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Jerrod Dukes, Operations Coordinator, Vibestreet: ‘Learn More, Help More’

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Jerrod Dukes, 24, is operations coordinator of Vibestreet Photography and Recording Studios, a rental space near Five Points South that opened this year and hosts a broad range of photo shoots, videography, art shows, meetings, and even served as a site for a local reality show. He recently spoke to the Birmingham Times about the multipurpose location for creatives in the Magic City.

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Jerrod Dukes (Photo by: birminghamtimes.com)

By Ameera Steward

Jerrod Dukes, 24, is operations coordinator of Vibestreet Photography and Recording Studios, a rental space near Five Points South that opened this year and hosts a broad range of photo shoots, videography, art shows, meetings, and even served as a site for a local reality show. He recently spoke to the Birmingham Times about the multipurpose location for creatives in the Magic City.

Birmingham Times: What do you like most about Birmingham?

Dukes: It’s an emerging city that hasn’t reached its full potential yet, so it still feels quaint, but it’s advancing, so it doesn’t remind me of Mayberry, [the fictional town where The Andy Griffith Show was set]. Also, its location in the middle of the Southeast offers short travel to all the major cities in the region. But if I had to just pick one thing, it would probably have to be the fact that my family is here. I feel that family helps keep you grounded, and having a support system can help you reach farther than you ever thought possible.

If you had someone visit from out of town, what’s the one place you have to take them?

Railroad Park for tacos. While enjoying tacos, we could view the Rotary Trail or simply just walk around the park and people watch, even start up a game of tag or kickball and have it feel like we’re just at someone’s house playing in the backyard.

What’s your favorite movie?

I get torn over classics like “A Streetcar Named Desire” or the hot new thing like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Do I like it because I think the actor was really good, like Leonardo DiCaprio in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” Or do I just think the actress is gorgeous, like Nia Long in “Love Jones”? Well, like I said, I don’t have a favorite movie, but a couple that I could always watch are “A Bronx Tale,” “The Wood,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and, of course, “Love Jones.”

Who’s your favorite musical artist?

I’ve never had a favorite musical artist because my musical selection tends to change so frequently. Nowadays, I’ve been listening to a lot of Southern rap, such as UGK and Jeezy. With that said, I also had to listen to my sister’s music of choice as a child because she was older, so now I find myself listening to N’Sync and Beyoncé—solo and Destiny’s Child—as well. Also, as many of us can attest, I still go back to the music I listened to riding with my parents, which includes Frankie Beverly and Maze and The Temptations. So, if I had to give you my most played in the last week, it would be Kevin Gates, YBN Cordae, live Beyoncé albums, Celine Dion, and Starlito & Don Trip.

What’s a food dish you can never get tired of?

Chicken wings would be my meal of choice 9.5 times out of 10; the other .5 would probably be tacos. Wings are my favorite because of their versatility and simplicity. They can be fancy or ordinary, but as long as they’re well-seasoned they’re amazing. Also, the abundance of flavors, ranging from spicy to sweet to plain, they can do no wrong if well-seasoned.

What are you most passionate about professionally? Personally?

Professionally, I always want to show people that there is a more convenient way to do things. Everything doesn’t have to be all suit-and-tie and mountains of formalities. If there is something that needs to be done, what is the best way to satisfy all objectives that doesn’t require meaningless meetings? Personally: Find what makes me happy and do it whatever it is. I want to never limit myself because of overthinking. A few years back I went skiing, something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. So, since then I’ve been on the hunt for what excites me and trying it.

Who is someone you admire, and why?

My mother, first and foremost, because of her strength and selflessness. She literally will break her back to make sure we have everything my family needs, while still getting us some of the things we want. She is an inspiration to my entire family, and we can do nothing but thank her. As far as a celebrity, I really like Samuel L. Jackson, not just because of the profanity, although it does add a certain flair, but for his humanitarianism and his unflinching attitude to do what he feels. He and his wife contribute to many causes worldwide to help bring peace, aid, and just an overall wellness to the world. Also, he is talented enough to say whatever he feels without fear of being blackballed. He has done Broadway, which is a feat in itself, while also having been at least two movies a year for the last 30 years.

What are three pet peeves?

People who don’t eat all the chicken off of the bone and don’t break the flat wings apart. It’s shameful and wasteful. People who don’t use the right direction for explaining how to travel from place to place, like from Birmingham to Nashville they would say, “We’re going down to Nashville,” even though it’s definitely to the north. When people pop their tongue off the roof of their mouth like they’re a dog trying to get peanut butter off of it, it irritates me to my core! Honorable mention: People who don’t know how to play cards.

How do you want to be remembered?

As someone who sought knowledge and helped everyone he could with it. I found out a few years back that I find real joy in helping others make their dreams come true. That’s the main reason I started working with Vibestreet. I saw [fellow co-founder Micah Lewis’s] passion for it, and I felt compelled to help.

What do you want to do before you die?

I wish to open a production house to help people get interested in or even rekindle their passion for films and filmmaking. I was not always set in my dreams of being in the film industry, and the people around me have always heard me speak of it as an idea. So, before I die, I want it to become a reality.

What publications or websites do you regularly read?

I’m a huge sneakerhead, so daily I receive upwards of 250 messages from various websites and magazines, such as Sneaker News, Sole Links, and Nike, about shoes. From these messages, I look at the websites and blogs, learning about new colorways and how the creator was inspired to make the shoe. I also use Internet Movie Database (IMDb) a lot. Every time I watch something new, be it movie or TV show, I check out IMDb to learn more about the actors and actresses. It also comes in handy if you can’t quite remember where you remember an actor from. Another magazine I read is Bon Appétit. It provides me with different versions of staple recipes, such as low-calorie or gluten-free options. It also gives me fresh takes on new recipes from different countries. Another great thing is that the recipes are usually some adaption of a family recipe, so you feel like it was handed down to you and you’re a part of the family.

What is your personal motto?

“Learn more, help more.” I always want to keep learning about everything because that way you can always find what works best for you. Also, when you constantly learn, you can help others more effectively by being able to help them find what works for them.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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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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