Here’s a look at African-American people and issues making headlines throughout the country.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was the runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy, beating out the competition to become the 76th winner of college football’s top individual honor. “Honestly, it’s a dream come true for me, something every child has a dream that plays the sport of football, and I’m living testimony that anything is possible,” Newton said. The victory is not without controversy, however. Leading up to the event, NCAA officials ruled that Newton’s father, Cecil Newton, tried to engineer a play-for-pay scheme that would have sent his son to Mississippi State. It was later concluded that neither Newton nor Auburn knew about his father’s dealings, so the star junior was not penalized.
Many community residents are opposing the reinstatement of Little Rock Police Officer David Edgmon, 24, who was fired in August for “unbecoming conduct” after he was recorded using racial slurs towards a group of Black men. Edgmon appealed his removal and was reinstated with only a 30-day suspension. According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, a letter from Little Rock Black Police Officers Association is calling for the resignations of three civil service commissioners who voted for Edgmon’s reinstatement.
San Bernardino residents held a candlelight vigil for convenience store owner Amarjit Singh last week after he was gunned down during an attempted robbery earlier this month. The vigil began at temple Missionary Baptist Church and moved to Best Market on Ninth and Mt. Vernon. Several council members, the mayor, and the chief of police joined residents calling for peace and justice for Singh’s family and loved ones.
District of Columbia
Many juvenile justice advocates gathered for a rally in Washington, D.C., to push Congress to put money behind legislation that will lead to lower incarceration rates among African-American youth. The rally came at the end of a three-day conference that included workshops on gang intervention, navigating the family court system, and how to organize youth-led campaigns to fight for social and political change. Supporters hope that the rally will encourage Congress to reinstate the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which offers funding to states that meet certain criteria aimed at reducing youth incarceration specifically addressing racial disparities.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has put Black oral histories online through a partnership with the Springfield African American History Foundation. State historian Tom Schwartz said the Lincoln Library is trying to tell the larger story of Illinois, not just the life of the 16th president. The oral histories help listeners understand the lives of African Americans and their contributions to the state, he said. There currently are 15 interviews online, and more will be added as they are transcribed. They touch on topics from family life to discrimination, to the 1908 Springfield Race Riots.
State employees will have the option of accepting a buyout from the state government under the new State Employees Voluntary Separation Program aimed at balancing the state’s budget. Eligible employees will receive a lump sum payment of $15,000 plus $200 for each year served as an incentive to quit. The state will extend medical, dental and prescription benefits for three months after employment has ended. Employees will also receive payment for all accrued leave. As a stipulation, once an employee makes the decision to quit, they are barred from working for any state office for at least 18 months. The deadline for applying is Jan. 4, 2011. The state has already cut 4,200 positions and instituted furloughs, saving more than $5.5 billion.
Mark Dayton, current front-runner in Minnesota’s gubernatorial race, members of his transition team and several other dignitaries were on hand as Black religious and community leaders gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center to express their concerns about the racial disparities that have taken hold in the state. Isaiah–a group of 90 congregations from the Twin Cities and St. Cloud–sponsored the two-hour discussion that concluded a series of “house meetings” for the cause. Among those in attendance was State Sen. John Marty, who is confident that Dayton’s involvement with Isaiah will bring finality to the ongoing race issue. “I think he has the real potential to lead,” Marty said of Dayton, the former commissioner of the Minnesota Departments of Economic Development. “That means you can’t duck talk about racial issues or poverty. I think we have a real chance to make a difference.”
Three teens suffered multiple gunshot wounds in a burglary attempt in Jackson when they reportedly kicked in the door of a local residence, ordered the homeowner and his family to lie on the floor at gunpoint, and demanded money. The homeowner told police he was able to grab his gun and open fire, hitting John Caston, 16, Nicholas Shannon, 19, and Clency Lampton, 17, who appeared to be ill-prepared for the counterattack. A fourth suspect fled the scene uninjured and is still at large. Officials said police were notified when Caston, Shannon and Lampton sought medical attention at a local hospital. Caston had been arrested for a similar crime earlier in the year. The three have been charged with burglary and armed robbery. A police department spokesman suggested the suspects may be connected with another crime that occurred a few hours earlier, where the homeowner claimed four men kicked in his carport door, brandished weapons and demanded money and other items. No one was injured in that burglary.
A St. Louis Metro bus operator performed a brave public service when he left the bus to pursue a driverless car rolling into a busy downtown intersection. Issac Sanders said that something had to be done quickly, or else. “I figured the public was at risk of getting hurt,” he said. “I knew [the car] had to be stopped before it got to that next intersection.” The car had been abandoned by two men police were pursuing eastbound on Highway 40. The chase continued to 14th Street, where the driver lost control and collided with an oncoming vehicle. The suspects then fled on foot. Anita Collins, who watched the event unfold, said she saw the unmanned vehicle headed northbound and noted that its engine was still running. “The car was actually in motion rolling down into traffic,” she said. “[But] the bus driver runs after the car and gets in it.” Moments later, an unscathed Sanders returned to his passengers, who offered a hero’s welcome.
Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, is receiving a lot of heat after he publicly encouraged drivers to racially profile their potential passengers after a driver was shot six times and robbed. At a press conference outside of Jamaica Hospital in Queens, Mateo said that racial profiling is sometimes a good thing and that he doesn’t care if drivers do it. “Because the God’s honest truth is that 99 percent of the people that are robbing, stealing, killing these drivers are Blacks and Hispanics. So if you see suspicious activity–you know what?– don’t pick up that person,” said Mateo, who also noted that drivers should be particularly watchful of men wearing hoodies. Members of the community and many Black and Latino organization are outraged at his comments since Mateo is reportedly half-Black and half-Hispanic himself.
Many of Philadelphia’s Black leaders voiced support for School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman after she controversially awarded a no-bid contract to a minority-owned company, saying she was making sure African Americans were included in district contracts that are usually monopolized by White-owned firms.”When an administration attempts to right such a grotesque imbalance in spending public dollars they should be applauded and not maligned,” said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP at a School Reform Commission meeting attended by more than 400 persons wanting to show their support for Ackerman’s decision.
The Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame in Waco surprised Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington when officials waived the organization’s mandatory retirement rule and decided to induct him while he is still serving. “It means a heck of a lot, especially when you don’t expect it,” said Washington, who is now one of only three African American baseball managers to lead his team to the World Series, joining Cito Gaston of the Toronto Blue Jays and Dusty Baker of San Francisco Giants.
The Milwaukee Works Transitional Jobs Program, which helps low-income individuals find work, has begun. This job demonstration project offers transitional jobs to low-income adults between ages 21 and 64 who have an annual household income of less than 150 percent of the federal poverty guideline, who have been unemployed for at least four calendar weeks and who are not eligible for W-2 benefits or unemployment compensation. Participants will take part in orientation sessions, receive a career assessment and be assigned a job coach, as well as being matched with a transitional job.
Jeffrey Atkins, better known as Ja Rule, the former member and spokesman of controversial Hip Hop label Murder Inc, was sentenced by a Manhattan State Supreme Court judge to two years in federal prison. The ruling followed his admission to weapons charges filed against him in July 2007 over an incident in which police discovered a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun behind the driver’s seat of his luxury vehicle. Reports show that Atkins, 34, was stopped for speeding while en route to a concert at the Beacon Theater. However, officials say the smell of marijuana actually prompted the search. Atkins, who couldn’t provide valid proof of registration or insurance, was taken into custody shortly after the weapon was discovered. He faced up to four years in prison before sentencing.
Oprah Winfrey’s audience of 300 arrived in Australia last week as part of her latest extravagant gift giveaway–the biggest by far–an eight-day vacation and tour of Australia. Winfrey surprised her guests with the trip at the 25th and final season premiere back in September. The exuberant fans were taken all across the continent, visiting historic monuments and enjoying the wildlife.