Here’s a look at African American individuals and issues making headlines throughout the country.

Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child has joined the cast of “Fela!” The musical, produced by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Stephen and Ruth Hendel, is filled with the exuberant music of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and will be presented from April 26 through May 5, 2013 at the Ahmanson Theater. Tickets are now on sale for this limited engagement. A triumphant tale of courage, passion and love, “Fela!” is the true story of Kuti, who created a new type of music, Afrobeat, and mixed these pounding eclectic rhythms (a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies) with incendiary lyrics that openly attacked the corrupt and oppressive military dictatorships that ruled Nigeria and much of Africa. His songs of rebellion were an inspiration to millions.
UNCF (United Negro College Fund,) the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization, recently hosted the second annual UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball. This year’s UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball Los Angeles honored NBA Hall of Famer and entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Sheryl P. Underwood, co-host of CBS’ The Talk. Both Johnson and Underwood endorsed the work of UNCF and the success of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) and pledged to raise money and to help young men and women with financial resources for quality education to fulfill their dreams.

District of Columbia
First Lady, Michelle Obama surprised Sweet Honey In The Rock by attending their show in Washington, D.C., at The Howard Theatre. The Grammy-nominated a capella group recently released a tribute album, “Sweet Honey In The Rock: A Tribute,” dedicated to great female African American vocalists whose songs helped shape and inspire the group, including Abbey Lincoln, Odetta, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Carmen McRae, Bessie Smith, and Sarah Vaughan. By blending blues, African, Jazz, Gospel and R&B, “A Tribute ” is the group’s first new release in five years, a two-year process that the group conceptualized and prepared. The album is now available to purchase on iTunes.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is taking steps to educate the community and police officers about the possession of condoms. They are not to be considered a reasonable cause to stop, search, or arrest someone. In addition to clarifying department policy via police “roll call” bulletin, MPD has begun to distribute cards in the community explaining that individuals have the right to carry as many condoms as they want in the District of Columbia. The card text reads: “Know Your Rights. The MPD supports the distribution of condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Individuals are allowed to carry as many condoms as they want. There is no ‘three condom rule.’ MPD officers cannot conduct a stop or conduct a search of a person or premises based on whether or not that person possesses condoms. The card also provides information on how to make complaints of police misconduct, in the case that an officer fails to follow these guidelines.”

The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), a faith-based coalition of 34,000 churches comprised of 15 denominations and 15.7 million African Americans, has authorized 3,500 Black churches in Florida to work with state Rep. Alan Williams to overturn the state’s Stand Your Ground Law. The Rev. Anthony Evans said, “The most important living memorial for Trayvon Martin, his family, and every Black youth in Florida and across the country is for the church to use its extraordinary power to overturn and kill the Stand Your Ground Law. This law has caused great legal complications for prosecutors. From the time this incident has happened, we have vowed to bring justice for our little Black boys, and we will not stop until it is done by any means necessary.”
Dove Men+Care launched the “Real Moments” NCAA campaign with NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade and ESPN college sports analyst Jay Bilas. The program celebrates men who care for what matters most and features Wade and Bilas sharing real moments from their personal playbooks off-the-court that highlight the importance of fatherhood. The campaign will run through the NCAA March Madness season with a series of funny and relatable videos that will also highlight the superior grooming maintenance Dove Men+Care provides men.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are not ruling out a lawsuit against the Obama administration over new federal financial aid policies that disproportionately affect their students, the Washington Times reports. New underwriting standards enacted in October 2011 to PLUS loans made it tougher for parents with lackluster credit to borrow money from the federal government for their child’s college expenses. Families of students at HBCUs were twice as likely to use the program, according to the Associated Press, but previous borrowers were not grandfathered in with the old standards. The change meant borrowers who currently hold loans would have their credit evaluated retroactively to cover the previous five years, rather than the previous 90 days, Inside Higher Ed reports. With the policies now in effect and forcing some students out of college, HBCUs are considering legal action over the new rules.

FundaGeek has announced another undergraduate crowdfunding project. Erica Rowsey, an English major at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., hopes to participate in a faculty-led study abroad program this summer at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. Between 1620 and 1870, more than half a million slaves from Africa were sent to the mainland of America. Between 1690 and 1807, Ghana supplied 18.4 percent of them. Erica’s classes will be focused on analyzing, discussing, and contextualizing existing literature to gain an understanding of the history of the slave trade, as well as considering how this history and literature is best taught to children and youth. After deepening her own understanding of the topic, Erica will return to Grand Rapids where she will share what she learns with students of all ages in local schools and after school programs.

New York
An important film on the nation’s educational crisis premieres on PBS this month. The documentary, “180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School,” takes an unprecedented look at a learning institution at the epicenter of the nation’s school reform movement and the lives that hang in the balance. The film airs at 9 a.m. ET on Monday, March 25, and Tuesday, March 26. The United States ranks near the bottom of all indexes for education among industrialized nations, and most African American children now attend schools in which graduation is not the norm.

Nearly half of the African American and Hispanic families in the United States lack sufficient income to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the average fair market rent, according to a comprehensive analysis in Out of Reach 2013 conducted by Poverty & Race Research Action Council. According to the Out of Reach 2013, a typical full-time worker in the U.S. must earn $18.79 per hour to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment while spending no more than 30 percent of their income–the amount the government sets as “affordable”–on housing costs. Currently, an average renter earns about an $14.32 hourly wage. Furthermore, the National Low Income Housing Commission (NLIHC) estimates that a family will need an annual income of $39,080 to afford a two-bedroom apartment at an average fair market rent of $977. An analysis of data from the NLIHC study and the 2007-2011 American Community Survey show that there are 22,510,587 families in the U.S. with annual income less than approximately $39,080.