D.C. Download: Horsford key in police brutality talks with Biden after Tyre Nichols’ death

After a slow start to the congressional session, committee assignments have been finalized – and the Nevada delegation is well-represented across both chambers. Meanwhile, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) is leading the Congressional Black Caucus in renewed efforts to take on police brutality after the killing of Tyre Nichols.

Horsford takes police brutality fight to the Biden administration

Horsford’s tenure as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is barely one month old. But already he has found himself in the solemn position many past chairs have faced – convening a meeting with the president to discuss a brutal police killing of a Black man. 

Tyre Nichols, 29, was pulled over for a traffic stop in Memphis and beaten to death by five officers. In a statement, Horsford offered his condolences to Nichols’ family and called for Congress to act.

“We will never achieve true justice for Mr. Nichols — or the countless other Black and brown people killed unjustly by police — until we dramatically reimagine public safety,” he wrote.

Horsford, along with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Joe Neguse (D-CO) met with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday to discuss executive and legislative solutions to the persistent problem of police brutality.

At the meeting, Horsford noted that the Biden administration has been aligned with the CBC in calls for police reform. Biden supported the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would have created more federal oversight and accountability of local police departments, mandated the use of body and dashboard cameras, restricted qualified immunity that limits the ability for police to be sued for officers, prohibited the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants and raised the threshold for when it is permissible to use of deadly force. 

The bill passed the House in 2020 and 2021, but the Senate was unable to come to a deal that received the blessing of Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the chamber’s only Black Republican, and never came to the floor.

In a brief interview Tuesday, Horsford said he hoped Biden would use the presidential bully pulpit to garner the necessary support to find a bipartisan compromise.

“Just like we’ve done on the Safer Communities Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, the CHIPS and Science bill, we can get big things done around here, despite the dysfunction of some of my colleagues [on] the other side,” Horsford said. “There are times when we come together, and that generally involves the president and all of us working to put partisanship aside.”

At the meeting, Horsford praised Biden as a leader on criminal justice reform, citing executive action he has taken. In a 2022 executive order, Biden implemented many provisions of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act for federal law enforcement agents, and restricted the sale of military equipment to police departments. 

But because most police officers operate at the local or state level, and directives can be undone by a Republican president, congressional action is needed to make reforms permanent and take on challenges such as qualified immunity, Horsford said.

Scott has put the brakes on the existing reform package, saying Democrats’ prior bill was a “nonstarter.” Instead he wants to focus on increasing police funding and training. And given that he is mulling a 2024 presidential run, Scott may be less inclined to pursue a deal that could be unpopular with the Republican base. 

It leaves Horsford and the CBC in an unenviable spot – wanting to demonstrate that justice can be achieved for victims of police brutality but knowing buy-in from Republicans will be necessary. Horsford acknowledged the difficulty Thursday after the meeting. 

“This is going to require all of us, including Republicans, to get across the finish line,” he told reporters.

The Nevadan is bringing Nichols’ parents as his guests to the State of the Union, and wants Biden to use the speech to call for congressional action on police brutality.

Harris did just that at Nichols’ funeral, calling the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act “non-negotiable.” Biden, for his part, said he would commit to trying. After congratulating Horsford – and joking he was elected CBC chair so early in his career “despite the fact that I was for him” – the president said he was open to CBC suggestions.

“My hope is this dark memory spurs some action that we’ve all been fighting for,” he told Horsford and his colleagues. “We’ve got to stay at it, as long as it takes.”

Committee assignments finalized for 118th Congress 

After being hampered by a long Senate break and the protracted speaker’s fight, Nevada’s congressional delegation finally has been named to committees.

In the Senate, Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Jacky Rosen’s (D-NV) committee calendars will look fairly similar to last session. Cortez Masto will serve on the same four committees she has over the last two years – Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources (ENR); Finance; and Indian Affairs. 

Having been elected to a second term, Cortez Masto has accrued greater seniority on the committees. She will retain her chair position of the ENR’s Public Lands, Forest, and Mining subcommittee, and much of her committee work will likely turn to implementation as the Senate oversees how federal agencies are using the money appropriated through bills such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. 

At an ENR hearing this week, for example, she questioned Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk about how Nevada can take advantage of new grants being made available for lithium battery supply chains and ensuring no federal energy funds go to Chinese companies.

Rosen, meanwhile, no longer has the distinction of being the senator who sits on the most committees. She will continue to serve on Armed Services; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC), and Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Last session, she also served on the Special Committee on Aging, and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

From those perches, Rosen will participate in the homeland security committee’s upcoming look at high-level officials’ handling of classified documents, the Small Business Committee’s probe into Paycheck Protection Program fraud and the annual defense authorization negotiations that take place on the Armed Services Committee. Rosen will return as chair of the Commerce Committee’s Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion subcommittee, where she can look into the implementation of her bill to add a dedicated tourism undersecretary in the Department of Commerce.

In a statement to The Nevada Independent, Rosen said she plans to use her homeland security position to look into immigration fixes and home in on governmental waste, fraud, and abuse, while on Small Business, she hopes to improve Nevadans’ access to federal resources. And on Commerce, Rosen wants to focus on one of her favorite topics – improving broadband.

“My focus will be on championing policies to support Nevada’s tourism economy, workers, and the businesses at the heart of these key industries,” she said. “I’ll also be looking at actions that Congress can take to promote scientific and technological innovation, as well as continue to support affordable high-speed internet and better infrastructure for our state.”

The two senators have combined influence over committee work on items relevant to Nevada, including its large veteran population, the tourism industry and mining. The state lacks representation, however, on two panels that will be in the spotlight this year – Agriculture, as Congress negotiates a new Farm Bill, and Appropriations, where much of the debt ceiling fight will occur.

In the House, Nevada’s four representatives have a significant profile in economic issues. Reps. Mark Amodei (R-NV) and Susie Lee (D-NV) each have a single committee assignment — on the powerful Appropriations Committee, where annual spending bills are drafted, marked up and passed. Between Amodei and Lee, Nevada is represented on five of Appropriations’ 12 subcommittees.

Amodei will be the cardinal – or appropriations chair – for the Legislative Branch subcommittee. He said in an interview he plans to hold as many hearings as possible to review the various budgets in his purview – from the Capitol Police to the Government Accountability Office. His goal is to run an efficient but thorough budgeting process, from the big-name agencies to the small stuff, such as elevator and light bulb problems.

“I’m still excited to hear from the printer and the folks who just keep the place run[ning],” Amodei said. “I’m looking forward to that.”

Amodei acknowledged it’s a “conservative time” for the federal budgeting process while pledging to “be as careful with federal dollars as possible.” Still, he said much of the major legislative branch spending, from the Capitol Police to security for congressional leadership, especially in light of the attack on former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul, is important to maintain.

He will also serve on the Financial Services and General Government and Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies subcommittees. He plans to use his spot on the latter subcommittee to take up Nevada lands bills.

Lee, meanwhile, will serve on the Energy and Water Development and the Military Construction, Veterans’ Affairs, and Related Agencies subcommittees. She previously served with Amodei on the Interior subcommittee, but lost that spot because of committee ratios changing with Republican control of the chamber and her relative lack of seniority among Appropriations Democrats.

On Energy and Water Development, Lee said her first priority is to stand against any new attempts to fund the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. (Neither the Biden nor Trump administrations moved forward with the site.) She also plans to look at renewable energy and drought funding.

“Those are my big issues on that committee – just making sure we’re positioning Nevada, especially in light of all the money that is coming through the infrastructure bill,” Lee said in an interview.

On Military Construction, Lee said she anticipates “big fights” over the Veterans’ Health Administration. Her priorities on that subcommittee are to protect veterans’ health care benefits and conduct oversight on military investments in the South Pacific.

Rep. Steven Horsford’s (D-NV) committee assignments also have an economic bent. After losing his spot on the coveted Ways & Means Committee because Democrats lost seats on the panel, he will join the Financial Services Committee and the Armed Services Committee.

On Financial Services, he has been named to the Oversight and Investigations and the Housing and Insurance subcommittees. The Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority welcomed the appointment.

“Having a voice for these [affordable housing] programs through Congressman Horsford, with his historical advocacy for affordable housing, will help us create even more pathways to homeownership,” the housing authority’s executive director, Lewis Jordan, said in a statement.

On Armed Services, Horsford will serve on the Military Personnel and Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittees.

Finally, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), the “dean” of the delegation as its longest-serving member, has the most House committee assignments and, like Amodei, will lead a subcommittee.

Now beginning her sixth term, the seniority Titus has accrued allowed her to maintain her three committee assignments despite being in the minority party. She will continue on the Transportation and Infrastructure, Foreign Affairs, and Homeland Security committees. 

Titus will serve as the ranking member of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management subcommittee, which she chaired last session. The panel oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency and disaster preparedness and response. The subcommittee chair will be Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus.

“Investing in our infrastructure impacts not only the local economy of Nevada’s First District, but – with Las Vegas’ deep and vibrant ties to the tourism and hospitality sectors – industries across the U.S. and communities around the world,” Titus said in a statement. “As ranking member of the Economic Development Subcommittee, I look forward to advocating for District 1’s continued economic security and resiliency.”

Titus also will serve on the Aviation and Highways and Transit subcommittees. Her subcommittee assignments on Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security have not been announced.

Around the Capitol

  • Rosen was part of a small group of Senate Democrats who met with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to discuss bringing a cannabis package – including the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow banks to finance cannabis businesses without penalty – to the floor this session. Given Nevada’s sizable cannabis industry and bipartisan interest in the bill, cannabis banking is an issue Rosen could deliver on as she enters the election cycle.
  • Cortez Masto sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Agriculture calling on the Biden administration to investigate rising egg prices, including “potential unlawful price manipulation.” It’s the latest action the newly re-elected senator has taken on calling out corporations’ role in rising costs. She previously introduced the Fair and Transparent Gas Prices Act, which would authorize the FTC to investigate oil companies’ price gouging and make consumer protection recommendations.
  • Cortez Masto joined a Schumer-led news conference Thursday that criticized House Republicans for their debt ceiling agenda and detailed the potentially harmful consequences for Nevada’s Medicare and Social Security recipients, veterans, and active-duty military if the country defaults.
  • For Gun Violence Survivors’ Week, Titus has been a leader in re-introducing several Democratic gun control bills. (I’ll have more on this in a forthcoming story next week.)
  • Lee was named Democratic Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, along with Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL). “As women in Congress, there is so much more that unites us than divides us,” Lee said in a statement. “I greatly look forward to working across the aisle for the good of the American people.”

Notable and Quotable

“I urge my colleagues in the House that want to play games to think about being pragmatic — novel concept here in Congress.”

Legislative Tracker

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.Res.19 – A resolution recognizing the importance of establishing a national “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution”.

S.129 – A bill to ensure due process protections of individuals in the United States against unlawful detention based solely on a protected characteristic.

S.137 – A bill to award posthumously a Congressional Gold Medal to Fred Korematsu, in recognition of his contributions to civil rights, his loyalty and patriotism to the United States and his dedication to justice and equality.

S. 139 – A bill to combat organized crime involving the illegal acquisition of retail goods for the purpose of selling those illegally obtained goods through physical and online retail marketplaces.

S. 157 – A bill to prevent the misuse of drones and for other purposes.

S. 161 – A bill to extend the Federal Pell Grant eligibility of certain short-term programs.

S.Res.21 – A resolution supporting the observation of National Trafficking and Modern Slavery Prevention Month from Jan. 1, 2023, to Feb. 1, 2023, to raise awareness of, and opposition to, human trafficking and modern slavery.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.206 – A bill to require the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to regularly review and update policies and manuals related to inspections at ports of entry.

S.219 – A bill to provide that Members of Congress may not receive pay after Oct. 1 of any fiscal year in which Congress has not approved a concurrent resolution on the budget and passed the regular appropriations bills.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 582 – Credit Union Board Modernization Act

H.R. 617 – To amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to deem foods containing xylitol as misbranded unless the label or labeling of such foods contains a warning specifying the toxic effects of xylitol for dogs if ingested, and for other purposes.

H.R. 625 – To regulate large capacity ammunition feeding devices.

H.J.Res.25 – Removing the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

H.R. 644 – To protect borrowers of federal student loans during the transition period following the end of the COVID-19 student loan repayment pause, and for other purposes.

H.R. 660 – To amend chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, to require the safe storage of firearms, and for other purposes.

H.Res.86 – Condemning the Burmese military for perpetrating gross violations of human rights as part of its brutal campaign to suppress the democratic aspirations of the people of Burma, two years after the coup d’etat on Feb. 1, 2021.

H.R. 694 – To amend the Family and Medical Leave Act to expand employees eligible for leave and employers subject to leave requirements, and for other purposes.

H.R. 698 – To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.

H.R. 715 – To require a background check for every firearm sale.

H.R.716 – To provide for cost-of-living increases for certain federal benefits programs based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for the elderly.

H.R. 726 – To amend the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to direct the Secretary of the Interior to implement fertility controls to manage populations of wild free-roaming horses and burros, and to encourage training opportunities for military veterans to assist in range management activities, and for other purposes.

H.R. 727 – To establish a National Council on African American History and Culture within the National Endowment for the Humanities, and for other purposes.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.J.Res.25 – Removing the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

H.R. 660 – To amend chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, to require the safe storage of firearms, and for other purposes.

H.R. 698 – To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.

H.R. 715 – To require a background check for every firearm sale.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 702 – To protect consumers from price-gouging of residential rental and sale prices, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 653 – To amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to award grants to eligible entities to establish, expand, or support school-based mentoring programs to assist at-risk middle school students with the transition from middle school to high school.

H.R. 660 – To amend chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, to require the safe storage of firearms, and for other purposes.

H.R. 698 – To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.

H.R. 727 – To establish a National Council on African American History and Culture within the National Endowment for the Humanities, and for other purposes.

The Week Ahead

Biden will deliver the State of the Union on Tuesday, and committees will organize and begin holding hearings.

Behold: The new GOP culture wars

Republicans are resorting to their age-old tactic of manufactured moral outrage to distract from the fact that they have no economic agenda other than to enrich the already wealthy. It would be laughable if their culture wars didn’t have a deadly impact on people’s lives. From attacks on the right to an abortion, to the right to be transgender, to the right to study accurate history, conservative attacks on vulnerable populations have reached a fever pitch. And it’s destroying the nation.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

As if overturning Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court in 2022 wasn’t enough, 20 GOP state attorneys general are now targeting pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS for fulfilling mail orders of the abortion drug mifepristone. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a federal agency, in January expanded availability of the drug across the country. The abortion pill was relatively unknown some years ago but is now used in more than half of all abortions nationwide, likely in response to the rapidly disappearing access to surgical abortions. Now, as they go after mail-order abortion pills, Republicans are showing just how hell-bent they are on ensuring that the bodies of women (and transgender men) remain glorified baby incubators.

Republicans claim that in addition to protecting the life of a collection of fetal cells that they are determined to personify, they are working in the interests of women’s health. Missouri’s Attorney General Andrew Bailey explained his opposition to the abortion pill in a written statement, saying he was merely “protecting the health of women and their unborn children.”

However, not only are abortion pills safer than penicillin or Viagra, but going through pregnancy and childbirth is far more dangerous to women’s health than aborting a fetus. According to a New York Times report on one study of the effects of abortion restrictions on women, “Women who were denied an abortion and gave birth reported more chronic headaches or migraines, joint pain and gestational hypertension compared with those who had an abortion.” Furthermore, “They also reported more life-threatening complications like eclampsia and postpartum hemorrhage, and burdens that included higher exposure to domestic violence and increased poverty.” (It is a wonder that some of us choose to have children at all.)

The GOP’s war on transgender people has also gained steam. Just as Republicans are determined to control the bodies of people who want to terminate pregnancies, they are battling the right of transgender people to transition via surgeries, hormone supplements, or other gender-affirming medical treatments. It’s a shocking attack on people’s right to be who they want and need to be—one that targets young people in particular.

Again, the right wing uses concerns over health as cover for its attacks on human rights. For example, GOP lawmakers in Texas have introduced 35 anti-LGBTQ bills, three of which would view medical care as child abuse. But, even though the vast majority of the anti-LGBTQ bills that are introduced fail to become law, according to the Trevor Project, the debate itself is deeply traumatizing for young people. The organization found that “86% of transgender and nonbinary youth say recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health.” It has further encouraged bullying, and the risk of suicide.

Writing in the Nation, Amy Littlefield and Heron Greenesmith point out how “The right is deploying tactics against trans rights that are eerily similar to those mounted against abortion rights over the past five decades.” It’s the same Republican playbook over and over: claim that attacks on vulnerable people are in their own best interests to distract from the fact that the party has no actual plan to make people’s lives truly better.

Like the attacks on abortion and transgender rights, Republicans are also so worried about the supposed harm to students of American history that their third major battlefront is educational courses that question white supremacy and its impact. Claiming they are fighting a college-level academic approach to history called critical race theory, GOP leaders such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are busy banning books and classes at all levels of education. DeSantis’s latest assault is a ban on a new AP-level high school African American studies course that the College Board spent years devising and is set to pilot in 60 schools across the country.

The pushback by DeSantis and his allies has already yielded results. The College Board seemingly capitulated and sanitized the AP course, paring back mentions of Black feminism, queer theory, and the Black Lives Matter movement and replacing it with a new section on Black conservatism.

The move came at the same time that congressional Republicans took aim at Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), unceremoniously stripping her of membership in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy justified his ousting of Omar from the committee over her alleged antisemitism because she has criticized the state of Israel. Never mind that criticism of Israel is not equivalent to racist attacks on Jews; two of the GOP’s own representatives, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), whose antisemitism is well documented, are now poised to regain their committee seats.

In a speech on the House floor, Omar rightly pointed out that the Republican attack was about “who gets to be an American.” She called out the GOP for its earlier culture war aimed at the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, and for spreading rumors that he was a secret Muslim and not a natural born U.S. citizen.

The message that emerges from the conservative party is that those who are not either straight, white, cisgender men, or in service of white supremacist patriarchy, had better fall in line or face prohibition and the threats of violence.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are busy readying their pitchforks over the federal government’s debt, hoping to extract austerity measures in exchange for their support to raise the debt ceiling. According to the Washington Post, “the party has focused its attention on slimming down federal health care, education, science and labor programs, perhaps by billions of dollars.” And, some have “pitched a deeper examination of entitlements,” which is a euphemistic way of saying they want cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Aggressively bombarding women, transgender people, Black people, immigrants, and people of color over their bodily autonomy and their gender and racial identity is a tactic that Republicans hope will keep conservative voters loyal to the GOP and lets them off the hook on regressive economic policies. It’s a classic bait and switch—one that we ought not to fall for.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

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3 special elections in Allegheny County will determine state House majority

Three special elections being held Tuesday in Allegheny County will determine which party has the majority in the state House for the next two years.

Voters who live in the 32nd, 34th and 35th state House districts will elect new legislators. With those seats now empty, Republicans hold a slim majority in the House, with 101 seats to Democrats’ 99.

In the 32nd District, former state Rep. Tony DeLuca was posthumously reelected after dying in October. The district includes Oakmont, Penn Hills, Verona and a section of Plum.

The 34th District includes Pittsburgh’s Homewood and Wilkinsburg, Swissvale, Forest Hills, Braddock and other eastern suburbs. Swissvale Democrat Summer Lee was reelected in the district but vacated her seat after being elected to Congress.

In the 35th District, McKeesport Democrat Austin Davis also was reelected but vacated his seat to become Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor. The district includes McKeesport, Homestead, Duquesne, Clairton and other Mon Valley communities.

Democrats hold a significant voter registration advantage in all three districts.

Allegheny County Election Division Manager David Voye said he expects about 20% of registered voters to cast ballots in the special election races. By comparison, turnout was about 61% in Allegheny County’s November election.

About 19% of registered voters in the three districts had applied for mail-in ballots as of Feb. 1, and about half of those ballots already had been returned.

32nd District

DeLuca, a Democrat, served this Allegheny Valley district for nearly 40 years, so whoever succeeds him will have big shoes to fill.

The Democrats have nominated Joe McAndrew, a former executive director of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee and staffer for former House Minority Leader Frank Dermody.

McAndrew grew up in the Harmar and Cheswick area and lives in Penn Hills. He attended the same church as DeLuca and said he hopes to follow in DeLuca’s footsteps.

He told the Tribune-Review that, if elected, he would focus on bringing modern industry with well-paying jobs to the area, along with increased training so workers can gain access to them. He said senior issues and public safety are also top priorities.

Republican Clayton Walker of Verona is an Army veteran and pastor at the Mustard Seed Church. He said he believes that he can bring a new perspective to the district that he hasn’t seen before.

“Being an African American, a lot look at it as being a new opportunity for us to make additional inroads in government that we haven’t had a chance to make previously,” he said.

Walker said his top priorities are election reform, taxes and lowering crime rates.

34th District

In the heavily Democratic district that had been represented by Lee, former police Officer Robert Pagane, a Republican, has his work cut out for him.

Pagane of Wilkins said on his website that his priorities are reducing taxes, especially for seniors; building bridges between the community and police officers; and reducing crime.

Breaking from many other state Republicans, Pagane also is advocating for legalizing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania.

Democrats nominated Abigail Salisbury, who is a Swissvale councilwoman and runs her own law firm. She ran for the seat in the last year’s primary but was defeated by Lee.

Salisbury said her priorities are bringing resources back to the district, supporting entrepreneurs, investing in public education and funding infrastructure that can adapt to climate change.

35th District

Democrat Matthew Gergely is vying to replace Davis in this Mon Valley district.

He has deep ties to the district’s largest city, McKeesport. He lives there and works as the city’s chief revenue officer. He said has experience in funding local improvements and spurring small business growth without raising local taxes, according to his social media.

He said his top priorities are labor rights, easing the property tax burden by funding public schools more fairly and lowering health care costs.

Republican Don Nevills is a Navy veteran and small-business owner. He lives in Clairton and said it is time to be “tough on crime” to increase public safety, according to his Facebook page. Nevills said he also wants to focus on veterans’ issues.

He ran against Davis in the November election and lost by 22 percentage points.

How to vote

People will be able to vote in person from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the 246 polling places in the three state House districts. Only voters who are registered with addresses in one of the three districts will be able to vote.

The county sent letters to some voters who have new polling places and is asking voters to check their polling place location online if they are unsure where to go. If it is a voter’s first time at a polling place, an ID is required.

If voters have applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot, their completed ballots must be returned to the Allegheny County Elections Division by 8 p.m. Tuesday. Voters can return mail-in ballots via the postal service, but officials had encouraged voters to do so at least a week before Election Day to allow time for them to reach the office.

Voters also can return their ballots at the County Office Building at 542 Forbes Ave., Downtown, until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Officials said mail-in voters should place their mail-in ballots in the secrecy envelope and not mark the secrecy envelope in any way. That envelope should go inside the declaration envelope, which must be signed and correctly dated or the ballots will not be counted.

If voters haven’t applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot yet, they cannot vote by mail in the special elections because the application deadline has already passed.

If voters that have received mail-in ballots wish to vote in person, they should bring their mail-in ballots to their polling place and then request a provisional ballot.

County officials expect all mail-in ballots to be processed by 8 p.m. Tuesday. The vast majority of the remaining in-person ballots should be tabulated later Tuesday night. Results are likely, but not guaranteed, to be called that night.

Ryan Deto is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Ryan by email at rdeto@triblive.com or via Twitter .

Honoring GIANTS of West Michigan for Black History Month

These local Giants are some of the many examples of people making significant contributions in our communities.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Black history is being made every day as Black Americans continuously make significant contributions and impact in various fields and industries, such as politics, arts, sciences, medicine, sports, technology, and more. 

Every day, Black Americans are making an impact and leaving their mark in various ways, shaping and influencing the world for the better. Their achievements and contributions are an important part of not only Black history, but American history and for that we recognize and celebrate them. 

In 1983, Dr. Patricia Pulliam and Cedric Ward created the GIANT awards to recognize exceptional African Americans leaders and organizations who impact our West Michigan communities in a variety of areas. This year is the 40th year the Grand Rapids Community College will host the celebration, and in recognition of this,13 ON YOUR SIDE is helping to highlight the past GIANT honorees.

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Honorees have made meaningful contributions to Grand Rapids in a variety of areas, including justice, education, religion, medicine, humanities, business and labor.

The gala is planned for 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at DeVos Place’s Exhibit Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW. Individual tickets are $100, with eight-seat tables available for $1,000. Proceeds will support the Milo M. Brown Scholarship and the Junior GIANT Fund and can be purchased online

13 ON YOUR SIDE Sports Director Jamal Spencer will serve as an emcee at the event.

GIANT Award winner bios from GRCC Foundation

1983 – Helen Claytor

Helen Claytor was the first African American to serve as president of the YWCA in Grand Rapids and the first to lead an integrated chapter. She became the first African American president of the national organization in 1967.

She served on the Grand Rapids chapter of the Michigan Commission on Civil Rights and helped establish the Michigan Fair Employment Practices Commission. She also served on the Michigan Youth Commission. She was one of five Grand Rapids residents appointed to study race relations, which resulted in the city’s Human Relations Commission, now the Office of Equity and Engagement. She was a member of the National Women’s Advisory Committee to the Office of Economic Opportunity, the National Women’s Advisory Commission on Civil Rights, and the White House Conference on Children and Youth.

Claytor, who graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota, received an Honorary Doctor of Humanities from Eastern Michigan University and an Honorary Doctor of Public Service from Western Michigan University. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985. A statue of her, installed in 2014, stands on Grand Rapids Community College’s Dr. Juan R. Olivarez Student Plaza.

1983 – Paul Phillips

Paul Phillips became executive director of the Grand Rapids Urban League in 1947 and served in that position until his death in 1976. He won a position on the City Charter Revision Commission in 1951, and, in 1962, he was the first African American to win a seat on the Grand Rapids Board of Education. He became vice chairman on minority affairs for President Ford in 1975 and also served on the Michigan Mental Health Society’s board as a member and president.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, where he ran track. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology from Fisk University. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from what was then Grand Valley State College in 1972. The recreation center at the Boys & Girls Club of Grand Rapids is named for him.

1984 Donna Carter

Donna Carter has touched countless students through her work in teacher training and curriculum writing.

While a teacher and administrator in Grand Rapids Public Schools, she worked with the Michigan Reading Association. She later served as president of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Her career has taken around the nation, including to school districts in Minnesota and South Carolina, and she has worked with K-12 students, college students, children with reading disabilities, and incarcerated teens.

She is currently founder and board president of GateWay Boarding Academy, a Maryland school that serves at-risk adolescent males.

1984 – Roy Roberts

Roy Roberts started as a General Motors management trainee in 1977 and retired 25 years later as the automaker’s “$100 Billion Man.”

After graduating from high school, he worked on the assembly line of Lear Siegler Corp. while earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Western Michigan University. He later completed the Harvard Business School’s Executive Development Program and studied international business in Switzerland. He rose through GM to become group vice president for North American vehicle sales, services and marketing. His $100 billion enterprise was larger than many Fortune 500 companies.

After retiring, he was asked to serve as the emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools. During his two and a half years in that position, he reduced a $327 million deficit to $76 million and put in place strategies to ensure financial stewardship and promote efficiency.

In 2000, he launched M-Xchange.com and co-founded Reliant Equity Investors in 2001. He is now a partner in Bagley Development Group. He has received honorary doctorate degrees from Florida A&M, Northwood and Grand Valley State universities and Paine College. He received an American Success Award in 1989 and was named Black Enterprise magazine’s Executive of the Year in 1996. He received the Automotive Hall of Fame’s Distinguished Service Citation in 1998 and Michigan Chronicle’s Legacy in Motion Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.

1985 – The Rt. Rev. John M. Burgess 

Born in Grand Rapids, John M. Burgess became the first African American to preside as bishop over an Episcopal diocese in the United States.

He completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Michigan before earning his Master of Divinity from Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass., in 1934. He then returned to his home parish of St. Philip’s Episcopal, where he ministered to the working-class congregations through the Depression and World War II. He served as Howard University’s Episcopal chaplain from 1946 to 1956. In 1951, he became the first black canon at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where he spoke on human and civil rights.

He became archdeacon of missions and parishes in Boston in 1956. He was known for his efforts to revitalize urban ministry, confront racism in schools, support prison reform and improve the diocese’s efficiency. He became bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts in 1962 and bishop coadjutor in 1970.

After his retirement in 1975, he taught pastoral theology at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and Yale Divinity School. He received honorary degrees from the University of Michigan; Northeastern University; the University of Massachusetts; and Boston, Assumption, Trinity and St. Augustine’s colleges. He died in 2003.

1986 – Joseph H. McMillan

Joseph H. McMillan’s career spanned from elementary teaching to higher education administration.

He was the first male African American elementary teacher in Grand Rapids Public Schools – where he was known as “Dr. Mac” – and, later, the first African American principal. He then became one of the first African American officials at Michigan State University, serving as assistant vice president for human relations and director of equal opportunity programs. He then was named assistant provost for academic affairs and minority affairs at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. While at U of L, he served as chairman of the Black Family in America Conference for 34 years and collaborated with local organizations on the Rising 5th Graders and Street Academy programs for young African American males. He retired as Professor Emeritus in early childhood education.

In 1992, he received the Marcus Foster Distinguished Educator Award from the National Association of Black School Educators. He died in 2010.

1987 – W. Wilberforce Plummer

W. Wilberforce Plummer was generous with his skills and his time. He donated his dental services every summer to an organization in Haiti and was involved in many governmental and nonprofit panels.

After graduating from a Detroit high school, he attended West Virginia State College, where he was part of the Army’s specialized training program. He completed his training and his dental degree at Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tenn., in 1947. When he returned from active duty in Panama, he moved to Grand Rapids and joined the Air Force Reserve.

He served on the city’s Board of Housing Appeals, Community Health Services, the Kent County Council on Alcoholism and the state Public Health Advisory Council. He was also an active member of Citizens for Representative Government, American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, Opera Grand Rapids, Big Brothers, and the NAACP. He was board chairman of the United Church of Christ’s Michigan Conference and a member of the national board for Homeland Ministries. As a member of National Council for Christians for Social Action, he traveled with an interdenominational team to South Africa to learn about U.S. corporate responses to apartheid.

Plummer, who died in 2016, received the A.J. Muste Peace and Justice Award from the Institute for Global Education. The W.W. Plummer Humanitarian Award is named in his honor.

1988 – The Rev. John V. Williams

The Rev. John V. Williams was called to serve as pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in 1949. He was the sixth – and longest-serving – pastor in the church’s 88-year-old history.

During his tenure, the church moved from Finney Avenue to Caulfield Avenue SW and later into its current $1.5 million building at 130 Delaware St. SW.

He established a hot lunch program at New Hope and was active in the Progressive Voters League.

He died in 1987.

1989 – Roger Wilkins

Roger Wilkins was an attorney, civil rights activist, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and professor.

He came to Grand Rapids at age 11 to live with his mother, Helen Claytor, recipient of the first Giant Among Giants Award in 1983. After graduating from Creston High School, he earned bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Michigan.

He worked as a lawyer in Ohio before joining the United States Agency for International Development. He became a senior aide to President Kennedy and then joined President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration as director of the federal Community Relations Service and later became assistant attorney general – at the time one of the highest-ranking African Americans to ever serve in the executive branch.

After a stint with the Ford Foundation, he left government and became an editorial writer for The Washington Post, where he contributed to the newspaper’s 1973 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Watergate scandal. He joined The New York Times editorial board in 1974. Until his retirement in 2007, he was a professor of history and American culture at George Mason University. He died in 2017.

1990 – Cedric Ward

The arts and social justice were the twin passions of Cedric Ward.

His theatrical debut at the age of 13 in a Circle Theater production of “Little Foxes” was the start of four decades of directing, performing and volunteering. He and his wife, Sandy, established Circle Theater’s first children’s company, and he wrote and directed its first production, “Hansel and Gretel.” He founded the Robeson Players in the 1980s to provide theatrical opportunities to African Americans and co-founded the Grand Rapids Symphony’s “Symphony with Soul” concert.

He and Pat Pulliam, publisher of the Grand Rapids Times, created the Giants Awards, and the Junior Giants Cedric Ward Leadership Scholarship is named in his honor. The Cedric and Sandy Ward Leadership Award goes annually to a Grand Rapids Community College student.

He was honored by the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids for his leadership and received the Dr. MaLinda P. Sapp Legacy Award posthumously from the Grand Rapids Symphony.

He died in 2002.

1991 Interdenominational Alliance

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1992 – Myrna Granderson

Myrna Granderson worked hard to become a nurse and then worked even harder to share the importance of health care throughout the community.

She earned her associate degree in Nursing from Grand Rapids Junior College, juggling her studies with raising eight children. She served as health services manager at the Grand Rapids Job Corps Center and started Harambee Nurses, a group that travels to Grand Rapids schools with an interactive health presentation. She also was a member of the Yellow Light Ensemble, a group of storytellers who combine words and sound, and writes for the Grand Rapids Times.

She was named Grand Rapids Community College’s Distinguished Alumna in 1992 and received the Salute to Women Award in 2013.

1993 – The Rev. W.L. Patterson

As senior pastor, the Rev. W.L. Patterson led True Light Baptist Church and the Grand Rapids area through times of growth and turmoil.

He was called to True Light in 1954 and served there for 41 years. He led efforts to purchase the church’s current site at 900 Thomas St. SE. He was one of the first ministers to hold services over radio, served on the board of the Salvation Army’s Genesis House and was a member of the Grand Rapids chapters of the Urban League and NAACP. He formed the Ambassadors Club, which started as a Bible study class and became a community service group, and founded Kennedy Day Care Center. He ran Operation Faith, which helped those dealing with substance abuse.

He was committed to social justice issues and participated in a 1963 silent march to protest the Birmingham church bombing that killed four African American girls. Addressing the many white participants that day, he said, “You have marched with us today, but please march with us tomorrow because we need jobs and places to live right here in Grand Rapids.”

1994 – Beverly A. Drake

Beverly Ann Drake was a champion to those in need and a mentor to West Michigan community leaders.

She started her career in 1971 as an administrative aide for the city of Grand Rapids and then worked for the Grand Rapids Area Employment and Training Council. From 1985 to 2011, she served as executive director of Area Community Services Employment and Training, which creates economic opportunities for low-income, elderly, disabled, unemployed and under-employed people.

She served on boards or committees for the NAACP, Urban League, YWCA, YMCA, Project Rehab, the Dyers Ives Foundation, the Michigan Community Action Agency and Community Rebuilders. She was a founding member of the Coalition for Representative Government, and Michigan Works!, where she served on the directors council, established the Beverly A. Drake Essential Service Awards in her honor. She was a member of the Grand Rapids Community College Foundation’s board of directors for 27 years and was named the college’s Distinguished Alumna in 1995.

She passed away in 2021.

1995 – Patricia and Yergan Pulliam

Patricia Pulliam has made two careers shining a light on minority issues and concerns: first as a Grand Rapids Community College educator and later as a newspaper publisher.

She began at what was then Grand Rapids Junior College in the early 1970s as a language arts instructor and advisor to the Black Students Union. She later became chair of the Council for Minority Concerns, an advisory group to GRJC President Richard Calkins that worked to attract, support and retain minority students. The council organized conflict resolution workshops, an annual banquet for minority high school seniors and their parents, and a loan fund to help African American, Hispanic and Native American students.

After a referendum passed in 1991 that created the independent Grand Rapids Community College, she became executive vice president and vice president for instruction and administration. She capped her 30-year college career by serving as interim president in 1998 – the first woman and the first African American to lead GRCC. She received an inaugural Salute to Women Award in 1999.

Working with Cedric Ward, she created the Giants Awards in 1983, which honors exceptional service and achievements by African Americans.

Patricia and Yergan Pulliam purchased The Grand Rapids Times in 1986. Founded in 1957, it is the oldest existing weekly publication targeting the black community in Grand Rapids. Patricia Pulliam is active as both publisher and editor.

1996 – Benjamin H. Logan II

Benjamin H. Logan II was first elected as 61st District Court judge in 1988, after serving 16 years as a defense attorney. Not only did he speak out on issues important to African Americans, he encouraged people to run for public office and acted as a mentor to many in Grand Rapids’ legal community.

He volunteered with the Grand Rapids Bar Association and founded the local chapter of the Floyd Skinner Bar Association, which supports African American lawyers. He is credited with reinvigorating the local NAACP chapter. He was active in the National Bar Association and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2013.

He retired from the bench in 2014 and died in 2018.

1997 – Paul Collins

Paul Collins realized at a young age that he was an artist. Since then, he has used his talent to explore his ancestry, share cultures from around the world and support organizations that help the overlooked.

In 1969, he traveled to West Africa, where he spent two years painting a series focused on Senegalese and Gambians. These critically acclaimed paintings were exhibited around the world, and many were featured in the 1972 film “Save the Children.” In 1972, he was invited to live at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to paint. His work as a liaison between the Sioux and the U.S. government led to him being made a full brother in the tribe.

His art has shined a spotlight on special causes. He created a commemorative poster in honor of the opening of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. His series of paintings focused on the Special Olympics is permanently exhibited at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. He was commissioned by Coretta Scott King to create the center’s highest honor, the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize Medal and also created the Challenger 7 space shuttle logo commemorating the first U.S. woman in space.

He has been a member of executive boards for the Kennedy Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. Locally, he served as president of the Greater Grand Rapids Fund, raising more than $350,000 from corporations to create a summer jobs program for teens. He joined President Ford and state Sen. Glenn Steil to raise funding to restore the Seidman Youth Center.

1998 – Bishop William Abney

Bishop William Abney shepherded Bethel Pentecostal Church through decades of growth while working to provide education and housing options.

He was elected pastor of Bethel in 1961, when the church was on Eastern Avenue. In just five years, the congregation outgrew the site and moved to Madison Avenue. After two decades of growth and expansions, Bethel Pentecostal Church became Bethel Pentecostal Church Abundant Life Center and constructed new facilities on Lake Drive SE.

In 1997, he established and served as president of William C. Abney Academy on Fulton Street. A charter school authorized by Grand Valley State University, it initially served kindergarten through eighth grade before the middle school closed in 2017. A renowned gospel singer, he also was president of Vision Corp., which worked to address inner-city housing needs.

He retired from Bethel in 2006 and passed away in 2007.

1999- Stephen R. Drew

Stephen R. Drew is a founding partner in the law firm of Drew, Cooper & Anding, practicing in civil rights, personal injury, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, police misconduct and employment law cases. His office represented 122 of the 132 plaintiffs who sued Dr. Larry Nassar, Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.

He has served as president of the Grand Rapids Bar Association and Floyd Skinner Bar Association and on the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association’s executive board.

He is a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers and the American Bar Association’s College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. He received the Champion of Justice Award by the Michigan Bar Association and has been listed in its Register of Preeminent Lawyers since 1997. He and his wife, Clarice Smith Drew, were awarded the Hazel R. Lewis Presidential Award by the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP in 2019.

2000 – Faite Mack Sr.

Faite Mack Sr. broke through barriers while building a legacy at Grand Valley State University.

He was a founding faculty member of GVSU’s College of Education and was the first African American promoted to the full rank of professor. He published three books and created a commercial school readiness test for children, while serving as a consultant to many school districts and educational agencies.

A trip to Thailand as a keynote speaker for the U.S. Department of Education was life-changing for him. Shocked at the poverty and constant danger of child trafficking to orphaned and abandoned kids, he became president of the Education for Humanity International Foundation, which provides uniforms, shoes and medical assistance so they can stay in school.

He retired from his 40-year teaching career in 2017 and was named Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Learning in 2018. GVSU’s Dr. Faite Mack and Dr. Thomas Jackson African American Teacher Education Scholarship is named for him.

2001 – The Rev. Charlie Jones

The Rev. Charlie Jones turned a family tragedy into a community-wide example of grace and forgiveness.

He first came to Grand Rapids in 1951 and worked as an auto body reconditioner. He worked as director of Gospel Temple Missionary Baptist Church’s choir before beginning his 36-year preaching career at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in 1976.

In 2000, his brother Willie Jones, 66, was abducted from a bowling alley, beaten and fatally stabbed. He not only forgave the four teenagers found responsible but ministered to their families. It was only after his death in 2015 that his family learned about some of the ways he had helped others – paying rents, providing bail, reaching out to victims of violence, and visiting the incarcerated.

2002 – Nina Lewis-Sleet

Nina Lewis-Sleet, the first African American appointed to the Grand Rapids Board of Education, once walked out of a 1970 meeting after telling her colleagues that they were ignoring issues facing needy and minority children.

Education and community were her twin passions. She worked as a secretary at Henry Park School and as a mentor and counselor for 30 years with Grand Rapids Community College. She coordinated the Giants Awards for about 20 years.

Her nephew, Christopher Paul Curtis, mentions her, her two children and her father in his 1999 Newbery Medal winning novel Bud, Not Buddy.

2003 – The Rev. Lyman S. Parks

The Rev. Lyman S. Parks, pastor of First Community AME Church, achieved a series of “firsts” for Grand Rapids.

In 1968, he was the first African American elected to the City Commission, representing the Third Ward. In 1971, his fellow commissioners chose him to fill the vacant position of mayor; he was the first African American appointed to the job. In 1973, he defeated 10 other candidates to become the first African American elected mayor of Grand Rapids. He is credited with helping the city through great social change and racial tensions. One of his major achievements while in office was leading the renovation and revitalization of downtown.

A statue of him outside City Hall was dedicated in 2013, and the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ administration building is named for him.

2004 – Dr. Edward A. Jones

Dr. Edward A. Jones started his medical practice in Grand Rapids in 1959. He was a doctor in Grand Rapids for 45 years, serving on the staff of St. Mary’s, Blodgett and Butterworth hospitals.

He co-founded Freedom Homes and served on the boards of Clark Retirement Home, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Opera Grand Rapids. He was a member of the Urban League, NAACP, the Kent County Medical Society and the American College of Physicians.

2005 – Ella Mary Sims

Community activist Ella Mary Sims advocated for education, housing and resources to help the less fortunate.

When her 10 children were young adults, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Aquinas College, where she became the director of minority student affairs. She worked with the NAACP and the Michigan League of Human Services and was the first woman of color to write a column for The Grand Rapids Press.

In the 1950s, she fought for federal funding for public housing, leading to the construction of Campau Commons. She helped establish the YWCA’s Women’s Resource Center in 1973. As a member of the Salvation Army’s advisory board, she helped plan and raise funds for the Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center.

She received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Aquinas in 2001. She died in 2013.

2006 – Leona Spencer

Following her father’s death, Leona Spencer and her family struggled with poverty. She knew she wanted to become a social worker so she could help others in that situation.

She did that in her role as the Kent County Department of Social Services’ supervisor for volunteer services. Her efforts continued even after her retirement in the mid-1980s. She helped found the Sarah Allen Family Neighborhood Center, which housed mentoring, shoe and boot, and food pantry programs. She also was president emeritus of Grand Rapids’ Concerned Citizens Council.

She was named Grand Valley State University’s Distinguished Alumna in 1987 and received the Governor’s Service Award. She died in 2013.

2007 – Elias Lumpkins Jr. 

Elias Lumpkins Jr. served others as an educator and a city official.

He earned degrees from Grand Rapids Junior College and Michigan State and Wayne State universities and went into teaching, working at Henry and Campau elementary schools. He then became principal of South Middle School and then shifted his focus to higher education. He worked at what was then Calvin College before becoming GRJC’s director of special services in 1978. He subsequently became the college’s director of financial aid and then dean of student services. During his time at GRJC, he worked with Cedric Ward to develop a diversity program that eventually became the Woodrick Institute for the Study of Racism and Diversity. A former member of the GRCC Foundation board, he was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 1977 and received the college’s Excellence in Education Award in 2001.

He first joined the City Commission in 2006, when he was appointed to the vacant 3rd Ward seat. He was then elected to the seat, eventually retiring in 2015. He was credited with successfully mediating a dispute between Meijer Inc. and residents that led to a new store being built at 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue. Mayor George Heartwell gave him a Champion of Diversity Award in 2013, and he received the Helen Jackson Claytor Civil Rights Award in 2018.

2008 – Don Williams Sr. 

Don Williams Sr. has focused his career and his retirement on helping the next generations.

He joined Grand Valley State University in 1985 as director of the Minority Business Education Center and was appointed dean of minority affairs four years later. He established several programs to address the needs of minority students majoring in business, science, mathematics and education. His office also sponsored the King-Chavez-Parks College Day for area students in sixth through 12th grades and Start Now!, a college preparatory program for Holland students.

He retired in 2001 so he could spend more time working with the Concerned Citizens Council, a coalition of civic, religious, legal and professional organizations trying to build a Grand Rapids youth center. He has been a member of the Grand Rapids Rotary Club, the Economic Club of Greater Grand Rapids, the Minority Affairs Council for Michigan Universities, the West Michigan Coalition for African American Men, and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

GVSU’s Don Williams Sr. Dean Emeritus Multicultural Business Education Scholarship is named in his honor.

2009 – Nolan Groce

Nolan Groce’s keen business mind brought him success as the president of L&G Industrial Products, a supplier of office furniture components. He also used it to help his community.

He and his wife, Julia, funded the College Kids, a four-week summer camp that allowed elementary school students to explore higher education. He also mentored teens through the Kent County Youth Companion Program. He led a capital campaign that raised $200,000 for renovations to his church, First Community AME. He also helped the church work through federal regulations so Allen Manor apartment complex could be built for low-income seniors.

He died in 2012. Cornerstone University’s Nolan Groce Business Leadership Award is named in his honor.

2010 – Mary A. Edmond

While Mary A. Edmond has retired from the Grand Rapids Public Schools, she hasn’t stopped teaching. Her classroom has just gotten bigger, encompassing almost everyone she meets.

She worked for years as GRPS’ director of multicultural education and gender equity. Her current passion is black history, especially West Michigan’s Underground Railroad sites. She was key to efforts to get historical recognition for Civil War veteran Isaac Bailey, a former slave who is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery. The National Park Service has recognized Bailey to its National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.

She was president of the Michigan Freedom Trail Commission, which successfully lobbied for a law that preserves buildings or places monuments at significant Underground Railroad sites.

She also has been active in the Michigan Black History Network and the Grand Rapids Sister City International committee.

2011 – Reuben Smartt

Known as the “Traveling Disciple,” Reuben Smartt had enough experiences to last a dozen lifetimes.

He was a World War II veteran, one of the first African Americans to serve in the Marines. He and the other men in the Montford Point Marines later received the Congressional Gold Medal.

A talented athlete, he came to Grand Rapids to play shortstop with the Black Sox, a Grand Rapids-based Negro League team. He got as far as the Cleveland Indians’ Triple-A team.

He then chose to pursue teaching, earning a master’s degree from Michigan State University. He was a teacher and principal at South Middle School for almost three decades. He also mentored youth through the Upward Bound and Running Start programs he directed and coached an inner-city baseball team.

He died in 2017.

2012 – Dr. Marvin L. Sapp

Dr. Marvin L. Sapp has shared the word of God in sermon and in song.

He started singing in church at the age of 4 and has never stopped. He started recording with the group Commissioned and transitioned to a solo career in 1996. “Thirsty,” released in 2007, is his best-selling album, with more than a million copies sold. With the release of “Here I Am” in 2010, he became the all-time highest charting gospel artist in Billboard’s history. He was named BET’s Best Gospel Artist in 2008 and 2010 and won a GMA Dove Award in 2011 for Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song of the Year (“The Best in Me”).

He was senior pastor of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, which he and his late wife, MaLinda, founded. He now serves as senior pastor of The Chosen Vessel in Fort Worth, Texas. He has an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Aenon Bible College and an honorary Doctor of Ministry from Friends International Christian University.

2013 – Ingrid Scott-Weekly

Working for the city of Grand Rapids, Ingrid Scott-Weekly made lasting changes to how it does business.

She moved to the city after obtaining her law degree from the University of California to work for Legal Aid of West Michigan. She then worked in administration for Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids Junior College and Grand Valley State University.

In 1989, she became the city’s equal opportunity director. Under her leadership, equal business opportunity policies for construction and purchasing were approved and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes were established. She considered bringing a Rosa Parks statue to downtown as one of her most memorable achievements.

She retired as the city’s managing director of Administrative Services in 2012. She died in 2015.

2014 – Jeffery J. Kimbrel

In 2020, a fire destroyed the business that Jeffery J. Kimbrel had spent almost four decades building as well as the social club he started in 2002.

But that catastrophe didn’t keep him from doing what he has strived to do every day: help others. Weeks after the fire, he and friends were organizing Easter cards and treats for Clark Retirement Community residents.

Shortly after arriving in Grand Rapids, the Detroit native was laid off from his job. An opportunity to make money painting a friend’s rental properties led him to start Painting by Jeff in 1984. Community service has always been part of his business plan, and he has organized and volunteered at street fairs, holiday events, after-school tutoring, and school supply and food basket giveaways. Many of his fellow volunteers come from The Sophisticated Gentlemen Club – later renamed The Sophisticated Gentlemen Club and Ladies Auxiliary.

Since the fire, the club has used a relatively undamaged part of the Eastern Avenue building, but that’s about to change. In August, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission approved a permit that will allow the club to relocate to another building on the property, which should soon mean its business – and community service – as usual, for the group and Jeffery Kimbrel.

2015 – The Rev. Dr. Clifton Rhodes Jr. 

The Rev. Dr. Clifton Rhodes Jr. spent 45 of his 55 years in ministry at one place: Messiah Missionary Baptist Church, Grand Rapids’ oldest African American Baptist church.

Under his leadership, Messiah Missionary increased its outreach to the underserved in the area. Church members organized health fairs and screenings, neighborhood improvement programs, job training and resume workshops, a food pantry, counseling services, mentoring and scholarship programs, and school supply and holiday toy collections. The Rev. Dr. Rhodes is credited for his advocacy for African American children in schools and his partnership with police to combat street violence.

He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2013 and had to step down from his ministry in 2017. He died in 2018.

2016 — Teresa Weatherall Neal

A product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, Teresa Weatherall Neal rose to lead – and transform – the district.

Her employment with GRPS started as a student worker. She then worked as an administrative assistant, coordinator of compliance and assistant superintendent before becoming superintendent in 2012. Her GRPS Transformation Plan is credited with increasing the district’s graduation rates and reducing absenteeism. She also implemented professional development focused on equity and inclusion, school choices, and building-community partnerships. Under her leadership, enrollment increased for the first time in 20 years.

Since retiring in 2019, she has served as chair of the Grand Rapids Promise Zone Authority, which allows eligible high school seniors to attend Grand Rapids Community College for free.

She was named GRCC’s Distinguished Alumna in 2019. In 2022, she received the Edward J. Frey Distinguished Achievement Award from Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes and the Equity Champion Award from the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute.

2017 – Larry Johnson

Larry Johnson started his career making streets safer. Now he does the same for schools.

He served in the police departments of Benton Harbor, Lansing and Grand Rapids, receiving a Meritorious Service Award from the GRPD.

He joined Grand Rapids Public Schools in 1997 as executive director of public safety and school security. Now assistant to the superintendent and executive director of public safety, he oversees 15 special police officers and 25 security officers. He is also in charge of the district’s management information systems and oversees risk management, Freedom of Information Act requests, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act compliance and other internal investigations.

2018 – Ellen James

Ellen James has advocated for the marginalized and for increasing educational opportunities through many roles with many organizations.

Her public service includes 30 years with Grand Rapids’ Equal Opportunity Department and 25 years as a founding member of Grand Rapids Community College’s board of trustees. She is also a founding member of the Coalition for Representative Government, which has helped add diversity to the city, school board and judicial positions. She is also involved with Kent County Black Elected Officials, Grand Rapids Police Department advisory committees, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation African American Heritage Club and the NAACP. She serves on the GRCC Foundation’s board, and the Ellen M. James Trailblazer Scholarship is named in her honor.

Grand Rapids Magazine selected her as one of its “Top 10 Leaders With a Mission,” and she was the first recipient of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives’ Nelson Mandela Presidential Award. She also has received the Michigan Women’s Foundation Women of Courage and the YWCA Tribute to Women Advocacy awards.

2019 – Michael B. Johnson Sr. 

Michael B. Johnson Sr. helped countless families through difficult times, through his mortuaries and through his community service.

He became the owner of Brown’s Funeral Home, Grand Rapids’ oldest African American-owned funeral parlor, in 1985. In 2008, he purchased Toombs Funeral Home in Muskegon Heights. He and his businesses contributed to many children’s activities and regularly sponsored the Feeding America food trucks. He was instrumental in the creation of the Milo M. Brown Scholarship.

Among his many accolades are the Athena Award, Wayne State University’s Richard M. Kelly Memorial Award, the Network Magazine Achiever Award, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance Business Achievement Award and the Chamber of Commerce Achievement Award.

He retired from business in 2018 and died in 2020.

2020 – The Rev. Nathaniel Moody

The Rev. Nathaniel Moody works to lift up Grand Rapids through his ministry and his civic service.

The pastor at Brown-Hutcherson Ministries, he was a member of the Grand Rapids Board of Education from 2013 to 2017 and has represented the 3rd Ward on the City Commission since 2018. He has also served on the Grand Rapids Police Department’s advisory committee, the Children’s Advocacy Council, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the Grand Rapids Area Association of Pastors and the Grand Rapids Community College Foundation’s board of directors.

He has received the Celebration of Soul Marvin and MaLinda Sapp Legacy Award, Bethany Christian Services’ Leadership Award, the United Methodist Community Achievement Award, and the Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award from the Boy Scouts of America.

2021 – No Award 

2022 – Bishop Dennis J. McMurray

When other churches said “no,” Bishop Dennis J. McMurray said “yes.”

The family of Patrick Lyoya, who was fatally shot during a traffic stop in April, was running into obstacles finding a funeral location because of the political turmoil and national attention surrounding his death. Bishop McMurray presided over the service at Renaissance Church of God in Christ because a family was hurting and needed comfort.

He was Renaissance’s founder and senior pastor for 30 years and served on the boards of many organizations, including Spectrum Health, Bethany Christian Services, Kent County Community Mental Health, the Michigan Community Corrections Board and the Michigan Clergy Task Force.

Grand Valley State University’s Seidman School of Business named him Alumni of the Year in 2007. He and his wife, Dr. E. Jean McMurray, established scholarships at GVSU and Grand Rapids Community and Muskegon Community colleges.

He died almost a month after receiving the Giant Among Giants Award.

Black-Focused Organizations To Support During Black History Month And Beyond

Mid adult woman leading a demonstration using a megaphone
Photo: Getty Images

While impactful organizations like Black Lives Matter and the NAACP have become household name organizations, there are hundreds of other Black-focused groups fighting for equality, justice, mental health access, voting rights, criminal justice, history preservation, education, providing career opportunities, and more. Below are ten empowering organizations to support during Black History Month and beyond.

Keep scrolling to check them out!

Black Women For Wellness

This organization aims to address disparities in health services for Black women and girls in multiple ways. This includes bolstering affordable health care, providing health education, finding culturally-sensitive providers and counselors, aggregating research on Black women’s health, and more. Black Women For Wellness also has a slew of informational media available on their website.

Center For Black Equity

The Center for Black Equity focuses on leveling the playing field for Black LGBTQ+ people in three key areas: social, economic, and health. They host several pride events across the country, as well as provide resources on personal and economic growth, testing for malicious diseases, and more. They also host a leadership program meant to shape emerging leaders and advance their careers.

Grassroots Law Project

Activists for this organization want to stop the horrible impacts of police violence and mass incarceration. To do so, they believe in dismantling core issues at the heart of these concerns, which includes greed, corruption, white supremacy, and bigotry. Grassroots Law Project constantly keeps people up-to-date on the latest injustices, how to support those affected, and calls to action.

Congressional Black Caucus

Established in 1971, the Congressional Black Caucus has a long history of empowering Black and marginalized people in politics. The focus of missions encompasses many areas, including voter suppression, criminal justice reform, access to education, and more. Dozens of Black congressmen are involved with the CBC, including Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).

Color of Change

Color of Change is an up-and-coming organization when it comes to activism. Organizers pressure decision-makers in government and corporations to stop enabling actions that disenfranchise Black people. This includes demanding major retailers stop selling toxic products marketed to Black people, to fighting against police brutality tragedies when they happen. As their website states, “We design campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back and champion solutions that move us all forward. Until justice is real.”

The DuSable Black History Museum & Education Center

This Chicago museum has over 15,000 pieces meant to educate, preserve and disseminate the rich history of Black Americans. According to its website, it’s known as the nation’s oldest independent Black American museum. They’re also affiliated with the Smithsonian, which has the National Museum of African American History and Culture under its banner.

National Society Of Black Engineers

Considered one of the largest student-governed organizations in the country, the National Society of Black Engineers aims “to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community.” The society caters to both K-12 and college students while offering programs meant to inspire and empower future professionals.

Black Male Voter Project

The main objective of this organization is to get more Black men to the polls. The Black Male Voter Project operates in 17 states and deploys “innovative” campaigns to get this demographic voting more. They also aim to reverse the effects of historical disenfranchisement through tactical voter drives.

Black Girls Code

Black Girls Code wants to get more girls and women of color into the tech field. Founded by electrical engineer Kimberly Bryant with her daughter in mind, this nonprofit teaches computer programming while also closing “the opportunity gap for Black women and girls.” Their program areas include web design, game design, mobile and app design, and robotics. 

Black Artists + Designers Guild

Creating an inclusive space for Black creatives is the goal of the Black Artists and Designers Guild. They also provide a network for artists and designers while cultivating leaders and opportunities. One of their initiatives is the Creative Visionary Grant, which provides $10,000 to three people “to be used towards research, production, or other elements of their project.”

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President Joe Biden Proclaims February 2023 as National Black History Month

white house graphic

February 3, 2023 – President Joe Biden’s Proclamation on National Black History Month, 2023.

During National Black History Month, we celebrate the legacy of Black Americans whose power to lead, to overcome, and to expand the meaning and practice of American democracy has helped our Nation become a more fair and just society.  This country was established upon the profound but simple idea that all people are created equal and should be treated equally throughout their lives. 

     It is an idea America has never fully lived up to, but it is an idea we have never fully walked away from either.  The struggles and challenges of the Black American story to make a way out of no way have been the crucible where our resolve to fulfill this vision has most often been tested.  Black Americans’ struggles for freedom, equal treatment, and the right to vote; for equal opportunities in education, housing, and the workplace; for economic opportunity, equal justice, and political representation; and so much more have reformed our democracy far beyond its founding.  Black Americans have made a way not only for themselves but also have helped build a highway for millions of women, immigrants, other historically marginalized communities, and all Americans to more fully experience the benefits of our society.

     From the start, the Biden-Harris Administration has been committed to using the power of the Federal Government to address the long-standing disparities that have hampered the progress of Black communities.  On day one of my Presidency, I issued an Executive Order to advance equity and racial justice in every policy we pursue.  I began by appointing the most diverse Cabinet in American history.  I have continued to nominate a historic number of Black judges to the Federal bench — including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

     During the height of the COVID-19 crisis, my Administration provided relief to hardworking families, which cut the rate of poverty in Black American communities by nearly a third and cut the rate of poverty among Black children by more than half.  My health care policies have dramatically increased health care access and reduced costs for Black American families and capped insulin bills for seniors at $35 per month per prescription.

     We are also working to address centuries of neglected infrastructure in Black American communities.  My Administration is leading the replacement of lead pipes embedded in cities across America so that every child can safely turn on the faucet and drink clean water.  We are expanding public transit and providing high-speed Internet to every neighborhood in the country so parents can get to work and children can do their homework in the comfort of their own homes. 

     We are using every avenue to confront racial discrimination in housing and in mortgage lending and to help build generational wealth in Black communities.  We are working to ensure that any housing agency that receives Federal funds will reach beyond the simple promise not to discriminate and will instead take meaningful, affirmative steps to overcome historic patterns of segregation, giving every person a fair chance to live where they choose.  We are addressing the negative impacts of redlining and other forms of financial discrimination.  And we are working to end a discriminatory system of appraisals that assigns lesser values to Black-owned family homes than to similar homes owned by white families. 

     Additionally, we have invested nearly $6 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  We have also taken historic action to ease the burden of crippling student debt — action which benefits so many Black students and families.  I am proud to have permanently authorized the Minority Business Development Agency and to have given it expanded authority to help grow Black-owned businesses.  I have set a goal to increase the share of Federal contracting dollars going to small disadvantaged businesses by 50 percent by 2025, which will bring up to an additional $100 billion in capital to these businesses.

     In May 2022, I signed an Executive Order promoting effective, accountable, and transparent community policing — delivering the most significant police reform in decades.  Among other important measures that increase transparency and accountability, it raises policing standards by banning choke holds, restricting no knock warrants, and requiring body-worn cameras on patrols and during searches and arrests.  It creates a new national law enforcement database to track records of misconduct, and it aims to safely reduce incarceration, support rehabilitation and reentry, and address racial disparities in our criminal justice system.  Additionally, I signed three new hate crime bills, including the Emmett Till Antilynching Act which finally made lynching a Federal crime.

     Equal access to the ballot box is the beating heart of our democracy.  Without it, nothing is possible; with it, anything is.  I restored the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, appointing top attorneys to oversee enforcement of civil rights laws, and the Department has doubled the voting rights enforcement staff.  Every agency of my Administration has been ordered to expand access to voter registration and election information.  These are all important steps, but I will continue to push the Congress to repair the damage to voting rights in this country by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement and Freedom to Vote Acts, to ensure every American has a voice in the democratic process.

     This year, on what would have been Dr. King’s 94th birthday, I was honored to be the first sitting President to deliver a sermon at Sunday service at his cherished Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.  The life of Dr. King demonstrates that democracy is an enduring covenant that must be persistently renewed; nothing about it is guaranteed.  During National Black History Month, we honor and continue the work of Black Americans who have created a more fair and inclusive democracy, helping our Nation move closer to the realization of its full promise for everyone. 

     NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 2023 as National Black History Month.  I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with relevant programs, ceremonies, and activities.

     IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
thirty-first day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-seventh.

                               JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.
Source: Office of the White House

LaMar Holliday: Embrace the trials, triumphs of Black History Month

Black History Month’s annual African American history and culture celebration is a source of inspiration as it celebrates our unique history and accomplishments from the past. The importance of Black History Month in today’s time is significant, as it is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the past and bring awareness to the present circumstances of Blacks in the United States.

Today, we still bear witness to many historic firsts in our community. But in the background are the continued daily struggles of institutional discrimination, economic barriers and more. These struggles represent an ongoing battle for Black Americans to achieve equal rights and opportunities in the current landscape.

Racial discrimination has been something Black people have experienced since the dawn of this country. Still, laws and specific practices, such as the Jim Crow laws and redlining, have made it even more difficult for African Americans to succeed. These laws and practices have allowed institutions, such as banks and mortgage companies, to refuse services to Black people due to their color, thus forcing them into the severest form of poverty. Sadly, these practices are still happening today, with some banks and mortgage companies denying Black families access to wealth. These efforts continue to have a detrimental effect on communities of color as these practices have created an even wider income gap.

Other struggles Black Americans face include higher poverty rates, a lack of access to quality education, targeted discriminatory practices in the housing and job markets, unequal access to health care, higher rates of violence and more. Additionally, Black Americans often experience racial bias in the criminal justice system and a lack of political representation.

Brookings, a not-for-profit public policy organization that conducts in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society, produced an article called “The demographics of racial inequality in the United States” in July 2020 that underscores our struggles. Highlights include:

 One in two Black adults with a college degree or more has had a family member in jail or prison.

 One in three Black families has zero or negative wealth.

 One in five Black borrowers is turned down for a conventional loan.

 One in 7.5 Black adults has overdrafted a bank account in the past three months.

 One in nine Black Americans ages 0 to 64 is uninsured.

During Black History Month, we recognize past and present figures—such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Kamala Harris and many more—for their contributions to the Black community and the American landscape. We recognize these historical figures because they were or are on the front lines of building the foundation and breaking glass ceilings for our people. But this month, we must not forget everyday Black people on the front lines of their communities and families, creating opportunities to end generational curses of inequalities.

During Black History Month, attend a diversity event or devote time to researching Black contributions to history. In doing so, people can become more aware of Black Americans’ accomplishments, history and struggles; deepen their understanding of our lives; and bring transformative change to the community.

Use your authority and sphere of influence to provide those growth opportunities to the Black community. To break the inequities our people have dealt with for generations, we must have access. This effort will set the path of breaking inequities for our children and grandchildren.

So this Black History Month, let’s do something different. Learn about our culture. Be a change agent. Take steps to advance our causes. But we must do this every month of the year, not just February. It will be the first of many steps to truly live up to the allegiance of one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.•

__________

Holliday is CEO of The Holliday Collaborative Agency and president of the Kennedy-King Neighborhood Association.

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Jaquarius Raglin helps students find their path

Jaquarius Raglin is a natural role model.

With seven younger siblings, he’s used to people looking up to him—both literally and figuratively—and he takes that responsibility seriously.

“It’s about inspiring youth and being a positive and humble influence on the next generation so they see that they can be leaders and changemakers,” he said.

His work to mentor and help others was recognized recently with the President’s Fulfilling the Dream Award. Presented at the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Breakfast, the award recognizes students, faculty, staff and community members who exemplify the words and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Raglin graduated from UGA with a bachelor’s degree in health promotion in May 2022 and is finishing his master’s in the study of law. While working on that degree, he’s also working as graduate assistant for retention and diversity initiatives in the Graduate School. Specifically, he works with the Facilitating Underrepresented Student Experiences (FUSE) program and creates monthly academic and social programs to help students from HBCUs transferring to UGA for their graduate studies. He also holds one-on-one sessions with fellow graduate students. His goal is to ensure their success and well-being while they’re at the university.

“We want to be there for those students to help and facilitate their transition to UGA and be a support as much as we can,” he said. “One thing I’m trying to bring to the Graduate School in my position is to be a bridge between resources from undergraduate studies to graduate studies.”

Jaquarius Raglin is finishing his master’s in the study of law and works as graduate assistant for retention and diversity initiatives in the Graduate School. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Raglin’s work in diversity and inclusion efforts began as an undergraduate student. He immediately became involved with the Georgia African American Male Experience (GAAME) program, serving as an ambassador and serving as an intern for the program in the Office of Institutional Diversity.

Raglin also became involved in the Georgia Daze program, chairing a committee. He was one of two individuals who helped start the program’s postcard handwriting initiative where members handwrite postcards to admitted minority students. The year it began, they wrote and mailed out approximately 1,200 postcards.

“When students come to UGA for graduate school, it’s important to build that affinity for the university. I love to bring my perspective of my time at UGA as an undergraduate to graduate students. I had a great time at UGA,” he said.

In addition, Raglin was an orientation leader and held several positions with the Student Alumni Council, including vice president of alumni engagement and Senior Signature co-chair. He was also a peer educator in the Division of Academic Enhancement and continues to be part of the UGA Mentor Program. Additionally, he was initiated into the Zeta Pi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated in spring 2021.

That desire to serve others, he said, comes from his upbringing—he was just as active in his community before coming to Athens.

“I saw how everyone can come together to help each other,” he said. “That’s how I was raised. I was active in my community back home, and there was no choice that I was going to get involved in the Athens community.”

Some of the most impactful work he’s been part of during his time at UGA is with the Community Health Law Partnership Clinic because it focuses on all dimensions of wellness. In fact, Raglin decided on his master’s program so that he can use his legal knowledge to aid in public health goals. After he graduates, he hopes to work in a public health or analyst role for health care consulting or a government position, perhaps even running for Senate one day.

“I’m looking for some way to help people. That’s been my life’s mantra,” he said.

Raglin said the way everyone can help move King’s dream forward is by inspiring the next generation.

“I’m really big on being an inspiration. I think that comes from me being a big brother of seven,” he said. “I have a picture of some of them nearby that reminds me that I do have people who look up to me, who are coming after me, that I want to be a good role model for.”

And according to Raglin, a good role model has to show humility.

“I’m not perfect. I have struggles as well. It’s OK to fail sometimes but don’t let the failure keep you down,” he said.

For Raglin, the President’s Fulfilling the Dream Award is the culmination of his work from before he came to the university, then through Graduate School and beyond.

“I knew I was doing something right and my work wasn’t going in vain. It’s going to help somebody,” he said.

Massachusetts lawmakers walk back proposal to reduce prisoners’ sentences in exchange for donating their organs

(OSV News) — Massachusetts lawmakers walked back Feb. 2 a proposal to reduce sentence time for incarcerated individuals who donate their organs or bone marrow.

Human rights and Catholic advocates raised ethical concerns about the proposal ranging from the informed consent of prisoners to the commodification of human organs.

As originally introduced, the bill, HD.3822, would have reduced the prison sentences of incarcerated individuals from 60 days up to a year, “on the condition that the incarcerated individual has donated bone marrow or organ(s).”

The bill was sponsored by Massachusetts State Reps. Carlos González and Judith García, who argued that the proposal would help make more donor organs available. It would restore “bodily autonomy to incarcerated folks by allowing them to donate organs (and) bone marrow,” and “recognize incarcerated donors’ decisions” with reduced time, per a tweet from García.

But Catholic and other human rights advocates criticized the proposal, noting that U.S. law prohibits organ donation for “valuable consideration.”

Jozef Zalot, a staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told OSV News that offering an incentive for organ donation could “really cloud the question of is someone truly free to donate organs.”

“The key is you’re doing good — and that should be the motivation,” Zalot said. “The motivation shouldn’t be something else; it should be ‘what can I do for the good of another human being?'”

After a series of concerns were raised over the bill including the exploitation of prisoners, the lawmakers walked back their proposal, describing the bill as the first step to a bigger discussion.

In a statement emailed to OSV News, García said, “We filed this legislation in response to those who expressed frustration with the scarcity of information on donating an organ or bone marrow to a loved one while incarcerated. The core goal of this legislation is to establish a clear process and protocol for people in that position.

García said that disproportionate incarceration rates for “Black and Brown communities,” and “discriminatory incarceration rates eliminate many likely donor matches from the pool.”

“This reality is felt viscerally: African Americans spend an average of 1,335 days on the kidney transplant waitlist compared to an average of 734 days for whites,” García said. “High incarceration rates mean depriving non-incarcerated family members of lifesaving treatment and depriving incarcerated individuals of the opportunity to save a loved one’s life.”

García said that “addressing this inequity was always the goal of this legislation, and filing the bill is only the start of a much-needed conversation.”

“We’re grateful for all the input we’ve received which has shed light on ways to improve it — like removing the reduced sentencing provisions to prevent perverse incentives,” García said. “We look forward to working with constituents, activists and stakeholders to continue this conversation.”

González did not immediately reply to a request for comment from OSV News.

Jesuit Father Andrea Vicini, a theologian and medical doctor who examines theological bioethics and subjects such as public health at Boston College, told OSV News that the proposal as originally introduced “is not attentive to the condition of vulnerability of these individual human beings, and is undermining the needed free consent, free and informed consent” necessary for ethical heath care.

The bill also neglects to address or recognize often inadequate health care in the prison system, Father Vicini said.

“We know that the prison system is already not sufficiently caring for the prisoners in terms of health care services,” he said.

Father Vicini pointed to a 2000 address to the International Congress of the Transplantation Society by St. John Paul II, in which the pontiff said that organ donations “are a great step forward in science’s service of man,” but identified a number of key ethical concerns surrounding the practice, including taking steps to ensure human organs are never commercialized.

“Accordingly, any procedure which tends to commercialize human organs or to consider them as items of exchange or trade must be considered morally unacceptable, because to use the body as an ‘object’ is to violate the dignity of the human person,” the pontiff said in his address.

The priest also pushed back on the lawmakers’ arguments that the bill would restore bodily autonomy to those who are incarcerated. A discussion of bodily autonomy for prisoners should address inadequate health care resources in prisons and overcrowding, Father Vicini said. Instead, he found it “interesting” that prisoners’ bodily autonomy was invoked for the “direct convenience … to make available more organs.”

Father Vicini said the bill as originally introduced proposes “something that is not respecting the ethical concerns that everyone should be informed and have the freedom of giving consent” by introducing a quid pro quo.

The 1984 National Organ Transplant Act prohibits selling or buying human organs and tissues in the U.S. It is illegal in the U.S. to offer “valuable consideration” for organ or tissue donation.

The United Network for Organ Sharing’s ethics committee wrote in 2014 that “any law or proposal that allows a person to trade an organ for a reduction in sentence, particularly a sentence from death to life in prison, raises numerous issues,” including informed consent and coercion.

– – –

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.

– – –

BRIEF: BOSTON (OSV News) — Massachusetts lawmakers walked back Feb. 2 a proposal to reduce sentence time for incarcerated individuals who donate organs or bone marrow. Human rights and Catholic advocates raised ethical concerns about the proposal ranging from the informed consent of prisoners to the commodification of human organs. As originally introduced, the bill, HD.3822, would have reduced the prison sentences of incarcerated individuals by at least 60 days up to a year, “on the condition that the incarcerated individual has donated bone marrow or organ(s).” Catholic and other human rights advocates criticized the proposal, noting that U.S. law prohibits organ donation for “valuable consideration.” Jozef Zalot, Ph.D., a staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told OSV News that offering a quid pro quo incentive for organ donation could “really cloud the question of is someone truly free to donate organs.”

World Cancer Day: Addressing disparities in cancer rates, deaths essential

For 2023, the World Cancer Day theme is “Close the Care Gap,” as while overall rates of the disease are declining, disparities in related deaths and care continue.

This is the second consecutive year that World Cancer Day is looking at inequities in cancer treatment, with barriers such as insurance coverage, ability to leave work, location and discrimination or biases based on gender, education level, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability.

Cancer is currently the second leading cause of death in the U.S. — preceded by heart disease — though over the past three decades, diagnosis have dropped around 33%. Earlier detection, increased screening and more awareness have helped lower instances of the disease.

“It is great news for people who are in the cancer community,” says Dr. Folakemi Odedina, deputy director of community outreach for Mayo Clinic’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Whether you are a scientist or a clinician, or a survivor, or a patient, or even an advocate, knowing that some of the work that we are doing is really making an impact is great, and a result of the collaboration of many. But we are not where we want to be.”

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The CDC reported over 602,000 cancer deaths in 2020, and for 2023, Cancer.org predicts 1.9 million new cases and some 610,000 fatalities. 

Among Black or African American individuals, overall cancer death rates are higher than any other race, says Dr. Samantha Somwaru, family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Barron. Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, and Black men have twice the prostate cancer death rate. 

According to the American Cancer Society, across all cancer types Black men have 6% higher incidence and 19% higher mortality than white men, and while Black women have an 8% lower cancer incidence than white women, their mortality rate is 12% higher.

Black persons are also at higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity.  

“Health disparities and health inequities are not new,” says Somwaru. “They have been documented for decades and reflect discrimination and racism.”

Social determinants of health — conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age — play a large role in health disparities. Examples include socioeconomic status, education level, neighborhood and physical environment, employment status, social support networks and access to health care.

Black individuals are three times more likely to experience hunger than white individuals, with 20% living in food insecure households. They are also more likely to live in areas considered food deserts, where fresh, healthy food is either difficult to acquire or too expensive to purchase, and poor diet increasing risk of health conditions.

Difficulty traveling to appointments, securing child care or time off work to see a physician or limited to no insurance coverage can lead individuals to skip preventative care and exams.

“As a family physician, I come across many people who don’t utilize preventive screenings for various reasons, but some of them truly have barriers to getting good care,” says Somwaru. “…The reason why preventive screenings are so important is that they find health conditions before the person develops symptoms. Early detection saves lives.”

Mammograms are recommended on an annual basis beginning at age 40, or earlier if the individual has a family history or other factors increasing risk. Cervical cancer screenings, including a Pap smear and HPV testing, are recommended every three to five years for those 21 and older, with those ages 11 to 26 advised to receive the HPV vaccine. 

Colon cancer screening should generally start at age 45, with colonoscopies to occur every decade or more frequently if predisposed to the disease. Lung cancer screenings should be performed on those 50 and older who currently smoke or who previously smoked heavily.

Patients are encouraged to bring up family history and any symptoms or pains during appointments, and to ask questions. Virtual care options may be available to help alleviate travel barriers, and individuals may qualify for free or reduced cost screenings at sites such as St. Clare Health Mission and Gundersen St. Joseph’s.

“As a physician, it’s my job to take care of every person that comes into the clinic,” says Somwaru. “Yet, I understand the importance of recognizing and addressing health disparities that place my African American patients at an increased risk.”

The Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, Odedina says, is working to address cancer disparities through community collaborations and partnerships, research and having more diversity in clinical trials.

“We need to focus on increasing diversity in research for all cancers so we can address why some are still rising and why others are decreasing,” Odedina says.

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