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With confidence and ‘courage,’ Tami Sawyer declares candidacy for Memphis mayor

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “I am running now because when I see our city and I see our people and I look at the conversations that we are having at high levels of leadership, it doesn’t incorporate what is next for the impoverished, people of color, women, every person that is not considered in our vision for Memphis,” said Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, director of diversity and cultural competence for Teach for America in Memphis.

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By Karanja A. Ajanku, Editor, The New Tri-State Defender

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer has made the decision. She is running for mayor, taking a “social leadership stance.”

The first-term District 7 representative “expound[ed] on plans to drive progress and change and broaden impact for Memphis” during a press conference at Makeda’s Homemade Cookies, 488 S. 2nd St., on Friday (March 8, International Women’s Day) at 10 a.m.

A “Memphis Can’t Wait” rally designed for Sawyer to “share her vision for Memphis” took place at Clayborn Temple downtown on Saturday (March 9) at 5 p.m.

Prior to these two events, Sawyer visited The New Tri-State Defender, outlining her reasoning and timing for a mayoral bid that pits her against incumbent Jim Strickland and the announced candidacy of former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton.

“I am running now because when I see our city and I see our people and I look at the conversations that we are having at high levels of leadership, it doesn’t incorporate what is next for the impoverished, people of color, women, every person that is not considered in our vision for Memphis,” said Sawyer, director of diversity and cultural competence for Teach for America in Memphis.

“We can’t continue to repeat the mistakes of the past, nor can we survive off of ‘basic’ leadership.”

Sawyer won the Aug. 2, 2018 general election for District 7 with 80-plus percent of the vote. That followed her surprisingly strong 2016 bid for state House District 90, which she lost but drew 43.37 percent of the vote.

Some openly question the timing of her mayoral bid, saying it’s too early.

“I believe that we are in a situation with our city where we can’t wait for change,” Sawyer said. “We’re facing the evaporation of black wealth from the country by 2030. By 2030 we will have zero dollars of net wealth in the black community.

“When you look at the opportunity indicators for where Memphis is, that means we are going to lose any of those economic advantages and wealth collectively in the next three to four years. We have to get serious about policy and programs and support that recognizes that 50 percent of our kids are born below the line of poverty. …We don’t invest in schools. Zero percent of our city budget goes to education. I don’t think we have another five years to risk our people.”

As Sawyer enters the race, Strickland is a month-plus into his re-election bid, vowing to go “door to door, home to home” with his basic theme: “Keep that Memphis momentum going.”

Economic development downtown is great, but it doesn’t reach the majority of Memphis, Sawyer said.

“We don’t have time for trickle-down economics to be the way to go. One percent of the population is benefitting from this development. …We have to debate with developers about minority and women business percentages. Where is the investment in our communities? What impact is this development going to have?”
Sawyer doesn’t see enough support for small businesses.

“Momentum for one percent is not momentum for Memphis. Momentum for Memphis looks likes programs and infusions and economic support for small business owners and entrepreneurs. We are a resilient and creative city but we don’t always have the resources we need for our ideas to really grow and shine and become profitable.

“We’ve seen it happen in other cities and it can happen here where instead of being excited about new buildings and development, we can get excited about how many small businesses are really popping up. That money actually lands back in the community.”

Sawyer said she has the courage to keep pressing forward in making the case for the poorest Memphians, adding that such a commitment doesn’t make her anti-business.

“What I don’t believe in is corporate welfare that is given in a way that we’re taking tax dollars away from programs and benefits for the community. That’s allowing a small percentage of our population to continue to grow the wealth gap in Memphis.

“As a commissioner thus far I’ve had that courage,” Sawyer said. “When Union Row came up, I questioned whether we should vote for it. When they came back a second time and asked for $60 million for a parking garage downtown, I said ‘no.’

Regardless of where we find these pockets of money, whatever fund we say they’re in, at the end of the day, the way the city generates money is from some sort of taxes. We’re continuing to give tax money into the pockets and developments that won’t be accessible to most of us. …

“I would say to corporate interests that Memphis has to – right now – uphold and stand with its strongest resource, which is our people, all of our people.”

Noting that public safety was a prime concern among those who responded to a TSD survey of issues for the mayoral candidates, Sawyer said public safety must be addressed in a way that “takes us away from a tough-on-crime stance. Putting more people in jail, being tougher on crime has yet to solve crime anywhere.”

With Memphis’ high levels of poverty, having tough on crime/lock’em up stances create more dire straits for people,” she said.

“Being put jail, you get all kinds of fees, you lose your job, your rent doesn’t get paid. We are creating this ecosystem where most of the crimes that we are seeing are crimes of poverty. We have to address public safety in a more holistic way.”

Specifically, she wants to take a community-policing program such as the one operating in Frayser and make it a broader model for the city.

Education is a prime factor in public safety, Sawyer said, advocating for devising a way to redirect of some of the get-tough-on-crime funds into the schools.

One TSD survey participant asked this: “Will you divest from the prison-industrial complex and invest in K-12 public education?”

“Absolutely,” said Sawyer. “That is a major part of why I am running. You are going to go where you are directed to go. Right now, we are directing our energy and our money to say we need more beds in jail. We need more police…What about more teachers, more school counselors, more trauma-informed advocates and more principals?”

Sawyer said it was a mistake for Memphis to disinvest from the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Reentry, calling such a program vital.

“When people return home from being incarcerated, their family may or may not be in the same place they were; they don’t recognize the community; they don’t understand the technology. We need these community programs in place to help reconnect – not just to work – but to our community; so that they feel they have a place here. So that the decisions they make for the rest of their life are ones of value to them and where they live.”

Many community programs are going beyond intervention to embrace prevention and need more city support to make them known and more widely available, she said.

Leadership team

If elected, Sawyer would be the first woman elected mayor of Memphis. In the year of Memphis’ bicentennial, that would be exciting, she said, and “a bit sad (that it has not happened before).”

Her leadership team would reflect people with “passion and commitment to our community. …and innovation. …

“We know we can’t solve our issues and challenges with business as usual. Let’s innovate and reach people where they are…. I definitely do want a diverse leadership team. I am going to be looking for women. I’m going to be looking for people of color who don’t identify as black to join us as well. We have the fastest growing immigrant population in the South, definitely the fastest in Tennessee. Where is our bilingual support? How are we providing services to our Spanish speakers, who haven’t learned English yet but need critical city services?

“Who are our liaisons to different communities? We have a vibrant Muslim community in North Memphis; our LGBTQ community. My leadership team will look like our city, which is beautiful, diverse and multilayered and intersectional.”

Activism in the mayor’s office

Sawyer was the most visible figure in the #takemdown901 movement that advocated for the removal of Confederate-era monuments from parks then owned by the city. She is known as an activist and embraces the term.

“Activists have been mayor for a long time. Maynard Jackson (Atlanta) was an activist. President Obama was an activist. Sometimes we look at activist as a dirty word and it shouldn’t be. An activist acts. …I move issues into the forefront. I drive conversation. I drive change. And isn’t that what we want in a mayor?

(For more information, visit www.tamisawyer.com.)

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Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.
The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Entertainment and Culture Editor

The documentary She Had A Dream by Tunisian filmmaker Raja Amari premieres on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange series tonight at 8 p.m. EST on WORLD CHANNEL. Season 14 of the acclaimed documentary series captures Black artists and activists shaping and reclaiming culture, advocating for change and mobilizing for brighter futures. She Had A Dream offers an intimate portrayal of one young Black Tunisian woman’s quest for political office and her fight against racism and oppression in a society that often seeks to overlook both.

The documentary follows Ghofrane, a 20-something Black woman from Tunisia as she walks the path of self-discovery of young adulthood while running for political office in a homeland where many still view her as an outsider.

Watch the trailer below:

A dedicated, charismatic activist and a modern, free-speaking woman, Ghofrane in many ways is the embodiment of contemporary Tunisian political hopes still alive years after the Arab Spring. She Had A Dream follows Ghofrane as she works to conquer her own self-doubts while attempting to persuade close friends and complete strangers to vote for her. As audiences follow her campaign, they also follow the dichotomies of her life as a woman striving for a role in politics in the Arab world and as a Black person in a country where racism is prevalent, yet often denied.

“The 14th season of AfroPoP shines a light on the collective power, strength and resilience of Black people and movements around the world,” said Leslie Fields-Cruz, AfroPoP executive producer. “Viewers will see artists use their platforms to push for progress and human rights and see ‘ordinary’ people do the remarkable in the interest of justice.”

Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.

She Had A Dream airs on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange Monday, April 11 at 8 p.m. ET on WORLD Channel and begins streaming on worldchannel.org at the same time.

AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange is presented by Black Public Media and WORLD Channel. For more information, visit worldchannel.org or blackpublicmedia.org.

This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena.
The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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BBC Africa is reporting Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is facing a water shortage because of changing weather patterns and aging water facilities. The article reports, “Residents in informal communities like Kibra pay private vendors for water, meaning they now control the supply and access to water in the community.” The privatization of water access has led to an increase in the exploitation of women and girls in exchange for water.

“Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena. Check out the 2018 ANEW documentary short below:

The water crisis and the sexual exploitation of girls and women as a result of the water crisis shows no signs of slowing down.

To read more about this crisis, visit BBC Africa‘s series of articles and videos on Kenya’s water crisis and the Water Integrity Network’s (WIN) study on sextortion.

This news brief was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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#WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright

THE AFRO — Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.
The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Maya Pottiger, Word in Black

It’s no surprise that we’re living through difficult times. After two years, we’re still in a global pandemic, which has predominantly impacted people of color. In addition, Book bans, attacks on critical race theory, and partisan political fights target everything from Black youths’ sexuality, to history, to health.

And we’re seeing the effects.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.

For a variety of reasons — ongoing stigma, lack of insurance, most accessible — Black students often rely on the mental health services offered at school.Outside of a mental health-specific practice, Black students were nearly 600 times as likely to get mental health help in an academic setting compared to other options, according to 2020 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In fact, mental health services in schools have been steadily gaining popularity among students since 2009, before dropping slightly in 2020 when the school year was interrupted, according to the SAMHSA report. As a result, the rate of students receiving mental health care through school decreased by 14 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.

So how are schools changing the way they address and prioritize mental health — and the specific needs of Black students — since 2020?

The Renewed Focus on Mental Health

For school-aged people, the majority of their time is spent in a school building — about eight hours per day, 10 months out of the year. To help address mental health during academic hours, schools are trying to focus on social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills. This includes teaching kids how to be in touch with their emotions and protect against adverse mental health outcomes.

But it’s been difficult.

Though there’s been more conversation, the implementation is challenging, says Dr. Kizzy Albritton, an associate professor of school psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. There was already a shortage of school-based mental health professionals before the pandemic, which has now been exacerbated, as have mental health issues. In addition, though schools clearly recognize the importance of mental health, they aren’t always provided adequate resources.

“Unless there are more resources funneled into the school system, we’re going to see a continued catch-up issue across the board,” Albritton says. “And, unfortunately, our Black students are going to continue to suffer the most.”

In a survey of high school principals and students, Education Week Research Center found discrepancies in how principals and students viewed a school’s mental health services. While 86 percent of the principals said their schools provided services, only about 66 percent of students agreed. The survey did point out it’s possible the school offers these services and students aren’t aware. The survey also found Black and Latinx students were less likely than their peers to say their schools offered services.

Dr. Celeste Malone, the president-elect of the National Association for School Psychologists and a Howard University associate professor, says she hasn’t previously seen this degree of attention to mental health in schools.

“I see that a lot in my role for a school psychology graduate program: the outreach and people contacting me with openings where they didn’t exist previously,” Malone says. “With this increased push in funding to hire more, that’s definitely a very, very positive movement.”

Mental Health Is Not One Size Fits All

Just like with many aspects of health, Black youths need different mental health support from their peers of other races. They need a counselor who understands their lived experiences, like microaggressions and other forms of discrimination or racism, without the student having to explain.

For example, in order to best address the specific mental health needs of Black students, districts need to provide information breaking down mental health stigmas; focus on hiring Black counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals; and fund anti-racist and trauma-informed mental health practices, according to the Center for American Progress.

While she hears a lot of talk, Albritton says she isn’t seeing widespread evidence of these solutions in practice.

“There needs to be a willingness, first of all, to understand that our Black students, their needs look a lot different,” Albritton says. School officials need to understand where Black students are coming from — that their families and households experience systemic and structural racism, which are known to trigger anxiety and depression. The effects of the racial wealth gap also play a role, from the neighborhood kids are living in, to the schools they can attend to the impacts on their health. Students might be bringing worries about these challenges to school, which could be reflected in their behavior. This is why, Albritton says, it’s crucial to also work with students’ families.

The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright appeared first on AFRO American Newspapers .

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