10 middle schools compete in African American History Challenge Bowl


What did Tahaka call himself?
Who was the leader of the Confederate Army?
Slaves were promised freedom if they fought for England in what proclamation?

Students from around Madison will try to answer these questions and more at the 100 Black Men of Madison’s 20th annual African American History Challenge Bowl that will be held Saturday in the McDaniel Auditorium of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Doyle Administration Building.

The African American History Challenge Bowl is a contest for middle school students in a quiz show format where students are quizzed on questions from a prominent African American history book. The students represent their schools and compete for a chance to represent the Madison chapter at the national conference in Florida in June. Members from The 100 Black Men of Madison act as liaisons to each of the competing schools to ensure that the students understand the format and to be a source of support.

Longtime 100 Black Men of Madison member Enis Ragland has been involved with the Challenge Bowl since its inception 20 years ago. “I’ve been coordinating the History Challenge Bowl for 18 of those years,” Ragland told Madison365. “The event has evolved a little bit over the years. The rules of the organization are set by the 100 Black Men of America and so that hasn’t changed a lot. The book has changed a couple of times but other than that the format for how it operates has been the same.”

The 100 Black Men of Madison, Inc. was established in 1994 as a nonprofit civic organization with the mission to make a positive difference in the lives of area youth through mentoring, education, health and wellness and economic development programs. The 100 Black Men of Madison are affiliated with the 100 Black Men of America, Inc. The overall concept of “100” began in New York in 1963, when a group of concerned African American men began meeting to explore ways of improving conditions in their community. The group eventually adopted the name “100 Black Men Inc.” as a sign of solidarity.

Students study for months in preparation for the African American Challenge Bowl, which is really important because there are so many things about African American history that aren’t covered in the regular curriculum at schools.

“That’s one of the exciting and thrilling things about this competition is the knowledge that these kids soak in and bring to the competition,” Ragland said. “This is knowledge that they also use in school in their social studies or history classes. Many times, these kids will add to what the teachers are proposing or their lesson plans the knowledge they’ve learned getting ready for the Challenge Bowls.

“And, I’ve heard at times, they’ve even corrected the teachers on their historical facts,” adds Ragland, with a smile. “That’s always a good thing.”

Ragland said that he is loves to see young people excited about competing and learning.

“Even though the challenge is open to all students, it’s good to have our students of color competing at an academic level,” Ragland said. “We always learn to compete through sports, but rarely – unless it’s a spelling bee or something – do we compete academically. I think this is a great opportunity for all young people, but particularly young people of color.”

And how much African American history has Ragland soaked in over his 20 years being involved with the History Bowl Challenge?

“I know the book by heart,” Ragland said. “Over the years I’ve written questions for the challenge bowl, and, of course, I’ve been the emcee for a number of years. I was a history major, anyways, and I love history, so the History Challenge Bowl is something very near and dear to me.”

There will be 10 middle schools competing this year to win the coveted Michael McKinney trophy named after the former NBC-15 anchorperson, community activist, and longtime member of the 100 Black Men of Madison.

“Mike was one our members who was a strong supporter of the History Bowl,” Ragland said. “As a matter of fact, he was the emcee of the History Bowl for a number of years and we could think of no better way to honor him and his passing than to name a trophy after him. He was a good man for a good event.”

On top of the trophy, the MMSD middle school that wins the city-wide championship will earn an all-expenses-paid trip to the 100 Black Men National Competition in Hollywood, Florida., in mid-June.

Madison teams have had some success. Madison Middle School teams have won the national championship in 1996, 2008 and 2012.

“Our middle school teams have won the national competition three times in our 20-year history,” Ragland said. “They’ve made us very proud and that’s something that we hope to continue.”

The public is invited and encouraged to attend the event and to watch and cheer the students during this exciting competition.

“If you like Jeopardy and you like the old College Bowl and you like to see young people compete with their brains against each other, than you should come on out this Saturday,” Ragland said. “We also have a competition between the schools so whichever school brings the most supporters they can win gift certificates for $300, $200, and $100 that they can use for pizza parties or to support other activities at school. So that’s exciting, too. The crowd really gets into it at the event, so that’s fun, too.”

By the way, the answers to the opening questions are:
Emperor of the world
Robert E. Lee,
The Dunmore Proclamation.

Recognizing black- and Latino-led charter schools

Across the country, students of color are disproportionately trapped in failing schools, but community leaders are stepping up to make a difference. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is holding an event Monday — “Charting a New Path Forward: The Rise of Black and Latino-Led Charter Schools” — to hear from the leaders of some of the highest performing black- and Latino-led charters to highlight schools led by people of color.

Ron Rice, senior director of government relations with NAPCS, said the event is about highlighting community leaders who are thinking outside the box and closing the achievement gap that many communities see between white students and students of color. The event is also about recognizing the communities that support these schools.

Philadelphia's Renaissance Initiative overhauls lowest-performing schools.

Philadelphia’s Renaissance Initiative overhauls the city’s lowest-performing schools.

“(The event is) to highlight that it’s not just individual black and Latino leaders,” Rice told Watchdog in an interview, “but this is a growing trend in the black and Latino communities and even the Native American communities.”

Individuals and communities are stepping up, and so are the institutions that represent them. “For instance,” Rice said, “you have fraternal organizations such as 100 Black Men of America coming together to start charter schools, you have Delta Theta Sigma sorority alumni chapter starting a charter school in Detroit, you have La Raza under a subset of their organization starting a charter school.” This is significant, Rice said, because it indicates that the future of charter schools lies within communities across America. “I really think that the future, to meet the demand of parents across the nation, when you have a million kids on waiting lists to get into schools, really lies in folks from those communities, institutions from those communities, really using charter schools to define the trajectory of the students that live in those communities.”

When students succeed, communities succeed, and charter schools have been proven to close the achievement gap. “We don’t have a silver bullet,” Rice said, “but one would be foolish not to look at the trends that are happening at a number of charter schools in general and, specifically, those run by black and Latino and native american leaders that are really showing progress.” Urban Prep in Chicago, for example, not only graduates 100 percent of the young men they enroll from rough neighborhoods, but all of them attend college. “That’s closing the achievement gap,” he said.

Rice argues that when communities see leaders come back to their own neighborhoods, “I think you’re going to see a greater acceptance and appreciation of that particular model that transforms the trajectory of opportunities for people throughout the nation.”

There’s a misconception, Rice said, that the charter school movement is “some kind of white-led, corporate-structured kind of thing that is philanthropically supported.” Through events such as Charting a New Path Forward, NAPCS hopes to raise awareness of “African-American and Latino folks from the community and Native American folks from the community who saw a problem of inadequate education opportunities for their young people and they did something about it. They picked the fastest-growing public school model in America, and that’s charter schools, in order to deliver a brand of learning and education delivery that is out of the box and is actually showing achievement and showing real results.”

Photo by: Shutterstock

Photo by: Shutterstock

Not only are they showing results, they’re achieving more with fewer resources. Rice said that charter schools are getting 70 cents on the dollar compared with traditional public schools  “Looking at the future of the charter school movement with African-American and Latino school leaders just plain working their hands to the bone to create really good, high-performing charter schools that are closing the achievement gap and making a difference in the community and engaging the community where they are.”

It’s worth it, he said, because this gives them the opportunity to work with others to improve circumstances on a grassroots level, for the students whose needs they know best. “These schools engage the communities that they’re in as partners for change, and as partners for defining what those schools should look like, so they’re more community-based, if you will, than even traditional public schools.”

Samuel B. Fuller pioneering ways key to Black Economic Empowerment


Samuel B. Fuller taught economic empowerment and entrepreneurship to African Americans in the height of segregation. S. B. Fuller was an American entrepreneur. He was founder and president of Fuller Products Company, publisher of New York Age, and Pittsburgh Courier, head of the South Side Chicago NAACP, president of the National Negro Business League, and a prominent black Republican.

A lot can be learned from his life experiences, he believed in the concept of African Americans establishing exceptional businesses that would appeal to the masses. Mr. Fuller stated that a customer doesn’t care what color a cow is as long as it can get milk.

Mr. Fuller also lived by the business axiom “Find a need and fill it”. Mr. Fuller brought a majority company named Boyer International Laboratories that sold soap during the height of segregation. When this fact was found out the company was boycotted which led to Mr. Fuller filing bankruptcy. We have come a long way from the Civil rights era of the 1960s.

Self-sufficiency is still important concept for black empowerment. When Mr. Fuller went on to establish Fuller Products one of his top salesman Joe’s Dudley was able to return a favor to Mr. S.B. Fuller in his later years. S.B. Fuller would run into problem and Mr. Fuller’s mentee Joe Dudley, Sr. would go on to revive the company.

African American successful businessman and businesswoman mentoring others coming down the line is an important concept in black economic empowerment. In my twenties I was able to meet Mr. Joe L. Dudley, Sr. founder of Dudley product whose sales has topped 30 million dollars, and he imparted valuable information just as S.B. Fuller imparted to him during his early years.

One quote he shared with me was “In our space, in our time we can and must make a difference”. At the time I was involved in a barber shop franchise named “The Haircut Barber Shop Franchise “which grew from one store to several locations which is proof positive that business mentoring works in the African American Community.

When the Montgomery bus boycott occurred S. B. Fuller encouraged the African American business community to buy the company. Many years later Reginald F. Lewis Billionaire Beatrice Foods would recommend that African Americans buy existing companies with good management because blood (cash) was already flowing through the company and if it had a history of great management.

In 1992, Forbes listed Lewis among the 400 richest Americans, with a net worth estimated at 400 million. He was the first African American to build a billion dollar company, Beatrice Foods. He was also the richest African-American man in the 1980s.

Many years later I find myself at the helm of one of the fastest growing regional chamber of commerce in New York State. Mentoring mattered at the height of segregation and mentoring matters today. Mentoring is the gift that keeps giving! The U.S. Black Chambers is also doing a terrific job of strengthening businesses and its member organizations throughout the U.S. via its USBC School of Chamber & Business Management.

Mr. S. B. Fuller’s company at its height made 18 million dollars and is a testament to the tenacity that African American possessed during some of the most perilous times in America. President Calvin Coolidge most famous statement that “The business of America is Business” still rings true for all segments of society in America and it should be encouraged by its government and impeded upon only when circumstances require government intervention.

Phil Andrews is President of the Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce, Inc. The chamber has been featured on Wabc Here and Now. Mr. Andrews has also served as a two term President of a local chapter of 100 Black Men of America, Inc. in New York State.

Tuskegee Airmen Roscoe Brown flies west

Captain Roscoe C. Brown, Jr., squadron commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group – the famed Tuskegee Airmen or “Red Tails” – passed away in New York on July 2. He was 94.

Dr. Roscoe Brown

One of Brown’s last public appearances was at the annual Jones Beach airshow in Long Island, N.Y., over Memorial Day weekend. Invited to the show by officials with Sheltair, Brown stole the show when he was invited to Sheltair’s hospitality tent and then was introduced by air show Rob Reider to the airshow crowds. Hundreds of thousands of people responded to the announcement and, while obviously frail, Dr. Brown doffed his cap in recognition of the honor and broke into a quiet smile, Sheltair officials report.

“Roscoe Brown and all of the Tuskegee Airmen overcame so much adversity to become one of the most respected units of the Army Air Corps in World War II,” said Jim Kidrick, President & CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum. “They were true American heroes who served their county with great distinction. We are proud to honor Roscoe Brown and all of the men from his unit in the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.”

The Tuskegee Airmen were inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in 2008. Brown and fellow airman Lee Archer were on hand at the museum and accepted the induction on behalf of all of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Museum’s North American P51D Mustang “Bunnie” is painted in honor of Brown and the Tuskegee Airmen. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Archer passed away at age 90 in 2010.

Brown graduated from the Tuskegee Flight School on March 12, 1944, as member of class 44-C-SE and served in the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe during World War II. During this period, Captain Brown shot down an advanced German Me-262 jet fighter and a FW-190 fighter.

Known as the “Red tails” because of their unit markings, the Tuskegee Airmen program officially began at the Tuskegee Institute, a highly-regarded university founded by Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Airmen, including ground support crews, were placed under the command of Capt. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of the few African American West Point graduates.

The Tuskegee Airmen saw their first combat mission in North Africa in 1943. They were initially equipped with P-40 Warhawks and P-39 Airacobras. Later they had P-47 Thunderbolts, and finally were given the airplane they would become most identified with, the P-51 Mustang.

By the end of World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen achieved an impressive combat record, shooting down well over 100 German aircraft and receiving three distinguished unit citations. The Tuskegee Airmen were also awarded several Silver Stars, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 8 Purple Hearts, 14 Bronze Stars and 744 Air Medals. Their valiant efforts lead the way to the desegregation of the armed forces in 1948.

On March 29, 2007, Brown attended a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, where he and the other Tuskegee Airmen collectively were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their service.

Brown attended the segregated Dunbar High School and, infatuated after seeing Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” at the Smithsonian Institution, longed to become an aviator.

Prior to his wartime service, Brown graduated from Springfield College, Springfield, Mass., where he was valedictorian of the Class on 1943.

After the war, Brown resumed his education. His doctoral dissertation was on exercise physiology and he became a professor at New York University and President of Bronx Community College. In 1992, Brown received an honorary doctor of humanics degree from alma mater Springfield College.

Mr. Brown resided in Riverdale, New York. He was also a member, and past president, of the 100 Black Men of America New York Chapter. He was a professor of Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center

He married the former Laura Jones. In addition to his son Dennis, he is survived by another son, Donald, and daughters Doris Bodine and Dianne McDougall. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered that the city and state flags be flown at half-staff in Dr. Brown’s honor until July 9 at sunset.

MCWC gives gift of education to 21 domestic violence survivors

The Montgomery County Women’s Center awarded 21 scholarships to domestic violence survivors during its annual Scholarship Awards Ceremony.

“Education is one of the best investments we can make in ourselves,” said Jesse Tyson, the featured speaker at the event July 25 at the Lone Star Community Building in The Woodlands.

Scholarships were awarded to 21 of the center’s client survivors of the abusive trap of domestic violence – which includes physical, emotional, or sexual violence – to help them build a better life for themselves and their children. Though they come from diverse backgrounds and circumstances that led them to seek shelter at the MCWC, each are determined to gain the education or job skills they need to become self-sufficient.

All at various stages of their education and re-building their lives, some are taking the first steps with English as a Second Language or remedial college courses while others are close to completing a four-year degree with plans to earn a master’s degree. Most are working full-time while attending classes.

Tyson is an international business trailblazer, a global marketing and operations expert and a recognized name in the multinational oil and gas industry. In 2011, he retired from a 35-year career at ExxonMobil to begin a new chapter in his life in philanthropy as a thought leader, business strategist and implementer. Currently, Tyson is the president and CEO of the National Black MBA Association. He credits his success with the ability to constantly challenge the people around him to exceed expectations.

Most recently, he received The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business Global Diversity Award and the Pacesetter Award and the 100 Black Men of America Lifetime Achievement Award for Community Service.

Among his affiliations, Tyson is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board of The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, the Orange Bowl Committee, the Board of Trustees of Lane College, and he is a honorary member of 100 Black Men of America, a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity, Inc., and a life member and ex officio member of the board of directors of the National Black MBA Association.

His wife, Cheryl Tyson, is a member of the MCWC board of directors.

As Tyson spoke to the audience, which included the scholarship recipients and their family members along with counselors and representatives of MCWC, he encouraged them to not let setbacks derail their plans. “Know that it’s not the falling down that defines us but rather the getting up, as winners are the ones who get up,” he said. “Sometimes life will deal you a bad hand and pressures in life will test your courage, but you will only reach greatness if you aspire to greatness. Remember that the scholarship donors have invested in you to help prepare you to lead and make a difference in the world. Tonight is just a glimpse of your future.”

As they accepted their scholarship, some of the women shared a bit about their journey and expressed their gratitude for the Women’s Center and their desire to pay it forward. Comments included:

“We were honored to have Jesse share his inspirational speech. He is devoted to helping nonprofits such as ours through his expertise and forward thinking and we are so appreciative of his contributions,” said Sarah Raleigh, MCWC president and CEO. “We are also grateful for Lone Star College, which once again generously donated the venue, catering and decorations for our annual dinner ceremony.”

MCWC board chair Marion Fischer, who co-chaired the education and scholarship committee along with Phyllis Ocheltree, commended the caring individuals and organizations who donated scholarship funds give the women “fuel” to pursue their education goals.

“The generous donations fuel these courageous women’s admirable desire to overcome their struggles, gain self-confidence, meet their goals, and make a brighter future for themselves and their children,” she said. “The Women’s Center is proud to be a part of that process for these deserving, ambitious women.”

The 2016 Scholarship Donors included Lowell Anderson in memory of Jean Anderson, Nell & Ed Belanger, Tom Cox, Sr. in memory of Marion Cox, the Indian Springs Village Association – Lloyd Matthews, Jerry Hantman in memory of Carol Hantman, Cindy & Rob Hardin, Aletha & Jeff Harris, Brynn & Peter Huntsman, Jean & Andy Hruby and Adora Kutchin, The Manley Family Foundation, Debbie Stanford in memory of Bill Stanford, Carolyn & Arthur Stoll, Maya & Datren Williams, and Kathie & Scott Wolford and Amy & Steve Wolford – Corporate Medical Systems, Inc. In addition, six ESL scholarships were donated by the MCWC board of directors.

For more information, please call 936- 441-4044 or the 24-hour crisis hotline at 936-441-7273 or visit www.mcwctx.org.

Stolen cells: ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ (reprinted)

CSU grad’s book sheds light on one woman’s unwitting, unending contribution to science

About the Author

Rebecca Skloot graduated from CSU in 1997. She is the president and founder of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, a nonprofit to provide financial assistance in the form of scholarships to the descendants of Henrietta Lacks, many of whom cannot afford health care.

She lives in Chicago. Visit rebeccaskloot.com.

Editor’s note: The following story appeared in the Reporter-Herald on April 4, 2010. A movie based on Colorado State University graduate Rebecca Skloot’s book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” debuts on HBO on Saturday.

The life and death of a poor woman from the South named Henrietta Lacks is a story for the ages.

It’s one told on the pages of Rebecca Skloot’s book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, “which took 10 years to write and recently debuted at No. 5 on the New York Times bestseller list.

To ask “Who is Henrietta Lacks?” is to open a floodgate of questions, each in turn spawning another.

The mother of five, Lacks was a black woman from southern Virginia, who toiled in the tobacco fields as had her slave ancestors. In February 1951, Lacks entered Johns Hopkins Hospital after becoming ill. There, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and placed in the ward designated for blacks. Surgery and radiation followed, to no avail. Eight months later, at 31, Lacks died.


It was not the end of her life, however. What happened in the hospital’s research department would begin a series of events that made this obscure woman one of the most important people in the history of medicine today. A researcher had taken a piece of one of Lacks’ tumor cells, sliced it into smaller pieces and placed them into an incubator — the beginning of an astonishing journey that continues today.

Amazingly, Lacks’ cells, called HeLa for her name, lived and multiplied, unlike any cell known at the time.

Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot

Where other cells became weak and eventually died during research, the HeLa cells were hardy and could withstand and even thrive in all kinds of cultures, soon becoming an important tool of study.

Although Lacks has been gone for more than 60 years, her cells live on as the first “immortal” human cells grown in culture.

HeLa cells have been used in the development of the polio vaccine, have been integral in uncovering the secrets to cancer and virus growth and even the effects of the atom bomb. Advancements for cloning, in vitro fertilization and gene mapping are tied to the cells, which also were sent into space to determine the effect of zero gravity on human tissue.

But the real story of Lacks’ cells lies with her family. Neither Lack’s husband nor her children had given permission to use the cells and only discovered their existence nearly 20 years after her death. And that is the story Skloot relates in her book, one that seeks an answer to the question: If Henrietta’s cells are so important and billions of dollars are being made off them, why hasn’t her family — which can’t afford health care — been compensated?

During the 10 years it took to write the book, Skloot, a Colorado State University graduate, became very close to the Lacks family and understood their suspicion and questions as to why they have yet to see any of the profits from the multimillion dollar industry Lacks’ cells established. The story, she says, is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African-Americans, the birth of bioethics and the legal battles over whether we actually control the tissues of which we are made.

It also addresses the lack of concern for the Lacks family that continued for decades. As Skloot recently told Stephen Colbert on his TV show, “Colbert Report, “that in the early ’70s researchers tracked down family members hoping to do further research on them. Horrifyingly, they told her husband, “We’ve got your wife; she’s still alive in our laboratories, ” Skloot said, adding, “He only had a third-grade education and had no idea what they were telling him.”

Book Excerpt

Deborah grabbed her bag off the floor, and dumped its contents onto the bed. “This is what I got about my mother, ” she said. There were videotapes, a tattered English dictionary, a diary, a genetics textbook, many scientific journal articles, patent records, and unsent greeting cards, including several birthday and Mother’s Day cards she’d bought for Henrietta.

While she sorted through the pile, as though she was saying something as everyday as It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, Deborah said, “Scientists do all kinds of experiments and you never know what they doin. I still wonder how many people they got in London walkin around look just like my mother.”

“What?” I said. “Why would there be women in London who look like your mother?”

“They did that cloning on my mother over there, ” she said, surprised I hadn’t come across that fact in my research. “A reporter came here from England talking about they cloned a sheep. Now you go on the Internet, they got stuff about cloning my mother all over.” She held up an article from the Independent in London and pointed at a circled paragraph: “Henrietta Lacks’s cells thrived. In weight, they now far surpassed the person of their origin and there would probably be more than sufficient to populate a village of Henriettas.” The writer joked that Henrietta should have put ten dollars in the bank in 1951, because if she had, her clones would be rich now.

Deborah raised her eyebrows at me like, See? I told you!

I started saying it was just Henrietta’s cells scientists had cloned, not Henrietta herself. But Deborah waved her hand in my face, shushing me like I was talking nonsense, then grabbed a videocassette and held it up for me to see. It said Jurassic Park on the spine.

“I saw this movie a bunch of times, ” she said. “They talking about the genes and taking them from cells to bring that dinosaur back to life and I’m like, Oh Lord, I got a paper on how they were doin that with my mother’s cells too!

“I don’t know what I’d do if I saw one of my mother clones walkin around somewhere.”

Deborah realized Jurassic Park was science fiction, but for her the line between sci-fi and reality had blurred years earlier, when her father got that first call saying Henrietta’s cells were still alive twenty-five years after her death. Deborah knew her mother’s cells had grown like the Blob until there were so many of them they could wrap around the Earth several times. It sounded crazy, but it was true.

“You just never know, ” Deborah said, fishing two more articles from the pile. One was called Human, Plant Cells Fused: Walking Carrots Next? The other was Man-Animal Cells Bred in Lab. Both were about her mother’s cells, and neither was science fiction.

“I don’t know what they did, ” Deborah said, “but it all sound like Jurassic Park to me.”

GARY THANDI COLUMN: How outdated policies and procedures kill innovation  


How outdated policies and procedures kill innovation


SEVERAL years ago, Jason Roberts, from the Build a Better Block Project, was invited by the City of Surrey to speak about ways to revitalize a neighbourhood. Roberts was asked to speak as he had direct experience in creating new life and activity into a rundown neighbourhood in Dallas, Texas.

As the Build a Better Block website notes, “The area was filled with vacant properties, wide streets, and few amenities for people who lived within walking distance. The group brought together all the resources from the community and converted the block into a walkable, bikeable neighborhood destination for people of all ages complete with bike lanes, cafe seating, trees, plants, pop-up businesses, and lighting.”

The process wasn’t easy. Roberts spoke about attending city council meetings, where eventually he discovered there were old city laws that limited community gatherings within the neighbourhood. He dug further and learned the laws had first been enacted around the 1950s and 1960s, for the purpose of keeping African-Americans from gathering together during a time this population was pushing for their civil rights. Therefore, a law designed to keep African-Americans from protesting nearly 60 years prior was now making it impossible for coffee shops to have outdoor seating outside at their establishments!

All these years this racist law had remained in effect, despite it no longer making any sense. And until Roberts came around, no one had questioned it. A rule is a rule after all – we assume it’s there for a reason. And that’s why we have so many of them, yet it’s also why so little seems to get done.

In my years in government, academia and non-profits, I have seen plenty of policies and procedures that absolutely make no sense, yet we follow them as if they are set in stone and created by some higher power. What I have noticed is that while policies and procedures are often created as a knee-jerk reaction to an event or anticipated event (like the aforementioned example, out of a fear of African-Americans gathering to fight for their civil rights), there is really no one tasked to review such policies and procedures, so they often far outlive their purpose. Sometimes their purpose wasn’t even all that clear to begin with.

When policies and procedures are created in a knee-jerk manner, which in my experience is how they typically are created, they tend to be quite sweeping and have many unintended consequences. For example, say someone gets hurt due to some workplace incident. Those in charge need at the very least show they are addressing the issue, so they devise ways to prevent that incident from happening again – yet they end up preventing many positive outcomes too.

So, social service offices become like fortresses, people are not able to do work outside the office (as it’s presumed safest inside the office), the work becomes more restrictive (because giving employees too much discretion to do the jobs as they see fit leads to, in a ‘risk managers’ view, too much risk).

Ultimately such policies and procedures lead to low employee satisfaction, more turnover, greater absenteeism and frankly does little to reduce risk (often the ‘incident’ that instigated the new policies and procedures was a fluke, one-in-a-million event, and the truth is no amount of ‘risk management’ can prevent entirely). So out of fear of a 1% chance of something happening, we have pages and pages of counter-productive and often useless policies and procedures.

And it doesn’t stop there. Risk managers, especially in government, are not concerned with effectiveness of work. If an employee, such as a government social worker, has two ways to approach their job, and one method has a 5% ‘risk’ (whatever that may look like, such as being injured or making the organization they work for potentially look bad) and a 95% chance of positive outcomes for the client they work with, and the other option has a 3% risk and only a 5% chance of a positive outcome, I bet the risk manager will go for the second option every time. Again, their job is to minimize risk, not look at the overall effectiveness of their job.

Unfortunately for our most vulnerable populations, in health care, education, criminal justice and social services we have too many risk managers who are great at their jobs.

Gary Thandi, MSW RSW, Doctor of Education candidate, is a Special Columnist with The VOICE. He writes about emotional wellness and social justice issues as they relate to South Asian communities. He is also head of Moving Forward Family Services that provides counselling and support services to anyone who wants it – without any waits. No one, regardless of their financial circumstances, will be turned away. Services are offered in English, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Cantonese, Farsi, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian and Vietnamese. To access services, call or text 778-321-3054 or email him at:

[email protected]

Beyoncé’s Grammy snub and the glass ceiling on black art

Beyoncé and Adele went head-to-head four times at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night. Both were nominated for album of the year, song of the year, record of the year, and best pop solo performance. In every category, Adele was awarded the Grammy. Every time, Beyoncé, the peerless pop music icon of our time, was told she came in second at best.

This should be a shock. While Adele’s singular voice, talent, and devotion to her craft are undeniable, Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” was as complete an artistic statement as we have seen in our fractured pop moment — a one-of-a-kind visual album comprised of genre-crossing track after track, conceived and produced on a scale unrivaled by any artist, living or dead. It was also a pitch-perfect rallying cry for black women to get in formation, their allies behind them, and forge a way forward despite the human imperfections of the men in their lives.

And yet, sadly, it isn’t. Unequaled artists have long bumped up against the glass ceiling that awards shows impose on black excellence.

This happened last year, of course, when Kendrick Lamar lost to Taylor Swift for album of the year. Lamar had won for best rap album and best rap song for his masterwork, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” but despite higher critical acclaim and an undeniable political relevance, the album did not win in the mainstream category. The message was clear: Making the cut into the nominations for album of the year should be perceived as victory enough for artists of color, even if they go on to lose to white artists.

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Miami state senator curses at black lawmaker — and uses N-word to refer to white Republicans

UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after he issued an apology to Sen. Audrey Gibson for using a racial slur and profanity, Sen. Frank Artiles apologized the floor of the Florida Senate. Watch the video

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TALLAHASSEE — Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles dropped the n-word to a pair of African-American colleagues in private conversation Monday night — after calling one of them a “f—— a——,” a “b—-” and a “girl,” the two senators said.

Over drinks after 10 p.m. at the members-only Governors Club just steps from the state Capitol, Artiles told Sens. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale that Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart had risen to his powerful GOP leadership role because “six n—–rs” in the Republican caucus had elected him.

Artiles later told Gibson and Thurston that he’d used the word “n—-as,” suggesting the slang term was not meant to be insulting, Gibson and Thurston said. It’s unclear whom Artiles was referring to, since the only black senators in the state Senate are all Democrats — and none of them backed Negron’s bid to lead the chamber.

Artiles apologized to Gibson late Tuesday afternoon, after he’d been reported to Republican leaders and reporters started asking questions.

“In an exchange with a colleague of mine in the Senate, I unfortunately let my temper get the best of me,” Artiles said later in a statement. “There is no excuse for the exchange that occurred and I have apologized to my Senate colleagues and regret the incident profusely.”

To Gibson and Thurston, it was clear Artiles wasn’t referring to them or to any other Democrats, but apparently to six Republicans who favored Negron for the job over Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater.

REACTION: Artiles backlash builds – Negron, Galvano, Democrats respond

The discussion began Monday night after Artiles approached Gibson at the Governors Club to suggest that a series of questions he’d asked of one of her bills earlier in the day were payback for questions she’d asked before of one of Artiles’ bills.

At one point, Artiles referred to Gibson as “this f——- a——” and “this b—-,” Gibson said.

Gibson complained to Thurston, who had been talking to other people at Gibson’s table during the exchange. Thurston asked Artiles if he had in fact referred to Gibson in those terms. Artiles denied it, Thurston said — but urged by Thurston, apologized.

Then, someone else at the table — not an elected official — asked Artiles about another word he’d used in reference to Gibson: “girl.” Artiles said he meant no disrespect.

But when the conversation turned to Senate GOP leadership, Artiles used the n-word.

“He said, ‘If it wasn’t for these six n——,'” Gibson said. By way of explanation, he added, “‘I’m from Hialeah,'” she said.

“I said, ‘OK, Perry, I’m done,'” Gibson said.

Gibson left the conversation to go the restroom.

Thurston urged Artiles to apologize to Gibson upon her return.

“Let’s kind of nip this in the bud,” Thurston said.

But Gibson was so upset she didn’t come back.

“I’m very respectful to this process. I’m very respectful to everyone,” Gibson said. “And the way he was characterizing the vote — it wasn’t nice.”

Thurston offered to meet Artiles at Thurston’s office at 9 a.m. Tuesday so Thurston could accompany him to Gibson’s office to apologize.

Artiles never showed up, said Thurston, who by then had notified Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens about the incident. Though Artiles and Gibson on Tuesday were both on the Senate floor and at a transportation budget committee, Artiles didn’t apologize on either occasion, Gibson said.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Braynon said. “You just don’t speak to someone like that.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Negron’s office had been notified of the incident. His spokeswoman didn’t immediately comment.

But Artiles, escorted by incoming Republican Senate President Bill Galvano of Bradenton, showed up after 6 p.m. to apologize to Gibson, Thurston and Braynon.

Before he did, Gibson had told the Herald an apology would be “meaningless.”

“You’re just talking — loud — to a table of people about leadership. It made me sad,” she said. “I can’t remember a time in my life when anybody called me either one of those things,” she added, referring to the two insults directed at her. “It’s just the most disrespect I’ve ever encountered.”

Artiles, a Cuban-American ex-Marine who represents Southwest Miami-Dade County, has gotten into notorious trouble in Tallahassee before. Two years ago, a college student in town for spring break said Artiles punched him in the face at Clyde’s & Costello’s, a downtown bar a couple of doors away from the Governor’s Club, just hours before the start of the 2015 legislative session.

Voters elected Artiles, a former state House member, to Senate District 40 in November. He defeated former Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard, who is African-American.

Artiles’ slur came the night before a diverse group of lawmakers from both parties gathered in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday to offer an emotional apology to the Groveland Four, the four African-American men who were wrongfully convicted by a racist Lake County sheriff in 1949.

Gibson said Tuesday she couldn’t look at Artiles after he started railing against her Monday night because she had “never, ever, ever” been treated that way.

“Maybe I should’ve asked him to leave the table,” she said.

Artiles is getting a lot of attention this session.

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Tristan Walker’s Bevel is making shaving better for men of color

This is probably the blackest this backstage room at the Dolby Theater is going to be for a while.

Granted, there are only two black people in the room — me and a 30-year-old guy named Tristan Walker — but considering that the Oscars will be held here in a week, that’s probably a safe assessment.

Walker is the founder and chief executive of Walker & Co. Brands, the company behind Bevel, a line of shaving products for men of color. I’m here to interview him, but he’s busy admiring a photo on the wall. The photo is of Halle Berry and Denzel Washington, proudly displaying their Oscars during that one historic moment in 2002 when two black people won the Best Actor and Actress awards.

Walker has flown down from Palo Alto, where he lives with his wife and son, to speak on a panel about diversity in tech start-ups along with Magic Johnson, who is also an investor in Bevel. In the two years and change since Bevel’s launch, the company has raised $33.3 million in funding, gotten nods from GQ, picked up a celebrity endorsement from Nas and this month went from an online-only product to a debut on Target’s shelves.

I’ve never so much as touched a Bevel razor, but I’m constantly hearing about it on Twitter, black fashion sites and on any one of several black podcasts. You may be wondering, like I was: Why is everyone so excited about a razor?

Walker tells me that Bevel started from a pair of frustrations. “A lot of global culture is led by American culture, which in turn is led by black culture,” he says. “And also Asian and Latino culture.” Too often, he says, those contributions go unrecognized.

The second frustration is the plight of what he calls the “ethnic aisle.” I’m already laughing when he says the words, because I know exactly what he’s talking about: the spot in every grocery store set aside for hair-care products for black and brown people.

“You gotta go back to aisle 15” — at this point, he’s laughing too — “but it’s not really an aisle, it’s just a shelf in the back, right? And you gotta reach down to the bottom of the shelf for some dusty package, and there’s a picture of a 65-year-old dude in a Jheri curl and a towel, and they’re assuming that I’m going to buy that product. It’s that whole second-class citizen experience.”

So for Walker, that feeling of being ignored by cosmetics companies was more than an annoyance — it was an opportunity.

Traditionally, we don’t think of grooming as being at the top of the list of conversation among men. But for a lot of black and brown men with coarse and curly hair, shaving is a daily ordeal, and a cheap multi-blade razor that works wonders on your white buddy’s face can turn your neck into something approximating Nestle Crunch.

This is how Walker says that his company differs from Venice-based Dollar Shave Club, another popular start-up. Dollar Shave Club offers razors starting at $1 (plus shipping) per month, and at $89.95 for a three-month supply of blades and shaving product.

Bevel can’t compete on price. But Walker is betting that customers will find that his single-blade razor, which he says is better for men that suffer from razor bumps, is worth the premium. The gamble seems to be paying off, because the company reports that 97% of customers renew their subscriptions.

“I get all these emails,” Walker says. “I just got one from a guy in the Army, saying something like ‘For as long as I can remember, razor bumps have been as much a part of my military career as my uniform.'” He counts black men in the military among his most enthusiastic supporters.

One engine of Bevel’s word-of-mouth success is sponsored podcasts. Black-run podcasts have a wide listenership, and it’s pretty common to hear the host of “The Black Guy Who Tips” or “The Combat Jack Show” go on an extended riff about the virtues of Bevel. Walker is enthusiastic about podcasters and rattles off a bunch of his favorites. “We sponsor a whole bunch of them,” Walker says.

These podcasts are popular in part because they reach a community that is often overlooked by other media. Because this is a community that is savvy about social media and vocal about what they like (and don’t like), when something comes along that speaks to them, they pay attention.

And sure enough, most of the online chatter about Bevel isn’t sponsored. It’s organic. DeRay Mckesson, a prominent activist who has recently announced his intention to run for mayor of Baltimore, recently tweeted that he had “only heard positive things” about Bevel.

“It was a pretty good point of validation for us, especially with all the really great work he’s doing,” Walker says. He admits that he gets excited whenever someone famous mentions Bevel online. “We send an email out to everyone, like, retweet! retweet!”

So much enthusiasm surrounds the company that there’s now a persistent rumor that Walker turned down a half-billion-dollar buyout offer from Gillette to keep his company black-owned.

“That’s not true,” Walker says. But he can understand why the rumor started.

“When my mother was growing up, she had SoftSheen Carson and ‘Soul Train.’ So I’m thinking about how can we build a company that this generation, and future generations, can be fundamentally proud to support? How much is that worth?”

It’s worth a lot, he says. People are proud of Bevel. “I think that’s why there’s this pent-up excitement,” which in turn fuels misquotes and rumors.

One of the masterminds behind the brand’s visibility is Cassidy Blackwell, who blogged about natural hair care for women for years before joining Bevel. She directs the content on bevelcode.com, a site staffed by Bevel employees. Most of the content would feel at home on a men’s fashion or hip-hop site: an interview with Nas about why he started wearing that “half-moon” part in his hair, photos of President Obama’s barber, recommendations for Valentine’s Day gifts and reviews of good barbershops in a handful of major cities. The site strengthens loyalty to the Bevel brand.

Bevel is a privately held company that doesn’t disclose its sales figure. But they seem confident about the future. Walker says they are getting ready to launch a line of products for women of color, and Bevel just announced two major accomplishments.

The first: After two years as an online-only subscription product, Bevel is now stocked on Target shelves because Walker struck up a relationship with a customer who left a glowing review from an @target.com email address.

“He turned out to be in charge of purchasing for personal care products,” Walker says. “Two months later we were in a meeting, a year later we were on Target shelves.”

Target seems pretty happy about the arrangement:

The second is the announcement of a new hand-held trimmer, accompanied by a celebrity endorsement of a rapper known for his intricate haircut: Nas. The endorsement was easy to get, Walker says, because Nas was the first investor in the company.

A pause. I stop Walker and ask him to clarify that he actually went and pitched Nas. Like, “I’m starting a shaving goods company, want to give us some money?” — just like that?

“Yeah.” Walker nods, as if asking a legendary rapper for cash to start up a shaving company is the most logical business decision in the world. “And the Queens connection helped too.”

So about a year into the business relationship, Walker asked Nas — who has invested in several tech start-ups — if he would be interested in helping the company market a new portable beard trimmer. He agreed immediately, and they produced a sleek ad for the device.

By creating a trimmer, Bevel is taking on decades of loyalty among professional barbers to time-tested brands such as Andis and Wahl.

But pre-orders are already rolling in, and thanks to relationships established via interviews at Bevel Code, celebrity barbers already talking the product up. One of the first in line: the personal barber for Barack Obama.

Walker’s drive for success isn’t surprising to his fans — yes, he has fans — who know at least a bit about his past. He was born in a rough neighborhood in Southside Jamaica Queens, N.Y., and after his father was killed when he was 4, he was raised by his mother. He went on to get an MBA at Stanford University, and was director of business development at Foursquare before landing at Andreessen Horowitz, the highest-profile and largest venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. Greg Bettinelli, a partner at Upfront Ventures, says that his company was interested in Walker even before he had an idea to pitch them. When he did, they wrote a check.

Walker & Co. (of which Bevel is a flagship brand) is located in Silicon Valley. It’s run largely by and for people of color, in a sea of companies that are overwhelmingly white, Asian and male.

Most of the company’s 22 employees are women and minorities, and it will probably continue to stay that way, Walker says. “We’re deliberate about that. I challenge anybody to say they have a more diverse team.”

Walker’s work doesn’t stop within his own company. He’s also the co-founder of an organization called Code 2040, which he launched with a classmate from his days at Stanford Business School. The name refers to an estimate of when people of color will make up the majority of the U.S. population.

The goal of Code 2040 is to create internship opportunities for black and Latino engineering students. More than 95% of the interns get full-time job offers from their companies.

“These are engineers who are really good,” Walker says. “So for a lot of these companies that say they can’t find [black and brown] engineers, they’re full of it. We’re proving that.”

The panel on tech diversity is about to start, and one of the organizers is waving to us to hurry up. Walker picks up his backpack and is about to walk out, but then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his iPhone.

He wants a selfie next to that Halle and Denzel photo.



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