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On Sisterhood: Syleena Johnson Talks About Show, New Music

CHICAGO DEFENDER — Singer/songwriter/talk show host Syleena Johnson may be living and working in Atlanta but she is Chicago through and through. Johnson sat down with the Chicago Defender during a recent trip where she headlined Bantu Fest. Johnson talked about “Sister Circle Live,” her new album “Woman,” and where she goes to eat when she comes back to Chicago to visit.

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Syleena Johnson (Photo by: chicagodefender.com)

By Tia Carol Jones

Singer/songwriter/talk show host Syleena Johnson may be living and working in Atlanta but she is Chicago through and through. Johnson sat down with the Chicago Defender during a recent trip where she headlined Bantu Fest. Johnson talked about “Sister Circle Live,” her new album “Woman,” and where she goes to eat when she comes back to Chicago to visit.

In the second of a three-part series, Johnson talks about her upcoming album, “Woman.”

CD: So, let’s talk about my favorite part. The music.

SJ: The new album is called “Woman.” It’s dedicated to women: based on what we have had to endure in this country and in general. How we’ve been disrespected. We’ve been disregarded, how we’ve been sexually preyed upon, how we’ve been shunned, not listened to, not taken seriously.

So, this is an album that kind of celebrates us and it is coming from our heart, you know our perspective. It’s trying to explain who we are, how we feel. There’s a song on there, called “I Deserve,” where we talk about what we deserve in a man. There’s a song on there, called “She-ro,” which talks about a woman who will be there for her man.

One of the misconceptions is that women do not celebrate our men, and that is not true — that is not true one single solitary bit. We absolutely do celebrate our men. we are not being celebrated enough by them.

So, it’s just basically an album that comes from a woman’s heart, you know, and I think there’s been a misconception and a misunderstanding of how we really are, especially with black women. I think we are viewed as angry and difficult and I think that that prevents us from being able to even communicate properly and bridge the gap between male and female.

CD: When is the album set to be released?

SJ: We do not have a set street date. But we’re looking at fall, late September, early October. There will be a pre-order link up in the following weeks. We’re still in the process of mixing and mastering the album. Once the pre-order goes up, you’re going to get two gratis singles — “Woman” and another one. And then, as time progresses, we’ll probably release five gratis singles before the album actually drops. So, if you get the pre-order, you’ll also get like a single here and there and then when the album comes out, you’ll get the rest of the album.

CD: And, speaking of “Woman.” I watched the video on YouTube and that opening visual of the women in black is very powerful and strong. Is that what  you were feeling you wanted to convey when you (created the video)?

SJ: Yes, I feel like there have been a lot of images showing us being abused, weakened and I felt like that’s not just who we are. You know, we’re strong and lit, as well. We’re very lit. Especially black women, you know!

And, I wanted to give an almost black panther tease to it. So that it’s like a revolt, revolutionary, standing up for your rights, loving on other women which was indicative of the women walking and giving me different things, even though it was like jewelry and necklaces and different things. It was like, “come on girl. Let’s get your stuff.” Kind of like we need each other to continue to progress. I just wanted to show us in a strong front. Our president saying disgusting, vile things and actually getting away with it, being disrespectful telling those women of color in Congress to go back where they came from. You know we’re in a time right now where it is okay to be disrespectful towards women, the mothers of the earth, the women who birth and go through nine months of anguish and anxiety carrying a child to then push it out of their body. We should be celebrated for that alone, you know, not to mention everything that we do as nurturers to help continue making the world go around, what we’ve invented, what we’ve created. So, I just wanted to show us in a strong visual: a strong positive visual. Not just a weakened, beaten, or ignorant, immature state.

CD: And so, I love the lyrics, “and if it’s a man’s world then the world is yours because woman gave birth to the man.”

SJ: I mean, I don’t know what else to say. If it’s a man’s world then how did you get here? That means that everything that you have is because of a woman. If my son, if it’s is his world then it’s very much mine because actually I had him. These things are not taken into consideration. And another thing that irritates me about this country is when it comes to women or just men in general, if we dig up or put out a highlight on what women have done. It doesn’t mean that it takes away from what you’ve done. Turns out we were right here with you.

CD: And, so for me, that song seems like it’s an anthem?

SJ: I’m hoping so, child. I’m hoping that it can be an anthem. I wrote it to be an anthem. I wrote it to be something that a woman can hold onto, especially because of the whole dumb slogan “Make America Great Again,” which is so dumb because America was never great if it was built on slavery. Please explain to me, for black people, where it was ever great. So that’s dumb to us. It wasn’t really great for women either, we couldn’t even vote. So, with that being said if you want to “Make America Great Again,” you need to start respecting your women but women have to stand up and rise up and not be afraid to speak their mind. And then, we can’t care about what people think and say about us. We have to work together because there’s strength in numbers. We can’t keep working against each other within the infrastructure of women when we have to stop competing with each other.

CD: What was your mindset when you were creating the tracks for the album?

SJ: I was upset. Frustrated. Working with “Sister Circle” you have to be like a low-key reporter and a journalist. So, when I come out there to do a top of a show, I’ve already gone through a myriad of different stories and topics. And it might have been the one when the police threw the woman down and had her breast come out or it could have been some sexual charges or our president could have said something stupid. You know, and then it might have just annoyed me. So, I went in the studio and all of this is happening all at the same time. I just wanted to say something to us to keep us strong. You know, it’s like anything — you can always use racism because at first, if you think of anything negative, racism it is, or slavery. It’s like with anything if you keep having to be in something all the time, you’re going to get frustrated and you’re going to feel oppressed all the time and it’s stressful.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Defender.

#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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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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