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The Black struggle in 2019: Staying aware, facing injustice and fighting for the future

THE FINAL CALL — There was a mass shooting in this country every single day in 2019 and 29 of those 385 mass shootings were also mass murders. Some of the most devastating tragedies included the Aug. 4 mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that killed nine people, an Aug. 13 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed, and three Dec. 1 shootings in New Orleans that left 11 people injured. The Gun Violence Archives re-ported the highest number of mass shootings since 2014.

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According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of December 1, 2019, there were more mass shootings in America (385) than days in a calendar year.

By Brian 18X Crawford | J.S. Adams and Toure Muhammad |The Final Call@TheFinalCall

2019 saw challenges and signs of a continual awakening of the Black community, even as racism and police killings remained a problem in the United States. Alongside the insults was a strong spirit of resistance and growing frustration with the lack of respect for and deprivation of Black lives.

Heroes continued to emerge in sports and entertainment as Black stars refused to bow to the desires of powerful figures in those industries.

Colin Kaepernick continued to be a lightning rod for discussion, even though the former NFL quarterback played his last game in 2016. He continued to challenge the NFL for essentially blackballing him and keeping him off the field. Mr. Kaepernick was openly critical of what was billed as an NFL workout in November for team scouts, but in actuality, was an attempt to get him to sign a non-standard waiver that included language that would have limited his ability to pursue legal claims against the NFL. Mr. Kaepernick held his own, private workout instead, and his representatives sent that tape to all 32 NFL teams.

Hip hop guru Jay-Z received criticism for entering into a business relationship with the NFL. His Roc Nation imprint was named the league’s “live music entertainment strategist,” putting the rapper’s company in charge of the Super Bowl halftime show. The rapper took heavy criticism from NFL players and many in the Black community, but others urged caution, saying time will tell what happens.

On the field, it was the year of the Black quarterback in the NFL. Players like Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans), Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals) and Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens) busted up the stereotype that Black athletes aren’t smart enough to play quarterback at the pro level. Both the Chiefs and Ravens are legitimate NFL contenders. And with top notch collegiate prospects like  Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma), Justin Fields (Ohio State), Khalil Tate (Arizona), and Deondre Francois (Hampton), the Black quarterback talent pool was deep.

America and Black people continued to suffer from violence in 2019.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of December 1, 2019, there were more mass shootings in America (385) than days in a calendar year.

There was a mass shooting in this country every single day in 2019 and 29 of those 385 mass shootings were also mass murders. Some of the most devastating tragedies included the Aug. 4 mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that killed nine people, an Aug. 13 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed, and three Dec. 1 shootings in New Orleans that left 11 people injured. The Gun Violence Archives reported the highest number of mass shootings since 2014.

There were more than 35,000 gun-related deaths in 2019, over 27,000 gun-related accidents, and still no meaningful, federally mandated gun legislation.

Elijah Al-Amin, a 17-year old from Peoria, Arizona, was shot and killed by a White man at a convenience store because he didn’t like the rap music the teen was playing. In Louisiana, Sean Barrette fatally shot and killed three people at random in New Orleans; one of his victims was Black.

Violence at the hands of police continued in 2019. According to a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Black men’s risk of being shot and killed by police is 2.5 times higher than that of White men, and 1 in every 1,000 Black men will be shot and killed by a police officer. Black women were also victims of police violence in 2019.

In October, Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed by a police officer in Ft. Worth, Texas, while at home playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew. An officer began peering through Ms. Jefferson’s window after a neighbor called a non-emergency number to ask for a well-being check. Her front door was open. Officer Andrew Dean shot through a window killing Ms. Jefferson. The 35-year-old had only been on the force 18 months, and resigned before he could be fired. He’s been charged with murder.

The trial of Amber Guyger, a Dallas police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean in his own apartment, saying she mistook it for her own, was probably one of the most talked about stories of 2019. Ms. Guyger was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison for the killing the young Black man who was a native of St. Lucia. Both the judge, who is Black, and Mr. Jean’s brother hugged Ms. Guyger after the verdict was read. The judge even gave Ms. Guyger a Bible.

These perceived acts of kindness and forgiveness enraged many in the Black community. Lee Merritt, the attorney representing the Jean family, understood the outrage. But, he said, key elements in the Jean story as well as the case of Atatiana Jefferson were overlooked.

Some of these elements have often been used to justify police killings of Black people, said the Dallas-based attorney.

“For a long time, the conversation was about compliance. In other words, it was said the Black community wasn’t properly complying with law enforcement and giving them the respect that they deserve; and Black men, women and children were causing the brutality to happen to them,” said Atty. Merritt.

“But 2019 kind of dispelled that myth,” he told The Final Call. “You have Atatiana Jefferson who was playing video games in her home, get shot and killed by police. Botham Jean was eating a bowl of ice cream after a long day of work, being shot and killed by police in his home. These weren’t even legitimate police encounters. This was just people going through the mundane activities of their daily lives, and police brutality came to visit them at their home.”

“The problem in the Botham Jean case is that it actually represented an advancement in police brutality,” Mr. Merritt continued. “This case should be textbook in how we deal with police brutality, because a lot of things had to come together to convict a White woman, a police officer, of murdering a Black man. There was a whole new bench of primarily Black women elected in Dallas County, and one of them served on that trial—Judge Tammy Kemp. Even though she later became a problematic figure, there would have been no conviction without her.”

Judge Kemp barred the testimony of the Texas Rangers, a respected law enforcement agency, because they were set to testify that Ms. Guyger did nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to go to jail, he said.

Mr. Merritt also credits the district attorney’s office for being aggressive in pursuing the case, and Dallas residents who showed up in droves for jury duty. The jury that found Ms. Guyger guilty was one of the most diverse ever to hear a murder trial in the city, according to Mr. Merritt. It was comprised of six Black jurors, 5 Hispanic jurors and only one White juror.

“The response to the jury summons was record-breaking. There were hundreds of people lined up for jury duty around the corner on the heels of Bothan Jeans’ trial,” Mr. Merritt said. “This is something that needs to be replicated. It was a lot of work for one conviction, but this is something that can be replicated throughout the country.”

Social activism and art

One of the most heartbreaking events this year was when Nipsey Hussle, an up and coming rapper from Los Angeles, Calif., was gunned down March 31.

“It’s unfortunate that it has happened, because I would say he’s an artist that was gaining steam. I have a friend of mine who I discovered was a huge Nipsey Hussle fan and was devastated when he passed away,” said Clayton Gutzmore, a 30-year-old freelance journalist who often covers Black culture and entertainment. “In terms of his impact, I just want to say that Nipsey has been known as a giver. He invested in his community by opening up a tech space where people could learn about coding, and also a space where he could employ people, because there’s the Marathon store, and other things like that that he planted in California where people can actually benefit from him and his influence.”

Mr. Hussle died outside of his Marathon store. His work and catchphrase “The Marathon Continues” now often refers to furthering the community work he dedicated himself to. That hashtag, along with portraits of him, have circulated throughout social media. He left behind his longtime girlfriend, actress Lauren London, and two children.

His death also brought together gangs in the area for a peace walk and effort to broker peace. It also brought Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan to speak to those who convened near Nipsey’s store, and speak to attendees at his funeral service at the Staples Center.

The Netflix docuseries “When They See Us” dove deeply into the true story of the Central Park 5, which younger viewers may not have been exposed to.

Ava DuVernay, an acclaimed director, told the story of five young Black and Hispanic youths who were wrongfully accused and convicted of raping a young White woman in Central Park.

“It was traumatizing at the moment because you see these young boys who are being told certain things, and these are back in the days where it wasn’t so tech savvy or whatnot,” Mr. Gutzmore said. “Also, more people just being more conscious of the whole judicial system and letting people be more aware of how the cops and young Black teenagers interchange.”

Melissa Hunter Davis, founder and publisher of Sugarcane Magazine, a Black arts publication, said the series brought out both the good and the bad.

“I think it was far wider than we thought,” Ms. Davis said. “I don’t think it was necessarily positive by some people. I’m not saying the film wasn’t positive. I think there were people who this touched a wrong nerve for them. They were probably supportive for these young men of being thrown in jail for the rest of their lives.”

Recently, there have been complaints of notable Black artists, including Ms. DuVernay, being “snubbed” at the Golden Globes nominations.

“We saw her being snubbed at the Golden Globes and plenty of films that depict Black people not just positively, but that are politically charged,” Ms. Davis continued. “I think Beyonce’s ‘Homecoming’ was hard for people to take. I think any time we start to speak politically and quite loudly, I think that frightens people and keeps us from getting what we deserve.”

Many people have taken to Twitter and other social media platforms to express their dissatisfaction with Black artists not getting their proper due.

Ms. Davis said one artist who has made strides this year is Tyler Perry, with the opening of his grand, new studio.

“I’m really proud of him,” she said. “I think that the idea of anybody Black owning their own collection of sound stages is phenomenal, especially in Georgia. The state of Georgia made it really easy for him to do that with all the tax incentives they give to people, and he took advantage of it and ran with it.”

November’s Democratic presidential debate was held at Tyler Perry’s studio in Atlanta, soon after its opening in October.

“Clearly he’s done well off the bat,” she said. “It was used very quickly and it gave people a place to shoot different types of films with different locales.”

Many activists have helped to shape up this year for Blacks, through arts and social justice.

“[It shows] the changes in making sure there’s positive representation of Black people in this country to commemorate the fact that we are here,” Ms. Davis said.

Both Mr. Gutzmore and Ms. Davis see a brighter future in 2020 for Black people in terms of moving the culture forward.

“Hopefully sharper and better material in both music and movies,” Mr. Gutzmore said. “Hopefully we will want to raise our stakes. Hopefully we will want to deliver better material … that can say, okay, this is actually different from the 2010s.”

Project Separation moves across America

The year 2019 also brought a national separation tour by Dr. Ava Muhammad, national spokesperson for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.

The attorney and student minister went across the country lecturing and convening discussions about “the best and only solution” to the race problem in America—separation.

“Separation is not the goal. The goal is the spiritual, mental and moral resurrection of God’s people. Separation is just the process. It is a means to an end and not the end,” said Min. Ava Muhammad, during a successful visit to Los Angeles. She visited 18 cities, including Birmingham, Memphis, St. Petersburg, Fla., Tampa, Fla., Detroit, Mich., St. Louis, Harlem, N.Y., Phoenix, Prince George’s County, Md., Chicago, Orlando, Milwaukee, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Richmond, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Coldwater, Miss.

Student Minister Abdul Malik Sayyid Muhammad, Nation of Islam Western Region representative, hosted the town hall, which featured Dr. Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles; Hector Perez Pachecho, a Quechua from the Confederation of Tawantisuyu in South America and member of the intertribal Harmony Keepers which protects the indigenous ways and traditions of their people; Tino Phoenix, an Indigenous gang interventionist, and Rizza Islam, author of “A Message to the Millennials,” and social media influencer.

In her presentation, Min. Ava Muhammad quoted Minister Farrakhan’s warning: “As long as we live with White people, we will be under White people, because they have manufactured a false reality that is built on a doctrine of White superiority and Black inferiority.”

“We can’t even get an idea across until that idea is filtered through the White man’s damaged perception of reality, so by the time any plan we had comes to fruition, it is no longer the original thought. It is a grafted thought that is no longer from the Creator because it has to be made palatable to White people,” said Min. Ava Muhammad.

Separation is to purge Blacks of a self-defeating inferiority and rebellion against the will of Allah (God) that produced these destructive conditions, she continued.

Reparations is land, it’s not money, she added.

Mr. Perez-Pacheco felt it was important to bring separation to the people’s consciousness. It can be achieved, just like the Indigenous people’s eradication of so-called Columbus Day in Los Angeles, he said. Native peoples now celebrate their accomplishments and are moving to get rid of Columbus Day across the state, he added.

Dr. Abdullah underscored the many ways Blacks have been fighting for freedom from the moment they were stolen from Africa and fighting problems inside a system built to produce devastating outcomes.

“It’s not accidental that Black children have targets on their backs. It’s not accidental that in the County of Los Angeles, 540 people have been killed by police in the last six years. It’s not accidental that our children are searched and dehumanized and decriminalized in our schools,” she said.

She answered the question of separation through the lens of her 13-year-old daughter Amara, who said of course Blacks should separate, but the question is, “Will we?”

Reparations became a hot topic in 2019 as Democratic presidential hopefuls seeking to run against Donald Trump in 2020 largely backed reparations or a federal bill studying reparations, promising to sign bill H.R. 40 into law if passed into law by Congress. The year ended with the small city of Evanston, Ill., announcing a plan to spend $10 million over 10 years to provide reparations to its Black population.

But money alone will never solve the problems of Black people, said Nation of Islam student ministers. “We’re not looking for a one-time check from this government,” said Min. Abdul Malik Muhammad. “We want to be treated even better than how Israel is being treated. … Every year since 1948, right off the top, before they even balance the budget, $6 billion of the American taxpayers’ money goes to the state of Israel, not talking about the other $30-40 billion in military aid, in airplanes, in high technology that this government gives to that nation that it had nothing to do with destroying,” he said.

Building Black economics

Black entrepreneurs and businesses got a boost in 2019 with more campaigns and efforts to buy Black through festivals, pop-up shops, cash mobs that flooded Black businesses with customers on predetermined days, increased advocacy for stronger Black economics and online product and services sales.

There are 3,000 new businesses started daily in the U.S. and 70 percent are owned by Black women, said Black business proponants.

“I tell my children to go to school and get a good education and then create a job. Create a job for yourself, create a job for your children, and if God gives you the power and the glory, create jobs for our people and if you have to get a job, get a job working for a Black company,” said Dr. George C. Fraser, chairman and CEO of FraserNet, Inc; a company he founded roughly 32 years ago that leads a global networking movement that brings together diverse human resources to increase opportunities for people of African descent.

Of the nearly eight million businesses classified as minority-owned that year, 2.5 million were owned by Blacks, and 109,137 of these were employer firms with a total of 975,052 workers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2019, the top 100 Black-owned companies in the U.S. accounted for more than $25 billion in revenue and employed more than 70,000 people, according to Black Enterprise.

While there are many new businesses popping up, there remains much opportunity for Black businesses in health care and technology. “With artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality still improving and changing, you can’t even imagine what the internet will look like in 50 years,” explained Mr. Fraser.

One business owner that has made good use of both health care trends and technology is Wendy Muhammad, co-founder and president and director of business affairs and development of Minimally Invasive Vascular Center, a $20 million, three story, 27,000 square foot micro-hospital. Located in Laurel, Md., the hospital encourages early diagnosis and offers minimally invasive treatment.

“I decided to build a hospital after I saw how my father didn’t like going to the doctor because he didn’t like how he was treated,” she said.

Another huge opportunity for Black business exists across the Atlantic Ocean, explained Dr. Fraser, who recently launched FraserNation, a globally focused website that seeks to connect Black people throughout the Diaspora to encourage the sharing of business knowledge, resources and opportunities.

“Africa is 20 years behind and we (Black Americans) have the skills and experience they need,” said Dr. Fraser. “We must learn, earn and return. That’s what FraserNation is about. That’s what the Nation is about. That’s why I love the Minister and the Nation.”

Final Call staff contributed to this report.

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Jack Nicklaus Once Again Surprises Military Veterans with a Golf Lesson in Honor of Veterans Day and the PGA National Day of HOPE

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “The PGA of America reaches out to Veterans, they reach out to all different people,” explained Jack Nicklaus, who is the only sportsman and just the fourth person in history to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005), the Congressional Gold Medal (2015) and the Lincoln Medal (2018). “It is a great organization. PGA HOPE is impactful on its own, but they also collaborate with other organizations, such as partnering with Folds of Honor for Patriot Golf Days.

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Jack Nicklaus coaches PGA HOPE Veteran, Homer Watts, during the Jack Nicklaus PGA HOPE Veterans Lessons at the Bear’s Club on November 7, 2022 in Jupiter, FL. (Photo by Sarah Kenney/PGA of America)
Jack Nicklaus coaches PGA HOPE Veteran, Homer Watts, during the Jack Nicklaus PGA HOPE Veterans Lessons at the Bear’s Club on November 7, 2022 in Jupiter, FL. (Photo by Sarah Kenney/PGA of America)

Special to NNPA Newswire

Imagine being invited to play a round of golf at Jack Nicklaus’ Florida home club and getting a surprise lesson from none other than the 18-time major champion himself.

For the third straight year, Nicklaus gave some hometown military heroes who participate in the South Florida PGA Section PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program a memory for a lifetime at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida.

In celebration of both Veterans Day and the PGA National Day of HOPE, Nicklaus thanked the playing group of Veterans for their service and shared instructional tips, before inviting them out as his guests for a day on the championship golf course that he designed and is played regularly by up to 30 PGA TOUR pros who are members.

As the military pillar of PGA REACH, PGA HOPE is designed to introduce golf to Veterans and Active-Duty Military to enhance their physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being.

PGA REACH and PGA HOPE aspire to create a physically and emotionally healthier Veteran community through a six- to eight-week curriculum led by PGA Professionals trained in adaptive golf and military cultural competency.

U.S. Army Veteran First Lt. (Ret.) Robert Truckenmiller received a Purple Heart after being shot in the Vietnam War.

Other than hearing from other Veterans from time to time, he said that when he got a call from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) inviting him to take part in the PGA HOPE program, it was the first real “welcome home” feeling he ever received for his service.

“The PGA of America reaches out to Veterans, they reach out to all different people,” explained Nicklaus, who is the only sportsman and just the fourth person in history to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005), the Congressional Gold Medal (2015) and the Lincoln Medal (2018).

“It is a great organization. PGA HOPE is impactful on its own, but they also collaborate with other organizations, such as partnering with Folds of Honor for Patriot Golf Days.

“I have great admiration and respect for the men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country’s freedom, and try to get behind efforts to help our Veterans, as well as their families. For me to do my little part—even to a small group—I am delighted to do so, especially for the PGA HOPE program.”

PGA HOPE has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the VA, which enables Recreational Therapists to refer Veterans to PGA HOPE as a form of therapy.

Truckenmiller was quite surprised when Nicklaus stepped out on the driving range.

“I’m a little bit awestruck,” said Truckenmiller.

“He’s probably the best golfer ever, and he was most gracious. He helped me with my putting, on lining my ball up, and to stop moving my head. He told me to stare at it when I hit it.

“I lost my wife of 54 years three months ago. This is a remedy for some of the loneliness.”

U.S. Air Force Sgt. (Ret.) Pamela Carter, of Wellington, Florida, lost her brother, Bruce, in the Vietnam War. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously, and the VA Medical Center in Miami is named after him.

When Nicklaus approached Pamela and gave her a lesson, she quickly reached in her pocket and handed him a challenge coin with her brother’s photo on it.

“I was just shocked he was here,” said Carter. “I stumbled on PGA HOPE and signed up for it. Meeting true war heroes who are now being respected puts a new spin on it. PGA HOPE reaches out and makes us feel welcome.”

U.S. Army/Air Force Reserves Sgt. (Ret.) Homer Watts Jr. had the thrill of a lifetime.

“Oh my goodness,” Watts said. “He’s a legend. It was a total shock. I was very surprised. PGA HOPE is such an amazing program. It gets people out of the hospital and into other activities. You meet great instructors who take their time with you. It’s almost like family. Actually, it’s just like family.”

Joining them for instruction and the round of golf was 2022 South Florida PGA Section Patriot Award recipient Jerry Impellittiere, PGA Director of Instruction at Monarch Country Club in Palm City.

Impellittiere originally learned the game from PGA Professionals at West Point Golf Course and now pays it forward by teaching two PGA HOPE Programs.

He is known as “The Collector,” as he collects donated golf clubs to give to Veterans for them to learn and play the game. Ironically, Impellittiere once played in a grouping with Nicklaus and Dave Stockton at the B.C. Open, two players renowned for their putting.

“I didn’t make the cut, but I led the PGA TOUR in putting stats that year,” said Impellittiere.

Nicklaus has a long-held fondness for the nation’s military and the incredible sacrifices made by service members.

“These people have earned the help of all Americans,” said Nicklaus. “I enjoy doing this. I want to be a part of it, especially if it makes a difference. I am very honored.”

This year, PGA HOPE aims to impact the lives of over 7,500 Veterans through its transformational program led by PGA Professionals, and has set a goal of 36,000 annually by 2026.

In its sixth year, PGA National Day of HOPE is a month-long campaign running through Veterans Day. The campaign celebrates our nation’s heroes who protect our freedom, while raising awareness and support for PGA HOPE.

To support the 2022 National Day of HOPE Campaign, please visit the Official Fundraising Page.

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United Travel Credits Giving HBCU Golf Programs Wings, Expanding Range of Traditionally Underfunded Teams

NNPA NEWSWIRE — On Wednesday, some 23 years later, and on her 41st birthday, no less, Levister was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open. Christian Latham, who is working on his master’s degree in architecture, and seniors Rondarius Walters and Taylor Harvey, a member of the women’s team, would play with Phil Griffith, who is a vice president of operations for United Airlines’ Houston hub, and PGA TOUR pros Stewart Cink and Matthew NeSmith.

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Mesha Levister (second from left) was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open.
Mesha Levister (second from left) was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open.

By Helen Ross, PGA Tour, Special to NNPA Newswire

James Levister thought it would be a phase.

Sure, he was an avid golfer. A 4 handicap at his best, in fact.

But when he started his 3-year-old daughter, Mesha, playing golf, he figured she would eventually get tired of the game.

He was wrong, though. His daughter loved playing with her dad on weekends — she finally beat him when she was 16 and never lost again — and she thrived on the challenge of the game.

“It was our thing,” Mesha said. “I liked that it was hard, and I continued to play because it was hard. But for me, when I was small, it was about being with him and doing something different.”

She played four years of varsity golf and basketball at her Florida high school, got scholarship offers in both sports, and wanted to turn pro. Eventually, she had to choose between the two.

“I told my dad I would rather play golf because there are fewer people that look like me playing golf,” said Levister, who is African American. “I wanted to be a trendsetter…I felt like I had something to give in the game. I didn’t realize what it was back then as a little 17-year-old.”

On Wednesday, some 23 years later, and on her 41st birthday, no less, Levister was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open.

Christian Latham, who is working on his master’s degree in architecture, and seniors Rondarius Walters and Taylor Harvey, a member of the women’s team, would play with Phil Griffith, who is a vice president of operations for United Airlines’ Houston hub, and PGA TOUR pros Stewart Cink and Matthew NeSmith.

“I hope that they get an out-of-this-world experience that they may not have ever gotten — ever,” Levister said. “Or that it opens up their eyes to the maximum potential and drives them to be whatever they want to be.”

The pairing with Griffith is no accident. United Airlines, in partnership with the PGA TOUR, has earmarked more than $500,000 in grants to 55 golf teams at HBCUs like Prairie View.

Each school gets $10,000 in travel credits to bolster travel and recruiting budgets and potentially help more than 250 student-athletes compete in places that may have been out of reach.

United and the TOUR recently announced a multi-year extension of their official marketing relationship, extending the annual commitment to HBCUs through 2025.

Griffith also attended a clinic earlier this week in which golfers from another Houston-area HBCU, Texas Southern, worked with youngsters from the First Tee. He’s excited about the impact the grants are having.

“I’m very impressed with these kids and when I look at where I was back then, if you don’t know that something exists, yeah, it’s kind of hard for you to aspire for,” Griffith said. “And a lot of the things that these kids are doing today, I had no aspirations for because I just didn’t know.

“I think as we continue this program,” he added, “just opening their eyes and showing them valuable and effective ways of getting there, it’s going to be a lot of fun over the years. That’s what I’m hoping.”

All in it together

Levister coaches the men’s and women’s teams at Prairie View A&M, which is the second-oldest public university in Texas.

She’s also done double duty at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), as well as at Lincoln University in Jefferson, Missouri.

“It’s interesting to see the dynamic and be able to create a culture here of togetherness and make sure that everybody roots for everybody because we’re all one team,” Levister said.

Forging something of a non-traditional path is second nature to Levister. When the women’s team at her college in Florida disbanded, she was recruited by NCCU to play on its men’s team.

She played No.1 and was the team’s most valuable player as a freshman, also earning Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Rookie of the Year honors.

After 9/11, Levister left school and went home to Wash., D.C. She was the first African American to win the 2004 Virginia Women’s Amateur and was named the state’s female golfer of the year. She turned pro in 2006 and joined the Symetra Tour in 2010.

Life on the road could be lonely, though, particularly for a young woman who was often the only African American entered in an event.

“I’m still a golfer, regardless,” Levister said firmly. And she can’t shake the memory of being pulled over by a policeman in New York.

“The cop came over and asked the other tour player that was in the car, who was a white female, instead of asking the normal stuff, he asked the young lady that was in the passenger seat, ‘Are you OK?’” Levister said.

“So, for me that was a little bit of a traumatic experience…But he let me go. So, he really pulled me over just to check on the person in the car.”

After Levister’s father died in 2014, she decided to quit the tour.

She still competed, winning the 2015 EP Pro Women’s Championship, but began to focus on teaching. She joined the staff at NCCU in 2020 and helped start the women’s program before heading to Prairie View A&M.

She’s only been there about a month, but she already feels accepted by her players, who share her goal of returning the Panthers to dominance in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

And she wants to make it easier for others to follow her path.

“I am definitely all about how I take on life now,” Levister said. “I just want to be a good person, do the right thing and break glass ceilings for the next people behind me so they don’t have it as hard as I did.”

Keeping the program alive

When Prairie View A&M lost its golf coach last fall, Latham had just graduated magna cum laude, finishing his architecture degree in three years, and started working on his master’s.

But the team needed a coach, and Latham stepped up in a big way. “He really held the fort down last year for both of the teams,” Levister said.

Like Levister, Latham was a multi-sport athlete who started playing golf because of his dad. But his favorite sport was baseball — his grandfather Cliff Johnson played 20 years in the major leagues, including two World Series with the New York Yankees.

By the time Latham got to high school, though, he had become disillusioned with baseball. He endured racist taunts, many times from the adults and coaches who flat-out lied to him.

“I lost my passion for baseball,” he said. “I didn’t even want to play anymore. So that’s what really got me stuck into golf because it’s like at the end of the day, no one can else say anything about me as long as I’m shooting a score I need to shoot.

“So that’s how I really got into it. And I just focus on golf only now. That’s what brought me.”

The summer before he entered high school in Katy, Texas, a Houston suburb, Latham spent every day at the golf course.

He shot 111 in his first tournament, but by the end of the summer, he broke 80 for the first time.

With continued improvement, he began to think about playing in college and verbally committed to Prairie View A&M after his sophomore year.

In addition to studying for his master’s, where he’s designing a practice facility for the golf team as a class project, and hitting balls on the range, Latham is getting hands-on experience by working at an architecture firm several days a week.

He also has a 14-month-old son named Kai — who is full of “joy and happiness,” Latham said — half the week.

“He’s like my little twin,” Latham said. “So now I got him a plastic set of golf clubs and seeing him wanting to play with that is pretty cool.”

Just because he’s working on his master’s degree doesn’t mean Latham is giving up on his dream to play golf professionally, though.

He’s already played in one APGA event and hopes to play well enough this year to finish in the top five of its collegiate rankings, which would give him scholarship access to the tour’s events through the remainder of the 2023 season.

“I’m not going to just stop that goal and stop that dream,” he said.

“I’m going to still work hard this semester to try to get to that level or continue to just add on to where I should be.”

Giving players wings

With the travel credits provided by United, schools like Prairie View A&M will be able to compete in higher profile events that might otherwise seem out of reach — quite literally.

Levister, who once rode 11 hours from Durham, N.C. to Port St. Lucie, Florida, for a college tournament, has already started putting those credits to work.

“Even in the short time that I’ve been here, it’s saved us a tremendous amount of time and money just to be able to have access to go over to Houston Airport and to fly,” she said.

“Just to reduce costs of travel helps tremendously because now we can use those funds to give them a better experience as a student-athlete and a college golfer.”

Latham remembers a 15-hour bus ride from Houston to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where the Panthers played in — and won — the 2021 PGA Works Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

With two travel days each way and the tournament itself, the Black Panthers were gone nine days.

That’s why on Wednesday Latham planned to thank Griffith for United’s support. That United and organizations like the PGA TOUR are seeing value in HBCU golf has been a big help.

“I want to say it makes us feel more comfortable when we’re not having to travel,” Latham said, “cramped up for 14 hours, 16 hours, when we could just make a two-hour plane ride. And it makes an impact on the team.”

“I mean, we’ve had times to where people didn’t even have enough seats on the bus,” he continued, “and we’re just kind of all locked up or having to make multiple trips to get somewhere because we don’t have enough room to bring everybody.”

“So, it means a lot. Gives us the opportunity to try to feel more like a sports program because we see other sports programs get to travel like that. And we never necessarily got to.”

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Holiday Season Routinely Sees Rise in Human Trafficking

The number of persons convicted of a federal human trafficking offense increased from 2011 (464 persons) to 2019 (837 persons) before falling in 2020 (658 persons). Of the 1,169 defendants charged in U.S. district court with human trafficking offenses in the fiscal year 2020 — 92% were male, 63% were white, 18% were black, 17% were Hispanic, 95% were U.S. citizens, and 66% had no prior convictions.

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If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire

Federal prosecutors said the fight against human trafficking, a crime that harms some of the most vulnerable members of society, counts among their highest priorities.

“We are committed to vindicating the rights of human trafficking crime victims by bringing their traffickers to justice and working to ensure that survivors have access to restitution, services, and assistance that are needed to rebuild their lives,” U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg said in a statement.

U.S. Department of Justice officials maintain that their strong efforts continue to combat human trafficking.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Attorney General released the Department of Justice’s National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking.

The strategy laid out the Department’s multi-year plan to combat all forms of human trafficking, focusing on efforts to protect victims of trafficking, prosecute human trafficking cases, and prevent further acts of human trafficking.

The Human Trafficking Institute estimates that there are 24.9 million victims of human trafficking globally.

In 2020, the Institute reported that federal courts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 U.S. territories handled 579 active human trafficking prosecutions, 94% of which were sex trafficking cases and 6% forced labor cases.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, individuals prosecuted for human trafficking increased from 729 in 2011 to 1,343 in 2020, an 84% rise.

The number of persons convicted of a federal human trafficking offense increased from 2011 (464 persons) to 2019 (837 persons) before falling in 2020 (658 persons). Of the 1,169 defendants charged in U.S. district court with human trafficking offenses in the fiscal year 2020 — 92% were male, 63% were white, 18% were black, 17% were Hispanic, 95% were U.S. citizens, and 66% had no prior convictions.

By the end of 2020, for the 47 states that reported data, 1,564 persons were in the custody of a state prison serving a sentence for a human trafficking offense.

The District of Columbia reported zero new criminal human trafficking cases filed in federal courts in 2021.

The advocacy organization Hope for Justice defines human trafficking as modern slavery, where one person controls another for profit by exploiting a vulnerability.

Victims usually are forced to work or are sexually exploited, and the trafficker keeps all or nearly all the money. The control can be physical, financial, or psychological.

ChildWelfare.com says the legal definition of trafficking involves “the exploitation of people through force, coercion, threat, and deception and includes human rights abuses such as debt bondage, deprivation of liberty, and lack of control over freedom and labor.”

The organization noted that trafficking could be for purposes of sexual exploitation or labor exploitation.

In 2004, officials formed the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force to increase the prosecution of traffickers while identifying and serving the victims.

The task force’s primary goal is to “facilitate a more coordinated anti-trafficking effort in the D.C. area through protocol development, extensive community outreach, proactive investigations, law enforcement training, intelligence sharing, and more formalized partnerships between law enforcement organizations and non-governmental organizations.”

Additionally, while the holiday season counts as a time of joy, happiness, and fun, the nonprofit Shero Foundation said for human trafficking victims, the holidays are no different from any other day.

Law enforcement officials said traffickers typically increase their illegal activities during the holiday season.

“We let our guard down because you’re supposed to be joyful, and, you know, it’s a great time of year. And unfortunately, we have people out there that don’t care what time of year it is,” Tony Mancuso, a sheriff in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, told reporters in a pre-Christmas interview in 2021.

“California is home to some of the largest hubs for sex and labor trafficking in the United States, and it is beyond the time our state takes the necessary steps in combatting this criminal enterprise,” Democratic Assemblymember Tim Grayson insisted.

Grayson noted that human trafficking was a $150 billion-a-year global industry and introduced a bill to establish the California Multidisciplinary Alliance to Stop Trafficking Act (California MAST).

The bill aims to examine and evaluate existing programs and outreach for survivors and victims of human trafficking and provide recommendations to strengthen California’s response to supporting survivors and holding offenders accountable.

“In my search for a better life, I found myself exploited by various individuals similar to other child trafficking survivors,” said Jimmy Lopez, survivor advocate for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. “Human trafficking is an invisible crisis plaguing our state and forcing thousands of children to grow up too fast; we must stop trafficking in its tracks, and we must hold offenders accountable,” Lopez said.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.

Support is provided in more than 200 languages. Hotline officials said they are there to listen and connect those in need with the help required to stay safe. Callers can dial 711 to access the Hotline using TTY.

You can also email help@humantraffickinghotline.org.

To report a potential human trafficking situation, call the hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or submit a tip online here.

All communication with the hotline is strictly confidential.

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