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MLK at 90: On King’s 90th birthday, five contemporaries offer perspective

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Dr. King’s tragic death here in Memphis on April 4, 1968 came when he was 39. He died as he lived: Absolutely committed to changing for the better factors that affect quality and length of life, particularly for African Americans.

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By Sybil C. Mitchell, The New Tri-State Defender

The life expectancy at birth for an African American man born as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in 1929, would have been about 47, according to Vol. 50, No. 6 of the National Vital Statistics Reports. For women, it would have been 49.

By contrast, the life expectancy for white men and white women would have been 60 and 64, respectively.

Dr. King’s tragic death here in Memphis on April 4, 1968 came when he was 39. He died as he lived: Absolutely committed to changing for the better factors that affect quality and length of life, particularly for African Americans.

Statistics suggest that while life expectancies have improved across the board for decades, deep rooted disparities remain. The five, ninety-something men and women interviewed by The New Tri-State Defender for this story acknowledged changes and remaining challenges when asked to reflect on the context of Dr. King.

Barbara Cooper

Barbara Cooper

Barbara Cooper, 89

Tennessee House of Representatives (D-86)
Date of Birth: August 4, 1929

“In the five decades Dr. King has been gone, there have been so many wonderful achievements made by black people. He would have been thrilled to see African Americans achieving in every walk of life.

“He would have just been so pleased and proud – so excited… on that November night in 2008 when President Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected to the nation’s highest office. I can see him up in Washington calling President Obama his ‘son.’

“When it comes to our black youth killing one another, he would have been so dismayed. But then, I also think that had he lived, and had he remained here to shepherd the movement and mobilize our leaders and our youth, we would not have this widespread phenomenon of young black men and women killing each other.

“He would have guided us with his vision. There seems to be no vision for our children except locking them up. As we remember his legacy this month, we must be reminded that there is yet so much work to do. There is no time to sit down and rest when our children can’t read and have no way of competing in the future with their peers, unless we continue Dr. King’s work in serving and uplifting our community.”

Dr. James L. Netters

Dr. James L. Netters

Dr. James L. Netters, 92

Mt. Vernon Baptist Church- Westwood, Pastor Emeritus
Date of Birth: September 10, 1927

“Of course, God has brought us through so many trials and challenges. We enjoy a quality of life that only existed back then in the imagination of Dr. King.

“I remember as a young preacher in 1963 going to Washington where Dr. King delivered his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. I helped set up the stage as thousands and thousands of people gathered there at the Lincoln Memorial. We were setting up, and I remember sitting down at the back of the stage when he began speaking. I was riveted to that seat as he encouraged and uplifted us all.

“After that, I would have the opportunity to meet with him several times at his room in the Lorraine Motel. He would stay in that same room all the time. Of course, we marched along side of him during the Sanitation Strike.

“But before that time, it was in 1964, seven of us were inspired by Dr. King to stage a sit-in on the city bus. We were arrested, and they put me in the car with Jesse Turner (former national NAACP treasurer, Tri-State Bank president and Shelby County Commissioner). While we were in that police car, Jesse told me to pray, and I said:

“‘Lord Jesus, forgive these police officers for taking us to jail, for they know not what they do. They are arresting us because they want to maintain the status quo. But forgive them, Lord.’

“Then, one of the officers put his hand on his billy club and said, ‘OK, preacher, that’s enough.’

“Then I said very loudly, ‘And Lord, AMEN.’ Jesse and I would laugh about that for many years.

“But Dr. King’s dream is still alive, and I carry it, living in the dream, and it is still just as strong and as forceful as it was in 1963.”

Dr. Erma Clanton

Dr. Erma Clanton

Dr. Erma Clanton, Professor Emeritus, 95

University of Memphis
Date of Birth: February 5, 1923

“I was working on my master’s degree at the University of Memphis when he was assassinated. Like most young, African American people, we were inspired to give of ourselves in serving and helping others.

“I began teaching english and speech at Melrose High School in 1969. We had to be more than just teachers in the classroom. We were parents and counselors and nurturers of our students. Dr. King was driven by the vision of our children doing better than we did, each generation becoming more and more successful.

“As I moved to the University of Memphis and began teaching Theater and Communications, I tried always to create new opportunities for our children to act, to speak and to communicate effectively. Those were heady days when we performed all over the country versions of my original stage production, ‘An Evening of Soul.’

“Many students were the first to attend college, and on the high school level, some of those children had no dream of attending college after graduation. Those shows instilled a sense of pride and beauty in being ‘young, gifted and black,’ to use the words of a songwriter.

“I like to think that Dr. King would have loved those productions and what I was trying to do…”

Norvelle Sanders

Norvelle Sanders

Norvelle Sanders, 88

Member of Kappa Alpha Psi for 70 years
Date of Birth: December 5, 1930

“I was born in Yazoo City, Miss. My mother left me with my grandparents who lived in Memphis. She went up to Detroit to get a good job.

“I graduated from Fisk University, where I pledged Kappa. After graduation, I went up to Michigan to live with my mother. I stayed a few years, but then returned to Memphis in 1960.

“Back when Dr. King was involved in the civil rights movement, the Kappas as well as all the black Greek organizations stood with him. Organization of the marches and protests were coordinated through ministers and their churches.

“And so, there was a strong, Greek presence in Dr. King’s efforts and other civil rights leaders through the churches…

“Mr. Obama is the embodiment of Dr. King’s dream for future generations of black children. If his spirit was anywhere around the inauguration, he was leaping with joy.”

Opal Carpenter Mayfield

Opal Carpenter Mayfield

Opal Carpenter Mayfield, 90

Retired Teacher
Date of Birth: February 5, 1928

“…Dr. King had galvanized blacks all over the nation. We were left with his dream, and that helped to move us forward.

“My husband and I had six children. He died of cancer when they were very young. I raised them by myself, all six – four boys and two girls. All of them have masters and doctorate degrees.

“That day when Dr. King was killed, I believe we all realized that quitting was not an option, and failure was not an option. It was a sad day, and all we could do was pray.

“I taught school and retired after 30 years. … I believe all educators felt a duty and responsibility to guide and nurture our kids, not just in the classroom, but we had to teach them life lessons that would carry them through to adulthood.

“All of us were part of Dr. King’s legacy. We had to go on. We had to embrace the dream for all our children.”

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IN MEMORIAM: Cheryl Hickmon: National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Dies

NNPA NEWSWIRE — THE BURTON WIRE — Hickmon, a beloved and celebrated member, served the organization for 39 years. The Connecticut native was initiated into the Alpha Xi Chapter at South Carolina State University in 1982 and was an active member of the Hartford (Conn.) Alumnae Chapter. The national office of the sorority released a statement announcing Hickmon’s  death which reads as follows, in part: “It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.

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Cheryl Hickmon, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, the nation’s largest African-American sorority.

By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor

The nation is mourning the passing of Cheryl Hickmon, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, the nation’s largest African-American sorority. Hickmon was elected president of the organization dedicated to sisterhood, scholarship and service  November 21, 2021 at the 55th national convention held in Atlanta, GA.

Hickmon, a beloved and celebrated member, served the organization for 39 years. The Connecticut native was initiated into the Alpha Xi Chapter at South Carolina State University in 1982 and was an active member of the Hartford (Conn.) Alumnae Chapter. The national office of the sorority released a statement announcing Hickmon’s  death which reads as follows:

“It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.

President Hickmon was a devoted member of Delta Sigma Theta since 1982 and served in various capacities at the chapter, region, and national level before being elected National President. She is remembered not only for her role as a leader but for being a colleague, friend, and most of all, sister.

The entire sisterhood of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated mourns the loss of President Hickmon. During this difficult time, we ask that you respect her family’s privacy and keep them in your prayers.”

In addition to serving as the national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Cheryl was employed at Montefiore’s Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Health in Hartsdale, NY where she supervised the In Vitro Fertilization Laboratories for Andrology and Endocrinology. A licensed Clinical Laboratory Technologist, Hickmon worked in the Reproductive Medical Laboratory for more than 30 years.
Members and supporters have been offering remembrances and calling for prayers in response to Hickmon’s death. Florida representative Val Demings,  who is a member of the sorority, shared her thoughts via Twitter:
Organizations including the NAACP and fellow Black Greek Letter Organizations like Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma and Alpha Kappa Alpha have issued statements about Hickmon’s passing.

Cheryl Hickmon is the daughter of the late Dr. Ned Hickmon of Hartford, CT and Bishopville, South Carolina and the late Consuella Anderson Hickmon of Hartford, CT and Cincinnati, Ohio. She is survived by her two older brothers Ned and David Hickmon.

Hickmon’s bio reads, “Cheryl lives her life by the motto … ‘Don’t measure life by the number of breaths you take but by the number of moments that take your breath away.’” She was 60.

This obituary was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Instagram or Twitter @TheBurtonWire. 

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Parents Raise the Alarm About Violence in Schools, Say Their Votes Depends on Improvement

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.

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NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.
About 52 percent said student mental health after coping with the pandemic is a significant issue, as well.

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

A new poll revealed that parents continue to express “legitimate concerns” about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources.

Alarmingly, the poll released by the National Parents Union found that 59 percent of parents are very or extremely concerned about how schools are teaching race and diversity.

“Many Black parents are worried that schools are being harsher on students of color compared to white students,” researchers noted in the poll.

The National Parents Union counts as a network of parent organizations and grassroots activists committed to improving the quality of life for children and families in the United States.

Conducted from November 19 to November 23, the survey included 1,233 parents who also count as registered voters.

Researchers found that 84 percent of parents are concerned about how schools address the threat of violence, and 59 percent identified increased bullying or violence in school as a significant issue.

About 52 percent said student mental health after coping with the pandemic is a significant issue, as well.

“Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.

“Now, it is incumbent on schools to do something about these issues, especially given the federal funds available. It’s not rocket science. Rather than repaint a football field, first, make sure that there are enough counselors to help students cope with mental health issues,” Rodrigues asserted.

The poll also asked the parents who responded that they were concerned about the threat of violence, which worries them the most.

The top three most pressing concerns remain:

  • 44 percent: schools not having enough counselors, psychologists, or social workers to work with students
  • 42 percent: schools not having resources to keep weapons out of schools
  • 39 percent: schools not having school resource officers or police accessible on campus
  • 59 percent of parents are extremely or very concerned about how schools are teaching about race and diversity; Among Black parents, 69 percent share this sentiment, which drops slightly to 67 percent among Hispanic parents.

Of the overall number of parents who are at least somewhat concerned (79 percent):

  • 48 percent say what concerns them the most is schools are not teaching accurate information about the issue of race.
  • 42 percent are most concerned about schools pushing a progressive agenda onto students
  • 56 percent of GOP parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
  • 32 percent are most concerned that schools aren’t focused on the issue enough
  • 46 percent of Black parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
  • 78 percent of parents are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues
  • Nearly half (46 percent) of Black parents who said they are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues are worried that schools are harsher on students of color compared to white students
  • 38 percent of parents trust Democrats to do a better job of handling education; 31 percent trust Republicans; 14 percent trust both equally; 11 percent trust neither

Among parents who identify as Independents, 28 percent trust Republicans and 20 percent trust Democrats.

“These findings underscore the importance of the very thing we have been imploring school leaders across the country to do – listen to the parents in your community,” Rodrigues stated.

“It also reinforces the need for those running for office to take the concerns of parents very seriously or risk losing elections.”

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COMMENTARY: Telling Our Family Stories Keeps Black History Alive

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of our favorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

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Dr. Margaret Fortune, Fortune School, University of Southern California (USC), football, USC marching band, marching bands, drumline, public charter school, Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School, family stories, life in the Carolinas, parents, grandparents, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, children’s book, Rex and the Band, grandma, Dr. Rex Fortune, retired public school superintendent, little Rex, spirited young boy, high-energy marching band, North Carolina A&T football games, sister’s beautifully illustrated book, Telling our family stories, African Americans, history, Griots, storytellers, grandparents, ancestors, passed on, Black press, clearinghouse, many stories, Black community, Ebony Jr., elementary school student, high school, Sacramento Observer newspaper, Cocoa Kids Books, engaging, authentic, uplifting, inspiring
Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

Let’s Talk Black Education

By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO Fortune School

When we were kids, my dad would take us to football games at the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t care much for football, but I loved it when we’d stay after the game to hear the USC marching band play. His love for marching bands is why we have a drumline at the public charter school I founded and named after my parents — Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of ourfavorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

As the story goes, one day back in 1947, my grandma sent little Rex to the corner store to get some eggs so she could bake a cake. My dad bought the eggs and put them in his pockets. On the walk home, he encountered a marching band high-steppin’ down the dusty road to his mother’s house. Little Rex got so excited that he followed the band, beating on his legs like drums all the way home and, yes, breaking all the eggs.

“Rex and the Band” explores a day in the life of Rex, a spirited young boy who dreams of one day playing in a high-energy marching band like the ones he enjoys watching with his father during North Carolina A&T football games.

Reading my sister’s beautifully illustrated book, I cried tears of joy. Telling our family stories is such an important way for African Americans to keep our history alive. Griots, or storytellers, are the reason why we know the truths that we do know about our family history and ancestors.

I believe all of us can think back to when our grandparents would tell us stories about our ancestors who may have passed on before we were born. It was their way of making sure our stories were not only told but preserved.

The Black press has been the clearinghouse for many stories that have impacted the Black community over time. My sister published her first poem in Ebony Jr. as an elementary school student and then in high school she interned at the Sacramento Observer newspaper.

Gwen founded Cocoa Kids Books to publish books like “Rex and the Band” that encourage Black children to dream, aspire for more, and soar because they see themselves reflected in stories that are engaging, authentic, uplifting, and inspiring. I’m so proud of my big sis! You can buy Gwen’s book at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/rex-and-the-band.

Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

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