Ten African American College Students Named Rhodes Scholars

Ten African-American college students have won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, more than at any other single time in the scholarship’s 115 years in the United States, a Rhodes Trust official announced Nov. 18.

The scholarship, considered one of oldest and most famous awards for international study for Americans, covers all expenses and offers stipends for two or three years of postgraduate study at the University of Oxford in England. The total value of the scholarship averages $68,000 a year.

The 10 African-American winners include Naomi Mburu of Ellicott City, Md., a senior in Chemical Engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The first Rhodes Scholar from UMBC, she has co-authored two peer-reviewed journal articles and delivered 11 research presentations and won the 2016 National Society of Black Engineers Regional Conference Award for best oral presentation. She has interned at Intel and conducted research at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and supports STEM education in volunteer and leadership roles. At Oxford, she will seek a doctorate in Engineering Science.

Fairfax native Simone Askew, a senior at the United States Military Academy, is the first African-American woman to become the Brigade Commander of United States Corps of Cadets, the top leadership position which manages the performance and development of 4,400 cadets at West Point. Her thesis centered on rape as a tool of genocide and mass atrocity. She will study evidence-based social intervention at Oxford.  

Camille Borders is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis and was active during the Ferguson, Mo. riots of 2014, eventually founding Washington University Students in Solidarity to respond to incidents of racial profiling and police brutality. At Oxford, she plans to seek a Masters in Philosophy in Social and Economic History.

Also a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, Jasmine Brown has studied neuroscience in an effort to identify protective genes against cognitive defects caused by West Nile-induced encephalitis. She has also studied cancer research, pulmonary research and behavioral science, and will seek a doctorate in Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics.

Harvard College Senior Tania N. Fabo of Saugus, Massachusetts, was born in Germany to Cameroonian parents and is an immigrant in the U.S. She’s spent her college career researching cancer and is president of the Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers. She will study oncology at Oxford.

JaVaughn T. “JT” Flowers of Portland, graduated from Yale University with a degree in political science. As a Truman Scholar at Yale, he compiled a thesis that investigated gaps in Portland’s sanctuary city policy for undocumented immigrants. He also played varsity basketball and spent time in an organization that supports low-income students in their academic and professional lives. Flowers, a first-generation college student, returned to Portland after graduation to work in Democratic U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s field office. At Oxford, he will study comparative social policy.

Chelsea Jackson, of Lithonia, Georgia, is a senior at Emory University where she is a Truman Scholar, cofounder of the Atlanta Black Students United and helped revive the campus NAACP. She will study criminology and criminal justice at Oxford.

Thamara V. Jean, a senior at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, is the school’s first Rhodes Scholar. The Brooklyn native is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, according to NBC, and completed her senior thesis in her junior year on the Black Lives Matter movement that was later published in The Journal of Politics and Society. After that, she did research in the Harvard African-American Studies Department on 1960s-era Black nationalism. She will study political theory at Oxford.

Temple University’s first Rhodes Scholar, Hazim Hardeman of Philadelphia graduated in May and currently works as a substitute teacher in the Philadelphia School District. His diverse research interests include issues of critical pedagogy, race and politics, and African-American intellectual history. He will seek a Master’s Degree in Higher Education at Oxford.

Jordan Thomas is a senior at Princeton University and plans to seek a Master’s Degree in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation, an extension of his work with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Legal Group.

The 32 American winners were drawn from 866 applicants who were endorsed by 299 colleges and universities. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County was one of four institutions to have a winner for the first time.

The diverse class of winners includes African and Asian immigrants, Muslim, Asian and Latino Americans, and a transgender man.

“This year’s selections—independently elected by 16 committees around the country meeting simultaneously—reflects the rich diversity of America,” American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust Elliot Gerson said in a statement. “They plan to study a wide range of fields across the social sciences, biological and medical sciences, physical sciences and mathematics, and the humanities.”

The Americans will join Rhodes Scholars from 64 other countries at Oxford next October. The trust will select about 100 Rhodes Scholars worldwide.

The scholarship was created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist and mining magnate who has been called an architect of apartheid—making the selection of this year’s unprecedented number of African-American recipients all the more important. Despite Rhodes’ personal history of White supremacy and aggressive British colonialism, the scholarships which bear his name have earned a legacy of their own as one of the academic world’s most important achievements.



Baltimore Detective Killed A Day Before Testifying In Federal Case Against Fellow Cops

Baltimore’s police commissioner says the evidence suggests Sean Suiter’s death was not related to his testimony.

The Baltimore police detective who was fatally shot in the line of duty last week was scheduled to testify in a federal case against officers indicted earlier this year, the Baltimore Police Department confirmed Wednesday.

The day after he died, Homicide Det. Sean Suiter, 43, was set to testify before a federal grand jury about an incident that occurred years ago involving BPD officers, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said during a news conference. The officers were indicted in March and August on federal racketeering charges.

Davis also revealed that investigators believe Suiter had been killed with his own weapon, adding that there were signs of a struggle between Suiter, an 18-year veteran of the BPD, and his killer, who remains at large.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Davis attempted to dispel any rumors that Suiter’s pending testimony was related to his death.

Suiter was not a target of the ongoing federal investigation of the eight officers, members of Baltimore’s elite Gun Trace Task Force, according to police.

“The BPD and the FBI do not possess any information that this incident ... is part of any conspiracy,” Davis said, explaining that the fatal confrontation “appears to be nothing more than a spontaneous observation of a man behaving suspiciously and a spontaneous decision to investigate his conduct.”

Suiter, a father of five, was shot in the head on Nov. 15 after noticing a man acting suspiciously while he and his partner were investigating a 2016 triple homicide. He died one day later.

During that day’s investigation efforts, both Suiter and his partner had noticed the suspicious man in a vacant lot and approached him, Davis said Wednesday, citing surveillance camera footage reviewed by investigators. 

“Upon the sound of gunfire, Detective Suiter’s partner sought cover across the street,” Davis explained. “He immediately called 911. We know this, because it is captured on private surveillance video that we have recovered.”

According to police, the ongoing investigation revealed that Suiter was shot within close range and was still holding his radio in his left hand.

Davis also confirmed that Suiter’s death remains an open homicide investigation and confirmed that police don’t have a suspect in custody a week after the shooting.

Asked about the conspiracy theories surrounding Suiter’s killing, Davis said, “It certainly makes for great theater.”

“We have a police officer who’s shot and killed, and we don’t have a good description and we don’t have someone in custody and ― lo and behold ― we find out after the fact that he was scheduled to testify in front of a federal jury.”

Still, Davis added, “there’s no evidence whatsoever that Suiter’s death was related to his testimony.”

Many people remain suspicious of the timing of Suiter’s death, including Intercept columnist and prominent civil rights activist Shaun King.

The Baltimore Police Department has been under public scrutiny after the Justice Department released a damning report last year that revealed the department had routinely abused Baltimore residents’ civil rights, including unconstitutional stops, frisks and arrests, using excessive force and taking a lax approach to sexual assault cases.

In April, a federal judge approved a deal made during the Obama administration between the city and the Justice Department to reform the troubled police department. The Trump administration had requested a delay on the approval of that deal, but it was rejected.



Black Men’s Sentences 20 Percent Longer Than White Men’s For Similar Crimes

Black men are sentenced to far more time in prison than white men for committing similar crimes, according to a new report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

A report released last week from the USSC ― an independent agency of the U.S. judicial branch ― looked at federal prison sentences in the United States from Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2016, and found that black male offenders received sentences on average 19.1 percent longer than those of “similarly situated” white male offenders.

The commission also factored in offenders’ criminal histories to look at whether violence in offenders’ pasts could account for the racial disparities ― and found that it did not. Looking at 2016, the only year for which such data was available, the commission found that, after controlling for criminal history, black men still received 20.4 percent longer sentences than did white men.

This report’s findings match those of a previous USSC report from 2007 to 2011, which found a nearly 20 percent gap in sentences between black and white men. 

The racial disparities in sentencing appear to have increased over the last two decades, worsening specifically after 2005.

According to older USSC reports, the gap between black and white men in sentencing was about 11 percent for 1998 to 2003 and 5 percent for 2003 to 2005. But it jumped to 15 percent for 2005 to 2007 and to nearly 20 percent thereafter.

USSC noted in a 2010 report that the differences in sentence length between black and white male offenders “have increased steadily” since the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 in United States v. Booker to increase judges’ discretion in sentencing

But the factors contributing to racial disparities in sentencing are complex, according to Marc Mauer, director of the nonprofit Sentencing Project. Judges aren’t the only factor, or necessarily even the biggest, in sentencing disparities.

“It’s not necessarily racist judges,” Mauer told HuffPost by email Friday. “But much of [the] disparity [is] likely due to decision-making by prosecutors.”

Mauer pointed to research from scholars Sonja Starr and Marit Rehavi, which found that prosecutors “have a huge impact on sentences,” as they have broad discretion in how to charge an offender or whether to offer a plea-bargain. 

Overall, sentencing is just one part of the broader problem of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system: Black people are incarcerated in U.S. state prisons at more than five times the rate of white people.



Hampton University’s $150 Million Fundraising Drive Is Off To Good Start

Hampton University President Dr. William Harvey said $118 million has already been raised during the silent phase of the school’s $150 million fundraising campaign that was launched on Oct. 27 in Ogden Hall.

The five-year campaign is called “Dream No Small Dreams.” Harvey said he anticipates the campaign reaching its $150 million mark well before then. The recent kick-off campaign included music, confetti and the unveiling of a thermometer. On hand to help the president kick-off the public phase of the campaign were the Marching Force band, cheerleaders and a dance team, according to news report.

Hampton University president William R. Harvey
Dr.William Harvey

The fundraising campaigns has several goals including setting aside $50 million for endowed scholarships, which would help to recruit students and supply financial aid to students who may not otherwise be able to attend the private university.

Another $20 million would be set aside for endowed chairs and professorships  in multiple disciples. About $25 million would be earmarked for academic enrichment programs such as the Freddy T. Davy Honors College, the William R. Harvey Leadership Institute, and the University Museum.

Martha Baye, a senior and president of the Student Government Association, said, “It is imperative that those of us graduating from Hampton give back annually, no matter how large or small the contribution, because these funds are in turn feeding back into the next generation of educated Black youth through scholarships.”



Defying the Odds: African-Americans Make Historic Wins on Election Night

Lieutenant Governor Elect Justin Fairfax speaks at Ralph Northam's election night victory rally on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, Nov. 7, 2017.

A large number of black candidates claimed victory in state and local races across the country Tuesday night — results widely hailed as a reaction to President Donald Trump and Republican policies in general.

A large number of black candidates claimed victory in state and local races across the country Tuesday night — results widely hailed as a reaction to President Donald Trump and Republican policies in general.

And voters of color were buoyed by both the Democratic National Committee and grassroots organizations that poured resources into turning out the party's all-important base.

“Undoubtedly a cornerstone of our party, black voters surged to the polls in a tremendous way, set the tone for future elections, and paved the way for government that truly represents them,” said Amanda Brown Lierman, political and organizing director for the DNC, in a statement. “That’s exactly why we will continue to engage black communities across the nation and fight to ensure every single eligible voter has the power to exercise their franchise.”

One of the most closely watched races in the country was the contentious gubernatorial battle in Virginia, which pitted Democrat Ralph Northam against Trump-endorsed Republican Ed Gillespie in a contest filled with allegations of race-baiting and attack ads. According to NBC News exit polls, 87 percent of African-Americans in Virginia voted for Northam, compared to 88 percent who voted for Hillary Clinton. Ninety-one percent of African-American women also voted for Northam.

Northam emerged the victor and the number two man on his ticket — Justin Fairfax, who is black — is the new lieutenant governor-elect. Fairfax now has the distinction of being just the second African-American elected to statewide office in Virginia, decades after Doug Wilder was elected governor in 1989.

DNC officials said the party invested $1.5 million in Virginia to help secure wins. They also courted African-American voters.

 Deebaa Sirdar, left, and Sara Lopez, right, take a selfie with Andrea Jenkins as she won the Minneapolis Ward 8: Council Member race in Minneapolis on Nov. 7, 2017. Carlos Gonzalez / Star Tribune Via AP

For instance, Brown Lierman said that since last summer, the party has been committed to spending on a mail program that reaches out to black communities.

In Virginia, where African-Americans make up about a fifth of the commonwealth’s electorate, the DNC said 100 percent of its investments “went into doubling the number of organizers and putting boots on the ground.”

Officials said they also invested in a black women’s mobilization program, called InCharge. “Yesterday in Virginia, over 90 percent of black women cast ballots for Governor Ralph Northam,” said Brown Lierman.

In another race watched nationally, veteran lawmaker Sheila Oliver, 65, was elected the first African-American lieutenant governor of New Jersey.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Vi Lyles, 66, became the city’s first African-American female mayor. The former assistant city manager garnered some 58 percent of the vote.

Kimberly Peeler-Allen and Glynda Carr are co-founders of Higher Heights for America, an organization that works to elect black women to office. African-American women have historically voted in significant numbers, they noted, and in 2016, their influence helped increase the number of black women in Congress. The numbers rose by three to 21 — that includes Sen. Kamala Harris, only the second black woman elected to the Senate in U.S. history.

 Democratic candidate Phil Murphy celebrates with his running mate, Lieutenant Governor-elect Sheila Oliver, after he was elected Governor of New Jersey, in Asbury Park, New Jersey on Nov. 7, 2017.Lucas Jackson / Reuters

“Black women are running and winning. They seek to change the face of leadership in executive offices and to move this country forward in this political toxic environment,” said Peeler-Allen. “Last night, black women across this country continued to demonstrate that they continue to be a solid return on investment at the polls and at the ballot.”

Meanwhile, a host of other African-American candidates won local and statewide races in major cities and small towns across the country. Some races were historic.

Andrea Jenkins won a seat on Minneapolis City Council, becoming the first openly transgender African-American woman elected to public office in the U.S.

Another noteworthy win occurred in Montana, where Wilmot Collins, a Liberian-born immigrant, became the first African-American mayor in Helena in modern times; reportedly there was a black mayor in 1874,

 Vi Lyles, Charlotte's Democratic mayor pro tem, listens to the applause of supporters with her granddaughter, Arya Alexander, 2, following her victory over Republican City Councilman Kenny Smith on Nov. 7, 2017, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Lyles, a nearly 30-year veteran of local government was the definitive choice of voters on Tuesday and she will become the first African-American woman to run North Carolina's largest city. Jeff Siner / The Charlotte Observer Via AP

At least seven cities elected African-Americans mayoral posts in Tuesday’s election: Yvonne Spicer, first mayor of the newly incorporated city of Framingham, Massachusetts, Melvin Carter, mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, Mary Parham Copelan, mayor of Milledgeville, Georgia (She beat the incumbent by just six votes), and Booker Gainor, millennial mayor of Cairo, Georgia.

In Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, an African-American Council member, will face off against Mary Norwood, a white colleague, on Dec. 5 to determine the city’s next mayor.

Political strategist Quentin James an NBCBLK28 2017 honoree, is co-founder of The Collective Pac, which funds campaigns of progressive black candidates across the country. The political action committee endorsed both Fairfax and Oliver, along with Marvin Pendarvis, Jennifer Carroll Foy, and other victorious black candidates.

“When we fully fund and support black candidates, we can win ... there is no lack of talent in our community and geography isn't an issue,” said James. “We have black candidates who are ready to lead this country.”

 St. Paul mayoral candidate Melvin Carter celebrates his win with family and friends on Nov. 7, 2017, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Jerry Holt / Star Tribune Via AP

He also said voters of color should be thinking about midterm elections next year.

“When it comes to black voters, we need to recognize that they are angry and tired of the status quo,” he said. “We deserve leaders that are going to fight for our issues and last night, black voters supported candidates that they believe will best represent our communities and will stand up for our values.”

Brown Lierman of the DNC echoed a similar sentiment.

“With their ballots, the African-American communities across the nation sent a loud, resounding message to Republicans who hold water for Donald Trump and try to use his hateful rhetoric as a vehicle for political success — you do not represent us.”





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