The Crisis Magazine July 2020

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contents About the Cover: 8:46 Photo Illustration by Brian Stauffer

Black people are dying because of underlying conditions. We live and are governed by a system that fails millions.

2 | Editor’s Note 3 | Publisher’s Letter 5 | Upfront

The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor prompted protests during a coronavirus pandemic disproportionately affecting African Americans; The protests have brought about changes in cities and states across the country; The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has a new portal to talk about race; What does real change look like? QUESTIONS: Ella Jones becomes the first Black and first woman mayor of Ferguson, Mo.

12 | The Real Pandemic While we’re marching for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, systemic racism in health, education and housing has contributed to the coronavirus COVID-19 having a disproportionate impact on our communities. by Courtland Cox and Charles “Charlie” Cobb

18 | A Literary Quilt In this photo essay, 16 of the nation’s top Black writers collaborate to give voice to the national unrest and protests for Black lives, creating a document of freedom and resistance.

25 | Special Report: Coronavirus and The Black Community COVID-19 disrupted life as we know it. African Americans have been infected with and dying of the coronavirus at disproportionate rates. In this special report, we look at the pandemic’s impact on Black families — cracks in our education system, economic vulnerability, criminal justice deficiencies and the need for mental health resources in minority communities. Crisis Statement of Principles At The Crisis, we remain committed: To battle tirelessly for the rights of humanity and the highest ideals of democracy ■ To tell the world the facts ■ To expose injustice and propose solutions ■ To speack for ourselves ■ To speak the truth to powe ■ To serve as a trustworthy record of the darker races ■ To serve as a reliable antidote to ignorance ■ To shape

51 | CRISIS FORUM

A profile of Elizabeth Montague, the first Black female cartoonist to get published in The New Yorker; Three Black female film directors discuss telling their own stories; A compilation of some of the top movies and books about the AfricanAmerican experience.

59 | NAACP TODAY

We are Done Dying campaign; Teresa Haley, Activist of the Year; Australyah Coleman, Youth Activist of the Year; Tuskegee Airman Gen. Charles McGee receives Key of Life Award; NAACP and BET partner for fourpart Virtual Coronavirus Tele-Townhall series; NAACP Foundation Board of Trustees; Black Voices Change Lives voter recruitment campaign.

and strenthen our collective consciousness ■ To serve humbly and forthrightly as memory and conscience, as sprit and heart.

JULY 2020 1


EdNote

Founded by the NAACP in 1910 Founding Editor, W.E.B. Du Bois (1910-1934)

PUBLISHER LAURA D. BLACKBURNE EDITOR IN CHIEF LOTTIE L. JOINER INTERIM CREATIVE DIRECTOR GREGORY T. ATKINS INTERIM DEPUTY ART DIRECTOR SHIRLEY JOHNSON COPY EDITOR MARLENE BAGLEY CONTRIBUTING EDITORS MARCIA DAVIS GINA HENDERSON BUSINESS DEPARTMENT 4805 Mt. Hope Drive Baltimore, Md. 21215 410-580-5137 BUSINESS MANAGER INDIA ARTIS

PUBLISHED BY THE CRISIS PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC. PUBLISHER LAURA D. BLACKBURNE VICE CHAIRMAN LEON RUSSELL SECRETARY DERRICK JOHNSON CHAIRMAN/PUBLISHER EMERITUS JULIAN BOND CHAIRMAN/PUBLISHER EMERITUS ROGER WILKINS The Crisis (ISSN 0011-1422) is published quarterly, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall by The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc. Office of Publication: 4805 Mt. Hope Drive, Baltimore, MD 21215. Subscription rates: One year: $12; Two years: $18. International, one year: $18; Two years: $24. One year digital subscription only: $10.00 For the visually impaired, The Crisis is available through Volunteer Services for the Visually Handicapped. Periodical postage paid in Baltimore, Maryland, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to The Crisis, 4805 Mt. Hope Drive, Baltimore, MD 21215. Entire contents Copyright © 2018 The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in the USA.

Articles appearing in this journal are abstracted and indexed in: America: History and Life; Historical Abstracts; Index to Black Periodicals; and Social Sciences Index. Articles are available on microfilm or microfiche from Proquest Information and Learning. The Crisis is also available through Google books

Our Underlying Condition George Floyd was murdered. Lynched. By police. On May 25, Floyd, 46, was arrested after a convenience store owner claimed he tried to buy cigarettes with a fake $20 bill. Minneapolis police officer David Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck — keeping it there 8 minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd begged for his life. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd pleaded — 28 times. Just two months earlier, on March 13, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old AfricanAmerican emergency medical technician, was asleep in her apartment when she was fatally shot by three Louisville, Ky., police officers who had a no-knock warrant. And in February, Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was jogging in Brunswick, Ga., when he was hunted down by three White men who shot him dead. The world wouldn’t learn of this vicious killing until April. Protests erupted worldwide from the injustice of it all — from France and Germany to Italy and Ireland, New Zealand and Brazil and countries throughout Africa. The civil unrest in the United States has resulted in changes throughout the country. For example, Mississippi removed the confederate emblem on its flag. Finally. And after years of resistance Washington’s football team removed its name. We are in a new era, a new space. People are looking at things differently. Statements are nice, sure, but how will we take this moment to address the root causes of structural and systemic racism that have created the disparities that exist in education, health, income and the criminal justice system? How do we eliminate the bias of someone like Amy Cooper who falsely told police that an African American man was threatening her and her dog in Central Park? Are the same companies that are donating money to social justice organizations willing to invest in the infrastructure of low-income and urban neighborhoods? Jobs? Child care? Safe environments? Will Black small business owners still face discrimination when applying for a loan? What about the lack of minorities in Silicon Valley? Will there be opportunity in the tech sector for diverse entrepreneurs or an increase of minority representation in leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies? How can we address housing discrimination and voter suppression? And let’s not forget about the bias in our criminal justice system, in which African Americans are incarcerated and wrongfully convicted at higher rates than their white counterparts. Yes, we are marching, but we have to address the nation’s underlying condition of racism before we can get to equality for all.

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Publisher’s Letter

They Are Ready

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ince the tragic murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the United States has had a reckoning about race. There have been worldwide protests and an international demand for justice.Leading the charge have been young leaders of the NAACP, graduates of our NEXTGEN program. The NAACP Next Generation Program is a leadership development training program for young adults between the ages of 21 and 40. In Minneapolis, NAACP branch president Leslie E. Redmond recently administered the new Minneapolis Police Department Oath of Office. It was the first time the oath had been changed in decades and each new hire will take the new oath when they enter office. Redmond says it’s our duty to fight for freedom, and there needs to be a better understanding of the history of this nation — on all sides. “Too often we are talking at each other rather than talking to one another. To move forward, we must be willing to listen more than we speak. We have to be willing to listen to voices that have traditionally been silenced,” said Redmond. Redmond, 28, joined the NAACP just five years ago, to serve the community, she says. “We must operate with a compassionate agenda. Our Minneapolis NAACP recognizes that this is a human rights issue and everyone should be fighting against white supremacy,” said Redmond. “People aren’t the problem, white supremacy is the problem. We will see change once we focus our attention on dismantling white supremacy.” In Georgia, James Major Woodall has been on the front lines in the fight to get justice for Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while jogging near Brunswick, Ga., and Rayshard Brooks, who was killed by Atlanta police officers after being confronted at a Wendy’s. Woodall joined the NAACP as a college student and today, at 26, he is the youngest elected state conference president in NAACP history. As head of the Georgia State Conference, he says he feels it is necessary for him to participate in today’s protests. “This current moment demands our unapologetic pursuit of justice for all,” says Woodall. “Not showing up and standing with the people becomes a sign of complicity with the very forces of oppression.” Woodall says Black America is fed up and we “are done dying.” “Right now in America we are faced with a decision that for many will determine the difference between life or death,” Woodall noted. “From the COVID-19 pandemic to the senseless violence that continues to happen within our communities all over this nation day after day, we are seeing the ill effects of generations of piecemeal solutions and compromises with white supremacy that lead to the criminalization, dehumanization and ultimate death of Black and brown people.” Our next generation of civil rights leaders are leading the charge for equal rights and social justice at this important time in our nation. They are stepping up, speaking out, marching for a better future. Let’s hand them the reins. They are ready.

Laura D. Blackburne, Publisher

“People aren’t the problem, white supremacy is the problem. We will see change once we focus our attention on dismantling white supremacy.” Leslie E. Redmond (Minneapolis NAACP branch president)

“We are seeing the ill effects of generations of piecemeal solutions and compromises with white supremacy that lead to the criminalization, dehumanization and ultimate death of Black and brown people.” James “Major” Woodall (NAACP Georgia State Conference President)

The Crisis Magazine

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upfront

Black Lives Protests Matter Smithsonian New Race Portal New Ferguson Mayor

ACTIVISM

The Two Pandemics By Jillian Baldwin

Jeff J Mitchell / Staff

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he week of May 25 is when it all changed. Something happened. Something broke. Something clicked. A violent and cowardly Minneapolis police officer suffocated 46-year-old George Floyd to death by putting his knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. It was all caught on camera for the world to see. But the egregious murder of George

Floyd happened approximately three weeks after the nation learned of the public lynching of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga., by three white men, and even more recently after learning of 27-year-old Breonna Taylor’s murder at the hands of Louisville police in Kentucky. The world took to the streets demanding answers and justice. “Other national reckonings on race have come and gone with few longterm benefits for African Americans,” said Paul Butler, law professor at Georgetown Law School and author of Chokehold: Policing Black Men. “I am encouraged by the multiracial and

multigenerational protesters. If reform happens, we should lament that too often progress in racial justice is accomplished by the body and blood of slain African Americans.” These three murders occurred right in the middle of the biggest global health pandemic since the 1918 Spanish Flu. No one knew that COVID-19 would stop us in our tracks at the start of 2020. The virus put everything from public transportation to proms on pause, and has killed more than 100,000 Americans — including a disproportionate number of Black people. The irony is racism can be identified as the culprit for both the murders of JULY 2020 5


Black Lives Protests Matter

Historic changes in policing taking place nationwide By Chandra Thomas Whitfield

Black folks by police, or by random white people, in Arbery’s case, and for the deaths of Black folks by COVID-19. One would call this a pandemic within a pandemic. When it comes to COVID-19, Black folks have died at a rate of 50.3 per 100,000 people, compared to 20.7 for white people, 22.9 for Latinx, and 22.7 for Asian Americans. This number reflects the more than 20,000 Black people who’ve succumbed to the virus thus far. “I believe the events of the past three weeks — combined with pandemic — have forced people to contend with the vast inequalities in this country in a way they never had before,” said Megan Ming Francis, a political science professor at the University of Washington. “Because everything was shut down, there was no way to run away from the injustice of the violent killings. Forced inside, this nation had to contend with who it really is and how it has treated Black people over time. The protests are about policing but they are about so much more: the protests have exposed deep racial inequalities in our political and legal institutions.” n

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here was just something so gut-wrenching, infuriating and explosive about that video of George Floyd’s death. The heartbreaking sight of the Black Minnesota man, a 46-yearold father of five, sprawled out on the ground, his face shoved into the pavement as he screamed out to his deceased mother for help, all while suffocating under the weight of a Minneapolis police officer’s knee pressed atop his neck seems to have ignited a movement — even in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic. And nothing has been the same since. Rage has continued to explode on the streets of America and across the globe, in the form of protests and demonstrations and, at times, riots and looting, leaving some to question the value and efficacy of civil disobedience altogether. If the past few months are any indication, the fallout following Floyd’s demise will go down as a major turning point in American history. The unrest has yielded a number of changes in policing nationwide. 1) The Minneapolis Police Department has banned the use of chokeholds for all members of the force. 2) New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to redirect some of the police department’s funding into youth and social services programs, along with

The number of times Breonna Taylor was shot in her apartment by Louisville, Ky., police

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a commitment to repeal a state law that prevents the public from accessing the disciplinary records of police officers. The city will also begin to publish the decisions in police officers’ disciplinary trials as they happen. 3) Law enforcement agencies nationwide, including in Dallas; Burlington, Vt.; Ithaca, N.Y.; and Charlotte, N.C., have announced plans to implement so-called duty to intervene policies, requiring officers to intervene and report other officers who engage in inappropriate use of force. 4) New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has announced plans for the state to update its useof-force guidelines for the first time in two decades. All law enforcement agencies in the state will begin publicly identifying officers who commit serious disciplinary violations. In addition, every law enforcement agency in New Jersey will be required to annually publish a list of officers who were fired, demoted or suspended for more than five days due to a disciplinary violation. The first list will be published no later than Dec. 31, 2020. 5) In Maryland, a bipartisan committee of state lawmakers has announced a police reform work group. 6) The Los Angeles City Council has introduced a motion to reduce LAPD’s $1.8 billion operating budget. The document states that going forward the top priorities will be “housing, mental health and wellness, public health and health care.” 7) Police brutality captured on cameras had led to near-immediate suspensions and firings of officers in several cities including, Atlanta, Buffalo, N.Y.; and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Cultural changes are taking place as well. Companies such as Twitter and Nike will now observe Juneteenth as a holiday. HBO banned the historic film, Gone with the Wind. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at its races and the NFL finally admitted that Colin Kaepernick was right. Progress? Yes. n

NurPhoto / Contributor; JASON CONNOLLY / Contributor

ACTIVISM


Q&A By Sheila Banks

Ella Jones: New Mayor of Ferguson JONES: People are constantly telling me how much pressure I’m going to be under as Mayor, how incredibly challenging it’s going to be to change attitudes in and about Ferguson. I’m up for any challenge. And I’m used to being the first. There was the City Council in 2015. When I was Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Paynesville, Missouri, I was the first woman pastor to renovate a church. I was the first woman pastor at Union A.M.E. in St. Louis. I’m a trailblazer.

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n June 17, 2020, Ella Jones was officially sworn in as the first African American and the first woman mayor of Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson sits outside of St. Louis and became the city that infamously propelled the Black Lives Matter movement to international attention after a white police officer shot and killed unarmed Black teenager, Michael Brown, in 2014. A native of New Orleans, Jones, 65, earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She pastored several A.M.E. churches in St. Louis and Ferguson for 22 years and was a high-ranking Mary Kay sales director for 30 years. In 2015, Jones became the first Black member of the Ferguson City Council. The Crisis: You were bombarded by local and national media on June 3, the same morning you learned your sister died, in the midst of protests over the police murder of George Floyd and a global pandemic. Yet you were consistently gracious and enthusiastic about your victory. How’d you do that? JONES: It’s just how my brothers, sisters and I were raised. My mother and grandmother instilled in us “If something bad happens, you don’t have to let the world know. You have to keep going.” That’s what I did. I kept going. I needed to be who I am.

the sweat of your own brow. And to treat people the way you want to be treated. If everyone did that, there’d be no problem. As kids, we’d come home from school and ask what was for dinner. My mom usually answered, “fish.” That meant at least one of my brothers and I would grab our buckets and head for the Mississippi [River]. We’d return with those buckets filled with fish. After cleaning it on the back porch, Mom would say, “Now take some to soand-so up the street, down the street and around the corner.” She made sure no one went without. Then, she’d fry up so much fish, we’d still invite neighbors to come eat with us. Also, I was a pretty bossy little girl in grade school, making everyone stand up straight in line. But that’s leadership. Now when I meet bossy little girls, I tell them, “You’re going to be a great leader when you grow up.” The Crisis: How does all of that translate into leading a still-troubled and pretty violent city? How do you heal all the wounds? JONES: We must begin with teaching people to value their own lives and the lives of others. That’s when we’ll turn the corner. Everyone has to listen to each other and be a part of the conversation. Everyone has to have access to the same information, not just a few. I have an open-door policy for whoever wants to talk to me during business hours. We’ll be having regular town hall meetings. With inclusion, I believe that everyone would do better. That’s how we build a better Ferguson. n

Ella Jones

People tell me how challenging it’s going to be to change attitudes in Ferguson. I’m up for any challenge. I’m used to being the first. I’m a trailblazer.

The Crisis: You are the first woman and the first African American Mayor of Ferguson, a city that’s only on the map because of Michael Brown’s death and the national outcry that followed. Do you feel any pressure?

The Crisis: Where did that ambition come from? JONES: I think I’ve always been a leader. I’ve always stood up for other people. My parents are responsible for my values and work ethic. Growing up in New Orleans, my mom and dad always told my seven siblings and me that you earn your keep by

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JUSTICE

What Does Change Look Like? By Melanie Eversley

directors and professor of graduate education at Oral Roberts University. “It can’t help but to inspire and encourage us. It’s not just us anymore. It’s not just people of color asking for basic respect. That gives us the energy to keep moving forward.” Terrence Johnson, author and associate professor of religion and politics at Georgetown University, told The Crisis that he is only “cautiously optimistic” about the legislative changes addressing police misconduct on local, state and federal levels because such battles have been taking place for many years, even decades, without movement. “What about (late U.S. Rep.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on June 25, 2020.

Words 8 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

Words: “When people feel invisible long enough, they will lash out at the world to remind them that they exist.” — Ralph Ellison

Chip Somodevilla / Staff; Keystone / Stringer

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ince the May 25 death of George Floyd, protests for Black justice have ignited around the world. Corporations have made significant donations to Black Lives Matter, and a parade of documentaries and movies focused on the Black experience is available on television. Still, it is taking particular action to convince a few people that real change is here. For some, transformation will come when a jury convicts a police officer in the death of an unarmed Black man. For others, lynching will need to become illegal nationwide. For many Black leaders, true change will come for the United States when it is evident that change is real in people’s hearts, and when people of color have a seat at the proverbial table, and one in which individual voices have influence and weight. Dr. Sherri Tapp of Tulsa is called upon almost daily to help educate people about race and about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot by the white community of “Black Wall Street” in the city’s Greenwood neighborhood. Threehundred people died when a white mob attacked the thriving Black community. In recent weeks, she has been asked to help organize events, speak to groups on Zoom and share her insights about the Black experience. “Yes, I think there is real change happening,” said Tapp, chair of the Greenwood Cultural Center board of

John) Conyers (D-Mich.) trying to get the reparations debate through Congress?” Johnson asked. “My concern is that now that we have wellintentioned misinformed liberal whites who are on board that people feel as if we have more momentum. Unless we include people at the bottom, talk to the mothers of these (police) victims … we will only be putting a Band-Aid on a wound that will continue to fester.” Johnson urges that society models the example of the late civil rights activist Ella Baker, who encouraged grassroots leadership. Baker believed that leadership came from within communities — not outside — and worked to train local leaders to create change from the bottom up. Her students included Mississippians Fannie Lou Hamer and Unita Blackwell, the first Black female mayor in Mississippi. “Let’s actually survey the people who we claim we want to help,” Johnson said. “Let’s hear from people who are affected the most by police violence … so that they’re not only at the table but being heard.” n


RACE

Race Talks Now Museum Focus The Smithsonian launches new race portal amid worldwide unrest. By Spencer Crew

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t’s hard to talk about race in America because it’s been so much a contested part of our history. Go to any part of the Constitution and you can see its creators talk about how to treat people who are enslaved, indirectly. This continues to be an issue we haven’t solved, from our very beginning. It becomes more intense at different points in our history, and I think we’re in one of those moments where it’s become very, very intense, and front and center. In response to the nationwide protests of George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of police as well as the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has a new portal on its website, called Talking About Race. The portal is designed to provide different pathways that individuals can take to follow these conversations. It’s really based on years of workshops with teachers and others. It’s for people to recognize that they have biases, but

then to understand how these biases impact them, how they see the world, and then help them move beyond their biases. It’s important that we talk about race right now, because of the events of the past several weeks, and how they have highlighted violence against African Americans and others from the police. What people want are the full rights of citizenship. People don’t want to be singled out because they are of African descent, that that is somehow less deserving of equal treatment than what others get in the society. Museums can play an important role in these conversations on race. First and foremost, our role is in education, which takes a number of different forms: providing historical background and context to what is happening, so people can understand there are root causes for what is going on now. Our other task is to try to offer to navigate the difficulties in front of us; to try to help the society grow and get better. The portal we’ve created is one of those ways we can get people to talk about things that are difficult, and help the society grow in a way that is more equitable in the way that it treats all of its citizens. Talking about race can impact structural and systemic racism, or racist policies, because if you talk about the problem, you also hope that you are beginning to work toward solutions to the problem. Spencer Crew, acting director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as told to Shannon Gibney. n

Lives n Gen. Charles Brown Jr. was confirmed as chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force on June 9, making him the first Black officer to lead one of the nation’s military services. A fighter pilot, Brown most recently served as the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces overseeing 46,000 airmen. Brown was a distinguished 1984 graduate of the ROTC program at Texas Tech University. He commanded a fighter squadron and two fighter wings. He also was an F-16 instructor at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School. Brown will be the first Black member to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff since former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

n NASA will name its headquarters in Washington after Mary W. Jackson, the agency’s first Black female engineer. Jackson was a mathematician and aerospace engineer whose historic career was chronicled in the movie Hidden Figures. She advocated for more women and minorities in

Donaldson Collection / Contributor

the fields of math and science and last year received the Congressional Gold Medal, along with her colleagues Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan. n

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COURTESY BASIL-MALIK

from Wyatt Cenac @wyattcenac

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JULY 2020 11


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Issues&Views

PROTEST, RACE AND THE AMERICAN FUTURE By Courtland Cox and Charles “Charlie” Cobb

Brian Stauffer

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he protests following the murder by police of George Floyd and the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown communities push forward our thinking about new possibilities for an American future built around commitment to the ideas and practices of justice for all. We in the Black community have experienced the American justice system in a variety of ways. Since the days of slavery we have been murdered by police who are rarely punished, railroaded into prisons and seized and killed by mobs and vigilantes protected by local and state governments, especially when white women have falsely claimed sexual assault, or as the old expression goes, when accused of having engaged in “reckless eyeballing.” The issues raised by the current protests are hardly new. #Black Lives Matter (BLM) itself was formed in 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin for no apparent reason other than he was young and Black and “out of place,” which to Zimmerman meant he was suspicious and dangerous. BLM, Dream Defenders, BYP 100 and other groups that constitute the Movement for Black Lives have protested this and other such murders in numerous communities

since then. We could fill up the rest of the pages here with a listing of Black men and women killed by trigger-happy police or because of vigilante violence. Clearly, earlier protests against police violence have done little to eradicate such practices, but some important differences are worth noting and applauding. Protesters are much more diverse — Black, White, Latinx, Asian. And unexpectedly, protests have been worldwide.

The virus has laid bare the fact that African Americans continue to experience the highest overall morbidity and the most widespread occurrence of disproportionate deaths. American Public Media (APM) Research Lab reports that the Black mortality rate across the U.S. has never fallen below twice that of all other groups, “revealing a durable pattern of disproportionality.” If they had died of COVID-19 at the same rate

It has taken a pandemic to understand the underlying conditions that have produced this rage. Smartphone technology has played a major role in gaining outraged attention on police violence and violations of civil rights, making it impossible to ignore the issue and highlighting the kind of protective lying far too often engaged in by establishment authorities. But while technology has captured the injustice of policing, it has taken a pandemic to understand the underlying conditions that have produced this rage. Ironically, the inequities plaguing our society today are more visible because of the impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown communities.

as white Americans, reports APM, at least 14,400 Black Americans, 1,200 Latino Americans and 200 indigenous Americans would still be alive. We mourn George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, and the thousands of others killed by police, but the startling approximately 30,000 deaths of Black Americans in the last 120 days reflect a larger, more systemic problem. Not only have these communities been disproportionately devastated by this virus, but this impact highlights failures in health care and education which, like police violence, have been matters of great inattention by much of the nation’s political leadership. JULY 2020 13


Today, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the president of the United States issuing orders forcing workers in the meat processing plants to go back to work. The processing plants, in order to maintain profits, have not refitted their plants to protect the workers from the coronavirus, knowing that many of their workers will become ill or die. The so-called American justice system is totally blind to the profits-overpeople decision by big business to send workers to their deaths. While they are blind to these criminal acts of the ruling class, they pay laser-like attention to Eric Garner’s selling loose cigarettes, Michael Brown allegedly taking one or two items from a store, and many other petty actions that amount to little or nothing in terms of the tragic consequences they caused ordinary citizens. In addition to focusing on the inconsequential, the purpose of the police is also to clear the poor from the sight of the wealthy. Therefore, the homeless, the mentally ill, and those hustling to make a dollar just to survive are treated harshly and inhumanely.

companies such as Alcoa, Intel, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Shell and Nike have received billions of dollars in federal subsidies. It should also be noted that tech companies such as Tesla, Google, Apple and Facebook have received millions of dollars in state and federal subsidies. All of these companies have trillions of dollars in market capitalization and are highly profitable. The support needed to ensure that the needs of all Americans are met is not one of money, but one of will. The will to support Wall Street, big banks and big business has been quite evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the nearly $6 trillion expended over the last four months, almost $5 trillion of it has been used to support the capital markets and big business, with little or no accountability. But the lack of political will to make the necessary investments in Black and Brown communities is also evident in the way society approaches policing. The usual solutions suggested with regard to police violence: body

The problem is not a lack of resources, but how those resources are allocated and who benefits from them.

As we make the call to end economic exploitation — which we define as owners of land, factories and capital who pay the labor they use little or no wages — defended by sometimes-brutal police tactics, we have to look beyond the police budgets for the housing requirements, social service needs, food necessities, health care and education required in Black and Brown communities. The trillions of dollars necessary will have to come from the taxes paid to the state, local and federal governments. The problem is not a lack of resources, but how those resources are allocated and who benefits from them. The federal government spends over $20 billion annually to support the big agribusiness companies. In addition, 14 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

cameras, police sensitivity/diversity training, community police boards, and other proposed resolutions, while worthwhile, do little to address the problem. The assumptions that govern the criminal justice system lie deep in the U.S. culture of white supremacy and privilege. For example, the first instinct of many police departments is to protect their own no matter how egregious and unjust the actions of any particular officer. This is reminiscent of gang culture. Often the police close ranks punishing any who cross that “blue line.” We live in a society in which white supremacy and privilege drive many of the institutions that affect our lives. This is cultural as well as political. The base assumption of the American

justice system is that rich people can do no wrong and the role of the police is to protect them and their property. The other base assumption is that most criminality exists in poor communities and in the urban areas; that has generally meant Black and Brown communities. This is not written into law but certainly exists in practice. The demonstrations have been successful in bringing to the attention of the American public the violence used by police to maintain order. The demonstrations have been impressive, both for their diversity and for the variety of locations where they occurred: in large urban cities, suburban areas, rural communities and in small towns across the country. We’ve even seen images of white people protesting alone in white communities — standing, or in wheelchairs and on walkers — with signs proclaiming, “Black Lives Matter” or “No Justice, No Peace.” The size and diversity of these demonstrations were not accidental or spontaneous. These demonstrations were the product of years of resistance by the Black community to the pervasive system of Jim Crow that was developed to protect and serve white supremacy. Today’s demonstrations had their beginnings in the resistance of Black soldiers returning from World War I. In a 2018 article featured on Time. com, Brandeis University Professor Chad Williams noted that African Americans “had labored and shed blood for democracy abroad and now expected full democracy at home.” Williams wrote that, “The war had changed African Americans and they remained determined to make democracy in the United States a reality.” Williams quoted a May 1919 editorial from Crisis founder W.E.B. DuBois, titled “Returning Soldiers”: “We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting. Make way for democracy. We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.” For most of the 20th century, the resistance of the African American community to Jim Crow was spearheaded by the NAACP, particularly its local branches. It is not often recognized how connected


the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was to the groundwork laid by the NAACP. Brown v. Board of Education which, despite being imperfectly implemented, nonetheless resulted in ending school segregation as the law of the land; the lynching of Emmett Till; the successful 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the first mass movement of the modern Civil Rights Movement; the courage of the Little Rock Nine — all helped create the climate that led 17- and 21-year-olds to challenge the system of segregation with sit-ins and Freedom Rides. The legendary civil rights strategist Ella Baker, who was the NAACP director of branches in the 1940s and later executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), provided the guidance and organizing philosophy that grounded SNCC’s grassroots work in the Black Belt. She plugged SNCC into the network of NAACP branches she had helped organize ­— as well as her many other contacts — enabling us to work effectively on voter registration in Mississippi, Alabama and elsewhere in the South. As a result of the combined work of the NAACP, SNCC, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and SCLC, today there are a number of Black mayors, legislators and Black people on juries throughout the South. Many have commented on the diversity of protesters, taking special note of the involvement of white people. This, too, is not new. The work of the Civil Rights Movement to resist white supremacy has always involved the white community, first because of the need for allies in the struggle for human and civil rights. Certainly, Ms. Baker’s contacts with white progressives, such as Anne and Carl Braden of the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) and Myles and Zilphia Horton at Highlander Center, were important to SNCC’s work. The white community was also involved in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, participated in large numbers in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, and, of course, most recently, in the Movement for Black Lives demonstrations. Second, and equally important, civil and human rights issues are important to others besides

Black and Brown communities. Therefore, there should be no surprise as to the size, scope and scale of these diverse demonstrations. And, as is often pointed out, these demonstrations have been greatly aided by the ability to document the atrocities on smartphones. However, we need to note that while hundreds of thousands of people are in the streets for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, Black people are also dying at twice their percentage of the population from COVID-19 because of the underlying conditions caused by economic exploitation. Even as legislation will be passed in the Congress and in state legislatures to ban chokeholds, no-knock entry, and the harassment of Black people for inconsequential activities, millions of African Americans, poor whites, Latinx, Native Americans and Asians will be lining up for food, be evicted from their homes, and will die because of lack of health care and because they continue to receive an education that

does not prepare them for the 21st century information economy. In short, when we say there is a systemic problem, we mean that we live and are governed by a system that fails millions. We cannot run away from the enormity of this fact. Even as we tinker with various reforms, we should keep in mind that real change — the kind that leads to a better society — requires tackling these hard realities. Courtland Cox is a SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) veteran and chair of the SNCC Legacy Project (SLP). He is a former director of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Journalist and author Charles E. Cobb Jr. is a SNCC veteran and SLP board member. His latest book is This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed—How Guns made the Civil Rights Movement Possible.

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Literary Quilt:

A Covering for George Floyd

GABRIEL BOUYS / Contributor, Stephen Maturen / Stringer


In the following pages, 16 of the nation’s top Black writers give voice to the unrest and current movement for Black lives. These cultural artists collaborated on a literary quilt honoring the elders who made this movement possible, and the young people remixing the tradition.

Quilts are a comfort. This material of memories — from our ancestors and generations past — keep us warm in the winter, a blanket for our soul when the world is cold and uncaring. It’s winter. This is a literary quilt for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and all those who died too soon.

Literary Quilt

Kiese Laymon "They always want something for nothing," Grandmama says as Donald Trump sics his military on all that fleshy courage standing between him, a church, a Bible and a camera. "That's the same thing they say about us," I tell her. "They lied then," she says, "and they steady lying now. I can't tell if it's the end of times or beginning of that mo(u)rning we been praying for. What you think?”

This Page Clockwise: KEREM YUCEL / Contributor, Al Bello / Staff, ROBYN BECK / Contributor, AGUSTIN PAULLIER / Contributor, JOSEPH PREZIOSO / Contributor Opposite Page: CHANDAN KHANNA / Contributor

Quilts are often made from the fabric of clothes we no longer wear – old T-shirts, tattered pants, ill—fitted dresses, vintage skirts, classy jackets. Our grandmothers weaved together these different patterns to create something new and beautiful.


It is the writer that gives voice to the pain of a people.


Camonghne Felix “I think the game is the game and the lie is a win. And I think a win is just a turn of phrase while a loss is an indictment. And out of context, we’re all accidents and idiots busy deferring to our basic narcissisms and the ideals of what we think our children deserve. Everything is possible but unlikely. Nothing is likely, But even less is possible. And still, y’all all got the nerve to be out here, alive.”

Jesmyn Ward I want to tell her that every time I see Maori tribespeople pounding haka dances for Black life or hoodie—wearing kids rallying in parks in London, it breaks something in me, some assumption of loneliness in this struggle. How it jars the despair America has sown for centuries in my heart. And then I want to tell her a different story: how a buzzard, great and dark—winged, cast me in shadow yesterday, and I wondered whether it was circling me, us, this moment. I want to ask her how she walks in the dark cast by a carrion eater.

Dee Rees I want to ask her how she walks in the dark cast by a carrion eater. Is it cool there in the circling shadow? Is it so high up that she does not feel the drift of death above her Her path dappled by the careless swoon of constant surveillance 20 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM


Imani Perry T says they look at everything, talk under folks clothes, listen to your business, but don’t see anything, nothing at all. But we can just look outside and see their whole con. I want to hold my breath because the long con might be over and it’s almost too good to hope for. I hope we breathe long enough to see it.

Opposite Page Clockwise: KEREM YUCEL / Contributor (2), Stephen Maturen / Stringer, Johnny Louis / Contributor This Page Clockwise: KEREM YUCEL / Contributor (2), CHANDAN KHANNA / Contributor, Johnny Louis / Contributor

Darnell Moore My mama saw it. She saw fire and Black people fatigued and Black people fighting and pieces of red, black and green cloth pinned to the outside of Black folks' doors in Camden in 1971. "I'm sitting here at work having flashbacks of what happened." Some memories are revelatory. In seeing what was I believe that she had a glimpse of what will be. I believe.

Literary Quilt

Maurice Carlos Ruffin My great-great-great-grandmother saw it too. When, in 1811, the men took off for the German Coast outside of New Orleans. They had burlap pants and cotton shirts. They had wooden clubs and iron hatchets. Wanted to cut freedom from the American cloth. Those white men had long guns, but our brothers weren’t made to fear. You can’t turn back when you have nothing to lose. You can’t retreat when you need to send a message to your descendants’ in the 21st century. The white man put their heads on pikes, but that only made it easier for us to hear our blood cry freedom. Namwali Serpell We watch the first undoing on the television, the white lady newscaster droning on about protesters and police, while on the screen, spotlit by a chopper, there’s a crowd milling around a giant white statue. A young brother half its height stands casually on the pedestal, wearing black basketball shorts and black socks and black sneakers, something red and white hanging from his waistband, something white wrapped around his neck like a scarf. His chest is bare and he's reaching up to hold the statue, for balance it seems, with one of his hands, then both, and with utmost grace, he tugs its big white hand, pulls it right off, and swings down to the ground with the others. They say the statues are for history, that without a statue like this, how will we know that there was once a king in France named Louis, and that this city in Kentucky was named for him, and that a revolution over two centuries ago cut off his head? But what I know and what Grandmama knows is that we do know. We've been knowing. Just look at that man, leaping free with that hollow cut—off hand. Just look at how much he knows.


Charlene Carruthers Learn to be big and sit at your grandmama's swollen feet. Let her massage your scalp with the same hands that till soil and bang cops in the streets. She feels it all. In her back, right below the bellybutton and up through the stars. Stir it up. “It’s your turn now.”

Literary Quilt

22 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM


Morgan Willis “Go,” she said.

Opposite Page: JIM WATSON / Contributor This Page Clockwise: Stephen Maturen / Stringer, ROBERTO SCHMIDT / Contributor, MARK RALSTON / Contributor

And I left.

Hari Zyad She said it like she wasn’t afraid. Like she trusted what comes next; like she trusted me. She said it like she was okay, but I ain’t never loved someone who’s been okay before, so she couldn’t have been. Or maybe I didn’t really love her like I wanted to believe I did. Or maybe I didn’t trust myself as much as she trusted me, to rise and love when it’s my turn to love. I told you, grandma been knew, and I been knew too, but I don’t know enough. Maybe if I knew enough I would have burned this whole world down ages ago, and grandma could have sat with me between her boney legs, massaging my scalp with her gentle fingers, without hurting so damn much. She could have sat in a new world that didn’t encourage her to break her gentle fingers at every joint to keep a fist and hurt my mother so damn much with it. I want my mother and her mother to be okay, that’s all I know enough of. I want to love them enough for both of them to be okay, I want to make something I ain’t never did before happen, but the world hasn’t finished burning yet. My mother saw the fire coming a long, long time ago — in Camden and in Cleveland and in Chapel Hill, NC, and I been traveling a long time since I left Troy, but I haven’t finished trusting myself with the burning.

I left Troy, Alabama and Lily Island, Texas and Louisville, Kentucky and New Bern, North Carolina. I left Wilberforce, Ohio. I left New Orleans, Louisiana. I left Chocolate City with the wrapper still on. I left Harlem’s sacred concrete. I left Detroit’s fuchsia sunsets. I left and left and kept leaving and kept running and kept packing up less and less and finally, with sweat and dust making dirt in my pockets, I collapsed into memory and bones. She was there. Whispered to the pile at her feet. Called me Lazarus. God’s greatest miracle. “Rise,” she offered. I opened wide and became a river of light.

Jonah Mixon—Webster Yet some night after my leaving, came a single dream. Fire and fire and no ash for the imperial bird to rise from again, to hover and shirk its wing in my eye, with its slack tempers and caw—calling crow shadows from its gut, shadows and a shade to blank me out. Fire and fire, a single vision. Fire and the space that it makes, and the space that must come next, which leads me to the next place to leave. As I said in the dream, “When I wake, I will leave again. I will leave Birmingham. I will leave Portland. I will leave St. Louis. I will leave Flint. I will leave PG County. I will leave both Atlanta and Atlantis. I will leave Camden and Trenton, again if that’s what it means. I will leave this whole damn world on fire if need be.” JULY 2020 23


dream hampton kungani uhlala kule ndawo ekuzonda kangaka? le ndawo edla izingane zakho sengathi zingukudla okungabalulekile? From Zulu: why do you stay in this place that hates you so? this place that devours your children as if they were an unimportant meal?

Angela Flournoy It ate one of my grandmamas early, swallowed her whole before I was born. Still she prepared me, shared wisdom gleaned from all our migrations. Bogalousa and Tulsa to Oakland and Compton, and before that she said Togo and Cameroon. The stories were tinted blue and tasted like yam. The carrion-eater stalks from up above but those it swallows still have the power to speak.

Nicole Dennis-Benn Suddenly her daughter, a woman now, enters, and her voice is big. It rattles your insides and pulls you into the great depth of her soul — a marauding wave that recalls unclaimed bodies at the bottom of the ocean, and ancestors washed up on shores, their humanity crumpled. Her voice charges the air in almost visible white streaks and speaks of many lives bursting and full of “This too shall pass” and of dreams deferred and of generational traumas that pervade them, shape them, and open their mouths wide to belt out an endless echo of unspeakable stories, unsung. Her voice soars in the theater with its high gold ceiling, red velvet curtains, and grim, baroque facade that would’ve otherwise rejected the likes of her kind. She sings the blues in exquisite pain at the stoic white faces transfixed by the voice, but never moved by the story. Jamey Hatley But the story? It never belonged to those stoic white faces. The true story lived in the seeds hidden in her hair, in the sway of her hips, in the sound of the drums. The blues Daughter sings is two things at once: something those stoic faces can claim and own, but something more. Her voice — a tar baby, a trap to hold those stoic white faces bewitched in their false gold temple. As Daughter’s voice rises, the deep cries of the ancestors rise with hers. Her song is a song of her transformation and their coming destruction. As the temple falls, she is ready to join the ranks of ancestor. The lost legions rise, rise, rise and claim what they have always have been — a free people, a future people dancing on the ruins of what should have never have been and the new, true world becoming. Now. 24 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

Opposite Page Clockwise: Win McNamee / Staff, OLIVIER DOULIERY / Contributor, TIMOTHY A. CLARY / Contributor, Spencer Platt / Staff This Page: JIM WATSON / Contributor

“A lie ain’t forever,” they say. “Keep your eyes alert for traveling news.”


Literary Quilt JULY 2020 25



Morsa Images; BlackJack3D

In this special report, THE CRISIS examines the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 on the Black community. As businesses shut down, African Americans emerged as the backbone of our society — the essential workers who put their lives on the line as the deadly virus ravaged our communities. We look at the challenges, fears and resiliency of our people at this pivotal time in our nation.


Black America and The Coronavirus Pandemic The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the long-standing inequality and racial disparities in America.


By Sherri Williams

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Contributor

B

reonna Taylor’s mother worried that her daughter would get COVID-19 while she worked as an emergency medical technician in Louisville, Ky. As an essential worker, Taylor, 26, cared for the sick and was in and out of hospitals in the early days of the nation’s coronavirus pandemic. George Floyd, 46, moved to Minneapolis from Houston to restart his life, reset after some setbacks and to get a job. He was a working man who wanted to take care of his family. He tested positive for COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic was a looming danger in the lives of both Taylor and Floyd, as it was for so many other Black Americans as the highly contagious virus emerged to be a serious nationwide threat toward the end of February. But it was another long standing invisible and insidious force that took their

lives — racism, in the form of deadly police violence. Racism, and the hundreds of years of multiple inequalities it created, birthed an atmosphere that positioned COVID-19 to be ripe to ravage Black America — and it did. Health disparities left Black Americans vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 and dying from it at higher rates, nearly two times greater than their share of the population. The state of education of Black children, which was already tenuous, was tested as stay-at-home orders imposed online learning that presented challenges for families with no laptops or adequate access to the internet because of the digital divide. Black Americans’ propensity to work in jobs where they serve the public kept them interacting with people daily, putting them at risk to get the virus; others lost jobs as the nation’s unemployment rate spiked — Black Americans had high jobless rates. JULY 2020 29


30 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

Chip Somodevilla / Staff

Congress allocated $349 billion to help small businesses 90 percent of businesses owned by women and people of color couldn’t access that money.

By the end of May, Black America found itself immersed in three structural and avoidable major crises: the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, a debilitating economic recession and a fiery racial justice uprising after the videotape of Floyd’s killing by a white police officer became public within weeks of growing awareness of Taylor’s death at the hands of police and the vigilante killing of Ahmaud Arbery by three white men. Tony McDade, a transgender Black man, was fatally shot by police in Florida two days after Floyd’s death. Taylor was shot by police at least eight times in her Louisville home on March 12, the day before President Donald Trump announced a national emergency because the sometimes-deadly coronavirus, which has no cure, was rapidly infecting and killing people across the country. Police were executing a warrant at Taylor’s home for someone who wasn’t there. Two months later, Floyd died on May 25 after a police officer burrowed his knee into Floyd’s neck and pressed the weight of his body onto Floyd’s as he lay on the pavement with his face and body mashed into the ground. A bystander videotaped the incident, which pushed people out of isolation and into the streets for a renewed era of Black liberation. Social distancing was abandoned. Rallies for social justice erupted, across the globe and in almost 1,400 cities across the nation for more than three weeks. People crowded the streets, many of them wearing masks to protect themselves against the coronavirus, and demanded justice for Floyd and other Black victims of deadly police violence. Activists also advocated for racial justice in other facets of American life — all in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that killed more than 116,000 Americans by the middle of June. It is almost impossible to understand what COVID-19 snatched from Black America: the businesses that shuttered after years of work and determination were invested; first-generation high school and college graduation celebrations that


“This pandemic is man-made . ...It is the direct result of the 2016 presidential election.”

VALERIE MACON / Contributor

Derrick Johnson, NAACP PRESIDENT AND CEO

families planned for a lifetime that never happened; the loneliness of bringing a life into the world with no family to witness the birth; the solitude of taking the last breath with no forehead kisses, no held hands, no final words; the homegoings with no soothing soulful songs from a choir, no repast to mourn collectively and share blissful memories of the dead. The joy, love, plans, solutions and contributions of those Black America lost to the coronavirus cannot be quantified. But some of the pandemic’s destruction to Black America can be tracked. More than 25,000 Black people died related to COVID-19, by late-June, according to the COVID Racial Data Tracker — a collaboration between American University’s Antiracist Research & Policy Center and the COVID Tracking Project. There were more than 2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States by late-June, the most of any nation, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Black income and employment disparities were worsened by the coronavirus. The nation lost 44 million jobs. Black America had a 16.8 percent unemployment rate in May, higher than the national unemployment rate of 13.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And 44 percent of Black Americans responding to a Pew Research Center survey in April reported that they or someone in their home lost jobs or wages because of the pandemic. Even though Congress allocated $349 billion to help small businesses stay afloat, 90 percent of businesses owned by women and people of

color couldn’t access that money. Some of the financial gains Black Americans finally made in the 12 years after the Great Recession began were wiped out in three months. All of this could have been avoided with better national leadership and a coordinated federal response, not various state-bystate strategies that states weren’t equipped to roll out, said Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP. “This pandemic is man-made.

...It is the direct result of the 2016 presidential election,” Johnson said. “All of the decisions that have been made leading up to this moment can be attributed to...an anemic response from this administration.” At one of his rallies in North Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 28, Trump said the coronavirus, like the impeachment process and the Russia investigation, was the Democrats’ hoax. Two weeks later, as U.S. infections skyrocketed, he declared a

JULY 2020 31


“It’s sad that it takes a pandemic to realize that Blacks really service America.”

national emergency, and quarantine orders spread across the nation as quickly as the virus itself. But many Black workers couldn’t quarantine and work from home. When the nation shut down, Black workers stepped up. They worked in meatpacking plants, kept the nation’s food supply chain flowing even as the COVID-19 outbreak spread in their factories. Black workers continued to report for duty in warehouses and pack goods. They were the delivery drivers who drove shipments of supplies across the country and meals to homes. When food made it to stores, mostly Black workers stocked the shelves in markets, rang up and bagged food. They used public transportation to get back and forth to work, many were the subway 32 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

operators and bus drivers — all were vulnerable to the virus in those close spaces. In hospitals, Black medical professionals worked as doctors and nurses and cared for COVID-19 patients. Black workers also cooked patients’ food, cleaned their rooms and transported them throughout facilities. Black scientists and researchers worked on a COVID-19 vaccine while others prioritized testing in Black communities. The nation’s working class, across racial identities, kept America’s essential services running. Many Black employees’ jobs that kept the nation running didn’t allow them to telework. They had to make an agonizing choice to either work or support their families while risking contracting COVID-19. These essential workers worried about

infecting their loved ones with the virus or stay home and lose their livelihoods, said Robin Williams, retired vice president and civil rights director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and chair of the NAACP’s labor committee. “It’s sad that it takes a pandemic to realize that Blacks really service America,” she said. “This pandemic really showed that when it came to people needing the essentials to live they didn’t call on CEOs, not the athletes or performers. It was really the everyday workers that kept, that are still keeping us going even through this pandemic and they’ve done so for centuries in this country.” Even as Black people kept the nation operating and some contracted the COVID-19 virus

Jeff Greenberg / Contributor

-R obin Williams, retired vice president and civil rights director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and chair of the NAACP’s labor committee


Dan Kitwood / Staff

while working, officials blamed them for being disproportionately affected by the virus. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Black Americans to “avoid alcohol, drugs and tobacco” to reduce their chances of contracting COVID-19, suggesting that Black people’s behavior led to their disproportionate COVID-19 deaths. Ohio State Sen. Steve Huffman, also an emergency room doctor, suggested that “the colored population” didn’t wash their hands, use masks and practice social distancing as they should. Social determinants of health affected by racism and disproportionate access to health insurance are primary reasons why Black Americans suffer from higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, asthma and obesity, said Patrice A. Harris, immediate past president of the American Medical Association. All of those conditions make people vulnerable to COVID-19. “It’s important that we make sure that we do not blame people who are suffering disproportionately,” the doctor said. “We have these differences and we have these inequities, and it is about much more than behavior. It really is about long-standing structural inequities.”

Black people experienced a significant amount of stress and anxiety through the pandemic, which exacerbates the toxic stress they experience daily because of structural racism and racial microaggressions. Harris, a psychiatrist, is concerned about the long-term impact COVID-19 will have on Black Americans’ mental health. The week after George Floyd’s fatal police video became public, Black Americans’ showing anxiety and depression increased from 36 percent to 41 percent, according to census data. COVID-19 affected Black Americans of all ages. Kandice Knight’s healthy daughter Dar’yana Dyson had a stomach ache and fever. Knight took her to the hospital, but her 15-year-old child never went home. Days later, Dar’yana died and became the youngest person in Maryland to succumb to a COVID-19related illness. “All she wanted to do was just live,” said Knight, 32. “She was special to my family. She was special to me. She was there for me the most. I can never imagine a child being there for their mom the way she was there for me.” Dar’yana died in May, a month

before her 16th birthday, and two months after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the nation. The tremors of the coronavirus’ shock waves were felt deeply in Black America. That’s not lost on Knight, who is Black. “I don’t understand why it’s attacking the Black community like this,” said Knight, who said she has three other daughters. Dar’yana was her oldest. “I just don’t understand how me and my little family get attacked by this? I don’t wish this on no one. I just don’t understand.” Knight spoke as she stood in a parking lot while clutching a photo of her daughter where dozens of people gathered at a vigil in May in Baltimore to remember Dar’yana. The Rev. Howard-John Wesley, pastor at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., knows how painful it has been to be unable to collectively mourn. “It has been sad,” he said. “The funeral rite is an important way to help people in the grieving process. ...It’s been a struggle on all levels.” But there has been communal support for those living with the fallout of the pandemic. Wesley said his church gave almost 300 computer tablets to quarantined students to keep up with their studies during the pandemic and donated about $475,000 in COVID-19 relief to families. Rev. William J. Barber II is the cochair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. More than 1.2 million people tuned in for the virtual gathering of the Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March On Washington on June 20. Barber, also president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, based in Goldsboro, N.C., noted that it’s an important moment in history. It’s an opportunity, he said, for community coalitions to demand equality from the government. Equitable funding for health care and a living wage is necessary to reverse the tide of COVID-19 and pre-existing inequities, he said. “To accept anything less,” Barber pointed out, “would be like staying in slavery to ask the master to give us a long weekend.” n JULY 2020 33


Residents at Risk

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he coronavirus continues to ravage long-term care facilities, it also wreaks havoc among family members who are anxious and concerned about the mental and physical health of loved ones who are isolated inside. For the family of Doris Edmond,

that anxiety quickly spiraled into a rush for her three daughters to say their final goodbyes when they learned that she had contracted the virus at the St. Louis-area nursing home where she resided and that she had about an hour to live. The daughters, who live in three separate

states, suddenly found themselves navigating the odd new reality of how to shape their final moments with their 74-year-old mother. “I received a call from her doctor with my sisters on the line that she had been diagnosed with COVID-19, the coronavirus, and they weren’t

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By Cynthia Yeldell Anderson


expecting her to make it through the hour, so we have this very panicked and rushed effort to try and get a video chat going, and that was not good,� said Sandra Braham, Edmond’s middle child. A homemaker, Edmond loved to cook and enjoyed shopping for

purses and things that sparkle. Diagnosed with a brain tumor, she entered the long-term care facility in January when a hospice bed became available. Family members prided themselves on taking excellent care of Edmond. Visiting frequently, they

read her stories, gave massages and did their own physical therapy with her to help exercise her limbs. Their issues began in late March when they received a call that there were five patients with coronavirus at the facility. They were told that their mother was fine.

JULY 2020 35


“The next time that we heard anything, I guess that was maybe seven to 10 days later, was that we’ve got 22 cases and your mom is one of them and she’s not going to make it through the next hour,” Braham said. That call on April 2 was the beginning of the family’s challenge to find a way to say goodbye by video call or video conference. With the nursing home able to make only one call, and the three daughters located in Missouri, Florida and Alabama, the sisters had little time to make a decision on who would have what was thought to be the last opportunity to talk with their mother. “You get into, ‘You can do this format if you have an iPhone, you can have that format if you have an Android, you can have this format if you are on a laptop Doris Edmonds, center, poses with her three daughters. Edmonds, who resided in a St. Louis-area with webinar access,’ but nursing home, died of coronavirus COVID-19 on April 8. the hospitals (long-term care facilities) are not trying to figure that out because they are dealing with so many Edmond had no awareness of Residents at Risk issues and they don’t have time,” what coronavirus was or why she’d According to the Centers for Disease Braham said. “My youngest sister suddenly experienced its symptoms. Control and Prevention, nursing and I agreed that we should basically But family members say she did home populations are at the highest reserve that one phone call for my know that she always had a ton of risk of being affected by COVID-19, older sister.” visitors — brothers, nieces and her given their close living quarters The sisters waited through daughters and other extended family and population of older adults the night and fortunately their — and then suddenly she had none. with underlying chronic medical mother lived several more days. “There is nothing to substitute conditions. This gave Braham an opportunity for the human touch,” Braham said. The Associated Press reported to communicate with her mom “You may have touches from nurses, in May that a third of the nation’s through FaceTime — two days after and you have comfort, but there is coronavirus deaths are attributed to doctors said she wouldn’t make it nothing like the touch and comfort nursing home outbreaks. One of the through the night. from a loving family.” few efforts at counting the number

Nursing homes are largely segregated. Facilities with large numbers of people of color are twice as likely to be struck [with coronavirus] than those at facilities that are overwhelmingly white. 36 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM


of African-American nursing home coronavirus cases was conducted by The New York Times, which took measure of the 22 hardest-hit coronavirus states and the District of Columbia. Facilities with large numbers of people of color are twice as likely to be struck than those who are at facilities that are overwhelmingly white. The report noted that in more than 60 percent of nursing homes where at least a quarter of the residents are Black or Latino there was at least one coronavirus case. That is double the rate of homes where Black and Latino people are less than 5 percent of the population. Nursing homes are largely segregated. Risks associated with having a loved one living in a long-term care facility during the COVID-19 outbreak leave family members such as Andre M. Johnson on edge. Johnson has a 70-year-old mother in a rehab facility in Prince George’s County, Md., the county with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state. “Even though her facility has zero cases of COVID-19, I’m scared every day that will change,” Johnson said. Johnson hasn’t seen his mother since the coronavirus outbreak began, which he said has created a significant amount of anxiety for him. “Even if I go up there, they won’t even let me in the door,” said Johnson, who has tried to communicate with his mother through Zoom, but the facility didn’t have a strong enough connection. Phone calls are his only option. “It takes a lot of prayer, perseverance, staying confident and putting it in God’s hands,” he said. Don Hamilton’s 93-year-old father, Oscar Hamilton, is in a nursing home in Wayne, Mich., about 25 miles outside Detroit. Though he misses seeing his father daily, Hamilton understands why the restrictions are necessary and believes his father is safe. “Knowing the facility he is in is very good, I’m O.K.,” Hamilton said. “He’s answering the phone, and he calls me sometimes.”

For Some, Phone Calls Are Not An Option The phone is not an option for Robert Turner, whose sister, Mary Alice Harris, is bedridden and unable to speak. Turner, who hasn’t seen or heard from his sister since the outbreak began, said the situation is disturbing. Prior to the outbreak, Turner visited his sister at least twice a week in her long-term care facility near Union Springs, Ala., and at each visit sang her favorite song, “One Day Religion Won’t Do.” He worries about his sister’s state of mind. “She recognizes us with her eyes,” Turner said. “I know she is having a hard time because she can’t see us.” In the Washington area, Sir Jamison calls his mother’s rehab facility daily, only to be transferred to the nursing station, where no one answers. “I’m trying my best to call at least two to three times a day: morning, evening and afternoon,” Jamison said. After more than a month of not speaking with his 80-year-old mother, Alice Murray Jamison, who has a doctorate in psychology, he learned she had tested positive for the coronavirus. Jamison finds some comfort in knowing that his mother is not showing any symptoms, but she was moved to a different area of the rehab center for a two-week isolation. “I’ve been nervous and afraid, I’m trying to be strong as best I can,” Jamison said. “It’s hard because my mom is my rock, my everything.”

Saying Goodbye While Social Distancing For Edmond’s daughters, being unable to lay their eyes on their mother was devastating. “They closed down the homes to protect the residents and the residents still were not protected because they still ended up getting sick from someone on the inside,” Lorie Williams, Edmond’s oldest

daughter, said. “It was a false sense of safety for the residents who, in fact, had no safety after all.” Williams said the no-visitor policies take a toll not only on the family, but on the resident’s mental health. It’s common for people living in community settings that are not allowing visitors to feel socially isolated during this time, according to the CDC. “It could make the resident sad, depressed, and give them a sense of hopelessness that their family doesn’t care when, if fact, they actually do and want to be present,” Williams said. Edmond passed away on April 8. Because of the coronavirus and social distancing restrictions, many members of her large, close-knit family weren’t able to be present during her final sendoff. Her three daughters were among a small group of family members present for the intimate service inside Layne Renaissance Chapel in St. Louis. They wore face masks and sat spaced apart at the service as it was live streamed for those who couldn’t come inside. “It’s not but a few of us here and we can’t touch each other, but I know somebody who can touch us, for He’s not affected by virus. He has control over everything,” said Edmond’s brother, the Rev. David Rice Sr., who preached his sister’s eulogy. Each daughter made remarks, and Williams recited an original poem entitled, Mother. “Mom, ever so sweet and kind, a friend throughout all times, always by her children’s side,” she read. People around the country tuned in and listened to the hymns and heartfelt testimonies to Edmond’s love of God and devotion to being a mother. About 20 cars of family members watched the service on their mobile phones while parked in the parking lot of the chapel. “Though they stayed in their cars, it was lovely,” Braham said. “I don’t think we are going to be the same, any of us, after this as a country,” Braham continued. “I wouldn’t wish an e-funeral on anyone.” n

JULY 2020 37


By Nedra Rhone

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n the day in midMarch when Atlanta Public Schools closed in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Kimberly Dukes, a mother of 10 whose children attend three of the lowestperforming schools in the district, was confronted with a logistical nightmare. Her three high schoolers each had school-issued laptops, but the six younger children in middle and elementary school had one device to share. Even her 3-year-old in day care would have assignments, she learned. So, Dukes, a parent activist who in 2019 founded the parent-centric nonprofit Atlanta Thrive, scraped up the money to buy three additional tablets. But like many other parents of African American children nationwide, she was worried. The laptops and tablets enabled her children to log on for lessons during

the pandemic, but she knew that alone would not stop the already wide achievement gap faced by Black and low-income students from growing even wider. While her situation may be unique, Dukes and her family illustrate the experiences of parents across the country as they look to educators to address learning lost during the pandemic. “Right now, it is not just a certain school in a crisis,” Dukes said. “It is the whole country, the whole world.” The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the weaknesses in every U.S. system, from health to food to education. Across the board, African Americans and poor citizens have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. In many metro areas, where large numbers of Black students attend the poorest schools, African-American students were already at risk. “Structural racism is actually the pre-existing condition that

destined us to be where we are,” said Becky Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association, during an April Town Hall hosted by the NAACP. “We shouldn’t be shocked. We know these conditions have existed forever.” During the pandemic as schools moved to distance learning, limited access to computers and spotty internet service left many Black students logged out. Some faced challenging home situations, too — food scarcity, abuse, displacement — that made it difficult to tune in to daily lessons. Not having those basic needs met combined with uncertainty has left many Black students even more emotionally fragile. As some cities began reopening in early May, students were being dismissed from school for summer vacation with no idea what would greet them in the fall. It was only clear that when they did resume instruction, they would need more

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The Coronavirus Pandemic Widens Learning Gap for African-American Students


SPRING JULY 2020 39


educational and emotional support than ever before. Educators have said the pandemic presents both a challenge and an opportunity. In order to meet the unprecedented needs of students, they will have to disrupt an educational system that has failed Black students for far too long. Pringle said the NEA is working with educators to address students’ most urgent needs during the summer. That includes continuing to find ways to close the digital divide so students can gain access to online resources over the summer. It also means making sure students can get meals each day. The organization is also looking at longer-range plans. COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of face-to-face instruction, Pringle said, but one possibility for the fall is students moving to staggered schedules that would require a half-day in school and a half-day online. Teachers would once again have to rely on distance learning. “We are working with our educators to come together and collaborate and learn how to teach in a remote environment,” Pringle said. One of the biggest concerns when schools nationwide began closing in March was student access to online education. There was a push to bridge the digital divide as school districts allocated laptops to students in need or local businesses and major corporations stepped up with laptop donations. Comcast opened its WI-FI network for public access and offered 40 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

free service to new customers who qualified to help ensure students were able to get online. In some cities, teachers drove buses to rural communities to ensure students had mobile hotspots. But even with those assists, the rate of engagement for Black students varied widely. In Houston’s Spring Independent School District, teachers issued paper packets while the school handed out laptops by grade level over a period of several weeks or more. Younger students without access to devices lost out on weeks of learning. At Duval County Middle Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., all students were almost immediately issued laptops and Evan Daniels, principal at Arlington Middle School, sent an email to parents informing them about the plan for online learning. In mid-April, Dukes, of Atlanta, said she had not received much communication from the schools about how they would proceed. During the first week that school was out, her oldest daughter, a senior at Carver High School in Atlanta, slept for three days straight, Dukes said. “The kids are not adjusting,” said Dukes. “We are going to worry about education ... but right now we need to be thinking about our social and emotional health. When we come out of this, there will be a lot of people who may not come out the same way.” Marcus Richardson, 17, also a senior at Carver High School, said teachers seemed to limit online lessons to material they had covered rather than teaching

new information. Though he had been admitted to Valdosta State University, he worried about what would happen in the coming school year and he wasn’t receiving communication from the school. “We are always the last ones to know, but we are the ones affected by all of this,” Richardson said. Moving forward, consistent communication between schools and parents will be even more critical in creating solutions that work, educators said. Monique Nunnally, founder of Atlanta-based Teach X, connects schools to external partners to help address educational needs. “We are about to go into a space that is going to need a vast amount of human capital,” she said. “We are going to have to enlist an army of volunteers and supporters to help parents navigate a new system and help students become self-directed learners.” Nunnally hopes COVID-19 will push the educational system in a direction it should have been going all along. That’s one in which each student is viewed as an individual and has a learning plan to meet his or her needs. “It is overwhelming to think about personalized learning,” she said. But “if you mandate something, it is going to happen.” John B. King Jr., CEO of Education Trust and a U.S. secretary of education under President Barack Obama, said by some estimates students may have lost as much as half a year in math and a third in reading during the pandemic.

Laura Olivas

Parents of African American students will have to be strong advocates as they seek services to fill the inevitable educational gaps.


LUIS ROBAYO / Contributor

Statewide assessment tests were suspended, leaving schools without the usual data they would have to evaluate student performance. Some states, such as Texas, are now subsidizing assessments that can be administered from home if parents want to know how their children are doing. Once students who are most in need are identified, they will need access to some form of intervention. One solution could be a federal investment in the AmeriCorps program with the idea of creating a set of tutors who could provide additional support in schools, King said. Federal investments should also be leveraged to address the social and emotional impacts of COVID-19. Other solutions being considered to help close learning gaps caused by the pandemic include distance learning during the summer months, an expanded school day or possibly an extended school year. All of those solutions would be best supported by investment dollars from the federal government, King said. “I think federal action is critical. State and local governments don’t have the ability to borrow the way the federal government does,” King said. School districts are already struggling to close budget shortfalls and if they resort to teacher layoffs it could have a profound impact on student achievement, he said. In Dukes’ community, which is 98 percent African American, the schools have so consistently underperformed that in 2017 former Superintendent Meria Carstarphen placed them under the operation of Purpose Built Schools, a nonprofit that functions as a charter school, to help turn the schools around. It has meant several years of upheaval for families, many of which were still recovering from the Atlanta cheating scandal, a multiyear investigation of irregular test scores at several dozen Atlanta Public Schools that resulted in indictments of 35 educators. Atlanta Public Schools announced in May the need to fill a $60 million budget gap. Carstarphen said nonpersonnel cuts had been made, including pulling back on

teacher raises and reducing perpupil expenditures by 1.8 percent. The district also implemented a hiring freeze on new hires, unless they were directly related to the COVID-19 emergency response. Teacher furloughs were also possible, Carstarphen said. The district established a crossfunctional task force to consider plans for a return to school. “These are all questions that we and school districts all over this country are grappling with,” Carstarphen said in a memo to employees. As the school year ended in midMay, the district set up a number of online resources for students such as ebooks for summer reading that are aligned with state standards, and a partnership with the public library encouraged students to read for 20 minutes a day and log their efforts online. Students also had access to MyBackPack, which provided digital resources for practice, review and enrichment. A number of health resources were also in place for families in need of assistance, including access to free COVID-19 testing, routine health care and a hotline that provided resources to teens. But Carstarphen will not be around to oversee post-pandemic education in Atlanta schools. The district hired a new superintendent,

Lisa Herring, former head of schools in Birmingham, Ala. Herring said she hoped everyone would work together to rally around the education of students. The district declined to provide an official to be interviewed for this article. A spokesperson said officials were in the early stages of developing a comprehensive plan and did not have anyone available who could address questions related to student learning post-pandemic. As schools continue to plan and evolve, parents of African-American students will have no choice but to become even stronger advocates for their children as they seek services to help fill the inevitable educational gaps. That is the kind of change Dukes has been working toward for so many years with the parents in her community and it is a lesson she learned long ago. She vowed to continue to keep her children on task, while also rallying parents and calling school administrators to ask the questions that some parents don’t know to ask. “Who is going to lead the parents who don’t know? Who is going to lead the parents in the lowest-performing schools?” Dukes said. “Only 4 percent of kids born in poverty are going to make it out. I am worried, but my kids are going to be O.K. because I am going to raise hell.” n

JULY 2020 41


A VIRUS IN PRISON By Lisa Armstrong


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ven before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Anthony Swain wouldn’t sleep at night because he was afraid he’d stop breathing. Swain, 43, is a quadriplegic, having been shot in the spine during a home invasion when he was 20, and has a number of other ailments that have followed since. In 2019, he was diagnosed with cystic myelomalacia, a softening of the spine that can lead to death by respiratory paralysis. So, he would spend his nights sitting on his bed at the Metro West Detention Center in Miami, reading his Bible and talking to the men in the bunks beside him who had to wake up in the dead of night to get ready to distribute breakfast. When Swain saw news about the COVID-19 pandemic in February, he became doubly afraid. The medical unit he was in had several men with high fevers and other COVID-19 symptoms, and people were constantly being brought in and out. The men in the cell had no hand sanitizer, no masks, no way to distance themselves. Swain fashioned his own mask from a yellow sock and an elastic string from his catheter bag. In late April, Swain began to feel short of breath. He said a doctor told him it was from anxiety.

We’re not getting adequate care. It’s a very humbling experience. It is a very hurtful reality. —Anthony Swain

He made five requests for a COVID-19 test, which he said were denied. “When I told them I wanted to be tested for COVID-19, they looked at me as if I’d committed a crime,” said Swain. It wasn’t until May 10, when Swain was taken to the hospital with a urinary tract infection, that he got a COVID-19 test, and the positive diagnosis he’d suspected all along. He was then sent to the Miami-Dade Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center (TGK), the jail where people who have contracted COVID-19 are being housed. “I’m in here with individuals that wind up not breathing, not eating for two days, being isolated in a 6 by 4 cell, and we’re not getting adequate

care,” Swain said when he called me on May 29. “It’s a very humbling, melancholy experience. It is a very hurtful reality.” The infection rate of COVID-19 in correctional facilities, where people typically don’t have the option to distance themselves and weren’t given masks until very recently, is about 2½ times higher than in the general population. While those incarcerated are most at risk, corrections officers have also contracted the virus and died. At least 59,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 in jails and prisons around the country, and at least 557 incarcerated persons and employees have died. Within Miami-Dade’s corrections department, 550 of the 1,166 JULY 2020 43


44 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

After Swain was diagnosed with COVID-19, his attorneys filed an emergency motion for his release. They also created a GoFundMe to raise $85,000 for the 10 percent bond payment, and the remainder to take care of his medical needs once he was released. Swain is one of the defendants listed in a federal lawsuit filed against the Miami Department of Corrections on April 5 by the Advancement Project National Office, Community Justice Project, Civil Rights Corps, GST LLP, and Dream Defenders. The lawsuit calls for the release of people in the city’s jails who are most vulnerable to catching COVID-19. In late April, a judge issued an order for Metro West to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s health guidelines, which include maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet, providing a free supply of soap, and testing people who report COVID-19 symptoms. Still, in early June, Marshall King Jr., who has been in jail for a year, said conditions at Metro West were much the same as they were before the order. At Metro West, King, 48, was in a bunk next to Charles Hobbs Jr., the first person to die from COVID-19 in the Miami-Dade jail system. King knew in late March that Hobbs, 51, was seriously ill.

“He snored very loudly, but he got so weak to where he couldn’t even snore,” King said of Hobbs. Then he would lay in the bed all day and didn’t have energy or strength to move.” In early April, King started getting severe headaches and chills. Medical staff came to the cell and took his and Hobbs’ temperature. Hobbs’ was 108; King’s was 102, King said. They were given Tylenol, but they remained in the dormitory-style cell with the other 60 or so men housed there. On April 19, King said that he was so weak he couldn’t eat and started hallucinating. He can’t remember much from that period, but he said the men who took care of him told him that he was crawling around and trying to get water from the toilet to cool his body. He was given Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol and Ensure, but no COVID-19 test, he said, because he was told his symptoms were not severe enough. The department said it could not comment on this and other claims made about treatment and conditions at the jails because of pending litigation. What King does remember is waking up early on the morning of April 28 and seeing Hobbs having what looked like a seizure, his hands balled into fists, fighting to breathe. King alerted a corrections officer and Hobbs was taken out of the cell by medical staff. Word traveled back to the cell the next day that Hobbs had died. “I knew that I was having the same symptoms,” King said. “That's when I basically started to panic.” The jail then tested 34 of the men who had shared the cell with Hobbs. According to King, 27 of them tested positive. King and others who had tested positive were moved to another dormitory-style cell. A few days later, King’s nose started bleeding, he fell to the floor, and the next thing he remembers is being in the hospital. “I heard this old Black lady, a doctor or somebody, a nurse or somebody, she say, ‘You have to breathe, baby, or you're going to die!’” he said.

MEGAN JELINGER / Contributor

incarcerated persons tested were found to have the virus. There are 3,266 people in the jails. A department spokesperson said that at present only 33 people still have the virus. Advocates believe the number is much higher, and say that the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths has been difficult to track. “Nobody dies in jail, because when people go to the hospital and they know they’re about to die, they release them from custody,” said Maya Ragsdale, an attorney with the Florida-based advocacy group Dream Defenders. Medical records would then show that the person had died in the hospital as opposed to in the custody of the corrections department. Advocates around the country have been pushing for people to be released to reduce the population, which would help slow the spread of the disease. Those in jails have not yet been found guilty of any crime, and advocates say that leaving them in crowded cells during a pandemic is a death sentence. Swain was arrested in February 2016, on charges that he was running a pill mill. His bond was originally set for $1.2 million, then lowered to $650,000, still far more than he or his parents, Connie and Anthony Sr., could afford to pay. His parents have already used much of their retirement savings on lawyers, as Swain says he is innocent.


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King spent several days in the hospital and was then sent to TGK. He was moved back to Metro West on June 2, and said he was afraid he would catch another strain of the coronavirus. He said he wasn’t tested before leaving TGK, so is not sure if he still has the virus, but he has what he describes as a mind fog. His legs are also swollen, and he is worried about getting blood clots—another serious symptom of COVID-19. The night King was transferred from TGK, he wrote a poem about a dream in which he attends a funeral and looks in the casket to see himself lying there. “I am literally afraid for my life,” said King. “I lost belief in God a long time ago, but when I realized how serious this COVID thing was, I can tell you that it built back some of my belief in God. That's how I deal with it day to day. I have started back talking to God instead of cursing God.” Patrick Baldwin, 24, also had COVID-19 and was held at TGK for about two weeks. In mid-May, after he lost his sense of smell and taste and was having difficulty breathing, he was tested for COVID-19. He was then placed in a cell used to isolate people for disciplinary reasons, and so lost his phone and other privileges. The following day paramedics had to rush him to the hospital after he almost went into cardiac arrest. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to die like this. I don’t want to die in these orange clothes,’” said Baldwin, referring to the uniform the men wear. “I literally closed my eyes and just started crying, ‘Lord, please carry me through this.’ It was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through.” When Baldwin was released from the hospital, he went to TGK. On June 1, he was sent back to Metro West, where he was placed in a cell with people who have COVID-19. Though a spokesperson for the corrections department said that “all inmates must be re-tested in order to be cleared” for transfer from TGK, Baldwin said he wasn’t tested and is, like King, worried about being re-infected. Baldwin also isn’t getting food.

He said police beat him when he was arrested on Jan. 9 and knocked out the molars on the right side of his face and displaced the molars on the left. The Homestead Police Department wrote in response to questions about Baldwin’s injuries: “There are records of the arrest. To date, The Homestead Police Department has not received any complaints either from Mr. Baldwin or a third party.” At TGK, Swain would purchase soup for Baldwin from the commissary. At Metro West, Baldwin said he is only being given one can of Ensure a day. He is 6 feet tall and said that he is now down to around 140 pounds from about 160. Swain said that he cried hearing Baldwin’s and King’s stories when he met them at TGK because it made him feel the lawsuit had been in vain. “The whole reason that we started this petition is to help save people or to help prevent what is already occurring,” he said. “This lawsuit isn’t about money, it’s about injustice.” At TGK, Swain continued to have difficulty breathing and so stayed up at night, reading his Bible and Nelson Mandela’s autobiography,

Long Walk to Freedom. When I spoke with him on May 29, he spoke of his virus-related brain fog — "I feel as if I’m drifting through a cloud,” he said — and amplified the symptoms from some of his other ailments. He would often bounce up and down in his wheelchair because the pain was unbearable. While Dream Defenders didn’t quite meet their GoFundMe goal, on June 4, they got a call from Colin Kaepernick, who contributed the remaining $15,000 for Swain’s bond. Swain was released on June 12, fitted with an ankle monitor, and is on house arrest at his parents’ home in the Brown Subdivision in Miami. “It feels so surreal, but I’m excited. I feel like a roaring lion right now,” said Swain, the afternoon of his release. He is committed to doing even more now to advocate on behalf of those he left behind — for better health care, treatment of those with disabilities, and overall conditions in the jail. “This is not over,” Swain said. “It just gave me an opportunity to get started. If before you were fighting with your hands behind your back, what would that fight be like if your hands were now free?” n JULY 2020 45



For Better or For Worse:

How Families are Coping with COVID-19 Changes

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By Kathryn DeShields

D

edren Snead, 44, wasn’t prepared when he was laid off from his traveling IT consulting job on March 3. He and his wife, Neidra Snead, 43, had just spent their savings to move back to Georgia from North Carolina to put their three kids, Alex, 10, Tyler, 8, and Roxanne, 5, in a better school system. His job didn’t provide severance. No mention of coming back once things settled. They simply gave him an additional day on the company’s dime to get home.

SPRING JULY 2020 47


48 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

“More than anything, it is the fear of the unknown that is making this so difficult.” —Neidra Snead

At its peak, more than 44 million Americans filed for unemployment due to COVID-19, which brought the unemployment rate up to 14.7 percent. The number of jobs lost because of COVID-19 is four times the number of jobs lost during the 2007-2009 recession. According to the Los Angeles Times, accelerating job growth and declining unemployment can be attributed to businesses slowly reopening during the month of June. However, with the number of COVID-19 cases back on the rise, many are worried another economic shutdown may be on the horizon. “I have five degrees, and I thought about getting a job at a grocery store,” said Dedren. “It’s not about being too good to do it, but I don’t want to work in a place that has so many people coming through and then come back to the house, to my family, without health insurance. In a sense, going out to work the readily available jobs seems worse than not working.” Though Dedren considered access to cleaning products, food and toilet paper a benefit of working at the grocer, his wife encouraged him to wait instead of taking a job that was so heavily exposed to the public with a young family and no support system in Atlanta. And for good reason. According to an article from USA Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union reported that 30 supermarket employees have died from COVID-19, and more than 3,000 have called out because of signs of illness or other possible virusrelated symptoms. To make matters worse, a common complaint is that customers aren’t adhering to safety guidelines. With this in mind, Dedren’s new strategy is to hunker down financially and take the first viable job that becomes available. “Searching for a job is even more strenuous because so many people are in the same boat,” said Dedren. “Before COVID, I felt like a qualified candidate, but there is an immense amount of competition now.”

Caroline Brehman / Contributor

“I remember thinking, not now. This can’t be real,” Dedren said. “The timing was just bad. We have family in Memphis, and Tennessee was just hit by tornadoes, so we were trying to figure out if they were O.K. Then, I get this random call at the end of my shift. Never mind moving twice in six months. We figured with a couple of months of saving, we could get back to where we were. When my employers called with the news, what seemed like a calculated risk turned into an impossibility.” Married for 12 years, Dedren and Neidra met at North Carolina State and clicked over their love of comic books, video games and writing. Neidra does freelance as a graphic designer. Though this isn’t the first time the family has experienced a layoff, COVID-19 has compounded the severity of this situation. “What bothers us is the possibility that a lot of jobs in Dedren’s field of work may not come back,” Neidra said. “More than anything, it is the fear of the unknown that is making this so difficult.” Like many other families who are trying to adjust to the new norm brought on by a global pandemic, the Sneads are trying to figure out what’s next with a record number of Americans filing for unemployment and no clear end in sight for the virus that is wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of many.


Joe Raedle / Staff

Meanwhile, Neidra is adapting to becoming a “true full-time mom” with the kids in the house around the clock. “My time isn’t my own anymore,” Neidra said. “The free time I would have had for my art and writing is gone. If it’s not taking care of the kids or making sure they are keeping up with their learning, it’s applying to jobs, budgeting, or preparing for the future. You hope you can reclaim a little time for yourself, but more often than not you’re tired and just go to bed.” For most families with savings, what was once viewed as a safety net is now the only reliable income they have as second jobs and backup plans succumb to the changing landscape.

“The stimulus check didn’t stimulate anything, it just made sure we didn’t have to worry about someone knocking on our door for 30 days.” —Dedren Snead As a comic book creator/writer and the owner of SUBSUME, a conference connecting Black creatives in the city, Dedren did not anticipate that his back-up revenue streams would also fail. By the time he got the email saying federal Paycheck Protection

Program loans were available, the money was already gone. “According to their rules, I’m not big enough to be a small business. A lot of the things they touted as relief for business owners does not apply to someone like me,” Dedren

JULY 2020 49


50 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

Elenathewise

The time and attention you can give to people and things that matter is so precious right now. We’re all in this struggle, whether or not we agree on how to handle it.

said. “I’m trying to work through the Small Business Administration to make some connections, but [it’s difficult to get access to the funds].” Though the Internal Revenue Service has paid out more than $218 billion in stimulus checks, millions of Americans still haven’t received that money. For those who have received it, the amount provided is simply not enough. “When we received the $1,800 stimulus check, it immediately went to rent. It didn’t stimulate anything, it just made sure we [didn’t] have to worry about someone knocking on our door for 30 days,” Dedren said. The CARES Act includes a foreclosure and eviction moratorium, but it applies only to renters living on federally backed properties. However, in the state of Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp has not yet issued a statewide eviction moratorium suspending eviction proceedings or making new filings. At the time of this writing, Georgia landlords are still submitting eviction filings despite the courts being closed to all but essential court functions. Dedren considered going back to school, but he questioned whether the job he would be studying for would even exist by the time he graduated. And as parents, Dedren and Neidra are equally worried about the kids. “Our children can’t go to school, can’t go to the park, and can’t have friends over. My wife and I have to keep the game face on for them,” said Dedren. “They do wonder why I’m home so much. They know this is abnormal. They understand what COVID is, at least more than Governor Kemp does, but they do still wonder why I’m here. If the state could perform worse than the federal government, in Georgia, I think we’re here.” Like most kids in the United States, Alex, Tyler and Roxanne moved to digital learning once their school closed, and the gravity of the situation hit home when they could no longer see their friends or leave the house. They are in the fourth grade, second grade and kindergarten. The Snead children


all have their own laptops where they interact with their teachers and classmates over Zoom meetings and complete assignments throughout the day. Neidra and Dedren make sure their assignments are being completed and keep track of what they are learning. They also keep the children involved with what’s going on with the pandemic. “We make sure the kids understand they aren’t being punished, and that staying at home is necessary,” Neidra said. “That this will come to an end someday. We let them know we have to stay at home for a reason, and it’s not just us. This is happening all over the world. They have asked us how long COVID is going to last, where it came from, and if we [their family] are going to get it.” The reality of losing a job and the income it provides is top of mind for most Americans, and many are dealing with an added layer of turmoil. With more than 138,000 deaths and more than 3.4 million confirmed cases in the United States, losing loved ones to a virus that’s evolving is affecting people across the globe. Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that racial minorities, particularly black people, account for an abnormally high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Since the pandemic started, Dedren’s family has lost two relatives to COVID-19. According to APM Research Lab, “For each 100,000 Americans (of their respective group), 42.8 Blacks have died, along with about 18.4 Asians, 19.1 Latinos, and 16.6 Whites …To put it plainly: If all Americans had died of COVID-19 at the same rate as White Americans, at least 10,500 Black Americans, 1,400 Latino Americans, and 300 Asian Americans would still be alive.” With many Americans receiving health insurance from their place of employment, more than 27 million people have lost their health coverage. Though the Affordable Care Act introduced during the Obama administration would provide coverage for those who lost their jobs, the Trump administration has not advertised this or the fact that

individuals must sign up within 60 days of losing their job. And there are added stresses. “The idea of not being able to visit family or go to the funeral. The simple things we hold dear are being affected by this virus,” said Dedren. “The time and attention you can give to people and things that matter is so precious right now. Reconnect, forge new relationships. We’re all uniformed in this struggle, whether or not we agree on how to handle it.” Despite hardship and heartbreak, the Sneads are getting through it all. Dedren, for example, is getting back to the basics with his kids. “Being around my family more has been a good part of this whole scenario,” said Dedren. “Seeing clean rooms, and having the kids saying ‘Hey, Dad, I want to talk to you’ versus trying to cram a week’s worth of missed school recitals and activities into one Saturday. Out of all of this, I can’t give this up. I wash dishes and do all the things I haven’t done since they were born. I wouldn’t get back on the road if you paid me, but I do need to get paid.” Neidra is confident about their family. “Our kids, like their parents, love video games and computers,” she said. “As long as we have electricity and the internet, we’ll be O.K. They still have access to the world. I think online connectivity is what’s getting a lot of people through this.” And this: “As long as you are able to put God first, put fact over fiction, use common sense, and hold onto hope, you can make it,” said Neidra. “There will always be obstacles in life, some much harder than others, but you can overcome them. Despite these hard times and this constant bad news, if you’re alive, your family is around you, and there’s food on the table, consider yourself extremely lucky, extremely blessed.” Adds Dedren: “Our forefathers and ancestors went through way tougher things than this and came through. This is a good moment to reinvent ourselves. In the stillness, you can come up with a plan on who you want to be and refocus your narrative.” n


The Pandemic Is

Making Mental Health Harder for Black People Already Struggling to Be Well

I

madé Borha has been trying to keep her mind busy, but not too busy. For 39 days after Gov. Ray Cooper issued the executive order that reduced North Carolina’s daily flow of operations to a trickle, Borha sheltered in place at her mom’s Greensboro home, thankful to be safe and comfortable. Four months before the coronavirus threat exploded into a full-throttle pandemic, she quit her job as communications coordinator at the Mental Health Association of San Francisco to turn Depressed While

Black, the online mental health advocacy community she founded in 2015, into a registered nonprofit. Now that the project is indefinitely on hold, she’s not pressuring herself to be a high-achiever. The multipartite stressors of coronavirus news, physical distancing and active job seeking are already an emotional and psychological heavy lift. “I’m just figuring out how to go from here,” said Borha, 32, who is also a freelance writer specializing in mental health, particularly in

Jonathan Knowles

By Janelle Harris Dixon


JULY 2020 53


“I just got to a place where I couldn’t handle it. Working out and all of that helps,but I needed to understand why I was feeling the way I was feeling.” —Taraji P. Henson, Actor and Philanthropist

54 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

adjust and readjust and adjust some more as state and federal leadership scrambled to respond to the rapid scientific and medical developments around the coronavirus. The navigation of it has been jarring and uncertain. It’s all new and strange, and it’s put a psychological strain even on people who haven’t experienced depression or anxiety before. In a survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association at the onset of escalating fears, constantly evolving information and 42 states’ respective stay-athome orders, 36% of Americans said the coronavirus pandemic was having a serious impact on their mental health. At the end of March, when governors and mayors began urging, then demanding citizens to voluntarily isolate, the national Crisis Text Line reportedly handled 6,000 text conversations, double the number they typically receive in a week. For the one in five Black people who were already living with issues such as anxiety and bipolar disorder, and the millions more who have been inundated by the preliminary 30 percent infection rate that’s devastating the Black community, the crisis has also upended the normalcy that

often keep them from spiraling into episodes and breaks with reality. “Unfortunately, I see a lot of folks who have mental health challenges that they can’t deal with on their own,” Borha said. “I grew up with repressed anxiety and I just acted like it really didn’t exist. So the anxiety’s coming to the point where I need to treat it. I might need to get on medication.” “A lot of folks are realizing that our coping mechanisms on our own are not enough to handle this crisis,” Borha said. “We’re going to need more, and I think that this is the best time to get it.” COOKIE CARES Like 95 percent of the American population, actor and philanthropist Taraji P. Henson has been in the house. Pre-pandemic, she split her time between Chicago and Los Angeles, but when California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom executed the country’s first stay-at-home order, Henson was one of 40 million residents canceling plans and limiting travel. The shutdown of sets and studios happened so abruptly in March, she and her fellow “Empire” cast members didn’t even get a chance to film the last two episodes of the final season and say

VALERIE MACON / Contributor

the Black community. Now more than ever, being intentional and discriminating with her time is an act of self-preservation. In 2019, after eight years of pursuing a proper diagnosis, she learned she has borderline personality disorder, a mental health condition characterized by abrupt mood swings and intense emotions, feelings of insecurity, boredom or emptiness, and impulsive, sometimes dangerous behaviors. By the time she could put a name to her symptoms, she said, she’d attempted suicide and been hospitalized twice. Now the pandemic has disrupted the stability measures she implemented to keep herself mentally healthy a year into learning how to navigate her disorder. “It’s been difficult because all the conditions of physical distancing can be potential suicidal triggers, like the self-isolation and the lack of going outside and being in public places,” she said. “It’s been a challenge because suicidal thoughts definitely thrive when there’s a sense of ‘this is interminable. This has no ending.’ “So the challenge for me is how do I create a sense of structure when there’s no structure? How do I create a safe space when I don’t feel safe?” The whole country has had to


needed to understand why I was feeling the way I was feeling. I have good days, I have bad days, but I know what to do when I feel those dark moments coming. I meditate. I have exercises to do. I take my mind out of things.” Therapy also helped her father, Boris, a Vietnam veteran who was candid with his family about how psychiatric care navigated him through his diagnosed manic depression, now known as bipolar disorder. He died in 2006, but Henson saluted his stigma-breaking honesty in 2018 by naming her Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in his honor. As unemployment, income loss and health care disparities doubled down on poor and underresourced Black people in particular, Henson, a self-professed empath, couldn’t ignore the myriad preexisting mental health traumas that

are only being exacerbated by the coronavirus and its consequential issues. On April 15, the foundation introduced the COVID-19 Free Virtual Therapy Support Campaign to offer registrants five free sessions with a licensed, culturally competent therapist. So many people signed up on the first day, the foundation’s website crashed. “We’re not talking about people like me or people who can splurge and go to the Bahamas for vacation,” Henson said. “We’re talking about people who are suffering, people this government obviously don’t care about. These people don’t have means to the best healthcare, education or great paying jobs. “They need intense help. These are the people we’re trying to meet to help. Because those are the people that are getting left behind. And it’s

skynesher

their emotional goodbyes after five culture-changing years together. Experts project California’s legendary film and television industry will be shuttered until July or August, and Henson has a few new scripts with her to read. But she hasn’t been focused on work. The Golden Globe-winner has a history of depression and anxiety. In the midst of a worldwide crisis, she’s doing things that give her peace: painting her nails, braiding her hair, using the time to relax. Regular appointments with a professional therapist over the past two years— she purposely chose a Black woman— have helped her understand why her dark days were starting to happen more frequently. “I just got to a place where I couldn’t handle it. Working out and all of that helps,” she said of the tips for overcoming depression. “But I

JULY 2020 55


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just not fair because a lot of these people are essential workers right now.” Since the launch, more than 1,000 people have registered. Henson, who is bankrolling the initiative herself and actively fundraising for financial support to sustain and expand it, also hopes folks’ ability to interact with a therapist virtually will eliminate their previous hesitation about mental health care. “I’m able to have a therapist and she helps,” Henson said. “But I also take on people’s pain. I see other people suffering in isolation and that’s the worst. I just felt like I had to do something. Now is the perfect time to try therapy because you’re in the comfort of your own home. “You can do things that you wouldn’t be able to do in an office,” Henson said. “You can go in a closet and turn the lights off and just pour your heart out. The therapists are there for you. You can indulge how much you want, what makes you feel safe. And I think that’s been a plus and something that’s definitely been luring people who may have had reservations before.” BLACK THERAPISTS MATTER It’s too early in America’s extemporaneous education in the physical severity and delayed responsiveness to the coronavirus to draw any definitive outcomes, but we do know that vulnerability is a fundamental cause of its spread. And mental illness is the crux of vulnerability. At St. Elizabeths Hospital, the only inpatient psychiatric facility in Washington, D.C., serving mostly patients of color in a community that’s 89 percent Black, the absence of effective virus protocol is the latest in a list of ongoing complaints and potential violations. In early April, 28 patients tested positive. A month later, that number more than doubled to 79, with dozens more exhibiting symptoms. A federal judge ordered those who had been exposed to be removed from the general population of the 450,000-square-foot building after a lawsuit was filed on patients’ behalf. Despite the mountainous


“There’s a community that really needs culturally informed care.” —Dr. Ayana Jordan

factors stacked against Black folks’ well-being, in general and in the pandemic, the coronavirus crisis could be a pivotal moment for Black mental health, said Ayana Jordan, a doctor with a doctorate and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. The disproportionate impact on the Black community has thrown an international spotlight on the poisons of structural racism. It’s not a question of if they will be confronted and deconstructed, but how, she said. “I’m happy to be a Black psychiatrist at this time,” Jordan said. “I’m always happy, but definitely now because there’s a community that really needs culturally informed care and really needs to be able to process with someone who intimately understands the issues that they’re facing. It’s not just a ‘I can empathize with you.’ It’s like, ‘No, I feel it. I get it as well.’ That’s translating to people asking for resources. I’m glad to see what Taraji P. Henson is doing to use her platform.” Every day, Jordan engages with Black pain in the effort to elevate, support and heal people when they often need it most. “People are not missing their appointments, you know? So much of the time I spend with patients is just checking in and saying, ‘How are you doing? I know you’re in treatment for X reason—whether it be substance use, an anxiety disorder, depression—but how are

you doing specifically as a Black or Brown person dealing with the tragedies of COVID-19?’” she said. When statistics materialized to evidence that more Black people were dying of the virus across major cities such as Chicago and New Orleans, Jordan saw a shift in her patients. They were more apprehensive, somber, affected, she recalls. Jordan worries about the stillunmet needs of would-be patients in the safety net system who can’t afford smartphones or laptops to access virtual therapy. There are some people who are on Medicaid or Medicare, for example, who don’t have the technology to use something like telemedicine. “So I think another thing that has come out of this pandemic is the basic right to WiFi and the Internet because that’s another reason why people can’t get access to information and mental health treatment,” Jordan said. “New normal” has become a coronavirus-era catchphrase to the rebuild that will happen for the tentative millions who can’t believe the word of a government that didn’t see this coming. Borha is taking her time, adjusting as necessary, and it has nothing to do with what’s going on in the city around her. Before the pandemic broke the rhythm of her day-to-day life, she kept a busy schedule to distract herself from her struggles with unemployment and mental illness. The pandemic has reminded her to embrace the complex parts of herself. “Part of borderline personality disorder is self-soothing, creating spaces where your body tells you that you’re okay,” she said. “I go to the park. I weight-lift at home with dumbbells. I learned how to play guitar. I’m trying to pitch stories and do freelance writing stuff. It’s pallid.” Maybe, but in the moment it’s everything. It’s saving her life. n This article was supported by a grant underwritten by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and supervised by the National Association of Black Journalists.


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Liz Montague Makes History at The New Yorker BY CURTIS STEPHEN

COURTESY LIZ MONTAGUE

W

hen the coronavirus pandemic began to flare up across the U.S. with the onset of spring, cartoonist Liz Montague found refuge in a pencil and a sketchpad inside her Washington apartment. And as she played some of her favorite podcasts — notably, Harry Potter and the mental health-themed The Friend Zone — Montague produced a sparse but vibrantly inked, single-panel illustration titled “Brave.” In it, a young Black woman stands before a couch and poses a question to her dog. “How scared should I be?” she asks. “Scared enough,” the pup answers. “But brave enough, too.” The cartoon was another installment in Montague’s animated “Liz at Large” series, which recently wrapped a seven-month run in Washington City Paper. “Drawing and coloring things can be a very therapeutic exercise,” she says. “It helps you to be in the moment. And when you’re in the moment, you’re not worrying about the future or the past.”

Cartoonist Liz Montague, 24, made history at The New Yorker last year.

As for Montague’s present, she has been making deep impressions well beyond the page. At just 24 years old, she made history last year as the first-known Black woman to have a cartoon published in the storied weekly magazine, The New Yorker. It’s a breakthrough that has catapulted her into the national

spotlight with profiles on NBC’s Today show and in The Washington Post. While tackling issues such as race, class and gender within the context of headline news, Montague’s cartoons — which place Black women at the forefront — veer from tongue-in-cheek musings to biting social commentary. Each piece, though, is sentimental in its own way. JULY 2020 59


“I’d say that my work is the best and worst parts of myself in conversation,” she explains. “I think it’s really fascinating when you take pieces of yourself and have them interact with each other.” Born in South Jersey, Montague was raised in a close-knit family with two older sisters. Her father was an executive in the defense industry and her mother is a recently retired architect. In 2014, Montague enrolled in the University of Richmond on an athletic scholarship. (She ran track.) And while she spent her childhood sketching, the thought of pursuing an artistic career had been ruled out. “I tried everything but art,” she recalls with a laugh. “I was going to do computer science, anthropology or English because I wasn’t sure that you could be an artist and support yourself.” That all changed after Montague attended a lecture by the Sarajevobased graphic designer Bojan Hadzihalilovic. “He was talking about how art can be this tool for mass communication. And it just blew my mind,” she says. “Then I was like,

“I was impressed by her bravery. Liz has a particular talent for taking complex, often deeply unassuming issues and finding concise, often hilarious ways to highlight them... .”

‘OK—I’m gonna do this.’” After graduating in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in studio art, Montague landed a job in graphic design at the Aga Khan Foundation USA, a nonprofit group in Washington that combats global poverty. As part of that effort, she traveled to Tajikistan, which she credits with exposing her to “all kinds of skin tones” and boosting her tenacity. When Montague returned stateside, she fired off a random

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email to The New Yorker in which she denounced the lack of inclusion in its cartoons. To her surprise, she received a response from the magazine’s cartoon editor, who asked if she knew of any artists who could help to change the narrative. Without skipping a beat, Montague endorsed herself. “Looking back at it now, I tell myself, ‘Wow — that was bold.’ I actually feel a lot more pressure now,” she says. “But I’ve always been around empowered women, including in my own family. I was also hired by a young woman of color and my first boss was a woman. So that, to me, is what power looks like and what confidence looks like.” Having sold six illustrations to The New Yorker on everything from climate change to the perils of ignoring “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Montague was a guest reviewer for the magazine’s annual cartoons issue last year. “When Liz recommended that I check out her work, I was honestly so impressed by her bravery. Far too often, young women are taught not to put themselves out there, not to be their own best advocates,” says Emma Allen, cartoon editor at The New Yorker. “Liz has a particular talent for taking complex, often deeply unassuming issues and finding concise, often hilarious ways to highlight them, to expose hypocrisy with humor, without being didactic.” Montague — who cites the Iranian-born, French illustrator Marjane Satrapi as an influence — recently relocated to Philadelphia and is focusing on a new project. It’s her first book, a coming-of-age graphic novel, slated for release in 2022 by Random House. And as she adjusts to the lightningfast changes in her life, Montague is seeking to be a disrupter at her own pace. “We’re still treating the default for cartoonists as old White men. And if you’re not, then you have all of these qualifiers — young, Black woman — before your name,” she says. “But why can’t this be normal? I’m creating from my perspective as a noticeable Black woman. And that is always going to be the lens through which I see the world.” ■


FILM

It’s About Time: Black Women Directors “Telling Our Stories Our Way” B Y J O N I T A D AV I S

T

he Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, is traditionally not the most diverse space. That’s why it’s worth noting when films by three Black women directors telling three vastly different but authentically “Black” stories swept the awards for directing at the festival, held earlier this year. In an award season that had shut out other Black creators internationally, directors Radha Blank, Garrett Bradley and Maïmouna Doucouré proved that our stories, and their creators, are worthy of recognition. Telling Their Own Stories The films created by these winners are not the mainstream, standard fare. The themes are unapologetically Black, and so are the characters. • Blank won the Directing Award U.S. for The 40-Year-Old Version, her black-and-white film about a 40-year-old thespian pivoting to a new career — in hip-hop. • Bradley won the Directing Award: Documentary for Time, which follows a family separated for 20 years by an unjust sentence and a broken prison system. Bradley’s film is in black and white, too, with the family’s home video diaries edited into the film, alongside the new shots. • Doucouré took the Directing Award: International for Cuties, a film about impoverished Senegalese girls who are obsessed with their looks and with social media at age 11. Hers is in color and offers a graphic depiction of the rampant over-sexualization

Radha Blank

and subsequent vulnerability of young Black girls. In interviews, Blank, Garrett and Doucouré talked about their work, their wins, and the other Black creators who inspired them to tell their own stories in their own way. Hollywood in Hot Seat Sundance has served as a foreshadowing of the turn Hollywood took over six month after the festival closed. Since then, COVID-19 sent the world indoors for the entire Spring season, with nothing left to do but reflect on their lives and scroll through social media. Then America witnessed the murder of 46-year-old George Floyd while using social media to reflect on the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, both in their 20s. By June, a revolution was brewing. Protests overtook the streets as people demanded equity for Black lives. Corporations posted their atonement all over social media. Hollywood chimed in too. Some white celebs posted videos about supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, but their Black costars called out their hypocrisy. Old television episodes that featured actors in Blackface were removed

from some popular shows like The Golden Girls and 30 Rock. In addition, white celebrities who voiced Black animated characters stepped down from their jobs and called for Black replacements. During a Black Lives Matter protest in London, John Boyego of the Star Wars sequel trilogy films, made a passionate speech encouraging his colleagues to speak out. They did. Ray Fisher spoke out about the struggle to keep his Black superhero character Cyborg from becoming a stereotype in Justice League directed by Joss Whedon. Actor Kendrick Sampson put the grievances in a letter to the industry, accompanied by the signatures of over 300 creatives. Octavia Spencer, Tessa Thompson, Common, viola Davis, Tiffany Haddish, Issa Rae and Kerry Washington and many others signed the letter denouncing Hollywood for “encouraging the epidemic of police violence and culture of anti-Blackness.” Black people in Hollywood were calling for real change. Not just the faux posts. Some are listening. Netflix recently partnered with Imagine Impact in a call for ideas for new shows. On social media, these posts encouraged African JULY 2020 61


Americans and other creators of color to submit. Greenacres Films did the same. Sundance 2020 was just a hint of the work needed to make true change. The Challenge of the Work The road to the winner’s circle was obviously not an easy one for these directors. They each faced a host of opposition from various places. Each woman pushed through and took control of her own story. Doucouré had one of the earliest challenges to overcome — in imagining that a Black girl could be in charge of a whole film. “I couldn’t believe that it was possible to walk into the cinema industry as a Black woman,” Doucouré said. Her biggest challenge was proving to her inner creator that she was director material. Doucouré said that seeing Maman, her first short film, onscreen in 2015 is what made her overcome that challenge. “Seeing the film on the screen was for me, a revelation,” she said. “I start to tell myself, ‘I made [this film] so I can do this.’ I have a voice. I have a lot of things to tell, and I’m going to tread forward in that way.” Blank found that her biggest challenge was getting the right people to take a chance on her and

Maïmouna Doucouré

the film. She said that her film had, “a no-name person being the lead. And an unknown, being behind the camera… . And I’m shooting black and white.” Blank also said that her cast was great, but no one had been “featured in a film” before. She was well aware that all of those factors made her and The 40-YearOld Version a huge risk. Lena Waithe and Rishi Rajani of Hillman Grad Productions agreed to produce the film, along with

Garrett Bradley

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Jordan Fudge, the co-founder of Sinai Ventures, the venture capital fund that financed The 40-Year-Old Version. To them, Blank said, “It was a no brainer. That’s because we are all people on the margins. We are of color, queer or from immigrant communities.” Blank said that these shared experiences allowed Waithe, Rajani and Fudge to see something in her film and in her that others did not. The 40-Year-Old Version was rejected for years before they came along. Making Time presented a different sort of challenge for Bradley. This was not her first feature or even close to her first win. She was used to everything else, so the story and telling it the right way was the most important struggle. “The challenge, specific to documentary, is how you tell a story,” she said. “So, the story creates — within the story of somebody’s singular, individual and very personal life — something that’s universal. Something that is as much about your interpretation — and I guess, secondary, or second-hand observation of somebody’s life — as much as it is honoring and evoking the first-hand experience of that. And so, trying to navigate those two things, is always the ultimate challenge.” ■


BOOKS

TEN BOOKS FROM THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA THAT STILL RESONATE BY D I E D R E J O H N S O N In this era of George Floyd protests, media outlets have been curating lists of what they think White folks need to read to be antiracist. Most of the books on these lists are current titles by the new crop of Black intellectuals. But we shouldn’t forget the early Black classics that put fire under many feet. These are your mama’s (and your grandmama’s) Black Lives Matter books. Some of these titles were required reading for young activists who participated in organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE). These include works by thinkers such as James Baldwin and Franz Fanon and autobiographies of Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali and Maya Angelou. Despite being published more than 40 years ago, these books are worth a second look. Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver (Ramparts Press Inc.) Journalist, prisoner, activist, Black Panther; Cleaver was all these. While in Folsum and San Quentin prisons he began reading the works of political philosophers and revolutionaries, which led to his writing for Ramparts Magazine. Soul is Cleaver’s collection of essays based on his prison experiences (he had been previously imprisoned as a youth) and journey to redemption plus ways to liberate a black man’s “colonized” soul.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (Dial Press 1963) (Penguin Books 1964) Written with Baldwin’s then 14-year-old nephew in mind, these are two expository essays on race, sex and class originally written for The New Yorker and The Progressive. The Fire Next Time can also be found in audio format, still around in 2008 and voiced by Law & Order star, Jesse L. Martin. Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson by George Jackson (Lawrence Hill) In 1961, on the advice of his attorney, George Jackson pleaded guilty to robbing a Los Angeles gas station of reportedly $70. His sentence was one year to life. Still confined 10 years later, seven and a half spent in solitary at Soledad prison, he wrote a book consisting of letters he’d sent to his family and friends chronicling the racism within the prison system. Jackson was eventually killed during an attempted escape. He reportedly had a prison romance with activist Angela Davis, and Bob Dylan wrote a protest song in his honor. The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (Francois Maspero 1961). With a foreword by philosopher JeanPaul Sarte and translated into 22 languages, Fanon, a psychiatrist of West Indian and French origin, takes a strong look at enslavement through culture and class; how to decolonize and move toward revolutionizing.

I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin (Vintage International 2017) Although it later became a Netflix documentary, I Am Not Your Negro’s original title was Remember this House and was Baldwin’s unfinished memoir originally to be published by McGraw-Hill. The memoir covers the turbulent ‘60s when Baldwin knew Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers. Sammy Younge Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement by James Forman (Grove Press, 1968) In this nearly 300-page volume, civil rights activist James Forman recounts the life of Sammy Younge Jr. In 1966, Younge, a 21-yearold student at Tuskegee Institute, was killed at a gas station in Alabama for using a whites-only bathroom. Younge was a voting rights activist and served in the U.S. Navy. Forman, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, helped write the statement condemning his murder. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Random House 1968) A New York Times bestseller Caged Bird is a literary look at Angelou’s traumatic childhood years. It chronicles her encounters with overt racism in her grandmother’s Arkansas town, her sexual assault at a young age and finding her own identity. JULY 2020 63


The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B DuBois (1903, M.C. McClurg, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Classics, Tribeca Books, Restless Books) DuBois was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the first editor of its publication, The Crisis. In The Souls of Black Folk, he uses 14 chapters of essays, prose, and even song lyrics to map out the socioeconomic and racial disadvantages faced by Black people less than a century after emancipation. DuBois wrote of an America that “still had not found peace from its sins.” By Any Means Necessary: Interviews, Speeches and a Letter by Malcolm X (Pathfinder Press, 1970) This collection is from a 1964 Harlem speech given by Malcolm X at a rally to form the Organization of Afro American Unity. In addition to a detailed charter, the speech laid the foundation for “rights” to which he believed all Black people were entitled. The outspoken Black nationalist declared: “We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” The Greatest, My Own Story by Muhammed Ali (1975, Random House) Although specific antidotes in this autobiography (ghost written by writer and Ali friend, Richard Durham), have been disputed in the years since it came out, it still covers a lot about the racism Ali faced in the turbulent ‘60s, when he was still Cassius Clay. ■ 64 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

MOVIES

20 Films That Document The African-American Struggle for Life, Liberty and Happiness BY K A R E N J U A N I TA C A R R I L L O

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t would seem incredible to come across anyone who does not know what African Americans have been through in the United States, but those people are out there — and they have a desperate need to enlighten themselves now, in light of the horrifying May 25 murder of 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests that have taken over the world. Demands for an end to police brutality and white supremacy and the renewed urgency for political organizing are part of a continuum — it’s an African-American legacy well documented in movies and documentaries that remain widely available for those who need an introduction to the reasons behind today’s national unrest. Each of the following films have been selected based on their historical impact, based on how they have framed conversations about Black life in the United States and how relevant they are to discussions about African Americans today.

1. ROOTS (1977) the television miniseries, based on the Alex Haley novel (1976), is an epic tale showing how generations of one family faced being abducted in Africa and then enslaved in the United States. It was one of the first realistic portrayals of African enslavement and was perhaps so impactful because it was on television—and, therefore, easily accessible to so many. 2. AFRICANS IN AMERICA: AMERICA’S JOURNEY THROUGH SLAVERY (1998) this four-part PBS documentary attempts to depict what life was like for African Americans during enslavement: from when the United States was a British colony on through Independence and the Civil War. 3. EYES ON THE PRIZE (1987) is the late Henry Hampton’s well-organized look at the historic Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It provides a deep dive into the origins of the movement as well as the individuals who impacted it.


4. 4 LITTLE GIRLS (1997) is Spike Lee’s look at the Sept. 15, 1963 terroristic bombing murders of Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Rosamond Robertson as they attended Sunday School at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. 5. THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. (2013) traverses African-American history from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, to the long nightmare of enslavement, to Black cultural, political and social movements and on through to the election of Barack Obama. 6. CHISHOLM ’72 - UNBOUGHT & UNBOSSED (2004) directed by Shola Lynch, looks at the historical 1972 presidential run by Brooklyn’s Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to serve in the U.S. Congress. 7. MALCOLM X: MAKE IT PLAIN (1994) this PBS documentary is the closest film to mirror the depictions of Malcolm X’s life as it was written about in the 1965 book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X. Any understanding of the protest politics of today’s Black America requires an understanding of Malcolm X, or El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

8. 13th (2016) this Ava DuVernay documentary looks at how the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished African slavery and involuntary servitude, yet we find ourselves today suffering from a prison system that has reestablished systemic inequality. 9. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (2016) is director Raoul Peck’s vision of James Baldwin’s unfinished memoir, Remember This House, which was his tribute to Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. –– Black leaders whose efforts on behalf of Black freedom led to their assassinations. Baldwin famously

says in the documentary that white people need to ask themselves why it’s necessary for them to have a “‘nigger’ in the first place. Because I’m not a nigger — I’m a man!” 10. GET IN THE WAY: THE JOURNEY OF JOHN LEWIS (2017) this documentary biography of civil rights icon/ Congressman John Lewis examines the meaning behind his decades of work ­— from marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in the 1960s to serving as a congressman representing Georgia. 11. SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY (1983) this musical documentary looks at the growth of African-American gospel, its meaning and staying power. The film features interviews with famed musician Thomas A. Dorsey, “the father of gospel music.” 12. THE MURDER OF FRED HAMPTON (1971) documentary details the life and murder by police of the Chicago’s Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. 13. THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION (2015) this Stanley Nelson documentary shows the formation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in the 1960s. The film reveals little-known facts about the organization and its leader during a pivotal time in history. JULY 2020 65


looks at what they confronted, and still deal with, in documenting police incidents. 16. JUST MERCY (2020) is the true story of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, who created the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. The film centers around Stevenson’s defense of Walter McMillian, who was wrongfully convicted for the murder of a white woman in the 1980s.

14. WHEN THEY SEE US (2019) Ava DuVernay’s miniseries shows the impact of incarceration on individuals, their families and their communities. The series looks at the infamous 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which five young men of color were falsely accused of beating and raping a a white woman. DuVernay also highlights the role of prosecutorial misconduct in the criminal justice system and the resilience of the human spirit. 15. COPWATCH (2017) by Camilla Hall looks at the formation of WeCopwatch, in the wake of the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y.; Freddie Gray in Baltimore; and Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Kevin Moore, Ramsey Orta and Dave Whitt are the three men who filmed the police violence that led to these deaths.Copwatch

17. LET THE FIRE BURN (2013) is a documentary by Jason Osder about the Philadelphia Police Department’s May 13, 1985 bombing of the row homes of MOVE, an urban Black liberation group. After bombing MOVE’s homes, city authorities allowed the buildings to burn, even while they knew men, women and children were inside.

20. TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (2019) this remembrance of the late, great author Toni Morrison gives us insight into why she was such a tremendous force for restoring the imaginative realities of what it means to be a person of African descent in the Americas. ■

POEM

One Thousand Chokeholds From Now One thousand chokeholds from now black and brown people will cross at the corners. They will refrain from heaving rocks at panes of glass and stop grilling meat on the sidewalks.

18. TONGUES UNTIED (1989) the late film director/gay activist Marlon T. Riggs used poetry, performance and testimony to acclaim the lives of African America’s gay community. The film was an instant classic when it premiered.

One thousand chokeholds from now, they will stop dancing in subways. They will decline to sell individual untaxed cigarettes. They will not climb from car wrecks to seek assistance. They will not resist arrest by holding on to the hems of their skirts.

19. PARIS IS BURNING (1990) Jennie Livingston’s film documented Harlem’s gay ballroom culture and made it so enticing that, to this day, other secreted groups remain fascinated by its allure.

One thousand chokeholds from now, black and brown people will no longer insist on access to taxis. They will not step into elevators when white women are already inside. They will wait patiently at Best Buy when a snot nose kid checks and double-checks their receipts. One thousand chokeholds from now, windows will not be broken and neither will heads. Cities will be clean and safe for lovers of local lager, artisanal pickles, and the hipsters NextDoor. One thousand chokeholds from now, James Q. Wilson won’t be nothing but the name of an endowed chair at the American Enterprise Institute, paid for by State Farm, because like a good neighbor they are always there. By Jabari Asim Reprinted with permission of Bloomsday Literary.

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COURTESY NAACP

The NAACP’s new campaign, “We Are Done Dying” looks at the factors contributing to the disparities and ineaquality in America.

NAACP Declares: ‘We Are Done Dying’ New campaign addresses systemic and structural racism, inequality and white privilege in America. BY J A Z E L L E H U N T

A

s Black people across the country resist assaults on their well-being from all angles, the NAACP has launched a plan. The organization’s new “We Are Done Dying” campaign calls out and demands federal

intervention on the wide range of inequities that shorten and degrade Black lives in the United States. We Are Done Dying began to take shape earlier this year, when it became clear that Black and brown communities were disproportionately succumbing JULY 2020 69


NAACP TODAY

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COURTESY NAACP

to COVID-19 due to a number of factors. But as crafting the campaign continued, it became quickly apparent that the novel coronavirus was just one of many factors causing troubling outcomes. “With crumbling economic infrastructure, our community members face tough choices as access to food, good jobs and a quality education slips further away,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. “These issues are compounded by the lack of strong leadership from the White House. In the absence of adequate guidance, Black lives are adversely affected. We will no longer stand idle as our people suffer discrimination, marginalization and are offered as disposable for poor decisions by this administration.” This realization that COVID-19 was one of several crises crystalized with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was simply jogging in his Georgia neighborhood when three white men followed and shot him. “[The campaign] evolved very quickly,” said Trovon Williams, NAACP vice president of marketing and communications. “We’ve got two sets of emergencies going on in our community. Where some people are dealing with being quarantined at home, we’re dealing with we can’t jog, we can’t breathe, we can’t do any number of things.” On May 5, just as the NAACP was about to launch the We Are Done Dying campaign, a video of the Arbery shooting (captured by the perpetrators, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan) went viral. It was the first time the national public was hearing of Arbery, and the first time his family was able to gain traction on receiving justice. “Literally days before we were ready to go to launch publicly, the unfortunate incident with Ahmaud Arbery [erupted]. And we knew there was no way we could focus on one component without bringing in how significant and egregious that was,” said Williams. “In a matter of 48 hours, we worked together on a

NAACP branches nationwide are calling for change and reform in cities across the country as they implement the new “We Are Done Dying” campaign.

“Our community members face tough choices as access to food, good jobs and a quality education slips further away. ... We will no longer stand idle as our people suffer discrimination, marginalization and are offered as disposable for poor decisions by this Administration,” NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson. number of things to make sure we didn’t leave anything out.” Two weeks after the campaign launch, the nation watched in horror as video surfaced of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest, suffocating him. Three other officers held back onlookers. No one provided aid, and Floyd died on the scene. This killing ignited weeks of uprisings in all 50 states and all over the world. “We want to see sweeping federal legislation passed around police reform, not just place-to-place reform,” Williams said. “We need legislation that reflects that these are not one-off isolated incidents, but these are things happening across the country.”

The revised scope of We Are Done Dying seeks federal action on criminal justice, economic justice, education, and voting rights, in addition to the original health care demands. Aside from police reform, the criminal justice goals of the campaign address the spread of COVID-19 in prisons through more sentence reductions, early releases, and home confinements — particularly for elderly incarcerated people and those incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. Economic policy demands include targeted stimulus funds for Black-owned businesses. According to Williams, the NAACP received data to suggest that less than five percent of Black business owners benefited from the $350


AP PHOTO/JOHN MINCHILLO

Protesters watch as police in riot gear walk down a residential street in St. Paul, Minn., three days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

billion stimulus in April. In addition, the NAACP is pushing for the suspension of student loan payments until the economy improves, and student loan forgiveness for all essential workers. The campaign also calls for a short-term expansion of Medicaid to cover uninsured people affected by COVID-19, with full expansion and affordable care access in 2021. The coronavirus pandemic has created threats and challenges to voting access, too. The NAACP wants the federal government to ensure full voter participation through robust funding (for upgraded voting systems and administration), extended early voting, vote-by-mail, and administrative guidelines in line with CDC recommendations. So far the organization has seen great engagement with the We Are Done Dying campaign, and hopes

“Our people are dying in the streets. Until we deal with these issues, we’re not going anywhere,” Trovon Williams. the growing groundswell forces elected officials to make these changes. “We saw over 120,000 signatures on our petition in the first two weeks, and when we added George Floyd, we saw another 90,000 in a matter of days. In our social media space, we’ve grown to a million-anda-half followers in maybe a month or so,” Williams shared. “We’ve seen a number of corporations recognize the influence of the We Are Done

Dying campaign.” The NAACP urges its members and supporters to learn more about the campaign, sign the accompanying petitions, spread the word on social media using the #WeAreDoneDying hashtag, and urge their elected officials to act on these demands. Those interested in participating in the campaign can sign the NAACP’s Contract for Black America, which demands quality education, police reform, affordable health care and economic justice. “The reality is that systemic racism is something that has been spreading throughout this country for centuries. We can’t afford to say OK that [campaign] has run its course, we need to pivot and go in another direction,” said Williams. “Our people are dying in the streets. Until we deal with these issues, we’re not going anywhere.” ■ JULY 2020 71


NAACP TODAY

NAACP Names Teresa Haley inaugural Activist of the Year BY L A R I S A R . LY N C H

T

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Teresa Haley

Haley is the youngest and first woman elected as NAACP Illinois state conference president. Nicknamed a junior Black Panther, she has been a member of the NAACP since childhood.

president and the state conference president. Haley, 55, was elected branch president in 2009 and state conference president in 2015. She is the youngest and first woman elected as NAACP Illinois state president. Haley has been a member of the NAACP since childhood. In 1994, she was asked to join the executive committee at the age of 29, making her the youngest person on that committee. Her biggest challenge yet is

preserving an ominous piece of Springfield’s history that led to the creation of the nation’s premiere civil rights organization a year later. In 1908, an angry mob of Whites descended on that city’s small Black neighborhood after a White woman alleged a Black man raped her. The riot that followed left several Black people dead and a once-thriving Black neighborhood in ashes. Haley worked with city officials to replace worn and faded markers denoting where the riots took place as part of the 110th commemorative event. The updated markers include the NAACP logo with quotes from Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. The originals were dedicated in 1994. “A lot of people in Springfield don’t know about it because nobody talks about it. Everybody is ashamed and embarrassed about it,” Haley said. “I’ve always been determined, at least since college, to make sure it stayed in the forefront, to make it more visible than it ever has been.” To do that, Haley wants the

COURTESY GETTY IMAGES/ AARON J. THORNTON

eresa Haley is no stranger to challenging the status quo. The Springfield, Ill., native and NAACP branch president has long been an advocate for her community. She has pressured the school district to enforce a 1976 consent decree to match staff diversity levels with the city’s racial demographics. She’s worked with the state police chiefs’ association to draft a set of principles to better guide interactions with Illinois’ Black community. And she shot down a proposal to place a homeless shelter in the Black community, which Haley said has become the de facto dumping ground for things Springfield’s White community doesn’t want. It’s work like this that garnered Haley the title of NAACP Activist of the Year. The century-old civil rights organization bestowed the first-of-its-kind honor on Haley in late February as part of its 51st Image Awards ceremony held in Hollywood, Calif. The organization also gave the Youth Activist of the Year award to Central Michigan University student Australyah Coleman. The activist awards were presented at a star-studded pre-Image Awards dinner hosted by actress-comedian Sheryl Underwood. Honored, blessed and overwhelmed is how Haley described the recognition. “I am encouraged by it to keep doing what I’m doing because I’m doing the right thing and helping so many people, not just in my community but in my state and throughout the world,” said Haley, who wears dual hats as the branch


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unflattering comments about Black female athletes, saying that they “can’t keep their grades up or always get pregnant,” Haley spoke out against it. Eventually she was placed on the task force to find a replacement coach. Her activism at such a young age got Haley a youth membership with the Springfield NAACP branch, which she would head years later. “I think a schoolteacher or somebody bought me a membership when I was in the fourth or fifth grade because I was so vocal,” Haley recalled. Challenging the status quo has been Haley’s calling card. She’s not afraid to go against popular opinion, even if it puts her on opposite sides of key issues. Haley opposed the state’s move to legalize marijuana. Last year, Illinois became the 11th state to do so, but added a social equity component not seen in other legalization measures. Revenue from marijuana sales is to fund service programs in disadvantaged communities hit hard by the war on drugs. But Haley said that hasn’t happened yet and little has been done to increase dispensary ownership among Blacks. She added that the drug is still illegal at the federal level and that puts Blacks at risk for losing jobs or academic scholarships if they test positive. “Although it is legal, it is really not legal for us,” Haley said of the disparity. But the biggest challenge facing the NAACP is getting the organization’s message out on key issues like the census, the November election and the coronavirus. Not completing the census will have a financial impact for the next 10 years and affect representation for the Black community on Capitol Hill, Haley noted. “We will lose our voice,” she said. “We have to get our community to take all three of these issues seriously and take action … or we are going to get left behind.” ■

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site where the neighborhood once stood to be declared a national monument. Remains of five houses from the neighborhood leveled by fire were discovered during excavation for a railroad expansion. Haley wants a memorial built there that will serve as a living and healing monument to the lives lost and a museum that traces the birth of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People a year later. The organization has started a foundation to raise $5 million needed to build the monument. Haley credits her activism to her mom, Mamie “Bea” Johnson, who encouraged her to challenge and question things she did not understand, and former Black Panther leader and social justice advocate Angela Davis. “To see a Black woman so powerful and so vocal but with a mission to be caring, considerate and compassionate about her community, her people and speaking up for them, I believed that is what I was supposed to do,” Haley said, noting that an uncle referred to her as a junior Black Panther. Haley has lived up to that title. In the fourth grade, Haley questioned her predominantly white school’s use of color-coded lunch tickets to identify which students had free, reduced-price or fully paid lunches. Haley had a freelunch ticket. Even as a child Haley felt it wasn’t right to stigmatize someone over their ability to afford lunch. “That was another way of discriminating and letting people know your socioeconomic status,” said Haley, who grew up in Springfield’s only public housing development with her 10 siblings. “I confronted my principal and my teacher about it and … they had all kinds of excuses for it. And I wasn’t buying it.” In high school, Haley was unafraid to challenge racism. When a cheerleading coach made

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Strategic Realignment for a Stronger, Unified NAACP: A Letter to Donors from NAACP President/CEO Derrick Johnson As you know, in October 2017, following the same Board meeting where I was appointed President/CEO, the NAACP Board of Directors announced its plan to expand our national structure to include a new organization, tax-exempt under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Going forward, this new entity will assume the name “NAACP” and serve as the parent organization that coordinates the work of our 2,200 local units and state conferences. The existing 501(c)(3) charitable entity will now be called “NAACP Empowerment Programs, Inc.” These two entities will work together at the national level in pursuit of our longstanding mission: to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. In these challenging times, civil rights advocacy requires more robust engagement in public policy than ever. By positioning a 501(c)(4) organization as the central “parent” organization in our IRS group ruling, we will be able to channel our resources more efficiently, better aligning our platform for advocacy. Dollars that come into the NAACP system through membership dues will flow up to the parent as unrestricted 501(c)(4) funds, better aligning our platform. The result will be a stronger, unified voice on behalf of communities of color. Rest assured that our programmatic work will continue unchanged. The vast majority of our research, publications, and even our advocacy work will remain 501(c)(3) compliant. Thus, our valued donors, corporate sponsors, and philanthropic partners will be able to continue supporting our work through tax-deductible 501(c)(3) contributions and general support grants. This realignment need not affect your individual relationship with the NAACP. NAACP members may continue to join the organization through their local Units. And individual donors can still support the NAACP’s charitable and educational work, as always. However, when making your gifts –either during your life or through your family’s legacy planning—please pay close attention to the new names of our two national entities in order to ensure your desired tax consequences. Please consider the following suggestions, and be sure to consult your personal tax advisor to determine which giving option best aligns with your intentions. Some donors will need to revise their current legacy documents to ensure compliance with their wishes. • We hope you will consider making your gifts and legacy bequests to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), now an organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4), for maximum impact. Please remember that a gift to the NAACP during your lifetime will not be tax- deductible for income tax purposes. Moreover, a bequest to the NAACP may not be deductible for the purposes of federal estate tax. To avoid confusion during probate or estate administration, please be sure to include specific instructions regarding your intended gift. For example: “I give to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a Delaware non-stock, non-profit corporation that is recognized as exempt from tax under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, [_____]% of my residuary estate, or the sum of [$_________], to be used for its general social welfare purposes.” • If you prefer to make gifts or bequests that qualify for income and estate tax charitable deductions, your payments should be directed to NAACP Empowerment Programs, Inc., a New York non-profit corporation that is recognized as exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended. Contributions to this organization will continue to be dedicated exclusively to supporting our charitable and educational programs. ******* Our legal team is standing by to answer any questions that you may have. Please don’t hesitate to call us at (410) 580-5105. Thank you for your continued support. It means the world to us. Sincerely, Derrick Johnson President and CEO

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NAACP TODAY

Meet NAACP’s First Youth Activist of the Year: Australyah Coleman COURTESY GETTY IMAGES/ FRAZER HARRISON

BY J A N E S S A R O B I N S O N

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hen Australyah Coleman, recipient of the NAACP’s first-ever Youth Activist of the Year Award, graduates from Central Michigan University in December, she will be heading to law school. She wants to practice civil rights law, criminal defense or family law. “I knew I wanted to be involved in change whether that was something small or something on a national level,” Coleman said. “I wanted to be a part of a movement that is bigger than me. There’s so many things that I feel like I can see myself doing in the future.” The NAACP’s Youth Activist of the Year Award recognizes a member for his or her work, commitment and courageous efforts in bringing about political and/or social change within our communities. NAACP branches nominate members, and the awardees are selected from the nominations. The recipients were honored at the NAACP Image Awards in February. Coleman, 21, is a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., and a senior at Central Michigan with a major in psychology and a minor in philosophy. Coleman joined the university’s NAACP chapter as a freshman and says she was drawn to the nation’s oldest civil rights organization by the history and the people. “I met people that pushed me to challenge the higher education system,” she said. “I met people that pushed me to challenge myself and fight for what I wanted regardless of the pushback we may encounter.” The NAACP is still needed today, Coleman said, because the fight for justice is never-ending. “We’re still fighting similar fights dealing with social justice and inequality that our ancestors and previous generations were fighting for,” said Coleman. “I think it’s a powerful thing being able to see the history and richness of a grassroots organization continuing to fight and never letting up to ensure a better life and better treatment of minorities,” she said. After joining the NAACP on Central Michigan’s campus as a general member, Coleman spent time shadowing people in leadership positions. In her sophomore year, she became the events and planning coordinator. Coleman then became assistant secretary of the Michigan State Conference NAACP Youth and College Division and in her junior year was elected president of her campus chapter. As a senior, Coleman served as the first vice president of the Michigan State Conference NAACP Youth and College Division. “Overall the work is to advocate on behalf of those who

Australyah Coleman and Teresa Haley attend the 51st NAACP Image Awards.

cannot or those who just don’t know how or don’t feel comfortable doing so. That’s where we step up to the plate and push for what needs to get done.” Coleman attended Sparta Public Schools in Grand Rapids, where she was one of a few students of color. Also, she said that she had to deal with comments about her skin color and what she “should be like” simply because of her race. “There was a period of time where I had instances with teachers in high school that made me realize that I was going to have to work harder to not end up like the stereotypes they talked about,” Coleman recalled. It may have been these very experiences that accelerated Coleman’s motivation to be an agent of change. She believes a perfect world is one without any hatred. “I just wish to have a world where minority individuals are able to be vulnerable, where they can relax and not have to worry about being judged or discriminated against,” Coleman said. So, what’s next for the young activist? She has not yet determined which law school she will attend. “I will ensure that I stick to my values and work hard to serve my community. I will push and advocate for our people and make sure that I’m using my abilities to the best that I can to make an impact in this world.” ■ JULY 2020 75


NAACP TODAY

Still Flying: Gen. Charles McGee

Famed Tuskegee airman, Col. Charles McGee, 100, received the NAACP’s 2020 Key of Life award. He displays his U.S. Air Force medals and duty ribbons at his home in Bethesda, Md.

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etired Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee is an aviation pioneer and one of the last living members of the illustrious Tuskegee

Airmen. Growing up during the era of segregation, McGee didn’t originally aspire to a career in aviation.

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He was a sophomore studying engineering at the University of Illinois when he received his military draft card. McGee says he learned Black pilots were being trained for the military at the now decommissioned Chanute Air Force Base in Champaign County, Ill., and he enrolled because “being in

COURTESY GETTY IMAGES/PAUL J. RICHARDS

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the air was better than being on the ground.” After combat training at Selfridge Army Airfield in Michigan, Gen. McGee was stationed at a base near Naples, Italy, where he joined the allblack 332nd Fighter Group. He was a part of the group that earned the name “Red Tails,” in which the tails of their planes were painted red to identify them as Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen patrolled the harbor and the coast, attacked targets on the ground and protected bombers when they went on dangerous missions. Gen. McGee is credited with bringing down a Focke Wulf 190, a German fighter aircraft. “What we were able to accomplish changed the attitudes that existed,” says McGee. Upon returning to the states, Gen. McGee became an instructor pilot where he taught Black bomber pilots, navigators and bombardiers. During his career, Gen. McGee flew more than 6,300 hours in World Word II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He and his late wife Frances raised three children (Charlene, Ronald and Yvonne). McGee has 10 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter. In addition to his daughter Yvonne, other aviators in his family include his son, Ronald McGee, who is a retired airline pilot, and his great-grandson Iain Lanphier, who is currently working on his pilot’s license. Yvonne McGee, also a licensed pilot, says her father lights up at the chance to speak to young people about aviation and life. He even, occasionally, attends aviation classes she teaches for teens. “He’s always been about the young people and making sure they understand the lessons,” she says. McGee retired as a colonel on Jan. 31, 1973, but was promoted to brigadier general by President Trump on Feb. 4. McGee was also honored in Washington later that day at this year’s State of the Union

Gen. Charles McGee

address. He has received many accolades during his lifetime, including induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Earlier this year he received the NAACP’s Key of Life Award at the 51st NAACP Image Awards. Gabriel Christian, who accompanied McGee to the NAACP Image Awards, describes the pioneer as “very soft-spoken” and “not very braggadocious for someone who is a fighter pilot.” Christian, president of the Tuskegee Airmen East Coast Chapter, noted that there is a direct link between the NAACP and the Tuskegee Airmen. According to reports, in 1939 the NAACP began to take aim at the military’s segregationist policies. In 1941, Yancey Williams, a student at Howard University, filed a lawsuit backed by the NAACP to force the Air Corps to accept him into training. The result was the creation of a segregated unit to train black pilots and ground crews at Tuskegee

Institute in Alabama (which would eventually become the Tuskegee Airmen). The plan was called the Tuskegee Experiment. The term experiment was used because it was expected to fail due to a belief at the time that African Americans were mentally inferior to whites. “Young people need to be aware of what took place,” says McGee. “We certainly don’t want to repeat it.” McGee turned 100 on Dec. 7, 2019 and celebrated his centennial year by flying a private jet between Frederick, Md., and Dover Air Force Base in Delaware — handling all of the take-off and landing of the plane on his own. He is, after all, one of the Air Force’s most celebrated pilots, flying 409 combat missions during three wars. But McGee says he is most proud of having a successful career that allowed him to have a good life and raise a family. “All my children are educated and that’s something to be proud of and thankful for,” McGee says. ■ JULY 2020 77


NAACP TODAY

NAACP Virtual Townhalls Inform and Inspire BY J AT I K A H U D S O N

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n the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an uprising against police brutality has taken over our lives and screens, sparking long overdue conversations. The NAACP launched a four-part weekly series in partnership with BET on the impact of the coronavirus on the African-American community. The series, “Unmasked,” was presented as virtual townhalls and featured political leaders, national experts and newsmakers who addressed a number of social justice issues including health disparities, economic inequality, the digital divide and environmental justice. For example, veteran Democratic strategist Donna Brazile hosted a townhall titled, COVID-19 Unmuted– Books, Ballots and Bucks. The discussion focused on the digital divide and making sure vulnerable students continued to receive a quality education while schools were closed during the pandemic. Geoffrey Canada, president of Harlem Children’s Zone, voiced his concern that some children will be treated as “throw-away kids” if they don’t have internet access, proper electronic devices and the proper tools to keep up with their education during the pandemic. “We need to actually bring more money into education,” Canada said. “We need to make sure our young people have all of the tools they need.” Historically Black colleges and universities have also been at risk during this pandemic noted John Pierre, chancellor of the Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, La. Pierre pointed out that although HBCUs are resilient, the pandemic intensified already existing financial issues. In addition, veteran journalist Ed Gordon has anchored several townhalls, including Black Men Speak, which featured rapper T.I. Harris, attorney Benjamin Crump and media personality Marc Lamont Hill, among others. Gordon also hosted Black Media Speaks, in which top Black journalists such as Jemele Hill and April Ryan discussed the need for Black media to find new business models to survive. “It is critical that we, as African Americans support Black-owned media,” said Dorothy Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists. “There’s a part of me that thinks that we need a broad-based media campaign, inclusive of a history lesson on the significance of why our mediums exist, because they’re still telling our stories.”

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The NAACP also addressed the protests surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. During an emergency townhall titled, “A Nation in Peril,” CNN political commentator Keith Boykin led the conversation about the civil unrest. The overarching theme of the panel was accountability from the communities, society, law enforcement and leadership and hope. Panelists included Rep. Val Demings, a former police chief in Orlando, Fla., and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. Cedric Alexander, a retired public safety director in DeKalb County, Ga., noted, “We need reform on every level that you can think of [and] it’s going to take us collectively to be able to do it.” Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio shared during a townhall discussion that the Congressional Black Caucus has proposed the Justice and Policing Act to increase transparency, accountability and to change the culture of policing. Policing was a major topic during the townhall with presidential candidate Joe Biden. The former vice president under President Barack Obama mentioned that even with no federal funding, police departments would be able to run solely on local and state tax funding. He acknowledged the need for police departments to overhaul “basic minimums” such as eliminating chokeholds, make officer records available and public, the handling of misconduct cases by prosecutors, make it mandatory that officers intervene when fellow officers are witnessed using obsessive force and also conduct new training on de-escalating practices. Biden recounted one of the moments that encouraged him to run for president. “I had not planned on running for president until I saw those people coming out of the field in Charlottesville,” Biden said, pointing out that President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville inflamed the situation. “[Trump] has spent every minute since he was elected president trying to divide the nation.” ■


NAACP FOUNDATION UPDATE

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fter the separation of the Legal Defense Fund from the NAACP in 1957, the NAACP’s legal department was faced with insufficient funding and staffing to perform at a level of achievement during its pre-1957 days. It was NAACP General Counsel Robert L. Carter who conducted the research, developed the strategy and crafted the legal documents to establish the NAACP Special Contribution Fund (SCF), thus re-establishing the NAACP legal department under the jurisdiction of the NAACP board of directors and executive secretary (president/CEO). On June 10, 1963, a meeting of a special NAACP board committee voted to approve this trust. The committed mandated that the SCF be directed by a board of trustees elected by the NAACP board of directors. The NAACP SCF, charged with maintaining funding for legal and educational work, was declared tax exempt under section 501 (c)(3) on April 17, 1964. In the February 2017 issue of The Crisis, the NAACP announced the establishment of the NAACP Foundation, formerly the NAACP Special Contribution Fund. The purpose of this change enables the NAACP to increase its fundraising base and more effectively pursue and expand its goals for the 21st century. The NAACP and the Foundation will focus on addressing inequality facing African Americans in the areas of economic opportunity and financial security, education, health, public safety and criminal justice, civic engagement, voting rights and political representation and expanding youth and young adult participation. Over the last five years, foundation trustees have raised approximately $30 million, plus in-kind pro-bono services and products. These funds will support NAACP programs, including ACT-SO, education, economic, environmental

and climate justice, health and civic engagement. This funding has been achieved during a critical period of change and crisis in our nation, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the international protests for Black lives and a historic election year. The NAACP Foundation has a board of 40 trustees. The purpose of the foundation board is to support the mission of the NAACP by raising funds and promoting philanthropy. The Foundation board also advises the NAACP board of directors regarding the programs of the NAACP. One-third of the trustees is elected annually. All trustees are elected to serve three-year terms. The current Foundation board of trustees officers include: chairman Dr. Dwayne Proctor; vice chairman Georgette Dixon; NAACP president/CEO, Derrick Johnson; treasurer, Thomas L. Kalahar; and secretary who shall be the general counsel of the NAACP. Officers are elected annually for a one-year term at the NAACP’s regular annual meeting held in February in New York. The Foundation trustees are respected for their career accomplishments, coupled with their active leadership in the NAACP mission to ensure and protect civil and human rights for all in the 21st century. Former NAACP President Arthur B. Spingarn once noted, “From its beginning, the NAACP ignited a spark that has become a blazing flame which cannot and will not be extinguished.” Thus, as the NAACP forges ahead, it carries this flame to light the way with renewed determination to support the fight for freedom and justice. The NAACP offers its thanks to the officers and trustees, members and supporters as all march together on the NAACP’s 111-year-old crusade for justice. As the late Julian Bond said,“Come on in – we need us together.” ■

WASHINGTON BUREAU

ALERTS

Support for H.R. 7120, the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act" Summaries of the different Coronavirus Bills Support for H.R. 51, the DC Statehood Admissions Bill We must call on all Senators to immediately pass the HEROES Bill Federal Civil Rights Legislative report card, 2019 nationally and state-by-state

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NAACP TODAY

NAACP Foundation Trustees

Alaina C. Beverly

Angela Dorn

Barbara Sapp Davis

Brittney Calloway

Carole Young

CeLois Steele

Dwayne C. Proctor, Ph.D.

Chaka Burgess

Dr John E. Arradondo

Dr. Lonnie Randolph

Ed Foster Simeon

Esther Silver Parker

Dr. Garth Graham 80 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM

Georgette Dixon

Gerald Hudson


James Harris

John Spinnato

Kathleen Wilson Thompson

LaChandra White

Larcine Bland

Lori George Billingsley

Maya Bermingham

Michael R. Twyman, Ph.D.

Nate Miles

Pamela Alexander

Patrick Gaston

Rev. Keith Norman

Roy Levy Williams

Shazzia Khan

Stephanie Silverman

Tanya Leah Lombard

Thomas Kalahar

Zafar Brooks JULY 2020 81


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BLACK VOICES CHANGE LIVES

he 2020 election is one of the most important elections of our lifetime. The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor resulted in worldwide protests demanding justice – and change. Confederate flags and statues are coming down. The names of buildings are being changed. CEOs are stepping aside. But real change starts at the ballot box. You want change? Vote.

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And whether you believe it or not, your vote does count. A few thousand votes can be the difference between who wins and loses an election. And though it’s good to hear from our political leaders and celebrity influencers about the importance of voting, reports note that most people identify with those closest to them – a family member, friend, work colleague, church member or neighbor. The NAACP’s 2020 volunteer

recruitment campaign, “Black Voices Change Lives” is encouraging Black voters to contact up to 10 infrequent voters in their communities and talk to them about going to the polls in November. The goal is to increase voter turnout in the 2020 election. The NAACP is focusing on six battleground states: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These states have a combined 106


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electoral votes and have the ability to determine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. For volunteers, the NAACP will provide the names, phone numbers, and addresses of infrequent Black voters in your community. Volunteers can call and/or text voters on their list and urge them to use their power at the ballot box. They can volunteer alone or with other activists. Resources for volunteers include: • Talking points to motivate voters • Call center to refer voters to if they have questions • Tools that make it easy to text your community “Black voter turnout in 2020 will likely be the deciding factor in whether America charts a course towards justice and equality for all,” said Dominik Whitehead, NAACP national civic engagement director. “The power of Black voters talking to other Black voters cannot be overstated. That’s why we’re building a powerful volunteer base. The message to ourselves and to others is clear: Vote! Our lives depend on it!” ■

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W.E.B. Du Bois wrote...

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