Alabama

Ruben Studdard, who was crowned champ of the second season of “American Idol” in 2003, has received a Master of Arts degree at Alabama A&M University, where he majored in voice studies during his undergrad tenure. “I’m super happy and proud to be a Bulldog of AAMU,” he wrote on Instagram.

California

The University of California has sold approximately $25 million worth of indirect investments in private prison corporations after the Afrikan Black Coalition, which encompasses UC’s nine Black Student Unions, revealed in November that the system held shares in the prisons. The Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) issued a resolution last week demanding that UC divest from private prisons and companies that support private prisons. A spokesperson from the UC Office of the President (UCOP) confirmed the University’s shares, which were part of a broader portfolio, had been sold on Dec. 1. “The students brought this to our attention, and based on that, we looked at our investments in private prisons, which total less than $30 million, and we decided to sell them—they are gone,” Dianne Klein Klein said, adding that UC does not issue statements on divestments, but does routinely review its investments, totaling $91 billion, to see if they are financially sound. “We see the issue of private prisons as: Is that really sustainable? Is that going to make us money in the long term? And we don’t think so for these social reasons,” Klein said. “From a risk perspective, it didn’t make sense to hold on to these assets.”

Georgia

Bradley Gilbeaux and Damon Willis, MBA candidates at Clark Atlanta University, are the recipients of the 2015 Ford HBCU Community Challenge award for their Telepath Water System proposal. The two will receive $75,000 in scholarships for their innovative lawn irrigation system, which wirelessly tracks weather forecasts and soil moisture to water a lawn only when necessary. The system can be customized for commercial or residential use. Second place and $15,000 went to North Carolina AT&T State University for a plan to develop workspaces for entrepreneurs, and third place went to Alabama A&M University with $10,000 for a community garden and vehicle distribution system for disadvantaged residents. The MBA program, sponsored by Ford, is in its third year and provides students at historical Black colleges and universities the opportunity to positively impact their communities. and offers scholarships to help them realize their educational goals,” said Pamela Alexander, director, community development, Ford Fund. “All of the participants this year made us proud with their ideas, energy and spirit of giving back.”

Illinois

A professor at a suburban Chicago Christian college who has been placed on administrative leave after donning a headscarf to demonstrate solidarity with Muslims said last Wednesday that her actions are demonstrations of her own faith. Larycia Hawkins, who is a Christian and an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College, a private evangelical school west of Chicago, was put on leave when she began wearing a hijab, the headscarf worn by some Muslim women. She said she did it to counter what she called the “vitriolic” rhetoric against Muslims in recent weeks. “In the spirit of Advent, my actions were motivated by a desire to live out my faith. Period,” Hawkins said. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas. With fears of terrorism simmering and Donald Trump calling for Muslims to be blocked from entering the United States, many American Muslims are on edge. Hawkins said she felt it was important to show solidarity with Muslims in the country. “Theoretical solidarity is not solidarity,” the tenured faculty member said. The college said in a statement Tuesday that it placed her on leave because of statements she made on social media about similarities between Islam and Christianity. Hawkins also said “I affirm the creeds of the church,” adding that she hopes for an amicable resolution with the college.

Louisiana

The New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 last week to remove four Confederate monuments. The statues include a monument to General Robert E. Lee located near the center of the city, as well as one of Jefferson Davis, of General P.G.T. Beauregard and another that acknowledges the Battle of Liberty Place. The statues will not be destroyed but instead will end up in a Civil War museum or park, according to the Times Picayune. “Post Katrina, what we’ve said is, ‘We’re going to build this city back, not the way it was, but the way it should’ve always been had we gotten it right the first time,” Mayor Landrieu told CNN, explaining his rationale. “And in that discussion, in the context of what’s going on around the country in terms of difficult race relations,” he continued, “we think that symbols matter here, and we want the symbols in the city to reflect really who New Orleans is historically—not just a small part of our history.”

Maryland

The jury hearing the case of the first officer tried in the Freddie Gray murder in Baltimore came back unable to make a decision. Officer William Porter, 26, was charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct and reckless endangerment. He was one of six charged and who will stand trial. The jury deliberated for three days, then informed the judge that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the four charges. A new trial date will be set.

Missouri

Jason Flanery, the St. Louis police officer who was in the news last fall after shooting 18-year-old VonDerrit Myers Jr., resigned last week amid suspicions of driving under the influence, according to St. Louis Today. Flanery was reportedly off-duty and driving his patrol car after dawn, when he crashed into a parked car near his home. When police officers responded, witnesses on the scene told them that a police car had fled the scene. The patrol car was found at Flanery’s nearby home and, upon request, the officer refused his colleagues’ request to take a Breathalyzer test. Officers then left to obtain a warrant to draw blood, which they did upon returning to Flanery’s home. “We handled the investigation just as we would anyone in a drunk-driving accident,” said St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson. Flanery was arrested and booked Saturday on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and misdemeanor leaving the scene of an accident. Flanery shot and killed Myers on Oct. 8, 2014, two months after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown Jr., sparking a fresh wave of protests in the area. According to police in the Myers case, an off-duty Flanery, saw three men, including Myers, standing. When he made a U-turn to question them, they allegedly ran away with Flanery in swift pursuit. Police alleged that a gun battle ensued, with Myers shooting at Flanery three times before his gun jammed. Flanery was allegedly returning fire when he shot at the teen approximately 17 times. Eight bullets connected, including six in the back of Myers’ legs, one shattering his femur and the fatal shot entering his right cheek. An independent report claimed that the teen was running away when he was struck down by Flanery’s bullets. Flanery claimed self-defense but the case has never gone to trial.

South Carolina

A group of Black parents plan to present a petition calling for officials to drop charges against a 16-year-old South Carolina high school student who was videotaped being yanked from her desk and thrown to the floor by a police officer in her classroom. A misdemeanor charge of disturbing schools was filed against the student and an 18-year-old who videotaped the incident on her cellphone on Oct. 26 at Spring Valley High School in Columbia. The newly formed group, named Richland 2 Black Parents Association after the district where the incident took place, said it has gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures from around the country asking Solicitor Dan Johnson to drop the charges. The students in the case are Black; the officer is White. Johnson issued a statement saying he won’t do anything with the case until the FBI finishes its investigation into Richland County deputy Ben Fields, who was fired after the video became public. “I do not simply decide cases based upon feelings, public opinion or sentiment, nor do I decide them based on political pressure,” Johnson said in the statement. The punishment for disturbing schools is a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail.


The Citadel military school has suspended eight cadets who wore pillowcases resembling KKK hoods in photos that were posted on social media. The eight are temporarily suspended and will be allowed to take final exams, but they won’t be allowed to resume normal classes with the rest of the cadets until Jan. 13. Recommendations for additional disciplinary action are being considered.

Texas

U.S. District Judge David Hittner has set Jan. 23, 2017, as the date for the wrongful death trial of the Sandra Bland case. The family of Bland, the 28-year-old Black woman who died in a Texas jail three days after her arrest during a traffic stop. Although her death was rules a suicide, the family is disputing the finding and seeking unspecified damages from the Texas Department of Public Safety, to of the jailers and the white trooper who arrested Bland.

Wisconsin

The United States Department of Justice announced it will launch a collaborative reform initiative with the Milwaukee Police Department in the wake of a decision not to file charges against the departement in shooting of Dontre Hamilton at Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park on April 30, 2014. Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-04) responded, “I am encouraged by Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn’s decision to request this investigation, and I am hopeful that the recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice will help the Milwaukee Police Department better serve our community. Given the number of high-profile incidences in my district, including the deaths of Dontre Hamilton and Derek Williams, change in our current system is long overdue. We must do everything we can to strengthen the relationship between the citizens of Milwaukee and those who have sworn to protect them.” Moore added however, that she is concerned about the allegations of racial profiling and “stop-and-frisk-” style policies that seem to be a part of area policing strategies. She added, “As this review moves forward, I urge the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure that this process is conducted in an open and transparent manner.”

National

Janice Mathis, who is noted for her years of work with Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and his Rainbow Coalition and served as the group’s general counsel and chief of staff, has been named the executive director of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). She is currently the vice president of the Citizenship Education Fund and also has a record as a negotiator, advocate, lawyer, administrator and team builder.

Compiled by Carol Ozemhoya.