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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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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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