VIDEO: Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame’s Charles Wilson Shattered Colorline In Brevard County


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Charles Wilson among eight Monroe High School students to Desegregate cocoa high in 1964

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ABOVE VIDEO: Charles Wilson would be among the first eight African-American students to attend an all white school in Brevard County. Not only was he a talent on the football field, but he was also the first African-American captain on a public high school football team in the state of Florida.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The year was 1964. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated less than a year earlier, the Vietnam War was in its infancy stages, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just been signed into law, which, among other things, outlawed racial segregation in public schools.

All across this nation there was general unrest.

This is about the time Charlie Wilson started to make a name for himself, not only in the sports arena, but also in life. Prior to desegregation, Wilson attended Monroe High School, an all black school in Cocoa, Florida.

However, in 1964, with racial desegregation of public schools a legislative mandate throughout the U.S., including the South, the decision was made that Wilson and seven other Monroe High School students would attend Cocoa High School.

They would be the first African-American students to attend the all white school. Wilson and the others were among the top academic students at Monroe, and it was felt that because of that, their possibility of success was good.

Wilson was born at Wuesthoff Hospital in Rockledge and had been in Brevard County all of his life. His dad, Phillip James Wilson, Sr. (PJ) was a successful golf professional, and was one of the best teaching pros in the area. His mom, Etta Ruth Wilson, with eight children, not only worked at home, but was a top-notch salesperson at a large department store.

TIGERS VS. TERRIERS 1966: Charles Wilson played three years of football at Cocoa High and was selected an All-County winner each year. For his outstanding achievements, he was awarded the Rinker Trophy. According to the class yearbook, off the field Wilson served his school through Hi-Y service club, General Assembly and as head Powderpuff coach in his senior year. Based on his record and cheerful personality, classmates voted him Most Athletic and Friendliest. (Image for Space Coast Daily)

As a young child Wilson’s life revolved around sports. His dad coached him in little league and pony league baseball where Wilson excelled at all levels on the diamond. However, football was the sport that would eventually land him in the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame.

When the 1964 school year began Wilson was entering the 10th grade, and he and his seven Monroe High School classmates, now Cocoa High School classmates, were ready.

However, there were many unanswered questions. Would they fit in? Would they be accepted? Would the talented Wilson be given a chance to prove himself on the athletic fields? Only time would tell.

Wilson loved the game of football and had been a starting defensive end on Monroe High’s team since the 7th grade. He loved defense and he loved to hit. Sam Huff and Ray Nitschke, two of the top NFL linebackers of all time, were a couple of players that Wilson admired and wanted to emulate.

Charles Wilson would be among the first eight African-American students to attend an all white school in Brevard County. Not only was he a talent on the football field, but he was also the first African-American captain on a public high school football team in the state of Florida. (Image for Space Coast Daily)

There was no question that Wilson wanted to continue playing football at Cocoa High. One of Wilson’s mentors, Monroe football coach Dick Blake, spoke with the coaching staff at Cocoa High and was assured that Wilson would be given a chance to try out for the team.

If the name Dick Blake sounds familiar, it’s because he was the first African-American to teach at an integrated school in Brevard County, the first to be a head coach and the first to be named high school principal. Blake is also a member of the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame.

Wilson’s first practice at Cocoa High was not your typical high school football practice. There was a big crowd to watch, because they heard a former Monroe player was going to try out.

They wanted to see how good he was, and if he could withstand the pressure of being the first African-American football player at Cocoa High. Wilson was so impressive in his first practice that, despite the fact that he broke his arm, he locked up a spot on the varsity.

Two questions were immediately answered. He was good enough to play football, and he could withstand the pressure. Wilson played three years of football at Cocoa High and also played basketball and ran track.

When asked about the differences between athletics at Cocoa High and Monroe High, what came to mind for Wilson was not the play on the field, but the facilities.

According to Wilson, “The facilities were much bigger and better at Cocoa.” He said that coaching techniques were slightly different, which is not unusual, and that both schools played at Provost Park.

“The individual talent level at both schools was about the same,” said Wilson.

As Charles Wilson entered his senior year at Cocoa High, he was being heavily recruited. Not only was he a talent on the football field, but he was also the first African-American captain on a public high school football team in the state of Florida.

A couple of standouts that immediately came to mind were Andrew Howard and Billy Hughes. When asked about 2016 Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame Inductee Willie Ric-Rac Wright, Wilson said, “He is a legend in Cocoa. He is one of the people that I admired. I grew up saying, I want to be like Ric-Rac.”

Wilson also spoke highly of Walter Jackson, better known as “Alabama Red,” and Clyde Thomas. These players were not only great football players, but played basketball and baseball as well.

So, there was talent galore at both Monroe and Cocoa. Both schools had players that went on to college and the NFL.


As Wilson entered his senior year at Cocoa High, he was being heavily recruited. Not only was he a talent on the football field, but he was also the first African-American captain on a public high school football team in the state of Florida.

Multiple colleges were interested in Wilson, among them were the U.S. Naval Academy, Baylor, Kansas, Michigan State, Citadel, UCLA and Penn State. The Naval Academy stood out to Wilson because of its tradition and standards of excellence.

The offers were on the table. But what makes this story so unique is that Charlie Wilson had decided he wanted to attend a major Division 1 university. Until now, it was common practice for African-American athletes in Brevard County to attend historically black colleges like Florida A&M and Grambling.

Wilson and his dad were extremely close and were big time football fans. They watched football on TV and knew about the big schools, Penn State included. Wilson was a big fan of Penn State players Lenny Moore, Rosey Grier and Roger Kaufman.

He was also very interested in Michigan State and was impressed with the Wolverines’ linebacker George Webster and Spartan head coach Duffy Daughetry. A lot of things about Michigan State intrigued Wilson.

He had gotten it into his head that he wanted to go to a major football school and wanted to select a school that was nationally known, that would appear on TV, and would go to bowl games.

Blake, Isaiah Russell and LeRoy Smith working together to secure a scholarship for him eventually landed Wilson at Penn State. Russell was one of Wilson’s teachers and did his summer graduate work at Penn State.

Charles Wilson’s decision to attend Penn State was groundbreaking. He was the first African-American from the state of Florida to attend Penn State, which was lead by now legendary head coach Joe Paterno. (Penn State University Libraries image)

While there, he met head coach Joe Paterno and struck up a friendship. Russell told Paterno that he knew of a great student-athlete from his hometown of Cocoa that he should recruit. Blake, Smith and Russell put together game film of Wilson, sent it to Paterno, and the rest is history.

Wilson went to Penn State on a recruiting visit, not knowing Coach Paterno, who had been there only one year. Wilson was impressed with the school, coaching staff and all they had to offer.

“It seemed like a good school with a good reputation,” Wilson said.

Sometimes the choices you don’t make turn out to be good ones. Wilson had a chance to go to Marshall University. They were the first school to offer him a recruiting trip to visit their campus. He liked it, and was impressed with what he saw. It just wasn’t big-time like Penn State.

Had he chosen Marshall, he likely would have been on the plane that crashed on November 14, 1970, killing all 75 people on board, including 37 members of the football team.

ABOVE VIDEO: Many years have passed since Wille “Ric-Rac” Wright attended the African-American only Monroe High School in the early 1960s, but his former coach says watching Wright on the field and the basketball court was magical.


Wilson’s decision to attend Penn State was groundbreaking. He was the first African-American from the state of Florida to attend Penn State. He was also the first African-American to attend a major Division 1 university from Cocoa High School – and quite possibly Brevard County.

Wilson enjoyed playing for Coach Paterno. “He was pretty tough,” said Wilson. “He not only was a coach, but a friend.”

Paterno had Wilson over to his house numerous times for dinner and seemed to take a special interest in the young man from Cocoa. After all, he was Penn State’s first African-American recruit from Florida and he wanted to try to help ensure his success, not only on the field, but off the field. Many times they would talk about things other than football.

On the field, Wilson played running back and wide receiver. By his sophomore season he was the starting running back for the nationally second-ranked Nittany Lions.

A devastating knee injury slowed Wilson down a bit, but he played a solid 4 years, and began his senior season as the starting safety.

On the field at Penn State, Charles Wilson played running back and wide receiver. By his sophomore season he was the starting running back for the second-ranked Nittany Lions. A devastating knee injury slowed Wilson down a bit, but he played a solid 4 years, and began his senior season as the starting safety. (Image for Space Coast Daily)

Wilson went on to lead a very successful business career. He started with the Kendall Company, rising to director of human resources. After being employed by Frito-Lay, Wilson went to work for Clarian Health, and then to Penn State – Hershey Medical Center where he was Chief Human Resources Officer until he retired in 2014.

He will be the first to tell you that he has not done this alone. His mentors have been many, and have been extremely important to him. Among them, he counts his dad and mom; his coaches, including Reche Sims, Smith and Blake; and his teacher, Isaiah Russell. And, there have been many more along the way that have guided and molded him into the man he is today.

When asked about lessons learned on the football field that carried over to life, Wilson used words like never giving up, always giving your best, being relentless, persistence, always striving to be better than the last time and teamwork.

He emphasized that not only did the African-American community pull for him and the Monroe students’ success, but the white community did as well.

“I had a wonderful experience at Cocoa High,” said Wilson.

“I had the support of the coaches. I made a lot of friends – friends for life. People I had known, we lived in different neighborhoods and came from different walks of life, but we were able to connect on a level that has carried on to this day.”

Yes, 1964 is where it really began for Charlie Wilson and his eventual induction in the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame.

The question – would the eight Monroe High School students fit in at Cocoa High School was answered – yes, they did. Would they be accepted at Cocoa High School – yes, they were. Would Charlie Wilson be given a chance to prove himself on the athletic field and life – yes, from day one.

Charles Wilson went on to lead a very successful business career. He started with the Kendall Company, rising to director of human resources. After being employed by Frito-Lay, Wilson went to work for Clarian Health, and then to Penn State – Hershey Medical Center where he was Chief Human Resources Officer until he retired in 2014. (Image for Space Coast Daily)

THE 2017 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME Banquet and Induction Ceremony will take place at the Cocoa Beach Country Club on Friday, May 12. 


FOR INFORMATION ABOUT the 2017 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME, call 321-615-8111 or e-mail

The Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame was founded by Space Coast Daily in 2011. The 2017 Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame induction event, and the 2017 High School Breakfast of Champions recognition awards, are sponsored by Community Credit Union, First Choice Medical Group, SOAR, Clear Choice Health Care, BioCellular Therapies, Savings Safari, Spectrum Sports, Friday Night Locker Room, Dr. Sangiv Patel, Dr. Mark Pinsky and Rock Paper Simple.

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How DNA Barely Explains Racial And Ethnic Genes

With the availability of home genetic testing kits from companies such as “23andMe” and “Ancestry DNA,” more people will be getting information about their genetic lineage and what races and ethnicities of the world are included in their DNA.

Geneticists, meanwhile, are also getting more tailored information about disease risk and prevalence as genetic testing in medical research centers continues.

Physicians accept that cystic fibrosis, for example, is much more common in people with Northern European ancestry and that sickle cell disease occurs dramatically more often in people with African origins. These commonly accepted racial and ethnic differences in disease prevalence are just the tip of the iceberg when looking at clinical differences that vary based on genetics.

But there’s a problem, a recent study from the National Institutes of Health found. Many physicians and other providers are uncomfortable discussing race with their patients, and also reticent to connect race or ethnicity to genetics and clinical decision-making, the study suggested.

Overall, physician focus groups “asserted that genetics has a limited role in explaining racial differences in health,” the authors added.

As a primary care physician who teaches urban health to medical students and as a state minority health commissioner who advocates for health equity, I see this as a problem that health care systems, and their providers, need to address.

The state of the science

Commercial DNA tests, such as those provided by 23andMe, not only give people their racial and ethnic lineage but also can provide a weighted risk for diabetes, stomach ulcers, cancer and many other diseases. In April, the FDA granted approval to 23andMe to sell reports to consumers that tell them whether they may be at heightened risk.

These companies already have the data that describe the risks for health problems based on the percentage of their ancestry composition. Those differences have been published and known in academic circles for many years. With the widespread availability of DNA tests, patients will now know their increased individual risks.

For example, Ashkenazi Jews, a specific Jewish ethnic population originating from Central and Eastern Europe, are known for having a disproportionate occurrence of a number of diseases, including Tay-Sachs disease, amyloidosis, breast cancer, colon cancer and many more.

The BRCA1/2 gene mutation greatly increases the propensity for breast and colon cancer and occurs in 1 in 40 people of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, whereas 1 in 800 Americans in general carry that mutation. This 20-fold increased risk should prompt more aggressive screening for the gene, and more frequent and earlier mammography and colonoscopies in Ashkenazi Jews compared to the general population.

Relatively higher rates of these cancers occur in certain populations, such as Ashkenazi Jews, and demonstrates the need for more nuanced care based on data that is already available. But this information is too infrequently accessed by providers.

Genetics knowledge growing fast

African-Americans are another group with higher rates of certain genetically driven diseases. African-American men have an increased occurrence of prostate cancer, kidney failure, stroke and other health problems. Prostate cancer in African-American men, for example, grows faster and metastasizes four times as often than in European-Americans.

But despite this increased risk for prostate cancer, doctors’ use of the PSA (prostate specific antigen), a test that works well with identifying prostate cancer in African-Americans, has steadily decreased due to recommendations aimed at majority patients who come from European-related heritage. In European-Americans, prostate cancer can be more indolent and occurs at a lower rate than African-Americans.

Also, certain types of blood pressure medications – ACE inhibitors, for example – lead to worse outcomes in African-Americans when used singularly as first-line therapy for high blood pressure, yet these medications work very well in Americans of European decent, a large study of hypertension therapy found.

A follow-up study that looked at subsequent clinical practices – which was done in response to changed recommendations based on race – showed nearly a third of African-American hypertensive patients continued to be prescribed medications that cause worse outcomes.

African-Americans also have a four-fold increased risk for renal disease leading to dialysis. Geneticists suspect that they have identified the gene that drives this difference yet most clinicians do not have the resources to test for this gene and identify the 30 percent of African-Americans that carry it.

And a gene that greatly increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, APOE-4, has also been identified and occurs disproportionately higher in European-Americans yet is almost nonexistent in African-Americans and is inconsistent in Hispanic-Americans. Great controversy exists surrounding the testing for this gene, given the devastating impact it could have on a patient or family. (Hispanic and African-Americans still have a very significant risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but it is not driven by this gene).

Genetically different responses to medications

Patient response to medications vary according to the presence or absence of genetic variants, which can impact the dose and the effect of many pharmaceuticals. Some of these differences can be anticipated based on race or ethnicity. For example, Warfarin is a commonly used medication in the treatment of a number of cardiovascular disorders including atrial fibrillation, deep vein thrombosis and heart valve replacement. It shows wide variations in dosing, with Americans of Asian descent requiring less medication and African-Americans requiring more to achieve equal effects. European-Americans have a variant gene that make having a major bleed on Warfarin much higher.

A popular cholesterol-lowering medication, Rosuvastatin, better known as trade name Crestor, is twice as powerful in patients of Asian descent, and their manufacturing label indicates starting at a much lower dose in this population. In fact, the highest manufactured pill dose of Crestor is “contraindicated in Asian patients.”

Patient-centered care is the key

Because of the “patient-centered” movement in hospitals, clinics and insurance plans, providers are now feeling increased pressure to improve the quality of care provided to individual patients. Many outcomes and patient cost of care are now tracked by providers. And countless well-designed studies have validated verified differences in the clinical care of a number of pervasive diseases based on ancestry.

Providers need to educate themselves about the important differences that exist in their patient populations. Health disparities, while driven by a number of social factors, are also the result of some clinicians not applying known nuances in the care of special populations.

As home genetic testing grows, patients will be bringing their results to physicians for reaction and response. Physicians will need to be proactively prepared.

Greg Hall, Assistant Clinical Professor, Case Western Reserve University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How Tupac’s Hip-Hop Influence Inspired Generations

Beginning June 16, moviegoers will be able to see the much-anticipated “All Eyez on Me,” the biopic of Tupac Shakur, one of the most iconic and influential musicians of the 20th century.

Since his death in 1996, Tupac’s place in the pantheon of cultural icons has been firmly cemented. Scores of books and documentaries have detailed his life, career and tragic death, while musicians continue to pay tribute to his influence in their songs. He has sold more than 75 million albums worldwide, and earlier this year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But beyond the commercial success, the life of Tupac could be thought of as a metaphor for a generation of African-American youth. A personification of hip-hop’s ascendance and the vexing forces that shaped it, Tupac was born in 1971 at the dawn of the post-civil rights era. His life would span the War on Drugs, the rapid expansion of the prison-industrial complex, a black power reprise, the mainstream recognition of hip-hop – and all the pitfalls therein.

Enemies of the state

Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, was a leading member of a Black Panther Party chapter in Harlem. In 1969, Afeni was arrested with 20 others in the infamous Panther 21 case. Part of a nationwide effort to disrupt the Panthers’ political activities – just a year earlier, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had called them “the greatest threat to national security” – the group was charged with conspiring to bomb buildings in New York City. The group ended up being acquitted of all 156 charges on May 21, 1971.

Afeni’s son, Tupac, was born a month later, on June 16.

A day after Tupac’s birth, President Richard Nixon issued a written statement to Congress about illegal drugs, calling them “public enemy number one.” The following day, he held a press conference during which he asked for more federal funds to wage a “war on drugs.”

Both events – the systemic crackdown on the political activities of black activists and the nascent war on drugs – would have a profound effect on the life of Tupac, along with millions of other African-Americans.


Few forces were as disruptive to Tupac’s generation as the illicit drug trade. When he was born, heroin use was concentrated in the New York City metro area. Crime rates spiraled, overdoses increased and black communities – disproportionately affected by the violence – demanded action: stop illegal drugs, create jobs and implement responsible policing.

In 1973, New York state passed the Rockefeller Drug Laws, the most punitive anti-drug legislation in the country. Possession of four ounces of narcotics now had a mandatory minimum sentence 15 years to life. Many in the black community were initially supportive of the Rockefeller Laws. Yet the fundamental demands from the black community – jobs, health care, police reform – went unmet.

Over the course of the decade, unemployment in black communities across the country soared. By 1983, it had reached 21 percent – a rate higher than all but three years of the Great Depression. And as police brutality and corruption continued to plague black neighborhoods, a new drug was introduced to the streets: crack cocaine, which Tupac’s mother became addicted to.

Hip-hop meets politics

Even though black and white drug use rates were similar during this period, poor black communities ended up being the battlegrounds – and killing fields – for the war on drugs. The homicide rate for black males between the ages of 18 and 24 years old more than doubled between 1983 and 1993 – to a high of 196 per 100,000 people. (The national homicide rate was 9 per 100,000.) Meanwhile, incarceration rates skyrocketed. In 1970, blacks were 4.6 times more likely to be arrested than whites. By 1990 they were 6.8 times more likely to be detained.

The spiraling violence and conflict fomented a new sense of black political alarm, with many gravitating to black nationalist messages. Young black people started donning African medallions and African-inspired fashion, while pushing hip-hop into a politically subversive realm of musical expression.

Hip-hop groups and artists like Public Enemy, Brand Nubian, Ice Cube and X-Clan started promoting a political message of resistance in its music to a greater extent than any popular genre at the time. Rappers attacked the crack trade, white supremacy and police brutality in scores of songs, from Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads” to Ice Cube’s “I Wanna Kill Sam.”

Tupac immersed himself in this movement, embracing and adorning the politics of the black power reprise in his lyrics. While R&B, soul and jazz musicians were largely silent on the challenges in poor black communities, Tupac’s first LP, “2Pacalypse Now” (1991), directly confronted issues like mass incarceration, violence, illegal drugs, police brutality and racism.

“I’m tired of being trapped in this vicious cycle,” he rapped in “Trapped,” “If one more cop harasses me, I just might go psycho.”

His next three LPs – like those of many of his hip-hop contemporaries – balanced their subject matter between carefree party songs (“I Get Around”) and calls for social justice (“Souljah’s Revenge”), while rapping about violence against rival rappers (“Hit ‘em Up”), and his love for his mother, even through her struggles with addiction (“Dear Mama”).

The trappings of success

As his popularity grew, Tupac personally and professionally struggled over his appeal to the mainstream, while battling the allure of conspicuous consumption, excess and sexism.

He knew the destructive forces of violence and what critics call the prison industrial complex, making calls for social justice in his hit “Changes,” which criticized drug dealers and the horrifying effects of mass incarceration. In multiple songs he alerted listeners to the story of Latasha Harlins, the 15-year old black girl whose murderer was given probation by a California court system that had given harsher sentences to people who abused dogs. He created a plan to mitigate the violence in black communities with a code of ethics for drug dealers and truces between gangs.

Nonetheless, Tupac found himself personally mired in violent criminal cases. There were assault charges against him in 1993 and again in 1994. That same year, he was robbed and shot five times in New York City – the day before he was sentenced on sexual assault charges.

And just as commercial hip-hop retreated from the political lyrics of the early 1990s, Tupac’s lyrics gravitated to a gangsta style more aligned and palatable to mainstream audiences and radio stations. From “Ambitionz az a Ridah” through “When We Ride,” references to “money over bitches” and gang-banging shootouts became commonplace. In 1995, Tupac signed with Death Row Records, a label notorious for its violent atmosphere and its volatile founder, Suge Knight.

In time, he adopted Death Row’s gangster rivalries, bluster and violence. Then, while in Las Vegas on Sept. 7, 1996, he joined in the beating of a rival gang member accused of assaulting a Death Row associate. Later that night Tupac was shot multiple times and died from his wounds six days later. Many investigators believe it was a direct retaliation for the beating.

‘I might fall, but I’m gonna get up’

In the end, Tupac’s life isn’t just an embodiment of the struggles, contradictions, creativity and promise of a generation. It also serves as a cautionary tale. His life’s abrupt end was a consequence of the allure of success, much like the pull of the streets. His sensitivity, intelligence and creativity were measured against the hostile external forces that had antagonized him since birth. And while these forces inspired him to rebel, they also tempted him, inviting him to gorge on the excesses of fame and celebrity.

Tupac admitted that he wasn’t perfect. In his own words:

“God ain’t finished with me yet. [There’s] a path for me, and I make mistakes, and I might fall, but I’m gonna get up and I keep trying ‘cause I believe in it…It’s still from my soul, my heart.”

Today Tupac’s legacy lives on, with hip-hop playing more prominent roles in academia, the arts and political movements like Black Lives Matter.

Taking the baton from Tupac, artists like Kendrick Lamar speak to a new generation of black youth with hopeful lyrics like “we gonna be alright.”

But it won’t happen with anything less than overt action and involvement with purpose – mistakes and all.

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Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Professor of History and Founding Director, Center for the Study of Popular Music, University of Connecticut

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Jon Ossoff’s secret weapon in tight Georgia race: Jewish moms and daughters

Clad in knee-length, loose fitting shorts, wicking T-shirts, baseball caps and sensible shoes, they cluster and clutch water bottles and exchange war stories awaiting the candidate’s arrival.

Some bring their daughters — almost always their daughters. Sons exist, if a reporter probes, but it seems they are best left at home. But campaigning for the Democrat Jon Ossoff in the tight 6th District special House election is a mother-daughter thing.

“I want a better future for her,” says Calanit Amir, 43, a lawyer, nodding at her 12-year-old daughter, Talia, at a meet and greet in the suburb of Roswell. “And for my son, too. He’s at home.”

A day spent trailing Ossoff around Atlanta’s suburbs makes clear that most of his campaigners are female. These supporters have found unexpected community in a district, which also covers parts of the city, that they believed unwelcoming to liberal concerns about expanding health care coverage and campaigning for women’s rights. Donald Trump’s election has shocked them into action.

At stop after stop on Thursday, the Ossoff army hoots in delight when the candidate steps out of his black SUV — slim, cool in his wrinkle-free black suit and black tie, a sartorial middle finger thrust at the sweltering Georgia heat.

“Thank you for being sane and moderate!” Sara Lichtenberg says, gripping the Democrat’s hand at campaign headquarters in Chamblee before joining other campaigners in canvassing the suburb. “Now win! For reals!”

The special election Tuesday between Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, and Republican Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, already is said to be the most expensive in U.S. history. An estimated $40 million has been spent on relentless ads on radio and TV, but also in get-out-the-vote efforts such as this one, where canvassers plead with voters to meet last Friday’s early voting deadline or at least make sure they get to polling stations by Tuesday.

National Democrats sense the opportunity to further bloody Trump’s troubled presidency by turning a red district blue.

Ossoff, 30, flashes a gleaming grin and sports thick, carefully tousled black hair. He has the wholesome Beatlesque vibe of a mid-1960s rock star, too skinny for his own good, but unsavaged by foreign substances.

He almost irresistibly invites parenting.

“Are you chewing gum, Jon?” Sacha Haworth, his spokeswoman, says at a media opportunity before checking herself, shooting wary glances at surprised reporters. (He was not.)

There is the occasional aside about his preternatural cuteness, but Ossoff’s mostly female backers are here because of something quite unexpected and more substantial: the prospect of change.

Ossoff campaigning in Chamblee, Ga., June 15, 2017. Photo by Ron Kampeas

Many are feminists coming out of a closet they were driven into by the deeply conservative culture once believed to be prevalent in the Atlanta suburbs that comprise Georgia’s 6th.

They speak of years of inaction and conceding the district to conservatives, and then of being galvanized to action before Ossoff announced in December — specifically on Nov. 9, the morning they woke up to a world that attached president-elect to Trump.

Jen Cox started a Facebook page the day after the election, and quickly the numbers grew. By March, there were enough followers to launch PaveItBlue, a group strictly for women (men are invited to attend events) that has as its goal “Flipping the Sixth.” Now it has 3,200 members.

Cox, 46, a realtor, describes moving to the district from Denver several years ago and learning soon enough to keep her thoughts to herself.

“I would throw out a line about Obama getting something passed or about reproductive rights and I would get the same smile and stare — into the distance,” she says at a drinks and munchies party held Thursday evening for PaveItBlue in Roswell, a suburb whose center is pocked with hip bars and eateries.

About 100 women and a few men, bearing blue-and-white Jon Ossoff gear, huddle under a tent braving gusts of warm winds and rain.

“If I was going to have friends for my kids at the pool, I had to keep quiet,” Cox says.

Andrea Capuano, awaiting Ossoff at his headquarters in this suburb with her 11-year-old daughter, Maia, had a similar trajectory.

As a liberal, as well as a Mexican and a Jew, Capuano, 49, a preschool teacher, says her reflex was to keep her head low in a district she had learned was “very red.”

After Trump’s election, she thought, “We’re done being Democrats in the closet in a conservative state.”

Trump nominated Tom Price, the longtime Republican incumbent, to be health secretary, and soon Ossoff emerged as the likeliest Democratic candidate in the special election to replace Price. He won an open primary on April 18, receiving nearly half the vote, leading to this week’s faceoff against Handel, his closest rival with about 20 percent of the vote.

Once it was clear Ossoff was the Democrat in the race, Capuano planted a yard sign on her lawn. A neighbor, Sheila Ford, texted her that she was about to put out an Ossoff sign as well — and Capuano realized she was not alone.

Soon she found a community.

“I made new friends,” she says, getting ready to spend a third day canvassing alongside Ford. “There’s a whole community behind you.”

The 6th District’s reputation as a conservative redoubt may be overstated. It’s true that Handel lawn signs are prevalent, for instance, in Tucker, a suburb lined with ranch houses, American flags and breakfast eateries.

But there has been an influx of immigrants into Chamblee in recent years, and wholly Latino or East Asian strip malls vie for space with stately manses. In this suburb, Ossoff signs edge out Handel’s. Ossoff canvasser T-shirts are often specialized: “Latinos for Ossoff” or “Asians for Ossoff” or “African Americans for Ossoff.” And millennials, who trend liberal, have been attracted in recent years to Roswell and its easygoing community.

Ossoff, who is Jewish, has cultivated Jewish voters: Leah Fuhr, the campaign’s political affairs manager, has organized a number of outings for Jews for Ossoff. On the afternoon of June 9, she says, they filled a busy intersection in the suburb of Dunwoody.

Fuhr says she is surprised at the strength of Jewish support.

“Jews here tend to lean more Republican than nationally,” she says. “But in this election, he’s getting more Jewish support.”

Polls show the contenders running neck and neck.

Still, liberal voters in the 6th had written off the likelihood of electing someone who reflected their politics.

“I wasn’t engaged in local politics before the presidential election in November,” says Rebecca Sandberg, 43, a CPA and a precinct captain for the campaign. “I didn’t think I could get my views across.”

Zoe Weissman, 20, hanging out with Sandburg outside Brilliant Story, a sleek bar in Roswell (Ossoff is inside posing for selfies), is still registered to vote in the 6th District after leaving to study at Vassar two years ago. She wanted to make a difference in a purple state but didn’t imagine it would happen in her district.

“I never thought I’d see the day I could get behind someone like Jon,” she says.

Ellen Sichel, 62, says she now feels guilty about having once believed that the district was a hopeless cause and avoiding campaigns. Her inaction, she says glancing at a newfound friend, Callie Dill, a freshman at the University of Georgia in Athens, was a betrayal of her two daughters and the next generation.

“I’m never going to sleep again,” Sichel, a stress reduction consultant, says at Ossoff headquarters in Chamblee. “If anything good has come out of the Trump presidency, it’s getting people off their asses.”

Arlene Meyer and Cathy Karell work the ranch houses and stately homes along Cameron Forest Parkway in Johns Creek. Meyer has campaigned for statewide Democrats before, but never in her district. For Karell, an independent, this is a first.

“The stakes are super high right now,” Karell says. “I do not like the tone of the country.”

Meyer chimes in, reassuringly: “Now we have thousands of volunteers coming out.

Meyer, who is not Jewish, identifies one address as “strong Ossoff” and examines the token on its doorpost, then asks a reporter, “What’s that? It begins with an ‘m.’”

“Mezuzah,” she repeats upon being told. “I see lots of those around here.”

Arlene Meyer campaigning for Ossoff in Johns Creek, Ga., on June 15. Photo by Ron Kampeas

A dedicated page on Ossoff’s campaign website addresses U.S.-Israel relations.

“Iran is a major state sponsor of terrorism and an avowed enemy of Israel that must not acquire nuclear weapons,” it says.

Handel, 55, has tried to cut at Ossoff for supporting the Iran deal and accepting the liberal Israel lobby J Street’s endorsement, but he handily deflects a question from a JTA reporter about whether he supports the 2015 agreement.

“I’m a supporter of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability,” he says. “I don’t think that shredding the deal and putting Iran back on the path to a nuclear weapons capability is responsible policy.”

Fuhr tries to jam some Jewish meaning into why Ossoff is picking up Jewish support.

“Helping our neighbors is what being Jewish is all about,” she says.

But talk to his Jewish backers and the first issues they mention are universal: women’s rights and Trump’s pledge to roll back the health care reforms of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

“A lot of it has to do with being disenchanted with Trump,” Calanit Amir says.

Capuano says she worries for an older daughter, not present, who has had open heart surgery.

“Ten years from now, if this keeps on going, she won’t have insurance because of a preexisting condition,” Capuano says, “and then who will care for her parents?”

The fraught national rhetoric has infected this campaign: Handel calls Ossoff “dangerously liberal” on a dedicated “our opponent” page on her website and accuses him of “lying his Ossoff” about his national security credentials, which Ossoff says he accumulated as a congressional aide.

Ossoff never loses an opportunity to remind voters that Handel, who is anti-abortion, helped make the decision to split Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the the fundraiser for breast cancer research she served as an executive, from Planned Parenthood. (Komen for the Cure reversed its decision and Handel quit.)

“I think that cutting funding for lifesaving breast cancer screenings is unforgivable,” Ossoff says at a media availability.

Both campaigns have reported receiving death threats.

But Ossoff mostly speaks in soothing, general terms, using phrases like “local accountability,” “fresh leadership” and “balanced budget.”

At his pep talks for canvassers, his overarching message is one of civility.

“Rather than focusing on what drives us apart, let’s continue to make sure that respect and civility and decency are at the core of our message,” he says in Johns Creek, to cheers. “Show that kindness and compassion.”

An hour or so later, Meyer and Karell scoot away from a voter shouting “no soliciting!” through a closed door.

“What Jon said, kindness and compassion!” Meyer says.

Karell repeats, “Kindness and compassion.”

Cuba Denounces Systematic Human Rights Violations in U.S.

escambray today, bruno rodriguez parrilla, cuba, cuba-usa relations, cuban government, cuban people, donald trump, us blockade against cuba

The dimplomat also referred to the recent measures announced by U.S. President Donald Trump against Cuba. (Photo: PL)

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Monday denounced systematic human rights violations in the United States.

‘There are many and systematic murders, brutality and abuses by the police, particularly against African-Americans,’ said the Cuban foreign minister at a press conference in Viena, where he referred to the recent measures announced by U.S. President Donald Trump to tighten the economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba.

Cuba Stands Firm against Trump’s Hostile Policy

Rodriguez also mentioned the restrictions to the right to health care, the wage inequality against women, the lack of unionization, the repression against immigrants and refugees, including children and the separation of families, the marginalization of minorities and the discrimination against the Islamic religion and culture.

The Cuban diplomat pointed out that war crimes and assassinations of civilians are commonplace in the U.S. military aggressions and interventions, and described as brutal the prison sentences without a court’s ruling and the mass and systematic cases of torture committed in the Guantanamo Naval Base.

The head of Cuban diplomacy also referred to the measures that ban U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba as tourists, which ‘restrict the civil liberties of citizens.’

Black Bay Area Businesswomen Strive to Beat Odds

Karen Smith worked for decades as an office administrator and hated it. So she changed her life radically: She launched a business making jewelry five years ago.

At first, she made beaded bracelets. Then she taught herself how to work with metal, mostly by reading books and watching YouTube videos.

“I looooove doing this,” said Smith, as she lit a torch in her tiny Oakland studio and soldered a silver ribbon to make a ring. “I have never in my adult life had a job where I felt the freedom and passion that I feel now with my work. This is what I’m meant to do.” 

But money to run and grow her company, NuSpirit Designs, has been a problem from the get-go. Smith launched it without much in savings, family to borrow from, income from a job, or assets to leverage for a loan.

Smith’s experience isn’t unique. Little access to capital is an important reason businesses owned by African-Americans tend to not grow as much and as fast as other firms. The problem is more acute for women, said economist Alicia Robb, with the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“Women have far lower levels of income and wealth when compared to men, so this issue around  financial capital is going to be worse for women,” said Robb, who has studied minority entrepreneurship for more than a decade.

Women-owned businesses earn much less on average than men, and black businesswomen in particular have the lowest average revenues among all groups of entrepreneurs, according to a recent report by the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy.

Smith’s startup capital came from selling her beloved car, a Corolla with tortoise-shell interiors, for about $7,500. Learning how to succeed in the notoriously cutthroat retail industry has been like trying to climb a mountain while running on a hamster wheel, Smith said.

“It’s really a challenge because there’s so much that you have to know and learn when you don’t have capital to pay people,” said Smith. “If I had a production assistant and someone who could do work on my website, things would be moving much faster.”

Smith solders a silver ring in her studio in Oakland on May 9, 2017. “It’s been a really long time since I bought myself fancy shoes, or took a lovely vacation, or even paid myself a salary, but I wouldn’t trade what I do now for anything,” said Smith. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED News)

‘We Just Don’t Have That Access’

Stevonne Ratliff, the owner of a natural hair and skin-care line, believes limited access to cash is one main reason she doesn’t know of any other black store owners in San Francisco’s Lower Haight, where she recently opened a shop.

The area used to be more diverse, close to a neighborhood famous for its jazz musicians and rich African-American history.

“That’s so cool that I’m right by the Fillmore and I have black people who are from here, from the neighborhood, and they stop by and they are like, ‘Wow, we are so happy you are here. To see a black-owned business reminds us of old times,’ ” said Ratliff, 35.

San Francisco has lost more than half of its African-American population in the last five decades: from 96,000 residents in 1970 to about 47,000 in 2015, according to U.S. Census data. Many factors have contributed to the decline, including the high cost of living and doing business in the city.

“As African-Americans and certain people of color, we just don’t have that access or that family backing or the influential people that can help you gain cash to start your business,” said Ratliff, 35.

Ratliff started Beija Flor Naturals with her unemployment check after losing her job at a tech startup during the Great Recession. But she found ways to keep both her living and business costs down and turn a profit.

Stevonne Ratliff chats with customer Jennifer Lujan at her new store in San Francisco on May 24, 2017, as Candace Peters looks on. Ratliff carries jewelry, handbags and other products by local artists and makers. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

Harnessing the Power of the Internet

As a one-woman startup, Ratliff formulated concoctions of mango and cocoa butter creams in her mom’s kitchen, and began selling the products completely online through the website Etsy.

“It’s hard and lonely but at a certain point you’re like, ‘OK, I’m in too deep,’ ” said Ratliff, who lived on a shoestring and couch-surfed with friends to save on rent. “Also, I just wanted to see where this would lead me, how far I could go.”

The internet allowed her to invest most of the profits back into buying ingredients to fulfill orders and run the business from her bedroom. E-commerce also gave her access to customer data that she used to test the market and fine-tune her products to find a niche.

With the touch of a button, she could answer all kinds of questions.

“I’m a stats junkie. I could see what’s selling best,” said Ratliff, who grew up in San Jose. “Like, what do I need to do, what do people want, what are they responding to.”

Bloggers and magazines got hold of her products and sales blew up, said Ratliff. That allowed her to jump on a growing wave in online retail: opening brick-and-mortar stores to reach more customers.

Ratliff holds a jar of “number one bestseller” creme brulee for kinks, curls and coils, at her store in Oakland’s Temescal on Jan. 27, 2017. Opening brick-and-mortar shops fueled sales online, said Ratliff. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

Ratliff uses her two stores to showcase handbags, clothes and jewelry she carefully selects from local artists and makers.

“I support black women in my business,” said Ratliff, who expects revenues to top $200,000 this year and is hiring staff. “I’m really happy I can do that now.”

Finding New Clients With Good Old Networking 

Karen Smith, the metal jewelry designer, wanted to move away from selling her products at farmers markets, where sales can depend on the weather, to more steady sources of revenue.

In her quest to find new opportunities for her business, Smith attended a recent mixer of black businesswomen in downtown Oakland.

Like Smith and Ratliff, many of the women who mingled over drinks said they had left unsatisfying jobs or were unemployed when they started their ventures.

Black and Latino entrepreneurs are more likely than their white and Asian counterparts to start businesses while unemployed, joining the ranks of so-called necessity entrepreneurs.

While some of the women at the mixer were just launching startups, others had already blazed successful paths.

Candice Cox, a former corporate sales executive who now owns a profitable jewelry business, was one of the event’s organizers. She and six other artists founded Just Be, a local collective of black women entrepreneurs, to share experiences and support each other.

“It feels so good to be able to do things that you love to do as a hobby but as a business and get paid for it,” said Cox, who counts as a client the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s shop in Washington, D.C. “That’s empowering in itself just giving women the confidence that you can make your own destiny. You can create your own path.”

For Smith, the event was “soul shifting,” she said.

“When you work for yourself a lot of times you work in solitude, you don’t have co-workers to bounce ideas off and commiserate,” said Smith. “So the opportunity to meet other African-American women entrepreneurs is a blessing.”

One of the entrepreneurs Smith met there was Kelly Paschal-Hunter, who owns a gallery in the Old Oakland neighborhood. Both women clicked and Paschal-Hunter invited Smith to hold her debut pop-up show at her gallery weeks later.

Karen Smith, owner of NuSpirit Designs, shows her silver jewelry at Paschal-Hunter Gallery in Oakland on May 13, 2017. Smith chats with clients Shiree Dyson (right) and Dionne Early, who bought silver earrings and a ring. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

The jewelry show brought new clients for Smith, and also potential customers for the gallery, said Paschal-Hunter.

“What she does isn’t easy. What I do isn’t  easy. You know, people don’t need artwork or jewelry every day like they need food,” said Paschal-Hunter, who left a career as a health care executive to open her gallery last year. “I saw an opportunity where two female-owned businesses could collaborate, support each other.”

After the successful pop-up, Paschal-Hunter decided she would continue to sell Smith’s jewelry.

“First gallery that has shown interest in my work and I’m super excited,” said Smith. “It makes me feel like I’m moving in the direction that I want to be.”

Black Bay Area Businesswomen Strive to Beat Odds 16 June,2017Farida Jhabvala Romero

Congratulations to Stanford Medicine’s newest graduates

There was a lot of excitement on campus this past weekend, when a graduating class of 65 medical students, 53 PhD students, and 52 master’s of science students received their diplomas.

My colleague Tracie White was on the scene and reported:

The audience was filled with proud mothers and fathers, fidgety children in fancy clothes, aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. With balloons and flowers, they cheered in support of the new class of graduates…

“Congratulations!” Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, said. “You made it!”

Prior to the ceremony, graduating students, dressed in caps and gowns, congregated inside the Li Ka Shing Center, preparing to walk on stage. They took photos and hugged one another, bidding goodbye as they prepared to begin the next stages of their lives. ‘It feels a bit surreal,’ said Michelle Nguyen, MD, who already started the first few days of her residency in internal medicine at University of Pittsburgh and flew back for graduation. ‘I don’t feel like a real doctor yet. I’m still letting it sink in.’

Commencement speaker Augustus “Gus” White, MD, PhD, who in 1961 became the first African American graduate of Stanford’s medical school, also reminded the grads about the importance of their work and the critical need to advocate for equality in health care:

‘I believe that health care should be an inalienable human right,’ White said… ‘We must work hard so that we come as close as possible to that ideal.’

Minor introduced White, an orthopaedic surgeon who served for 13 years as chief of surgery at Harvard School of Medicine, as a ‘pioneering visionary’ committed to the rights of underrepresented minorities in medicine.

‘We as a nation can and must do better than our present state of politicized and dysfunctional health care,’ White said.

Previously: Stanford Medicin’s Class of 2017 to graduate on Saturday, At Match Day, 70 doctors-to-be embark upon “a tremendously exciting period”Stanford Medicine’s commencement, in pictures and “This is something you long look forward to”: 2016 graduates celebrate achievements
Photo by Steve Fisch


Maryland’s African American Community Strives to Preserve Heritage

Rows of homes line the quiet, narrow streets of Hagerstown’s Jonathan Street Neighborhood, with boarded-up storefronts and empty buildings that have been left for decades.

The neighborhood was once a vibrant African-American community, but for years it has grappled with a lack of economic development and racism. Located in Washington County, Maryland, Hagerstown is filled with a rich, dark history dating to the 19th century.

Washington County, between Pennsylvania, a free state, and Virginia, a slave state, was the embodiment of the struggle between pro- and anti-slavery forces back then.

Black men, women and children were sold to white slave owners on the slave blocks on Jonathan Street and at the courthouse.

‘Sad truth’

“We did have it; the slave block was here, and stood here for many years. I can’t really give you any more on the slave block, because it’s just another sad truth of Washington County,” said Alesia Parson-McBean, project coordinator of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum.

The close proximity to Pennsylvania led to the presence of escape routes for the Underground Railroad, with Harriet Tubman utilizing the Ebenezer AME Church as one of the stops. With the escape routes came the presence of slave catchers, sent to retrieve runaway slaves who were then returned to their masters or put on the slave blocks to be sold.

With the end of slavery and Hagerstown playing a role for both sides during the Civil War, the Jonathan Street Neighborhood was formed.

Bound by segregation laws that restricted movement and opportunities, African-Americans had to turn inward. They established businesses along Jonathan Street and attained skills to survive and succeed within their confines.

“In the Jonathan Street area … there were booming businesses, barbershops, restaurants. People would come from out of town just to come to experience the nightlife,” said Anastasia Broadus, director of the Robert W. Johnson Community Center.

Harmon Hotel

The Harmon Hotel served as the only establishment in Hagerstown for visiting African-Americans and performers like singer Tina Turner. Notably, baseball player Willie Mays had to stay at the hotel as he made his professional debut in 1950 in the midst of racial discrimination, as his white teammates stayed where he was not allowed.

The boundaries led to a close-knit community that continues today.

“People lived on their skills, and so it made it wonderful growing up,” said Parson-McBean. She said it was the kind of community where “everybody looks out for everyone and everybody does something that can sustain you — that’s what this neighborhood was all about.”

Desegregation enabled African-Americans to spread out. “It was twofold — either they left here to go for education, to become educated, or they left here for a better job,” Parson-McBean said. Those who graduated elsewhere, “my sister included, did not come back because they couldn’t find a job in their field, and that is still a problem to this day.”

Attracted to the peaceful environment, newcomers settled in Hagerstown, increasing the African-American population to 15 percent. They experienced the economic strains as well as racism.

“I moved here in 1994, and the first month that I was here, there was a Ku Klux Klan rally right down the center of one of the neighboring towns,” said Jessica Scott, president of the board of directors of the community center. “And coming from New Jersey, up north, I immediately thought I had stepped back in time. People still called us ‘colored.’ They didn’t respect positions and education. So it’s been a long road, and they’ve come a long way, but there’s still quite a bit of work to do.”

Hope for change

Currently, the city has programs that lump women and minorities into one group; there are no programs that separately target African-Americans. Though the community continues to grapple with many economic and social obstacles, leaders keep fighting for its survival. Those involved with the Doleman museum preserve and share this history and are looking for a permanent home in which to display their rich collection.

IN PHOTOS: African-American History in Hagerstown

Today, leaders such as Parson-McBean, the first and only African-American on the Hagerstown City Council, and Broadus maintain the faith and hope for change.

“The community will stand together when it comes to tough times and what not,” Broadus said. “We may not see a lot of people standing together on a daily basis, but if something happens, I believe that everybody in this community will rise up and be united and become one.”

Is it too soon to miss George W. Bush?

President George W. Bush holds his last news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House January 12, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)President George W. Bush holds his last news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House January 12, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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President George W. Bush holds his last news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Jan. 12, 2009. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

During an April appearance on ABC News, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said something that would have sounded impossible to anyone who had followed American politics in the first decade of the 21st century.

“I’m sorry, President Bush,” said Pelosi after mistakenly invoking his name instead of Donald Trump’s. “I never thought I would pray for the day that you were president again.”

The Democratic leader in Congress repeated the sentiment in early June on MSNBC, saying that she wished George W. Bush were president. Pelosi — one of Bush’s main antagonists — benefited from his plunge in approval in his second term, which led to a Democratic surge in the 2006 midterms, making her the first-ever female speaker of the House. But in the age of Trump and his 60 percent disapproval rating, Pelosi is not alone in missing the last Republican president.

Earlier this year, when Bush was promoting his book of paintings and stories of veterans, “Portraits of Courage,” he went on Ellen DeGeneres’ show and shared a hug with the host. He had a cordial visit with Jimmy Kimmel, whose criticism of the Republican health care plan went viral this spring. At comedian Samantha Bee’s Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner special, Will Ferrell strutted out to do his Bush impersonation, opening by asking the audience, “How do you like me now?” Actor Aziz Ansari praised Bush’s response to 9/11 during a “Saturday Night Live” monologue. The Guardian’s editorial board called Bush’s book tour “a welcome return,” while People magazine offered a glowing investigation into his friendship with Michelle Obama. “I like George Bush now!” exclaimed liberal comedian Joy Behar on “The View” after the former president had criticized the current one for attacking the media.

But the list of Bush’s transgressions, in the minds of his detractors, is long. There was the foray into Iraq that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the destabilization of an entire region, and the use of torture along the way. There was the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, which led to two infamous quotes that will forever be associated with his presidency — one by Bush to FEMA Director Michael Brown (“Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job”) 10 days before Brown resigned, and one by Kanye West during a telethon to raise money for the hurricane victims (“George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”) The economy cratered in his final year, a Great Recession that wiped out retirement savings, housing value and jobs for millions of Americans. Then there were the proposals that didn’t become law: support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and a plan for the privatization of Social Security that, when combined with the crash of 2008, would have crippled the program.

President George W. Bush (L) and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (2nd R) get a briefing from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Michael Brown (C) upon their arrival 02 September, 2005, at a US Coast Guard Base in Mobile, Alabama, before touring the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)President George W. Bush (L) and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (2nd R) get a briefing from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Michael Brown (C) upon their arrival 02 September, 2005, at a US Coast Guard Base in Mobile, Alabama, before touring the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

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President George W. Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, second from right, get a briefing from Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown, center, in September 2005 before touring the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

The final Gallup poll of his presidency had Bush at a 61 percent disapproval rate versus just 34 percent approval. He did not speak at the Republican national conventions in 2008 or in 2012 when John McCain and Mitt Romney, respectively, were nominated, a break from recent precedent. A 2015 survey by the Brookings Institution ranked Bush 35th out of the 43 men to hold the office, and criticisms of Bush throughout the 2016 primary didn’t hurt Trump with Republican voters.

But is the thawing of public opinion on Bush a result of the contrast with the current Oval Office occupant, or does absence simply make the heart grow fonder for former presidents? According to historians, it’s a little bit of both.

“Americans are really nice to future and past presidents, but they’re pretty darn mean to incumbent presidents,” said Barbara A. Perry, presidential studies director at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “Part of it is the rosy glow of nostalgia: ‘Those were the good old days and we just didn’t know it.’”

“It’s almost an American tradition to give presidents an upward revision after they leave office,” said Douglas Brinkley, an author and history professor at Rice. “Only Richard Nixon, due to the damage of the tapes, doesn’t fit that paradigm, so it only makes sense because once you leave office you’re no longer the bullseye of the opposition. A kind of nostalgia and fondness kick in, you open a big presidential library and write a best-selling memoir, and pick a few media shows to go on in which your interrogators are friends and you’re able to start rebuilding a post-presidential life.”

There is data to back up the anecdotes. In 2013, Gallup published a study that found “presidents’ retrospective approval ratings are almost always more positive than their job approval ratings while in office,” and that Bush’s mark was already better just a year removed from his final days in office.

There are two post-World War II examples of presidents who exited with approval ratings similar to Bush’s but who rebuilt their reputations — the beneficiaries of historical perspective as well as their own post-presidential activities. When Harry Truman left office, he was at 32 percent approval versus 56 percent disapproval. There were a number of factors at play in Truman’s lack of popularity, according to Perry, including the stalemate in the Korean War and the comparison to his overwhelmingly popular predecessor Franklin D. Roosevelt. When Truman left office in 1953, he moved to Independence, Mo., and began work on his library. Following his death in 1972, history did the rehabilitating for him. “Plain Speaking,” an oral biography of his conversations with author Merle Miller, was published, providing a stark contrast to the quagmire in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal swirling around Nixon.

President Harry S. Truman repeats for cameramen (who were excluded at the news session) his warning that U.N. forces would not back down in Korea and the atom bomb would be used if necessary to meet the military situation. The re-enactment was in the same executive office room in Washington, Nov. 30, 1950 where his press conferences are held. (Photo: Henry Griffin/AP)President Harry S. Truman repeats for cameramen (who were excluded at the news session) his warning that U.N. forces would not back down in Korea and the atom bomb would be used if necessary to meet the military situation. The re-enactment was in the same executive office room in Washington, Nov. 30, 1950 where his press conferences are held. (Photo: Henry Griffin/AP)

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In 1950, President Harry S. Truman warns that U.N. forces would not back down in Korea and the atom bomb would be used if necessary to meet the military situation. (Photo: Henry Griffin/AP)

“With Korea, 20 years later when Lyndon Johnson was having all the trouble he was having in Vietnam,” said Kurt Graham, director of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, “people realized there was an outcome in Asia that was worse than a stalemate — you could actually lose. And as Vietnam became part of the American consciousness, people looked back and thought, ‘Maybe Harry Truman’s restraint in not getting involved, stopping at the 38th Parallel, not pursuing, not drawing China in — maybe he was wiser than we gave him credit for at the time.”

The Truman nostalgia grew to the point that a song by the band Chicago, with the president’s name as the title, reached the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975, with the opening lines “America needs you, Harry Truman/Harry, could you please come home.” By the time David McCullough’s bestselling and Pulitzer-winning biography was published in 1992, Truman had gone from 56 percent disapproval to consistently ranking near the top of presidential surveys.

Jimmy Carter’s post-presidency provides another example. He left office in 1981 with just a 34 percent approval rating versus 55 percent disapproval, having suffered a 9-point loss to Ronald Reagan in his bid for reelection in 1980. Carter’s term was marred by inflation as the result of an oil embargo, the Iranian hostage crisis and — according to historian Randall Balmer — Carter’s lack of tact in dealing with Congress. Balmer, who teaches at Dartmouth and is the author of “Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter,” says that Carter’s strategy of post-presidential rehab via the Carter Center was deliberate.

When the Arab oil boycott caused serious shortages of fuel in the United States, many citizens protested. There were long lines at gas stations and people could buy gas on only certain days of the week. In this case, people carry signs condemning Pres. Carter and his administration's handling of the energy crisis. (Photo: Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)When the Arab oil boycott caused serious shortages of fuel in the United States, many citizens protested. There were long lines at gas stations and people could buy gas on only certain days of the week. In this case, people carry signs condemning Pres. Carter and his administration's handling of the energy crisis. (Photo: Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

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When the Arab oil boycott caused serious shortages of fuel in the United States, many citizens protested. There were long lines at gas stations, and people could buy gas on only certain days of the week. In this case, people carry signs condemning President Carter and his administration’s handling of the energy crisis. (Photo: Wally McNamee/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

“What Carter did when he left office, he could have gone into a golden retirement at that point, but he chose not to, and instead he followed an intentional and deliberate strategy to continue working on the things that he cared about. In some ways his post-presidency was his second term that he never was able to win,” said Balmer. “I think his reputation rebounded due to his long advocacy for eradicating tropical diseases, pursuing clean elections around the world and trying to be a broker for peace in various areas of conflict.”

In his post-presidency, Carter has contributed to building homes through Habitat for Humanity and working to eradicate river blindness and Guinea-worm disease. The center has monitored more than 100 elections, and Carter’s diplomatic work in Haiti, North Korea and across the globe helped earn him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. By 1990, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found Carter to be more popular than Reagan, the man who had defeated him by more than 400 electoral votes a decade earlier.

Bush’s post-presidency seems modeled more on that of Truman, a personal hero of his.

“George W. Bush always admired Harry Truman, and the way Truman went back to Independence and became one of the folks,” said Brinkley. “If you spend time in Dallas, everybody has a sighting of George and Laura Bush, and they maneuver around town without any pomposity or feeling of self-aggrandizement, so a kind of folklore has grown around him in Dallas of being such a wonderful guy.”

Bush has not been entirely absent from the public scene. He has continued to urge support for AIDS relief in Africa, including a Washington Post op-ed earlier this year about the need to continue funding the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. He joined with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton in 2010 to help raise money for earthquake relief in Haiti, and funds from the sales of his newest book are going to the Bush Center’s Military Service Initiative, which helps ease the transition for veterans coming back home.

Former President George W. Bush, right, shares a moment with workers of a mango warehouse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday Aug. 10, 2010. Bush arrived in Haiti on Tuesday, to visit organizations, supported by the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, and to reassure investors that the money spent would help the nation Former President George W. Bush, right, shares a moment with workers of a mango warehouse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday Aug. 10, 2010. Bush arrived in Haiti on Tuesday, to visit organizations, supported by the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, and to reassure investors that the money spent would help the nation

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Former President George W. Bush, right, shares a moment with workers at a mango warehouse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2010. (Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP)

“Before Trump, I would have said there’s a limit to the upside of Bush’s rehabilitation,” said Perry, “but if Trump forever alters the presidency, it’s possible that Bush and all the ‘normal’ presidents that preceded the shift would be viewed very favorably.”

But even if Bush continues to look more palatable in contrast to Trump, while benefiting from sepia-toned nostalgia, the multitude of mistakes he made during his eight years will likely put a ceiling on his approval ratings.

“It’s going to be a hard upward revision with scholars because of the Great Recession and the unpopular Iraq War,” said Brinkley. “The war in Iraq was Bush’s war of choice and it didn’t go well, and the Great Recession happened on his watch, so there’s only so much historical rehabilitation that can be done.”

“Historians in the future will surely focus on Bush’s significant failures: Iraq, Katrina and the financial meltdown, chief among them,” said Kevin Kruse, an author and history professor at Princeton. “But as time passes, they’ll increasingly be drawn to the differences between his presidency and his Republican successor, most notably on matters of race and religion. Bush sought to broaden the Republican coalition, softening the party’s stances on immigration and making room for Latinos and African-Americans as well. More impressively, his outreach to Muslims at home and abroad in the wake of 9/11 made for a notable departure on religious liberty as well.”

“But,” added Kruse, “there are significant failures on his watch that no amount of comparison will ever make good.”


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