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Jones needs black voters to beat Moore in Alabama Senate race

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Sylvester Dawson will vote Tuesday in Alabama's Senate election, but he's hardly thrilled about the choices.

"Honestly speaking, I'm not that excited about either one of them," Dawson said of Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore as he shaved a client at the barber shop he's run for 23 years in Birmingham's historic black business district.

A Jones field office sits just a few steps away, smack in the middle of a row of black barber shops and take-out joints lined up along 4th Avenue. But Dawson, who is black, said he hasn't felt compelled to step inside. "I don’t know Doug Jones," he said.

Still, Dawson will vote for him. "He's a Democrat, I'm a Democrat. And I've got to exercise my right to vote," Dawson said.

That tepid enthusiasm is widespread among African-Americans in Alabama, concerning Democratic officials and operatives who know black voters are the core of the party's base in this deeply Republican state.

African-Americans make up about 27 percent of the state's population, and Jones will need them to turn out in droves on Tuesday, since he's expected to win just a third of whites, at best. Only 15 percent of white Alabamians voted for Barack Obama in 2012, according to exit polls, which were not conducted in the state last year.

No one thinks many African-Americans will support Moore, but there are real doubts about whether they'll vote at all.

"That's the $64,000 question," said Danny Ransom, the vice chair of the Civil Rights Activist Committee, sitting in the group’s storefront office. "There doesn't appear to be a lot of enthusiasm."

A flight of high-profile black Democrats will fan out across African-American parts of the state Sunday in a last-minute push to raise awareness of the election, a Jones campaign official confirmed to NBC News.

The surrogates include Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who led the "Bloody Sunday" march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma 52 years ago. The airlift is being organized by Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Democrat in Alabama's congressional delegation, who is also black.

Jones is trying to knit together a delicate coalition that includes both black voters and suburban white women who might be turned off by Moore, but some African-Americans have chafed at the Democrat's messaging and feel they're being taken for granted.

"It’s very difficult to appeal to white and blacks at the same time," said Artur Davis, a former Democratic congressman who was the party's gubernatorial nominee in 2010. "I’ve been there, it’s a hard thing to do."

But Davis said it's frustrating for black Democrats to so often be shouldered with the burden of getting their voters to the polls even as they're often left out of the room where decisions are made.

"If Doug Jones loses, it will not be because he didn't get enough African-American support," Davis said. "It will be because he did not get enough people of his own race, age and gender to vote for him."

In a state where almost three-in-four voters are white, the hold of partisanship has proved enduring among most white Alabamians, leaving Democrats once again turning to African-Americans for votes.

In ads and billboards across the state, Jones has highlighted his work prosecuting two KKK members in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, a watershed moment in the civil rights struggle.

As the U.S. attorney in Birmingham in the 1990s, Jones reopened the investigation, and became well known for it in the state's largest city, which is also almost three-quarters black.

But he's more of a mystery in other parts of the state, including the Black Belt, a stretch of heavily African-American counties that run across the middle of Alabama through Selma and Montgomery.

Younger black men in particular are a weak spot in Jones' column, according to Democrats who are studying the race, and some recent controversies haven't helped.

One campaign mailer in particular has lit up black social media with criticism.

It's aimed at calling attention to the allegations of sexuality impropriety against Moore, and features a photo of a skeptical looking young black man and the text, "Think if a black man went after high school girls, anyone would try to make him a senator?"

But many found it too clever by half.

To Michael Harriot, a black writer and podcast host who lives in Birmingham, the mailer was reductive and condescending. "While it might not be racist, it is certainly racist adjacent," Harriot wrote in The Root.

"Democrats treat blacks in the South like stepchildren from a previous marriage: They'll have us over for weekends and election holidays, smile and act nice, but ... they treat the new kids better. The white ones," he continued.

Criticism of the mailer swelled to a loud enough volume that Joe Madison, the host of the nationally syndicated "Black Eagle" radio show on Sirius/XM, asked Jones about it Friday.

"That mailer kind of speaks for itself," Jones said, before conceding it may have missed the mark a bit. "You know, maybe we could've used a little bit different language."

To be sure, widespread concerns about African-American turnout ahead of Virginia's gubernatorial election last month proved unfounded. Strong black turnout helped propel Democrat Ralph Northam to an easy victory.

A recent Washington Post poll found white and black voters in Alabama to be roughly equally enthusiastic about voting, though a wider margin of whites said they were paying close attention to the race — 78 percent of whites compared with 67 percent among blacks.

Jones' campaign has touted what spokesperson Sebastian Kitchen called "the largest, most active get-out-the-vote program Alabama has seen in a generation." Jones has campaigned aggressively in black churches and at historically black colleges and universities, and given multiple interviews to black media outlets.

He's also being boosted by a handful of longstanding black Democratic groups in Alabama, though it's unclear how much.

One group, for instance, has been passing out palm cards and signs that declare, "Vote or Die," and display a photo of President Donald Trump next to Obama, underscoring the salience of both men to black voters. On the back of the card, it reads, "Obama Care was saved by one vote, saving the lives of thousands of Americans. Hitler came to power with one vote, killing millions ... One Vote Matters."

Activists are also concerned about the impact of a relatively new voter ID law.

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John Lewis refuses to attend Civil Rights museum opening because Trump is attending

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Rep. John Lewis announced that he would not be attending the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum over the weekend, because President Donald Trump will be there.

Lewis said that Trump’s “attendance and hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed” by the museum itself.

“After careful consideration and conversations with church leaders, elected officials, civil rights activists, and many citizens of our congressional districts, we have decided not to attend or participate in the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum,” Lewis said in a statement.

“After careful consideration and conversations with church leaders, elected officials, civil rights activists, and many citizens of our congressional districts, we have decided not to attend or participate in the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum,” Lewis said in a statement.

In particular, Lewis pointed to the president’s “disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants, and National Football League players.”

“The struggles represented in this museum exemplify the truth of what really happened in Mississippi,” he said. “After President Trump departs, we encourage all Mississippians and Americans to visit this historic civil rights museum.”

This is a particularly damning decision and statement from Lewis, considering the fact that he is a hero to the civil rights movement.

Lewis is not the only one to express concerns over Trump attending the museum opening, either. The NAACP has also said that it does not want Trump there.

“President Trump’s statements and policies regarding the protection and enforcement of civil rights have been abysmal, and his attendance is an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO, said in a statement. “He has created a commission to reinforce voter suppression, refused to denounce white supremacists, and overall, has created a racially hostile climate in this nation.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi also announced that he would not be speaking at the event if Trump was there.

“The civil rights marchers who are being honored would turn over in their grave knowing that somebody who’s stood for that stuff would be in attendance,” Thompson told the Boston Globe. “The question is, do I want to be associated with someone who is that narrow in focus.”

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Alabama Senate Candidate Jones Reaches Out to Black Voters

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The Democratic candidate in Alabama's Senate race is reaching out to black voters as Election Day approaches.

Doug Jones, left, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, walks in a Christmas parade Saturday, Dec, 2, 2017, in Selma, Ala. Jones is trying to shore up support among black voters in his U.S. Senate race against Republican Roy Moore by appealing for an end to the divisiveness that has long been part of the state's politics.

Speaking at the scene of the one of the climactic confrontations of the civil rights movement, Alabama Democrat Doug Jones on Saturday again made his pitch that Alabama's black and white voters have unified concerns that he can best represent.

"They face more issues in common," Jones said after walking during Selma's Christmas parade. "They face issues of health care, they face issues of education, they face issues of jobs."

Trying to be the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama in 25 years is an uphill fight for Jones, a white attorney with working-class roots who has to gain the support of both white and black voters.

Jones needs to peel away moderate GOP support from the deeply conservative Roy Moore, who has maintained a dedicated evangelical following, despite multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against underage girls. But black voters are key to any hopes the Democrats have of victory. The 23 percent of registered voters who are African-American are the bedrock of the Alabama's Democratic party, and a poor turnout by those voters could sink Jones.

Voting and voting rights are ever-present in Selma, which lives daily with the legacy of 1965's Bloody Sunday, when state troopers beat civil rights demonstrators at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Televised scenes of those beatings galvanized national opinion and helped spur Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. Jones walked past the west end of the bridge Saturday, across the Alabama River from where the confrontation took place.

African-Americans in Dallas County are heavily Democratic. But it's unclear if black residents of Selma and Alabama will be energized to vote for Jones in the numbers he needs. Some voters Saturday said they were turned off by the campaign's conflict, and weren't sure whether Jones would be able to have an impact in Republican-controlled Washington.

"Really, he probably can't do anything," said 57-year-old Lorenzo Simmons, an African-American who works at a silicon metal foundry and intends to vote for Jones. "It's probably more about the body as a whole."

Jones acknowledged that such fatalism can keep people from the polls.

"We've got to let them know that they have a partner, somebody who's going to be working for them, that's going to be a voice for them and to try to reach out to those communities," he said Saturday. "It's not an easy task with any segment of the population that gets very cynical, in this state in particular."

Aware of the odd dynamics of a special election held during the holiday season — when voters' minds are more often on football or shopping than politics — Jones' campaign has launched an effort to get out the vote that includes radio, billboards and neighborhood canvassing. The Alabama chapter of the NAACP and a collaboration of majority-black fraternities and sororities also have launched a drive aimed at getting those younger voters to the polls.

State Sen. Hank Sanders, a Democrat from Selma, said he had concerns that Jones wasn't reaching enough black voters, but believes he is doing better recently in that effort.

Partly to reach black voters, Jones has emphasized his role leading the prosecution against the two Klansmen who bombed Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, killing four little girls.

The campaign has also specifically targeted millennial African-Americans with ads emphasizing positions on education and the economy.

Tommy Edwards, a frequent Democratic campaign volunteer in Tuscaloosa, shook hands with Jones at a barbecue restaurant after the parade. Edwards said intends to drive people to the polls.

"The black voters are going to decide this," Edwards said. "We've got to get the people to the polls."

Jones' focus on "kitchen table" issues connects better with some black voters who said they're turned off by Moore, even though in many cases they share Moore's evangelical Christian faith. Barbara Lewis of Selma said she worries about the education her grandchildren are getting in the city's public schools. Simmons said he hoped Jones could help improve the economy of rural Alabama's Black Belt, where incomes are low, unemployment is relatively high and population is shrinking. In Selma, where the median yearly household income of $22,000 is only 40 percent of the national average, the city struggles with recruiting new businesses and preventing abandonment of its grand 19th century core.

"Put some money and some business in the rural areas, the people that have been forgotten," Simmons said.

Some black Democrats, though, say multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore over the past month are motivating them. Elizabeth Engerman, a Montgomery retiree who was shopping with her father Saturday in Selma, said the accusations levied against Moore "blew me out of the water." She said friends at her beauty shop are hotly opposed to Moore, who has denied the allegations.

"We as African-Americans don't vote in these types of elections," Engerman said. "But they're coming out in droves, or at least they say they are."

Jones, for his part, continues to tell audiences that "we have more in common than we have to divide us," casting Moore as the divider.

"What we're trying to show is a stark contrast between Roy Moore and Doug Jones and I don't think the contrast can be greater. And it's really about what people want for the future of Alabama going forward, one that's divisive or one that tries to unify the people of the state."

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Blacks at Microsoft Scholarships

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Blacks at Microsoft (BAM) is a company-sponsored employee network dedicated to supporting the continued growth and development of black employees at Microsoft Corporation. This year, BAM will award two US$5,000 scholarships to outstanding high-school seniors who are interested in pursuing careers in technology. The scholarships are renewable, so winners who continue to meet the criteria can receive an annual $5,000 award for up to four years.

Requirements

To be considered for a BAM Scholarship, you must:

  • Be a high-school senior of African descent (for example, African American, African, or Ethiopian).
  • Plan to attend a four-year college or university in the fall of the year following high-school graduation.
  • Plan to pursue a bachelor's degree in engineering, computer science, computer information systems, or select business programs (such as finance, business administration, or marketing).
  • Demonstrate a passion for technology.
  • Demonstrate leadership at school or in the community.
  • Have a cumulative GPA of 3.3 or higher.
  • Require financial assistance to attend college.

How to Apply

To apply for a BAM Scholarship, print and fill out the application. Enclose it in an envelope with the following items:

  • Two letters of recommendation. At least one letter must be from a faculty or staff member at your school. Letters of recommendation should be original and should not be duplicates of college recommendation letters. (Letters must be on letterhead.)
  • Résumé. Your résumé should include the following information:
  • —Extracurricular activities (school and community related)
  • —Honors and awards that you have received (if possible, include awards that are technology related)
  • —Work experience
  • Picture of yourself.
  • Transcript. Include an official "sealed" copy of your current academic transcript. (Unofficial copies will not be accepted.)
  • Two essays.
  • 1. In no more than 500 words, describe how you plan to engage in the technology industry in your future career. (If you have done exemplary work using technology during high school, please describe that also.)
  • 2. In no more than 250 words, demonstrate your financial need for this scholarship.

Mail your completed application to the following address by March 1. You will receive a response by April 15.
  • The Seattle Foundation
  • c/o BAM Scholarship
  • 1200 5th Avenue, Ste. 1300
  • Seattle, WA 98101
Download the BAM Scholarship application (Microsoft Word document, 88 KB)
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Mother Of Vegas Survivor Pleads With Lawmaker To Change Gun Laws

“Our schools, hospitals, concert venues and churches are now all battlefields.”

More than a month after 58 people died and more than 500 were wounded in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the mother of one of the survivors of the Las Vegas massacre is reminding local lawmakers that part of the solution lies with them.

In a gut-wrenching letter to her local representative, Illinois Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria), Anne M. (as she asked to be named) described the harrowing trauma her daughter Hannah suffered following the Las Vegas tragedy. Without stronger gun laws, Anne M. warned, tens of thousands of Americans are set to suffer the same fate.

“As you are gathering with your family during these holidays, I ask that you remember us and all the other families who have suffered losses due to gun violence,” she pleaded. “Reflect on the power and responsibilities that your office entails and be prepared to act for positive change when the new legislative session begins.”

“Anne M.” told HuffPost her story and that of “Hannah” on the condition of anonymity. She lives in a region of Illinois that she describes as anti-gun control and is fearful for her family’s safety following the shooting. Additionally, her daughter is employed by one of the companies involved with the music festival and was not authorized to speak publicly about the incident. We’ve identified them both by the pseudonyms they used in the letter to the state lawmaker.  

STEVE MARCUS/LAS VEGAS SUN VIA REUTERS
Flowers and other tributes to the victims of the Las Vegas massacre pile up at the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.

Hannah had been preparing for the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a three-day country music fest that drew tens of thousands to the Las Vegas Strip, for days. On Oct. 1, she was working from a trailer near the stage when gunman Stephen Paddock unloaded hundreds of rounds into an unsuspecting crowd listening to Jason Aldean perform. At first, Hannah thought the popping sounds were the sound system experiencing problems. Then it dawned on her she was hearing rapid gunfire blasting overhead.

Hannah barricaded the doors of her trailer, turned off the lights, computers and audio equipment. She huddled under the tables, fervently texting her colleagues to see if they were safe. Outside she heard crying and screaming as dozens lay dying.

“I am safe. Many dead,” she texted her family from the trailer.

Hannah stayed hidden in the trailer for about an hour, eventually making her way out of the venue with the help of law enforcement. She was later released and escorted to another hotel to rest. As morning broke in Las Vegas, she took a photo of the sunrise from her hotel room and texted her mother.

“I never thought I’d live to see this day.”

ANNE M
The photo Hannah took from her hotel room the morning after the shooting. She told her mother: “I never thought I’d live to see this day.”
 

By the following afternoon, Hannah was on a plane back home. But once back in Illinois, she had trouble picking up her life.  

“In many ways I feel like every bullet that didn’t physically hit me, because none of them did, all hit me mentally and emotionally,” she told HuffPost. “If you could do a fictitious scan of my head, it would look like Swiss cheese, because they all went through me on some level.”

Profoundly haunted by the killings, Hannah would come home from work and collapse in her mother’s arms, recounting the details of the shooting, over and over again. She’d complain of chest pain and had trouble breathing. Being in public became stressful, and being near strangers frightened her. The sounds of dogs barking and children laughing were too much to bear.

One evening shortly after the shooting, as fireworks popped off during the halftime show of a school football game nearby, Hannah burst into tears and became panicked ― she didn’t hear fireworks, she heard gunfire, and she was instantly pulled back to her trailer at the festival hearing instead the bullets flying. Anne had to pull Hannah into the bathroom and turn on the exhaust fan, to drown out the fireworks, and hold her daughter as tight as she could.

Anne, a former therapist, recognized her “bright, happy, spunky girl” was suffering from severe trauma and found her a therapist who specialized in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

While most often discussed as a disorder that affects members of the military, any person who experiences trauma can suffer from PTSD. About 7 to 8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetimes, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD. In any given year, about 8 million adults have PTSD, and it is common among survivors of mass shootings: About a third of them will experience PTSD.

Watching her daughter suffer the effects of the shooting made Anne keenly aware of the trauma that tens of thousands of Americans ― gun violence survivors and the members of their families ― go through.

The only way to prevent the trauma is to stop the shootings, she argues. “We can no longer deny that mass shootings are a terrifying, nearly daily part of American culture,” Anne wrote in her impassioned letter to Spain. “We have allowed assault rifles to become weapons of mass destruction in our everyday lives.”

“Our schools, hospitals, concert venues and churches are now all battlefields,” Anne wrote.

There are no readily available answers for Anne, Hannah, their family and the thousands of others affected by this national tragedy. Nearly 3,000 people have been shot in the weeks that followed the Las Vegas massacre, according to data collected by the Gun Violence Archive. About 800 of those victims have died. Just two weeks ago, a gunman opened fire at a church in a small town in Texas, killing 26 people and wounding 20 others.

Despite numerous high-profile massacres involving firearms in recent years, from Aurora to Sandy Hook to Orlando, Congress has not passed meaningful legislation that could prevent another mass shooting. And while lawmakers briefly voiced support for a restriction on bump stocks following the Las Vegas shooting, the devices that facilitate rapid firing are still legal. Any hope for a legislative fix was dashed when the National Rifle Association issued a statement urging the Trump administration to address the matter via existing regulations and not new laws.

Gun rights activists consider gun laws in Illinois to be strict. Gun owners are banned from carrying handguns that are visible to the public, and those with concealed carry permits are banned from bringing their firearms into schools, public parks and government buildings. Still, bump stocks remain legal, and the semi-automatic firearms that Paddock used during his rampage are as well. The state’s legislature has adjourned for the year without passing any new gun control legislation.

Anne is trying to change that. She’s starting locally, with her state representative. “Until and unless stronger gun laws with thorough background checks are in place, our country is not safe,” Anne told Spain. “Not for my Hannah. Not for [Spain’s daughter] Eleanor. Not for any of us.”

Rep. Spain told HuffPost in an email that he received Anne’s letter and found it to be “heartfelt and impactful” and that it gave him an opportunity to take time before the state’s next legislative session to find common ground on gun laws. “Out of strong respect for what her family has been through, I am looking for opportunities to work together toward addressing the scourge of mass-shootings on our society and that is what I told [Anne M.]. She asked me to take time to think about this issue and I am doing so.”

Hannah hopes that, at the very least, making her story public will remind the nation of what she and the thousands of other people ― numbers that are growing ― who have been been hurt by gun violence are living through and to keep remembering it. And in doing so, perhaps Americans will decide they’ve finally had enough and fight for safer gun laws.

“Nobody should have to experience this. Whether you’re 7 years old at Sandy Hook or 55 years old at a country music festival, there’s real action we can take. Somebody’s right to a gun should not be more important than anyone’s piece of mind.”

 

 

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