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PRESS ROOM: Mount Vernon Student Receives Full Scholarship

HUDSON VALLEY PRESS —  Surrounded by family, friends, teammates, and coaches, senior track and field weight and hammer thrower Jannah Sharpe from The Mount Vernon High School signed a National Letter of Intent on February 27 to compete in track and field with Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. She received a full scholarship from the school.

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By The Hudson Valley Press

MOUNT VERNON – Surrounded by family, friends, teammates, and coaches, senior track and field weight and hammer thrower Jannah Sharpe from The Mount Vernon High School signed a National Letter of Intent on February 27 to compete in track and field with Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. She received a full scholarship from the school.

“Take these next few months of your senior year as seriously as you have always taken them,” Principal Ronald Gonzalez told Sharpe during the ceremony. “And carry yourself through the next four years the way that you have carried yourself. Continue to make your mom and your family proud and don’t forget us here at Mount Vernon High School. I know that you will have a great career track-wise. But what you do with your education is going to be bigger than anything you will do in track and field.”

She’s competed in track and field all four years at the high school.

“It has been great to watch her go from a little ninth-grader who barely knew what to do to a senior who is hungry and wants to win everything no matter what,” said Charles Winslow, MVHS track and field coach. “No matter how big the other kids are, no matter how stacked the competition is, she’s out there giving her 100 percent.”

The speeches came from her coaches, former coaches, friends and teammates, as well as her mother Tarikah Wajid, and her father, Timothy Sharpe.

“I’m proud of what Jannah has accomplished,” said Wajid. “It was her goal from junior high school to get an athletic scholarship or an academic scholarship. She knew she was a talented athlete but she continued to work on her technique and skills that are necessary in track.”

Sharpe is currently ranked No. 10 in the U.S. and No. 3 in New York State for women’s high school hammer throwing. She has the furthest hammer throw and weight throw in Section IX.

She said her only goal now is to beat the school record.

“I want to thank everyone for coming,” Jannah Sharpe said, after the signing and at the end of the ceremony. “I’ve been working at this my whole four years at Mount Vernon High School and now I see everything is paying off. It’s nice to see.… This is my ultimate goal.”

About Mount Vernon City School District

With more than 8,000 students in 16 schools, the Mount Vernon City School District is committed to providing a quality education to its children as well as developing programs that meet the diverse academic and social needs of its students.

This article originally appeared in the Hudson Valley Press

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African American News & Issues

Reparations: How ‘Intentional’ Government Policy Denied Blacks Access to Wealth

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

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Stock photo of a vault with access denied written across it

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the Black community owned less than 1% of the United States’ total wealth, the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans was told during its fourth meeting.

Mehrsa Baradaran, a professor at the University of California Irvine, School of Law, shared the statistics during the “Racism in Banking, Tax, and Labor” portion of the two-day meeting on October 13.

From her perspective, the power of wealth and personal income is still unequally distributed. And that inequality, in her view, has always been allowed, preserved and compounded by laws and government policy.

“More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged,” Baradaran told the Task Force, tracing the wealth gap from the period after the Civil War when President Lincoln granted formerly enslaved Blacks their freedom to the present day.

“The gap between average white wealth and Black wealth has actually increased over the last decades. Today, across every social-economic level, Black families have a fraction of the wealth that white families have,” she said.

Baradaran has written a range of entries and books about banking law, financial inclusion, inequality, and the racial wealth gap. Her scholarship includes the books “How the Other Half Banks” and “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap,” both published by the Harvard University Press.

Baradaran has also published several articles on race and economics, including “Jim Crow Credit” in the Irvine Law Review, “Regulation by Hypothetical” in the Vanderbilt Law Review, and “How the Poor Got Cut Out of Banking” in the Emory Law Journal.

Baradaran, a 43-year-old immigrant born in Iran, testified that her work on the wealth gap in America was conducted from a “research angle” and she respectfully “submitted” her testimony “in that light,” she said.

In her research, Baradaran explained that she discovered an intentional system of financial oppression.

“This wealth chasm doesn’t abate with income or with education. In other words, this is a wealth gap that is pretty much tied to a history of exclusion and exploitation and not to be remedied by higher education and higher income,” Baradaran said.

According to a January 2020 report, the Public Policy Institute of California said African American and Latino families make up 12% of those with incomes above the 90th percentile in the state, despite comprising 43% of all families in California.

In addition, PPIC reported that such disparities mirror the fact that African American and Latino adults are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and have higher unemployment rates, and African American adults are less likely to be in the labor force.

Many issues support these activities that range from disparities around education, local job opportunities, and incarceration to discrimination in the labor market, according to PPIC.

“While California’s economy outperforms the nation’s, its level of income inequality exceeds that of all but five states,” the report stated.

“Without target policies, it will continue to grow,” Baradaran said of the wealth gap. “And I want to be clear of how this wealth gap will continue to grow. It was created, maintained, and perpetuated through public policy at the federal, state, and local levels.

“Black men and women have been shut out of most avenues of middle-class creations. Black homes, farms, and savings were not given the full protection of the law. Especially as these properties were subjected to racial terrorism. The American middle-class was not created that way (to support Black communities),” Baradaran said.

A June 2018 working paper from the Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute written by economists familiar with moderate-to-weak Black wealth backs up Baradaran’s assessment.

Published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the authors of the report wrote that strategies to deny Blacks access to wealth started at the beginning of the Reconstruction era, picked up around the civil rights movement, and resurfaced around the financial crisis of the late 2000s.

Authored by Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick, and Ulrike I. Steins, the “Income and Wealth Inequality in America, 1949-2016” explains a close analysis of racial inequality, pre-and post-civil rights eras.

The economists wrote that the median Black household has less than 11% of the wealth of the median white household, which is about $15,000 versus $140,000 in 2016 prices.

“The overall summary is bleak,” the report states. “The historical data also reveal that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years.”

Baradaran recently participated in the virtual symposium, “Racism and the Economy: Focus on the Wealth Divide” hosted by 12 District Banks of the Federal Reserve System, which includes the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

There are some positives that are not typically included in discussions about the challenges Blacks have experienced historically in efforts to obtain wealth, Baradaran said. Many African Americans, specifically in California, were able to subvert the systems that discriminated against them.

“Black institutions have been creative and innovative serving their communities in a hostile climate,” Baradaran said. “I’ve written a book about the long history of entrepreneurship, self-help, and mutual uplift. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have provided stellar education and Black banks have supported Black businesses, churches, and families.”

California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, titled “The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” created a nine-member commission to investigate inequity in education, labor, wealth, housing, tax, and environmental justice.

All of these areas were covered with expert testimony during the two-day meeting held on October 12 and October 13. The task force is charged with exploring California’s involvement in slavery, segregation, and the historic denial of Black citizens’ constitutional rights.

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

“Banks and corporations have engaged in lending and hiring practices that helped to solidify patterns of racial inequality,” Jacqueline Jones, a history professor from the University of Texas told the Task Force.

The Racism in Banking, Tax and Labor segment also featured testimonies by Williams Spriggs (former chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University. Spriggs now serves as chief economist to the AFL-CIO), Thomas Craemer (public policy professor at the University of Connecticut), and Lawrence Lucas (U.S. Department of Agriculture Coalition of Minority Employees).

The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans will conduct its fifth and final meeting of 2021 on December 6 and December 7.

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Education

Student Freedom Initiative Launches Inaugural Program at HBCUs Across U.S.

Inspired by Robert F. Smith’s 2019 “Morehouse Gift,’ Initiative will provide STEM majors at 9 HBCUs a more equitable alternative to fund their education

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Inspired by Robert F. Smith's 2019 'Morehouse Gift,' the Student Freedom Initiative will provide stem majors at 9 HBCUs with a more equitable alternative to fund their education.

The Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), an organization that provides science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors income-contingent funding in lieu of traditional college loans that have long wreaked havoc on their financial futures, launched on nine HBCU campuses across the country on September 7.

Inspired by the 2019 gift by Robert F. Smith to Morehouse College graduates that erased 100% of student loan debt for them and their parents, the Student Freedom Initiative was created by Smith to further alleviate the longstanding financial burdens Black students face, disproportionate to their white counterparts.

The inaugural list of institutions includes: Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Florida A&M University, Hampton University, Morehouse College, Prairie View A&M University, Tougaloo College, Tuskegee University, and Xavier University of Louisiana.

“Through the Student Freedom Initiative, we hope to give Black students access to the education they need to move forward in this economy without the burden of student loan debt stopping them from realizing their fullest potential,” said Smith who serves as chairman of the Student Freedom Initiative. “While our community continues to face inequities that too often bar young students of color from accessing quality higher education, the Student Freedom Initiative aims to empower our students with the tools they need to control their financial futures.”

On average, Black students who graduate with bachelor’s degrees accrue $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. This gap only widens across the gender divide, with Black women carrying roughly 20% more student debt than white women, owing an estimated $41,466 in undergraduate loans compared to the $33,851 white women owe.

To address the unequal financial burden faced by these students, the Student Freedom Initiative created its Student Freedom Agreement, an income-contingent funding agreement based on a ‘pay it forward’ concept, meaning payments are only made when the individual is working. SFI has begun dispersing Student Freedom Agreement funds to eligible junior and senior STEM majors attending one of its nine inaugural partner schools.

HBCU students have traditionally been more likely than non-HBCU students to turn to Parent PLUS or private loans for additional funding to cover remaining costs for their education. On average, 63% of students at HBCUs rely on Parent Plus loans. The resulting default rate is five times as high in the Black community when compared to their white counterparts, and the average debt is twice as high in the Black community as long as four years after graduation.

“We are taking a holistic approach to support and empower our students,” said Mark Brown, executive director of the Student Freedom Initiative. “Not only are we providing our students financing to pursue their education, but the Student Freedom Initiative is also providing them with career development opportunities established through partnerships with Fortune 100 companies. Eligible students receive paid internship opportunities during their college careers to prepare them for post-graduate life. We’re betting on them that given the right investment, these students will go out and do well.”

Additionally, with the help of tech partners including Cisco and AVC Technologies, the Student Freedom Initiative is visiting HBCU campuses throughout the 2021-22 academic year to provide free technology infrastructure upgrades. SFI and its partners will work directly with HBCUs to identify gaps between their existing infrastructure and the requirements identified by the Department of Education Federal Student Aid (FSA) program and install the necessary solutions to address these gaps and become cybersecure.

To date, over 22 HBCUs have signed agreements to achieve campus cyber security through infrastructure upgrades, with additional schools signing up daily.

Together with Cisco’s contribution of $150 million, the Student Freedom Initiative has received over $250 million in pledges, including a generous contribution from the Walmart Foundation as part of its first round of grants for The Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity, and support from the United Negro College Fund. In addition, the program has been acknowledged and supported by the Business Roundtable’s Racial Equity & Justice Subcommittee on Education.

About Student Freedom Initiative

The Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom in professional and life choices for junior and senior students pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees. Initially focused on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), SFI is a student-centered, evidence-based, and holistic initiative featuring four transformative components: (1) an income contingent alternative to fixed payment obligations used to finance college, (2) immersive work experiences through paid internships (3) executive mentoring, tutoring, and other student services and (4) mission-critical technology infrastructure upgrades at participating HBCUs. SFI collaborates with community-based organizations, businesses and governmental entities through public-private partnerships to make sustainable, systemic changes to support the entire HBCU ecosystem.

To learn more, visit StudentFreedomInitiative.org.

For more information, contact Sakita Holley at SFI@hos-pr.com

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Education

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates to Launch Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard University

Hannah-Jones and Coates add to the list of media heavy hitters who have recently joined the faculty at Howard.

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Photo courtesy of Ashni; @ash_photos via unsplash

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, the author of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, known best for his book “Between the World and Me,” are launching a Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard University, the pair announced Tuesday.

The center will focus on training the next generation of Black journalists to develop “the investigative skills and historical and analytical expertise needed to cover the crisis our democracy is facing,” according to a press release the from university.

“We are at a critical juncture in our democracy, and yet our press does not reflect the nation it serves and too often struggles to grasp the danger for our country as we see growing attacks on free speech and the fundamental right to vote,” Hannah-Jones said in the release. “In the storied tradition of the Black press, the Center for Journalism and Democracy will help produce journalists capable of accurately and urgently covering the challenges of our democracy with a clarity, skepticism, rigor and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today’s journalism.”

The center is supported by nearly $20 million in grants from two philanthropic foundations and an anonymous donor. Hannah-Jones’ decision to join the faculty at Howard, an HBCU, instead of UNC-Chapel Hill, where the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was offered a non-tenured position, was praised online. Hannah-Jones will serve as Howard’s newly created Knight Chair in Race and Journalism. Coates, once a student at Howard University (though he didn’t graduate), will be on the faculty of the College Arts of Sciences.

Hannah-Jones has authored award-winning stories on topics such as school segregation. But the 1619 Project, in which she sought to retell the role of slavery in the development of the United States, drew outrage from conservatives and former President Donald Trump. Bills were introduced to ban the use of the texts in school, and it sparked the ongoing debate around critical race theory.

Coates has also written seminal texts on race in America. His 2014 cover story in Atlantic magazine, “The Case for Reparations,” relaunched the conversation around reparations into the mainstream. More recently, Coates has made his stamp on culture as author on a series of recent Black Panther comic books.

Hannah-Jones and Coates add to the list of media heavy hitters who have recently joined the faculty at Howard.

Actress Phylicia Rashad, who also attended Howard, joined the school’s faculty as dean of the re-launched College of Fine Arts (now named for the late actor Chadwick Boseman, also a Howard alum) earlier this year.

Rashad drew criticism last month after celebrating Bill Cosby’s release from prison on Twitter, writing that “a terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” The university put out a statement saying that Rashad’s views did not represent those of the university and that she would be required to take a sensitivity course on sexual assault. That decision also proved controversial online.

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