post COVID featuring the presidents of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). America was also introduced to the NNPA’s newest livestream series: “Ask Alma,” an interactive advice show.

The NNPA plans to broadcast even more live events in 2021.

#NNPA BlackPress

PRESS ROOM: First Book, an Innovative Leader in Education Equity, Releases Groundbreaking Research Illustrating the Impact of COVID-19 on Emotional Wellness of Students in Underserved Communities

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Collaborating with First Book to provide educators with evidence-informed activities and curriculum is one more step forward in making sure they feel more prepared to support their students,” said Ariana Hoet, Ph.D., clinical director of On Our Sleeves and pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Educators have been on the frontline supporting children’s mental health before and throughout the pandemic with limited resources. We know the pandemic has exacerbated worries around children’s mental health, so this need is even more crucial than ever.”

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Nearly One Thousand Educators Participated; Report that over half (53%) of the students they serve struggle with their mental health

WASHINGTON, First Book, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring education equity for children living in poverty, today announced the results of a national survey designed to identify emotional wellness challenges faced by school-age children. In addition to reinforcing earlier findings regarding the devastating mental health effects of COVID-19, this survey shed new light on the severity of this impact — especially in communities of need. It also established that emotional wellness issues have become a significant barrier to education for many students who attend schools in these communities – a majority of whom are children of color. Pediatric psychologists from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s On Our Sleeves movement for children’s mental health partnered with First Book to offer a clinical perspective on survey questions and process.

In the new survey findings, educators report that 53 percent of the students they serve struggle with their mental health and only 20 percent of educators feel prepared to support the mental well-being of their students. Of significant concern, 98 percent of educators say mental health challenges act as a barrier to children’s education. And notably, educators are facing their own mental health challenges. Student mental wellness issues have a ripple effect on educators who feel helpless and unsupported.

“Educators across the country are speaking out about the urgency of the mental wellness issues that their students are facing, how they don’t feel prepared to address the issues, and how those issues act as a barrier to learning. Based on what we’re hearing from our Network of educators, this is truly a crisis,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO, First Book. “First Book is committed to supporting low-income communities that have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and the data revealed in this survey is guiding us in providing educators with high-quality, research-driven tools to nurture emotional wellness and develop healthy habits that prepare students to not only learn but thrive.”

On an ongoing basis First Book solicits input from its Network of more than 525,000 educators – all of whom serve children in need – to enable the organization to directly address the needs of practitioners and the children they serve. Mental wellness was spotlighted as a critical problem exacerbated by COVID-19, leading the organization to design focus groups and a survey to better understand the magnitude and scope of the issue, as well as what is needed to address this barrier to education. Nearly 1,000 educators responded to the survey providing startling data. The results provided a framework for the resource, which is now available, entitled: Taking Care: An Educator Guide to Healthy Habits for Student Emotional Wellness, a free resource created in collaboration with On Our Sleeves. The resource and study are now available through First Book.

“Collaborating with First Book to provide educators with evidence-informed activities and curriculum is one more step forward in making sure they feel more prepared to support their students,” said Ariana Hoet, Ph.D., clinical director of On Our Sleeves and pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Educators have been on the frontline supporting children’s mental health before and throughout the pandemic with limited resources. We know the pandemic has exacerbated worries around children’s mental health, so this need is even more crucial than ever.”

According to the First Book study, the top three life circumstances or experiences that contribute to children’s mental health challenges are 1) unstable or difficult home life; 2) hunger/food insecurity and 3) isolation due to Covid-19. Because these three factors often intersect as children grapple with returning to normalcy post-pandemic, the resources First Book provides to educators are essential tools for helping them become better equipped to aid students who are still dealing with the effects of Covid-related depression, trauma, loneliness, and loss.

First Book’s findings are particularly relevant given recent warnings issued by professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association. These groups have declared a national emergency in children’s mental health and have noted that psychological strains, made worse over the past few years by pandemic-associated isolation, anxiety, fear, and grief, have caused a crisis in several societal sectors including education. They also emphasize that children in communities of color have been disproportionately impacted due to previously unresolved inequities linked to structural racism.

Additional key findings in First Book’s survey include:

  • 72% of educators say the pandemic has introduced new mental health challenges among students/children;
  • 65% of educators report the pandemic has exacerbated the existing mental health challenges students already faced;
  • 80% of educators believe gaining access to mental health support is a high or emergency priority in relation to students’ overall needs at this time;
  • 98% of educators say mental health challenges act as a barrier to children’s education;
  • 93% of educators became aware that a student was struggling with mental health issues due to a noticeable change in behavior;
  • 92% of educators indicated they are very or extremely interested in accessing support resources focused on promoting the general mental health and well-being of all students;
  • 51% of educators report that a student’s race/racial identity is relevant to their mental health;
  • 68% of respondents indicate that they take a child’s race and/or culture into consideration when supporting their mental well-being (e.g. observe family/cultural norms, design a culturally inclusive curriculum, and foster open and trusting relationships with their students);
  • 74% of educators are very or extremely interested in accessing support resources to help them approach mental health challenges related to race, identity, and intersectionality;
  • Older children reportedly struggle more than younger children. Educators serving middle and high school students estimate that 59% and 60% (respectively) of the students they serve struggle with mental health, while early childhood and elementary educators estimate 50% and 52% (respectively) of their students struggle.  This compares to the general population at 53%;
  • Educators in urban and suburban communities consider addressing mental health as a stronger priority (83% high/emergency priority) vs. their rural counterparts (75% high/emergency priority).

About First Book

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 29-year history, First Book has distributed more than 200 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its Network of more than 525,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.

First Book also expands the breadth and depth of the education field through a family of social enterprises, including First Book Research & Insights, its proprietary research initiative, and the First Book Accelerator, which brings best-in-class research-based strategies to the classroom via relevant, usable educator resources. First Book Impact Funds target support to areas of need, such as rural communities or increasing diversity in children’s books. For more information about First Book, please visit http://www.firstbook.org.

About On Our Sleeves®

Children don’t wear their thoughts on their sleeves. With 1 in 5 children living with a significant mental health concern and half of all lifetime mental health concerns starting by age 14, we need to give them a voice. On Our Sleeves®, powered by behavioral health experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, aims to provide every community in America with free resources necessary for breaking child mental health stigmas and educating families and advocates, because no child or family should struggle alone.

Since the inception of On Our Sleeves® in 2018, more than 3 million people in every state across America have interacted with the movement’s free pediatric mental health educational resources at OnOurSleeves.org and educator curricula have reached more than four of five classrooms across the United States.

To schedule an interview with a spokesperson for First Book, please contact Ian Kenison at ikenison@firstbook.org.

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#NNPA BlackPress

Moore Brown: Maryland Set to Have Two Black Statewide Officials

NNPA NEWSWIRE — If they are elected, Maryland would be the first state to have two Black statewide officials. Wes Moore has caught lightning in a bottle. He has run ads that have been narrated by Oprah Winfrey and has captured the excitement of the moment in Maryland.

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By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

On July 19, Wes Moore and Congressman Anthony Brown won their primary contests to be Governor of Maryland and Attorney General.

Maryland is a deep blue state that currently has a moderate Republican Governor. It is expected that Moore and Brown will have a major advantage over their Republican competitors.

If they are elected, Maryland would be the first state to have two Black statewide officials. Wes Moore has caught lightning in a bottle. He has run ads that have been narrated by Oprah Winfrey and has captured the excitement of the moment in Maryland.

Moore’s main opponent was former DOJ Civil Rights chief and DNC Chair Tom Perez. Perez came in second to Moore. The results were 36 percent for Moore, 27 percent for Perez and 19 percent for Peter Franchot.

Wes Moore’s victory is verification that Black statewide candidates in states with over 20 percent of the Black vote can run and win strong campaigns.

Current Governor Larry Hogan has said publicly that he will not vote for the Republican nominee for Governor. That nominee, Dan Cox, is a supporter of Donald Trump.

“Dan Cox …is a QAnon whack job who was in favor of calling Mike Pence, my friend, a traitor, when they were talking about hanging him,” Hogan said at a news conference on July 19.

Attorney and former prosecutor Glenn Ivey defeated former Congresswoman Donna Edwards in a primary to replace Anthony Brown in Maryland’s 4th district. Ivey is all but certain to be elected to Congress in such a blue district.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent investigative journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke

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#NNPA BlackPress

DOJ Indicts Four Police Officers Who Allegedly Lied to Secure Search Warrants for Breonna Taylor’s Home

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home, as usual, on the morning of March 13, 2020. Tragically, she did not. She was just 26 years old. As Attorney General Garland just stated, today’s indictments allege that Louisville Police Detective Joshua Jaynes and Sergeant Kyle Meany drafted and approved what they knew was a false affidavit to support a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home. That false affidavit set in motion events that led to Ms. Taylor’s death when other LMPD officers executed that warrant,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke on August 4. 

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By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, has long been insisting that Louisville police have never been at her daughter Breonna Taylor’s apartment on the night they shot her dead.

On August 4, the Department of Justice, led by the Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke, announced the indictments of four police officers who fatally shot Ms. Taylor during a nighttime raid on her apartment.

They asserted that the officers lied in order to get a search warrant for Taylor’s apartment.

The Justice Department announced that the indictments against the four current and former police officers would include federal charges of using “unconstitutionally excessive force.”

“Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home, as usual, on the morning of March 13, 2020. Tragically, she did not. She was just 26 years old. As Attorney General Garland just stated, today’s indictments allege that Louisville Police Detective Joshua Jaynes and Sergeant Kyle Meany drafted and approved what they knew was a false affidavit to support a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home. That false affidavit set in motion events that led to Ms. Taylor’s death when other LMPD officers executed that warrant,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke on August 4.

“The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution ensures that people are subject to searches only when there is probable cause supporting a search warrant. Falsified warrants create unnecessary hazards for the public and for the police, who rely on facts that fellow officers report in carrying out their public duties,” Clarke added.

“These charges focus on the conduct of the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Place-Based Investigations Unit. In the first indictment filed today, we allege that in early 2020, that unit was investigating suspected drug trafficking in the West End [area] of Louisville. On March 12, 2020, officers from that unit sought 5 search warrants they claimed were related to the suspected drug trafficking.  Four of those warrants targeted properties in the West End where that activity was allegedly occurring,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland before Clarke spoke.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent investigative journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke

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