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Op-Ed

‘Thug’ is in the Eye of the Beholder

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By Walter L. Fields
NNPA Columnist

 

A small section of Baltimore, no more than four to six blocks on the city’s west side, experienced looting and property destruction after the funeral of Freddie Gray, the young man whose spine was mysteriously crushed after being taken into police custody. Gray would later die from his injuries and ‘Charm City’ has been in a meltdown ever since.

The anger over Gray’s death should come as no surprise in a city that has had a history of questionable police tactics and where jobs and opportunity are foreign concepts for the masses of the city’s Black majority.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake chose to call the looters ‘thugs,’ a conscious choice of words meant to label as criminals those involved in property destruction. President Obama also blamed the unrest on “a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place.”

During the weekend protesters who lashed out violently were called ‘outside agitators’ by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the same term Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama used to dismiss civil rights activists in the 1960s.

As I watched the wretched reporting of Wolf Blitzer on CNN – the Can’t get it right News Network – it became clear to me that this will not be the last flash point because justice is now a commodity only available to the highest bidder or the politically connected. Americ

As I survey social media and see and hear on-air commentary on the eruption in Baltimore, what stands out is the rush to condemn the looters without any context. There was more concern expressed over the loss of property, most of it that should be insured, than the decades-old economic deprivation that has wiped out generations of Black Baltimoreans.

America knows the Baltimore of the Inner Harbor, Fort McHenry, Camden Yards, and the world renown Johns Hopkins Hospital. It does not know the Baltimore that exists on the corner of North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, where most of the property destruction took place. The nation doesn’t have a clue about Whitelock Street, in the west Baltimore neighborhood where I lived for almost three years, or the gritty neighborhoods of East Baltimore or Cherry Hill. It is the Baltimore made famous by the gritty HBO series “The Wire” that is on edge. For many, Baltimore is just a star spangled tourist destination and its Black majority invisible…until this weekend.

Those aren’t thugs you see on television. They are what social science researchers define as ‘disconnected youth.’ They are not ‘outside agitators.’ They are Baltimore youth, some teenagers and some young adults. They are the children of a city that has for some time now provided an inadequate education, offered little by way of employment and, like so many other cities, used the criminal justice system to corral youth engaged in the commerce of last resort but easy entry – crime. It is beyond disappointing to hear a Black mayor and a Black president call Black children thugs but offer little programmatically to give youth confidence that their futures will not be as bleak as their present.

What is more striking to me than seeing a CVS burning is the attempt to induce ‘calm’ by elected officials and the suggestion that a police force that is the source of much of the anger unleashed can somehow now be trusted to restore order. Can we have a moment of silence for the truth?

There has been an absolute failure in political leadership in cities such as Baltimore that has resulted in little or no effort to drive substantive change. mayors, city council members, governors and state legislators come and go, and the problems persist.

What I read on social media in reference to the looting is that ‘this is not the way’ or ‘they should vote’ or ‘they need to seek justice’ and criticism that ‘they’ are burning down their own neighborhood. Let’s get one thing straight: the system has failed Black people, and particularly Black youth, time and time again.

We fix this by addressing poverty, long-term joblessness and equitable access to capital and gender equity. If our neighborhoods can be devastated by the loss of a CVS store and a check cashing establishment, it shows just how little we possess in the local economy. The dearth of small business ownership is ironic given that the late Rep. Parren Mitchell, a Baltimore legend, was a champion of small business development.

We fix this by ending the nonsensical theoretical debates on public education and incessant experimentation, driven by market forces, and start educating our children. When we push Black children out of schools by disproportionately disciplining them for similar offenses committed by their White peers, and then use their suspension or expulsion as a proxy for a criminal record, should we really be surprised by the looting? We fix this by ending the prison pipeline that is fed by the assault on civil liberties, the targeting of Black youth, and the elevation of minor offenses into criminal charges that leads to an endless cycle of incarceration, release and incarceration. What is more thuggish than systemically destroying a people?

 

Walter L. Fields is executive editor of NorthStar News.

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Activism

Facebook’s “We the Culture” Panel Discusses Black Portrayals in Mainstream News

The increase in Black representation in the news media was discussed when the topic turned to controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols, an NBA sportscaster on ESPN. In a July 2020 leaked recording, she appeared to be uncomfortable sharing hosting duties with Maria Taylor, another ESPN personality who is African American. In the recording, Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor had been promoted because she is Black.

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A 2019 Pew Research Center analysis revealed that Black media professionals only make up 7% of newsroom staffers nationally.

By McKenzie Jackson, California Black Media

When Erica Cobb, co-host of the Daily Blast Live, first stepped into the world of mainstream news over two decades ago, she overheard a conversation in which an industry person considered Cobb the perfect minority for a particular role because, although she is Black, to them she “didn’t come across like a Black person” based on stereotypes in their head.

“Those convos now are few and far between because we have more seats at the table,” said Cobb, who is also a podcaster with a background in radio. She was referring to the growing numbers of Black faces appearing regularly in the news media. “The pipeline has opened for more people of color.”

However, Cobb said, the news industry still needs more African Americans.

Independent journalist Georgia Fort, the founder of BLCK Press, said the lack of Black professionals in newsrooms across the U.S. contributes to African Americans being portrayed in a negative way.

“The media industry since its inception has capitalized on exploiting our stories and disproportionately portraying us in a negative light,” said Cobb, who identifies as biracial.

“You can go back to blackface; even modern-day newscasts are saturated with Black mug shots,” she said.

The current state of Black representation in the mainstream media was the subject of a recent online discussion hosted by Facebook’s “We The Culture,” a content initiative created and managed by a team of Black Facebook employees focused on amplifying content from Black creators.

The social networking giant launched the platform in February with an inaugural class of over 120 creators specializing in news and social media content.

Cobb and Fort were panelists on We The Culture’s video chat on how Blacks are depicted in mainstream media.

The third panelist was Zyahna Bryant, a student activist, community organizer, and online content creator who is known for spearheading the movement to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in in Charlottesville, Va.

The 53-minute discussion was moderated by Rushadd Hayard, a freelance web producer.

The quartet’s webcast happened a year after the murder of George Floyd, an African American man who died after Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Video of Floyd’s death shined a light on the aggressive tactics law enforcement officers sometimes employ when engaging Black Americans. The horror of his violent murder sparked national conversations on racial inequity, motivating many businesses and organizations in the U.S. to support African American causes and take steps to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations.

The increase in Black representation in the news media was discussed when the topic turned to controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols, an NBA sportscaster on ESPN. In a July 2020 leaked recording, she appeared to be uncomfortable sharing hosting duties with Maria Taylor, another ESPN personality who is African American.

In the recording, Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor had been promoted because she is Black.

“A privileged woman like Nichols,” Fort said, “refusing to support — or even accept — the advancement of a person from a disenfranchised community like Taylor is a problem.”

“You have people like Rachel, she wants something to be done as long as it doesn’t require her to make a sacrifice,” Fort continued. “In order for our nation to be more equitable, it is going to require all the Rachels to step aside and make space. Performative ally-ship is the best way I can describe her.”

Cobb noted that Nichols, who has since been pulled from appearing on the sporting network but continues to be paid, put herself in the forefront of a perception in the industry that ESPN had a diversity issue.

Bryant said media groups’ desires to increase the number of Blacks as employees are empty gestures if they don’t come with institutional change.

“I noticed we needed more Black voices after the George Floyd incident,” she said. “After the entire summer of organizing and moving into the election cycle, I felt that there was a disconnect. Not just with white people talking about Black issues, but the media altogether not having their ear to the ground.”

Hayard cited a 2019 Pew Research Center analysis that revealed that Black media professionals only make up 7% of newsroom staffers nationally.

Cobb said she first realized more Black representation was needed in the media when former President Barack Obama, began his initial run for the country’s highest office and a controversy ignited around him attending the church of controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

“I was the only one speaking out in defense of Obama,” she said. “I remember my co-host turning off my mic and people calling in saying I was racist. I left in the middle of the show. A Black reporter from the Chicago Tribune called me and first asked if I was OK and secondly, what happened and how it went down, and if I thought it was racist.”

The same realization came to Fort when she was assigned to cover the shooting of a Black man by a police officer for a news station. She was directed to pull up the criminal history of the man, but Fort also investigated the officer and found he had a litany of complaints against him, including racial-profiling ones.

“This was omitted from the five o’clock news because my white superiors didn’t feel it was relevant to the story,” she said. “I found myself being characterized in the newsroom as the angry Black woman.”

Cobb said for more African Americans to be present in front of news cameras, more Blacks need to be in positions of power behind the camera, beyond just the editor and producer roles.

Fort said a change in culture could also be helpful.

“The industry standard is AP-Style English and a certain image,” she said. “Not all Black people or people of color use AP English as their natural dialect, and we need to stop expecting people to conform to that. Allow people to be their authentic selves. Why are we saying we want diversity, but we want people to conform? To me that’s not diversity.”

When Bryant began her drive to get the Confederate statue removed, a Black reporter interviewed her. She said talking with a person from the same race, from possibly a similar background, and who was empathetic helped the interview go smoother

“I’m looking forward to seeing more journalists with their Blackness on display,” Bryant said.

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Advice

Culturally Deprived or Entitled

We all are contributors to the greater being, through exercising our God-like characteristics. God doesn’t create the issues — God shows up with the solution to issues. So, as we practice His characteristics, we then will demand and experience all of what we are asking for today.

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Our solutions to our current plights can be simple actions of kindness, forgiveness and empathy.
Our solutions to our current plights can be simple actions of kindness, forgiveness and empathy.

These are questions that we must ask ourselves as a country, city, state and community. We all have become victims of one or the other’s perspective. As a people, the current social climate, has stripped away our core values and sensitivities to properly acknowledge life’s differences. Life itself would have no spice, if it was all constructed with the same images, narratives, hopes, challenges, geography or gender. God’s presence would lose it purpose, behind our definition of social-cultural equalities. Everything can not be the same, but the differences can be a significant part of the whole.

Maybe our real issues are living inside of ourselves, as we look outside of ourselves to find our social and emotional purpose. Culturally, we often credit those voices that have large constituencies or media profiles, instead of those that have a fearless passion for the truth. Let’s not look to judge these efforts, but to hold ourselves accountable to our own truth that is aligned with God’s truth. Within this effort , I think we will emotionally land in a place, that we can start to heal.

Once we can embrace our cultural truths without jealousy, embarrassment, insecurities , bias and most important without fear. We can start to transform our social-emotional challenges. The solutions to our current plights , can be simple actions of kindness, love , empathy, forgiveness without judgement and acknowledging the love for humanity. These are God like social practices.

Let’s remember our greatest competition is our attempt to reach our own potential. It’s not looking to the left and the right, or seeing black and white, but looking comfortably within. This allows for a great collective outcome, because its our unique gifts, that contributes to life’s whole. We all are contributors to the greater being.. God doesn’t create the issues, man’s fears and bruises do. So, as we practice God’s characteristics, we will see a social emotional transformation occur. A culture of spiritual inclusion.

The real intention to deploy emotional equality is beyond the “Color Code” , gender biases, social -economic redlining or the constitutional governance of humanity. It’s simplifying the re-engineering of the processes that blocks the social transparencies of truth.to be realized.

Now which side do we sit on is the question to ask ourselves, are we culturally deprived or are we entitled? The acknowledgement of truth starts with you.

 

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Commentary

Closing the Loss of Learning Reading Gap

The new community-based non-profit, Right Path to Learning, promotes early literacy in these first crucial years while there’s still a chance to make a difference. They set out to prove that children in under-performing and under-resourced schools can thrive with the right resources.

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The EnCompass Summer School Pilot proved to be a successful partnership between Right Path to Learning, Sylvan Learning, and the families and staff of EnCompass Academy.

By Conway Jones

Reading is the foundation of a good education and fundamental to success in life.

Can you imagine your life without reading? What if you couldn’t read well enough to follow directions, conduct your business, or even enjoy a good book?

Success starts early. Until 3rd grade, children are learning to read; after third grade, they’re reading to learn. Students who don’t achieve literacy by third grade fall behind and become bored, frustrated, and unlikely to graduate high school, much less go on to higher education.

The new community-based non-profit, Right Path to Learning, promotes early literacy in these first crucial years while there’s still a chance to make a difference. They set out to prove that children in under-performing and under-resourced schools can thrive with the right resources.

This summer, they did it. RPL hired Sylvan Learning to provide 15 children, 50 hours of support education to help them achieve literacy at EnCompass Academy in East Oakland.

Sylvan Learning tested the children at the beginning of the program: they were one year to over two years behind grade level in literacy. At the end of RPL’s five-week program, 93% of the students enrolled in the RPL pilot program at EnCompass completed it and the attendance rate was 86%, or an average of 43 hours completed in the 50-hour program.

Students advanced by almost 50% of a school year to grade level. Students grew on all three components of the Sylvan Outlook Survey, indicating a 25% increase in their engagement with school, improvement in their academic perseverance, and their confidence in reading.

All of the parents surveyed indicated that the program was beneficial, that it helped their child read better, their child enjoyed the program, and their confidence in reading improved.

As the parent of one of our students put it, “If you believe in it, you can do it!”

The EnCompass Summer School Pilot proved to be a successful partnership between Right Path to Learning, Sylvan Learning, and the families and staff of EnCompass Academy.

The school staff was thrilled with the overall academic improvements and is eager to partner again next spring. Based on the success last summer, Right Path to Learning will provide additional services to the Oakland Unified School District students in the advancement of its goal of ensuring that 2,000 under-resourced students reach literacy by the end of 3rd grade.

“Our children made substantial progress in confidence and in reading growth. Because of that, a student shared that she is now spending two hours at the library because she is able to read better,” said Minh-Tram Nguyen, principal at OUSD’s EnCompass Academy. “That’s a powerful testimony to the program’s success, and we are looking forward to continuing our relationship with Right Path to Learning,” she continued.

Right Path to Learning program will move from a Summer School program to an After School program starting January 2022.

In 10 years, these third graders will be 18-year-old adult members of our community, on their way to productive lives and life-long learning.

For more information, visit www.RightPathtoLearning.

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