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Black History

General Motors’ Black History Month event focuses on ‘The Power of Reinvention’

ROLLINGOUT.COM — GMAAN held its 13th Annual Black History Month Celebration.

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By Porsha Monique

The General Motors African Ancestry Network (GMAAN) held its 13th Annual Black History Month Celebration on Friday, February 9, 2019 at the Detroit Renaissance Marriott. This year’s program theme included The Power of Reinvention, and was presented by Cadillac, which is undergoing a dramatic reinvention of its own and now has a complete family of SUVs for the first time in its 116-year history. From the “Queen of Soul” riding the freeway of love in her pink Cadillac… to becoming a “Rapper’s Delight” in the first commercially successful hip-hop single, Cadillac is one of the most referenced brands in African American music.

“Cadillac is a brand of substance and quality that has been a pioneer of reinvention, and we are honored to have the brand as this year’s sponsor,” said Telva McGruder, president of GMAAN and director of Facility Engineering and Manufacturing Operations in Sustainable Workplaces. “As we recognized the achievements of community leaders and employees, we were inspired by stories of perseverance, dedication and courage that have opened more avenues of growth in our society. The evening crystalized the ways innovation manifests today and reminded us that it is woven throughout the fabric of the African American community,” McGruder went on to say.

For the past 13 years, GMAAN has produced a Black History Month Program that aimed to increase awareness of the GM brands and focused on its ties to the community, African American culture and community leaders. This year’s program continued that tradition as the program honored six African Americans that have demonstrated the power of reinvention in their lives and made valuable contributions in their respective communities and also featured esteemed film producer and entrepreneur, Jeff Friday, as their keynote speaker. Friday is the founder of the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) and CEO of ABFF Ventures. Friday and Cadillac has maintained a thriving partnership for nearly 10 years and this year, Friday was presented with the 2019 Trailblazer Award for excellence in leadership, outstanding achievements and community engagement during the program.

“A reinvention moment sparked a career change for me as I discovered a burning passion for black storytelling,” said Friday during his acceptance speech. “There needed to be a platform for young, black film makers, writers, directors and actors to tell stories specific to our experiences. In 1997, we had our first black film festival with 90 people. Now, in our 23rd year, the five-day festival attracts nearly 10,000 guests,” Friday continued.

The program’s musical entertainment was provided by four-time Grammy, multiple Stellar and GMA Dove award winning singer, songwriter and entrepreneur, Karen Clark Sheard, who sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” And multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning R&B singer and acclaimed actress Brandy closed out the evening with a first-class performance that kept the audience dancing and singing all night long.

John Henry, a Dominican-American entrepreneur, investor and host of Viceland’s unscripted series, HUSTLE, a series co-produced by Cadillac, served as the evening’s master of ceremonies. There was also a very entertaining fire-side chat between Friday and Yvonne Orji, Nigerian-American actress, comedienne, writer, and star on HBO’s comedy series Insecure.

Each year, the GMAAN Black History Month Program draws approximately 1K people and is a much-anticipated community event in Detroit. For the past 25 years, GMAAN has been a major sponsor of North-End, donating $5,000 for food and entertainment, along with recruiting employee sponsors for 200 children. Over the past 10 years, GMAAN members have raised nearly $65,000 for the American Breast Cancer Society through its Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Campaign. For more information on GMAAN, visit their website at www.gmaan.org.

This article originally appeared in Rollingout.com.

Black History

DeBoraha Akin-Townson: Trailblazing Cowgirl

According to the Texas State Historical Association, weekend rodeos featuring Black cowboys began in the late 1940s, thanks to the formation of the Negro Cowboys Rodeo Association in 1947.

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Rodeo is a sport in which cowboys and cowgirls showcase their skills in riding and roping. Its storied history has deep roots among many Blacks and Native Americans in the Midwest and South. 

Developed during the second half of the 19th century, events mainly took place in northern Mexico, the U.S., and western Canada. Despite the numbers of Black cowboys at that time, none were able to compete.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, weekend rodeos featuring Black cowboys began in the late 1940s, thanks to the formation of the Negro Cowboys Rodeo Association in 1947. Many from this organization would eventually pass the torch to DeBoraha Akin-Townson.
Quickly rising in the sport, Townson not only picked up the torch but made history by becoming the 1989 International Professional Rodeo Association Western Region Champion and, in 1990, the first Black cowgirl to compete in the International Professional Rodeo finals in Tulsa, Okla. 

She is also the only Black woman to compete with a professional card in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events throughout the U.S.
Very little has been recorded about Townson’s life. What is known is that she is of Native American heritage (Cherokee and Arkansas Indian) and was born in Rockford, Ill. She is about 62 years old and still married to her long-time husband, Stewart Townson. Her all-time hero, she told Indian Rodeo News, is her “maternal grandmother, who taught me to please God first through obedience and discipline. She was a true Proverbs 31 woman, and I try with all that I am to model myself after the godly example that she showed me.”
In 1980, Townson attended her first rodeo in Hemet, Calif. That’s when her interest in participating in the sport’s professional ranks was piqued.
Her event of choice was ‘barrels,’ something she had enjoyed since she was a child. In this event, a horse and rider attempt to run a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time. 

Participants in this women-only event are known for quick turns and high speeds. The winner is determined by thousandths of a second, and Townson was fast. Yet she joked about a time when her horse finished the race before she did.
“It wasn’t so funny when it happened,” she told Indian Rodeo News, “but it became something that I could laugh about later. I fell off the back of my horse trying to pick up the third barrel. My horse finished the pattern without me with the fastest time of the rodeo. The barrel was up, but since I wasn’t on him when he crossed the finish line, it was a [disqualification].”
Today Townson works as a horse-racing instructor and has passed her love of the rodeo down to her children. She advises all youth to “dare to not just dream but dream big and find a rodeo mentor to advise you and spur you on.”

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African American News & Issues

Company Will Pay African Americans $125 to Participate in Research Project

Participants in the survey need a stable, high-speed internet connection since the interviews are all being conducted via Zoom. The researchers are also asking potential interviewees to make sure that they have access to a quiet room and a dedicated telephone, and that they should be willing to share their experiences and opinions for approximately one hour.

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Glasses, Notebook and Laptop courtesy of Dan Dimmock via Unsplash

Evitarus, a Black-owned, Los Angeles-based public opinion research firm, is surveying African Americans in California to gauge opinions on healthcare and racism. The goal of the project, the company says, is to gather data that can influence healthcare policy.

“We are conducting one of the largest scale studies of Black people in the U.S. regarding their perspectives on health and experiences with health care,” said Shakari Byerly, partner and principal researcher at Evitarus.

“This research will be focused on Black Californians with the goal of changing both practice and policy as it relates to health care delivery and the elimination of racism in the health care system in California,” Byerly added.

People Evitarus select for the one-hour interview will be paid $125 for their time. Researchers plan to interview 3,200 people.

During the second phase of the survey, researchers will conduct interviews with African Americans to discuss their personal experiences with the healthcare system, healthcare disparities and the impact of racism.

Participants in the survey need a stable, high-speed internet connection since the interviews are all being conducted via Zoom. The researchers are also asking potential interviewees to make sure that they have access to a quiet room and a dedicated telephone, and that they should be willing to share their experiences and opinions for approximately one hour.

Byerly, former director of the California Governance Project at the Center for Governmental Studies, is also a National Academy of Sciences Ford Foundation Fellow, a Rev. James Lawson Teaching Fellow at UCLA, and a member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

She is also active in a number of African American-focused statewide and local civic and community-based organizations, including serving on the boards of Black Women Organized for Political Action, the African American Community Empowerment Council, and the Los Angeles African American Women’s Political Action Committee.

Byerly said, with the study, Evitarus intends to do a deep dive into the demographics of African Americans in California.

“We are especially interested in reaching Californians in harder to reach segments of our community, including those 70+ years of age, men of all ages, the LGBTQ+ community, lower income Black Californians, and those in key regions such as the Far North, Central Valley, Central Coast, and Orange County and San Diego counties,” she said.  “That said, all Black Californians are encouraged to participate.”

For more information about participating in this project, visit https://evitarus.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_enXQ1qkDsWWQfau.

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African American News & Issues

Reparations Task Force Agrees It Needs the Ideas, Input of Black Californians

Regions in the southern, northern, and central part of the state (where many Black farmers reside) should be involved in the process, said Grills. The “listening sessions would go beyond” formal task force meetings and would not infringe upon scheduled discussions, Grills added.

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Reparations Word Scramble Stock Via Google

On July 9, California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans held its second meeting in a series of 10.

During the Zoom conference, the group’s nine members shared differing views on how to best get Black Californians involved in their deliberations.

But they all agreed on one key point: having voices and ideas of African Americans across the state influence their conversations would be the best approach to successfully accomplish their work.

“A lot of things that’s important is we as a task force not let ourselves operate in a vacuum,” said Dr. Cheryl Grills, a member of the task force and professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “Not to assume that the public comments that happen at the end of our meetings are adequate to represent the community voice.”

Grills delivered a presentation titled “A Community Engagement Strategy for Taskforce Consideration.” In it, she put forth a plan to get Black Californians involved.

Grills suggested the task force host “listening sessions” across the state since it only has limited time to assess California’s role in slavery and Jim Crow discrimination — and follow up that work with developing resolutions to compensate African Americans for past and ongoing race-based injustices.

Regions in the southern, northern, and central part of the state (where many Black farmers reside) should be involved in the process, said Grills. The “listening sessions would go beyond” formal task force meetings and would not infringe upon scheduled discussions, Grills added.

The intent, she said, would be to involve Black Californians from varying backgrounds.

“Black folks exist in an ecosystem and the system includes a diverse, cultural base of people, social class, education levels, etc.,” said Grills. “So how do we make sure that those people are impacted. They need to be at the table.”

Through news coverage, Grills also suggested the National Association of Black Journalists could play a role in keeping the ongoing discourse about reparations “in the forefront and minds” of the Black community.

Lisa Holder, Esq. a nationally recognized trial attorney and task force member, emphasized that the proposal she prepared was not “in conflict” with Grills’ outreach plan and that her proposal offered a framework within which the task force can draw up its strategy to move forward.

Holder told fellow task force members that she and Grills are on the same page.

“This plan, for a lack of a better word, is in alignment with the blueprint we just saw (presented by Grills),” Holder clarified. “Grills focuses a little bit more on the details of how we can implement the community engagement plan. This outline I put together is a little bit broader and more of a concept.”

The meeting’s other seven participants were task force chair Kamilah V. Moore, a Los Angeles-based attorney, reparations scholar and activist; vice-chair Dr. Amos Brown, a civil rights leader and respected Bay Area pastor whose journey to leadership started under the tutelage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s; Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena); Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles); San Diego Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe; Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis,  chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley; and Attorney Don Tamaki, Esq. is an attorney best known for his role in the Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. the United States. Tamaki overturned the conviction of Fred Korematsu who refused to be taken into custody during the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

After hearing Grills’ presentation, Brown raised concerns about transparency.

He also said that other groups around the state should have an opportunity to present a plan for community engagement.

“What will we do around this state without our giving due diligence to announce to everybody, that you can present a plan, too?” Brown asked. “Whether it’s northern, central California, whatever. We talk about transparency, but if we are going to be about it, then we should be about it.”

The task force voted 8-0 to consider both Holder’s and Grills’ community engagement plans. Brown opposed the motion and abstained, withholding his vote.

Bradford said he favored a “blending” of the two proposals. Both Grills and Bradford suggested that the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA and the Mervyn Dymally African American Political and Economic Institute at California State University Dominguez Hills could assist in facilitating the statewide listening sessions, possibly through the California Department of Justice. Both academic research institutes are located in Southern California.

Steppe expressed confidence in her colleagues and the process.

“The (Black) community is going to play a huge role in getting whatever we present across the finish line,” she promised.

The task force also agreed to move public comments during the meeting from the end to the beginning of the sessions. Public comments will also expand from two minutes to three, Moore announced.

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