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Educator Spotlight: Donald Hense

NNPA ESSA AWARENESS CAMPAIGN — Three-quarters of the students enrolled in Friendship schools in D.C. are from Wards 7 and 8, the city’s two poorest areas, and nearly all are African-American. Their achievement is reflected in their continuous improvement on standardized tests. Most recently, Donald Hense and his team celebrated, when five of Friendship’s 12 D.C. schools were rated Tier 1 by the Public Charter School Board – the highest of three ratings a charter school can earn.

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At 75, Donald Hense says he is not done. The Friendship Education Fund continues to identify opportunities to replicate their model around the country.

By Curtis Valentine

The African-American community’s fight for quality education requires constant dedication and reflection on successful strategies to educate our children. Donald Hense and the Friendship Charter Network is an example of success worthy of recognition.

Hense is the founder and board chairman of the Friendship Charter Network, the largest African-American-led charter school network in America. Hense’s accomplishment is significant, because, while over 80 percent of charter school students are Black or Latino, fewer than 10 percent of charter schools are founded and led by Blacks or Latinos, according to a study by the Brookings Institute.

Three-quarters of the students enrolled in Friendship schools in D.C. are from Wards 7 and 8, the city’s two poorest areas, and nearly all are African-American. Their achievement is reflected in their continuous improvement on standardized tests. Most recently, Hense and his team celebrated, when five of Friendship’s 12 D.C. schools were rated Tier 1 by the Public Charter School Board – the highest of three ratings a charter school can earn.

As a native of St. Louis and graduate of Morehouse College and Stanford University, Hense has long understood the power of a quality education. But for years he had no interest in working in K-12 education. He was serving as executive director of Friendship House Association, a non-profit serving low-income families in Washington D.C., when he was approached by an executive from a local charter operator about using Friendship House to charter a school. After some reflection, he agreed to transfer his experience fighting intergenerational poverty to the fight for quality public education.

Hense made history as the first African American to win a grant from New Schools Venture Fund, which supports charter school founders. Friendship was among the first group of schools chartered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board in 1998. Twenty years later, it has 12 campuses for students in grades Pre-K3 to 12 in D.C., an online school, and schools in Baton Rouge, La., Baltimore, Md., and Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Hense is proud of Friendship and of education reform efforts in Washington, but he is not ready to celebrate. “We declared victory too soon,” he says. “Fifteen years of education reform is not an institution.”

To Hense, the fight to reform school systems serving African-American students should include more leaders of color. For years, he held a monthly meeting of black charter school leaders in D.C. to talk about their experiences and discuss lessons learned, but it “fizzled out” after young leaders lost interest. “We brought in second and third generation [leaders] and forgot to show them that [African-Americans] need to work together to get things done,” he says. “New [leaders] have to participate in black organizations.”

In spite of a few setbacks, Hense is still dedicated to supporting African-Americans interested in opening their own charter schools. The greatest obstacle to their success, he believes, is lack of experience in management. A potential founder needs “a good plan and a good board of directors. It’s best to go in [to the charter application process] with a strong [management] team.”

Fortunately, there are positive examples of young, African-American charter school founders to emulate. In 2017, Dominique Lee of BRICK Avon Academy in Newark, New Jersey won a Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Education Department. Dominque aims to use the grant to educate 3,000 students in Newark over the next few years, making BRICK the state’s third-largest CMO and the only one led by a person of color.

Hense recommends that other African Americans interested in starting charter schools apply for funding from the New Schools Venture Fund or for charter school design grants from Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), if they are in D.C.

At 75, Hense says he is not done. The Friendship Education Fund continues to identify opportunities to replicate their model around the country. Friendship’s goal is to bring what Hense and his team learned in Washington to the countless districts struggling to grow African-American student achievement. As DCPS welcomes a new chancellor with experience championing school choice, there may be new opportunities in D.C. as well.

This article is a part of The ‘Reinventing America’s Schools’ series. This series highlights Change Makers from our community who are walking reflections of what’s possible when we place Accountability and Autonomy at the forefront. 

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Brittney Griner Sentenced to More than 9 years in Russian Prison

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The lawyers of WNBA star Brittney Griner, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement following the verdict announcement that the court ignored all the evidence they presented and that they will appeal the decision. “We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.

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

WNBA Superstar Brittney Griner has been sentenced to more than 9 years in a Russian prison following her conviction on drug charges.

Her lawyers called the verdict a disappointment and vowed to appeal.

The lawyers of WNBA star Brittney Griner, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement following the verdict announcement that the court ignored all the evidence they presented and that they will appeal the decision.

“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.

“The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea. This contradicts the existing legal practice.

“Taking into account the amount of the substance (not to mention the defects of the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal,” they added.

Russian officials contended that Griner committed the crime on purpose. They also levied a fine totaling about $16,400 American dollars on the basketball star.

Authorities arrested Griner on Feb. 17 at an airport in Moscow after finding less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

She has been detained since then.

Recently, American officials revealed that the Biden-Harris administration had offered notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” President Biden said.

“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

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Report: Human Rights Violations in Prisons Throughout Southern United States Cause Disparate and Lasting Harm in Black Communities  

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “The U.S. has long failed to live up to its international human rights treaty obligations on eliminating racial discrimination, perhaps more so in the area of mass incarceration and prison conditions than in any other context,” said Lisa Borden, Senior Policy Counsel, International Advocacy at the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

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NNPA Newswire

NEW YORK – The Southern Prisons Coalition, a group of civil and human rights organizations, submitted a new report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on the devastating consequences of incarceration on Black people throughout the southern United States.

With the long-term goal of eliminating all forms of racial discrimination in the criminal legal system, including the carceral system, the report describes the widespread, disparate harms resulting from the arrests, harsh prison sentences, and incarceration on Black communities.

The report also cites the devastating impacts of solitary confinement, prison labor, the school to prison pipeline, and incarceration of parents on Black families.

On August 8, 2022, the UN will review the United States’ compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination for the first time since 2014.

Among the ongoing stark racial disparities throughout prisons in the southern United States, Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated in state prisons.

In states like Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, where Black communities comprise 38% of the total population, Black individuals account for as much as 67% of the total incarcerated population.

While incarcerated, Black people are more than eight times more likely to be placed in solitary confinement, and they are 10 times more likely to be held there for exceedingly long periods of time.

By submitting the report to the United Nations, the Southern Prisons Coalition hopes to solicit concrete recommendations from the UN Committee as well as commitments from the United States delegation about their plans to address systemic issues in the United States prison system, particularly in the South.

According to the report, several states in the United States have also failed to meet several of the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of incarcerated people, including:

  • Work should help to prepare incarcerated people for their release from prison, including life and job skills;
  • Safety measures and labor protections for incarcerated workers should be the same as those that cover workers who are not incarcerated;
  • Incarcerated workers should receive equitable pay, be able to send money home to their families, and have a portion of their wages set aside to be given to them upon release.

“The U.S. has long failed to live up to its international human rights treaty obligations on eliminating racial discrimination, perhaps more so in the area of mass incarceration and prison conditions than in any other context,” said Lisa Borden, Senior Policy Counsel, International Advocacy at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“We hope the Committee will help to shine a light on these very dark truths and prompt the U.S. to take its obligation to make significant improvements more seriously.”

“The abuses of forced labor are inextricably tied to racial discrimination in our nation,” said Jamila Johnson, Deputy Director at the Promise of Justice Initiative.

“In Louisiana, for instance, people are still sent into the fields to labor by hand in dangerously high heat indexes, for little to no compensation, and with brutal enforcement reminiscent of slavery and the era of ‘convict leasing’.”

“This report reveals the suffering of Black people in southern U.S. prisons, whose stories of marginalization and discrimination echo the racial subjugation of slavery and convict leasing during our country’s most shameful past,” said Antonio L. Ingram II, Assistant Counsel at the Legal Defense Fund.

“Despite widespread knowledge of the longstanding racial inequalities in the criminal legal and carceral systems, the United States continues to allow egregious human rights violations to persist for Black incarcerated people in violation of international law. This report serves as a sobering reminder of how far we need to go.”

Read the full report here.

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Celebrate your birthday with 10 free items

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Is your birthday coming up, and you’re not sure how to celebrate? Beat the summer heat by grabbing free ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery, or a daiquiri at WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe.” Not in the mood for sweets? Head over to Jersey Mike’s or McDonald’s. Check out the rest of these Top 10 places giving out free items on your special day.

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By Angelina Liu, Entertainment Editor of The Trendsetter / Texas Metro News

Is your birthday coming up, and you’re not sure how to celebrate? Beat the summer heat by grabbing free ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery, or a daiquiri at WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe.” Not in the mood for sweets? Head over to Jersey Mike’s or McDonald’s. Check out the rest of these Top 10 places giving out free items on your special day.

1. Chocolate Secrets

At Chocolate Secrets, located at 3926 Oak Lawn Ave, Dallas, TX 75219, you can celebrate your birthday by getting one free piece of candy under their candy cases.

2. WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe”

Head to WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe”, located at 684 W Pioneer Pkwy Suite 100, Grand Prairie, Texas 75051, to claim a free small personal daiquiri on your birthday. Quench your thirst with signature flavors such as “Strawberry Shortcake” or “Bahama Mama.”

3. Sephora

Sign up for a free, Beauty Insider account and receive your choice of 250 bonus points, Laura Mercier, Amika or Tatcha sets on your birthday. The choice of powders, lipsticks and skincare is bound to make you look fabulous for your special day.

4. Starbucks

Need a quick pick-me-up on your birthday? Starbucks has it covered! Join the Starbucks Rewards Program seven days prior to your birthday and make one purchase. Starbucks will then email you a coupon for a free food or beverage item two days before your birthday. The birthday reward qualifies for anything on the menu, including any size handcrafted drink or food item.

5. Jersey Mike’s

In the mood for a sub? Head over to Jersey Mike’s and receive a free sub and drink. Make sure to sign up for the Jersey Mike’s Subs Email Club prior to your birthday to receive this reward. Nothing tastes quite like melted cheese and meat in between a toasted baguette, along with an icy cold drink.

6. The Cheesecake Factory

Celebrating with friends? Tell your server it’s your birthday and receive a free treat as well as a song. It may be mildly embarrassing, but hey, it’s free!

7. Culver’s

Need something cold and sweet to beat the Texas heat? Head to Culver’s for a free sundae when you sign up for their rewards program. The sweet creaminess will surely not disappoint.

8. IHOP

Want to indulge in a sweet breakfast before birthday festivities? Join the International Bank of Pancakes rewards program to receive a free stack of pancakes on your birthday. Pair your pancakes with a choice of chocolate chips, syrup, fresh fruit or a dollop of whipped cream.

9. McDonald’s

Need a snack before embarking on your next birthday adventure? Download the McDonald’s app and join MyMcDonald’s Rewards to receive free large fries. Mmm, the taste and smell of fresh, perfectly salted french fries.

10. Smoothie King

Want to celebrate your birthday with a healthier option? Enjoy a birthday smoothie at Smoothie King. Download the Smoothie King app to receive this offer.

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
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