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Alabama

An area in the state called the “Black Belt,” so named because of its rich black soil as well as the fact that it is heavily populated by Black Americans, has received a $49 million grant to raise the high school graduation rate in the counties that it encompasses. The seven-year undertaking will target mostly rural counties across central Alabama that tend to have higher rates of poverty and unemployment than the rest of the state. “Education is the basis for the future growth of Alabama’s economy,” said Gov. Robert Bentley during a press conference announcing the project called Gear Up Alabama. According to the Associated Press, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is heading the project, which will target about 9,200 students in grades six-12 at 53 schools in 18 school systems. About $3.5 million a year will come from the U.S. Dept. of Education, which will be matched by the project’s partners, including the state Dept. of Education, Alabama State University, Auburn University, the University of Montevallo and the Black Belt Community Foundation. Schools that are targeted have an average graduation rate of only 72 percent, compared to 80 percent statewide. Students will receive tutoring, summer assistance, visit college campuses, financial planning lessons and other programs to instill the goal of a college education.

California

The YWCA of Greater Los Angeles is hosting its annual Rhapsody Ball Awards on Nov. 14 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Oscar-winning actor Sidney Poiter will be on hand to present the prestigious Silver Achievement Award to Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The affair is the YWCA’s main fundraising event, with much of its funds going toward the area’s at-risk population through various programs. Mavis Leno, wife of comedian Jay Leno, and former model and actress Kathy Ireland are co-hosting the gala. Isaacs is the Academy’s first Black president. Elise Buik, president of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, will also be presented with a Silver Achievement Award, while Xerox Corp. will receive the Corporate Champion Award. The red carpet begins at 6:30 p.m. with the dinner and awards ceremony proceeding at 8 p.m.

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams have lost the first round of a legal battle involving the hit song “Blurred Lines,” which Thicke sang and Williams produced and performed on. A lawsuit was brought by Marvin Gaye’s family, which claimed that the song’s melody was stolen from Gaye’s hit “Got to Give It Up.” A California judge ruled last week that the two songs may be substantially similar. A motion by Thicke and Williams asking for summary judgment was denied by U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt, who said that there was enough evidence to move forward with the claim from the Gaye estate. A trial is schedule for Feb. 10, 2015. Last month, the Hollywood Reporter cast even more light on Thicke when it obtained a copy of the depositions from the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit. In his testimony, Thicke said he was “high on Vicodin and alcohol” during the song’s recording and that he lied about how the song was written during media interviews.

Comic Katt Williams and former music mogul Suge Knight were arrested last week in Beverly Hills following an incident over a woman’s camera. The pair has been charged with robbery. For Knight, the charge could send him to prison for decades, because he has a prior conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, reports CNN. He was arrested in Las Vegas, while Williams was arrested in Los Angeles when he showed up in court over another legal matter. The incident occurred outside a studio in Beverly Hills. Details are sketchy, but the pair is reported to have allegedly chased a photographer down an alley and snatched her camera when she began snapping photos of them. According to the Los Angeles Times, the woman sustained minor injuries.

Florida

A jury last week handed down a guilty verdict for 27 year old Dante Martin, who was charged with manslaughter and felony hazing in the death of a fellow Florida A&M University band member. Prosecutors said drum major Robert Champion was brutally beaten as part of a hazing ritual carried out by Martin and several others. Three more former students are awaiting trial and several others have already pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Martin faces up to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors said that Martin was the ringleader of the hazing. A medical examiner said Champion died of internal bleeding caused by severe bruising. The hazing involved Champion having to make it from one end of a bus to the other while his fellow band members hit and kicked him.

Georgia

An investigator with the Clayton County District Attorney’s office resigned after going public with a rant on social media about “Black culture,” blaming it for the non-fatal shooting of a 1-year-old boy. David Daniel sent a letter of apology along with his resignation shortly after a Facebook rant went viral. On a Facebook page owned by one of the local TV stations, he wrote: “… violence with guns is unfortunately a part of the Black culture and will never get better until the government stops supporting them and they are taught to work for what they get and not take from others.” The child was hit with a stray bullet in the parking lot of an apartment complex in southeast Atlanta. He was shot in the arm and will be going home from the hospital this week.

Illinois

A substitute teacher in Carol Stream reportedly called four Black students the n-word after the young ladies asked to not be called African American. According to WMAG, the incident occurred in an eighth grade social studies class, where one of the students—Mea Thompson, who is of Jamaican descent—asked to not be called African American because none of the Black students in the class are from Africa. Thompson told the TV station that the teacher then told the students that African American was the politically correct term and back in history “you guys would be considered” the n-word. Thompson said that she and the other students were shocked, as the teacher continued to use the word several times during the class that day. Thompson’s mother, Shayna, said the situation angered her. “It’s a new world, and the people of the past that still hang onto hatred and bigotry don’t belong in this world anymore.” William Shields, district superintendent of the school, said the incident is under investigation, because there are “an awful lot of accounts on the specific words and actions” that took place. He added, however, that that teacher would not be returning to the school. He also said that he was proud of the students who felt comfortable enough to report the incident.

Maryland

Bowie-based Sister2Sister magazine has put its print edition on hold and filed for bankruptcy, according to its founder Jamie Foster Brown. Since 1988, the magazine has been reporting on Black entertainment and celebrities. Brown says that she will now focus on S2S’s website. “The community does not want us to go away,” she said in a statement. Brown once worked as a secretary for Robert Johnson, the co-founder of BET (Black Entertainment Television), who later called her the “Barbara Walters of print.” S2S’s last print edition was the October 2014 issue.

New York

The abrupt resignation of Philip Banks as New York City’s highest-ranking Black police officer is causing concern. The 28-year veteran of the force stepped down last Friday after less than a year in his new position as NYPD Chief of Department. One anonymous source told The Daily News that Banks removed himself because he thought the promotion would “bury him behind a desk.” Political observers, however, think it’s deeper than that. “Most likely, his conscience took the best of him,” Damon Jones, a representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement, told the Huffington Post in relation to the department’s handling of race. “As elected officials who have fought for better police practices, we are extremely disturbed by news of the resignation of Chief Banks,” said city council members Jumaane Williams and Vanessa Gibson in a joint statement. “The resignation of the highest-ranking Black and Latino official in the department seems to provide a strong indication that much more work needs to be done within the NYPD. The administration must fully admit that there is a systemic issue within the NYPD that revolves around race and class in this city.”

Nielsen is reporting that Black consumers are expected to be the driving force behind increased holiday sales this year. According to the 2014 Holiday Sales Forecast, African American shoppers will make up the largest percentage of the increase in holiday sales. Overall, the report indicates that “rising consumer confidence in the economy, lowered inflation and falling gas prices indicate that consumers overall are eager to spend more this holiday season than last year. The report says that African Americans will be the heavier spenders, “spending 17 percent more than other multicultural groups.” According to the Nielsen report, 22 percent of shoppers have already begun shopping; however, 70 percent of Black shoppers plan to shop later this year. What are Blacks intending to spend money on this year for gifts? Electronics such as smartphones and laptops will account for almost 20 percent, with another 15 percent going toward apparel. For more insights on African American consumers, visit Nielsen’s microsite for African American consumers at www.nielsen.com/africanamericans.

North Carolina

A teacher at Camden County High School was suspended after being heard saying she would kill all Black people, if she found out she only had 10 days to live. According to WAVY-TV, a mother of one of the students who overheard Cynthia Ramsey, a math teacher, reported the incident. The school board suspended Ramsey, but she was allowed back in the classroom days later. “I was completely shocked,” said Kimberly Ashcraft, a parent of one of the kids who overheard Ramsey. “I could not have imagined a teacher saying that… I am very disappointed to hear that she was allowed to return to the classroom in a couple of days.

Washington, D.C.

First Lady Michelle Obama has launched a competition for high school and college students to win a chance to have her speak at their graduation ceremonies in spring 2015. The contests are part of her Reach Higher initiative, which is designed to encourage students to further their education beyond high school. One high school and one college will win her appearance at their commencement exercises. For high schools, students, teachers and administrators must work together to create a video that encourages students to apply for Federal Student Aid. College students and officials can enter the other program, called the Near-Peer Mentoring College Challenge, which calls for a video that displays peer mentoring and programs that help incoming students adjust to college life. The videos have to be uploaded to Vimeo or YouTube. For more information, visit: FAFSA Completion Challenge: http://www.whitehouse.gov/reach-higher/fafsa-commencement or Near-Peer Mentoring College Challenge:http://www.whitehouse.gov/reach-higher/near-peer-commencement.

Compiled by Carol Ozemhoya.