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California

Ford Motor Company Fund returned as presenting sponsor of the 13th annual NAACP Hollywood Bureau Symposium, entitled “Pictures, Power, Progress: Pathways to Inclusion.” The panels focused on key issues impacting the lack of diversity and inclusion within the entertainment industry. Shaun Robinson, former host of NBC’s “Access Hollywood,” moderated the list of panelists that included: Cornell William Brooks, “president/CEO, NAACP; David White, national executive director, SAG/AFTRA; actor Mykelti Williamson, ABC’s “Designated Survivor;” Frank Gonzales, executive in charge of Diversity Programs, DGA; Carl Seaton, PGA; Michelle Amor, co-chair, Committee of Black Writers, Writer’s Guild of America West; Deborah Calla, Chair PGA Diversity Committee, PGA; Charles Howard, Chair, PGA Diversity Committee, PGA; and Consuelo Flores, Director, Policy Strategy and Analysis, EEO and Diversity, SAG/AFTRA. As part of the event, Ford donated $10,000 to Shaun Robinson’s S.H.A.U.N Foundation for Girls.


Philip and Tanya Hart are prepping a movie about aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman. Based upon Philip Hart’s source material from his two Bessie Coleman books for young readers and a treatment developed by the Harts while at Disney Studios, the two producers are now moving ahead into development and production of “Flying Free with Bessie Coleman.” The Hart’s daughter Ayanna Hart is a producing partner on the movie. Bessie Coleman earned her pilot’s license in France in 1921, becoming the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license two years before famous pilot Amelia Earhart earned her license. Coleman’s mother was African American while her father was Native American. Upon returning to the United States from France after earning her pilot’s license, Coleman barnstormed the nation doing air shows and promoting aviation as a career for African Americans. Her goal was to open a flight school to teach aviation mechanics and to give flying lessons. The Bessie Coleman Aero Club opened in Los Angeles in 1929, thus becoming the first all-Black flight school in the world. Philip Hart’s great-uncle James Herman Banning was the chief pilot for the Bessie Coleman Aero Club, which in 1931 put on the first all-Black air show at L.A.’s Eastside airport. The Cali-based Harts are planning for a 2018 release of “Flying Free with Bessie Coleman.”

District of Columbia

On Feb. 10, proposed legislation was submitted to the D.C. Board of Elections, is according to BlackNews.com a model for legislators to provide opportunities for previous slave owners, and those that participated in enslavement of African American families, to make amends. The proposed legislation submitted by John Cheeks, head of the United States Citizens Recovery Initiative Alliance Inc. (USCRIA), is the first legislation to provide benefits, at no cost to taxpayers. It is also an opportunity for individual families, industries, businesses, faith-based institutions, governments and others to be held accountable. The legislation is reportedly designed to help descendants of American slaves. The benefits are not handouts, and differ from other historical reparations, such as those given to Japanese citizens entered during WW II and Native Americans, says the Black News report. The benefits include: 1. Aid to businesses. 2. Providing educational opportunities. 3. Improving health. 4. Providing mental health, alcohol and substance abuse care. 5. Housing ownership. 6. Financial protection. 7. Veterans rights. 8. Credit acceptance. 9. Career rights. “All benefits are designed to improve life for individuals, families and communities. In doing so, the nation benefits.” Eligibility criteria have been proposed which include proof by DNA testing. Those claiming benefits must be 40 percent descendants of slaves and born in the United States. For the complete text of the proposed legislation, go to www.uscria.com/legislation.html.

Georgia

Rev. Al Sharpton calls Mary-Pat Hector his “mentee.” He may soon be calling the 19-year-old an official city councilwoman. Hector, who already serves as National Youth Director for Sharpton’s National Action Network, recently earned the right to run for city council in Stonecrest, reports The Grio. Because Hector is younger than 21, her candidacy was under review. According to CNN, the DeKalb County Board of Registrations and Elections ruled that Hector could run because the city’s charter did not specifically mention an age restriction. Hector was just four years old when she told her mother that she wanted to be president when she grew up, the New York Times reports. “So many times, people just think that young people can’t govern; and they can,” she told The Times. “If you are getting into politics for all the right reasons, you just have to pay attention to your constituents and not be afraid to be the voice for them.” Hector participated in the Women’s March on Washington the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. “I have never been afraid to take the road less traveled,” Hector said. “A lot of people are not going to agree. The biggest thing is just getting them to see more than just the age, and more about the vision. And the fact that young people can govern.”

Michigan

Mike Ilitch, the founder of Little Caesars Pizza and owner of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings, died Feb. 10. Upon his death, it came out that Ilitch once paid the rent of civil rights activist Rosa Parks, when she moved into a Detroit apartment complex in 1994, reports USA Today. Parks, considered “the first lady of civil rights,” had moved to Detroit in 1957, after her famous resistance to racial segregation in 1955. Her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus led to her arrest and then to a 381-day boycott of Montgomery’s buses. Parks died in October 2005. She was 92. On Aug. 31, 1994, Parks, then 81, was robbed and assaulted in her home in central Detroit. Judge Damon Keith called real estate developer Alfred Taubman, the owner of Riverfront Apartments, about finding a safer home for Parks. Taubman pledged to find the best home available. When Ilitch read in the newspaper about Keith’s plan and Taubman’s promise, he called the judge and said he would pay for Parks’ housing for as long as necessary.

New York

Former Syracuse and NBA big man Fab Melo died in his home country of Brazil last week at the age of 26. Melo reportedly went to bed at his home in Juiz de Fora one night and was found dead by his mother the next morning. No information has yet been released on his cause of death. “We don’t know the cause yet. It’s so hard right now, so hard to believe. It’s a sad, sad day. He was a really good kid, and it’s not fair that he will be defined by one thing: a 10-page paper,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said to ESPN. The coach was referring to an academic ineligibility that surfaced during Melo’s last season at the school. “He worked his tail off to become a really good player and was a nice kid.”


New York City police are looking into an incident in which an officer deployed a stun gun on a pregnant 17-year-old in the Bronx during a chaotic scene that was caught on camera. According to WABC, officers were called to an apartment building in the Wakefield section of the Bronx on a separate issue when they were alerted to a fight involving two men elsewhere in the building. Dailene Rosario, who had the Taser used on her, said the fight was between her boyfriend and her sister’s boyfriend, who are brothers; they were arguing about a video game. When officers came to check on the incident, Rosario said that it had already died down, and she acknowledged that she demanded to see a warrant, apparently refusing to let a police officer into her apartment. “He said, ‘Oh you’re refusing,’” she said. “Next thing I know, he grabbed my arm and pulled me into a crowd of cops. Somebody was pinching me, and then I got Tased … [my right hand] was already in the cuff, and then I ended up on the floor.” In the video, Rosario can be heard repeatedly screaming, “I’m pregnant,” while wailing for officers to get off of her. According to the New York Daily News, internal-affairs investigators interviewed witnesses about the incident Tuesday night, but so far no one has been disciplined.

North Carolina

Backed by civil rights groups and private law firms, a group of Jones County residents have filed a lawsuit to end voting practices they consider discriminatory. The case could signal a shift in civil rights litigation, reports the Christian Science Monitor. On Feb. 16, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., joined with two law firms to bring a suit on behalf of Black residents of Jones County. The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges that the county’s at-large voting system has systematically prevented Black residents, who comprise almost one-third of the county, from electing the candidates of their choice to the county’s five-member Board of Commissioners. Since the five candidates receiving the most votes from across the county are elected to the board, the White majority can vote as a bloc to prevent Black candidates from winning seats, the plaintiffs say. They argue that this election system has effectively sidelined the Black community’s issues, since it is relatively easy to be elected without their votes. Instead, the plaintiffs propose creating single-member local districts, giving predominantly Black neighborhoods a higher likelihood of electing their chosen candidate. If litigation proves successful in Jones County, it could encourage civil rights organizations to more frequently press forward with smaller cases. And the creation of single-member districts is an important step, observers suggest—although they caution that ensuring effective representation requires more than just electing a given representative.

South Carolina

Vibe magazine reports that White supremacist Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell was apprehended on Feb. 15 by the FBI for planning a massacre at a synagogue in South Carolina. The FBI states that the 29-year-old documented his intentions on Facebook in a culmination of anti-Semitic posts. In a conversation he had with an undercover FBI agent, McDowell incriminated himself by admitting his intentions. He claimed that he wasn’t equipped enough to carry out the bloodshed in a manner that he would deem honorable to Dylann Roof. “I’ve got the heart to do that s*, but I don’t have the good training,” he allegedly claims. “If I could do something on a f big scale and write on the f building or whatever, ‘In the spirit of Dylann Roof.’” The South Carolina native never disclosed a specific target to the FBI agent for his premeditated slaughter, but he did post a link to Facebook of the Temple Emanu-El Conservative Synagogue in Myrtle Beach, SC. At the time of his arrest, McDowell was in the parking lot of a Myrtle Beach Hampton Inn holding a bag. In his possession, police found marijuana, a cell phone, a handgun and ammo sold to him by an undercover agent.

Tennessee

In April 2015, police discovered Robert Doggart began recruiting people in hopes of “burning down a mosque” in “Islamberg,” a self-described Muslim community in upstate New York. However, the New York Daily News reports that the 65-year-old will not face terrorism charges because an attorney explained federal terrorism statutes focus on foreign and not homegrown extremists. Doggart, who ran for Congress as an Independent in 2014, allegedly went on right-wing online forums and spoke openly about using AR-15 assault riffles in the potential attack. Doggart began to mastermind the crime because he believed Hancock, New York, the small bubbling Muslim community, was a terrorist training ground. Attorneys representing the Islamberg community say there’s a loophole that is keeping Doggart from facing terrorism charges. “There’s a gap in the law,” attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud said. “Frankly, there is nothing on terrorism unless it’s connected to a foreign element. You won’t see the KKK charged with domestic terror even though that’s what they do.” However, Amatul-Wadud is relieved Doggart could face up to 10 years in prison, but believes had law enforcement not intercepted, he would’ve gone through with his plans.

Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student government took formal steps last week to demand free tuition for African American students. The Associated Students of Madison adopted a resolution Feb. 15 saying African Americans were legally barred from education during slavery and that the school remains out of reach for students of color, reports the Associated Press. State lawmakers set tuition rates. The resolution demands free access, tuition and housing be offered to African American applicants, including former inmates. UW-Madison John Lucas spokesman says university officials are reviewing the resolution. The proportion of African American students at the school has grown from 11 percent to 15 percent over the past 10 years. A series of racially-tinged incidents have marred campus life in recent months, including a fan wearing an offensive costume to a football game and the arrest of an African American student for anti-racist graffiti.

National

Robert L. Johnson, chairman of RLJ Entertainment, announced the appointment of Traci Otey Blunt as president of Urban Movie Channel (UMC). UMC is the first premium subscription-based streaming service created for African American and urban audiences that features quality urban content across all genres, including feature films, original series, stand-up comedy, documentaries and other exclusive titles. Two years ago, Blunt joined the RLJ Entertainment management team as an executive vice president and was assigned to launch and develop the company’s proprietary streaming service. Blunt said, “My immediate strategic goals for UMC are to grow our subscriber base by creating a destination for the UMC audience to find compelling and original content created by the most talented African American writers and producers. UMC will create a business model where the often underemployed African American creative community will find a place to showcase their product and be compensated by subscribers who enjoy watching UMC entertainment. We also want to further expand UMC’s digital footprint by making UMC available on more platforms and devices. Finally, I want to come up with an innovative way that digital content providers can be recognized and rewarded by the industry and their peers for the outstanding creative content they produce now and in the future.”