Think millennials are woke? A new poll suggests some are still sleeping on racism.

The 1961 mug shot of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, one of the original Freedom Riders for Human Rights. (Courtesy of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland/Family Photo)

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When the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop was acquitted of all charges in June, my Facebook news feed lit up with posts from friends expressing their outrage. But one post stood out. It was a mug shot of a young white woman, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, who had been arrested in 1961 for protesting segregation. The image was accompanied by several paragraphs of text.

In the text, Bri Traquair, 31, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., wrote that almost every white person she knows “has at least thought they would be like Joan” if they had been alive during the civil rights era. But Traquair also noted how easy it is for her as a young white woman in the face of the racial injustices of today to turn off the channel, to disconnect from the issue, and “to just not think about this anymore.”

Traquair makes clear that she is not content with looking away from the racism. Instead, she urges her peers to get involved. In the last paragraph of her post, Traquair addresses white people directly, calling their attention to the moment for action that is right in front of them.

“My whole point comes down to this,” she writes. “My fellow white people, if you think you would have done something then, but are doing nothing now, then you wouldn’t have done anything then, either. So think about what side of history you want to be on, because now’s the time for doing something.”

To date, the post has garnered 54,000 likes and was shared more than 43,000 times. Traquair seemed to have struck a nerve by highlighting a tendency among her white peers to distance themselves from the racial injustices happening in real time.

A recent survey by GenForward looks at what millennials feel about issues affecting our country. The poll found that young people are divided along racial and ethnic lines in their concerns about racism and police brutality. When asked to list the top issues facing the country today, white and Asian American millennials were far less likely than their African American and Latino peers to list racism or police brutality as one of their top three. The poll offered respondents 22 issues to select from; health care ranked highly for all groups, and immigration was the top issue for Latinos.

When it comes to police brutality, the divide is also stark. African American millennials were far more likely to list police brutality as a top problem facing the country today. For white millennials, more ranked health care as the top concern, followed by education and terrorism, which was virtually on par with the environment. Health care, education and climate change were the top issues for Asian American millennials. For Latino millennials, immigration, health care and racism made it into the top spots. For African Americans, health care, racism and police brutality were the most frequently cited issues.

Millennials are the largest and most diverse generation in U.S. history. A majority of millennials support same-sex marriage, identify as liberal Democrats and view socialism as a means for transforming the nation’s unequal economic system. But the poll shows thatlike Americans overall, we are still divided on whether we think racism is a big problem for society. 

Researchers for GenForward, a project of the University of Chicago, polled roughly 1,800 millennials ages 18 to 34 in June and July, making sure to include people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Too often, the researchers argue, surveys don’t take into consideration how millennials’ attitudes and opinions break down along racial lines. In this case, the researchers tried to contextualize why the divide around racism and police brutality exists, suggesting that major events could have primed the survey takers.

“Racism, for example, may be especially salient for African Americans and Latinos in the context of increasing video evidence of police brutality and incendiary rhetoric on immigration,” they wrote. “Shared concerns over health care, on the other hand, may be evidence of priming by national coverage of Republican attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.”

But although African American and Latino millennials might have paid more attention to these incidents, it’s hard to imagine that white millennials and Asian Americans missed them. The debate over the Affordable Care Act, video evidence of police brutality and President Trump’s incendiary rhetoric on immigration have all made national headlines. According to a 2016 study by the Media Insight Project, 85 percent of millennials say that staying on top of the news is at least somewhat important to them. With so many of us trying to stay connected, it would be difficult for us to only see stories about health care while missing the ones on police brutality or immigration.

Despite the numbers, there are a few instances that suggest millennials could be coming together on the issues of racism and police brutality. Over the past two years, as more shootings of unarmed black people by police made national headlines, people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds protested in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Additionally, following the Castile shooting, many young Asian Americans took part in writing an open letter to their family members urging them not to tune out police violence against African Americans. The organizer of the letter, Christina Xu, had seen how many in her community protested when Brooklyn cop Peter Liang was convicted in 2016 in the shooting of Akai Gurley. Many thought Liang was being used as a scapegoat because of his Chinese heritage.

However, at a time when 42 percent of Americans say they worry “a great deal” about race relations, according to Gallup, the notion that millennials aren’t united to take on racism is worrisome. Although there has been progress over the years, we are still dealing with housing segregation, economic inequality and health disparities. These are issues that millennials will have to address as the generations before us pass on the mantel.

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Three years later, entrepreneurs help Ferguson slowly move from the spotlight while under watchful eye of the feds.


FERGUSON, Mo. – The mayor would like for the questions to go away. But three years later, they persist.

James Knowles III typically gives an answer befitting a good ambassador to a city thrust into the international spotlight after a White police officer fatally shot a Black teen, Michael Brown, and set off months of protests and violence.

He talks about a city moving forward.

Leadership changes
Gone are the White police chief and the White city manager, replaced by African-American men, moves that reflect the makeup of a city where more than two-thirds of its residents are Black.

The seven-member council, including the mayor, now has three African-American members, compared to one on Aug. 9, 2014, when Brown was killed.

Ferguson, Missouri entrepreneurs Lisa Davis and her husband, Joshura Davis, check out the cars on display at a car show sponsored by their local business association in an attempt to create positive community events in the area where violent protests took place.

Many changes, focused on improving police department hiring and training and court reform, came as a result of a Justice Department investigation and led to the city signing a consent decree with the federal government to adjust or face legal action.

Still too slow
Joshura Davis, a Ferguson business owner, says the city is not progressing quickly enough.

His insurance office sits on West Florissant Avenue, and he and his wife, Lisa, attended the opening last month of a new job training center across the street, on the site where a QuikTrip once stood – one of at least two dozen buildings burned to the ground during the unrest following Brown’s killing.

Small business owners in that part of town formed the Ferguson-Dellwood West Florissant Business Association, which Davis heads. He has 45 businesses on his email list.

Not going anywhere
Davis wanted to create a united front “to let St. Louis know we are here for the long haul and all-in to develop this side of Ferguson that was really devastated.”

Today, businesses in the corridor continue to struggle. Davis, who runs Best Insurance Agency and Always Love and Care, an in-home health care service, said business is down 50 percent since before Aug. 2014 – something he hears from others in his association.

During a panel discussion at the National Urban League conference in downtown St. Louis last month, Davis made an emotional plea to corporate and elected leaders on the stage and in the audience.

‘We broke it’
“We do not have five, 10, 15, 20 years to rebuild West Florissant Avenue. We don’t have that kind of time,” Davis told the crowd at a session titled “Ferguson: From Anger to Action.”

It was moderated by Michael Neidorff, CEO of Centene Corp., which opened a $25 million service center in Ferguson last year, and Michael McMillan, head of the local Urban League chapter.

“We have enough resources in St. Louis to fix it,” Davis said. “We broke it. We can fix it.”

Davis knew he would have a captive audience and wanted to tell them that challenges are real and the clock is ticking. He is heartened by the new Ferguson Community Empowerment Center, a partnership of the Urban League and Salvation Army.

“It is really huge,” Davis said. “Before the empowerment center, every day 34,000 cars would pass by and see the ground zero site and all those vacant lots. Those were visions of the past. The empowerment site is a solid vision of the future that lets people see that someone is interested, someone is committed and the community is coming together.”

Implementing findings
As the city continues to work with the federal government, a nonprofit has taken up the task of addressing the findings of the 16-member Ferguson Commission. It was appointed in November 2014 by then-Gov. Jay Nixon to offer specific recommendations for “making the St. Louis region a stronger, fairer place for everyone to live.”

The nonprofit, Forward Through Ferguson, has before it the 189 “calls to action” recommended by the Ferguson Commission, which officially completed its work in December 2015. The commission labeled 47 of its recommendations as “signature priority” items.

They include creating civilian review boards at the municipal and county levels; consolidating law enforcement agencies, municipal courts and police training centers; and eliminating incarceration for minor offenses.

Nothing new
Forward Through Ferguson, in partnership with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, created a report that was made public at the Urban League’s national conference. It serves as a history lesson, of sorts, for what happened in Ferguson.

“While the Ferguson Commission and many of the efforts connected to it arose in response to a specific situation, what happened in Ferguson didn’t create that situation,” reads the report.

“It revealed difficult truths that had been the reality for many people for many decades. Deep truths that were present and manifested almost 100 years ago in the East St. Louis race riots that sparked the creation of the Urban League affiliate in St. Louis. The underlying issues that led to these situations exist today, to varying degrees, in every metropolitan area in America.”

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, a member of the Ferguson Commission, was on the Urban League panel where Davis made his plea. She told the crowd that when she speaks around the country, the message is clear:

“There is a Ferguson somewhere near you.”

Related stories

Alcohol use on the rise in U.S.

In the latest issue of the journal JAMA Psychiatry Bridget F. Grant and colleagues have reported that alcohol use is rising at an alarming rate in the United States. Both the health and cost implications of this are huge. Opioid related deaths have already made headlines and their rise is accompanied by other substance use feel health officials.

Image Credit: Voyagerix / Shutterstock

Image Credit: Voyagerix / Shutterstock

Grant and colleagues write that between the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions evaluations in 2001-2002 and in 2012-2013 the increase in alcohol use has been significant. The study looked at a large sample of nationally representative participants 18 years and older and conducted interviews with all individuals about their alcohol use habits. The study included two national surveys – National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions with 43 093 adults and the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III with 36 309 adults. Data was collected from April 2001 to June 2002 for National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions and from April 2012 to June 2013 for National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III. Data were analyzed in November and December 2016.

High-risk drinking was defined as 5 drinks per occasion for men (4 for women) at least weekly. One standard drink means 14 g of ethanol. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical manual (DSM-IV) alcohol use disorders (AUDs) were defined for this study.

The results showed that there is a significant rise in alcohol use over the last few years in three categories – last 12 month drinking, high risk drinking and AUDs. The largest increase was in AUDs that rose from 8.5% in 2001/2002 to 12.7% in 2012-13. This rise was by 49.4%. This was an overall view and included even those who were on remissions. Scientists write that those with AUDs may not be just a current problem. They may be likely to have raised health care costs in future too. Their risk for heart disease, cancers and other major illnesses remains throughout life the researchers explain.

For women the rise in AUDs is also significantly high – an 83.7% increase in AUDs over the 11 years says this study. African American individuals have shown a whopping 92.8% increase in AUDs. Persons between ages of 45 years and 64 years and those 65 years and older, show a rise of 81.5% and 106.7% increases in AUDs respectively over this decade. Those with only high school educations notably show a 57.8% increase in AUDs and those with incomes less than $20 000 show a 65.9% increase in AUDs. High-risk drinking too rose from 9.7% to 12.6% (a change of 29.9%) in this period with each of the above subgroups being leaders in drinking. Number of drinkers rose from 65.4% to 72.7% (an enhancement of 11.2%). Overall, 12-month alcohol use rose by 11.2%, high-risk drinking by 29.9% and DSM-IV alcohol use disorder by 49.4% for the total US population.

These results corroborate with other national surveys too. Especially the rise of drinking among subgroups, especially women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities and those who are socioeconomically backward are a cause for concern as this could lead to a major public health crisis unless controlled. With time this can give rise to major diseases and illnesses that arise out of alcohol misuse.


Zinzi Clemmons on her first novel: ‘I’m proud of it, because I didn’t hold anything back’

About five years ago, Zinzi Clemmons’s mother’s health worsened dramatically and doctors told her she didn’t have much longer to live. Clemmons, who was away studying, returned home to Philadelphia – a detail she says “is highly relevant because of what’s going on right now [with healthcare in the US]”, as it was partly an economic decision: “I acted as her primary caretaker, and my family wouldn’t have been able to afford that unless I had done it. And we’re not badly off in any way.”

At that point, Clemmons was working on a story about HIV, exploring illness and its politicisation – themes that remain in her mesmerising debut novel What We Lose – but she didn’t have “enough direct experience”, and it wasn’t working. At the same time, she had started writing vignettes about illness and anticipatory grief, born from “the idea that I would have to go through this process very soon”. At the encouragement of her agent, she turned them into the skeleton of her first novel.

What resulted was a transgressive and moving study of grief. Centred on a young woman, Thandi, who is dealing with the illness and subsequent death of her mother from cancer, What We Lose is highly experimental, told in intimate vignettes including blogposts, photos, hand-drawn charts and hip-hop lyrics. Jumping from Philadelphia to Johannesburg, Portland and New York, Clemmons’s debut is also a meditation on identity, race, politics, family and love.

Clemmons’s mother died around the time she started writing it. “I think it’s maybe better that way,” she says. “It’s a difficult thing writing about your family – I probably would have held back … and I think that’s why I’m proud of it, because I didn’t hold anything back.”

The clear emotional insight with which she maps Thandi’s grief is remarkable. She says she wanted to focus on the surprising complications that come with grief – as, for instance, with sex: “You think, when you’re going through grief, that everything else in your life stops. And [sex] is one of the areas where you feel conflicted, because it’s self-indulgent on a very basic level and you’re giving yourself pleasure when someone has just gone through a lot of pain.” She says she gets asked about this “almost uniformly” by women journalists: “I think it’s because a lot of the bad writing we read about sex is written by men, but when women can talk about sex honestly, it tends to look much less objectionable.” She laughs. “I’ve always written about sex. I think I’m kind of gonzo in that way.”

Thandi has been raised in an upper-middle class, majority white neighbourhood in Philadelphia by a South African mother and an African American father. She often goes back to the affluent Johannesburg suburb where most of her family lives (and Oscar Pistorius attended school down the hill). Much like Clemmons’s experiences growing up as mixed race and between cultures, she doesn’t feel as if she belongs in South Africa – where the violence terrifies her – nor in the US, where she is trying to fit in but is reminded by her peers that she isn’t “like, a real black person”. In the book, Thandi muses: “I’ve often thought that being a light-skinned black woman is like being a well-dressed person who is also homeless.”

Growing up in a similar suburb of Philadelphia to Thandi, Clemmons spent many summers in South Africa. “I never felt like I had a tribe that I could belong to without some qualification – ‘you are this, but’.” But this cultural situation has turned out to be useful for her fiction: “That kind of experience is what makes you a writer … I think all writers are outsiders, for some reason … They’re the people who kind of stand off to one side, they’re not participating, they’re observing.”

What We Lose distils how racism pervades relationships between women, in ways that can often be hard to articulate. Thandi has a conflicted relationship with her mother, who forces her to have her hair chemically straightened and cautions “that I would never have true relationships with darker-skinned women. These women would always be jealous of me.” Clemmons wanted to fictionalise her own complicated relationship with her mother; the last few years have been a “journey, through writing and otherwise, to understand my mother more.”

The novel’s experimental form works as a kind of stream-of-consciousness, almost as if the reader were reading her journal. Clemmons began “with very few ideas about what I should be doing, which allowed me a lot of freedom to approach it in my own terms. I didn’t see books as gospel.” Inspired by an index-card method she had read Jenny Offill used for Dept. of Speculation, she printed out the manuscript, cut it up and took it with her to residencies, spreading it on the floor and “moving the pieces around”. Much like Offill’s book, the fragmentary form works to concentrate the emotional potency. Best read in immersive, long sittings, What We Lose has a lingering, almost hypnotic effect.

Clemmons cites Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely as a big influence, alongside Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye – two fellow debuts. Of her own, she thinks: “It works as a first novel because it is limited in scope and achieves a lot of what it sets out to do in a pretty innovative way; I wanted to do something manageable but also that I felt like it could let my talents shine.” She’s not afraid to sell those talents: just before the book came out in the US, Clemmons wrote an essay about how America’s concept of the literary avant garde omits black artists. “I wrote it to put it on people’s radars and to sort of clear room for myself, and say: this is a problem, and hopefully by the time of reading my book they’ve changed their minds!” She laughs. “Perhaps that’s Machiavellian of me, but I also think it’s cool and subversive, in a way.”

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MED Gives High Schoolers a Jump on Health Careers

Although he is more cheerful and less intimidating, Donald DeRosa invokes the curmudgeonly TV doctor Gregory House to challenge the high school students facing him in a School of Medicine classroom on a recent afternoon.

Like House, “we’re going to give you a medical mystery and ask you to solve it,” says DeRosa (SED’91,’01), a School of Education clinical associate professor of curriculum and teaching, a MED research assistant professor, and director of CityLab, a biotechnology learning laboratory housed at MED. “What’s the mechanism of the disease—what’s going on inside that person’s body?”

He shows them a video of an actual patient talking about her unpredictable, all-over body pain and how it interferes with her life. The students are quick to suggest diagnoses: “migraines” doesn’t quite work, but DeRosa nods at “a nerve disease” or “a circulatory disease.”

He asks, “Do you have enough information to answer this question?”

The students’ answer: “No.”

The students, all Boston residents, attend schools throughout the area and are enrolled in the Youth to Health Careers (Y2HC) Summer Enrichment Program, administered by the Boston Public Health Commission’s Boston Area Health Education Center (BAHEC). The mission of the Y2HC program is to increase diversity among the city’s health care workforce by helping youth from underserved populations pursue careers in health and public health.

The intensive six-week program provides more than 80 students with academic enrichment, college preparation, and internships, with help from health care partners around Boston, among them MED, Boston Medical Center, the BU School of Public Health, the Tufts University School of Dentistry, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Boston Children’s Hospital.

MED has long offered the use of its facilities for the program, so when BAHEC administrators approached Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus, earlier this year seeking a closer partnership, the response was overwhelmingly positive. MED provided not only classrooms and labs, faculty, and internships, but also created educational programs.

“It was an incredible collaborative effort across the Charles River and Medical Campuses, including the hospital,” says Hee-Young Park, a MED professor and chair of medical sciences and education and assistant dean of the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences, who chaired a committee to shape the new program. “Faculty, staff, students, and clinicians donated their time to make this happen within the course of a month. Everyone was so committed to providing educational opportunities in health sciences for these students. Not a single person I approached said no.”

Back to the medical mystery

After DeRosa finishes showing the video to his Y2HC students, they set to work in teams. They quickly identify the anomalies in images of the patient’s blood—fewer red blood cells than a normal image, many of them shaped abnormally, like crescent moons. And the patient’s family tree, with those who had the same illness marked, suggests a recessive genetic disorder. One student thinks it’s sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that disproportionately affects African Americans.

“But there is a difference between the facts and an inference,” DeRosa cautions. An experiment is necessary to confirm the diagnosis: two sets of (simulated) hemoglobin samples are subjected to an electrical charge; the one with sickle cell will move more quickly toward the charge. The students have to measure precise amounts of hemoglobin as well as make the gelatin for the “racetrack” the samples will run. As the students don lab coats and safety glasses a lot of selfies are snapped, but they quickly turn serious as they launch the experiment. When it’s over, sickle cell has been confirmed. “We saved him,” one student hoots, and there are high fives all around.

Maymuna Rahman and India Washington doing lab experiment

Boston Latin School sophomore Maymuna Rahman (left) and Brookline High School sophomore India Washington are among the 87 students exploring health careers in this year’s Y2HC program, run by the Boston Area Health Education Center. The School of Medicine is a partner in the program.

“Our school is all focused on academics in math and science; it’s all about books, not the experience you’re getting,” says Mahogany Black, a rising senior at Boston Latin School. “They have labs, but definitely not like this.”

The Y2HC students tend to be highly motivated classroom achievers. They spend their mornings delving into math and science and labs in topics like brain anatomy and dissection. Afternoons are for electives, tours, and demonstrations at such places as the College of Engineering’s Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC) and the Photonics Center on the Charles River Campus. College prep is also on the syllabus. In addition, the students have internships across the Medical Campus.

“I found that these were students who had a pretty rigorous course load already,” says postdoctoral researcher Matthew Jacobsen (ENG’17), who is teaching a class in anatomy and physiology to a group of Y2HC seniors. “I didn’t feel like I needed to hold back a lot. A lot of the stuff I’ve given them I didn’t see until I was in college.”

Some students enter the program already interested in public health or health-system careers, while others are just learning what’s out there, says Anthony Crosson, BAHEC director. The goal is that by the time they’ve completed the program, students have gained the knowledge and confidence to pursue these careers.

Boston Latin Academy rising senior Brandon Hector knows that he wants to be a surgeon, specializing in neurology. He has a brother who was born with a syndrome that requires a shunt to control the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid. “I would like to help patients like him when I get older,” Hector says.

“Most of our students are the first generation to go to college and often don’t have the kind of coaching or mentorship that it takes to pursue and succeed in a health career,” says Philomena Asante, director of the Boston Public Health Commission Child and Adolescent Health Division. “What we’re doing is leveling the playing field.”

“Science isn’t getting an answer; it’s seeking explanations, knowing what to do when you don’t have the answer, and that’s what these students have been doing,” says DeRosa. “They’ve made a lot of good connections.”

Forty-five years ago, the nation learned about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Its repercussions are still felt today.

President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, back, help Herman Shaw, 94, a Tuskegee Syphilis Study victim, during a news conference Friday, May 16, 1997. Making amends for a shameful U.S. experiment, Clinton apologized to Black men whose syphilis went untreated by government doctors. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, back, help Herman Shaw, 94, a Tuskegee Syphilis Study victim, during a news conference Friday, May 16, 1997. Making amends for a shameful U.S. experiment, Clinton apologized to Black men whose syphilis went untreated by government doctors. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

Forty-five years ago, the nation learned about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Its repercussions are still felt today.

Sarah Toy, USA Today

      It was 45 years ago Tuesday, when the nation first learned about the horrors of a federally funded experiment on unsuspecting African Americans with syphilis in rural Alabama — a study whose repercussions are still being felt today.

Medical researchers and providers withheld treatment from about 400 Black men in Tuskegee, Ala., from 1932 to 1972 in order to study the course of the untreated disease. Researchers did not obtain informed consent from these men, nor did they tell them they were not being treated for syphilis. Instead, the men were told they were being treated for “bad blood.”

Even when penicillin became the drug of choice for treating syphilis in 1945, researchers did not offer it to them.

Tuskegee burst into the public consciousness when The Associated Press published a story exposing the study on July 25, 1972. Outrage ensued, the study ended, and the men filed a lawsuit the following year, resulting in a $9 million settlement in 1974. President Clinton issued a formal apology on behalf of the U.S. government in 1997.

Tuskegee has been up as one reason for the continued distrust between the Black com-munity and health providers and medical researchers “Tuskegee plays a significant role in the mindsets of the African American community,” said Lawrence J. Prograis Jr., a physician and adjunct professor at the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center who has written extensively about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. “It made a significant impact of distrust within the community that still lingers on.”

Freddie Lee Tyson was one of the men enrolled in the study. His daughter, Lillie Tyson Head, is the chairwoman of the Voices for Our Fathers Legacy Foundation, which represents the descendants of the men who were in the Tuskegee study and works to preserve and share their life stories. She said the study still affects how she views the health care field.

The fact that the study was carried out by “professionals that had the code of ethics and the swearing of healing and helping and aiding” has made her think twice about trusting health care providers, she said.

The study ended decades ago, but Head said “it still has an impact on how your feelings are and how your trust is toward (health) professionals,” adding she sometimes feels apprehension about whether she is being told the truth.

In 1974, Congress signed the National Research Act into law, creating the National Com-mission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research and establishing ethical guidelines for research involving humans.

Today, human subjects in research studies have rights that ensure their autonomy, including informed consent and the right to leave a study at any time and for any reason. Every new study must also be re-viewed and approved by an Institutional Review Board, which goes over the study’s protocols and determines whether its ethical standards pass muster.

But many still feel uneasy about being a part of clinical research.

Vann R. Newkirk II, a writer for The Atlantic who is Black, wrote in a 2016 piece that he doesn’t remember how he learned about Tuskegee — “it was just always there.”

“Like my innate discomfort around police and my knowledge of ‘how to act’ in mixed company, the Tuskegee Study and an anxiety about a malevolent medical system became part of my language for navigating and understanding the world from the earliest, and I didn’t really have a choice in the matter,” he wrote.

Newkirk went on to describe how Tuskegee shapes his current beliefs about medicine and health more than he cares to admit, even after studying public health as an undergraduate and working as a research assistant to Dr. Bill Jenkins, one of the CDC whistle-blowers who called attention to the Tuskegee study and later managed the Participants Health Benefits Program for survivors.

“I still have trouble trusting physicians and have declined participation in some health studies that probably would have been useful to me,” Newkirk wrote. “My wariness still comes after years of research in trying to quantify that same wariness in older Black men and trying to figure out ways to get them to overcome their own suspicions.”

African Americans are underrepresented in medical research. Although they make up 12% of the population, they only make up 5% of clinical trial participants, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“There is not equal representation in clinical trials,” said Regina James, the director of clinical and health services research at the National Institute On Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“There’s concern about their safety,” she said. “If they participate in the research, what does it mean? Will they be told everything? Will they be used as a guinea pig?”

James said physicians and researchers should focus on cultural competency and work to meet potential participants where they are. A diverse recruiting staff can be helpful as well since people are often more comfortable with those from their same cultural background. The NIH is currently funding studies to look at how to improve recruitment and retention of minority subjects in clinical trials, she said.

“The importance of having diversity in clinical trials cannot be overstated. (They are) essential in deciding which treatment works best for each of us,” she said.

She added: “We need to ensure that research findings are beneficial for everyone.”

Contributing: Sydney Greene, USA TODAY 

Follow Sarah Toy on Twitter: @sarahtoy17


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What is wrong with white Christians?

(RNS) — What is wrong with white Christians?

This isn’t meant to simply be a provocative question. A new survey from The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation offers the latest dispiriting news about the troubling state of white Christianity.

Christians, the study found, are more than twice as likely to blame a person’s poverty on individual failings than Americans who are atheist or have no specific religious affiliation. White evangelical Christians, who voted overwhelmingly for President Trump and continue to be some of his most steadfast supporters, are especially wedded to this worldview. Half of white Catholics also cited lack of effort — read: laziness — rather than difficult circumstances as the primary reason why people are poor. Less than a third of African-American Christians agree.

White Christians are also oblivious or in denial when it comes to the reality of racism and discrimination, according to data from the Public Religion Research Institute. Pernicious stereotypes about race and poverty, of course, are two sides of the same coin. While 57 percent of Americans acknowledge significant levels of racism against black people, PRRI found, those numbers were dramatically different for white Christians. Only 36 percent of white evangelicals and 47 percent of white Catholics reported perceiving discrimination against African-Americans. Partisan affiliation has the most significant influence on these attitudes about race and poverty, but religious identity is also a key factor.

“Perceptions of Discrimination Against Black People by Religious Affiliation.” Graphic courtesy of PRRI

There are complex theological, cultural and political reasons behind these numbers that scholars can dissect with academic detachment. But at a fundamental level, there is a crisis at the heart of white Christianity. The dark-skinned Jesus who preached justice to those in the shadow of an empire would likely not recognize many of his nominal followers today. 

Too many white Christians sacrifice the gospel’s radical solidarity with the poor and oppressed with comfortable, self-serving ideologies. Prosperity gospel preachers affirm the cult of consumerism and individualism. Evangelicals rally behind political leaders who make a holy trinity out of tax cuts for the wealthy, attacks on social safety nets and anti-government propaganda. A majority of the descendants of white Catholic immigrants once feared and loathed in this country voted for a president who ran on an explicitly nativist message.

In this upside-down world, white Christians can justify taking away health care coverage from struggling families and blindly worship the false idol of “trickle-down” economic theories that Pope Francis has rightly called a “crude” and “naïve” fantasy. Climate change that already displaces the most vulnerable around the world is denied or blithely dismissed as liberal hyperventilating.

A strain of American Christianity has always been interwoven with a secular creed of “rugged individualism.” Work hard and sacrifice, the dogma goes, and you will reap rewards both material and spiritual. Growing up, Donald Trump imbibed the sugary, self-help messages of his pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, author of the best-selling book “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

A forerunner to later prosperity preachers, Peale preached a convenient gospel that the ambitious found alluring. The wealthy deserved to be rich. Individuals create their own destiny. There is no room in this narcissistic religion of the self for a sober analysis of social sin. It’s one thing to acknowledge personal moral failings as inherent to the human condition. It takes a cognitive leap from the personal to the systemic to understand how institutions and structures also must be redeemed. “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint,” the late Brazilian Bishop Dom Hélder Câmara once said. “When I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”

Structures and institutions are sinful when they perpetuate inequality and injustice. “People aren’t poor because they are sinners,” Noel Castellanos of the Christian Community Development Association tweeted recently. “Often people are poor because they are sinned against.”

The fact that child poverty in the U.S. is dramatically higher in the United States than in most industrialized countries has nothing to do with morally deficient children and can’t exclusively be blamed on the flaws of their parents. Personal responsibility matters and culture can influence decisions, but specific policy and political decisions play a far greater role. Before 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, less than half of people over 65 had health insurance and 35 percent lived in poverty. In the program’s first year, more than 19 million people over 65 enrolled and poverty among older and disabled Americans decreased by nearly two-thirds.

Churches and pastors need not become sociologists or partisan cheerleaders to begin waking up white Christian America. The Hebrew prophets and Jesus stood on the side of the powerless. Those under the yoke of Pharaoh found God’s favor. If Christianity doesn’t challenge the status quo and recover its prophetic edge, the Rev. Martin Luther King reminded us, it will become an “irrelevant social club.” White Christians have much to repent for, but the work of reparation and seeking justice can begin now. 

 (John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life and author of “The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church”)

Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad

There’s a lot to say about Trump reversing some of the Obama administration’s policies on Cuba. The White House recently announced it was banning individual travel to the island and further restricting what business Americans can do there.

Yes, there’s a lot to say, but I wonder if there’s any point in saying it. After all, most Americans want to relax the embargo on Cuba. Even most Republicans disagree with Trump on Cuba, polls show.

That requires a bit of explanation. America has a longstanding embargo on Cuba, preventing the U.S. from selling much of anything there. The policy traces back to the Cold War. The economic harm to the island resulting from the policy is obvious when one sets foot in Cuba.

When I visited in 2010, life had gotten better for Cubans since the hardest times in the early 1990s. Still, life was difficult. Meat was a luxury for Cubans. Milk was only rationed to young children. I bought a handmade dress for $15, a handsome sum to a Cuban but a pittance to me.

Obama didn’t end the embargo. It’s still in place.

What Obama overturned were other Cold War-era measures. He restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and relaxed a travel ban on U.S. citizens visiting the island.

The only way I was able to visit Cuba in 2010 was with a special government permit, and by going for business instead of pleasure. The U.S. government also limited how much I could spend there. And, of course, I couldn’t bring any Cuban rum or cigars home.

I’ve traveled all over on five different continents. In college, I spent an entire summer in China, a Communist country with a bad human rights record — quite a bit worse than Cuba’s, arguably — that the U.S. is on perfectly good terms with, thank you very much.

Yet I’ve never been hassled, searched, and investigated as much upon my return home as I was when I came back from Cuba.

On the way out, I had to first fly to Cancun and then board a second flight the next day to Cuba. On my return, I was questioned, searched, and scolded until I nearly missed my connecting flight.

The hypocrisy was jarring. Why is the U.S. on good terms with China but not Cuba?

After Obama relaxed America’s anti-Cuba policies, you could literally fly Southwest to Havana.

I think the best comment on Trump’s policies came in the form of a satirical “news” article: “President Trump Orders the Execution of Five Turkeys Pardoned By Obama.” No, not really. It’s a joke. But it exposes the motives and sentiments behind many of Trump’s actions.

In part, Trump is probably working to secure the hard liner Cuban vote in Florida by undoing Obama’s Cuba policies.

But more than that, Trump wants us to believe that Obama made America a “mess.” To show us what a great president he is, Trump wants us to believe that everything was awful before him — so bad that it required Trump to make it “great” again, by undoing obvious boons like Obama’s mild Cuba reforms.

If Obama did it, it’s bad. Therefore Trump will do the opposite. Yet he has no interest in understanding complex issues that cannot be solved easily. Health care, ISIS, and North Korea come to mind — and now Cuba, too.

To Trump, trying to understand the complex background of America’s relationship with Cuba is superfluous, since Trump himself doesn’t understand it. Yet he’s hurting both Americans and Cubans in the process.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by

What Happened to America’s Wealth? The Rich Hid It.

There’s actually trillions that could be used to fix our roads and schools. The wealthy just don’t want you to know where it is.

By Chuck Collins

Guest Columnist

If you find yourself traveling this summer, take a closer look at America’s deteriorating infrastructure — our crumbling roads, sidewalks, public parks, and train and bus stations.

Government officials will tell us “there’s no money” to repair or properly maintain our tired infrastructure. Nor do we want to raise taxes, they say.

But what if billions of dollars in tax revenue have gone missing?

New research suggests that the super-rich are hiding their money at alarming rates. A study by economists Annette Alstadsaeter, Niels Johannesen, and Gabriel Zucman reports that households with wealth over $40 million evade 25 to 30 percent of personal income and wealth taxes.

These stunning numbers have two troubling implications.

First, we’re missing billions in taxes each year. That’s partly why our roads and transit systems are falling apart.

Second, wealth inequality may be even worse than we thought. Economic surveys estimate that roughly 85 percent of income and wealth gains in the last decade have gone to the wealthiest one-tenth of the top 1 percent.

That’s bad enough. But what if the concentration is even greater?

Visualize the nation’s wealth as an expansive and deep reservoir of fresh water. A small portion of this water provides sustenance to fields and villages downstream, in the form of tax dollars for public services.

In recent years, the water level has declined to a trickle, and the villages below are suffering from water shortages. Everyone is told to tighten their belts and make sacrifices.

Deep below the water surface, however, is a hidden pipe, siphoning vast amounts of water — as much as a third of the whole reservoir — off to a secret pool in the forest.

The rich are swimming while the villagers go thirsty and the fields dry up.

Yes, there are vast pools of privately owned wealth, mostly held by a small segment of super-rich Americans. The wealthiest 400 billionaires have at least as much wealth as 62 percent of the U.S. population — that’s nearly 200 million of us.

Don’t taxpayers of all incomes under-report their incomes? Maybe here and there.

But these aren’t folks making a few dollars “under the table.” These are billionaires stashing away trillions of the world’s wealth. The latest study underscores that tax evasion by the super-rich is at least 10 times greater — and in some nations 250 times more likely — than by everyone else.

How is that possible? After all, most of us have our taxes taken out of our paychecks and pay sales taxes at the register. Homeowners get their house assessed and pay a property tax.

But the wealthy have the resources to hire the services of what’s called the “wealth defense industry.” These aren’t your “mom and pop” financial advisers that sell life insurance or help folks plan for retirement.

The wealth defenders of the super-rich — including tax lawyers, estate planners, accountants, and other financial professionals — are accomplices in the heist. They drive the getaway cars, by designing complex trusts, shell companies, and offshore accounts to hide money.

These managers help the private jet set avoid paying their fair share of taxes, even as they disproportionately benefit from living in a country with the rule of law, property rights protections, and public infrastructure the rest of us pay for.

Not all wealthy are tax dodgers. A group called the Patriotic Millionaires advocates for eliminating loopholes and building a fair and transparent tax system. They’re pressing Congress to crack down on tax evasion by the super-rich.

Their message: Bring the wealth home! Stop hiding the wealth in offshore accounts and complicated trusts. Pay your fair share to the support the public services and protections that we all enjoy.

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and a co-editor of He’s the author of the recent book Born on Third Base. Distributed by

The Tax Plan Moms Need

A modest proposal: Tax corporations to help working moms afford childcare and stay-at-home moms save for retirement.

By Martha Burk

Guest Columnist

During his speech announcing that the U.S. is ditching the Paris climate accords, President Trump took a strange detour to declare “our tax bill is moving along in Congress, and I believe it’s doing very well. I think a lot of people will be very pleasantly surprised.”

He was right about the surprise part — since that tax bill doesn’t exist. Trump has presented only a single-page summary of his wish list, and Republicans in Congress have introduced nada.

Maybe that’s good news. Since the bill is still in preexisting condition, there’s still time for improvement. The Trump summary already outlines benefits for the majority of corporations and fat cats. Let’s add a few ideas to benefit the majority of ordinary citizens — women.

The old saw about nothing being certain but death and taxes happens to be true. Another certainty is that tax policy impacts women differently from men, and not in a positive way. It’s been that way since taxes were first collected, and if President Trump follows through on the so-called “innovative” changes he says he’ll make, it could get worse.

These days virtually every family needs child care — and like it or not, women are still pulling most of the load. Not to mention that females are by far the majority of single parents.

To ease the burden, the U.S. has long had a child care tax credit. Simply put, it’s a credit (up to $6,000, depending on income) that comes off the bottom line after income taxes are calculated.

The downside is that the credit only applies to workers earning enough to pay income taxes in the first place, which excludes many low-income families. Women’s groups have advocated for years that it should apply to payroll taxes (like Medicare and Social Security), which every worker pays regardless of income, so working single moms at the bottom can also get the benefit.

Working mothers of young children aren’t the only ones punished by our current tax system. Stay-at-home moms also come in for their unfair share of tax treatment.

They get a big fat zero in Social Security accounts for years spent caring for kids, unlike almost all countries in the European Union and other advanced nations which grant caregiver credits. President Trump has said he won’t change Social Security, but this is one change that’s badly needed, and would mean fewer women would end up in poverty in their old age.

If our new president really wanted to overhaul the tax code in a way that would help families other than his own, he’d advocate increasing taxes on the rich and corporations, and revoking favorable tax treatment for organizations like the Catholic Church that blatantly discriminate against women.

We could use the savings to allow child care credits against payroll taxes, give caregiver credits in Social Security, and give a little tax relief to employers offering paid family leave in the bargain.

Now those are some truly “innovative” tax ideas.

Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote. Follow Martha on Twitter @MarthaBurk. Distributed by

A Political or Apolitical 4th of July?

By Wim Laven

Guest Columnist

I posted a link to Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech “What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?” to mark the occasion most years. For many people this year will be different and it is important that we pay attention. The freedoms marked by the day are under attack. The Declaration of Independence declares:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is important to consider the choice of reflecting these specific values. For example, in Canada they say: “peace, order, and good government” and in France: “liberty, equality, fraternity.” “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” have been specifically chosen to represent the United States of America from its inception. These values preceded Democratic and Republican parties, the founders were Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The founders focused on guarding against tyranny, both of the majority and by elected rulers. James Madison wrote, “It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part.” These days the rulers are tired of the people getting in the way.

It would be easy to highlight the hypocrisy, hence my regular reminder of the role—requirement—of slavery in the formation of the U.S.A. The hardest thing about being an American is being honest about the ugly details of our history; there are no words capable of expressing the disappointment I experienced in finding out there were slave owners in my family tree. The principles are worth aspiring to, even with our historical shortcomings, and they are under attack.

People in some demographic groups will be much more worried if they are pulled over while speeding on their way to store to pick up a missing ingredient or some briquettes for the grill than people in other groups. Some people will be working for a minimum wage that isn’t a living wage while other people are enjoying the holiday. Others will be unable to enjoy the holiday because of the recent loss of a loved one who was killed in a hate crime; that sadness is the same regardless of religious belief, sexual orientation, or skin color. My sadness is that it is frequently people who look a lot like me targeting people who look differently than I do, and white males are frequently the ones who tell me to stop being “so political.”

We have a President targeting and bullying different groups. Ignoring the fact that white males commit nearly all of the terrorism on U.S. soil. Current policies break families apart and put them on hold. We have the National Rifle Association making sure that domestic terrorists never have a problem accessing instruments of death. But, forget the fact they were silent when an African American male was killed by a police officer while lawfully carrying. The NRA now advertises a response to lawful protest, “the only way we stop this, the only we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” I guess they are happy that I’ll teach with guns in my classroom this fall (see Georgia HB 280, in effect July 1st, 2017). Forget the words of former Justice Antonin Scalia, “[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings…”

There may be as many as 22 or 23 million Americans losing health insurance; they might have a reason to protest. Almost 66 million Americans voted for losing candidate Hillary Clinton, she had 3 million votes more than Donald Trump. Trump is now a president without a mandate, the majority of Americans did not want what he ran on, and he has historically low approval numbers. Nonviolent protest is a great response to his unwanted agenda. These are matters of life and liberty. New England Journal of Medicine reporting on the impact healthcare repeal effort would have says about increasing deaths ascribable to the Republican ‘healthcare’ plan: “Estimates of this inherently murky statistic vary, but the range is from about 28,000 to nearly 100,000 a year.” A monumental loss of life!

“The right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” is a liberty guarded in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — August 28, 1963, An anti-Vietnam War protest in Washington DC — November 15, 1969, and The Anti-Nuclear March in New York City’s Central Park — June 12, 1982 were all events where hundreds of thousands of Americans made a statement about policy. No statements of “clenched fists” were made by the NRA in those times. There are currently (Republican) efforts to restrict the right to protest in 18 states. This is not what you’d expect from the nation of the Boston Tea Party, which, I’ll remind you, did destroy private property (342 chests of Tea). These laws aim to restrict the power of protest, because it works.

The reason we must keep the 4th of July political is because freedom and equality are political. The success of the civil rights movement in the 60’s required actions like marches to Selma. These laws would prevent the exercise of freedoms in such marches, in Indiana they would give law enforcement the power to shut down highway protests by “any means necessary.” The political discussion and protest are required because the public isn’t getting what it wants. The fact that, “only 12% of Americans support the Senate Republican health care plan” (USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll) is important and it is a responsibility of citizens to be active and well informed. The 4th of July is not a day for ignoring tyranny, and this 4th efforts are everywhere and they are undeniable. More fundamentally we have to be political because we need life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.

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Dameun Strange and Venessa Fuentes create ‘Mother King’ for Black audiences to see themselves in opera

In college, I enrolled in an opera program where I was one of three women of color in the entire undergraduate vocal department. So as I sat in the audience awaiting the final preview run of “Mother King” to begin, I couldn’t help but reminisce on the days when pursuing opera meant being surrounded by mostly white, upper-middle class peers from the suburbs. Sitting next to me that evening was my college opera friend and fellow woman of color, Stephanie Broussard. Like me, she formally studied opera and singing to fulfill a lifelong dream of taking the stage, only to be discouraged by the lack of diversity in the program and course material overall.

”If I had seen myself reflected in school, I think I would still be singing opera and performing more,” Broussard said.

“Mother King” is a conceptual Black opera about the life of Alberta Williams King — slain activist and mother of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. From July 20 to July 29, the cast and crew performed six preview shows in partnership with Public Functionary to fundraise for a future larger production. The idea to do an opera emerged as Venessa Fuentes and Dameun Strange of OperaRising 52, a music and storytelling partnership, were discussing the 2014 Ava DuVernay movie “Selma” and its omission of women’s contributions to the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Fuentes, who had recently been introduced to the story of Alberta Williams King, pointed out the importance of telling this story.

Leaving church after the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. From left, Coretta Scott King; Alberta Williams King, King’s mother; and Christine Farras, King’s sister. Atlanta, Georgia, 1968. Photo courtesy of the Bob Fitch Photography Archive at Stanford University.

“Alberta Williams King is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We all hold him up (as we should) as this iconic leader of the Civil Rights movement. But who informed him and shaped him?” Fuentes said, “I started to talk to people in my immediate circles and literally nobody had heard of her, except for Dameun.”

“Mother King” opens with the assassination Alberta Williams King as she sits playing the church organ. To take the audience along this journey, Strange and Fuentes relied on each other’s respective music and poetry backgrounds: Strange took lines from Fuentes’ original poems to create a libretto and score, Fuentes trusted Strange’s musicality to put the characters she wrote into song with one another. “Mother King” is the first project out of OperaRising 52 and both Fuentes and Strange are looking to be a part of the larger narrative of uplifting the contributions of women of color, along with those of other marginalized peoples.

Why opera?

Black arts organizations are not new to the Twin Cities. Black opera, however, is. The very words “Black” and “opera” seem antithetical to many who know the art form to be one that excludes people of color and indigenous folks (POCI). At a talkback after the final performance of “Mother King” on July 29, artist Ananya Chatterjea brought up that though she loves the aesthetic of opera, she cannot get past the consistently racist stories that use POCI characters as marginal. She posed the question: “Why opera?”

“For me that is the whole question and the question that I’ve been struggling with,” Strange said, “I’ve always been a fan of opera because of the huge stories and the big way you can tell stories. It seems to encourage a lot of different art forms within one art form.”

Strange grew up in Washington, D.C., surrounded by art, in a family rooted in the arts, and in a church that regularly performed western classical music. He fell in love with opera music at age 5 when he saw a production of Georges Bizet’s famous “Carmen.” Once he reached college and took a course on African American theatre, his childhood interest turned to intrigue.

“The way the professor talked about the beginnings of African theatre, especially the part about Egyptian theatre and the way they would tell stories, it was a huge production, more of a populist event,” Strange said, “so in thinking about that, it seemed like opera was actually a very natural way of telling stories in antiquity and for the people.”

Fuentes also carries with her a longtime love of opera sparked by a viewing of “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. But as many times as she been to the opera, she recalls never seeing a Black person on stage, or in the pit, or even taking tickets. This sparked another revelation, “I think as a Black, Latina and a queer person I really wanted to bust through a lot of those kinds of dusty ideas and notions about who can come and who is reflected on this stage,” Fuentes said. “Opera to me is all these different people coming together to tell a story.”

“Calling it an opera is really claiming an art form that was for the people,” Strange said, “we didn’t want to limit it to just being a theatre piece or a musical. ‘Opera’ in our minds is really meaning a big work or all-encompassing work.”

On art as a whole, Fuentes pointed out the importance of having a message that resonates with folks who have been historically excluded or oppressed, not just with folks looking for escape and luxury. “Art is also a vehicle to reflect movements and sustain people who are really shouldering a lot of the weight of making change and progressing ourselves as a humanity, as a society. It’s medicinal sometimes,” Fuentes said, “so that’s the kind of art that I want to serve.” OperaRising 52 is opera for the people, as the tagline states. “Where else are you going to go in the Twin Cities, or anywhere. Where you’re going to see an all Black cast?”

“The most powerful that a human voice can be”

As Fuentes and Strange created the show, they always had singer Liz Gre in mind for the title role of Alberta Williams King because of her extensive background in opera. “It is the most powerful that a human voice can be,” Gre said.

“The sound of opera was never new to me, primarily because my parents, my mom in particular, introduced me to traditional and historic Negro spirituals and other historical Black music that sounded a lot like opera,” Gre said. She recalls seeing Denyce Graves, a great Black opera diva, at Carnegie Mellon Hall when she was 10 years old. For Gre, that moment was when she made the connection between opera as a genre of singing and Black women as carriers of that message. Gre began taking classical voice lessons in high school from a Black voice teacher in Nebraska and moved to the Minnesota to find other kindred and socially conscious artists. Gre, who has performed on stages across the Twin Cities, says she will not audition for just any part.

“I don’t know that I would ever consider doing a traditional opera. I can’t just tell anybody’s story,” Gre said, “I would want to do things like ‘Mother King’ that focus on accessibility, that focus on doing weird [stuff] that is just different and wild and crazy and experimental.”

Before each performance during the preview run, Strange introduced “Mother King” as an “experimental opera,” a trait clearly evidenced by his scoring and selection of music. True to his last name, much of the music Strange writes could be called strange. He writes in unusual meters and makes use of atonality, which many people find unpleasant or inaccessible. However, Strange also grew up surrounded by jazz and gospel. He says that just as he cannot help but let the influences classical music inform his writing, he also cannot help but be influenced by Black music. In writing “Mother King,” Strange included recurring musical themes, or leitmotifs, that harken to gospel and jazz, so that even if some aspects of the music seem odd to people, these leitmotifs provide reference points for them to connect to the music.

“How do I write opera ‘for the people’ but also express my tendency to be a little strange, if you will, and write contemporary music that is sometimes atonal?” Strange said. “Really what I want to do with my music is still be authentically me but still approach the opera as a storyteller, recognizing that some things may be inaccessible and where they may be inaccessible to add some accessible elements to that.”

In an interview with KFAI, Strange said that he initially thought because “Mother King” is a Black opera, “it should sound like Black music, or what other people think of as Black music,” i.e. hip-hop or soul. He went on to acknowledge, “I’m a Black composer so whatever I write is Black music.” Talking about this, Strange recalled a poetry class he took in college with writer Alexs Pate who told him that because he’s a Black man he would always be a Black poet — and because he’s a Black poet anything he writes will inherently be political. By taking on an opera, and scoring it with music true to who he is as a composer Strange challenges notions of both opera and Black music. He creates a work that is wholly both.

“Mother King” further pushes these boundaries with its performers. Including Gre, only two of the six cast members have classical training. The others come from jazz, hip-hop, musical theatre and soul backgrounds. Some had not read music since their childhood. Each talked about how challenging learning the music was, but they also spoke about how liberating it was to come out on the other side of knowing the music, to allow themselves to not be perfect. Gre spoke of learning to feel the heartbeat of the different rhythms as they changed and let that heartbeat connect them to the story and to each other. They all talked about how this opera forced them all to trust each other, creating a community, a voice, within the production.

Miko Simmons, projection designer for the opera, said in a talkback session after the final show, “these are very poignant times to remember, to reconnect to members of our communities and to have different thought processes… We need to root ourselves in history and family and fellow artists whose identities have also been marginalized.” Similarly, Strange and Fuentes shared these sentiments about the importance of telling King’s story especially in this moment. Both spoke to the poignancy of the present as being a moment of movement reinvigoration.

“I feel like this story has found us and we’re going to interpret it and tell it,“ said Fuentes.

Update: OperaWorks 52 has been renamed OperaRising 52. This article has been updated to reflect that change.

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Does Trump Deserve Credit?: Black Unemployment Hits Historically Low in Numbers

This Post Is Reposted From Jason Johnson From The Root

In the real world, your friends who’ve known you will set the record straight: You were never a good salsa dancer and still aren’t. You said the same thing when you and your ex watched the first season of Being Mary Jane, and you’ve always liked grits; you literally have a Groupon for Quaker Oats.

 When it comes to politics, unlike relationships, cause and effect aren’t so clear. Did 9/11 happen because President George W. Bush screwed up or because President Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance? Did President Barack Obama have a weak economic recovery, or did Bush run out the back door, leaving him a dumpster fire?

Now that America is in a new relationship with a married man, President Donald Trump (it’s not his first time), we are again trying to figure out who deserves credit for what.

African-American unemployment numbers are historically low in Trump’s first few months in office, but is that because Obama’s economy is still humming along, or did Trump somehow accidentally, not on purpose, manage to do something good for black America?

The numbers suggest that it might be a little bit of both.

Starting this spring into the summer, African-American unemployment under Trump dropped to the lowest levels in almost 20 years.

As of the end of July, the black-vs.-white employment gap is the smallest it’s been since April 2000, back when “Say My Name” was a new song, Dave Chappelle was just a skinny kid “Killing Them Softly,” and was peak social media. Mind you, the 7.4 percent black unemployment rate is still higher than the 3.8 percent white unemployment rate, but considering how bad things were throughout most of the Great Recession, this is good news.

If you’re not tired of Trump winning yet, consider that in the first six months of his presidency, unemployment levels in major cities like Cleveland, Baltimore and Chicago went down, which tends to indicate that black people in large population centers are finding work.

Most important, black gains in employment have tended to be in areas like nursing, home health care and transportation, which are professions less likely to shrink in the future, as opposed to construction and farming jobs, which are continuing to declineacross the country.

So does this mean that campaign-trail Trump was right all along? Black folks had nothing to lose by voting for him? That Trump, with the help of Ben Carson and Omarosa, is saving African Americans from devastation and despair? Can Donald Trump really take credit for all this magical economic change occurring around the nation for black folks?

 Not really.

Trump taking credit for this economy is akin to a man bragging that his mediocre back rubs loosened up your shoulders, when your ex taught you yoga, was certified in Reiki and worked at Massage Envy. Trump isn’t necessarily screwing anything up, but this situation was already popping long before he showed up.

African-American unemployment was at 7.7 percent when Obama left office in January, a downward trend that had been moving along for the better part of 2016. Most economists would argue that no president really “owns” the economy until a good 12-18 months into his (or her) first term. Prior to that, you’re just managing what the last person left you.

President Ronald Reagan and Obama inherited horrible recessions, while Bush and Trump inherited growing economies. Further weakening the argument for Trump’s taking credit for low black unemployment is that this administration hasn’t passed any major legislation that would supposedly boost the economy—no tax reform, no infrastructure bills. Without any substantive economic legislative action, this presidency has more or less been along for the ride in a car Obama bought and put gas in.

Trump supporters would counter that rolling back regulations on business has made American companies more bullish about hiring, an argument that has some merit but remains a double-edged sword when you look at the entirety of the Trump administration. While Trump may have “unshackled” businesses by working to repeal pesky requirements that businesses not pollute our water, or that retirement homes not scam senior citizens or allow them to be sexually assaulted, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also been busy. The Department of Justice will be scaling back or downright ignoring many cases of racial discrimination against minorities in the workplace in favor of protecting disadvantaged white males, a new policy direction that will certainly harm African-American chances for employment, advancement and training.

The fact that Trump is attempting to take credit for an Obama economy that he trashed just a few months ago should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched this man’s behavior over the last two years.

Trump will continue to show up to black America, claiming that we’ve never had it this good, at least as long as it suits him.

Eventually the Obama effect is going to wear off, and Trump will have to stand on his own economic relationship with black America. Which will make it abundantly clear, as if we didn’t already know, that Trump’s stimulus package for black America will be found lacking.

Sources: Jason Johnson (The Root)