Innocent African-Americans More Likely to Be Wrongfully Convicted

African-American prisoners who were convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers and spend longer in prison before exoneration, according to a report released today.

“The vast majority of wrongful convictions are never discovered,” said MSU Law’s Barbara O’Brien, the author of a companion report, “Exonerations in 2016,” and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations. “There’s no doubt anymore that innocent people get convicted regularly—that’s beyond dispute. Increasingly, police, prosecutors and judges recognize this problem. But will we do enough to actually address it? That remains to be seen.”

“Exonerations in 2016” found a record number of exonerations for the third straight year and a record number of cases with official misconduct.

The National Registry of Exonerations is a joint project of the University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science and Society, University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. The registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989 – cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence.

The 2016 data show convictions that led to murder exonerations with black defendants were more likely to involve misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants. On average, black murder exonerees waited three years longer in prison before release than whites.

Judging from exonerations, a black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three-and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white person convicted of sexual assault. On average, innocent African-Americans convicted of sexual assault spent almost four-and-a-half years longer in prison before exoneration than innocent whites.

In addition, the report, officially titled, “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States,” found innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people.

Since 1989, more than 1,800 defendants have been cleared in “group exonerations” that followed 15 large-scale police scandals in which officers systematically framed innocent defendants. The overwhelming majority were African-American defendants framed for drug crimes that never occurred.

“Of the many costs the war on drugs inflicts on the black community, the practice of deliberately charging innocent defendants with fabricated crimes may be the most shameful,” said University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel Gross, the author of “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States” and senior editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.

Last year, there were more exonerations than in any previous year in which government officials committed misconduct; the convictions were based on guilty pleas; no crime actually occurred; and a prosecutorial conviction integrity unit worked on the exoneration.

Wilhemina’s War: Women of Color with HIV/AIDS in Rural South Carolina

Wilhemina’s War first aired on February 29th, 2016, and the film chronicles the trials and tribulations of family matriarch Wilhemina Dixon, her daughter Toni who is HIV positive, and granddaughter Dayshal who contracted HIV at birth. Filmed over a period of five years from 2009 to 2014, the feature highlights the stages of caring for loved ones with HIV/AIDS using limited resources. Despite working odd jobs to keep the family afloat, Wilhemina pours her spirit into encouraging her daughter and granddaughter to survive.

This intimate look into the daily life of women of color with HIV in rural South Carolina along with the social and political barriers they faced adds to the appeal of this 55 minute docudrama. Every person in the film whether it be the survivor, activist, social worker, politician, pastor, or resident-is impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Cassandra Lizaire, author of “S. Carolina’s Haley Slams Door on HIV Prevention”, stated that, “Wilhemina Dixon knows this devastation well. A 64 year-old great-grandmother living in the dusty backroads of Barnwell, S.C., she spends her mornings in the field picking peas before the onslaught of the midday sun. Her odd jobs provide for her family of six and she takes pride in making an earnest living. Afterwards, as she sits in the shade of her porch, far removed from the political machinations, I imagine Dixon thinks of her daughter Toni who died of AIDS last year [2011] and ponders the future of her granddaughter Dayshal, who was born with the virus.”

“In South Carolina, we are ranked eighth in the nation in the rate of AIDS. Eighty percent of all women in South Carolina living with HIV/AIDS is black. Eighty percent of all children living with HIV are black. Seventy-three percent of all men living with HIV are black. This is a black epidemic for all practical purposes,” clarified Vivian Clark-Armstead, South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council member in the film, “Wilhemina’s War.

June Cross, in the article “June Cross Tells the Story of a Family Fighting HIV in South Carolina”, chose to develop this documentary to raise consciousness and dispel myths about HIV/AIDS among African Americans in the rural South.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • In 2009, the highest number of adults and adolescents living with an AIDS diagnosis resided in the Southern part of the United States.
  • In 2010, in the South, the Northeast, and the Midwest, blacks accounted for the largest number of AIDS diagnoses.
  • At the end of 2010, the South accounted for 45% of the approximately 33,015 new AIDS diagnoses in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, followed by the Northeast (24%), the West (19%), and the Midwest (13%).
  • In 2013, an estimated 776 adults and adolescents were diagnosed with HIV in South Carolina. South Carolina ranked 17th among the 50 states in the number of HIV diagnoses in 2013.
  • In 2014, 44% (19,540) of estimated new HIV diagnoses in the United States were among African Americans, who comprise 12% of the US population.
  • In 2014, an estimated 48% (10,045) of those diagnosed with AIDS in the United States were African Americans. By the end of 2014, 42% (504,354) of those ever diagnosed with AIDS were African Americans.

The CDC implies that knowledge of the regions where HIV and AIDS have the greatest impact, informs the equitable distribution of resources for prevention and education in those areas. The CDC also suggests that its approach to the HIV crisis is driven by the 2010 National HIV/AIDS Strategy introduced by President Obama. The four main tenets of the strategy are to: lower the infection rate, expand healthcare availability and improve the quality of life for those who are HIV positive, lower HIV-related health inequalities, and attain a more organized federal approach to the HIV crisis.

However, Lisa Ko asserts in her article titled, “African Americans Hit Hardest by HIV in the South” that, “As seen in Wilhemina’s War…Governor Nikki Haley’s rejection of billions of federal dollars through the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cutting of $3 million in AIDS prevention and drug assistance programs has resulted in substandard or nonexistent health services, medication, and medical care.” Wilhelmina’s War brings these statistics to life as it exposes the social and political obstacles Wilhelmina and her family encounter while inspiring the audience to advocate for collective change. Wilhelmina’s War can be accessed through the PBS.org website.

To assist the Dixon family and others with HIV in the rural South, June Cross shares the following ways to get involved:

  • Cross has established a GoFundMe page for Dayshal Dicks.
  • Cross suggests that organizations involved with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and other social justice efforts connect with local HIV advocates.
  • Finally, making financial contributions to HIV foundations to help them continue their community outreach.

In my previous experience working with HIV positive clients in a residential setting, my goal was to promote a safe, drug and alcohol-free community living environment. As residents, clients could access intensive case management, group and individual counseling, and intensive outpatient addiction treatment for up to two years.  During this period, most clients were empowered to acquire and sustain permanent housing. I learned that the best thing I could do for these clients was to show empathy and treat them how I would want to be treated. The only difference between me and them was time and circumstance.

I encourage social work students, practitioners, other helping professionals, and community activists to watch Wilhemina’s War to increase awareness about the status of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the rural South.

Why Co-opting Transracial in the Case of Rachel Dolezal is Problematic

FILE - In this July 24, 2009, file photo, Rachel Dolezal, a leader of the Human Rights Education Institute, stands in front of a mural she painted at the institute's offices in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Dolezal, now president of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the NAACP, is facing questions about whether she lied about her racial identity, with her family saying she is white but has portrayed herself as black. (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios, File)
Rachel Dolezal, a leader of the Human Rights Education Institute, stands in front of a mural she painted at the institute’s offices in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios, File)

This past week the world took to social media to dissect the events surrounding Rachel Dolezal, the former president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter who came under heavy scrutiny for falsely representing herself as black. As part of this real-time discussion, the term transracial is being co-opted to describe Dolezal identifying as black despite being born white.

As members of the adoption community — particularly those of us who identify as transracial adoptees — we are deeply alarmed by the gross mischaracterization of this term. We find the misuse of transracial, describing the phenomenon of a white woman assuming perceived markers of “blackness” in order to pass as “black,” to be erroneous, ahistorical, and dangerous.

Transracial is a term that has long since been defined as the adoption of a child that is of a different race than the adoptive parents. The term most often refers to children of color adopted by white families in the Global North, and has been extensively examined and documented for more than 50 years by academics and members of the adoption triad: adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents.

Dolezal and others have perpetuated the false notion that a person can simply choose to identify as a different race or ethnicity. As extensive evidence-based research and first-person narratives have shown, we do not live in a so-called “post-racial society.” Damaging forces like racism make it virtually impossible for those with black or brown bodies to simply “put on” or “take off” race in the same or similar manner that Dolezal has employed. For transracial adoptees, navigating and negotiating the racism in our families, schools, and communities is a regular and compulsory part of our lives.

We also join others who have raised concerns about the misappropriation of the word “trans,” and the analogy made between Dolezal’s deception and the experiences of transgender people. For transgender people who have struggled to live their truths in the face of horrific violence and discrimination, we reject this flawed comparison and find it to be irresponsible and offensive.

As our collective cultural awareness and knowledge of racial and gender identities continue to evolve, it is clear that our understanding of them, as well as our understanding of the relationship between them, is outmoded and in need of better expression. The widespread and acute public response to Dolezal signals the pressing need for critical thinkers of all backgrounds to turn their attention to refining language and theory to better reflect our ever-changing lived experiences.

Writer and adoptee Lisa Marie Rollins recently wrote about Dolezal’s deception and how it derails meaningful conversations about adoption and race. As Rollins explains, the process of transracial adoptees asserting ourselves as people of color is often challenged by either white people or the very communities that mirror our racial and ethnic identities.

In Dolezal’s interview on NBC’s Today show, she justified passing as “black” in order to be recognized as her son’s parent. This questionable and even extreme approach to parenting goes against how families with transracial adoptees should actually tackle issues related to race. Scholars including Barbara Katz Rothman, Heather Jacobson, and Kristi Brian, among others, have examined how adoptive parents incorporate and support familial understanding of their children’s birth culture.

Adoption scholar Dr. John Raible affirms how a deeper consciousness of issues related to race may occur among white families with transracial adoptees. But this does not mean that white parents become people of color in the process. Instead, adoptive families need to create spaces for transracial adoptees to explore and construct their own identities.

Many of us in the adoption community have experienced the complex, tenuous, and life-long process of claiming our authenticity, making Dolezal’s claims and the current discussion all the more destructive.

We invite people to become active allies of transracial adoptees. It begins by listening. Actively listen to those who speak about and from the transracial adoption experience.

If you are an ally, we challenge you to examine the various ways that you appropriate our voices, cultures, and identities. Stand behind those of us who are working to dismantle this racist narrative that abuses, discredits, and erases the lives of transracial adoptees, and erases an entire field of academic inquiry. And use your privilege to lift up marginalized voices that need to be heard.

Finally, we encourage people to take time and explore the many articles, organizations, and experts who have worked on transracial adoption issues in order to educate themselves on this important current issue.

Co-opting the term transracial to describe Dolezal’s behavior exposes the deep denial and erasure of decades of research, writing, and art of transracial adoptees. That’s why we need everyone to stop trying to make this new definition of “transracial” happen. It’s not (and should not) be a thing.

Please direct all media inquiries to Kimberly McKee, PhD at mckee.kimberly@gmail.com.

Signed,

Kimberly McKee, PhD
Assistant Director/Advisory Council Member, KAAN (the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network)
Grand Rapids, MI

Krista Benson
PhD Candidate, The Ohio State University
Adoptee Ally

Katie Bozek, Ph.D., LMFT
Transitions Therapy, PLLC
Grand Rapids, MI

Erin Alice Cowling, PhD
Hampden-Sydney College
Adoptee Ally

Martha M. Crawford, LCSW
Adoptive Parent, Psychotherapist
Author, What a Shrink Thinks blog

Sarah Park Dahlen, PhD
St. Catherine University
Adoptee wife, ally and researcher
Minneapolis, MN
www.sarahpark.com

April Dinwoodie
Chief Executive and transracial adoptee
The Donaldson Adoption Institute
www.adoptioninstitute.org

Erica Gehringer
Land of Gazillion Adoptees
Ypsilanti, MI

Shannon Gibney
Writer, Educator, Activist, Adoptee, Co-Chair, MN Chapter of Adopted & Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora (AFAAD)
Minneapolis, MN

Shelise Keum Mee Gieseke
Land of Gazillion Adoptees

Rosita González
Transracial Adoptee, Author, Artist, Lost Daughters Editor
Madison, WI

Susan Harris O’Connor, MSW
Practitioner, Educator
Author, The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee
National Solo Performance Artist of her Racial Identity Theory narrative
New England Regional Director of American Adoption Congress
Massachusetts

JaeRan Kim, PhD, LISW
Researcher, educator, and author of Harlow’s Monkey blog
Minneapolis, MN

Andy Marra | 홍현진
LGBT advocate and writer
New York, NY

Lisa Marie Rollins
PhD Candidate, University of California, Berkeley
Writer, Playwright, Researcher
Founder, Adopted & Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora
Oakland, CA

Matthew Salesses
PhD Candidate, University of Houston
Author of The Hundred-Year Flood, Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American Masculinity
Houston, TX

Stacy L. Schroeder
Adoptive Parent, Sibling of Adoptee, and Adoptee Ally
Executive Director/ President, KAAN (the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network)
Camp Hill, PA

Dwight Smith
Transracial Adoptee
Pact’s Adult Adoptees & Foster Alums of Color Advisory Board member
Advocate/Mentor for Bay Area adoptees and foster youth of color

Julie Stromberg
Author, Editor
Lost Daughters, Board Member
Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights

Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston, MSS, LSW
Adoptee, Author, The Declassified Adoptee blog, Founder, Lost Daughters, Founder, Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights
Greater Philadelphia Area

Angela Tucker
Transracial Adoptee, Author, Speaker
www.closuredocumentary.com
www.theadoptedlife.com
Seattle, WA

Kevin Haebeom Vollmers
Executive Director, Gazillion Strong

The Adrian Peterson Case: Do Culture and Religion Matter?

While the media seems largely focused on the fact that the Minnesota Vikings finally decided to bench its star running back Adrian Peterson, a more important—and politically incorrect—question needs to be asked: To what extent, if any, did Adrian Peterson’s religious beliefs and cultural background as an African American contribute to him beating and injuring his son?

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson

Many details about the case have been well publicized and have not been denied by Peterson: Last spring, he “disciplined” his four-year-old son at his Houston home by stuffing leaves in his mouth and hitting him repeatedly with the branch of a tree or “switch.” The boy was also reportedly beaten with a belt.

The “whoopings,” as Peterson called them, resulted in the boy sustaining lacerations, bruises, and welts on his legs, arms, buttocks, and genitals. The injuries were reported by a doctor after the boy’s mother took him for a previously scheduled appointment.

The 29-year-old Peterson is a deeply religious Christian, and his Twitter feed is peppered with religious proclamations and snapshots of Bible verses. The conservative Christian 700 Club has featured Peterson on its website. And Peterson seems to wholeheartedly believe that children should be disciplined using physical punishment.

Upon questioning, his son told his mother that Peterson “likes belts and switches and has a whooping room.” On September 15, Peterson tweeted, “Deep in my heart I have always believed I could have been one of those kids that was lost in the streets without the discipline instilled in me by my parents and others relatives.” Peterson’s adherence to such an ideology is particularly remarkable, given the fact that another of his sons was allegedly beaten to death when the boy was two years old.

After intense public pressure, the cancellation of a major NFL sponsor, apparent threats by other companies to cancel sponsorship, and the news that Peterson had been accused of abusing another son in 2013 while Peterson was not charged in that case, the Vikings dramatically changed course. Initially, after Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges, the Vikings had him sit out one game and then allowed him to rejoin the team. After the public outcry, officials barred him from all team activities. Some predict he will never again wear a Vikings jersey.

It probably wasn’t helpful to Peterson’s case that after the initial slap on the wrist, he sent out this tweet, indicating that God was on his side.

Many people Doubted YOU! Now look at you! You didnt Overcome Major Obstacles in your Life! You Identified who u were in Christ! . . . If you could only see how God views you! Just understand that you are a Mighty Vessel that God Chose to do Great things!

Now, statistics on the use of corporal punishment in conservative Christian households and those in the African American community are raising questions as to whether Peterson’s religious beliefs and cultural background fueled his ideology about the need to control his son’s behavior in this way and, ultimately, to injure him.

I’m not aware of any studies that show that children in one faith or racial group are more at risk for abuse than others, but there is reason to believe that children who are physically punished are more at risk for being physically abused than those who are not physically punished. Studies show that a vast majority of child abuse is delivered in the midst of adults using corporal punishment. Furthermore, children are more likely to be injured when parents use corporal punishment frequently or use implements to spank children.[1]

Corporal punishment among conservative Christians

Americans overall have been spanking less and less. The percentage of parents who favor corporal punishment has dropped from 84 percent in 1986 to about 70 percent in 2012. Many Christians choose not to spank their kids, pointing out that, according to the Bible, Jesus never advocated that children should be taught respect through hitting. Some Christian leaders have changed their views and now oppose spanking.

On the other hand, conservative Christians tend to believe that their religion requires them to spank. Many justify this choice by referencing numerous passages in the Book of Proverbs that condone using “the rod” to discipline children. For example, Proverbs 23:13—14 states: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”

Some Christians also see the need to use corporal punishment to correct children’s inherent “sinfulness.” Days after Peterson’s indictment, a psychologist and minister with the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family wrote an op-ed in Time magazine expressing this sentiment:

Unfortunately, each of us enters this world with desires that are selfish, unkind, and harmful to others and ourselves. Spanking, then, can be one effective discipline option among several in a parents’ tool chest as they seek to steer their children away from negative behaviors and guide them toward ultimately becoming responsible, healthy, happy adults.

Corporal punishment among African Americans

Similarly, African Americans also rely heavily on the use of corporal punishment. One study that looked at the childrearing of kindergartners shows that 89 percent of black parents spanked compared to 79 percent of white parents. According to a New York Times op-ed written by Georgetown University Sociology Professor and author Michael E. Dyson, the belief among African Americans that they must discipline their children using physical punishment is inherited from the days of slavery.

The lash of the plantation overseer fell heavily on children to whip them into fear of white authority. Terror in the field often gave way to parents beating black children in the shack, or at times in the presence of the slave owner in forced cooperation to break a rebellious child’s spirit. Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense.slave child

Dyson goes on to say, “If beating children began, paradoxically, as a violent preventive of even greater violence, it was enthusiastically embraced in black culture, especially when God was recruited. As an ordained Baptist minister with a doctorate in religion, I have heard all sorts of religious excuses for whippings.”

Defending Peterson

This association might explain why a number of black athletes have come to Peterson’s defense, often stating that the kind of beating Peterson gave his son is not all that uncommon among blacks. On a New York radio broadcast, Lions running back Reggie Bush said he and many of his friends were punished in the same way as Peterson chose to do with his son and that he would “harshly” punish his one-year-old daughter if need be. “I definitely will try to—will obviously not leave bruises or anything like that on her,” Bush said. “But I definitely will discipline her harshly depending on what the situation is.” Initially Bush said he’d consider using a switch but then said he misspoke. “I said spanking,” he said. “Spanking is different than a branch or a stick.”

In an interview on NFL Today, NBA Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley said corporal punishment is a way of life among the black, southern culture. “Whipping, we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under [Peterson’s] circumstances,” Barkley said. Peterson has shown remorse for injuring his child, yet he has continued to defend his decision to “discipline” (what others call “beat”) his child. On the day of his indictment, he told investigators, “I feel very confident with my actions because I know my intent.”

One African American blogger noted:

Corporal punishment is a cultural norm in the black community based on their Christian beliefs. They take to heart biblical passages like Proverbs 13:24. …People may find this abhorrent, but Peterson can use freedom of religion as a defense. His lawyer will put the Bible on the stand.

Meanwhile, some celebrated football stars, both black and white, such as Cris Carter and Boomer Esiason, have deplored Peterson’s actions and his justification that he was simply disciplining his child the same way that he was disciplined in his youth.

It’s safe to say the conversation about the morality of corporal punishment is not over. Sadly, it took a high-profile case of severe child abuse to begin a meaningful public discussion on this topic. But in addition to debating the pros and cons of physical punishment, we must also examine the religious and cultural roots of spanking among conservative Christians and in the African American community, as well as Americans of all faiths and races. If we don’t, we have little chance to protect children such as the son of Adrian Peterson.

Plea for Kobe Bryant to Leave a Better Legacy Than Michael Jordan

In the days of Muhammad Ali and Wilma Rudolph, not only were they professional athletes at the top of their respective sports, they were also social activists who utilized their gifts and platforms to advance social discourse. Today, professional athletes have access to an even bigger platform with the advent of ESPN, the internet, and social media. One tweet can escalate into a global conversation, and last week it did. Social media was set a blaze after comments Kobe Bryant made in reference to the death of Trayvon Martin in an interview with the New Yorker.

Kobe_Bryant_8When asked about the Miami Heat’s photo of the team wearing hoodies which was released in protest of George Zimmerman not being charged after killing Trayvon Martin, Kobe Bryant had this to say,

“I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American. That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and as a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American, we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, if we’ve progressed as a society, then you don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.”  Read Full Article

When Colin Cowheard, host of ESPN’s The Herd, analyzed Kobe statements, his thoughts were “Good for you”, but then he asked African-American Damien Woody, “what did you hear”? Those in defense of Kobe’s comments argue that he was only relaying his desire for a colorblind society. Others argue that it’s his right to look at the Trayvon Martin’s case logical by weighing all the facts instead of feeling pressured by the African-American community to engage in protest. As others have pointed out, without high profile individuals such as Jamie Fox or the Miami Heats, there may have never been a trial for anyone to weigh the facts.

Which brings me to a larger question, what is the expectation of today’s professional athlete to be a social activist within his/her community? One of Muhammad Ali’s most famous quotes state, “A man that views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted the last 30 years of his life”. In keeping with this quote of self-reflection and growth, here is my plea to Kobe Bryant to leave a better legacy than Michael Jordan:

Dear Kobe,

I know you are a fairly intellectual guy, so I will appeal to you on an intellectual and logical basis.

First, I think it’s wrong to assume or place the expectation on yourself that the entire African-American race expects you to speak out on our behalf. Not saying you fall into this category yet, but put yourself in our shoes for a minute. Every rich African-American idiot with a platform and a twitter account should not be considered a representative of the African-American community because their talent gave them access to a global platform. As a result, many of us fight daily against the negative stereotypes placed upon us by entertainers and athletes which often become the first introduction of African-Americans to other cultures. 

Secondly, you were raised in Italy with a father who played in the NBA. You received the rare privilege of escaping the challenges and barriers that black youth face in America daily. You were allowed to grow and developed in your formative years without having to endure the struggle between racial identity and assimilation from having to attend a predominately white private school in the United States. I don’t blame you for not being able to identify with the life and trials of Trayvon Martin and other black youth like him. However, I do hold you responsible for failing to understand a culture that you some how feel pressured to represent. 

Third, You have spent your entire life chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan by trying to break every record, jump a little higher, and win more rings. However, I plea for you to be better than him. When I was a kid in elementary school, here in North Carolina, our teacher use to take us to the media center to watch the ACC playoffs to see Michael Jordan and the UNC Tarheels.

As a kid and a basketball player, I idolized Michael Jordan. As an adult, he is just a man who walked out on his family while leaving a string of dead black kids every time one of his shoes are released because he is intent on using a limited quantity and high price point strategy to drive demand. Micheal Jordan created the new model for professional athletes. Make as much money as you can, don’t get involved in anything outside of making money, don’t stand for anything, and focus solely on your personal success.

When historians, not the hall of fame, reflect on a person’s place in history, it is measured by their impact and influence on society. For this reason, you have an opportunity to surpass Michael Jordan by securing your place in history and not just the record books. Magic Johnson is one example of a professional athlete who has not only secured his place in the Hall of Fame, but he has established a place in history as a result of his social good business strategies, advocacy, and philanthropy.

You are a young man, yet you have spent the bulk of your life developing your basketball skills. As your career is coming to an end, don’t you think its time to begin investing in your character development and the man you want to become? There are times when being an agitator may be required, but the role of helping others achieve their best self is a gift. You have access to one of the greatest men on the planet, Magic Johnson who is one of your own LA Lakers, and I hope you seek him out as a mentor to help you with the second leg of your legacy.

Deona Hooper, MSW

Nick Cannon Ignites a Conversation about Blackface

Comedian, Rapper, and talk show host, Nick Cannon, has been promoting his new album White People Party Music, and in a brilliant move got people talking about the album by stirring up a little controversy. Nick Cannon dressed in “white face” and posted a video of himself on Instagram impersonating a “white guy”, and the video immediately went viral. Many people are asking why is it offensive for a white person to wear “blackface” and a black person wearing white make-up is not considered as offensive.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

According to USA Today,

“I knew it would spark some controversy,” said Nick Cannon in a live interview on Good Morning America on Monday, “but I felt like it’s a conversation that we needed because we all have differences we embrace. I talk about it in my standup all the time. It is not a new conversation, but a topic of sensationalism.”

Even using the term “whiteface,” he said, “I don’t know what that is. … This term that we created. I was doing a character impression. Blackface is about oppression.”  Read Full Article

Nick Cannon articulates his actions as being an act or impression versus an act of oppression, and this is why many people say he gets a “pass” on wearing “whiteface”.  Many people do not see “whiteface” as offensive because it has never been used as a strategy to influence bias against an ethnic or racial group, and “white face” is not connected to the sense memories of whites to a time when they were severely oppressed for being white.

Minstrel_PosterBillyVanWare_editAdditionally, the beauty standard is white, and being white or light-skinned has always been looked at as being more desirable. For those who may be unaware, some darker skinned people avoid the sun during the summer in an effort not to get any darker, and there are also skin whiteners in the form of bleaches and creams to chip away at a skin’s melanin.

For people who don’t know why “blackface” is viewed as offensive, I’ll give a brief explanation. “Blackface” was used to portray African-Americans, not as people, but as caricatures. Emphasizing big lips and hair for comedy. I’m generations removed from the height of the “blackface” era, yet I’m offended by it, and I’m not necessarily offended by the color on their faces. What offends me is the exaggerated features of what the performers thought black people looked like, and more importantly how they portrayed that black person.

Society often validates white skin as being more amazing and better. While someone can make a person who is white into a caricature, it in no way damages or influences bias against that racial group. Having Nick Cannon dress up in whiteface doesn’t negatively affect how society views people who are white. There have been other instances such as Julianne Hough wearing “blackface,” in which I felt did not give rise to the sort of scrutiny she received.

Susan "Crazy Eyes" Warren on the Left, Julianne Hough on the Right
Susan “Crazy Eyes” Warren on the Left, Julianne Hough on the Right

Julianne Hough did not exaggerate any one of her features, and she was not unnaturally dark. Julianne probably got a spray tan, but if she was in her street clothes, I would think “hmm why is she so dark? She looks like a young Tan Mom.” The only reason why we knew she was in “blackface” was because she was going as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren from the popular show, in which I have yet to watch, Orange is the New Black.

The main reason, I believe Julianne should not have received as much flack is because she went as a “character” and not a “caricature.”  Julianne Hough was a portraying a black character that was already in existence; a character that is developed. Although I am not offended by Julianne Hough, I think that she could have gone as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren using her own skin color.

Why is “blackface” acceptable sometimes, and other times it is not? It all has to do with context, and why the person is doing what they are doing. For example when Robert Downey Jr. was playing a Kirk Lazaras on the movie “Tropic Thunder” his purpose wasn’t to make fun of African-Americans, it was to poke fun at method actors.

I think for blackface to become less offensive we need to look at the larger issue. We need to get more multicultural television shows that show black people as… people, and we need to have more African-Americans in mainstream television shows. By not having a bigger presence in mainstream television, black people are still vulnerable to the stereotypes and adverse effects of “blackface.” There is progress being made on that front, but we need more.

Obama launches his “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative

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President Obama recently launched his initiative entitled, My Brothers Keeper, and it was created to address the under achievement  among young black and Hispanic males. POTUS is gathering businesses, foundations and community support for this commitment. This initiative has been set forth to increase employment opportunities and to encourage our young men of color to reach their highest potential before they  are subject to the criminal justice system.

As a young teen, The President mentions that he himself was headed down the wrong direction with getting high, under estimating himself and his uncontrolled anger from not having a father at home. Obama stated, The aim is to “start a different cycle. “If we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens, then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren.”

According to American Progress,

  • One in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime
  • Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated
  • Unemployment rate of African-Americans without a high school diploma was 26 percent in the second quarter of 2011, compared to 12 percent for whites without a high school diploma

And According to The National Council of LaRaza,

  • It can be estimated that on any given day, at least 18,000 Hispanic youth are incarcerated in the U.S. for mostly nonviolent offenses
  • The United States Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that from 2000 to 2008, the share of Latino youth under 18 years of age who are in adult prisons rose from 12% to 20 %

I must say that this is an awesome project, and I applaud POTUS for his efforts. President Obama is relatable because he has gone through real life experiences that we as young people and the world can connect with. I know that I can totally relate because I myself went through a tough period of time where I was not focused at all. I did not value my education or the opportunities afforded to me, and I made a few bad decisions. After self-realization and a great deal of support from my parents, I got back on track. Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to do that. Some individuals do not have the benefit of having a support system around them to depend on for encouragement or motivation.

As an African-American woman, I am fully aware of the racial disparities that continue to perpetuate within our society. Having African-American male figures in my life such as my dad, brothers, uncles and cousins I also recognize first hand how unfair the system can be. The decks are stacked against them even more when it comes to our prison systems, employment opportunities and the chances of furthering their education . I am grateful that our President acknowledges these issues and is addressing them. I am sure our communities are thankful as well. I hope countless support groups stem from this initiative because they are necessary. It is time to break these generational curses.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c__lwJnuYLg[/youtube]

Yusuf Neville Sparks Conversation on Mental Health in African American Communities

In recent news, Yusuf Neville, a prominent African American male, committed suicide by jumping from the parking deck of a Greensboro hotel. His loved ones, family and friends said their last goodbyes during his memorial held at Durham’s First Calvary Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. Yusuf was a graduate of Hampton University and a service manager of a fortune 500 company. He was also a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, an avid runner and engaged to his long time girlfriend Jennifer Bowden. From the outside looking in, he seemed to have the perfect life, unfortunately, that was not the case.

Many celebrities have reached out via twitter and instagram to mourn, celebrate and say their last goodbyes to Yusuf. One of them being Terrance J, a news correspondent on E news. One of his last twitter posts read

https://twitter.com/TerrenceJ/status/428717370148794368

For some reason in African American communities, we do not recognize mental illness as an issue. Instead, we sweep it under the rug as if it does not exist and if it does, prayer is used as a bandage. Don’t get me wrong, the church can be a great resource, but why do we not seek treatment or diagnosis also? We are taught African American women have to be strong and hold our families together, and African American men have to be providers and are not allowed to show proper emotion.

According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness,

  • Yusuf-Neville-Instagram-suicide-noteMental illness is frequently stigmatized and misunderstood in the African American community. African Americans are much more likely to seek help though their primary care doctors as opposed to accessing specialty care.
  • Culture biases against mental health professionals and health care professionals in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care due to prior experiences with historical misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and a lack of cultural under standing; only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers in the United States are African American.
  • Across a recent 15-year span, suicide rates increased 233 percent among African Americans aged 10-14 compared to 120 percent among Caucasian Americans in the same age group across the same span of time.
  • Nearly half of all prisoners in the United States are African American. Prison inmates are at a higher risk of developing a mental illness.
  • Children in foster care and the child welfare system are more likely to develop mental illnesses. African American children comprise 45 percent of the public foster care population. Read Full Fact Sheet

It is time for us to step up and begin to address issues of mental illness within African American communities and ways for people to seek help without judgement and scrutiny. There is nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves in healthy ways. If not, we will continue to see suffering in the same ways that manifested with Yusuf Neville. It is important to keep having these conversations, so we can positively move forward in our communities. Rest in Peace Yusuf.

Oklahoma Restaurant Owner Refuses to Serve Minorities, Gays, & Disabled Customers

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

In Enid, Oklahoma, outrage has spurred over claims that a restaurant owner refuses to serve those with disabilities, African Americans, Latinos, and those who are LGBTQ.  Gary James, the man behind the controversy, has proclaimed that he has the right to deny service how he sees fit.

James is the owner of Gary’s Chicaros, a restaurant and bar that has been in business for over four decades.  James’ establishment has acquired a reputation due to his views about certain groups, and his discriminatory practices against members within those groups.

Person Holding Knife & ForkMatt Gard was a patron at James’ restaurant for years, and was well aware of James’ views about certain groups.  Gard had ignored James’ antics until he found himself a victim of his bigotry.  Gard stated that he was recently denied service at the restaurant because he is a person with a disability.

James claims that Gard caused a scene, which is why he is no longer welcomed at his establishment.  Gard shared his experience on a Facebook page where over 140 people had left comments about James’ discriminatory conduct.

I wanted to share a few statements James provided for an interview on KFOR-TV News Channel 4 in Oklahoma City.  From his statements, James stands steadfastly behind his actions, and is unapologetic about his views:

I’ve been in business 44 years.  I think I can spot a freak or a “f-word.”  [Offensive gay slur]

I don’t deal with these people walking down the street with no jobs on welfare.

If I reached over there and slapped the s**t out of you, you should be offended.  But to call someone a “c-word” [offensive racial slur] or someone call me a bigot, that doesn’t bother me.

I really don’t want gays around.  Any man that would compromise his own body would compromise anything.

Well if you work, you own a business, pay your taxes, you’re more than welcome here.  If you’re on welfare, stay at home and spend my money, there.

(Excerpts from KFOR-TV’s interview with Gary James.)

Learning about this story perturbed me not because a person with a disability was discriminated against, but the mere fact that Matt Gard, and countless others, had failed to challenge James’ offensive practices for years.  It upset me that Gard finally took a stand when he was targeted by James.  Regardless of your racial, ability, gender, or orientation background, when one person or group is targeted, we are ALL affected by the ills of hatred and discrimination.

When we chose to ignore or remain silent in the face of bigotry, our inaction sends the message that the offender has our support. The failure to take proactive measures does not just occur in small towns like Enid, they occur throughout our nation.  We cannot continue to support individuals or businesses who openly offend one or several groups of people.  It is our responsibility to report such incidences and refuse to spend our money at those establishments; those kind of acts speak volumes, and cannot be ignored by the violators.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of Pimphop.)

Students Being Discriminated Against Because of Their Hair

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Danielle Cook

In Baltimore City, Maryland, 13-year-old honor student Danielle Cook was denied admission into Cristo Rey Jesuit School because she has dreads as her natural hairstyle. After public pressure, it was only then that the school reverse its hairstyle policy ban. According to her mother, Danielle has been a straight A student since preschool.

Cristo Rey Jesuit School is a college preparatory institution, and the young eighth grader believed she fit the admission criteria. One of the teachers at Cristo Rey Jesuit School was quoted as stating,”Well, we don’t take kids with dreads”. Danielle Cook says the representative told her that Cristo Rey places students in work study and dreadlocks don’t look professional.

Lately, I have heard so much about natural hair and young African American female students are being punished for wearing their hair natural. As an African American female student with natural hair, I feel the need to address and explore this issue.

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Vanessa Vandyke

There was another account involving 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke who attends Faith Christian Academy in Central Florida, but she was faced with expulsion. Vanessa’s school required that she either change her hairstyle or be expelled for a week.  How unfair is that and what type of message are we sending?

Vanessa, who loves the texture of her hair, talked to a local news channel in her area about her choice of hairstyle. “It says that I’m unique,” she said. Once again, school officials have reverse their policy after receiving public scrutiny. Why is natural hair such a problem for people and especially for children?

These little girls are 12 and 13 years of age who are both awesome students. This should not be a factor that determines whether they should be allowed to pursue or further their education nor should it bring on any type of punishment. Since when did the way a person wears their hair become a requirement for the type of education they can receive?

According to a consumer study Mintel conducted,

The percentage of black women who said they wore their hair natural jumped from 26 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2011. The shift from relaxed to natural is becoming so common that it has spurred growth of a whole new sub-segment of products for women who are ‘transitioning,’ “Our target is 70 percent African American and 30 percent other. A lot of other women – Jewish, Latina and red heads who tend to have coarse, wiry, coiled textured hair — are interested in these products. Caucasian women have curly hair, too. Read Full Article

For some, natural hair is a lifestyle choice to be free of using radical and dangerous chemicals to straighten hair for the purpose of confirming to societal norms. It is a sense of liberation. Whatever the reason, it’s just hair, and it should not be used as a way to define someone.

Cricket and Mary J. Blige Support Breast Cancer Awareness

maryjTo help educate women in need, as well as provide funds for breast cancer screening and research, Cricket Wireless joins Mary J. Blige in support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Cricket and Mary J. Blige (through Verve Records) will donate $10,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure in San Diego County, and Cricket will feature Mary J. Blige on its Muve Music service, calling on fans to download her music as part of a special music and social media campaign beginning today through November 3.

All women should educate themselves about preventative measures they can take to avoid breast cancer. Research shows that African-American women and Latinas are less likely to learn about these important preventative measures through traditional news and information channels. To reach this vital audience, Cricket and Blige will invite followers over the next three weeks to join the breast cancer awareness and prevention conversation by offering informative links and breast cancer education trivia on Facebook and Twitter using hashtag #Muve4theCure.

“Music is powerful and healing in so many ways, and having the right information at the right time is also important. Across the country, African-American and Hispanic women are not getting the care and treatment they need often because they are uninformed,” said Mary J. Blige. “An alarming number of these women are dying, and we can help to improve their chances of survival. I am working with Susan G. Komen and Cricket during October to help inform women about powerful early detection measures, such as getting a mammogram. Please join me in supporting this worthy cause, and let’s find a cure.”

“Cricket and Muve Music are proud to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” said Randy Newman, pacific regional general manager for Cricket. “We’re excited to help raise awareness, along with Mary J. Blige, about understanding and mitigating the risks of breast cancer.”

“This partnership is happening because both our organizations believe in the power of music to make a difference in the lives of the women listening,” said Laura Farmer Sherman, executive director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure in San Diego County. “The funds raised through this promotion will save lives and support us in helping uninsured women in our county get access to free treatments and services.”

Follow Mary J. Blige, Susan G. Komen and Cricket, and their efforts to raise breast cancer awareness online, through a series of social media messages at https://twitter.com/maryjbligehttps://twitter.com/komensandiego or https://twitter.com/cricketnation.

Source: PR Newswire

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Reflecting on the March on Washington 50 Years Later

Johnson and McCrae Iconic Photo

A series of events commenced on August 24, 2013, to commemorate and honor the 1963 March on Washington, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I have a Dream” speech. The National Action Network (NAN) led by Reverend Al Sharpton hosted the first celebratory March on Washington event this past Saturday, and the last event honoring the historic gathering ended on August 28th with a speech by President Barack Obama.

As an observer of this moment in our history, I must admit it was a lot to take in. There was a long list of speakers including Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP;  Congressman John Lewis, the only living speaker from the 1963 March; Reverend Jesse Jackson, Attorney General Eric Holding, and Nancy Pelosi to name a few.

There was also a host of leaders from civil rights organizations and labor unions who gave speeches at Saturday’s event as well. As we reflected on the organizers and the intent of the 1963 March on Washington, a recurring thread that I heard was whether “The Dream” had been realized.

For me, Reverend Al Sharpton gave the best speech of the day. It was a speech that not only explained the essence of the day, but it helped to relay the barriers and challenges moving forward for the future. As an African-American woman, I believe my generation has been named beneficiaries by those who gave their lives during the Civil Rights Movement.

As a result of the movement, legislation was passed and governmental programs implemented which helped to narrow the gap between black and white America. The African-American community experienced a season of prosperity to the point where many of the most gifted and well-off African-Americans feel civil rights protections are no longer needed. In this regard, Dr. King’s dream did come true.

However, when those who opposed racial equality realized these interventions were working, they adapted and set in motion new policies to lessen the effectiveness of civil rights legislation. These new policies are Right to Work legislation, Stand Your Ground Laws, outsourcing, voting map redistricting, defunding social welfare programs, and voter restriction laws. Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of the removal of black Americans’ fear of death for speaking their political beliefs and advocating for their communities has been realized.

We must adapt and renew a dream for the advancement of vulnerable populations and minorities. The Civil Rights Movement broke open opportunities previously denied to African-Americans such as the right to vote, equal housing, education, and equal access to the same resources as white Americans.

The second leg of the Civil Rights movement should not be focused only on what the government needs to do rather than focusing on advancing unification through mentorship and reinvestment within our communities.

Currently, it’s not the government that divides us, but it’s our treatment of each other. Our government is only taking advantage of the division.

What’s the Difference between Social Justice and Social Work

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice  (SCSJ) is a nonprofit dedicated to the expansion of civil rights located in Durham, North Carolina, and I have been watching their activities for a long time. They are truly on a mission to reform the criminal justice system, protect voting rights, racial profiling, and immigration reform.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Shoshannah Sayers, the Deputy Director at SCSJ. Although mostly composed of lawyers, they also have community organizers who assist with outreach to help aid vulnerable populations. Before we get into the interview, I want to share several reasons why I believe collective collaboration with various fields is needed in order to impact today’s societal problems.

social justiceOften, I talk about my work as a social worker, but I have never really discussed what fuels my passion and desire for systematic change. When I got out of college, my first job was at a Youth Correctional facility until I was transferred to the Super Max facility which housed the worst of the worst inmates in the State of North Carolina.

It was a 24 hour lock-down supervision facility, and once I entered, I was locked-down with them too. To transfer an inmate, they had to be strapped down like Hannibal Lecter, and this is no joke. Then, I went into law enforcement as a patrol officer because I thought I could do more prevention, but this proved to be problematic for me too because of the systematic flexibility.

After I finally started working in the field in which I was educated, social work, the realization hit me that these systems are not designed to do prevention.

As a third generation teen parent, I may not have a PhD behind my name, yet I feel uniquely qualified in understanding how education, social services, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system aids oppression and retards vulnerable populations’ ability to rise above their circumstance. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is not possible without opportunities and a support system. These systems can not be reformed from within because one must either conform, leave voluntarily, or against their will.

My hope is that macro-practice social work and organizations such as SCSJ will begin to collaborate and share resources by realizing you are working to uplift the same demographics.  Here is the Q&A with SCSJ on their mission and vision for the future. Spoiler Alert…They will have their first MSW Macro intern starting in the fall.

SWH: Tell me a bit about the mission and goals of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, when it was formed, and your role there.

SS: The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, or SCSJ, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in August 2007 in Durham, North Carolina, and I was privileged to be part of it. We were a multidisciplinary group, predominantly people of color, who believed that families and communities engaged in social justice struggles need a wide variety of tools to be successful in overcoming structural racism. We saw the need for a team of lawyers, social scientists, community organizers, and media specialists to support them in their efforts to dismantle structural racism and oppression.

Most importantly, this diverse group of experts needed to be willing to listen to what each community wanted instead of “parachuting in” and telling a community how we experts thought the problem should be addressed. SCSJ was born from this deep passion for listening to communities first and foremost. We do give advice and provide multiple options, but in the end, it is the community that decides how their issue will be addressed and our commitment is to provide the highest quality tools available to execute the community’s plan of action.

I was a board member from the organization’s founding in 2007 until early 2013, when I resigned from the board in order to pursue a staff position with SCSJ. I am currently the Deputy Director, and quite honestly it’s my dream job – I get to help people and support our mission every single day. I also get to work with some of the most dedicated, passionate social justice advocates I have ever met.

SWH: What kind of tools and research do you guys use in helping to support the cases and projects that you take on?

SS: Because our staff includes a variety of experts, we are able to bring many tools to the table. We have a policy analyst/researcher who uses GIS maps to give visible representations of inequality in the system. For example, he was able to create maps showing where marijuana arrests take place and then lay that over a map of where high concentrations of African American communities were. The result is a clear visual depiction of the practice of targeting African American neighborhoods for marijuana arrests. Being able to see this on a map is so much more powerful than reading statistics in a report.

Other tools include our legal team, which engages in social justice litigation ranging from voting rights to environmental justice to criminal justice reform. And our bilingual community organizer is able to mobilize local communities on issues from immigration reform to job opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.

SWH: Social Workers were originally the staples in the social justice movement, and now social justice advocate positions tend to be held by attorneys. In what ways have you guys engaged macro community practice social workers or would like to engage for collaboration or partnerships?

SS: This is an exciting area that we are just beginning to explore. Our first macro social work student will begin her practicum with us in the Fall 2013 semester, and we are excited about the new tools she will bring to the table. Her work will largely be around helping formerly incarcerated people organize and gain the tools they need to successfully reintegrate into society. Based on her experiences, we plan to create a plan to more widely integrate macro social work into our efforts.

SWH: What are two of the highest advocacy priorities of the coalition at this time?

SS: Right now our two highest priorities include one litigation strategy around voting rights issues and one community organizing effort around empowering formerly incarcerated people. We have been involved in redistricting litigation since 2011, where our goal is to get over 40 North Carolina voting precincts redrawn in a more fair and equitable way. In our opinion, the current redistricting plan attempts to dilute the vote of African Americans by cramming them all into a few districts and leaving their voice unheard in many other districts. We had a trial on part of this case during the week of June 10, 2013, and we hope to hear back on the success of that effort very soon.

Our second effort is around solutions to the epidemic of unnecessary drug arrests in communities of color. The general population of North Carolina is 68.5% white, 21.5% black, and 8.4% Latino, while the state’s prison population for drug-related offenses is 28.5% white, 53.2% black, and 17.6% Latino. Communities of color are obviously disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, which makes these communities more likely to face the harsh, sometimes lifelong collateral consequences triggered by a criminal conviction. Last year we supported a bill in the general assembly that would have gotten rid of criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, replacing these with civil penalties and fines that did not involve a criminal conviction. In the current political climate, this bill died in committee.

As we regroup and wait to see what the legislature will look like in the next long session, we need to find more immediate remedies. Our first community organizing effort was a successful Ban the Box pilot in Durham, NC. Ban the Box campaigns ask local government employers to remove the check-box question, “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” from their employment applications. This gives formerly incarcerated people the chance to get a job interview where they can explain, in person, the nature of their record rather than being automatically excluded without ever getting an interview. Once we were able to pass Ban the Box in Durham, it was taken up by other communities across the state and we now have 6 municipalities participating. SCSJ continues to organize communities to expand Ban the Box.

Building on this success, our new community organizing project is to make marijuana possession a “lowest law enforcement priority.” This means that the police would be seeking out people committing more serious offenses rather than seeking out marijuana possession. We plan to use the same community organizing model (and probably work with many of the same communities) for the LLEP initiative as we have used for the Ban the Box initiative. Together, this type of community organizing can make important strides in reducing the collateral consequences of incarceration while we await a General Assembly that may be more interested in these issues.

SWH: What vision does the coalition have for the future?

SS: Our vision is simple: Communities will succeed in realizing their own goals and people will know from experience that they can make a difference on issues that matter to them. I think of it like this: once a community works with SCSJ and has a victory, they will know that THEY hold the power to make real chance. They will go forward, either with our help or on their own, to make more and more positive social change.

SWH: If readers want to follow your activities and projects, how do they find you on the web?

SS: I encourage people to visit our website at www.southerncoalition.org. We are also available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/southerncoalition and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/scsj. Readers are also invited to join our LinkedIn Group at http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Southern-Coalition-Social-Justice-5021808

Daryl spent 40 months in an Alabama Prison before getting his associate’s, bachelor’s, and law degrees. Listen to his story and plea for change:

How to Make Yourself an Expert with Feminista Jones

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Have you ever wondered how people use social media and technology to carve themselves out as an expert? Then, you may want to continue reading this article. Recently, SWH had the opportunity to catch up with Feminista Jones who used social media and blogging to craft a web presence that has led to a guest appearance on Dr. Oz, column for Ebony Magazine, and more. Ms. Jones discusses with SWH how she developed her web persona and crafted herself as an expert in love and relationships.

SWH: Tell us a bit about your background and how the Feminista Jones (Persona) was born?

I began blogging humorously about the connections between sex, feminism, kink, relationships, etc. about 2 1/2 years ago and took on the moniker “Feminista Jones” combining the label “Feminista” from the Erica Kennedy book of the same name and the Blaxploitation character “Cleopatra Jones”. Jones is also a common surname for African-Americans, so I took it on to represent my Black Feminism, which I think differs from standard definitions and understandings of “feminism”.

At first, I was rather tongue-in-cheek; it was me engaging readers in conversations about approaches to relationships and sex in humorous ways. I began to realize that I had an audience and people were truly listening to what I was saying and sharing it with others. I realized that I could use this audience to spread a more serious, relevant message and I began to make a transition. I decided to approach sex, sexuality, and discussions about relationships from a sex-positive feminist perspective. The rest is history.

SWH: How useful is your social work skill set when giving advice on sex and love?

I use my social work experience and knowledge in everything that I do. I’ve been in the field over ten years and it is fundamentally part of who I am and has greatly shaped and informed my world view. When giving advice on sex and love, I always take in what’s being said and focus on what’s not being said. Everyone has a story and while we don’t always get the intimate details during the first encounter, there are often context clues that allude to there being a larger issue. My work is person-centered and recovery-oriented, so when giving advice, I try to put myself in the person’s shoes and get a sense of how s/he arrived at this particular point in time and this place.

Sometimes, people are hesitant because they don’t know if they can trust me or if they can be safe with me. To date, I’ve never revealed an identity, never “outed” anyone. People who have been supporting me for a while know this, word spreads, and people feel safe. They also know that I’m going to give them my honest opinion. In my social work practice, I never feed people lies or sell them impossible hopes. I’m known for “keeping it real” with consumers and program participants. It’s how I connect with them. I meet people where they are and approach each person’s situation and story as though I know nothing at all. No judgments. No abuse of authority. Just someone who cares, is willing to listen, and wants to help.

SWH: How has blogging and social media affected your career and your ability to reach others?

Blogging and social media have helped me tremendously! On the social work end, I’ve been able to connect and network with others in the field who are doing amazing work in different cities, states, and even countries. On the media end, I’ve been able to secure three freelance positions that allow me to not only earn more money, but expand my reach in various media (print, video, radio, etc). I’ve been able to grow a strong and supportive base which is important to me. The more people connect to what I say, the more they share it with others, and the greater the chance that someone who is struggling can hear it or read it and feel encouraged and connected.

SWH: What advice would you give other social workers who want to carve themselves out as an expert?

I would say focus on something you are truly passionate about. As a sex-positive feminist, it is important that I’m able to get the message out that we, women especially, are free to do whatever it is that we choose to do with our bodies, our minds, our careers, etc. It is important for me to challenge the stereotypes, break down barriers, and challenge centuries-old archaic structures that imprison women, imprison us all. I don’t know if I would call myself an expert. I just know that I am very invested in learning everything I can about the things I care most about and helping those who might be in need of assistance.

I’ve become good as what I do because I continue to care about what I do. Once you stop caring, your work suffers. I’ve known since I was a young girl that I wanted to help people and now I’ve been given the opportunity to do, in several ways. People ought to follow their passion and hone the skills required to be successful in whatever direction their passions lead them.

SWH: What aspirations do you have for Feminista Jones? Politics, radio, or more print media?

I would love to have my own TV show where I get to help women across the country and the world who feel helpless or hopeless find ways to feel empowered. I also want to contribute my knowledge and expertise toward efforts that will bring social media to the center of social work practice. I’m currently working on that in graduate school and within my agency, by developing procedures related to using social media to both train staff and assist clients/consumers in becoming more socially, familial, and community-connected.

I just started a podcast and I’m enjoying radio as a medium. I love my newest position as a section editor with BlogHer.com. I’m a writer, first and foremost (passion-wise), so being able to write for an entity like Ebony.com has been amazing. I grew up reading Ebony! The editing is great because I get to help other women share their thoughts and have their voices heard. It feels good to support people as others have supported me. Right now, I’m simply enjoying the opportunities I’ve been given.

How the Affordable Health Care Act is Saving My Life-Part I

I knew that pursuing this degree would be costly, but what I didn’t know is that it could potential cost me my life. Three years ago, I was accepted to one of the top five Schools of Social Work in the country.

I was already working as a Child Protective Services Investigator when I decided to pursue my MSW, and I thought it would help me to advance in my field. However, as a CPS investigator and a Master level student, I was forced along with others in my cohort to make a decision between finishing school and my job. Both worlds were colliding, and I was caught in the middle.

It’s crazy how a social work student with no work experience can work in Child Welfare to fulfill their 900 hour internship requirement. However, someone already working in Child Welfare doing the same job does not receive credit and is required to do an additional field placement. In what world is this fair!

I was already invested in both time and money to just walk away from school. So, I quit my job working at a Human Service Agency in order to work for free at another Human Service agency in order to fulfill my internship requirements. As a working practitioner, I knew that I could not manage my caseload, class work, and another 16 hour per week internship to be completed in another department. Initially, my agency was going to give me some concessions while in school, but all it takes is for someone to quit or go on FMLA.

Yes, I knew that I had a pre-existing health condition, but I was going to a university with one of the best health care systems in the country. It never occurred to me, not even once, that the program in which I was accepted would not offer me a healthcare plan.

The summer before my last semester, I started getting sick. Everyday, I would park in the deck of the Medical Center to walk to class at the School of Social Work while I was being relegated to free clinics for my health care. The last semester, my school made some changes to the health care plans. I have a healthcare plan…. Now, I can get the care that I desperately need. Right? Wrong!!!

The health insurance provider stated that I needed proof of continuous coverage in order to receive coverage because I had a pre-existing condition. Guess what….I didn’t have proof because I had been uninsured for a year. Ok….I thought. I am an advance standing student….I will be back to work in no time. Everything will be alright. Right? Wrong!!! It would be a year after graduation before I would gain employment and health insurance again.

Two years and one pre-existing condition later, in May 2012, I began getting the tests I needed years ago to determine whether I have cancer or not. Not having health insurance in this country is a death sentence. In the last six months, I know two African-American women who died from complications from preventable issues because they did not have health insurance. Despite my degrees and my accomplishments, I was just another unemployed, black woman with no health insurance, and I was treated as such.

Today, my insurance carrier is covering the majority of cost for my tests and surgery, and I don’t think it would have been possible without the ACA. With health insurance, I have Dr. Randall Scheri the world-renown surgical oncologist at Duke University Cancer Center performing my surgery later this week. The prognosis is good because the cells have not turned cancerous….Thank God!!! They are taking every precaution in case something is found during the surgery. However, I believe everything is fine, and I am planning for a speedy recovery.

President Obama made it possible for those without healthcare to have the ability to get health insurance and be covered. He did it despite the difficulty and the unpopularity of the bill, and I am thankful that he did. Now, my hope is that the Council for Social Work Education will reform their current internship requirements, so it is not oppressive and create further hardships on students who just want to help others. No other profession mandates a 900 hour unpaid internship with no guarantees of health insurance in order to obtain a degree. So why is social work doing it?

It’s been difficult to not be bitter and not to be angry. No one should have to choose between basic human needs in order to pursue higher education for a better life. After my surgery and I am on the road to healing, I plan to advocate on behalf of students who may find themselves in similar situations or for those who may choose not to go back to school for social work because of the barriers. Change is needed.

*Part II soon to come…

Captain’s log stardate 74906.5, June 10th, 2021, Part II was never written. Cancer was found during the surgery, and it has been a long journey to recovery. However, this platform would not have been created without that experience. I use this platform to create awareness and advocacy on a variety of issues, but at its core, our goal is to help register people to vote on the matters important in their lives and their loved ones.  I am a firm believer that pain and suffering breed empathy and compassion. As a result of my pain, it further ignited my desire to help more people navigate their pain as well as support their purpose.

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