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‘Know who you are rolling with,’ VSU graduates are told

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Deron Bennett gets hooded by Octavia Bryson during Virginia State University’s commencement Saturday at the VSU Multi-Purpose Center.

Virginia State University graduates were told in no uncertain terms during commencement last Saturday to “Get Out.”

These words came from a fired up Jeff Johnson, a media and messaging strategist who delivered the keynote address at the ceremony held in the university’s Multi-Purpose Center.

VSU valedictorian Stacey Elder

VSU valedictorian Stacey Elder

Mr. Johnson, the managing principal of the Baltimore-based strategy firm JIJ Communications, referenced the blockbuster film of the same name by writer-producer-director Jordan Peele several times during his speech to drive home the necessity of African-Americans to succeed without selling out.

“In the last two years, we’ve seen more content on the small and big screens produced by those who look like us,” Mr. Johnson told the graduates and their families.

The communications expert then singled out the film not only for its financial and critical success but for having a message relevant for African-American graduates about to enter the workforce.

“As you go out into the world, know who you are rolling with,” he told the audience. “Chris didn’t know who he was rolling with,” he said about the film’s main character, an African-American who had a white girlfriend whose parents were wealthy.

He went on to explain that Chris couldn’t identify with his girlfriend’s values, cultural background and, more importantly, family history.

“Who you talk to, hang with and be around have a lot to do with your success,” he said. “Are you aware that there is a system set up to use your mind, body and talent without your control over it?”

He then encouraged the graduates to take time to identify their true value, to master their craft and gifts and to seek a mentor so they won’t fall under the temptation of selling out for a paycheck.

“I like money,” Mr. Johnson said as the audience laughed. “I get excited every time the check clears. But you don’t have to sell your soul to get it.”

Mr. Johnson did not hold back in citing companies and institutions that he said he considers to be sellouts.

“I’ve been on BET and I watched them do it (sellout),” he said of the Black Entertainment Network that was co-founded by Sheila Johnson and her former husband, Robert Johnson, but sold for $3 billion in 2001 to the media conglomerate Viacom.

“I’ve seen people turn their backs for six figures,” Mr. Johnson told the crowd.

He was equally frank in his criticism of Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. The historically black institution invited U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to be their commencement speaker last week despite petitions signed by hundreds of students, alumni and supporters of the college urging the university’s administration to rescind the invitation.

Earlier this year, Mrs. DeVos, who was appointed to the cabinet post by President Trump, called HBCUs “real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” failing to realize and acknowledge that most of the colleges were the only option for African-American students because of segregation.

During her commencement address May 10, Mrs. DeVos was interrupted by persistent boos from the crowd, while about half the graduates stood and turned their backs on her. Bethune-Cookman’s president, Dr. Edison O. Jackson, was widely criticized by students, their family and alumni, for inviting Mrs. DeVos on such an important occasion.

“You don’t stand for a legacy when you invite folk who don’t believe what you believe or support you,” Mr. Johnson told the VSU graduates and their families.

He ended his address with gentle words of hope and a charge to the graduates to pay back the blessings they have received thus far.

“It is my hope that you will be the freest human beings — whether black, Hispanic, Asian or white. Get out, but go back in and build up.”

With 624 degrees conferred on Saturday, VSU officials elected to have a morning and afternoon ceremony to accommodate the graduates, their families and friends in the new facility. Mr. Johnson performed double duty, offering the keynote address at both.

VSU also recognized two outstanding students — valedictorian Stacey Elder of Richmond, who had a perfect 4.0 GPA in earning a bachelor of science degree in management, and Aicha Camara who was this year’s winner of the annual Reginald F. Lewis Prize that is awarded to a senior in the VSU College of Business. Ms. Camara was presented with a plaque and a check for $1,000.

Retired Lt. Col. Darryl W. Sharp Sr. received the Virginia State University Alumnus of the Year Award.

“We are proud to call you grads, scholars and Trojans,” VSU President Dr. Makola M. Abdullah told the graduating class. “In the words of The Temptations, ‘Get ready ’cause here they come!’ ”

 

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Black voters say they’re already losing under Trump

John Austin, 70, retired from the military and the postal service, seen in Richmond, Va., blasted the president's photo-ops. "What's the results? There's no results."

John Austin, 70, retired from the military and the postal service, seen in Richmond, Va., blasted the president's photo-ops. "What's the results? There's no results."

Conversations with Virginian voters help explain that dreadful 12-per-cent approval rating with a community he pledged to make a priority.

A struggling post-industrial town. A Christian factory worker praying “constantly” for Donald Trump. Ernarda Davis, 65, is the kind of person Trump vowed to help, living in the kind of place Trump vowed to heal, and she wants badly for her president to succeed.

You’ve heard this kind of story before. Except people who look like Davis don’t usually qualify for 2017 articles about how voters are feeling about Trump.

She is black.

And when she was asked in Petersburg, Va., last weekend how Trump is doing so far, she curved her fingers into a rigid circle.

Zero.

“He needs to get hate out of his heart and open his eyes. And that might help,” she said. “Get hate out of his heart, open his eyes, and see what’s going on.”

The U.S. media narrative of the past year has been dominated by accounts of white Trump voters standing by their man no matter what they hear on the news. Their unyielding loyalty is important. But also noteworthy is Trump’s inability to earn even the fleeting honeymoon support of just about anyone who didn’t vote for him.

No group is so fiercely opposed to Trump as African Americans, a group he had promised to make a top priority.

In a campaign speech last August, Trump offered a “guarantee”: he would so impress black people that he would get 95 per cent of their votes in 2020. In a poll this month, his approval rating among black people was 12 per cent.

Corey Young, 26, an accountant in Petersburg, criticized the attempt to repeal Obamacare. "If you don't have a plan, why would you cancel the whole thing?"

Corey Young, 26, an accountant in Petersburg, criticized the attempt to repeal Obamacare. "If you don't have a plan, why would you cancel the whole thing?"  (TORONTO STAR)  

Such loathing is far from inevitable, even for a Republican. George W. Bush got just 9 per cent of the black vote in 2000, similar to Trump’s 8 per cent. By this point in his first term, though, Bush’s black approval rating had spiked to the high 30s.

As the chief promoter of a racist conspiracy about the citizenship of the first black president, Trump assumed the presidency in January with black communities predisposed to dislike him. But in 25 interviews in the majority-black Virginia cities of Petersburg and Richmond, black voters said they were specifically dismayed with actions he has taken since his inauguration.

Some of their complaints were about his general behaviour: his lying, his rage, his incoherence, his cronyism. But there was also broad unhappiness with his handling of particular policy issues important to many black people — and a widespread perception that he has shown he does not care at all about a community he insisted he would “take care of.”

At campaign rally after campaign rally, Trump asked black voters a provocative question: “What the hell do you have to lose?” In Petersburg and Richmond, voters said they are already losing, Trump’s promised “New Deal for Black America” replaced by the raw deal they knew was coming.

“He’s done more to divide. I don’t think he’s for any non-Caucasian people,” said Angela Taylor, 46, a risk manager having a Mother’s Day meal at a popular black restaurant in Richmond, the state capital. “I think he’s just totally against ‘coloureds.’ ”

Black voters in Petersburg expressed strong displeasure with Trump’s widely criticized plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, a law that cut the uninsured rate among black people in half.

A Sunday afternoon on a main street in Petersburg, Va., a struggling majority-black city south of Richmond.

A Sunday afternoon on a main street in Petersburg, Va., a struggling majority-black city south of Richmond.  (TORONTO STAR)  

“I don’t like how he’s cancelling a lot of things without, really, a plan in store. You might not like it, but if you don’t have a plan, why would you cancel the whole thing?” said accountant Corey Young, 26, outside the dollar store that was one of the busiest businesses in Petersburg on a sunny weekend afternoon. “I don’t think he’s rational with his decisions. It’s pretty obvious. He’s just a wild guy. Loose cannon, man.”

Some black voters suspected that Trump’s health-care overhaul is motivated more by a desire to erase Obama’s legacy than to improve Americans’ health. And they took issue, more broadly, with his unceasing stream of disparaging words toward Obama.

“I have a problem with him always saying he has to clean up a mess from the past president,” said Sharon Jones, 52, outside the Richmond restaurant. “Once you become a leader you inherit, you just take over whatever’s there, and not throw other people under the bus.”

Petersburg, a historic 32,000-person city once home to major tobacco plants, has been plagued by poverty, crime and a dysfunctional local government. There was intense concern there about the early activities of Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, a former hard-right Alabama senator who was once denied a federal judgeship over accounts of anti-black racism.

In a rapid-fire series of announcements, Sessions has told federal prosecutors to seek the harshest possible sentences for drug crimes, pulled the federal government back from pressuring cities to reform police forces found to be violating citizens’ constitutional rights, and ordered a review of the reform agreements signed by the Obama administration.

“It’s almost like they’re blinded as it relates to various things that happen in the community involving law enforcement and minorities,” said Rodney Williams, 52, a small-business owner and former deputy sheriff who sits on the chamber of commerce in Petersburg. “That is an issue. For them to say it’s not an issue, it’s like: you are totally ignoring their pain.”

“Just like when Reagan was in office. Low-level offences. It don’t make no sense, and it’s carrying on to this day,” said Frank Lightfoot, 58, a former offender who is now a Richmond college student. “Donald Trump’s doing this country a great injustice. He’s doing a bad job. And I think eventually he’s going to get impeached.”

Trump’s 10-point “new deal” mostly consisted of his general policy platform. But it held out the promise of new infrastructure investment in black communities. Trump has not yet got around to infrastructure, choosing instead to focus on Obamacare and tax reform. In its place, he has issued a 2018 budget proposal that includes a $6-billion cut to Housing and Urban Development.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said in an interview that the “skinny budget, if adopted, would have a devastating effect on black communities.”

“He’s cutting anything urban — anything that’s helping the urban community,” said Keyonna Wright, 34, who works in nursing. “I just feel like it’s no acknowledgment as far as the urban community. Talking as an African American, I don’t feel like we’re going to progress any.”

Brandon Rhome, 31, assistant manager of a dollar store in Petersburg, Va., noted the lack of black cabinet appointees. "Trump is not even trying."

Brandon Rhome, 31, assistant manager of a dollar store in Petersburg, Va., noted the lack of black cabinet appointees. "Trump is not even trying."  (TORONTO STAR)  

Black voters saw another troubling signal in Trump’s choice of appointees. Unlike Bush, who picked Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice for top posts, Trump gave only one black person a position of prominence: housing secretary Ben Carson, a black icon as a neurosurgeon who has alienated much of the community with his right-wing political views.

“He doesn’t know anything about the black community, and he’s black,” said Brandon Rhome, 31, assistant manager of the Petersburg dollar store, with a half-smile. “Trump is not even trying.”

Trump managed to insult black voters even with his photo-ops. In February, he held an Oval Office meeting with the leaders of historically black colleges, earning cautious praise from some black leaders. This month, though, he signalled that he might end a program that helps such colleges pay for construction projects. Though he backtracked quickly, the damage was done, again.

“I think he can fool the public by showing a picture with African Americans in it. What’s the results? There’s no results,” said John Austin, 70, a retiree from the army and postal service, in Richmond. “I can take a million pictures if I don’t get any results.”

Four of the 25 people interviewed said they had no complaints about Trump. Randy Marriott, a former Toronto Argonauts wide receiver now in Petersburg, said he is still making the same money under Trump as he did under Obama.

Several others brushed off questions about Trump’s treatment of black people — not because they think Trump is doing a good job but because they think he poses a broader danger. In the view of Steven Lipscomb, a 30-year-old DJ who works at Sam’s Club to pay the bills, Trump’s self-obsession has him failing “not only African Americans but everyone in general.”

“I’m hoping he does OK,” he said, “just for the sake of the country, for everyone’s sake. I want to hope for the best. I just don’t feel like he’s doing anything for anyone.”

 

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Ex-FBI Chief Comey To Testify To Senate Panel In Public Session

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Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Donald Trump last week amid an agency probe into alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election, has agreed to testify before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee at a public hearing, the committee said in a statement on Friday.

The hearing will be scheduled after the May 29 Memorial Day holiday, the statement said. 

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B-C President Asked To Resign After DeVos Debacle

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The Florida NAACP is calling for the resignation of Bethune Cookman University President Edison O. Jackson, after students booed and turned their backs on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who delivered the keynote address at commencement on May 10.

At one point, Jackson interrupted DeVos to warn protesting students that if they continued to boo, “your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you wanna go.” According to news reports, this is not the first time DeVos has received a negative reception. Back in February, protestors prevented her from entering Jefferson Academy in Washington, D.C.

On the heels of the NAACP’s call for Jackson’s resignation as president, comes a letter of support for the resignation from more than 200 African-American faculty members. Camika Royal, an assistant professor of urban education at Loyola University Maryland and one of three principal authors of the letter, said the message was clear that the students needed support.

“As a graduate of an HBCU, I know how important an education is for an individual, as well as a community,” Royal said, in a recent interview in The Atlanta Journal Constitution. “So, to look at these Bethune-Cookman students have that moment taken away from them and see Betsy DeVos be held up as a speaker, was a slap in the face to them and their families.”

The letter of support included signatures from scholars at North Carolina Central University, Ohio State University, Princeton and Duke.

Those who initially rejected DeVos’ visit and later organized the protest against it explained their objections by pointing to clear examples. “This is a person who’s planning to privatize our schools,” said Rachel Gilmer, who works with the Dream Defenders, a Florida-based progressive-leaning youth organization. “They’re planning to gut many of the steps taken to protect student borrowers by Obama … she has made it clear in her words and her actions that she doesn’t care about the futures of Black people.”

The event launched headlines nationwide. And the state branch of the NAACP called for the president’ “to resign effective immediately,” because it had received multiple complaints about the suppression of free speech from students and faculty.

The NAACP said in a recent statement, “Multiple allegations have surfaced including faculty intimidation demanding their silence or risk termination and threats to students by potentially withholding earned degrees and fines for freedom of expression.”

Moreover, the NAACP said it had lawyers who were prepared “to represent faculty and students who peacefully protest (but are) subject to retaliation by the university. Our partners have reviewed the university student code of conduct, and it does not contain any prohibition on peaceful protests and freedom of expression. The NAACP Volusia County Daytona Beach Branch and several attorneys will be on the ground monitoring this situation.”

While DeVos did not directly acknowledge the protesters in her address, she did say the Trump administration would “continue to support” HBCUs.

According to news reports, on May 1 protests began on campus when officials said DeVos would deliver the keynote address at commencement. Some demanded that the invitation be rescinded. Soon an online petition was started by Dominik Whitehead, who is a 2010 graduate of Bethune-Cookman, community organizer and political activist.

“Do not use Bethune-Cookman as a photo op,” Whitehead said, shortly before he delivered the petitions to the administration building. “Come to the table with something that is going to actually do something, in terms of policy, funding.”

The university posted a statement about the situation on its website. According to the statement, 374 students received degrees, 20 students “expressed their freedom of protest during her speech,” and 13 students “were escorted out of the ceremony due to disruption.”

A university spokesperson said, “I am here to celebrate you and all of your achievements. We are all here to applaud your perseverance and to encourage each of you to keep working to reach your full potential.”

 

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4 People, Including A Baby, Have Died In A Jail Run By Potential Trump Nominee Sheriff David Clarke

Image result for Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke

“American citizens are dying unnecessarily in his jail, and it would be nice if he could take some responsibility for it and address the problem.” About a week after Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke visited the Fox News set in New York to appear on the shows “Outnumbered” and “Fox and Friends,” but before he set sail on a National Review cruise, a court-appointed medical monitor visited the jail Clarke is charged with running.

From Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 ― as Clarke was calling former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “Mrs. Bill Clinton” on the Kelly File, writing a blog post defending his use of that term, and tweeting that the “renowned” U.S. justice system doesn’t need reform ― Dr. Ronald Shanksy was interviewing staffers at Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail.

Four people, including a newborn baby, have died at the Milwaukee County Jail since April. One man, a 38-year-old with mental health issues, died of “profound dehydration.” For a facility with a population cap of 960 that previously averaged a couple of deaths per year, the string of deaths is concerning.

During his visit, Shanksy said he was alarmed by the “extremely large number of vacancies” at the facility, particularly for medical positions.

“Questions certainly can be raised about the occurrence of these four recent deaths and the relationship to officer shortages ... as well as the health care staffing vacancies and the adequacy of oversight of staff,” Shanksy wrote.

Now Clarke may be overseeing a much larger operation. Clarke was in New York City once again this week to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. He’s reportedly in the running to take over the Department of Homeland Security, and said he would accept a Trump cabinet position if asked.

Clarke’s national profile rose a few years ago when he began making regular appearanceson Fox News in late 2014 to talk about policing after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police killing of Michael Brown. Since then, he’s made a name for himself by providing a voice for those who want to believe there’s nothing wrong with our criminal justice system and to ignore America’s historic racial inequalities.

Clarke, who grew up in a white neighborhood and attended a mostly white private high school, has said African Americans sell drugs “because they’re uneducated, they’re lazy, and they’re morally bankrupt.” He calls Black Lives Matter “Black Lies Matter” and compared them to the KKK. He once claimed that “police brutality ended in the 1960s.” Clarke made an appearance in July at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where RNC delegates gave him a standing ovation as he proclaimed “Blue Lives Matter” and celebrated the acquittal of a Baltimore officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray.

More recently, just ahead of the election, Clarke said it was “pitchforks and torches time” and that it was time to run politicians out of Washington. 

It's incredible that our institutions of gov, WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time

Then, after the election, he called anti-Trump protests “temper tantrums” from “radical anarchists” that needed to be “quelled.” There was “no legitimate reason to protest” the election, he declared.

But even setting aside Clarke’s extreme rhetoric, there are serious concerns about whether Clarke is qualified to oversee a massive federal law enforcement agency. Running the jail is one of the main responsibilities of the sheriff’s office, which has limited law enforcement duties in Milwaukee. And there appear to be major problems. 

“Sheriff Clarke has time to promote his radical ideas on Fox News, far rightwing radio stations, and other conservative outlets. He has time to blog, tweet, and write op-eds to advance his divisive agenda. Yet, while he’s doing all of this self-promoting, his own jail is understaffed in dire need of leadership,” says Erik Heipt, an attorney for the family of Terrill Thomas, the man who died of dehydration inside Clarke’s jail in April.

“American citizens are dying unnecessarily in his jail, and it would be nice if he could take some responsibility for it and address the problem,” Heipt said.

“The deaths do raise a lot of questions in terms of the training and supervision of people within his department, and they’ve had a lot of staff turnover,” said Peter Koneazny, litigation director for the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, who is involved in litigation about conditions in the jail. “We have concerns about the management of the jail, about the overall quality of care and treatment of inmates.” 

A recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial said Clarke’s office had been “shamefully silent” about the deaths and hasn’t provided records regarding outside investigations that the county is legally required to have. 

“Maybe Clarke thinks the peasants of Milwaukee County don’t need to know what’s happening at the jail. Maybe he’s hoping for a call from President-elect Donald Trump (for whom he campaigned so eagerly while people were dying in his jail) so that he can walk away from doing his job,” the editorial said.

“Whatever his faulty reasoning, he’s wrong. Clarke owes the public answers about the deaths and about the state of inmate care at the jail. And the public deserves a sheriff who will do his job.”

 

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